Europe keeps surprising you every time you visit different parts of it. Having spent eight months in England, the images of Europe were, well connected tube network, well mannered, but less talkative people, streamlined lives, lack of chaos, love for tradition, museums, old architecture, pub culture, making most of the summer and so on. English have made good attempt of maintaining old and embracing the new and both these things, gel together quite well. They might be too strict, too predictable, but at the same time have been quite efficient and streamlined.
As I explored more of Europe, to my surprise, every country had its own character. For somebody like me born in India and the only exposure to western world being my interaction with the colleagues in UK and US, I had few preconceived notions and generalizations about Europeans and Americans. But then I found other Europeans totally different than British and then French having their own character compared to Swiss and Italians.
I found French, Swiss and Italians much more talkative compared to British. Swiss were super efficient and their craftsmanship is unmatched. Italians seemed much more laid back, quite into their religion, art, music and food and I loved them all, because all of them exhibited the same characteristics as any humans from any part of the world. Beyond all the other differences, there were so many similarities and that really helps you to connect and be one of them.
While deciding on our next destination to Europe the choices were Sunny Spain, Portugal or Scandinavian Sweden, Norway or anything between Belgium, Netherlands, Bulgaria or Hungary. Finally the vote went to Portugal, as we desperately wanted to see some beach and being born in Vasai (which was under Portuguese possession before Maratha’s captured it, had some fascination for their vibrant culture and respect for navigational advances.
A little research on internet and Algarve was picked by us as our next destination. Low cost holidays site provided assistance in booking the whole package right from hotel to air line booking as well as the shuttle from Porto airport to the hotel. A delay of a day in booking and also some typo in my daughter’s name in booking, added additional cost of almost 150 pounds to the cost.
The tickets for Stanstead express were booked in advance and on 4th Nov evening we were heading towards Stanstead for our yet another European exploration. The Flight was at 8:30 and we were to land at 11:30. So I made sure I call up the resort to make sure somebody is available to provide us the key at that hour in the night. The announcement to board the plane had already happened, but the huge queue at the gate for our Ryan air flight halted us for some while. Soon we had grabbed our seats and we were up in the air in next 30-40 minutes.
This time Maitri grabbed the window seat to have a closer look at London from top. One of the confusions this time was the time difference. I did not really give enough time to look at those finer aspects of the trip. My assumption was, since France is 1 hour behind UK, Portugal might be an hour ahead of UK. So the landing time of 11:30 would mean 12:30 in UK. But then that works out to be almost 4 hours of travel time. Something was definitely wrong here and soon as we had a chat with air hostesses and found that Portugal is in the same time zone as UK.
A journey of one or two hours passes too quickly if you are travelling by a plane. I remember my flight from Mumbai to Hyderabad for one of project visits. It was a mere 45 minute’s flight and by the time I was settling down and making few friends around, landing announcement was already on. The twinkling sea line of Portugal was soon visible and few minutes we were at Faro airport. The pleasant breeze and fresh air was welcoming and since we were travelling light (No cargo bag) this time, we were soon at the immigration check. Unfortunately this guy was too slow and we were uneasy as it was already too late and were so much afraid that the shuttle will leave us stranded here on airport. But a quick call to the travel desk and we were given enough assurance to be cool and come down to the desk as soon as, this not so welcoming immigration officer, lets us pass.
The shuttle dropped us at the closed doors of Rio Resort. But a quick look around and we soon found instructions to call the caretaker and soon we were in our cosy room, waiting to get into the bed as it was nearly 12:30 by then.
The morning was fresh with the view of a swimming pool from our balcony and few people already sunbathing in the morning sun. The trees were totally different and it was nice to find few of the known species of plants here, especially the palms, cactuses and the Oleander (Kanher) trees. Mushroom omelette, Veggie sandwich, fries and hot coffee at Rio Cafe and we were ready for our first day exploration. The first destination, which came to our mind was none other than the sandy and sunny beach, this destination is known for. When the lady at the reception told us that it’s at a walking distance, we were more than happy.
A tiny map of directions in our hands and we were on our way to Vilamoura Marina, The colourful wild flowers all along the way made us feel fresh. The abundance of flowers is one thing that distinguishes sunny parts of the world from the colder ones and that adds up to the vibrant nature of the people as well I guess. No doubt the colder countries have their bliss of tulips and daffodils but still at this moment, I was simply in love with those wild and shiny bunches of colourful flowers.
A walk along the quite neighbourhood with few cute houses, the thickness of trees, a tennis court and chirping of birds added to the tranquillity of the place and also setting our moods for the day. The walkway was really beautiful, with well maintained lawn and spots for people to sit relax and try few gymnastic steps as well. We were soon on the road that leads to the Marina.
The promise of a sunny weather had excited us and Maitri was eager to get into her swimming suite. What amazed us more about this place was the beauty of their houses. Each house had its own style, with beautifully decorated chimneys and lush green surroundings. Compared to London the trees were quite different and had a good mixture of tropical and African trees.
The beach was so inviting that there was no second thought about getting into the warm waters. Quickly we had changed. The people were really relaxed and enjoying the sun. The chilly weather of London was far behind. The thought about London weather came to my mind and blew away with the wind. This was my moment to enjoy the Sun, be part of the relaxed atmosphere, drench myself with the warm waters, sit there and admire the beauty.
As we got into the water and the waves started getting a bit aggressive and started pushing us towards the shore. The fun was to let us flow with the tide; it was such a great experience. Soon the shiny sand revealed few of the beautiful shells and sand stones and it reminded me of my childhood of collecting shells on the seashore of Vasai. It’s probably the fondest memory of every child I guess who has been to sea shore during their childhood. Maitri did her bit of collecting her favourites.
Now it was time for us to enjoy our first Portuguese meal and we chose Mariscada, a restaurant on one of the corners of the Marina. The menu was undisputed seafood with prawns, sardines and a chilled beer. Although the fish was really fresh, it takes time for somebody like me to get used to the prawns, having no spices on them at all. The Sadines had their natural salty taste and were more enjoyable to savour. We had booked our afternoon cruise to visit the Algarve-special rock formations. So had to really wind up quickly, reaching the pick-up point on time.
The cruise crew was lively and I guess it was one of the best cruises I ever had, It was a medium sized Yacht, with not many people on board and probably were the only Asians in that lot. The vice captain, whom we would call as captain, was giving some local information as we passed by the coast line.
The rock and sand combination near Almoura gave a sandy look to the coast, while the red colour started becoming prominent as we passed Alusiago and moved towards Abufeira. The growth of the resorts was quite condensed near Abufeira and even though the resorts appeared quite dense, it looked quite organic. The beautiful resorts added to the beauty of the place and gave luxury to the visitors falling in love with this lovely coastline.
As informed by the captain, Alusiago has sweet water springs and cliff formation gets much more dramatic here, the erosion of the coastline due to thunderous waves, when the sea is rough has caused these interesting structures and that’s the uniqueness of this coastline. The white washed and red roofed houses looked quite attractive and it seems, Portuguese are very particular about the attractiveness of their houses and it was hard to find structure quite worn out or less attractive.
One of the highlights of the cruise was when we stopped in front of a huge cave formed due to erosion. The yacht was docked at one of the huge rocks and we had a short excursion of this cave in a tiny boat. This definitely was an amazing experience. With the gap between the sea level and the roof of the cave getting really thin at places, it actually gave me Goosebumps, as we completed this ride. These caves are not open for visits all year around and entering them can be really dangerous during rough seas. The sea was full of needle fishes and they appeared on the surface for few seconds as we threw any food items.
After the cruise, we were again at the beautiful marina looking at the setting sun, rows of palm trees, nicely illuminated cafes and relaxing tourists, sipping their beers, while watching the sun set. The first day was already over and for next day, we wanted to get glimpses of few of the nearby places. I was really pressed hard this time to manage time as it was too less. I was just wandering, if we could have got one more day off from Maitri’s school, but then sadly that was not the option.
It took little time for me to reach out to the tour office, who arranged tours to Lagos, Madrid and Seville etc. Lagos was in my mind as I had heard Rick Steve (I just love watching his Europe tour videos) mention it, in one of his travel videos. Unfortunately the tour to Lagos was full and I was quite disappointed, as that was the only tour leaflet, I could pick from our resort.
But then the luck was on our side. A quick look around the marina and we had soon booked our half day tour to Lagos with Paradise tours. Relaxed it was time to enjoy a nice dinner watching the beautiful sunset and glimmering yachts floating around in a tune. Our taste buds craved for Chinese food this time. The food was quite authentic and I really loved the healthy and delicious dim-sums there. The evening colours were getting darker and we had immersed ourselves into the crowd.