Looking back on the last 25 years
Part 1 of 3 posts
I reached a big birthday recently and it gave me pause for thought and the opportunity to look back over our time in Portugal and the last 25 years including our first holiday here.
My original experience of Portugal were 25 years ago on package holidays to the Algarve. With a very young family it was the ideal, relaxing place to be. Warm sun, sea, good cheap food and friendly natives.
Later I was to return on business trips and I always remember how the drive to the airport, flight and trip to the clients office was usually stressful because I was not in control of the timings and If I had a major delay them my subsequent flights and client visits would be all thrown out of kilter and very difficult to re organize.
For some reason when I used to arrive in Lisbon and wait on the plane steps for the bus which was always late I would just relax.
I don’t know whether it was the sunshine or the relaxed cabin crew. I just remember that Spain, Italy and Africa did not have the same effect on me.
On the down side I do remember the peculiar and awful smell from Lisbon airport toilets which was only fixed a few years ago.
On visits to Central Portugal around 25 years ago I remember seeing the “Mediterranean diet” in action. Many years ago we were told on TV and in magazines that eating like they do in the Mediterranean would make us healthier and live longer.
The example I saw was a 92 year old woman, dressed completely in black, bent double with a hook nose and a whiskery chin (the classic picture of a fairy tale witch) dragging a pitcher of water back to her small stone house. Which in those days would have had no electricity or water. The effort involved in having to carry everything you need to survive each day is probably a lot better for you that using olive oil and eating sun dried tomatoes.
Oh food ! The taste of Portuguese potatoes particularly in chips. How can they taste so different?
The roads were very different then of course and so were the road users. There were no motorways in central Portugal and I dont remember any dual carriageways either. Most roads were either dirt or calcada cobbles.
The sight of an ancient estate car belching huge clouds of smoke and all the doors opening and closing like flapping wings as it chugged along the road will stay with me forever. Occasionally the roads would slip away into a valley (they still do now) and you would come across a piece of a branch snapped off a tree and put in front of the sometimes massive gap that had suddenly appeared in the road. No problem during the day but a nightmare in the dark.
Other road users were motorcyclists on 50cc Zundapp or Casal motorbikes and bicycles with small motors attached to them. I used to joke that they were all involved in a nationwide competition to drive as slowly as possible while making the most smoke and having the wobbliest back wheel. They never had their helmet chin straps fastened and would have a roll-up clenched in the corner of their mouths as the clattered along the cobbles. If it rained they would be driving while holding umbrellas.
In 2008 I met an old guy that I used to know. His face was very bruised and scratched. He looked like he had been in an accident. I asked him if he was alright and he said that he was so drunk the previous night that when he tried to get on his Zundapp outside the bar he and the bike fell over onto the road. He had eventually driven home.
In those days drink driving was commonplace and Sunday afternoons on the road were to be avoided as families returned from big lunches and visiting friends.