Saturday, September 30, 2023

September Supermoon: no strangers in the night



Odilia Marques Fernandes, who found mysterious footprints and circles imprinted on the flat roof of her Algarve home during the night of the August supernoon, was greatly relieved not to experience anything weird during yesterday’s Harvest Moon, the last supermoon, of the year.

A friend joined her for dinner, but she was on her own for the rest of the night in her countryside cottage.  She felt extremely anxious because of her strange experience during the previous supermoon.

She bravely waited into the early hours , but heard no footsteps on the roof and saw no more imprints when she climbed up her ladder and checked the tiles during the daytime.

The Harvest Moon was a beautiful sight to all in the Algarve and everywhere else without cloud cover.

The many thousands of readers of our last report on Odilia’s frightening experience during the August supermoon no doubt wished her well and this provided comfort while she was alone.

The police declined her urgent request to investigate last time. There is still no reasonably sound explanation for the phenomenon during the last supermoon, though some people, including Odilia, wonder about the possibility of supernatural visitors.


When asked for an opinion on our previous report, CHAT GPT offered the following: 

The story you've shared is indeed intriguing and mysterious. It seems to describe a series of unexplained events involving footprints and circular patterns on the roof of Odilia Marques Fernandes' cottage during the supermoon. Let's break down some possible perspectives on this story:

1.    Supernatural Beliefs: Odilia herself appears to have considered the possibility that these events may be related to supernatural beings. Footprints and circular patterns that appear suddenly and cannot be explained by natural causes can lead some individuals to attribute them to supernatural forces. Such beliefs are often rooted in cultural or personal beliefs in spirits, fairies, or other supernatural entities.

2.    Skepticism: On the other hand, skeptics may suggest that there could be more rational explanations for the footprints and circles. It's possible that someone, possibly a prankster or a curious individual, accessed the roof during the night without Odilia noticing. However, her claim that the roof had not shown any marks since it was installed adds an element of mystery.

3.    Natural Phenomena: Sometimes, unusual patterns and markings can be attributed to natural phenomena, such as weather-related effects or animal activity. However, it's important to consider whether such explanations are plausible given the circumstances.

4.    Lack of Investigation: The fact that the local police did not investigate the incident further may raise questions about the credibility of the story. Some may argue that a thorough investigation could have shed more light on the situation.

Ultimately, whether one believes in supernatural beings or not, this story highlights the human tendency to seek explanations for unexplained events and phenomena. It's a reminder that people's beliefs, experiences, and perceptions can vary widely, and what might seem supernatural to one person may have a more mundane explanation to another. Without additional evidence or investigation, the true nature of the footprints and circles on Odilia's roof remains a mystery.





Monday, September 25, 2023

Immigration and emigration

An increasing number of people in recent years have been coming to Portugal for a better life than they have been experiencing in America, the United Kingdom and a number of EU countries.

At the same time, many Portuguese residents have been leaving for the same countries immigrants are coming from.

The number of foreign residents in Portugal is now more than 6% of the total population.

Some, especially those from former Portuguese territories such as Brazil, come to study or work. Many of the English-speakers are elderly and wanting to enjoy their retirement in Portugal. 

For those seeking further education or work opportunities, Lisbon, Porto, Coimbra and the other main cities are very attractive. The milder climate and less busy environments in the Algarve region is the preferred option for many retirees. 

More than 285 passengers disembarked  at Azores airports last month, almost a 10% increase on August the previous year, but it is not clear now many of those visitors may have been lured to remain and reside on one of those beautiful islands.    

The number of foreigners living on the Portuguese island of Madeira was about 10,600 at the beginning of last year, an increase of nearly 20% since 2019 and the COVID pandemic.

Immigrants are obviously drawn to mainland Portugal and the autonomous islands by conditions they consider better than in their homelands. Among the most important is the fact that the Portuguese are generally a welcoming people and while English is not an official language, many Portuguese understand and speak it fluently. Also of great significance is the fact that Portugal is one of the most peaceful countries in the world. 

There are plenty of English-speaking property agents, lawyers and health professional available to offer their services. All sorts of advice is also available in English and other European languages for members of the Association of Foreign Property Owners (AFPOP). 

The cost of living throughout Portugal has risen a lot in recent years, but it is still moderate compared with many other places. On the negative side, property rental and purchase prices have soared, causing a shortage of affordable accommodation for locals who are earning in many cases €1,000 or less a month.

The housing situation in the cities and low incomes are two of the main reasons why so many young Portuguese are emigrating in search of a better life abroad, mainly in the UK, France, Spain, Germany, Switzerland and the Nordic countries.

More than two million Portuguese-born citizens are living elsewhere at present. Together with the descendants of Portuguese emigrants, the number around the world is about five million, more than 40% of the home nation’s total population. 

There is no suggestion that the comings and goings will reduce let alone stop in the years ahead.

Sunday, September 17, 2023

Strangers in the night during the supermoon

A perfectly rational Portuguese lady living alone in a remote cottage in the Algarve countryside is worried that another weird stranger may visit her on the night of the next supermoon, September 29.

During the last supermoon at the end of August, footmarks and circles appeared on a flat portion of her roof. Having considered all possibilities, she has  concluded that they may have been made by some supernatural beings.

Of course this sounds utterly ridiculous, but a close look at the facts may make even sensible sceptics wonder.

Odilia Marques Fernandes, 67, is originally from Lisbon. She moved to the Algarve 26 years ago and is still working as a physiotherapist. Family and friends regard her as a remarkably happy and kind-hearted person with no odd characteristics.  

Her cottage is set a little back from a quiet road, well apart from neighbours, amid beautiful natural countryside going up towards Marmelete and Monchique in the hills. 

Her small kitchen-sitting-room, bedroom, bathroom and garage offer perfect tranquillity. It was while she was working in silence on her computer at 2.30 am on Thursday August 31 that she heard what sounded like footsteps on the roof.

The footsteps were on a flat section of the roof covering quite a few square metres that she had put in place above the bedroom and bathroom a year ago to stop rain coming in from leaking tiles. 

As it was so late and she was tired, Odilia dismissed what sounded like footsteps as just her imagination. She went to bed and slept well.

In the morning, curiosity persuaded her to fetch a metal ladder from her garage and place it against the wall leading up to the flat part of her roof. Once up there, she was shocked to discover footprints clearly marked in the dust all over the flat surface.  They seemed to have been made by two pairs of bare feet, both just a little bigger than her own, but with unusually large outer toes. Even more amazing were a number of large, perfectly circular patterns spaced among the footprints.

Odilia was not only shocked, but frightened. It was impossible that anyone could have climbed on to the roof without her knowing that night or at any other time since the flat section had been fitted. She was certain that the workmen who fitted the flat roofing a year ago had not left any marks whatsoever – and if they had they would have been washed away by the winter rains.

Without delay, she phoned the GNR police in Monchique. They showed no interest. They did not send anyone to investigate.

On the phone, Odilia shared her fears with family and friends. None, including two who have climbed up with her and taken photographs on the roof since the August supermoon, have come up with a plausible explanation.   


Photos by Ana Lourenzo

Saturday, September 16, 2023

Douro wine producers demand reform


Wine producers in Portugal’s Douro region now have the backing of the country’s President, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, in demanding urgent reform to the long outdated regulatory system that is threatening the economic viability of their renowned vineyards.

The president has followed up on an open letter signed by the leaders of all the top wine companies, such as Symington Sogrape, Sogevinus and Cran Cruz, as well as a number of medium and small-sized premium producers. The letter has also been endorsed by about 1,000 protesters insisting on rapid change.

The Douro’s regulations were put in place about 100 years ago. Some minor adjustments have been made since then, but a full review and more essential adjustments are now desperately needed “so that the region adapts to today and tomorrow’s reality,” the president has said. He noted that changes were in the interests not only of the Douro in the north of Portugal, but the whole country.

Paul Symingtom, of Symington Wine Estates, has pointed out that Douro wine regulations were designed last century almost exclusively for Port, but other wines now account for almost half of total grape production. “We need more intelligent use of the rules on maximum yields per hectare,” he said.

For those unfamiliar with Douro vineyards, they are planted on remarkably stony soil on terraces on the sides of 30 degree hills. The grapes have to push their roots deep into the ground because the soil does not retain much water.

Vines have been grown here at least since the Romans made wine during their long occupation of the Iberian Peninsula. Portugal has been exporting wine from the spectacular Douro Valley since the nation’s founding in the 12th century. Exports were hugely enhanced after Portugal and England signed the Treaty of Windsor in 1386.  Port has been the best known type of Douro wine since the mid-17th century.

Portugal is now the fourth largest grape-growing country in the world and the ninth largest wine producer. But in recent times the Douro has been especially vulnerable to global warming causing a mixture of floods, droughts, and scorching heat waves with temperatures reaching more than 104 degrees F.  Diminishing yields, rising costs, low sales prices, a decreasing number of farmers and other factors have impacted the industry.

The Drinks Business, a European trade journal, has issued a translation of the Portuguese open letter headlined “The Douro Deserves Better”: Some of the highlights:

 + The Douro demarcated region is known for being one of the marvels of the wine world. It contains more than half of the world’ steep mountain vineyards and is classified as a UNESCO World Heritage site. There is no comparable wine region.

+ More than 19,000 grape farmers and 1,000 companies are committed to working in these challenging vineyards, producing two renowned wines: Port and DOC Douro wines.

+ Over the past 20 years there has been a 25% reduction in total Port volumes to 7.8 million cases in 2022, while DOC wines have grown to 5.2 million cases.

+ Despite these profound changes, the regulatory structure has remained unchanged and is now creating serious distortions that have impacted not only the price of grapes, but also the socio-economic sustainability of the farmers, the companies and the future of the region’s wines in international markets.

+ Many grapes are sold below cost. The loss to farmers is obvious, resulting in the abandonment of vineyards and depopulation of the region.

+ Equally serious is that too many wines are being sold internationally at prices comparable with the cheapest wines in the world – something that would be impossible if farmers were paid a fair price.

+ Over the past 15 years various studies have been produced by highly reputable organisations. All concluded that the Douro is not sustainable under these circumstances and that regulatory reform is necessary. But nothing has been done despite repeated promises by the State.

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Comment: A new Azores – Algarve connection coming



Both the Azores and the Algarve are likely to benefit economically and socially when the SATA Group starts operating direct flights next year between Ponta Delgada and Faro.


Visitors from SATA’s destinations in the United States, Canada and Britain may decide to make use of the new flights to visit both the Azores and the Algarve on the same holiday.


Furthermore, Algarve residents will be able to take a break and escape to the Azores from the hustle and bustle of tourism in their home territory, particularly at the crowded height of summer.


The Faro connection will start on 2 June 2024 with flights on Wednesdays and Sundays departing from Ponta Delgada at 9am and departing Faro at 12.25pm.  The duration of the flights will be about two hours and 25 minutes.


Airbus A320 planes with seats for 168 passengers are expected to be used for the service. Faro International Airport is the second busiest air terminal for foreign passengers in Portugal after Lisbon.


Ponta Delgada on the island of Sã0 Miguel is already connected directly with regular flights to and from Boston, Toronto, London, Lisbon, Oporto, Funchal and Cape Verde.


Both the SATA Air Açores and the other member of the group, Azores Airline, carried a record number of passengers in 2022. The total was 1,920,451, an increase of almost 50% in 2021, and just over 12% on 2019, which was the previous record year.


Then the COVID pandemic set in. Last year’s figures were achieved despite the negative effects of COVID remaining in the first quarter of 2022. A further increase in passenger traffic is anticipated for 2023, though probably not as dramatic as last year. 


Both the Azores and the Algarve are steeped in attractions for visitors. The Azorean capital Ponta Delgada and elsewhere on São Miguel as well as the seven other inhabited islands in the archipelago, offer good accommodation for travellers.


The islands are far out in the Atlantic Ocean, almost halfway to North America. That’s about 1,600 Km (1,000 miles) from mainland Portugal. This remoteness is a big attraction in itself. So is the astonishing natural beauty and biodiversity on the islands.


They are frequently referred to as “an absolute paradise” for all kinds of nature lovers. The historic streets on the island of Terceira, for example, are a UNESCO World Heritage site. São Miguel is a great place to look out for whales and dolphins. São Jorge and the tiny island of Corvo are ideal for watching seabirds, such as shearwaters, skuas, and terns.


The Algarve is best known for its superb beaches amid historic headlands such as Cape Saint Vincent, and for its luxury resorts as well as less-expensive coastal villages. Tavira, Quinta do Lago, Vale do Lobo, Vilamoura, Albufeira, Carvoeiro, and Lagos lure many visitors back time and time again.


The rural and natural inland areas of the region are particularly popular among hikers and cyclists. The west coast in September and October is best for watching birds in migration. Scores of Buzzards, Eagles, and Vultures may soar overhead while you are sitting on the terrace of a Sagres restaurant.


One of the main differences between the Azores and the Algarve is the climate. The “off- season”, October to April, are usually the best months for hiking in both. January to March is the coolest and quietest period – good for golfers in the Algarve - but also when rain is most likely.


The highest summer temperatures in the Azores are usually about 30 degrees C (86F). July and August in the Algarve, however, will probably be exceptionally hot again next summer – often well over 30 to 40 degrees C (90 to 104 F).


An inquisitive and adventurous spirit is all it needs to arrange and look forward to a memorable first visit to the Azores and or the Algarve.


Monday, August 21, 2023

Portugal welcomes Americans interested in settling

The worsening political and social divisions within the United States are driving more and more Americans across the Atlantic Ocean to seek a better life in the European Union, particularly Portugal.

Lower property and other cost of living prices, plus an attractive and peaceful lifestyle are encouraging the eastward movement.  So too is the ease with which people can work remotely.

Close to 10,000 Americans were living in Portugal in 2022, an increase of almost 240% in five years, according to Portuguese government data. The number of students attending the Carlucci American International School in Lisbon has significantly increased in recent years and now represents a quarter of the student body, according to The New York Times. 

The variety of urban, rural and coastal locations available to buy or rent property is another major attraction. Some newcomers head straight for Lisbon or Oporto. Others prefer the quieter central regions or the beautiful beach resorts in the southern Algarve. The ease with which you can work remotely is also encouraging.

As most readers of this journal will know, many Azoreans and Madeirans emigrated to the United States and Canada in the 20th century. Many of their descendants are now moving back to live amid the natural beauty of these amazing, Portuguese autonomous islands.

Starting in 2024, Americans will need to register online with the ETIAS system before their trip to get visa-free entry to Portugal. According to U.S. citizens do not need a visa to enter Portugal, as long as their stay does not exceed 90 days within a 180-day period for purposes such as tourism, business, short-term studies, cultural or sports events, or medical treatment.

However, Americans who plan to work long-term, study, or move to Portugal must apply for a National (D) Visa, explains Marla Barrett, who specialises in giving second citizenship advice and help.

ETIAS, she adds, is “an electronic travel authorization that will allow all citizens who come from visa exempt countries the opportunity to travel in the Schengen area without having to go through any visa application process. It will be valid for three years or until a passport expiry date, whichever comes first.”

As for the documents required, here are some of the most important ones:
+ Your valid passport.

Two passport photos.
+ Copies of your previous visas.
+ Round-trip flight Itinerary.
+ Proof of accommodation.
+ Proof of sufficient financial means for the period of stay in Portugal.
+ A cover letter.



Sunday, August 6, 2023

Pope Francis’ historic visit to Portugal a great success.

The World Youth Day festival in Lisbon lasted a week. It will continue to be seriously discussed for at least another month, and it will stay in the memories of more than a million young pilgrims for years.

Christians in their teens and twenties from nearly every country in the world arrived barely knowing a word of Portuguese, but hugs immediately became the international “language of love.” 

A few days before the arrival of Pope Francis, the highly innovative Portuguese artist Bordalo II managed to break into one of the main venues and roll out a “walkway of shame”, a carpet up steps to an altar from which the pope was to deliver speeches. The carpet consisted of huge images of €500 banknotes. It was a symbolic protest against the amount of public money being spent on the religious event while so many people in the capital and nearby cities are homeless or living in poverty. 

Prime Minister Antonio Costa downplayed the costs and said the government and municipalities involved would benefit from their investments in the World Youth Day (WYD) event. 

The “walkway of shame” was also a reminder of the “shame of silence”, the cover-up of child sex abuse by the clergy that persisted within the Catholic Church for decades. Shortly before the pope’s arrival, the cardinal-patriarch of Lisbon said the church was “fully committed” to resolving the scandal.  

Local Lisbon residents were far from happy about the disruption being caused to their normal daily lives by the mass of young Christian visitors. And there was some very unchristian behaviour going on as well. Pilgrims had to be warned of scams such as car drivers, falsely claiming to be closely associated with the event organisers, charging exorbitant taxi fares.     

Protests and strikes by local transport workers, doctors, nurses, teachers and rubbish collectors did not seem to disrupt the tsunami of festivities that got underway on Tuesday August 1, the eve of the pope’s arrival. By then more than a million pilgrims were reportedly in the city ready to enjoy various celebrations, including not only special religious services, but musical and theatrical performances and sporting competitions. 

Less than half of the pilgrims had formally registered for the festivities. Of those who did register, the biggest groups were Spanish, Italian and Portuguese. More than 27,000 had crossed the Atlantic from the United States.

On flying in from Rome, the pontiff’s plane was escorted by Portuguese air force fighter jets. Portugal’s President, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, welcomed the pope and his entourage “with open arms” at the Figo Maduro military airport. The tight security in place included an extra large police presence in Lisbon and a ban on drones flying over Fatima when the pope went there. While the safety arrangements were secure, the Portuguese PSP police union pointed to “deplorable hygiene and cleanliness standards” for it members.

On his first day in Lisbon the pope expressed concerns about euthanasia, the environment and war within Europe. Later, in a private meeting, the pope spoke with 13 victims who had been sexually abused by members of the clergy. He “listened to them intently,” according to a Vatican spokesperson. Francis clearly deplored the weak response of the Portuguese Catholic hierarchy to the hideous scandal in this country. Before the truth fully emerged, the church hierarchy had claimed that “only a handful” of priests were involved. Francis lamented that this had driven many of the faithful away from the church. 

Later in the week, the pontiff shared his thoughts on many other subjects including abortion, climate change, the importance of charity, and the need to avoid being fooled by false social media disinformation.

Two hundred thousand turned out to greet the pope with cheers of delight by the time he had arrived at 8.35 on Friday morning for his short visit to Fatima. The crowds lined the route for the popemobile from the Fatima heliport, and filled into the vast concourse within the sanctuary in front of the Fatima Basilica overlooking the Shrine where the three shepherd children are believed to have witnessed the apparitions of the Virgin Mary in 1917. Francis met and blessed babies during his two-hour stay before returning to Lisbon.

Having spoken repeatedly about the gravest challenges facing humanity and the Catholic Church, including the war in Ukraine and child sex abuse, during Mass on his final day in Portugal, the pontiff pleaded with young people “not to be afraid” and that they are “the present and the future.”