Skulls, a royal baby and lots of dog

Ahh, Malta.

Actually, I didn’t get to Malta.

I got a bit distracted and frittered away too much time in the arvo and had to Uber to the airport, which – although expensive – was worth it to spend an hour talking to a Muslim man who was happy to answer my questions about his faith. Then I got faffing about in the airport, having a squirt of this and that perfume and buying a lipstick. I was in the queue with my arms full of food for the flight when I caught sight of the time, dumped the food, and galloped. As much as you can when you’re only two days past knee surgery.

  • Excuse me, is this all going to be about your knee again, because if it is…

No, it’s not. I just wanted to let you know it wasn’t actually a gallop that I …  

  •   Just go on, will you.

Not only had the gate shut but the plane was pushing back. It was a clear cut missed-the-plane experience. I trotted over …

  •    This is a very equine story

I trotted over to the help desk and they said the next flight to Malta was Monday. Given this was Friday and I had nowhere else to be, I needed to fly somewhere.

Where was the airline headed that night? Kiev was a no, because I didn’t have my beaver skin hat or my beaver skin coat with me or my beaver-lined boots in my backpack. Ibiza? Um, don’t I need to take party drugs and dance to trance music and have lots of crazy sex if I go to Ibiza? No, families go there too. Yes, well I’m not that either. Paphos in Greece was a strong contender until I thought to ask how long the flight was. Got anything closer, I wondered, given my knee couldn’t actually bend. Lisbon? Porto? Been there, been there, I said, and yes, I said it smugly although I tried not to. How about Faro? Where’s that? It’s where Maddie McCann went missing. I did a quick risk-analysis and decided that probably wouldn’t be of any interest to any …

  • Hang on a minute, you’re making jokes about paedophile rings? You really take the cake.

Sorry. Anyway, I landed in Faro about midnight and got a cab to a hotel with lurid bedspreads and then next morning bolted …

  • You do know you’re not a horse, right?

I bolted into town – because you know, of course, how the cheap hotels with lurid bedspreads are always on the outskirts – and found some lovely accommodation with a Brazilian couple right in the old part of things.

See how the tiles just bang up against each other, and work. I’m going to think more about tiles when i get home.

I wandered about Faro with my notebook (because I am writing) and phone camera and ate at the local places where wine was little more than a Euro a glass and visited the chapel made from the skulls and other less easily identifiable bone bits belonging to the monks.

Although Faro is very lovely, I wanted to discover an undiscovered area, be a full-on discovery type person. You know, like we all want to do when we’re on holidays, find the road less travelled.

So I hopped on a train and headed the shortest distance down the track to Olhao – which is not pronounced anything like that – and spent the better part of a week with a Swedish-Italian couple in the old part of town.

This is local legend Arraul who created the Ria Formosa. Clever chap, but then he was the only one to survive Atlantis, so I suppose there always were high expectations for him.

Here the houses, belonging predominately to the fishing community, are very Cubist in style, flat roofed, white painted stone, often decorated with patterned tiles and opening onto narrow tiled laneways. Neighbours talk to each other from their rooftops and open terraces where much of the living goes on. I had a room and bathroom on the top floor which led directly out to a very satisfactory writing spot on the roof. Naturally, I have a deep and satisfying tan and look rather exotic.

  • No one is going to believe that. You would have freckled right up, betcha.

The Ria de Formosa is off the coast here and there are a few islands which you can hop over to on a ferry for less than two Euros.

Or you can go on a tourist boat and pay an outlandish 20 Euros which is, of course, still ridiculously cheap for an excursion to see dolphins and birdlife and all the rest of it. I visited Culatra Island with my fold-up Ninja stick which I pulled out a couple of times when the path was too tricky for me.


  • If you’re going to go on about your knee again, I’m not sticking around here.

Culatra has a fishing community on the mainland side and then there’s a wooden boardwalk over short scrubby vegetation to get to the Atlantic Ocean side of the island where nobody lives and it’s perfect white sandy beach and decent waves for as far as you can see and only a handful of people on it.

The first person I saw on the island was a pregnant woman scurrying along with a handful of toast and missing teeth. She had the look of a beaten dog. I immediately had horrible feelings about the island. The people who hopped off the ferry with me, who instead of heading off exploring went straight to the family–run café overlooking the harbour and spent a few hours eating freshly caught fish and squid and drinking wine in the sun, would have formed a different impression of the island.

Sometimes impressions stick and sometimes they don’t. I couldn’t shake that feeling about the island but my first impressions of Olhao didn’t last. When I had got off the train I had wondered if I’d made the right decision. The footpaths were cracked and broken, houses stood empty and tagged with graffiti. Washing hung sadly in the heat.

  • Excuse me, but did you just hear yourself? The washing was sad? You want to anthropomorphise laundry?

After I’d been here a few days, I found myself thinking about living here forever.

  • That’s some turnaround.

There are a lot of dogs in the Algarve and they’re allowed anywhere.

One lovely dog wandered into a café I was eating at, and no one minded at all. A man hoeing into a plate of things with shells pushed the dog under his table so he could feed it scraps without the dog being in anyone’s way.

The dog came over to me and I gave it half my meal, piece by piece, as he sat by my chair. Sometimes it’s nice to not dine alone. Although having said that, everyone was chipping into conversations at this tiny little local café where everything cost ‘seven and a half’. In total.

Another cafe, another dog.

  • I get it. The Algarve is cheap, sunny, dog-friendly, completely suitable for people with an appetite for seafood. Anything else, because I have to tell you I’m starting to wander off.

I love the outside component of it all. That’s what I’m realising is really important to me. That you can see the outside from the inside, be outside easily, and have people to talk to when you do go outside.

  • I think you just like to know what’s going on. Maybe you’re a stickybeak.

I think you’re right.

  • So, are you going to Malta? Where are you now?

No. Kew Gardens, minding two delightful Yorkies just around the corner from King George’s palace.

  • King George? Has he heard about Meghan’s baby? Does anyone know anything?

George was Victoria’s dad. The mad king. Arsenic-mad. He’s dead. But he did have fifteen babies, or at least Charlotte did.

  • Of course. But the baby?

What, you think because I’m here I’m going to know anything ahead of you? You’re the mad one.

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