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  • Writer's pictureBil

Pet Sitting in Portugal

We had the most wonderful experience pet-sitting for four beautiful dogs and cats! At least

Praia da Foz do Arelho bay,
George & Elaine - the perfect hosts!

we think the 4th cat was beautiful as we barely got a glimpse of Oliver in three weeks. Cody and Toby were both rescue dogs that loved being around people, and they were immediately glad to make our acquaintance. Tristan the cat was more suspicious but gradually accepted our presence, and was always happy to be fed.

This was our second pet-sit and our hosts; Elaine & George were beyond wonderful. They greeted us with a champagne toast and a delicious dinner that evening. The next day George drove us around Mata de Porto Moiro, the village they lived in. He showed us several fruit groves where we would walk the dogs each morning. That afternoon they took us for a drive along the coast, visiting the charming town of São Martinho do Porto along the bay, where they treated us to a tasty lunch with delicious Portuguese wine.

São Martinho do Porto

Moving south along the coast we came to Praia da Foz do Arelho bay, a nice beach with a cut opening into a very shallow lagoon which was completely filled with windsurfers. On the oceanside was a wide, sandy beach where the chilly waters of the Atlantic were breaking. From there we meandered through the town of Caldas de Rainha, the largest in this area with a population around 60,000.

Continuing east another 15 km through winding country roads brought us back to their beautiful and spacious home. Elaine & George were taking their first vacation since moving to Portugal from Mexico two years ago, having been “sequestered” for the pandemic. They planned to drive north through Portugal, visiting small towns & villages that featured vineyards and wineries along the way. The Mediterranean climate is perfect for growing a variety of grapes; producing wines that rival neighboring France, Spain & Italy.

Walking through the orchards
Cody - the "Big Bear"

Quickly settling into a routine after our hosts departed, we felt very comfortable in their

lovely home. Every morning after coffee & breakfast we would load Cody & Toby into the “Canine Car”, a little Honda Jazz, and drive to a nearby fruit orchard. Both dogs eagerly looked forward to their morning walks and would remind us if we were taking too long to get started.

There were several groves nearby where we could walk up and down the gentle hills between rows of apple and pear trees, lines of grape bushes and a few vegetable patches. The pears had been harvested a few weeks ago and the apples would be ready in another month. Most of the grapes were gone, but we did see some groups of people out hand picking as we walked. Several of the rows had especially sweet tasting grapes which we sampled as we ambled – all were picked by the time we left on October 1st. Susie also chose a few ripe apples for a delicious cobbler.

Perfect late summer weather for just kicking back and reading a book – or taking a nap – after a busy (!) morning of dog-walking. The village only consisted of a few homes and one tiny grocery, with a road going by that was not very busy. We drove through some of the small surrounding towns, stopping to get a coffee or drop off recycling.

Caldas de Rainha

Caldas de Rainha, "the Queen's hot springs" was named for the hospital built around hot springs that healed Queen Dona Leonor, wife of 15th century King Dom Joaoll. It is the nearest large town, with a good assortment of services such as grocery stores, restaurants (indy & chain), cafes, shops, and a large mall.

We drove into town and walked around several times, admiring the architecture, getting lunch, coffee or sangria. I got a great haircut for $6.50! The young guy really took his time (I guess I needed it!), using a straight razor to work around my ears & neck before moving to the scissors & shears. Unfortunately, he said the lightning bolts I wanted would not show up well with my white hair & light skin. Ah well…….

We were very excited that Skylar was able to join us for a couple weeks! She also enjoyed the company of the big dogs, and Tristan the cat took to her much more than us. And Skylar is always a big help in pointing out ways that Susie and I can improve ourselves. Seems to be a never-ending list. 😊

Photograph by Olivier Morin/AFP
Nazare - Home of the Monster Waves

One of the places we had been looking forward to visiting was the town of Nazare, about 30km up the coast. Being avid water sports people, we were familiar with the area and its reputation for the biggest surfing waves in the world. A few weeks back we watched the Netflix series “The 100 Foot Wave” that documents the discovery and increasing fame of the location.

After a pleasant drive through the country, we arrived at the lower section of Nazare called the Praia (beach). It was an early Tuesday afternoon and quite busy, so we had to circle the narrow streets several times to find a parking spot. The ladies shamed me into moving from the sidewalk I first parked on, so blame them for the extra 15 minutes. Strolling along the shops near the shore, the beach looked nice & sandy, and the restaurants were busy. Nazare has long been a popular seaside resort area for the Portuguese and other Europeans.

Skylar Watching Over her Flock

We found our way over to the funicular, that pulled 3 cars up to the top and back every 15 minutes. All pets had to ride inside provided pet boxes. At the top of the cliff is the original neighborhood called the Sitio where the first settlers lived long ago. It is now a jumble of whitewashed shops, cafes, and homes, with colorful flowers and signs hanging over the streets. The main square is anchored by the large church, the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Nazaré, with its twin towers looking over the area.

A narrow street leaves the other end of the square, leading towards the old fort that protects the surf break offshore. This previously sleepy route is now lined with hawkers & food carts which we tried to ignore as we walked down to the end. The ramparts of the Fort of São Miguel Arcanjo sits 40 meters above the waves and has been repurposed as a lighthouse for passing mariners.

Who's going to ride a boogie board on a 100' wave?!?!
Nazare Surfing Museum

After gaining entrance for a mere €15 each we were greeted with several small rooms built into the masonry that explained how the gigantic waves formed here. An underwater feature called the Nazare Canyon consists of a long, deep trench pointing towards the shore. When large ocean swells roll in from a certain direction during the winter, the wavefronts are broken and diffracted by the canyon in such a way that the waves build up much higher and steeper than normal.

These monster waves are too large for typical “paddling out to the break”, so the tow-in method using wave-runners from Hawaii was adapted. This requires perfect timing on the part of the jet ski driver who has to pull the surfer into the exact spot for release, get out of the wave before it breaks, and stand by for retrieval. Of course, the surfer must release the tow line at the correct moment, and then execute the ride a lifetime! In mid-September the waves were not much over 2 meters, but it was still thrilling to be there in the exact location where the best of the best have sliced downhill on these gigantic waves that approach 100 feet tall!

Local elections were approaching so many candidates had various vehicles driving around town and country with loudspeakers strapped to the top, blaring out music. Posters and signs adorned the sides of the cars and trucks showing their faces and party affiliation. My research results were confusing – looked to be 7 different parties competing for mayor & local council offices.

Happy Group of People!

George & Elaine owned & ran a fondue restaurant in Breckenridge, Colorado many years ago and offered to cook up a fondue dinner when they arrived home. They showed us all the steps involved in creating the perfect fondue, and how to present it and maintain the cheese throughout the dinner. What a treat! It was absolutely superb! And a few glasses of wine & kirsch just topped it off! Thanks a million!

All things must pass, which includes our time in the Schengen District (most of EU). We are allowed 90 out of every 180 days. So – time to get out.

Where to next? How about something completely different....

We will miss these sweet guys
Cody and Toby

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