Time for our much-awaited trip to the Algarve. Although I guess it was not so much awaited as last year’s trip to Holland because in this instance we didn’t actually book it until about March. So, it was time for our not-so-long-awaited-but-still-excited-at-the-prospect trip to the Algarve.
We decided on the Algarve partly because Kas wanted to take the kids somewhere on an aeroplane and partly because we had a sort of desire to be somewhere very warm, where we could essentially pack only lightweight clothes and not need to worry about being cold. Whatever the reason, we decided this year to take the low difficulty option of booking a package with Thomas Cook. Our chosen location was the small apartment complex of Vilas Joinal in the village of Sesmarias just outside Albufeira.
One of the downsides of booking a package holiday is the flights. Not so much the actual flights themselves, but the butt-awful times of day that you have to get to the airport.
In this case, our flight was scheduled to leave Birmingham Airport at 6:05 am, meaning we needed to be there for check-in opening at 4:05. So we had to set off early. Which meant we had to get up even earlier. 1 am, in fact. OK, so that’s actually last night, not this morning.
We were in the car and off up the motorway by just after 2am, and we made it to the airport and into the terminal building by 3:40am. We supposedly had another 25 minutes to wait before the check-in opened, but they were open and taking bags already, so we checked in straight away.
They’d previously advised that we check-in online to “avoid queues”, as we’d only need to do our bag drop, however the online check-in window was only open for 24 hours, and by the time I read the email Kas had forwarded they had already closed it, so we had to check-in at the airport. This turned out to be totally un-bothersome, mainly because they’d got about 10 desks open for people needing to check-in and only 2 for people doing bag drops. So some people who joined the bag drop line at the same time we joined the check-in line were still waiting there when we had finished, checked in and rid ourselves of the luggage. Good choice then.
Airport security at Birmingham was, well, secure, I suppose. There were no great traumas involved. They have electronic body scanners, which I haven’t seen before, and I managed to set them off. I suspect it was my finger rings, as I had rid myself of all other metals beforehand, but I got frisked down one side and around my backside. I’m well known for my metal arse, me!
Back at the plot, we had a couple of hours to deal with breakfast, emergency shopping, and toilet breaks. Breakfast came in the form of some large coffees and pastries from Costa. We hadn’t booked food for the flights, on the basis that the kids would be unlikely to eat anything, so we had to stock up beforehand.
Emergency shopping consisted of Kas totally failing to buy a travel hairdryer (due to apparent lack of availability) and me failing to find any novels I wanted, and hence I bought a load of puzzle books (Sudoku, Killer Sudoku and Codewords) and a pencil instead.
And after a toilet break it was time to make our way down to our departure gate. Once there we seemed to have to wait for ages before being bussed off to an unmarked plane at the furthest possible limit of the apron. Seriously, the plane was completely white apart from its call sign painted on the side. And herein lay another great money-making scheme by the tour company. As well as having to pay extra to pre-book your seats and to carry a decent amount of luggage and to eat something on the flight, you can also pay extra to have priority boarding. I have no idea what this is supposed to get you, because on this flight everyone was mixed onto the same busses and everyone got onboard together. There was no separate line for priority boarding and no attempt to filter people getting on. If I’d paid for that I would be asking for a refund. Incidentally, by the time we’d added up all the baggage allowance fees and “sitting together” fees the flights worked out more or less the same as it would have been to just book the accommodation from Thomas Cook and buy the flights from BA. Next year I might consider doing that.
Faro Airport seemed easy enough apart from the bags being a bit slow to come out. It all went really well until we got to the car rental pickup. where I discovered the first of no doubt quite a few monetary surprises over the next two weeks. I’d rented a car using our corporate discount and it came up really cheap (about half the cost of the same car rented through either Thomas Cook or through a bucket shop like HolidayAutos.com. At check-in for the car, I discovered that the reason it’s so cheap on the corporate rate is that this doesn’t include any insurance (as my company self-insures). So by the time I’d added on the necessary insurance the cost had gone up to roughly the same price it would have been without the corporate discount code. They did, however, waive the charge for the second driver and upgrade us two levels to an estate version of the VW Golf instead of the hatchback. It had scratches on both the front and the back though.
We decided to take the scenic route to Albufeira rather than the motorway for some reason, which gave me ample opportunity for close shaves with walls and kerbs and other vehicles whilst trying to remember that I was sitting on the left of the car. After last year and several others on the continent, I’m quite comfortable driving a right-hand drive car on the wrong side of the road, so I was naturally positioning myself quite close to the right-side kerb, and as a result was scaring the living bejesus out of Kas. Somehow I managed to get us all the way to our apartment without actually hitting anything, killing anyone, or damaging the car. Well, there was a small incident with a kerb at one junction, but I don’t think anyone noticed. I’m blaming the tiredness anyway. I’d been up 10 hours and it was still only 11 am.
11 am is far too early to check in to the accommodation. 11 am is the time that the previous inhabitants were supposed to have left. There was no sign of the site manager but Thomas Cook rep at the airport had given us all the details and we knew which apartment we were in, and how to get into it. When we did go in, the maid was busily cleaning everything, but she seemed happy we drop our bags and do a quick change act (into shorts), so long as we didn’t want to actually occupy the place.
From here we scooted down to Galé Beach to see what we could see. What we could see was the sea (funnily enough) and some sand, and some restaurants. We visited these three in reverse order. We were Hank Marvin, having not eaten anything for about 7 hours, and anyway, it was after midday now. So we grabbed a table at the first restaurant we came to and proceeded to work our way through some sandwiches, salads and chips, followed by some ice creams for the girls. The beach bar wouldn’t take a credit card.
We then walked a few metres along the back of the beach to collect a cache that was screaming at me before retiring to the beach for a quick splash. The kids were not appropriately dressed (i.e. no swimming costumes) but managed to get themselves totally soaked up to the bum by running in and out of the waves. Hmmm!
On the way home we popped up to a Spar shop we’d passed on the way in to buy some essentials for the morning – bread, cereals, milk, and so on, but we’d planned not to eat at the apartment – a long day meant cooking was off the radar.
Cold cold cold. Brrrr! But quite nice once you got used to it.
At a certain time of the evening, we dragged them (literally) out of the pool and made them get cleaned up so we could go round to the tour rep’s recommended JK’s Bar for some dinner. JK’s also didn’t take credit cards, so on the evening of our first day we were already a fifth of the way down the Euros cash we bought with us.
That wasn’t the problem though. The problem was that I had two large beers quite quickly, and then finished off the one Kas didn’t want, and as a result of that, plus some sunshine and dehydration, and the antibiotics I’d been taking for a week, I gave myself a bit of a hangover. A bad enough hangover, in fact, that I couldn’t get to sleep and as a result I spent most of the night sitting on the settee downstairs in the apartment wishing there was some way of un-drinking the beer.
A Sunday League error for the first day.