Monday, 18 July 2016

Albufeira, Portugal

Jacinda was coming to London again! Yay, time to go on another trip.  We had decided on Skiathos in the Greek Islands but flights were expensive and I couldnt find decent accommodation.. So we switched to another Greek Island and after HOURS of searching for the perfect place to stay (had to have 2 bedrooms and a decent amount of space)- there were no longer any flights at a decent time.  After our trip last summer we didnt want to be arriving at 1am and coming back at 3am as that makes for a very tired and grumpy toddler.

So the only destination that ticked all the boxes was Portugal. I was the only one who had been there before (and it rained every day when I went) and it hadn't really been on anyone's to see list.  But hey it was sunny and fairly cheap so who cares.

We found a nice spacious apartment on AirBnB and had a minicab take us straight there. It was raining and 18 in London when we left (typical English summer) and 30+ and sunny when we arrived at 6pm!

We went out for dinner at our nearest restaurant; across the road was a Jazz bar and restaurant run by an English guy.  As our meals arrived they started up the live Jazz music.  Though the music was good Bella immediately protested, covering her ears and screaming that it was too loud. (Weirdly Mum tells me I was the same as a kid and even complained that the ocean was too noisy). We had no choice but to pick up our plates and move to an outside table. From this safe distance, Bella enjoyed the sounds and stood in the doorway dancing.

The next day we went out exploring- our nearest beach was about 10min walk; there were loads of umbrellas and lounges out but still enough room to perch towels. The sand was golden, there were no pebbles, the water was clear BUT it was freezing!!!  Freezing like New Zealand water! Having been accustomed to waters in the Greek Islands being like a tepid bath, I stupidly thought here would be the same, but a quick look on a map showed that Portugal was on the Adriatic sea which obviously isnt warm.  Even Rich took longer than normal to get in...There was no way that Jacinda or I were getting in there.  Though I played with Bella splashing around at ankle depth and once you went numb it wasnt so bad.

Our apartment was 5min walk from an area called 'The Strip' yes it was just as gawdy and tacky as it sounds. Filled with neon lights it came alive at night -mostly with teenagers.  Club promoters all trying to entice you into their empty clubs..well they were empty whenever we walked past as I was never out past midnight.  A bit of an assault on the senses with each club pumping out tunes to compete with the next, it was nonetheless quite entertaining for a walk. There were the drunk Brits singing bad Karaoke in one bar and the table of Norwegians drinking in another bar who looked like they were 14 years old.  Though there were still Irish bars and places designed to lure in the British, the biggest clientele here were from the Nordics. And they were young! Big groups of them would walk around at night looking no older than 16.  Had they come on their own? Did their parents allow this?! And why are people from the Nordics so tanned? They have no sun in their country, how is it possible that they all have deep golden tans?

On the afternoon of our first day, Rich and Jacinda walked to the grocery store about 25mins away and came back, sweaty and tired, laden down with food to keep us going for the next 5 days.  So with that we managed to  eat in for 3 delicious meals and have most of our lunches at home too.

The apartment had a fairly large pool which was shared with the neighbouring apartments.Rich and Bella were in there every day at least once. It was here that Bella finally gained enough confidence to stop clinging to an adult in the pool and would float on her own with her arm bands. She loved swimming and it was the first thing she asked to do when she got up. On the morning of our departure when we were all busy packing and tidying up, unsatisfied that she wasnt able to go swimming, Bella opened the porch gate and went to the pool on her own. It was Jacinda who noticed her absence and managed to catch her about 10 paces away from an unfenced deep pool with nobody else around.  I'd like to think that had she reached it, she still had enough fear of the water to know that without arm bands or an adult to cling to, she couldnt go on. But it still scared me.

We ventured into the Old Town one was the typical alleyways and cobbled streets of old Europe. Much more beautiful than the 'Strip' and we wished we were staying a bit closer to this authentic side of town. It took us about 30-40min to walk there but later realised we had taken the long route and could have got there in about 20 or so. We explored a few shops, got some ice cream and checked out the works of an amazing sand sculptorer. The Old Town also featured a beautiful beach..And a giant outdoor escalator to take you up the hill..because when it's 35 degrees nobody wants to expend energy walking up a hill!

Anqther day we took a trip out to a waterpark.  There were 3 big ones in the area but we opted for the smaller and quietest one as apparently the others could have queues of 1hr or more per ride. It was a good choice, though small there were plenty of rides, a wave pool and a great area for kids with little slides. Bella loved it! After hanging out in the ankle depth water for a while, Rich decided Bella should try a more adventurous slide..they were still for kids but maybe 5 year olds. He pointed to them and Bella agreed that she'd like to go, but once at the top the pool attendant wouldnt allow Rich to go with her down the slide (who makes these dumb rules).  So Rich steps off the slide leaving her there alone to look down the 3m slide.  Being a bit of a wuss like her mother, she decides this isnt for her and says she wants to get off...but Rich being the ever encouraging parent- pushes her down.  Too stunned to even scream she is spat out at the bottom where she clings to me crying. Fortunately she got over the horror pretty quickly.

There were 2 thrillseeker rides nearby that were calling out to Rich so I went to photograph him going down them.  The first was a steep tall yellow slide with a few dips which you appeared to be able to control your speed on by putting your feet out.  I saw kids (11 year olds) going down in and some of them went so slow they actually stopped. But the adults went down like a rocket and of course Richard was one of those rockets.  He announced that this ride was OK and went for the more adventurous tabagon ride.  It looked like an almost vertical drop while hanging on to a metal tabogan and most girls who went on it let out an almighty scream. One guy stood in the queue which was about to the top, mounted the raft, shook his head, then got off again. Rich of course was not that guy.. Though he did admit that the view from the top was quite nerve racking.
Bella needed some encouragement (ie pushing) to go down this one!
I used to go on quite a few waterslides but having had some terrifying experiences (Kamakazee at Turkey Aqualand and Loop the Loop at Wet n Wild Australia) - I'm a bit more timid now. But Rich peer pressured me into going down a few with him.So we went down a shorter version of the yellow slide, which still went alarmingly fast and spun me backwards at one point. We did this one a few times and a magic genie one where you sat in a narrow half pipe and went whizzing round a few sharp corners.  Both were adventurous enough for me.

Surprisingly Jacinda then piped up that she wanted to try a few rides. We had already been on the '700m of relax' ride together where you basically sat in a tyre and went round a slow moving water track. At some places attendants even had to push you as you stopped moving. Now we tried the river raft ride where you sat in an inner tube and went down 5 small drops.  You landed in a pool at the end of each drop and had to paddle yourself forward to get to the next drop...which was somewhat of a challenge and I had riders slamming in to me as I hadnt managed to paddle to the drop in time. It was good fun though and we would've done it again if the queue wasnt 30mins long.  We went to check out the other slides and saw one which had 3 giant tubes; 1 open, 2 closed, coming down a drop the size of a 4-5 storey building.  We studied them "that girl, wasnt screaming when she came out, I think the red one is OK",  After deciding which one to go down, we realised that there was a massive queue for the rubber mats to sit on!  This had to be stupidest system ever; while nobody was going down the left slide at all, there was only one queue at the bottom for all 3 slides as you had to wait for someone to come off a slide and give you a mat. Ummm how bout just buying more mats and putting them in a pile so nobody has to wait?! The queue looked to be about 40mins so we gave up on that and went back.  Our bus dropped us off at 11am and would pick us up again at 5pm. When we booked it they told us one would leave at 3pm too but this turned out to be incorrect. But it was fine as the time passed really quickly and we probably could have stayed longer.

Albufeira is somewhat touristy and it didnt really feel like you were seeing the real country so I arranged for us to do a half day Jeep Safari tour into the countryside. We did one in Turkey and it was amazing!  I dont think any other jeep safari tour could ever live up to it. I checked tripadvisor to find the most highly rated tour in the region- it didnt measure up at all to the Turkey one, but Im still glad we did it. We went out to the countryside where we passed a few small farms and stopped to feed the donkeys. We also saw turtles swimming round in a pond which was quite fascinating - Bella loved it and cried when we drove off.  We stopped at a few places to look at the trees and herbs which were growing. The guide picked an unripe carob pod and we all sniffed it.  I gave it a lick; hmm chocolate which left a horrible astringent feel in your mouth.  Bella saw me do this and decided to give her pod a good old munch.
Then it was on to learn about cork trees. I had never really thought about where cork came from, but it's a bark on a cork oak tree which is removed like a jacket after 9-10 years. After the 2nd removal of cork from a tree, it produces a good quality cork which fetches a high price tag. Interesting stuff.

From here it was on to the mini brewery in a garage on a farm. We sampled medronho a liquor made from the red berries of the arbutus shrub and 'firewater'.  I cant remember what firewater was made of, only that it burned all the way down and is appropriately named! We were all given a sample in a shotglass and Bella was most upset that she didnt get one. We tried giving her water in a shotglass but she wasnt fooled. There were tears and stamping of the feet...but otherwise she was generally OK on the tour. The sample of wild honey after the liquors was needed to get that horrid taste out of my mouth! And at least we could give Bella some of that.

We drove through a few villages, but didnt have time to stop and take pictures. Then it was on to a pretty river for a quick dip. There were people perched alongside it, laying out in the sun while the kids did waterbombs (you couldnt touch the bottom at one end). I dipped my toe in- freezing.  Toe- numbingly freezing. I didnt get in. We just had enough time to get Bella into her togs, blow up her floaties and have a 5min swim before it was time to get out again.  There were more tears as her swim was interrupted but the excitement of the morning meant she was alseep in Aunty's arms 10mins later. How she can fall asleep in 10mins, wrapped only in a towel,on the back of a jeep with the wind streaming through, yet take up to an hour to do so in a nice darkened, quiet room - I will never understand.

Jacinda and I went and got a gel manicure one day. It was cheap and looked great at the time but 2 weeks later  it was chipped and manky and I still couldnt get the damn thing off after soaking my fingers in acetone for the third time! Anyway, we asked the manicurist where to go for authentic Portugese food and she gave us the name of a restaurant which she assured us was the real deal. Obviously it wasnt in tourist town where we were staying, so we took an Uber to get there, arriving at 6:30pm to find that it wasnt open yet.  So we went back at 7pm and had a table outside as the only patrons there. The woman owner was a character; abrupt but not rude.  Jacinda told her that our manicurist in Albufiera recommended to come here.  She looked puzzled then said 'I  get my nails done up the road, I dont' know of this woman you speak of on the Strip'.  She asked if we wanted any starters, then when we said yes, she replied, OK I'll see what I've got in the kitchen! She came back with some little salads and breads, dried meats and an assortment of dips. All very tasty (except the black pudding!) So far so good. I asked for a recommendation of something traditionally Portugese and she said 'they are all
Portugese!'... So I went for Fish Pie....which didnt seem too dissimilar to what I could have got in NZ but was still tasty.  After mains Bella was starting to get a bit restless and was asking for Ice Cream.  She had had one every day on this trip and it was becoming her norm! So we asked the lady for the dessert menu but the restaurant had filled up by now and she was waiting on all the tables alone... We waited a bit, but then gave up and bought a cone from the corner shop. The food was nice and very reasonably Im still glad we went...I was probably too full for dessert anyway.

Another day we thought we'd check out a different beach. This one took about 20mins to walk to and after stopping to buy a watermelon and snacks we were very laden down! A sign pointed the way to our chosen beach but once you got closer there was another sign saying that it was private property, no entrance!  Well that's a bit we walked around a bit and couldnt find another way in so had to consult google.  Google told us there was an alleyway down the side of a hotel so we found that and were soon walking down a number of steps to our beach which was a very small cove. We found a spot and settled in, putting up the tent and umbrella but Rich was decidedly unimpressed as there was too much seaweed so he didnt want to swim.  We realaxed under our sauna tent; the good thing about a small cove beach was that Bella couldnt wander off without us being able to see her.  She was really happy picking up shells and handing them out to people on the beach, who all
played along and thanked her politely for the beautiful shell. She then spotted a Dad and his 2 kids making sandcastles so she joined in with them and tried talking to them but they didnt speak English. She didnt care and carried on playing though it was clear that the little boy (maybe about 5 years old) didnt want her around!
A big wave then came and soaked some unsuspecting people lying in the sand. It was obvious that the waves were going to be on top of us in the next 15mins so I moved the tent and towels back much to the annoyance of the lady sitting behind us...I tried explaining that the tide was coming in but she just wrinkled her nose a bit and nudged herself backwards. Another 20mins or so later the waves again were coming dangerously close so we packed up and went home.

So that pretty much sums up our trip to Alburiera.  The weather was amazing! I didnt see a cloud the whole time we were there and temperatures were between 35-38 degrees. Thats even hot enough for me to swim in the pool! Our apartment was great - food was great. Bella loved swimming in the pool and paddling in the waves and was much easier to manage than last year.


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