As we promised in our first blog entry, with the ‘A team’ you never know where you will wake up tomorrow and we have stuck to that promise, bringing you around the world with us and today is no exception. The alarm goes off and it’s 4:45am. We quickly get dressed and are out the door after cruelly waking Jonathon for a lift to catch our 5:30am bus to Belfast airport. It is here we are to board our flight to Faro, Portugal. On the plane we were restricted to one tiny backpack of which Simone later was advised that her handbag would also need to fit into, otherwise she would not be getting on board. After getting over this initial shock and always up for a challenge no matter how absurd it might be, the few contents of her small backpack were sprawled out on the floor for everyone to see, with the handbag now being squashed into the backpack much to the amusement of the airport staff. Not to be defeated and with a ridiculously misshapen bulging backpack and clothes stuffed in her dress pockets Chick finally made it on board.
We landed and made our way outside to our hire car, when it hit us…. the sun and its radiant heat and warmth ahhhhhh. We had not felt it for what had seemed like a lifetime and it felt great. We picked up our hire car which we christened Palo, who was a little black brand new BMW hatch. All was great until we saw the steering wheel on the left hand side of the car, which we had forgotten about in our spur of the moment holiday booking. However with a great sense of adventure we hopped in and clumsily made our way to Albufeira, our hotel destination in the Algarve region of Portugal, located on Portugal’s south coast just 60kms from the Spanish boarder. From the moment we jumped in the car we knew even the simplest drive would prove to be a great challenge, because when you are driving on the other side of the car and road everything is so wrong and feels backwards, but as long as we could stay in our lane (easier said than done) we would be fine.
When we arrived in Albufeira it was just as you would imagine Portugal to be, hot, red soiled mountains scattered with the odd patch of greenery and orange trees everywhere. Covering the landscape as far as the eye could see were white walled buildings with terracotta tiled roofs. It was as if we had stepped onto a movie set. Past all the white buildings was a crystal blue, glasslike Atlantic Ocean, just beckoning us to enter it, however even though the sunlight twinkled across the water beautifully we had to decline the offer temporarily so that we could find our hotel (again easier said than done). Unfortunately with neither of us specialising in Portuguese reading the road signs was very tricky and after being lost in a maze of narrow streets, being laughed at by the locals for being on the wrong side of the road and no address for the hotel we were staying at, (just the name) we finally managed to pull into a random hotel and asked for directions. Lucky we did as we were still a good 10kms away.
We were pointed in the general direction and then it was pretty much up to our instincts and Simone’s fantastic eyesight (not!) to locate the hotel. We continued to head in the direction advised, although it took us a good 15 minutes to even find our way out of the estate we had driven into, as we couldn’t find the exit and everything was one way. Eventually after driving around 10 minutes or so we found the first street sign to the hotel and after another ten or so signs and many left, right, lefts we were here “Luna Alpinus’ or as the Portuguese pronounce it ‘Alpenus’ which we thought was hysterical but apparently they couldn’t understand our amusement. With a nice little apartment to ourselves including a kitchen, we dropped our bags in and were no sooner out the door to explore.
With our cute little Palo waiting we hit the road back to central Albufeira to the ‘old town’. For those playing at home, thinking how did we know where anything was in this foreign country, we may give the impression that we occasionally do, but for the record we often have no idea and fumble through it. Usually when visiting a destination our bible comes out, that is our Lonely Planet Europe on a Shoe String’ bible (thanks Allison and Nicola) to get an idea, but because we booked at such short notice just because we could, there simply wasn’t enough time to research.
In true A team style we set out on an adventure to uncover this town and what we found was super. Among the cobble stone streets nestled between white villas and shop fronts was a never ending array of market stalls, displaying local arts and craft (along with some general crap) but for the most part it was really eye catching. We found ourselves getting lost in the streets which all looked similar, moving in and out of stalls and before we knew it several hours had passed.
On heading back to our apartment we decided to stop at the local supermacardo which was an event in itself and a task which should have taken maybe ten minutes, but in actual fact took over 30 minutes as we marveled over the trivial differences between here and home. The fish section definitely smelt more appealing at home, but a good trade off was the hundreds of boxes of fresh Portuguese custard tarts on offer in the bakery, we thought we had died and gone to pastry heaven. Yum! I have to say my work colleagues Portuguese custard tarts were still definitely up there in taste compared to the real deal. Thanks Carol!). Armed with cheese of all kinds and alcohol along with an array of pastries we headed back to the apartment. Deciding to stop for a brief nip in the randomly named Hollywood bar, several hours and crafts of sangria later we found ourselves in discussions surrounding travel with 3 other UK couples comparing stories. Quite knackered after 12am as we had nearly been up 24 hours it was time for some much needed shut eye before tomorrow’s adventures unfolded.