Days 1-5, Salema:
Our stay in the Algarve region of Portugal was extremely relaxing. The Algarve region is comprised of a bunch of little coastal towns facing the Atlantic Ocean along the southern end of Portugal. With the exception of Lagos, which is by far the largest town in the area and appears to be driven primarily by tourism, the majority of the towns are old fishing villages that over time have also become tourist destinations. We chose to stay in Salema, one of the last villages to be discovered by tourists (although, judging from the construction taking place around the village, it probably won't be long before tourists swarm the town). Salema's town center consists of five or six restaurants, an internet café (doubling as a travel and real estate agency), and a tiny grocery store carrying a broad selection of beach sporting goods, all in front of a nice beach that is about two hundred yards long. On the beach are ten or so small fishing boats that the locals take out at night to earn their living. Our hotel/villa was a house up on a hill roughly four blocks from the town center. We highly recommend this place for a relaxing few days - see link (www.romantikvilla.com). Our days in Salema were mainly spent on the beach reading, sleeping, people watching (keep in mind that some European women insist on sunbathing topless), swimming in the cold clear ocean, and eating and drinking at one of the waterfront restaurants. It is rough work and we happily volunteered to do it. One day we took a short hike to a neighboring small town called Figuera (means fig tree) which had a beautiful secluded beach. Lisa, the owner of the villa where we were staying, was kind enough to serve as our guide for most of the hike. Lisa was awesome. She was extremely well traveled and very talkative and opinionated. She grew up in Brazil and had lived in the U.S., England, Germany, Italy, and had finally settled/retired in Portugal with her German husband. During our hike she praised us on our decision to travel for six months and tried to convince us to live in Europe for a couple of years - "while you are still young." Lisa shared with us her opinion on the American lifestyle, "Americans are constantly looking for ways to get ahead in the workplace, working long hours and weekends to win an incremental account or sale. On the other hand, Europeans tend to have a better appreciation for life outside of work and have a much better work/play balance." If only Lisa were hiring temporarily-retired investment bankers and teachers! Figuera's beach was a good 50 to 100 yards long and couldn't have had more than 20 people on it. Figuera's beach was even more secluded and relaxing than Salema - if that's possible. In Figuera Steph was able to do a little people watching of her own as one of the 20 or so beachgoers was a 70 year old man, tan as leather, and as naked as they come. This man would stroll past us about every thirty minutes. Judging from his tan, he had been strolling in this manner for most of his adult life. Steph pretended not to look each time he wandered by. Overall, we had wonderfully relaxing time (old, naked man aside) in Salema. On our last day we jumped on a bus to Seville, Spain - about a five hour ride.
On a side note, all the beach time in Salema got us tinkering with our master itinerary. We have shaved a few days here and there to make room for Budapest, Hungary and Krakow, Poland. We have read great things about both of these destinations and welcome any feedback and/or recommendations from those of you that have travelled (or know of someone that has travelled) to these cities. An ulterior motive for going to Krakow is to make a day trip to the Auschwitz concentration camp. Steph and I read Night by Elie Wiesel while in Salema and would like to take advantage of travelling near Auschwitz to visit what is left of the camp. I would strongly recommend the book - it is a very quick read. It is Elie Wiesel's vivid recollection of the time he and his family spent in the Auschwitz concentration camp during the war in 1944.