Algarve 2015

 

In the summer the population of the Algarve triples with the addition of around a million tourists at any given time.

In August of 2015 we spent two weeks being four of the million.

I don’t think many people noticed us. We probably got away with it.

Flag of Portugal

The name “Algarve” is a corruption of the Arabic name “Al-Gharb”, meaning “The West”. It is the southernmost region of Portugal and has about half a million permanent residents packed into an area of about 5,000 sq. kilometres. It is the third richest region of Portugal (after Lisbon and Madeira).

Below are some random warblings from what turned out to be a very good holiday.

Faro Airport

Albufeira Marina

Caching on the Beach

Caves, Coves and Caches

A Disappointing Day

Seville

Praia do São Rafael

Silves

Carvoeiro

Brum Brum Brum

Open the photo gallery >>

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.

Once back at the apartment the girls were itching and twitching to get into the pool, so we did a minimum of unpacking and let them get to it.

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.


Albufeira Marina

Open the photo gallery >>

We must have had a long day yesterday. Izzy slept until after 9 am. That’s a full 2 hours later than her normal “lie-in”.

Kas went for an early run down to Galé Beach, where we’d had lunch the previous day,  and I stayed in with the girls trying to get them to eat some breakfast, but it was obvious from an early stage that they had other things on their minds. Wet things. Right outside the apartment things. Things involving a swimming pool. So I pretty much gave up on trying to get them to eat and just let them get ready for swimming.

So we all spent the morning lazing by the pool, taking a dip, drying out in the sun, getting sunburned and generally doing as little as we could get away with. I, for one, was not even remotely bothered about this lack of activity, as a result of me having had far too much beer in much to short a time the previous night.

Eventually, we had a quick lunch at the apartment and then packed ourselves up for a trip into Albufeira. There wasn’t really much of a plan. And it showed.

We drove down through the marina area, and, not having made a plan, we didn’t know where there was any parking. So we went up the hill towards the town centre around the marina and ended up right in the middle of some very small streets with one-way systems and really steep hills. I’m not sure Kas appreciated the test of her ability to drive a left-hand drive car so early on in the holiday.

Still, she managed to get us out again without hitting anything, and we found ourselves back at the marina again. We saw a bit of a car park down at the marina reception so we drove down there. (Hindsight says that the massive underground car park with 3 hours free parking is a better option, but we were newbies).

We walked along a bit of jetty down to a flat area that contained a) a geocache and b) a bunch of little huts belonging to vendors of various boat-based activities (parasailing, dolphin spotting, and so on). These looked interesting but we were also aware that the tour rep would be offering us the same kinds of thing, so we skipped it for now and went for a cache.

All the hard work of walking 500 yards in the sunshine had taken its toll, so we retired to the first available café and grabbed an ice cream and a bit of shade.

After ice creams we felt strong enough to walk up the steps and find another cache at the nearby church.

Having successfully found the cache and bhaving been surprised by someone driving their car right up to where we were searching, even though it didn’t look remotely like a road, we decided we’d call it a day, so we walked back down to the marina and grabbed a few flyers / had a chat with the lady at one of the boat-trip places before driving back towards home. We had limited time anyway because we needed to stop at Spar again for more food and we had an appointment with our tour rep at JK’s Bar at 4pm.

There wasn’t a lot to be said really – just a few excursions, which helped us make our own self-drive “shopping list” and a few basics about the resort. I guess we’re used to self-organised travel so the concept of having a tour rep to “look after” us is a bit alien now.

We had pizzas for tea, followed by a healthy pudding of crisps. While we were making it the girls stole another hour or so in the pool. It’s getting to be a habit.

As the sun was setting on the day the girls were still outside playing with some of the other kids in the complex. At some point Izzy managed to fall into the pool whilst fully dressed. The actual details of the incident seem sketchy. She might have tripped. She might have been pushed. She might have over-balanced whilst trying to fish something out. She got a nice graze on her stomach to show for it.

This was enough for one day, so we got Izzy to bed, and afterwards I sat with Ami and did a few of my puzzles whilst drinking some more beer.


The End of the World

Open the photo gallery >>

We got up early this morning with the prospect of a moderately long drive ahead of us.

The drive in question would take us to the End of the World, which in this corner of the world means the far southwestern tip of the Iberian Peninsula at Sagres. Unlike below Land’s End it’s not actually the most southerly part of the peninsula. Southern Spain below Cadiz and Gibraltar is much further south.

OK, so it’s the southwestern tip of mainland Portugal. But it’s not the most southerly part as (Faro is further south and it’s not the most westerly part as much of the coast between Setúbal and Leiria is further west. Let’s settle for it being the most sticky-out bit, and the bit that most looks like a goaty beard.

It bears some similarity to Land’s End in that the part referred to as “The End of the World” (Cabo de São Vicenteis slightly north and west of the more southerly Ponta de Sagres, rather like Land’s End and the Lizard Point, but closer together.

Back at the plot, it was about an hour drive from our apartment, including our first experience of the Portuguese toll motorway system. It’s great if you have the technology. You drive under some cameras, your number plate is captured by an ANPR system, and the car goes “bleep” to tell you that you just got captured. They also very handily tell you how much each section is going to cost you to drive on. It cost all of €3.20 to get to Sagres from Albufeira.

As we were driving west the weather was getting increasingly cloudy, and when we arrived at our destination the sky was decidedly grey. It also wasn’t very warm, and as we hadn’t packed any clothing for cold weather we decided the best remedy was to get some hot coffee in the car park.

Somehow we managed Izzy’s first injury of the day here too, when she tried to corner too sharply on some loose gravel and lost her footing, which resulted in two skinned knees and some crying. The two coffees came with a side order of wet wipes and plasters.

The Cabo de São Vicente lighthouse would probably be classed as slightly disappointing and a failed opportunity if it were in England. It was free to enter but there was no gift shop, no cafe, and one (quite small) exhibit about the Portuguese Age of Discovery). The views from inside were quite good but because access to the actual lighthouse isn’t possible you can’t actually see directly out to sea. You can only see along the coastline in the northerly and easterly directions.

So as there wasn’t very much in the lighthouse we came out again after about 20 minutes and made a short walk over some very rough terrain to find a geocache and to get a better angle for taking photos of the lighthouse. It was very rough terrain – exposed rough limestone blocks (although not an alvar). All jagged edges and knobbly bits. I was quite impressed that Izzy managed to walk across it without falling over at all.

From here we drove back towards Sagres, making a brief stop at the ruined Fortaleza de Belixe to do a cache and have a quick mooch around. By now the weather was picking up, and buying a sunhat rather than a cardigan earlier was starting to look like a good choice.

By the time we reached Fortaleza de Sagres the sun was fully out and it was warming up quite a lot. In unrelated news, the parking was rubbish.

The fort charges an entry fee which gets cheaper if you take children. Not just “kids go free” kind of cheaper, but “take a child and get a free adult entry” cheaper. The two adults in front of us paid €6 for the two of them. We paid €3 for all 4 of us. You do the math, as they say in America.

Once inside the fort we split up for a while. Izzy had managed to get a blister on her heel from some new shoes at some point so didn’t fancy walking the 500m or so out to the end of the promontory to do the Earthcache that was there, so Ami and me hot-footed it out there while Izzy and Kas explored the buildings of the fort in some detail. I think that worked for all four of us.

After about 45 minutes at the fort the girls had had enough so we moved on to the Tonel Beach in Sagres to get some late lunch. We ended up staying on the beach until home time.

The cafe we found was really good apart from not taking credit cards, so we ate reasonably well and had the obligatory ice cream before retiring to the beach for some plodging and general sunbathing. The sea was cold again but the beach itself was really nice – it was clean, the sand was soft and it wasn’t too busy. As this is the Atlantic Ocean there were also some fairly decent waves on it, despite this being around the leeward side of that big promontory that has the fort on it. Much mirth was to be had by running in and out of the waves.

We stayed there until around 5:15 but then heard the call of home, so we packed up and jumped into the car. It took us a bit longer to get home but once we were there we had a quick clean up and headed round to JK’s (again) to have some dinner. On this evening they were really busy so the service took a while, but we wren’t too bothered and the food was really good again, once it arrived. The kids are starting to get the idea that “going out for dinner” doesn’t mean just going somewhere to eat as quickly as possible and then go home again.

We also couldn’t figure out how to make the washing machine work, but I did manage to figure out how to make my “travelling” laptop talk to the apartment’s wi-fi, and hence I’ve been able to start typing some of these blog posts whilst still actually on the holiday.

A busy day, and we’d all had enough when we got back home to bed.


Caching on the Beach

Open the photo gallery >>

We had a late start today after a long day yesterday. It was one of those slow mornings where we were all up at different times and eating at different times and swimming at different times. And in Kas’s case, running, but probably at the usual time.

Nothing much happened all morning to be honest, apart from a fairly busy hour where we met the site manager (and he showed us how to make the washing machine work), the villa was cleaned, and we met up with our rep from Thomas Cook and bought some tickets for Zoomarine.

I also took a walk up the road to find the nearest cache to the villa. It was disabled but after a few minutes and a bit of poking around with a stick I found it and it was in perfect condition.

Just after lunch we set off for Albufeira with a few things on the plan. First up we went to the Marina to book ourselves a boat trip and some paragliding for subsequent days. That all went swimmingly well.

After this we drove up to the Miradouro Casa do Cerro to do the geocache there. It was quite a strange place. A nice overlook but rather shabby, full of bins, and with a couple of people that we had to pick our way around. We did, however, manage to find the cache and move on fairly quickly. There was also a fairly challenging sequence of steep roads and dodgy roundabouts to get up there. Portugal is really hilly, isn’t it !

From here we headed up to one of Albufeira’s very ornate roundabouts on the main road that runs around the back of the old town. There were supposedly two caches nearby, but one was disabled due to some reworking of a bus stop and we didn’t find the other, which was annoying because it’s a puzzle that I’d spent ages solving. Ho-hum! The moment is lost now.

From here we decided it was time to go and find parking in the middle of town ready for the rest of the evening. Well, being honest, we had done some checking on car parks after a bad experience driving in circles round some dodgy streets a couple of days previously. We found the car park we used via the cunning technique of spotting things on Google Satellite View and then zooming in for a bit of Street View. In this instance it proved a lot more useful than the random Google Search route, which yielded a bunch of half-arsed comments on Trip Advisor (other travel review sites are more or less the same) and some location pins in totally the wrong place. Funny, that!

After parking up we totally failed to find a nearby cache and so descended the outdoor escalators onto the Fishermen’s Beach for an ice cream. Well, the ice cream wasn’t on the beach, it was at the back of the pedestrianized bit, away from the sand. The ice cream was good. Very good.

We had a bit of a walk from here up into the old town and totally failed to find another couple of caches, making 4 DNFs in a row, and making me wonder why I bother doing it for a pastime. Sometimes it can be very irritating.

It was rather warm and the kids hadn’t been soaked through for all of 3 hours so we went back down to the bottom of the hill and Kas took the girls for a bit of sea and sand action while I wandered off for a bit more caching. It was already about 5:30 pm by this time, as the day was running quite late. We agreed to meet up no later than 7:30 so we could have some dinner before attending a caching event on the beach.

Back at the plot, the caching continued in its rather average state. The first target was a trad I had to replace. The second was on a beautiful outlook point but I couldn’t find it, and the third was overlooking the marina. Thankfully I actually found the third one. I ran out of time here so legged it quickly all the way back to Fishermen’s Beach and back up the escalators to have another pop at the one on the cliff there. This time I found it, mainly because the one I replaced had exactly the same situation (in the top of a post). Marvellous.

By the time I met up with the girls again we had about two hours left before the caching event.

We had dinner at a rather posh Italian restaurant whose “bloke at the front of the house” bore a striking resemblance to Paul Hollywood. It was a very nice restaurant. Ami tried gnocchi, which surprised us. And she ate quite a lot of it, which surprised us even more.

The restaurant was only a couple of hundred metres from the Fisherman’s Beach, so we took a leisurely stroll over there to attend the geocaching event, which started at 9:30pm. It was a bit quiet at the start, with us sitting there feeling a bit “Billy No Mates” and playing a game of “spot the cacher”, but eventually a likely looking family (adults with matching t-shirts) arrived, closely followed by the organizer, who spotted me straight away. It remained quiet for half an hour or so, but then suddenly at about 10 there were loads of people. They were mainly Portuguese (which actually surprised me), with a few other random Europeans and a couple of Americans. Sadly we made all of them speak to us in English all night.

The event was held right next to some statues of fishermen, which was sort of the point, because as the event was closing the host invited us all to go stand in and around the statues to get out photos taken.

This was the first evening on the holiday when we hadn’t been around to JK’s bar, which felt a bit strange, but it was quite late when we got back. It was nearly 11pm when we got back to the car, so it was getting on midnight when we got home. The day went fairly well though, as days go.


Caves, Coves & Caches

Open the photo gallery >>

We had an earlyish start this morning as we had an exciting day in prospect. Kas had an earlier start than the rest of us, obviously, as she felt the need to go and run her way down to and back from a few of the local beaches first thing.

The rest of us had barely surfaced when she came back, and we then began the fairly painful process of trying to get the kids moving after the late night yesterday.

The “exciting day in prospect” was the boat trip we’d booked the previous day. It required us to be down at Albufeira Marina for 10 am, so we set off at 9:30, having not yet realised that it was only a 5 minute drive. So we had ample time to get parked up in the underground car park, which turned out to be free, and then to get checked in and have a coffee next door to take advantage of the boat company’s 15% discount (cough!). OK, the coffee was reasonably priced rather than extortionate, but I’m not so sure about the “discount” business. The waiters were well practised in ensuring that you got your drinks and your bill in sufficient time to catch your boat though.

The general gist of the boat ride is that the coastline here is remarkably pretty, and you can get a much better sense of that if you’re just out to sea rather than just on the land. The coast in this area is formed by the meeting of smallish, rolling limestone hills with the sea. The overall effect is that the limestone forms near vertical cliffs, many of which are being undercut by the formation of caves. Where the land is lower and where caves have already collapsed then you get a series of small bays, each of which has its own pristine little beach, with a cafe and a (bad) car park. The part between Albufeira and Gale Beach is really pretty.

Then you get to a not-so-nice stretch from Gale Beach over to the other side of Armação de Pêra, which is your more traditional vast-expanse-of-sand-with-dunes-behind sort of beach, formed where a barrier beach has formed (or has been formed, possibly) in front of the wetlands at the mouth of the Ribeira de Alcantarilha. From the sea it doesn’t look so nice. Neither does Armação de Pêra, which looks for all the world like a tightly packed collection of apartment blocks conveniently stuck next to a beach. I suppose that’s what it is, to be honest. It doesn’t look particularly filled with character, unless the character you want it to be filled with is Rab C. Nesbitt. Maybe I’m being a bit snobbish. Oooh! Get me!

Once you get past there you’re back into the pretty bits of coastline again. The trip took us nearly all the way over to Carvoeiro, and this stretch was much the prettiest. One of the best bits was a rock in the water which was used apparently by The Beatles as the inspiration for their Yellow Submarine animation. If you’re not familiar with the animation and someone tells you this, you’re likely to believe it. But if you then compare pictures of it to the actual animation, it’s not a great resemblance. It does look like a submarine, and the rocks are yellow, but it doesn’t look like the Beatles Yellow Submarine, if you see what I mean.

On the way back home again the boat made a brief stop so people could jump off the back and have a bit of a swim. It was only for 15 minutes, which suited me because I’m not a fan of open water swimming, but was not as much as expected, and was maybe a bit disappointing for those who thought they were “getting a swim”.  Kas and Ami both jumped into the cold water with gusto and had a good old splash around. Izzy was a bit more tentative, but would probably have gone in had it not been for the boatman telling her it was cold, and also hinting it was more or less time to pack up and go home. She got her feet wet.

The way home was quite uneventful, especially for Izzy, who used the relative quiet to catch up on some zzzzzzzzzzzzz’s.

When we got back we had a late lunch at a different cafe beside the marina (different from the one where we’d had coffee earlier), and then Kas dropped me off at the far end of Gale Beach so I could go and do a bit of caching, while she and the girls did some shopping for tea and then retired to the villa for some pool time.

I walked from the far end of Gale Beach grabbing a few caches, I passed the one cache we’d done on saturday when we arrived, and continued my way on to through an excellent series of caches along the coastal path, nearly all of which I gave a favourite point to. I found 11 in total and spent the last hour or so in and around the very lovely Evaristo Beach – there was some backwards and forwards action here, as I stopped for a drink, realised I’d missed one cache (because it was off the coastal path), then returned to the beach to grab the final one of the series, and then calculated the bonus cache to be back behind the beach where I’d just been. It was a nice enough area though, and it had the distinct advantage of being only a few hundred metres away from the villa.

As I was walking back up I noticed a text from Kas asking if I could stop to buy matches, as she’d done a great job of provisioning us for an evening barbeque except for forgetting matches. I found a little tourist tat shop on the main street which didn’t sell matches but did sell little touristy cigarette lighters for €1 each.

When I got back I had time for a quick dip in the pool. Izzy was getting quite brave in there. Soon we dragged everyone out to get cleaned up before cooking the evening barbeque. When we do barbeques overseas we generally always manage to palm the girls off with local sausages (so long as they have plenty of ketchup), and Kas had bought some chicken kebabs too. The sausages were really nice, and it turned out Kas had also tried out the other nearby supermarket (not the Spar we’d used before), and discovered it to be a much better experience. Still small, but with a much better selection and seemingly cheaper prices. And a nice meat counter. You can’t beat a decent meat counter.

The boat trip had taken us to some very pretty locations that we wouldn’t have seen from the land, so it was worthy from that perspective, and it also had the advantage that being on a boat out at sea was somewhat cooler than sitting in a windless enclosed space on the land. A jolly good day was had by all. And the follownig day we discovered the cleaner had cleaned all the ashes out of the barbeque too, saving us a job.


Tavira

Open the photo gallery >>

We got out of the house this morning at about 10am, and in our sights we had one of the things that Thomas Cook offer as a whole day excursion from Albufeira – we were going to go to Tavira.

It wasn’t that far away – just over an hour – but then I suppose if you go with your tour company then the bus travels more slowly, possibly avoids the toll motorways, and spends an hour at the start picking everyone up. Anyway, we arrived in Tavira late in the morning, a bit early for lunch but not by much.

By the time we’d found somewhere to park we were somewhat closer to lunch, and were starting to wonder why we’d bothered coming. Eventually, on our second lap of the town, we found a single parking spot by the side of a narrow street that someone was just leaving. A-ha! It is ours. Although it was a bit tight, and I was still struggling with the car that had a button instead of a handbrake.

We decided it was time for a coffee break, if only because we also needed some loose change for parking and didn’t have enough. Kas sat down at a roadside cafe with the girls while I went off in search of some loose change. After a quick walk up the street and down again I ended up in the cafe where the girls were sitting. Unlike the response you’d likely get in the UK, they were very happy to change a €5 note into coins, so we decided it was a jolly nice cafe and stopped for our coffee.

From here we walked down the road to the medieval bridge over the river. It was here we noticed how very, very hot the weather was. Too hot. It’s a nice old bridge though.

We walked up the hill into the old town and sought refuge in a big church that had a small display of religious art (for a modest entry fee). It was cool inside. The church itself was quite pretty too, and also quite cool compared to outside. Eventually though, we had to brave the outside again.

It was a short walk around to the castle, and as seems to be the way around here, we found an interior almost completely given over to ornamental gardens. There was also a geocache, but that’s a whole other matter.

From the castle there was a steep staircase leading back down the road where we’d parked, and whilst descending here we decided it was far too hot in the town, so we were going to head for the coast to look for somewhere to get lunch.

This is where the disappointment started.

We drove down to the Ria Formosa from the town centre, which looked like it might be reasonably interesting, but when we got there it was a building site. It was difficult to park, and there were two restaurants which might have been OK if you could reach them, but you couldn’t.  We plodded along a bit to a jetty that was the home of an Earthcache, but there were no further restaurants or cafes. The jetty was just a landing stage for a little boat that runs out to one of the barrier islands. We did have the kit with us to go beaching, but we needed a drink and weren’t sure if there was a cafe over there. Looking at the map in retrospect, there are a few cafes over on the island, but we didn’t realise at the time.

So we returned to the car park and left. At least we got out free because we’d been there for less than 30 minutes.

We drove in a westward direction along the coastal roads looking for somewhere that might offer the combination of a beach, a nice looking restaurant and a parking space. None of the places we drove through matched up to all three. In fact, most of them only managed one of the three. I guess this is why the coast around Albufeira is more touristy than here.

We made it all the way to Olhão before deciding to give up on that plan. We saw signs for MacDonalds so thought we’d go there for lunch, because at least they have stuff that all of us would eat, but somewhere in the middle of town we lost all the signs and couldn’t find it. Boo! And hiss! This day was not working out quite as we planned and I was suffering a major sense of humour crisis by this point, so we decided to just go home again.

We stopped at some motorway services near Loulé to get some lunch (and grab the random carpark geocache). The food was actually not too bad.

On the way into home we stopped at our new favourite supermarket for a few goodies and then retired to our apartment, where we were quite surprised to discover that England had bowled out Australia for just 60 runs on the first day of the fourth Ashes test match at Trent Bridge. The kids had an appointment with the swimming pool, as ever, and I decided that I’d now got an urgent appointment at a nearby sports bar that had Sky Sports.  We all went, but Kas looked tired and the kids were getting a bit uppity, so after the (short) highlights of various Australians walking onto and then off the pitch Kas took Ami home. Izzy stayed with me while I watched the England innings and then we walked home and had a fairly early night.

Presumably if you take the full day excursion with the tour company they know the good spots to go to, and you don’t have to fart about looking for parking, and maybe they even know a nice restaurant or two, but we were both glad that we’d not had to pay to go there, as even with some better planning on our part I’m not convinced there’s a whole day out to be had in Tavira. It was quite a pleasant little town, but there’s not really a lot to do.


Wotta Lotta Notta Lot

Open the photo gallery >>

Every holiday we go on has to result in at least one blog post entitled “Not a Lot Happened” or something similar. This year I have decided to vary the theme and go with “Wotta Lotta Notta Lot”, but the general theme is the same. We didn’t do much.

I got up quite late. Ami was still in bed and Izzy had only just surfaced. Kas was just coming back in from her morning run.

So I had a lazy breakfast outside and the kids got their swimming cozzies on and went for a splash in the pool. Then I grabbed all the recent washing and ironed it. Well, someone has to.

The rest of my morning (up until lunchtime in the cricket) was spent listening to said cricket, doing sudoku puzzles and snoozing.

I then managed to snooze my way through most of the afternoon too. I spent some time pondering whether to go out and do a few caches, but eventually couldn’t be bothered.

Izzy managed to pick up another injury – something to do with one kid trying to save her from being pushed into the pool by another. She scraped skin off one shin. The girl who saved her was rather upset because she thought she’d upset Izzy by helping her, which wasn’t true. Kids, huh ?

So after a very lazy day we decided to go out to Albufeira for dinner. We stopped for puzzle cache on top of hill on the way in, then parked in big park above Fisherman’s Beach again.

We ate at a restaurant called El Rancho, right on the seafront by Fisherman’s Beach. Ami experimented with BBQ ribs, and decided she likes them.

We found some entertaining sand sculptures on the beach as we were leaving.


Siles and Carvoeiro

Open the photo gallery >>

We got up fairly late today and decided not to go to the nearby waterpark place, as this essentially would cost us €75 for something we were planning to do later in the same week at Zoomarine.

So instead we packed up some stuff for the day and headed off for one of the other trips on our hit list – the trip to Silves.  We took swimming stuff with us too, as we had the chance to scoot down to the coast to a supposedly lovely beach (with Portugal’s only webcam cache) at Carvoeiro.

Meanwhile, back at the plot.

The drive up to Silves was uneventful and we parked up in a massive and apparently free car park at the bottom of the hill, right underneath the castle. There was a geocache in the car park.

We walked around the road to get to the top of the hill. There evidently used to be a convenient boardwalk route up the side of the hill which started at this car park, but the ticket office and fencing were dilapidated and obviously not open for business, so we walked around, generally following the crowds.

When we got to the top we were greeted by full-scale planning for a local medieval festival of some kind. There were wooden trestle tables and straw bales everywhere and the distinct aroma of roasting animals.

There was also an entrance to the castle, so that’s where we headed. For the purposes of this exercise, Ami was demoted to being a 10 year old. Well, she’d only been 11 for a few weeks.

Inside there were a lot of walls (presumably the same walls also appear on the outside, but you know what I mean), most of which could be walked around and upon. In the centre courtyard, there was an array of real fruit trees of various kinds – apples, pears, lemons, oranges, limes, figs, dates, and the like. Ami took a real shine to these. Maybe she’s not actually seen fruit in its native habitat before. Anyway, she was rather taken by them.

On the way out it was time for lunch, so we stopped at the most touristy cafe possible and ordered ourselves some pizza and nachos. They were good though.

While we were waiting for our order I tried a quick walk to access another cache that was supposedly halfway down the old boardwalk I mentioned earlier. From the top of the castle though there didn’t seem to be a way down that side, so after a fruitless few minutes I retired to the cafe for lunch.

On the way back to the car I scrambled up the old boardwalk to fetch that cache, quite easily as it turned out, even though by now the sun was fierce and it was extremely hot.

We drove around the bottom of the castle and parked up in a car park so I could grab a puzzle cache I’d solved while the girls sat in the car with the air-con running.

From there we drove down to Carvoeiro. Kas got to drive down the narrow, cobbled streets again.

After a couple of fruitless laps, we drove up to the top of the hill at the east end of the beach and parked up right next to a cache that was part of a 3-cache mini-series.

The centre of Carvoeiro has Portugal’s one and only webcam cache. It’s right outside an ice cream shop. Ice cream o’clock then? It would have been rude not to.

From here we wandered over onto the beach, making a quick change and heading for a dip in the sea.

Ooh ooh ooh ooh cold!

After half an hour of beachyness I scooted off up the cliffs on the west side of the beach to find the other trad cache in that mini-series and its bonus puzzle cache. The view from the bonus was spectacular.

I headed back down to the beach for some shade, cliffs and incoming tide. It’s a really nice beach if you’re into that kind of thing. I would imagine it can get ridiculously busy at times.

We came off the beach at about 5:30 and grabbed a cold drink to sip at while Kas walked back up the cliffs to fetch the car. The kids were jiggered.

The drive back home was uneventful and we stopped off at our new favourite supermarket to grab some things for doing a barbie in the evening – some sausages and chicken/pepper kebabs. And some cold beers.

The apartment complex was busy with new visitors going through the normal first-day motions. Many of those motions involved barbeques. Some involved jumping in the pool after hours.

We had a fairly lazy tea then got ourselves all cleaned up before getting the girls to bed nice and early. We weren’t much later ourselves as we’d got a big day planned for the following day.


Seville

Open the photo gallery >>

We got up fairly early, had a quick breakfast and got onto the road by 9:30 am.  We were on a mission to go to another country. Spain if you must know. We were heading to Seville for the day, partly just so we could say we’d been and partly because it’s somewhere both Kas and I have always wanted to go. Partly also because I wanted to do a few caches there so I could “get another country”

On the way we stopped to put on suncream. Somehow the previous day in Carvoeiro I’d managed to get myself seriously sunburnt through the armpits of the shirt I was wearing, and to put it mildy, I was in some discomfort. I have no idea how I managed to achieve that.

The journey along the motorway towards Spain was pretty uneventful until we decided to stop for fuel. We had several problems. We couldn’t figure out whether we had to pre-pay or not (we had to), and we also couldn’t figure out how to get the fuel filler cap open. There was no lever like my car has, and it didn’t lock with the key. It took us ages, having pulled up to a pump, then pulled away again to allow the queue behind us to clear, and so on. Eventually we enlisted help from the kids. Sure enough, within a minute or so, Izzy had got it sorted. The fuel filler cap on a VW Golf is spring loaded apparently, and you just have to press the cap inwards to make it pop out properly. D’oh! I’m sure this foreign driving game is easier in your own car.

When we got into central Seville it was about midday Portuguese time, but we’d completely forgotten that Spain is 1 hour ahead. The phones remembered, but we didn’t. We thought we’d just wasted an hour somewhere without noticing.

So we parked up (eventually) and grabbed a fairly leisurely (but relaxing) lunch at a cafe just outside the Plaza de España.

The Plaza de España is apparently a landmark example of the Regionalism Architecture, mixing elements of the Renaissance Revival and Moorish Revival (Neo-Mudéjar) styles of Spanish architecture. Whatever that means, it’s pretty impressive, consisting of a very wide semi-circular promenade with big towers at each end and in the middle. Within the semi-circle is a series of canals with little squares, fountains and bridges. It’s really pretty. The whole place gets a bit of a fairytale look from the fact that many of the surfaces (especially around the waterways) are ornately tiled in bright coloured ceramics.

One of the great features of the Plaza de España is the row of tiled “Provincial Alcoves” set into the inside ring of the semi-circle. There’s a little alcove for each Spanish province (all 48 of them at the time it was done), each of which is ornately decorated with a religious or historical scene representing the relevant province. Each is big enough to have a couple of tiled benches guarding its entrance and therefore allowing the opportunity to rest up a bit and appreciate the architecture. Due to the Spanish treating their provinces in much the same way we English treat our counties, a number of the alcoves now have the wrong name (for instance Oviedo is now called Asturias and Logroño is now called La Rioja. To make matters worse, having a single province for the whole of the Canary Islands was not sufficient, so the single alcove for Tenerife now represents the provinces of Santa Cruz de Tenerife and Las Palmas.

While we were in the Plaza de España we found a few caches in the park and on the building.

From here we meandered our way past a couple more caches on our way to the Reales Alcázares de Sevilla – a substantial complex of palaces and gardens originally built by the Moorish kings. The current Spanish monarchy still uses the upper floors as an official residence when they’re in town.  It’s quite impressive.

Next on the agenda was a walk towards the Catedral, where we bought souvenirs and mooched about a bit. The cathedral is the largest Gothic, and the third-largest Christian church in the world. It’s also (one for the pedants here) the largest cathedral in the world, as the two churches that are larger aren’t the seat of a bishop. Given that one of the larger two is The Pope’s Gaff it seems a bit harsh claiming to be the biggest on a technicality like that.

Anyway, by this time we were getting a bit hungry, as it had been a while since lunch. This is when we hit upon a bit of a problem. Sunday evening in Seville seems to involve restaurants not serving food. The first place we tried made sure we’d ordered and received drinks before telling us their kitchen was shut. We drank up quickly and moved on. The next place we tried left us sitting unattended for ages before we finally just got up and left.  At the place where we had lunch they were still serving, but not food, just drinks. At this point we decided to cut our losses and start heading home.

We managed to get out of town with only one navigational error, and we drove all the way to the motorway services at Olhão before needing to stop for a drink.

Oooh look! There’s a cache in the car park.

When we eventually got home it was quite late, so we had some quick snacks out of the fridge for tea and then hurried the kids to bed.

Parasailing tomorrow for Kas and Ami.


Parasailing

Open the photo gallery >>

This morning we got up quite early because Kas and Ami had an appointment with some parasailing.  Izzy and me planned to go caching for a while. So we arrived down at Albufeira Marina without having breakfast.

The caching was on the hill up above the marina mainly, with one cache being out on the jetty on the south side of the marina. Getting to this last one involved a very dodgy bit of road and a scramble down a bit of a cliff. Izzy did well.  However, when we got to the end of the jetty we couldn’t find the cache.

Before we could say “how’s yer wotsit” Ami and Kas were on their way back in from parasailing, so we figured we’d better get back to the marina. When we got there it was well past breakfast time, so we found a cafe and ate something that was well past breakfast.

After breakfast we went back to the cache on the jetty, except this time we stuck to the reasonable roads, parked outside someone’s house, and proceeded to walk through a boatyard and around the edge of the headland at sea level (well, slightly above sea level) rather than scrambling over the rocks. It was significantly easier.

When we got to the end of the jetty again the cache was an easy find, partly because this time I decided to ignore the hint and just follow the arrow on the GPS.

We didn’t do much in the afternoon – just some chilling and some swimming. And we had dinner at home, ready for another day.


Praia do São Rafael

Open the photo gallery >>

This post might well have been another in the series of “Not a Lot Happened” entries. I’m writing this retrospectively and just had to chase up which geocaches I found on this day to try to get some form of memory about it.

We had a lazy morning at the apartment and headed out at a sort of late lunchtime.

Kas dropped me off above Praia do Arrifes then took the kids to Praia do São Rafael. I was off to do a bit of caching.

There was one right by where I started and then another to the east which required a scramble down some rocks onto a beach. After far too long a walk along that beach I reached a headland that I couldn’t pass because the tide was in, so a DNF there then. On the way off that beach I tried a set of steps halfway along, to avoid the scramble I’d done earlier, but the steps went nowhere and I had to go back down them again and return to the scramble.

From here I walked west along the coast to meet the girls, continuing to search for caches with mixed fortunes.

By the time I arrived Izzy seemed to be confidently paddling around on a body board all on her own, which was a major step forward in confidence.

We packed up late in the afternoon and went home to get cleaned up before heading out to Albufeira town for dinner. We ate in a small restaurant at the end of Fisherman’s Beach – the service was quite slow but the food was good when it arrived.

We were quite late getting back home.


Zoomarine

Open the photo gallery >>

This morning was meant to be an early start, but we had an attack of not being bothered and eventually didn’t leave the house until nearly 11 am.

Our plan for the day was to visit Zoomarine – a nearby theme park based roughly on marine life, but actually also containing a lot of birds of prey, wave pools and over-consumption of not-entirely-healthy foodstuffs.

We bought our entry tickets from tour rep, which I have to admit I wasn’t so sure about, but when we arrived it all worked just fine. We didn’t have to queue to get in at all.

When we arrived it was late enough that we could justify it being time to go for a drink. After this, we retired to the tropical bird display, which I personally thought was the best bit. There was a bit of a presentation, some audience participation, and some brightly coloured avians of various persuasions.

We had an interesting lateish lunch in one of the cafes. It involved a fair amount of queuing and some fairly mediocre but somehow still expensive food.

Most of the shows were done to a strict timetable, so after lunch we hurried off to grab an early seat at the next performance of the dolphins, or “golfinos” as they call them round here. They were sleek, grey, shiny and wet.

We then had an hour before the next scheduled show of the sea lions, so we went to see the crocodiles and alligators and then went for a ride around on the big wheel and the swingy pirate boat. And we had ice cream.

We arrived early for the sea lion show too, but I was quite disappointed in this. It didn’t seem as impressive or well planned out as the similar event we’d seen at Deltapark Neeltje Jans the year before.

After the sea lion show, we went for a quick look at the queue at the aquarium, but it was so long that we decided to give up. It was hot and none of us fancied standing around waiting for the 45 mins or so it was going to take to get in, so instead we went to the Zoomarine Beach area for swimming, splashing, fountains and lying on the grass. It’s like a whole beach, with a wave pool and everything, except most of the onshore area is grass not sand, so you don’t get abrasive stuff stuck in your orifices, which I personally find to be a good feature. We must have spent an hour and a half here with various phases of the girls getting wet, wanting drinks, wanting toilets and getting wet again whilst Kas and me tried to chill. It was pretty busy in this area too. It seemed to be the place everyone went to calm down a bit after spending the earlier part of their day queuing up for things.

On the way home we stopped off at the supermarket for more provisions, mainly of the snacky variety, and then when we got back the kids went off to bed quite early.

Honest opinion? It was OK but I wouldn’t rush back.


Back to Sagres

Open the photo gallery >>

We weren’t really sure what to do today so we decided to go back over to Sagres and The End of the World to get a new gift for Ami (after Izzy had accidentally broken the one she got last time) and to chase down a puzzle cache that I’d been working on but only solved after our first visit.

We set off fairly early and arrived in Sagres just after 11. First stop was to go to Sagres Fort to find this puzzle cache. It was a bit of a hike around the outside of the fort and practically over the cliffs, but it was an easy find once we got there.

After that we went over to the end of the world to get a replacement starfish necklace for Ami. Sadly though, we couldn’t get one because that stall wasn’t there. So Ami grabbed some earrings and a little brooch else instead. She takes a little while to decide, but when she does decide, she has pretty good taste.

After this we went through Vila do Bispo and then took a hair raising road down to the nearby Praia do Castelejo, which was probably the most beautiful stop of the whole holiday, if only because it has a very windswept, remote feel much like the west coast of Cornwall. The scenery was similar too, except hotter and with less greenery.

We had some lunch at the only restaurant on the beach, then girls retired to beach while I went caching. I didn’t get to go where I’d planned, mainly because the satellite view and maps don’t give a sense of quite how steep and unpleasant looking the cliffs are. I found an earthcache on beach then two traditionals up the cliffs, but it was dangerously windy on the cliff top so I decided to beat a retreat rather than continue on for another headland. It wasn’t very nice up top.

So we got back in the car and drove down an even worse road to a nearby miradouro/viewpoint above the southern end of the beach we were just on. Whilst the road down to the beach was a bit steep and winding, but covered in tarmac, the one to the viewpoint was dirt track most of the way, and I was very glad that it wasn’t my own car.

The view from the viewpoint was absolutely spectacular. I grabbed a further 2 caches on the cliffs but again the access was a bit dodgy given the state of the wind, so I decided it was better not to risk anything.

On the way back through Vila do Bispo we grabbed three caches, but the girls were looking a bit drained, so we plumped for finishing the day off on a beach. We drove into central Lagos and parked up, then retired immediately to the nearest cafe for ice cream and coffee. The cafe was on the beach, so the natural next stop was a cooling dip. It was late afternoon by this time and it was a bit windy and cloudy, so the temperature was not too bad.

As it was our next to last day we drove home and had a “fridge clearance” for tea, including pizza, nachos, Pringles and various fruits and other stuff.


The Final Day

Open the photo gallery >>

We had no particular plans for today other than to chill for a while, pack, and empty the fridge of food and beer. The food wasn’t too much of a problem as we’d had a go at it the previous evening, but the beer was definitely a problem. There was a fair amount of it.

We got off to a lazy start before the girls decided that “lazy” was definitely going to be their theme for the day. That’s not really my scene (man) so I headed off for a bit of final-day caching. It proved to be a bit frustrating, as these things often can be.

I started off by heading in the general direction of Guia, finding a handful of caches there (with more than a handful of DNFs too), but then got bored of the constant driving down rubbish unsurfaced roads and decided to head for Albufeira instead to look for a series of caches stuck on the various roundabouts on the main road that runs around town. I found all five of them but couldn’t do the bonus because a couple of the bonus codes were missing, so I had no coords.

Apparently, Albufeira is twinned with Dunfermline. I can’t help but think that the twinning was initiated by the town council members of Dunfermline, hoping to get somewhere sunny to go to on official trips.

From there I drove up to the top of a hill overlooking the marina to find one final cache. It was another rubbish road and I parked somewhere that I would not normally park, if I’m honest. The view from the top was good, but the housing around the way up was not so nice looking.

By this time it was getting towards late afternoon, so I decided to scoot off home and get on with the packing and the beer consumption.  Packing was easy because we’d been washing and ironing as we went along. The beer consumption was hard work.


Coming Home

Open the photo gallery >>

As it’s a package tour you sort of get used to flights at horrible times, and this was no exception. We were in the car at 6:30 am, scheduled for a 9:55 am take-off from Faro Airport. It was so early it was still dark when we got in the car.

By the time we got to Faro it was light. The return of the rental car was very easy and we managed to get checked in really quickly, however “Oh oh!” the plane’s going to be late.

So we went into terminal and had some breakfast at a coffee place. We then sat around for a couple of hours doing sudoku and getting bored. And then we went into Costa Coffee for another drink. The service was really slow but it’s not like we were in any kind of hurry. I got bored enough to try to photograph a few planes coming and going.

We meandered in through the passport control and got inside to start looking for our gate. It changed while we were waiting in the departure lounge and we actually saw our plane coming into land. It’s not going to leave for at least another hour then…..

Once the plane finally got off the ground the flight home was fine. Birmingham Airport was no trouble and the car was where we’d left it.

On the way home we stopped for one geocache in Northampton, just so we could fulfil all the criteria for the final one of this year’s August souvenir jamboree.  It was a puzzle cache. All we found was a bag with a log sheet in it. No container. Still, it was definitely the cache, and it was in the right place.

By this time though it was getting late and we’d been up for quite a long time, so we asked the Burlaces if they’d keep the guinea pigs for one more night. We eventually reached home at about 7 pm, so 12 hours after we set off, and began the usual “night home” jobs of unpacking and ordering takeaway curry.

We got the girls into bed around 8:30 and then I watched the highlights of the Test Matches that the Sky+ box had recorded. I then fell asleep on the sofa while Match of the Day was on.