Prickly straw pokes my bare skin as I taste God only knows what while sipping Sangria out of a handmade ceramic mug. Little did I know, today was not the day for shorts or a weak stomach. Pushy Portuguese crowd my dinner table. Communal, crowded yet colorful, Portugal still manages to muster up medieval times in a modern world.
While in the Algarve region of Portugal, with high-rise hotels, resorts and drones of beach bums crowding every inch of sand, for me, it wasn’t time to park my pasty self on a towel and bake in the sun, but rather find the only patch of shade no one seemed to want. Post beach attempt and half a bottle of sunscreen later, the grumble of my stomach alerted dinner needed to happen. Picking a town on the map more inland, the town of Silves promised to be a quiet and cute little settlement, away from the harsh resorts of the Algarve. I pictured a quiet dinner of some Portuguese specialty, but rather I found a raging party back in time.
I discovered yet another reason I love travel, how unexpected places can be. Little did I know while working my leg muscles up to Silves that its annual medieval fair was taking place that night. Renaissance and medieval festivals are not uncommon in any part of the world. However, those in the USA tend to be hard to imagine, a country that never had a Renaissance.
Silves represented medieval times to a T. Costumes and even the vendors looked right out of the days of plague, meats, and battle. As I ordered a chocolate crepe from one stand, the woman behind wiped her brow, looking exhausted and hot in the grueling heat of the Algarve. I kept looking at her and imagining her character placed centuries ago. Throughout the festival, characters like the crepe woman presented, seemingly lost in time.
Before my crepe experience, the unexpected medieval fair called for me to be adventurous. Most restaurants appeared closed, opening up their business to classic medieval dishes. Ordering a pile of meats and vegetables, I didn’t want to know what I was eating. Was it good? Not exactly, but it was part of the experience.
Travel forces you to adapt to a situation. I may have been planning a nice meal in Silves, but there is something to be said for sitting on hay bales, drinking out of middle age mugs and eating bad food, probably just as it was in medieval times. It is the pleasant surprise of stumbling upon an event without knowing of its existence that keeps travel unendingly interesting.
Have you ever stumbled upon a traditional festival or special event on your travels?