Monday, November 30, 2009


This is a staggeringly interesting article that makes me question every single time I've ever spent extra money on something that I thought was "premium". Also, very interesting information on how a brand is built.

But read it and think about it. Honestly, how much do we know about the stuff that we buy? We buy food and we can sort of tell what looks and tastes better. We buy beverages and we can most of the time tell the difference between things. We buy hard goods and generally the thing that looks more expensive probably is.

But for the most part, nobody knows what the hell is going on. I think most people would be hard-pressed to point out the differences between two similarly priced objects. And many of the differences they can point out between an expensive and cheap object are cosmetic window dressing.

This isn't to rail against luxury or premium goods. There's definitely things out there worth the money. It's just that there's also a lot of crap out there hopping on the bandwagon, searching for that premium price, selling their crap with buzzwords and techno-jargon. And a pretty package.

And hey, I'm not excusing myself. I know beer, bikes, ski equipment, a bit about cars and food...after that, I'm buying the pretty object.

Monday, November 16, 2009


I'm having a hard time wrapping my head around the Olympic torch and it's jaunt around the country. I don't really remember seeing the torch in 1988. It might have come through Kamloops. I'm not sure. I don't remember.

However, I do remember Rick Hansen coming through Kamloops. I remember thousands of people lining Columbia Street. I remember watching him fly by, heading towards a hill that is fast to ride down on a bicycle. I think it's pretty damn cool that so many people would come out to participate and lend their support to an event. So, recreating that with a torch? Why the hell not.

But then the discussion moves to who will light the torch. This article makes my stomach hurt. I know I wrote a post last year sometime about how much I dislike Nancy Greene and Kerrin-Lee Gartner. I'm not sure if I ever posted it though. But I'm going to make a bold statement. If either Nancy Greene or Kerrin-Lee Gartner light the torch in Vancouver, I'm leaving the country. Yes, that could finally be the motivation for me to get my Hungarian citizenship in order, hand in my Canadian passport and move somewhere else. Winning medals and being either a calculating self promoter or shrill TV hostess does not make you great. I'm not even joking here. It would just be too much for me to bare. (note...this will be the statement that prevents me from winning an election sometime in the future)

Anyhow. If Rick Hansen doesn't light the torch, I don't know what is wrong with this country. Sorry. Vanoc. Wrong with Vanoc. Let's see. Born and bred in British Columbia. Paralympic Gold Medalist. Then he wheeled 40,000 kilometers around the FUCKING WORLD! I mean...come the hell on. How is this guy not more celebrated?

Ah well.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

England and Paris

We had an Easyjet flight from Faro to Liverpool. I've never liked the Easyjet scramble for seats, so I decided to fork out the extra 10 bucks for express boarding. The plane was full and only 3-4 other people went for this option. Of course, every single jackass still went for the check-in when they announced express boarding. And then stood there like idiots refusing to move. Oh well.

Liverpool was my first experience of England outside of London. It's not very nice. Andrea's siter/brother-in-law combo (two people, not one) picked us up. Hugh was busy explaining how there was no longer any auto-industry in England just as we drove my the Land Rover manufacturing plant. You could see the off-road testing track from the highway. That was about the highlight of Liverpool.

We were heading for Lancaster, maybe 2 hours north of Liverpool. I'd never really heard of Lancaster before this trip, but apparently it was a very important place way back in the day. There's lots of history. And lots of pubs. We arrived in time for dinner and went to at least 6 of them, looking for the right place to eat. Everybody was calling it a pub crawl and I had to point out that a pub crawl involves actually drinking at each establishment, not just walking in and commenting on the smell. The place we ended up at was really good food though.

The next day we walked around a bit. The town boasts an impressive castle (and priory right next door) that still functions as the regional jail as well as the local courthouse. The courthouse was the site of the trial of the....Birmingham Six, as well as the Pendle Witch Trials. People are especially proud of the Pendle Witch Trials, it seems. On the Saturday we took a tour through the castle, which really just amounts to a tour of the courthouse portion of it. Still, it was pretty interesting. The main courtroom has the hundreds and hundreds of coats of arms of each of the High Deputies in the area. The tour guide stood there for about 5 minutes realing off the names of the most important families as we all stood there looking confused. The Duke/Duchess of the area (Lancashire) is always the sitting monarch, so the local history is a good way to learn about the history of the Royal Family in general.

The other interesting thing about Lancaster is the Ashton Memorial, which sits on a hill looking over the town. We wandered up there later in the afternoon but were turned away by a wedding. We decided to drive into the countryside in search of a pub. We found the pub, but it was closed, so we wandered around a couple of little towns searching for food before giving up and re-visiting the original pub idea. This was my first real experience of English countryside and it was very impressive. I think the pub was in Tunstall? The next day I picked up my rental car and headed for the Coors Brewery in Burton. I have to say that I was actually really nervous about driving in the UK. I've driven on the wrong side of the road before, but never a standard. It took me about half and hour to get a hang of it and then I was fine.

The drive down to Burton was no big deal. It took me about 4 hours and apart from a few difficulties in Burton I was able to drive right there without any detours. I would later realize how amazing this feat was as I tried to get out of Burton and back to Lancaster, but for the moment I was pretty confident in my direction finding abilities.

The Brewery itself is very impressive. I'm still trying to figure out the actual size, but my guide said they produce 5,000,000 barrels a that's just shy of 8,000,000 about 4 times the size of the Vancouver Brewery. It's actually two Breweries (a former Tetley brewery adn a former Bass brewery) that have been bought and sold and then finally merged and bought by Coors/Carling. It was fascinating and impressive, evern for somebody oh-so-jaded on beer production.

My tour was quick and my troubles started as I left. I detoured in to Burton for some lunch and had to sit next to a really annoying Scotsman who talked and asked questions the whole time I ate. Once I left, things got confusing very quickly.

The problem is that none of the road signs have far off cities on them. So you have to figure out your route and head for a series of several dozen intermediate points. So you don't head for Lancaster. You don't even head for Stoke, the city half an hour away. You head for Derby. Then Uttoxeter. Then Stoke. Then you follow the signs for the M6. Then you're pretty much home free, but signs for Lancaster...or even Manchester...don't show up until you're about 15 minutes away. Or so. And the traffic. Oh my. My two hour drive down turned into a five hour drive home. It was madness. I didn't like it.

The next day, our last full day in Lancaster, was wonderful. We went back to the Ashton Memorial and hoofed it up to the top, where we experienced wonderful views. Then we drove into the countryside. And drove some more. And kept driving.

It was all so very fascinating. The scenery completely changes ever 5 minutes. If I'd have been driving I would have stopped every few minutes to take a picture. But Hugh, like a robotic chauffeur, just kept driving, unaffected by the beauty around him. We covered a lot of ground and saw some really neat things. I'd go back just to spend some time driving around this part of the country. Amazing.

Sunday, we headed by train for London. We'd somehow managed to get first class tickets on a direct train to London. It was a wonderful journey. Free wi-fi, snacks and drinks. Comfortable chairs. Great scenery. For much of the ride we followed canals that were filled with narrow boats. There were thousands of the things and it would be an interesting way to see the country.

We arrived in London with what seemed like heaps of time to experience a nice evening. However...our quick subway ride to the hotel turned into a painful game of "guess the connection" as we experienced the worst of London subway weekend service. Closed stations. Closed lines. A long walk to the hotel with heavy bags. It was nice to get to the hotel and see that it 100% blew away any previous London hotel experience.

When I spent a few days in London a couple of years ago with my parents, the room my dad found on the Internet was laughable. I could barely fit on my bed. The door would practically hit my shoulder if I was laying down while it opened. The bathroom door wouldn't open fully before it hit my bed. There was only room for one bag at a time on the floor. And it was kind of dump. The room this time around was only a few blocks from where we stayed in 2007, but was about 3 times as big, newly renovated and full of yuppie extravaganzas. It had it's own washer/dryer. Full cooking facilities. A beautiful bathroom. A nice big bed. Digital cable with a large flatscreen. About 200 dvd's to choose from up in the lobby. All for...can't remember. Maybe 150 bucks a night? This is it here. Nice and central too.
We had about 5 minutes in the room before I was forced out of the room for "shopping". We meandered through Kensington Gardens before wandering down Kensington High Street. We found nothing, except for Wagamama. After dinner, we walked home and after discovering that the park was closed, found ourselves walking down Kensington Palace Gardens, which was a fascinating experience at night. It's easy to feel very, very poor while wandering down a street with an average home price in the hundreds of millions.

I've seen most of the major London museums so I really just wanted to pick off a few things I mean to see. The first day, I walked down to the Victoria & Albert Museum. It was fairly interesting and is another London museum in which you could spend several days and still not see everything.

After that I went on a wander. Down through the Chelsea Royal Hospital on my attempt to shortcut through the Ranelagh Gardens, which proved to be a dead end and wasted about 45 minutes of my time. Then down along the Chelsea Embankment, across from the Battersea Power Station, all the way up to the Parliament buildings. It was a really, really long walk, punctuated only by an attempt to take a picture of two dogs humping in front of the Parliament buildings. I caught the tube home, just in time for another shopping walk down to Kensington High Street.

I really had no idea what to do with my second day. I decided that I would wander up along Regent's Canal, through Regent's Park and on to Camden Town. I was following the Eyewitness Travel Guided Walk so there were a few other people leapfrogging the walk with me.

Regent's canal is kind of neat. I like the idea that there is this canal highway through the city. That lead me in to Regent's Park and the ultimate roadside marketing I've ever seen. As you walk towards Primrose Hill you go by the Zoo. They've designed it so that you can see a few of the exhibits as you wander. I snapped this photo of the Giraffes and immediately decided to come back and check things out after lunch.

I wandered off up the hill and then towards Camden for lunch. The first time in London I was staying with the friend of a friend of a friend. He worked in a travel agency on Camden High Street and that was the first thing in London I ever saw. He took me for lunch to a pub that served the greatest breakfast I had ever eaten. I found the pub again, but the pot pie I had convinced me I should have just left it in my memory. I was going to eat at the Engineer, but mains were 18 pounds, so I had to just look.

On to the zoo. The last zoo I went to was probably San Diego when I was maybe 12-13. I struggled mightily with the thought of paying 18 pounds to go to a zoo when there are so many free museums and sights of London. But I'd heard good things so I plunged in.

Don't get me wrong, it was pretty neat to see some of the exhibits, but I wasn't blown away. The giraffes ended up being my favourite and I saw them for free. It's kind of cool that you can get right in to some of the exhibits and hang out with birds, monkeys, sloths, etc. The gibbons were awesome and hauled so much ass around their cage in a display that seemed designed for me. The tigers were kind of sad. One of them had a figure eight path carved into his cage from thousands of hours of bored wandering. The african hunting dogs made me feel like I was in a nature program. The owls stood there and stared at me. The gorillas were locked up for the winter. All very neat, but all a little bit sad.

After the zoo I hopped on a train and headed for East Sussex to meet up with the rest of my crew.

The train ride down was very uneventful and we checked into another surprising hotel, hundreds of years old and recently re-done. I hit my head, no joke, at least 6 times on the door frame into the bathroom.

Dinner was at Andrea's distributors vice presidents house. I felt odd about intruding on somebody elses business dinner, but it didn't seem to be a big deal. We headed for a nice old house off in a sort of suburban countryside. The family was fairly over-powering at first, but after a short little break in period they proved to be more than hospitable guests. It was an enjoyable meal. And then. This is probably one of those things nobody wants to know and that I shouldn't write. But whatever. It was just so unbelievable that I can't even believe it happened, so here goes. I got the worst gas of my life. Honest.

Now, this sounds funny. And in hindsight it kind of is. But imagine sitting in a small little intimate room with a fire roaring in the corner, 6-7 people you don't know including your girlfriends boss, and the whole time your stomach feels like it might explode and all you can do is squeeze your bum cheeks together with all your might, hoping that your pants don't erupt with the loudest, rudest, most vulgar fart ever heard by mankind. Honestly, even with all that effort my stomach was groaning so loudly it sounded like farting. It was so terribly awful and embarrassing. I kept going to the kitchen to get glasses of water, hoping nobody noticed and wondered what the hell was going on. It was awful.

The next day, the same guy that hosted dinner lent me a car so I could go check out an open air museum composed of old, old houses rescued from around the region. It was incredibly nice of him. This wasn't something I would normally do, but everybody had been talking about it all through dinner and the effort to get me a car was huge, so I had to go.

The museum was kind of neat. It really does span centuries. They have a working flour mill. A blacksmith shop. Dozens of old houses from many different eras. Hundreds of retirees milling about as volunteers. It was quite a production. I could really only kill and hour or two though before it got to be a bit boring. The effort that went into this place is staggering. Each house re-constructed brick-by-brick. The displays. The history. Etc. But they're still just old houses.

After that, I wanted to drive down to the coast which wasn't too far away. I headed for the hills and a few kilometers from the museum I came across Goodwood. I've heard of Goodwood, but I had no idea. The lady at the info booth gave me the history, but I can't remember. Something about a palace and it being converted some time ago. Anyhow, it now has a horse racecourse that is so crazily massive. It spans a valley and is impossible to capture with a picture. A little further is the race course and airport, as well as the palace. And then, I came across the Rolls Royce Factory. I had to stop and at least try for a tour.

I went to the factory entrance and they told me there were no tours as they were re-tooling the factory. They said I could write in and make an appointment, but it would take a few months. So I drove over to the head office entrance to see what I could find. You could see some of the production line in the background and cars being assembled. There was also an old lady in a tracksuit, her long-haired in a german sort of way kid and a whole bunch of Rolls Royce guys in fancy-assed suits. I thought they were giving some tourists the bums rush, but then a couple of new Phantoms pulled up and everybody hopped in and drove off, so I guess not. I walked into the office and the guy at the reception desk barely tolerated me looking around. They had a chassis sitting there as well as a few cars. And I left, back to Middlehurst.

From there it was a train back to London and on to the Eurotunnel and Paris. The Eurotunnel wasn't very exciting. We got to Paris quite late and checked in to the last of our surprisingly nice hotels.

The interesting thing about this trip was the sheer number of different locations. It felt like each new place required a different mindset and preparation mentality. Montreal. Lisbon. South Portugal. Lancaster. London. Paris. By the time we reached Paris, it was feeling like too much. Changing your thoughts on currency. How to say "Thank-you". Which way to look when crossing the street. I know, it sounds ridiculous, but it was starting to wear on me a bit and I was ready to stop thinking. This sounds absolutely ridiculous as I sit here writing this a few weeks removed from the trip, but it was true.
The first day in Paris, we rented some Paris-Bixis and headed for the Eiffel Tower. Oh my god. Riding a bike in Paris is scary. I thought I might die. And I ride a lot of bikes. We ditched them fairly quickly and decided foot/subway was a better prospect.
I've always wanted to climb the Eiffel Tower and the long line-up for the elevator made it the thing to do. It didn't take very long and we made it up to the second platform to a sunny and wind free day. It was beautiful and I didn't want to leave. But, we did.
After that, Paris became a blur of wandering, crepes, shopping for boots and over-priced food. And don't take blur the wrong way. It's a blur because there's just so much to see and each street is a new adventure. Highlights: Very Bad Trip playing on the Champs Elysees. The tea place full of men in suits selling you expensive tea. The crepes. Eating at one of only two vegetarian restaurants in Paris and having them ensure me that I had enough time to eat my entree before the next party came in after they served it 45 minutes late or so. 10 dollar Cokes at the Pompidou. 10 dollars each. Shopping for boots. Lots and lots of boots.
Oh. The Montmartre Cemetary deserves it's own heading. Filled with cats. Filled with graves. Filled with redheads. We checked out the Edgar Degas tomb as well as the tomb of the dude who invented the saxaphone. There's some crazy things in that place.
I forgot to mention that Paris is kind of expensive. The Pound exchange was pretty good so London wasn't too bad. But paris was absolutely ridiculous. The best deal going is the crepes. 4 Euros or so gets you a fresh, smokin' hot crepe.

And, the last thing you see when you fly out is the most amazing airplane terminal ever.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Apparently you can feel better at the expense of others.

So I was leaving the parking lot today, and there was a guy blocking our entranceway with his car. By "guy" I mean "total douchebag". By "car" I mean "tarted up Hummer". Not only a tarted up Hummer, but the worst kind of tarted up Hummer. Extra Hummer logos. Lots of chrome bits added on. Giant, ugly chrome rims. The worst.

There was barely enough room for a car to squeeze out and it sent me into a blind rage. I started running through a number of scenarios in my head.

1) Scenario One - Repeatedly running into douche-Hummer with my car - Perhaps a little too violent. Could result in damage to my car.

2) Scenario Two - Grabbing some sort of object and smashing things on the Hummer - No smashing objects immediately apparent. Could result in me straining my back.

3) Scenario Three - Summoning up some sort of nasty something from deep in my intestines and depositing it on the hood of the Hummer - Somewhat childish. Might not be noticed.

So, I did nothing. I squeezed out beside the Hummer and turned for home. Until...

In my rearview mirror I caught a glimpse of the telltale high visibility uniform of Vancouver's Finest - The Parking Enforcement Branch. I hung a quick U-Turn, opened my window and attracted her attention.

It took a while to explain what I was talking about, but the enforcement officer eventually caught on to my enthusiasm and, I think, bought in to my excitement at the prospect of giving out a parking ticket. I don't think she receives parking ticket encouragement all that often. She ran across the road with her ticket book out and I drove off with the knowledge that Hummer guy was going to get a ticket.

Honestly, it felt great. I was just so happy that this guy was going to get a ticket. Unreasonably happy. It's funny how the small things can set you off. But the feeling of entitlement shown by parking your FUCKING HUMMER IN FRONT OF THE FUCKING DRIVEWAY OF A FUCKING 200-PERSON WORKPLACE deserves a parking ticket as the bare minimum of payback. Honestly. This guy probably beats up kittens in his spare time.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Montreal and Portugal

This was probably the longest vacation I've taken in a few years and it's taken me a while to be able to re-adjust to society. This write-up might become more about the pictures than the words as the words don't come very easily for me these days.The trip started out with a few days in Montreal. We were originally supposed to leave on the Friday, but a work trip came up so we decided to tack on a few nights in Montreal and leave from there on the Wednesday. I had meetings on the Tuesday/Wednesday, so we decided to fly on the Sunday and take a day on Monday. This worked out well until I got the phone call that the meetings were cancelled, sometime mid-morning on Monday. So I kind of had to scramble to find things to do in Montreal that were "work-related".The best thing going in Montreal these days is the Bixi. Oh my god, the Bixi. Vancouver needs a Bixi equivalent. For 5 bucks a day (there's monthly and yearly subscriptions as well) you get unlimited 1/2 hour rides. If you go over a half hour, there's a sliding scale upcharge(I think $1.50 for the next half hour, $3.00 for the next, etc.), so there's definitely motivation to keep it under a half hour. There's statioins everywhere. The bikes are mostly in good shape and run surprisingly quickly on pavement. It's a fantastic way to get around the city. There was a station across the street from the hotel and there ended up being one about a 20 second walk from the Brewery, so I was set.Montreal itself is a wonder of customer service. We decided to go to the art gallery. As we bought tickets, they explained that the ticket was half price because the permanent exhibition was closed. This was fine. We went up and the guard explained that only 2 of the 3 temporary exhibits were open, but the one that we were looking for would be open in about an hour-and-a-half. This sucked but was fine. So we went through the other two exhibits and had an hour to kill.

We thought we'd have a tea at the art gallery cafe. It took a couple of minutes to attract the attention of a waiter and he explained that it would be very difficult to serve us tea but that he'd try to find a way to accomodate us in a few minutes once he dealt with a couple of other things. So we left and walked around for a bit. We came back and made our way up to the exhibit. Still closed. We asked the guard (a different one by this time) if he knew when it would be open. He had no idea and suggested we talk to the ladies at the ticket desk. This is where it got strange.

There were 2 or 3 ladies sitting around dispensing tickets. I didn't think it would be a big deal to find out when the exhibit opened but when I asked they said "I don't know. But we're open until 9 so feel free to come back later in the day." We explained that we had a flight to catch in a few hours, that we'd only really come because we'd wanted to see this exhibit and that we'd really appreciate it if they could just tell us when it would open. They seemed completely uninterested in finding out this information for us and seemed baffled that I would ask them to phone sombebody and find out. Then we asked for our money back and they got a bit miffed. All of a sudden it became our fault because they quite clearly had two laminated sheets out on one corner of their desk for each of the two exhibits that were open and obviously since the other exhibit didn't have a sheet it was closed. At this point I asked who was in charge because they obviously didn't want to take responsibility for anything. She, honestly, she says "There's lots of people in charge here. People here, people upstairs. Lots of people." She started blaming us again for not knowing what was going on so I say "Look. Whoever sold us the tickets didn't do a very good job of explaining what exhibits were open..." Oh boy. She lost it. "I know for a fact that my colleague does an excellent job." Imagine the thick accent here and it makes it a bit more humourous, although less politically correct. Then, barely containing her rage, she asks for our tickets and gives us our money back purely to spite us. It seemed like a silly resolution to a "do you know what time your exhibits open at" sort of question.

There was another stunning display of customer service at the airport. Some poor guy was spending the last of his Canadian money on candy for his children. He had 50 dollars so he told the cashier to stop charging once she got to 50. This was fine, but then she started jamming all the candy into one bag. He asked, politely, if he could split it into two bags. She looked at him like he was some sort of war criminal and beligerently pointed out that it was all fitting into one bag. He explained that he'd like it in two bags. She paused for a moment, then sort of threw a second bag at him. Good stuff.
Off to Lisbon (via Heathrow). The only real memory I have is of barely being able to keep my eyes open from London to Lisbon. By the time we landed I felt so terrible from a lack of sleep that I was worried about the upcoming drive into the center of Lisbon that we were about to face. Luckily, we had an hour or so in an immigration line-up to rest up.

This was the main airport for Portugal and there were only two people handling all the passport checks. For about 15 minutes they had an extra person on duty, but he bailed out pretty quickly. It almost came to fisticuffs at times as the "All Other Passports" line-up jockied for position with the "Portugese Colonies" line-up. We finally got through, picked up our Fiat Panda and were on our way.
Lisbon is a beautiful city but it requires the best you can muster for navigational purposes. we had several maps and a fairly clear idea where the hotel was, but even then it took 3 or 4 times around to find the stupid thing. Once we did, we went for a good wander so that we were able to stay up late enough to sleep through the night.

There's so much going on in Lisbon. There seems to be a restaurant or bar just about every 2-3 doors. There's people wandering all over. There's guys playing amplified live music in squares. It seems like a very lively city.

And the scenery is beautiful. Everything is old and white. And hilly. Lots of hills. The next morning we wandered around for a half day and were able to find enough hills to last an entire trip. Anyhow, I'd definitely like to spend more time in Lisbon.
We left the city via the freeway to the South. I think we could have made it all the way to the Algarve in 5-6 hours, but the distances seemed longer than they are so we decided to head for Villa de Nova Milfontes (or something like that) about halfway down the coast. I'm glad we did.
Once we left the freeway, the drive became very beautiful. There's cork trees all over the place, and we were able to stop and check some of them out. A little ways down the road and we saw the stockpiles of cork from some farmer. That reminds me. I was going to look up cork in Wikipedia. As well as cork trees, we passed all sorts of nice little villages, castles, etc. It was a good introduction to Portugese scenery.
From Lisbon, it probably took about 3-4 hours to get to Milfontes (with a few stops thrown in). Milfontes is a really nice little village with beaches seemingly all around it. We ran into a couple from Winnepeg who had been doing a week long walking tour in the area, and they said it was much the same down the coast as far as they walked. We spent the next morning on the beach just south of town and then started out for the Algarve.
The area between Milfontes and the Algarve is my favourite. Part of this would be in the Alantejo, and part of it in the Algarve. Anyhow, lots of corks, narrow winding highways, enough castles to start a castle-spotting league and lots of beaches (not right on the road, but a short drive from the highway). We had heard so much about the Algarve though, that we didn't stop very much and made our way to Sagres.
Sagres itself is an ugly, ugly little village. It kind of reminds me of Oliver, but without the nice mountains in the background. Hot and dusty and ugly. A short drive from town and there's the giant fortress that sits on the cliffs, overlooking a beautiful beach down below. Off in the distance you can see the Cape of St. Vincent, the Southwest tip of Portugal. It has a neat little lighthouse that was supposedly Henry the Navigators training grounds. You can't go in, but it's pretty neat to explore the cliff bands, watch the fishermen and take some photos.
This dog was hanging out at the front gate and seemed excited that we stopped to take some photos.
Before we left, we watched some Rick Steeves and he filled me with visions of Salema. Salema this. Salema that. He couldn't stop talking about it. It sounded perfect and I was jonesing to get there.

Rick Steeves. What an asshole. Salema sucks! Honestly. The beach wasn't that nice. Everything looked a little bit rundown. Somebody must have paid him off. We hung out for 20 minutes or so, got over our disappointment and headed for the next village down the road.

The next village became the next. And the next the next. And pretty soon we were in Lagos and it was dark. Even with our handy Lonely Planet and the map it provides, we were lost. It took a while to find our way to the center of town, and from there it took a while to find the street with our hotel. I dropped Andrea off to check it out and then drove onward so I wasn't in the middle of the street, expecting to be able to pull over 50 meters ahead or so.

Dear lord, the next 15 minutes were some of the worst of my life. The hotel street quickly merged into a pedestrian boulevard. There was a laneway for cars, but the chairs from the restaurants were practically on top of it and British tourists were staggering all over. The roads were insanely narrow and everything looked the same. I drove around and around, recognizing things and adjusting my route, but everything seemed to send me back into the vortex of tourists. I had no idea where to go or how I was going to find Andrea, but then she somehow magically appeared by the side of the car. We enventually found our way out and I parked on the main drag and we hiked in.

Lagos kind of sucks. As far as tourist centers are concerned, this is a small one, but it's bad enough that I don't want to go back. Don't get me wrong, it's a beautiful place, but there's so many places in Portugal devoid of tourists you'd have to be crazy to want to spend time here. Come morning, we were ready to move on, after a quick stop at the beach.
The beaches in Lagos are picturesque and have strange sand the consistency of brown sugar. It was a bit crowded though and we quickly moved on.

We decided to head inland to Monchique, and then back towards Aljazur, which we had passed through on our way down the coast. Monchique is high in the mountains. It's famous for it's spring water and is a fairly unassuming little town without much going on. However, above and to the west is the high point of the Algarve, coupled with a nice drive through eucalyptus trees. Definitely worth the visit.

The drive from Monchique to Aljazur is a high point as well. Windy roads through mountain villages, cork trees, eucalyptus, etc. Stunningly beautiful. I think I remarked about halfway through the drive that I couldn't get much happier.
From Aljazur, we headed to a beach town about 15 minutes away. It was one of those "holy shit" moments when we rolled up that sent us into a bit of a panic. Honestly, it was just so perfect, this tiny village perched on top of a beautiful beach, that we figured a tourist bus was about to swoop in and steal our hotel room. We couldn't believe what we found. As Andrea sorted out the hotel room I stood on top of the cliffs talking to a New Zealander, busy on his life quest to find meaning. He was pointing out the cabin he had found to rent, pretty much smack dab in the middle of the hill over-looking the beach. He was explaining to me that the price was right, but he just sort of felt the place was too big for just him to rent for the month. This didn't really make much sense to me, but I saw him moving his stuff in the next day, so I guess he figured it out. Oh. Yes. The place is called Arrifana.
The next couple of days/nights were quite amazing. The beach was warm enough to surf without a wetsuit. The surf wasn't all that great, but was friendly enough that you could just sort of walk out to catch a wave. The local restaurant was tasty and cheap. It all just kind of worked out and I was sad to leave. And there's probably a good half dozen places like this within a few hours drive of where we were. Honestly, go to Portugal. Rent a car. Find your way off the beaten path.