We arrived at Faro airport as it was beginning to get dark and by pure chance managed to walk to our accommodation without making any serious mistakes. We settled in to our basic accommodation and the first thing that I remembered not to do was to change the time on my watch.
Normally travelling to Europe involves adding an hour on but not so Portugal because along with Ireland and Iceland, Portugal is the only other European country that shares Western European Time with the United Kingdom.
Looking at a map of European time zones this looks odd but there is an explanation. France, The Low Countries and Spain should sensibly be in the western zone but during World-War-Two the Nazi occupiers changed France, Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg to Central European time for the convenience of Adolf Hitler in Berlin. For the sake of consistency Nazi sympathiser Franco changed Spain at the same time but anti-German Salazar of Portugal stayed as they were.
I got caught out by this several years ago when I first visited Portugal. When we landed in Porto I instinctively added an hour and thought nothing of it. During the visit however something puzzled me because all of the clocks seemed to be an hour behind and even at the railway station the displays said four when our watches said five. I thought that this was strange so asked an official who confirmed that it was indeed four and smiled when I showed him my watch and suggested that it was five. It turns out that we had been an hour ahead of ourselves for almost two days and this explained why it was still light at half past six at night in January, why the restaurant staff were surprised when we turned up for dinner an hour early, why the breakfast room was empty at six in the morning and also why it was so cold when we went out sightseeing in the dark. This, let me tell you was a most disorientating experience and one thing is certain, I will never make a Time Lord!
For my first meal in Portugal I had imagined grilled sardines or piri-piri chicken but there was an absence of restaurants at the airport site so we had to settle for a burger and fries in a nearby American diner which I have to confess was really rather good.
The following morning I collected the hire car from the airport but there was a problem because I had made a mistake with the start date. Here I was making sure I had got the time right regarding the issue of the hour but I had somehow managed to be a complete twenty-four hours out on the car hire and I should have been there the day before to collect it.
Anyway, we sorted it out, the car was still there somewhere waiting for me and after the staff located it handed over the keys to a street scarred Peugeot 305 we were soon on our way heading west away from Faro.
I had visited the Algarve twice before, the first time in 1986 on a road-trip with pals and then in 1994 on a family holiday so I was curious to see if the southern Algarve was anything like I remembered it to be.
The first stop was Albufeira which once had a thriving fishing industry but sometime in the 1960s turned to tourism and began a hotel building programme to attract visitors from Northern Europe. I remembered sitting on the promenade drinking beer and looking over a beach where there was still some working fishing boats to see. There is no room for boats on the beach anymore because today it was completely covered in sun-beds and parasols and flanked by bars and tourist shops.
Actually I didn’t find that it changed a great deal except that it was so much busier than I remembered. We stayed for a while, walked through the shopping streets of the old town through the tunnel cut through the rocks for fishing boats that no longer use it and down to the beachfront. On the way out we stopped briefly for an excellent light lunch and then left and continued west towards our destination, the seaside resort of Carvoeiro where we would be staying for three days.
In 1986 I stayed in the small village of Alcantarilha which I remembered as a single street dusty little place with one shop. Not so any more as it has grown into a big holiday village and I quickly abandoned any thoughts of attempting to find the villa or the shop. The villa I know is still there because I know the people who live there but I imagine the old shop to be a modern supermarket – ALDI most likely.
This was the shop…
My plan was to drive through Armação de Pêra which in my memory was a pleasant fishing village with a big sandy beach but from the main road all I could see was a string of tall hotels and a sprawl of holiday accommodation so I abandoned that idea as well and drove on to Carvoeiro and hoped that this may not have changed too drastically since 1986. But of course it had…
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