First time abroad for two years – in February 2020 we went to Vienna – seems like a lifetime ago, but last week Hastings Battleaxe and Philosopher went to Portugal. Daughter C and family are now living out there, so we went to see them in their new home for the first time. It was all very good and very interesting, but sometimes a little stressful…
First thing, our train to Gatwick was cancelled at literally one minute’s notice, and the later trains were also cancelled. Bloody effing Southern Rail is a disgrace. Moments of total, maximum anxiety and panic, but we met a nice woman on the platform who also needed to get to Gatwick, so we shared a taxi together. The driver was a total motormouth – we were bombarded with his (somewhat extreme) views on all aspects of British life. Fortunately the traffic was kind to us and we got to Gatwick in plenty of time. Not a good start though.
Gatwick was not particularly crowded, but there were long, stressful queuing episodes to get all our boring Covid bits checked and to get through security. The Easyjet flight was completely full, but it actually felt OK – as if the airline was in control of the situation and had our safety in mind. Mask-wearing was compulsory, and the flight attendant at the plane door made sure everyone’s face covering was adequate as they boarded. Crowding in the aisles was not permitted. On arrival in Faro we had to queue again for a long time, showing our bits once more.
As we arrived late in the evening, we had booked a night in the Hotel Faro, overlooking the harbour and a public garden, just a short distance from the airport. It was reasonably priced and absolutely excellent. Battleaxe would totally recommend. They served a very good breakfast in a roof-top dining room.
In the morning, we went for a walk around old Faro. As soon as we got outside we stripped off our jumpers and I said to Philosopher: ‘Those jammy divvils, coming to live here…!’ The sun was warm, the sky was blue and clear, the people were friendly, the streets were clean, with that lovely Portugese patterned paving we have noticed in other places. Everywhere you looked there were orange and lemon trees covered in ripe fruit. Sigh. Now, look, I’m not turning into one of those boring Europhiles who bang on about how fantastic abroad is compared with shit UK. Trouble is, though, right now UK is indeed actual shit.
Old Faro has lots of lovely buildings, some covered in intricate tile patterns. Many were dilapidated, but clearly much restoration is going on.
We called by the Central Market – look at these huge fish. The Portugese are very fond of salt cod. Don’t ask me why.
In Portugal/Spain they have this chain of nick-nack shops called Ale-Hop, which always have a large model cow outside – somehow I end up being photographed with the cow – like calls to like I suppose…
After lunch in an outside cafe in the public gardens near the hotel, we picked up our hire car at the airport. I hired it in my name, but Philosopher drove it. It was a cute little Fiat. Stressful driving out of Faro and onto the motorway etc…. But we managed. Roads were very good, much quieter than UK – and no potholes. (Oops, there goes Boring Europhile Battleaxe again… But one point, and it was the same when we drove round Spain in 2019, there are many more tolls, which people can either pay, or choose to go on smaller roads and miss them. Our little car had a device stuck on the windscreen that bleeped when we passed a toll. Why don’t we have more tolls on motorways here?)
The little family have settled in a village called Sao Marcos da Serra, about 50 minutes drive from Faro. They have bought a little house with a reasonable bit of land to enable them to grow vegetables, keep chickens etc. Sao Marcos is described as a ‘traditional Algarve mountain village’ and it is indeed that – very peaceful, apart from chickens and the odd barking dog. It is bigger than we thought, with a few shops, cafes, bars and even a cash-point.
There are apparently a few Brits living there, but they are the sort who want to settle down and make a Portugese life for themselves, not the traditional perma-tanned golfing ex-pats. The house looks ideal, quiet but near the village centre. Unlike many places bought up by Brits, it already has a decent kitchen and a proper bathroom. It was also cosy – they have installed something called a pellet burner. GD can wander about the village on her own, for the first time ever – it is clearly very safe.
They had rented us a house nearby – nicely done out but initially freezing cold as it had been shut up. In Portugal, in winter, the temperature drops to frost level at night. We ended up wearing a good many clothes to bed, plus hot water bottle.
After GD had her usual Saturday morning routine of walking dogs in a dog sanctuary, we met C, S and GD in Mar Shopping, a huge shopping centre near Loule. It had a big IKEA at one end, and legions of shops… very affluent looking. We ate lunch in the food court. Very tasty and healthy – none of your English Subway rubbish. Oops, sorry).
Thse photos are of a village called Alte, on the way back. Very pretty, very arty. It is best known for its waterfalls, but a bloke in a cafe told us the falls had dried up because it has been so dry, so we didn’t bother looking.
In the evening, we went out to one of the local eateries. We had been told it would be basic but it proved to be a bit unusual! Instead of the quiet meal we had planned, the place was full with a jolly group of about 50 large and cheerful men – we were told they were hunters.
We went to nearby Silves via the most amazing remote mountain road – the scenery was fantastic. If this bit of Portugal, so near the busy Algarve coast (you can drive to Albufeira from Sao Marcos in just over 30 minutes) is so empty, what must he areas further inland and further north be like?
Silves is best known for its old castle, which we explored – just about everyone has their photo taken by the giant knight statue at the entrance.
On our last day, we went down to the Algarve coast, to Quarteira, where C, S and GD had lived in a rented apartment for a year before moving into the Sao Marcos house. Near the coast, we passed compounds full of identical apartments/little houses, presumably home to the ex-pats. Not for us. Quarteira was what we imagined a typical Brit-orientated Algarve/Med resort to be – huge apartment blocks, coastal strip of bars, restaurants and tat shops, palm tree-lined prom, wide sandy beach.
The flight home was much the same as going – fair bit of queuing, full plane but everything well-ordered.
We were only there a few days, but it was our first attempt at Abroad, and it went fine. It was great to see the family, and to see they are well-settled, despite everything the pandemic threw at them. Battleaxe said to Philosopher that if we had been 20 years younger when this dreadul Brexit/Tory nightmare started, would we have thought of moving abroad ourselves? I think so. Much better weather, (as I write this bloody Storm Eunice is hitting Hastings. It is cold, grey, wet and windy, and power comes and goes..) a quieter pace of life… more house for your money…. Dunno where we’d have gone. Not near the perma-tan brigade, and nice though Sao Marcos is, a life of vegetables and chickens is not quite our thing. Somewhere near Lisbon? We loved it when we went in in 2014. But it is too late now. Brexit has happened, and we are trapped for life here on Tory Little Britain Plague Island.
Finally, Eve drew this – it has been made into a fund-raising tea-towel by the Goldra Dog Sanctuary: