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Gillian and Miguel

It’s the stories we share that bring us closer together. We met Miguel and Gillian on our first day in Foz do Arelho. They own the bungalow that Ruth and I rent in Portugal and run the Mini Mercado where we often buy our groceries. We’ve had the pleasure of getting to know them during our time here, and recently had the opportunity to sit down with Miguel and Gillian to chat with them about their story. How they each came to end up in Foz and how that has brought them together.

gillian and miguel.png

We began by asking what it means to be Portuguese. Gillian is Scottish and Miguel is Portuguese, so we got both the insider and outsider perspectives.

Miguel- ‘The Portuguese are a proud people. Past explorations and conquest instill pride in the Portuguese. Portugal found Brazil, parts of India and parts of China. Though you might have a hard time seeing that today. We have lost most of what we conquered but the Portuguese are still hard workers, very hard workers. Portugal may be on hard times but we still have good soccer (futebol).’

Both Miguel and Gillian support the team Benfica, which is good since there are three futebol teams in Portugal with thick rivalries.

Gillian- ‘I can’t speak for the Portuguese since I am not from here but I see that they are like the Scottish. Portuguese people are very open people. There are no secrets. When I walk into a market or cafe I walk out knowing everyone’s stories. They are also very friendly and patriotic, just like the Scottish. When you are from Portugal you are proud to be from Portugal and when you are from Scotland you are proud to be Scottish.

I see that the Portuguese are also very hard workers. There’s a man who comes out and sweeps the streets every day- just to do it. He is not paid or obligated.’

We seemed to see so many of these ideas to be true in our short time in Foz. The people are very friendly and anyone working at a market, cafe or pastelaria seems to always be working. The next question was about the greatest day Miguel and Gillian ever had. That proved to be difficult to answer. We narrowed it down to their best day together in Portugal.

There was a bit of pause.

Miguel quipped with a smile that, ‘We have had some good days,’ attempting to buy some time.

Gillian mentioned a day when they attended a Portuguese wedding.

Gillian- ‘Daniel and Catarina’s wedding was our first large, formal outing with everyone (Miguel, Gillian and Miguel’s children).’

Miguel- ‘Gillian ‘stirred things up’ when she arrived in Foz. She is ‘earning credits’ as a member of Foz. Foz do Arelho is a small village where everyone is either related or is a family friend. People know when a blond woman comes to town, especially with a Scottish accent. Talk get’s around and suspicions abound. The wedding was a great opportunity for us to go out as a family and for the community to see us together.’

Gillian- ‘It was a good day.’

The discussion went on for a while and led Ruth and I to wonder, ‘Why Foz?’

Miguel- ‘I am from Tornada, Portugal. My father was a salesperson up and down the Silver Coast. He had opportunities to take over Mercado’s in Nazare and in Foz. Tornada was closer to Foz so that’s where we moved on April Fools Day 1971. Twenty years late I moved to Canada. I was doing well when my father told me that I could have the store or he would sell it. So I came back to Foz to run the market.

gillian and miguel casa do miguel.png

I also purchased a bit of residential property. In front is an historic house built by Francisco de Almeida Grandela- a wealthy business man who built schools and buildings and donated them to Foz. One of the plans for the house was to tear it down and build apartments but it is protected under historic preservation laws. I ended up restoring it and rent it out as Quartos.’

Gillian- ‘I have been back forth from Portugal to Scotland a couple of times. I grew up in Aberdeen, Scotland. There I ended up owning my own salon and cut hair for a long time. I moved to Portugal and I fell in love with the Silver Coast. I moved back to Scotland and did some work for a jeweler but loved Portugal too much. I moved back and met Miguel and here we are now.’


Miguel and Gillian's separate stories are so dense and their story together is still growing and building on that foundation. By now we had taken up much of their time and had one more question. What is one phrase a visitor to Portugal should learn to say?

Gillian didn’t hesitate- ‘Uma Cerveja.’ Know how to ask for a beer.

That gave us all a good laugh and helped to spur the discussion. What it seemed to come down to is to know the social greetings that everyone uses.

Gillian- ‘Know the greetings- ‘Bom dia, boa tarde, boa noite (good day, good afternoon, good night).’ If you are sitting in a cafe and someone walks in they are likely to say ‘Bom dia,’ and expect a reply from everyone. It is the custom to greet and be greeted. It is a part of the social structure that supports the generosity and openness of the people.’


If you want to visit Portugal you should stay in Foz do Arelho for a while. Miguel and Gillian rent out space through AirBnB during the heavy tourist season and the offbeat winter season. The Lagoon (Lagoa de Obidos) is a few minutes walk and just up the beach is the roaring of the ocean. Take a walk along the cliffs and sip an espresso overlooking the waves.


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David Aleixo

Grey hour of his Sorrow
Do not feel so heavy, Cross
On the long road of Mishap
I so understand the Fate

Da hora cinzenta da sua Amargura
Nao sente a cruz tao Pesada
Na longa estrada da Desventura
Eu so entendo o Fado

-excerpt from the 'Fado Lisboeta'

David Aleixo. Canadian living in his parent's homeland

David Aleixo. Canadian living in his parent's homeland

Ruth and I met David our first night in Foz. We stopped in the Restaurante Central on the main road for a bite to eat. There was no time to stop for groceries and we were hungry.

We arrived at that odd time in Portugal when food is not being cooked because the lunch rush is over and dinner has not yet begun. David must have seen some desperation in us and worked out the baking of a pizza.

Since that first night we have frequented Central and David has always greeted us with a smile and pleasant conversation. He likes to test our Portuguese but doesn’t force us to suffer our own ignorance too long. As one of our first friends in Portugal we had to get to know more about him so we sat down with him to chat.

David was born in Canada, but he has lived in Portugal most of his life. We wanted to understand a little of his perspective of Portugal, as both an insider and an outsider, so we began by asking him what it means to be Portuguese.

David- 'It’s tough. It can be rough. Things are slow in Portugal. My friends and family and everyone is trying to emigrate. We mostly sit down and wait for things to happen. Being Portuguese is alright, we have everything so we don’t care. There are the mountains and the forests, the beach and the ocean. There’s history and museums and tourism but the people are suffering right now.

It’s our destiny. That’s why we sing the Fado. It means, ‘destiny’ it’s a sad song- it’s our destiny. Portuguese are used to suffering. We just let life happen. Bad things are shown in the news and we ignore it.'

Restaurante Central in Foz do Arelho

Restaurante Central in Foz do Arelho

David and his brother own and manage Restaurante Central in Foz do Arelho. We asked him why he chooses to live in Foz.

David- 'My parents were born in Foz. My mother moved to the States and my father moved to Canada. They got married and moved to Canada together. That’s where I was born. I am Canadian. We moved to New York where my brother was born and after a while we came back to Foz.

I was too young to know that I wanted to stay in the States, but Foz is where I met my wife. We were neighbors and started dating, I was 16 and she, Cristina was 15. Ten years later we got married. Foz is home.'


If you’re going to visit Foz do Arelho, or anywhere in Portugal, it’s a good idea to know a little of the language. We asked David what words or phrases he recommended people learn before traveling to Portugal.

David- 'The basics. When you are traveling anywhere you should know several key phrases. In Portugúes specifically ‘Bom dia,’ ‘Obrigado,’ ‘Se faz favor/Por favor’ - Good day, Thank you, Please. Greeting people in their own language opens the door for conversation. '


Then we got a little more personal with our questions, moving from Portugal, to Foz to David and his family. The answer to our question “What was the best or most important day of your life” wasn’t too surprising. Even in our short interactions with David it has been obvious that he cares for his family.

David- 'There are two days. Both are when my daughters were born, Luísa and Adriana. There will be many special moments but none greater than when they were born. And of course every day with my beautiful wife Cristina.'


We’ve had our own impressions of David, but we wanted to know what he wanted people to think of him. (We think he’s pretty cool.)

David- 'I think often times people meet me and think that I am rude. I seem a bit frank or stand off-ish. I don’t want people to have that impression of me. It takes a little while for me to warm up to people. I’m a normal guy, I like to joke. There’s nothing special.'


Ruth had one more quick question for David before we wrapped things up. The past month and a half we’ve watched people kite surfing, wind surfing and just plain ‘ol surfing on the lagoon and ocean nearly every day. We finished by asking David if he surfed. (It seems hard not to if you grew up here in Foz!)

David- 'I’m too old for that shit! I have a bad knee now but I used to surf. I would run and play games and now I am looking to get a bike. A mountain bike would be great to lose a few kilos.'

Buondi cafe Abatanado and Bolo Berlim

Buondi cafe Abatanado and Bolo Berlim

If you’re ever in Foz do Arelho or just in the area, take a little bit of time to stop by Restaurante Central. Grab a coffee and a pastry, or beer and a pizza or maybe all of the above. Watch a game or sit down at the bar for a quick chat with David. We promise it will be worth your time.

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