From Lisburn to Lisbon

A little bit of sunshine was in order, so we booked a 3 nights break in Albufeira through Thomas Cook. The travel vouchers were sent by email a week or so in advance, but during the weekend before we were due to depart, I wondered if there was transport between airport and hotel included. Sadly, I couldn’t get hold of TC either by phone, or on their suggested live-chat on the website. So we were heading off on the Monday morning without knowing what the position was…..

Parked at Aldergrove LongStay having booked in advance at £19.99 for 4 days. This was much cheaper than a return taxi fare, and we were impressed by the number plate recognition barrier.

We’d checked in online with EasyJet, so just had to do the bag-drop, which was very straightforward. Couldn’t find a TC desk to check our transfer status, but the Servis Air staff very helpfully pointed us to a phone and phone number, where we DID find someone to finally answer our query, and no, we hadn’t booked a transfer from Faro to the hotel. OK, we’d sort that out when we landed.
We passed the time at Aldergrove in the Lagan Bar (can’t recommend the breakfast butties…) and searching for teabags and milk so that I’d be able to make a cuppa in our self catering appartment the next morning.

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The flight was fine – took off on time, no turbulence, I indulged in my usual snack box, and there were no annoying fellow passengers.
Good landing, speedy disembarkement and passport control (R was delighted at being able to use his electronic doofer), and we began sussing out options for transfers. I tried to find any TC desks, and was directed to the stalls where there were a number of transit operators. The young woman on the Greenbus stand was excellent – she instantly understood our situation, offered a private transfer at 35euro in 40 mins, and booked a return shuttle at 20 euro. All with empathy and a smile – gold star award!

We waited in the cafe bar, and here I first learned that the Portugese don’t do glasses of wine – they do half-bottles!  And most of their wine has a cork in it, not screw top.  And that, actually, the wine is rather gorgeous….

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Checked into the Tropical Sol, in a self-catering appartment.  The room was great – a bed and chairs, small galley kitchen (where the previous occupants had left some cereal bars and apples), and got changed for an evening stroll-about.

Here we ran into our usual holiday dichotomy – R likes aimless wandering, even if that ends up in a Chinese resto, while I’m going ” A Chinese? In Portugal?”

Hotel morning

As Chinese goes, Big Shanghai was fine, including Bombay Duck .  But it still wasn’t my idea of holiday eating.  However, I did pick up one of the “Freemaps”, and was able to pore over that getting my bearings.

Afterwards, we found our way to The Strip, a collection of noisy karaoke bars, happy-hour pubs and tacky gift shops.

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Back at the apartment, we discovered the one big let-down of Tropical Sol – the pillows.  They felt as though they’d been stuffed with cotton balls, and were really uncomfortable.

Next day, I went for a run on the beach.  It wasn’t that easy to find the beach, and I had to run around in circles for a bit to find where I was.  But I got there in the end, and it was stunningly beautiful.  The sand was quite coarse but golden, lots of shells and pebbles, and there were a few other joggers and dog walkers around too.

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Later, we took the red hop-on hop-off bus.  As it was April when we visited, this was still operating its winter timetable, which meant it only went once an hour, so I checked the departure times and stops carefully to avoid too much hanging around in the sun.  A 24 hour pass costs 13 euros each – I always feel these tours are a good way to get a general feel for the area, and learn where the various sights and attractions are. We found out that Sir Cliff Richard has a long association with the area, and owns a winery nearby.  There’s even a street named after him! Many of the roundabouts have statues or sculptures on them, and I particularly liked the “discoverers” one, a reminder of Portugal’s rich history in world exploration.

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We alighted at the old town, a charming maze of little cobbled streets, and found a spot for lunch.  I enjoyed some rather good olives and fresh cheese, and plate of grilled sardines which cost 4.50 euros, very good value. We continued our “aimless wandering”, admiring some of the old chuches and whitewashed buildings with terracotta roofs.  Portugal has suffered greatly during the euro recssion, and there was more than a hint of faded glamour in the empty shops and peeling paint.

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Back at the hotel, we cooled off in the pool.  It was VERY cold, being unheated, but once you got used to it,  pleasantly refreshing.  I was keen to watch a sunset from the beach, but it became clear as we enjoyed our evening stroll along the cliff path back to the old town that the sun would set behind the headland, not into the sea.  No matter, it was still very beautiful, and we found a table in a restaurant right in front of the beach, where we drank in the pinky red sky deepening to a purple dusk.  The temperature really drops sharply when the sun disappears, and I was glad I’d brought a light sweater with me. Albufeira is popular with hen and stag parties, and we were amused by a group dressed as “Where’s Wally”.  I was impressed at the sales skills of the barker drumming up business for the Oceano – he’d pick up instantly if passers-by complained of the cold, or of sore feet, and point out a table right beside the patio heater, where they could rest and stay warm.

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We took a taxi back home, and retired early, as the next day’s trip started at 6:55 a.m…..

I’d been delighted to discover that a day trip to the country’s capital was feasible, and as I am still ticking off visiting all of Europe’s capital cities it was a no-brainer that we would pay the 27 euro charge for a bus tour.  The receptionist at the hotel made the booking for us, and she was very efficient and helpful, even checking that the price had gone down from that advertised in the leaflet.

Bus tours should always have a loud couple sitting behind who never stop talking, a wonky seat that everyone tries for a minute before moving elsewhere, and a quirky tour guide.  We were not disappointed.  Though the plans to catch up on some sleep were somewhat disrupted.  It’s 250 km to Lisbon, so the journey takes a few hours.  We stopped at a rather dull service station half way, where I tried some little pine-nut delicacies.  And the journey took us through some pretty tree-strewn landscapes, peppered by many cork trees, with their characteristic stripped trunks.

 

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The first sight-seeing stop was at the statue of Christ the King, Christo Rei.  This massive statue of Jesus with outstretched arms was built with the support of every Portugese bishop, in order to thank the absence of Portugal from the 2nd World War.  It is situated on a hilltop just outside the city, and gives a wonderful panormaic view over the 25 April bridge, the river Tagus, and the Vasco da Gama bridge in the distance.

 

Watch Tower

 

Our next stop was at the Torre de Belem, an ornate wedding-cake tower that put me in mind of Kings Landing from Game of Thrones.

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Then a short stop at the statue of Henry the Navigator, leading the way for all the explorers and adventurers who came afterwards.  I loved the compass rose, a huge mosaic map of the world.

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Finally we were released in the centre of the town with a few hours free to explore and shop.  A bit of aimless wandering around back streets and car parks showed us the steep hills, faded paint and grafitti, and a pleasing absence of the usual high-street-multiples which make most modern cities identical. And trams!

We’d been warned about pick-pockets, and I kept my handbag very close as we enjoyed a drink at a pavement cafe.  R was a little unnerved about a bloke who asked him for a cigarette, and then who seemed to be hovering in our vicinity.

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I like to buy jewellry when I’m abroad, and I treated myself to a cuff made of cork from a gift shop, priced at 9:50, which I felt was very reasonable.  Some of the cork items were beautiful – bags and purses, belts and even phone  and tablet covers, but quite pricey.

We made out way back to Rossio Square, where I sipped a vintage port and savoured a sticky Noz da Sintra cake, chosen from the mouth watering selection.

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The journey home took us across the 10 mile/ 17 km Vasco da Gama bridge, the longest in Europe.  Like many bridges, it is at its least impressive when actually being crossed, but its gentle curves,  arched cenral span, and graceful cable stays provide an attractive view.

It was after 9 by the time we sat down for dinner, and I was too tired, hungry and grumpy by that point to complain about going to a pizza place on the Strip for dinner.

Next morning, I ran on the beach again.  I turned left this time, and ran/ clambered over rocks all the way to Olhos d’Agua, a truly picturesque bit of coastline with rock arches and caves on the edge of glittering sands and blue sea.

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We went for a final potter around, had  coffee on the Strip, bought cheap Tshirts, packed our bag, leaving behind any heavy-ish items like suncream to make sure we stayed within our weight allowance. We had a toastie at the poolside bar, and as a party of stags began to appear one by one, commandeering chairs and sinking pints before launching into some rousing cheers and singing,  we were quite glad we were leaving today.  I’ve never seen so many bad tattoos in one place!

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If I was going back (and I would return, with more time to spend), I’d try to ensure that I was avoiding any peak stag/ hen dates and locations.

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One Response

  1. Really enjoyed reading your excellent report of your short stay in
    Portugal, you certainly packed a lot in during a few days. The photos
    are beautiful and gave us a good insight to some of the places you
    visited. Well done, Mum, xx

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