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March, 2017

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“Ha desconto para os reformados?” is an essential item of Portuguese to learn. It may seem they regard senior citizens as in need of reform but in fact they offer them a discount. This is better than any bus pass: half fare on trains.

The Portuguese I’ve spoken to all denigrate their trains but I find them very efficient if a bit scruffy. Their fares are cheap enough to start with so half price is almost a gift. Faro to Vila Real de Santo Antonio is about 60 km, and the return journey cost about 6 Euros each. It takes about an hour but includes some good views of the coast and the marsh north of Vila Real beside the Rio Guadiana that forms the border with Spain.

One guide book says it is a small scale Lisbon, meaning it was designed by the Marques de Pombal after the 1755 earthquake. We only walked from the station to the riverside so cannot speak with confidence. The plan was to cross the river and take a look at Ayamonte, on the Spanish bank.

The ferry is cheap enough, though without discount, and the river crossing gives good views. It seemed clear the Spanish like to go shopping in Vila Real: our experience is that supermarkets especially are cheap. Again, we have no qualification to say more.

It wasn’t a good day: cloudy with a stiff wind coming off the sea, so standing on deck was not an option. With no passport control we simply walked ashore and set about finding the town centre. The walls of a former fortress, later church, were a good guide, and turning a corner we found a delightful square of restaurants and tapas bars with the cathedral along one side. There were palm trees all round. The problem was which place to choose for lunch.

Disregarding the more in-your-face places, we found one with outside tables just as the sun emerged. The wind was diverted by the buildings all around. One glance at the blackboard menu settled it. Within a few minutes we knew it had been a good choice. Anchovies, a slice of tuna and chorizos, all delicious with good crusty bread and a glass of wine kept us happy for the best part of an hour. A cup of coffee each to finish and although it took some time to be presented with the bill that can’t have been because of the problems of addition. I think it was 15 Euros for the two of us.

We actually needed a walk to feel refreshed so thought of looking for the bus station, in hope of a ride back across the bridge. After some time we found it, but there was no hope of a bus that afternoon. There were good places to look at and the narrow streets were interesting: quite a contrast to the grid-design of Vila Real, according to the guide book.

A few monuments had interesting stories to tell, and the ice cream parlour near the ferry dock had an unusual take on ice cream with cava – alcoholic ice cream soda. You choose your ice cream flavour, then it goes into a blender with 33 cl of cava and what comes out is a frothy delight for oversized children. Why not if you travelled across a national boundary for a day out.

One plan we had not carried out was to walk into the nature reserve around Castro Marim on the Portuguese side, but from the train on the return journey we had an armchair nature viewing. There were little egrets, spoonbills and flamingoes as we trundled past.


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