Road Trip from Lisbon to Noirmoutier, France


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Well, 2020 is certainly go down in history as a very strange year. How often in history does one thing affect everyone in the world at the same time?

The travel industry has been especially hard hit. Who is flying unless they really need to? First, you’d be lucky to find a flight as many have been cancelled. Second, if you do find a flight chances are it would be cancelled before your departure date if the airline didn’t feel they had enough people on board to make it worth their while. When you finally arrived at the airport you’d find the whole experience of dealing with airports, gates, boarding and on-flight etiquette rather challenging because of Covid. And then if and when you finally arrived at your destination there’s a good chance you may have to go into quarantine for two weeks. Or, if they don’t get you at your destination, they might on the return trip.

So, after trying air travel and not enjoying the experience, we decided we’d just drive this year and avoid crowded places. Which meant places close to Lisbon, where we chose to ride out the Covid storm.

Our first trip was south into the Algarve. It turned out to be a great place to go for a trial run on how to adapt to traveling during the time of a pandemic. The next trip took us up into Northern Portugal, an area we had not seen before and ended up enjoying immensely. We rented a home out in the middle of nowhere, far from everyone, and enjoyed biking, boarding and just letting the world go by as we disconnected ourselves.

But in the late summer, now more adventurous, we decided to drive up to the island of Noirmoutier, an island off the coast of Northwestern France where we’ve been spending the better part of our summers for more than twenty years.

The trip is nearly 2,000 km, one way. Easy enough for a Canadian who’s used to traveling long distances to get anywhere back in Canada, but not for Florence, who just doesn’t like being stuck in a car for long periods of time. So I made the drive up by myself and she flew into Nantes, France where we met up.

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Exploring Northern Portugal


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Ermelo on the banks of the Lima River

Our trip into northern Portugal took us to the very top of the country, to a region that has the Spanish border both to the north (which follows the Minho River) and to the east (marked by the Peneda-Geres National Park). To the west is the Atlantic ocean while the Lima River forms this region’s southern border. Through the middle flows the Vez River from the north until it empties into the Lima River. 

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Back to the Algarve (again)


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I’ve written about the Algarve here, here and here, but it is worth revisiting once more to recommend a couple of beach places we’ve discovered and enjoy for long beach walks as well as cliff exploring. The cliffs of the Algarve, primarily found around Carvoeiro, are fantastic for hikes, but if you just want to walk the beach and feel the sand between your toes, the beaches here are too small and short. Great for hidden hideaways, but not if you just want to walk the shoreline for as long as you can. That said, we’re also not big fans of pure beaches that offer nothing but beach; (like around Faro) – a rocky shoreline and cliffs provides a little color and variety which we prefer. We have two beaches that have become favorites of ours.

East end of Alvor Beach with Lagos in the far, far distance
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A visit to the Setubal Peninsula


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Well, after a few delays caused by a couple of dreaded the “C” diseases (Cancer and Covid), we have finally been able to venture out of our apartment and do a little exploring once again. It seems that our travels for awhile will be limited to Portugal as the borders in Europe are not all open yet and flying anywhere right now is not only a little risky but downright complicated. So we’re happy to just take this time to get to know Portugal a little better.

Our first trip out from quarantine was only 40 minutes south of Lisbon to the Setubal Peninsula. This region has been formed by the shores and estuaries of the Tejo and Sado Rivers, which then juts out westwardly into the Atlantic Ocean.

This large stretch of land encompasses a number of landmarks that are worth seeing and visiting. The most impressive is the 30 km Caparica Beach that makes up most of the peninsulas’s westerly shore. It’s a long, wide sandy beach that’s perfect for walks, surfing and swimming, and is pocketed with small beach clubs and restaurants.

Lake Albufeira (foreground) and Caparica Beach
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A visit to Marrakech


After a rather wet fall and cold winter in Lisbon, we decided to head south in search of sun. We opted for Marrakech, to enjoy the hamans and spas, as well as, of course, explore the city itself.  My earliest memories of Marrakesh come from the song Marrakesh Express by Crosby Stills & Nash. I listened to that album over and over again as a teenager, charmed by lyrics and the excitement of taking a train from Casablanca to Marrakech.
As we were landing we could see the old rampart walls of Marrakech. Above these little rose, with most buildings having only 3-4 stories, and nothing above that except for the many minarets that rise throughout the city for the calls to prayer. In Marrakech, everything is pained in a reddish-brown color, so much so that the color balance of your camera is thrown off. The only other dominant colors are the blue of the sky and the white of the Atlas mountains to the south, draped in snow.
We stayed at the Hotel Les Jardins des Koutoubia, located just a few minutes from the main plaza of Jamaa El Fna, the main attraction in the area, and quite close to the airport. The hotel is older but nice, well kept, with amazing wood ceilings, and thousands of framed historical photos of Marrakech throughout. There are three pools, one large one inside the spa, which offers numerous types of haman, scrubs and massages. 

Jamaa El Fna Plaza and Market

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Exploring Obidos, Portugal


img_0662We were in need of a weekend getaway so we decided to head north and visit the town of Obidos that we’d been hearing so much about. And we weren’t let down!

Obidos is a captivating medieval walled town an hour or so north of Lisbon, surrounded by rolling hills covered with orchards and vineyards. It’s set on a hillside, along a narrow ridge, allowing just a couple of streets barely wide enough for a car to run its length, and which are connected by a number of steep alleys and staircases.

The town was a gift by King Afonso II to his wife Urraca of León in the 1200s, and many of the building and monuments found throughout the town were funded by her. It became a custom thereafter for the current reigning king to pass Obidos onto his wife, who became its new benefactor.


Ginja Stand

One enters the town from the Porta da Villa, a narrow gate that immediately opens up into a Baroque chapel with a high altar decorated in blue azulejos tiles. From here you make a left turn and enter into the town, onto either an upper road (Rua Direita) or lower road (Rua Josefa de Obidos). Direita is the main street, lined with quaint shops, boutiques, cafes, restaurants. Many serve Ginja, a cherry-flavoured liquor that’s a specialty of the region, from their doorways – one euro gets you a small taste.

The town itself is very picturesque with red-tiled roofs, cobble-stoned streets, white-walled homes trimmed with blue or yellow borders, and wherever you go, plenty of creeping vines and colourful bougainvillea.


img_0691At the end of Rua Direita is the castle mount, founded by the Moors in the 700s. Over the years it has been added onto, primarily by the queens acquired the town during their reign. The castle is now a posada/hotel and you can actually have a room inside the castle. From here you can also access the ramparts and walk a portion of the walls that at one time defended the town. The walk provides excellent views of all of Obidos and the countryside made up of vineyards and orchards.

What impressed us most is that although Obidos is certainly a tourist attraction, it hasn’t been overdone and lost its charm. The shops and boutiques offer very unique souvenirs and handicrafts, locally made, rather than the run-of-the-mill types too often found at such popular spots. There’s plenty of restaurants, so do make time to have lunch there. The town itself can be walked in less than an hour, but add to it by exploring the delightful shops along the way.

Flojohn Travel Magazine


The above magazine is something I recently created, mostly from the content of this blog, which is about our travels and what we’ve been up to over the past year. In my previous life I was a magazine publisher and frankly, I’ve missed the process of putting a magazine together. So I decided to make one from all the photography I’ve gathered and stories I’ve posted on this blog. Thanks to short-run printing, I’ve also printed a few copies, but just for family. A version without the ads is available here:

Biking Portugal


Anyone considering biking in Portugal, there’s an essential tool you must have and that’s the National Cycling Network guidebook, which maps out nearly 5,000 km of routes and includes GPS tracks in KML and GPX file formats, so you can follow the routes on your smartphone. As well, the guide has great photography and descriptions, so you have a really good idea of what your trip will entail before you begin.

The author, Paulo Guerra dos Santos, is an engineer specializing in road project design, so this is right up his alley. This was a huge project and he undertook it basically all on his own. I was fortunate to have some participation in the guide, as after purchasing the English version I quickly realized that his text could use some copy editing. I contacted Paulo and offered my services, for free, and he took me up on it. Worked out very well for me, as it has forced me to get to know Portugal’s biking pathways from north to south, east to west. I feel I now have a good understanding of the terrain and what to expect. I’m more than ready to begin and plan to start biking Portugal sometime this fall.

The National Cycle Network Map

Cinque Terre from the Air



Making the movie above nearly cost me my drone. On the last day of this trip to Cinque Terre I got perhaps a little too confident in my flying abilities, and that of the drone.

Although I own a drone, I don’t consider myself as one who “flies drones”. Some like to race them, performing amazing maneuvers or tricks, but that’s not why I have a drone. I see it more as a camera that has wings. Getting the camera away from me and up in the air has opened up a whole new approach to taking pictures. With the drone I can place my lens in places where previously I could only accomplish with a helicopter or plane.

A photographer is always trying to find a new angle, searching for a new way to express themselves or their subject via still images or video. It is what has driven me to climb mountains, rock faces, to go to places where if I didn’t have a camera around my neck and an idea in my head of what a great shot this could be, I would never otherwise have done it. Good photographers are always pushing the envelope.

When I got a drone, I was quite conservative with my flying as I learned how it functioned and flew. I kept close to shore and away from potential objects I could run into. But the more I used the drone, the more it opened me to new possibilities. I’d start thinking, “Well, what if I were to…” I soon learned that if you aren’t getting into a little trouble with your drone, well then, you aren’t pushing yourself to get some really great shots.

But that’s also when I started getting into trouble. Continue reading

Visit to Cinque Terre


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Corniglia, in the middle of Cinque Terre

The week before we were to head to Cinque Terre from Nice, the weather forecast said it would be raining the whole time we’d be there. And the day before we left it did, indeed, rain. But then the skies opened up, the weather Gods looked fondly upon us, and we ended up with clear blue skies during our whole trip, until we returned and the clouds started rolling back in. Lucky again.

We drove over, stopping for lunch in the seaside town of Alassio. The drive should have been about 2 1/2 hours, but with the collapse of the Morandi bridge in Genoa, traffic was so bad that it added 40 minutes to our trip. We could see the bridge as we drove through, and also see the effect it is having on the city. It is making life terrible for the residents of the town. Unfortunately there is no good alternative route, so everyone that’s traveling on the coast freeway has to detour and drive through the middle of the town. It’s a mess and it will be for awhile.

Cinque Terre is situated on the eastern shore of the Ligurian Sea, a sea which has Italy for its northern and eastern borders, France for its western, and Corsica for its southern border. We had thought it would work out best for us if we had a hotel in the middle of Cinque Terre so it would be easier to access all the villages we wanted to see. We felt somewhere up high, near the village of San Bernardino would work best, and found a wonderful B&B called Ca de Ventu just above the village. And because of the clear skies that we had, we could see basically all of the Ligurian Sea from there.


Ca de Ventu B&B (to the left)

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