Category Archives: Hotels

Sicily – I like a Kettle but Kim prefers a Washing Line

When travelling to Europe We have given up on hotels and preferred instead to stay in apartments.  They are generally cheaper, offer more space and are chock full of facilities.

I especially like that they have a separate bedroom from the kitchen and living accommodation because I generally wake first , sometimes over an hour or so before Kim and in a hotel room I am reluctant to get up and make a cup of tea for fear of disturbing here.  Many hotels in Europe don’t even have tea making facilities, so there is another consideration but in an apartment there is always a separate kitchen and a kettle.

The apartment  in Ortigia was brilliant for this even though I felt a little guilty that this was suitable family rooms converted to tourist accommodation.  A different debate that I won’t go into here.

Anyway, to get to the point, Kim especially likes washing machines and if the apartment has one makes a point of washing our clothes and hanging them out to dry in the Mediterranean way even if they don’t really need it.

Sicily – A Sunset and Trouble with a Mosquito

“Sicily was a gift from the gods to the Greeks.” – Salvatore Furnari

It was a glorious afternoon, a big blue sky, a burning yellow sun and unexpectedly high temperatures so we left the balcony and returned to the labyrinth of streets below.  

I was no longer panicking about being lost in the maze and I immediately liked the place with its unique combination of cultural heritage which was evident everywhere we turned and along every sinuous street that we explored.

Sicily, probably more than any other part of the Mediterranean, maybe even all of Europe, has been subject to so many invasions and waves of migration over the centuries. From the Greeks, Phoenicians, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, French, Spanish, to finally becoming part of Italy only with the unification of Italy in 1860 makes it a melting pot of cultures and we had five days ahead of us to explore it all so we were in no real rush this evening.

Some areas were surprisingly run down.  What was surprising was that in some of these part derelict buildings there were clearly family apartments with people living in quite appalling conditions, their occupation of inadequate accommodation given away by the laundry left to dry over rusting balcony railings and from washing lines stretched out randomly across the streets.

After only a few minutes we came across the shop that I had used earlier and I immediately realised my earlier geographical mistakes, I had simply selected the wrong turning and that had disorientated me completely.  I was happier now and a lot more confident on account of having a map and mobile phone with Google Maps.

We walked as far as the centre of the island of Ortigia to Piazza Archimede named after the famous Greek mathematician and all round clever dick who was born here in approximately 287 BC and which now hosts an impressive collection of statues and a spraying fountain.

Towards the end of the afternoon the  main square was beginning to get busy with a tsunami of people coming in waves into the old town and then just walking backwards and forwards like an Atlantic tide. The pavements were flowing with people like lava spilling from a volcano, the piazzas were packed, the pizzerias overflowing and the gelateria noisy with babbling chatter. 

This was the  passeggiata, an Italian tradition where local people descend on the town at dusk and just walk and sometimes stop to talk. Some people had bought fold up garden chairs and were just sitting and chatting, others were playing cards, some were hanging around the bars but mostly they were just walking up and down and around and around and they were still coming in as we battled against the flow and made our way to the seafront just a few yards to the west.

At the fishing harbour men were still going about their daily chores and preparing their boats to put out to sea later and this gave way to a long elegant promenade, Foro Vittorio Emanuele II where people were beginning to gather in expectation of a sunset.  As local people they will all have seen this sunset many many times over but it still draws them in like a moth to a flame.

We finished at the Fountain of Arethusa, a natural fountain and according to Greek mythology the fresh water fountain is the place where the nymph Arethusa, the patron figure of ancient Syracuse, returned to earth’s surface after escaping from her undersea home in Arcadia.  The Fountain of Arethusa is the only place in Europe where papyrus grows (allegedly) which explained why the gift shops nearby all had postcards, book marks and fridge magnets made from the stuff.

The sunset came and went, we returned to the apartment and thoughts turned to evening dining.  The owner of the apartment had earlier made a recommendation so based solely on that we returned to Piazza Archimede and discovered a charming trattoria with a traditional menu and enjoyed a vibrant plate of Sicilian pasta.  We knew instinctively that we would be returning.

The day finished with a night of terror.  It was a hot night and in the early hours I pushed the duvet back to cool down but as I lay there a heard zzzzz, zzzzz, a bloody mosquito and we had foolishly travelled without insect repellent.  It simply hadn’t occurred to us.  Not taking any chances we pulled the duvet up to our necks and checked for bites because we had been lying out of the sheets laid out like an all-you-can-eat buffet table for creepy-crawlies.

I don’t like all-you-can-eat buffets much myself because I invariably overload the plate and eat too much and the mosquitoes suffered from the same lack of self restraint and sure enough we had been attacked. 

I had only a couple and considering how many glasses of wine I had drunk the previous day took I pleasure from imagining that the little blighter that got me would most likely be suffering from a monster hang-over! I had a vision of him in my head sitting there with his pals, rubbing his head and saying “never again. never ever again…!”

The next day we made it a priority to buy insect repellent.

Sicily – A Street Map of Ortigia

So much easier with a Street Map!

Sicily – Lost in a Syracuse Street Maze

“To have seen Italy without having seen Sicily is not to have seen Italy at all, for Sicily is the clue to everything.” – Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe – Italian Journey

Looking for a short Winter break we decided upon Sicily. We had first visited the largest island in the Mediterranean in 2009 when we went to the capital Palermo and had a shared desire to go back and see more of the island.  The island of Passion, History, Garibaldi, Opera, Crime and an active Volcano.

We had booked flights for 2020 but Covid put paid to that and then again in early 2022 but Easyjet cancelled the flight out to Palermo.  The return flight from Catania remained operational so because of that we only got a 50% refund.  Undeterred we booked again for December this time to Catania there and back and a few days in the ancient Greek/Roman/Byzantine/Norman city of Syracuse. 

The early morning flight left at the scheduled time and approached Catania late in the morning and on its final descent passed surprisingly close to the volcano Mount Etna which is less than twenty miles from the city centre.  Not quite as close as Naples is to Mount Vesuvius at only thirteen miles but Etna at eleven thousand feet is almost three times as high and is in a near constant state of activity.  Rather like living next door to an unstable man with a loaded gun.

We had a sort of vague plan to visit the mountain but soon after arrival learnt that this may not be such a good idea in December because the peak was covered in snow, the railway line was blocked and it was bitterly cold and we didn’t have suitable clothing so we shrugged our shoulders and took the bus to Syracuse, forty miles away to the South.

Once on the bus we slipped out of Catania  through edge of city suburbs with streets and streets of unattractive apartments which looked as though they had been put up in a hurry at a time when neither style or good design was considered especially important. 

Like most of Sicily, Catania suffered greatly during the Allied invasion of 1943 and lack of finance, Government corruption and the influence of the Mafia has in some areas restricted the process of rebuilding and regeneration.  The Mafia took control of the post-war building contracts and skimmed off most of the money by cutting back on basic building standards.

The route through the city of Syracuse wasn’t especially promising and for me first impressions were  not that good.  Sicily is one of the poorest regions in all of Italy where those living below or close to the poverty line is as high as 40%.  Compare that with Aosta Valley in the north and neighbouring Switzerland where the figure is 0.1%.  Italy is a country of many contrasts.

From the bus terminal we had to walk a mile or so to our accommodation which was on the island of Ortigia which is the historical centre of the city and the modern day tourist area which is connected to the mainland by a couple of bridges.  Once across there was quite a transformation as suddenly everywhere seemed more cared for and wealthy and my early misgivings began to quickly ebb away.

After we had found the apartment, approved it and settled in I went off to do an important job – find a shop for some beer and wine so that we could sit and relax on the charming little balcony.  I found one quite easily, made the necessary purchases and then set off to return which turned out to be a problem because I had neglected to bring with me either a map or my phone and I couldn’t remember the street name that I needed. Whoops.

I estimated that it was barely five hundred yards away but I was hopelessly lost, completely disorientated and just couldn’t for the life of me remember the route back.  My mind had gone completely blank. I explored the deep holes of my memory, the crevices of my mind but there was nothing there.

Ortigia is built on a grid system inherited from the Ancient Greeks which I suppose in theory should make things easy but my problem was that every street looked exactly the same and I quickly became lost in the maze of narrow streets and alleyways. 

I realised the next day when I had finally got my bearings that at one point I was barely twenty yards away but I had turned around and tried again and repeated this mistake several times over.  A shopping quest that should have taken ten minutes by now had taken almost forty and I thought that I was surely destined to wander the streets of Ortigia for eternity.  

Racking my brains I suddenly remembered that the apartment was opposite a puppet museum so once I had found a direction sign it was plain sailing all the way, I found my way back, opened the wine and enjoyed an hour on the balcony in the delightful sunshine.

“Why have you been so long?” asked Kim

“Oh” I said ” It was a bit further than I thought”

My stress levels leaked away and returned to somewhere near normal.

 

Portugal – Lisbon to Setúbal

 

So after four days and nights we prepared to leave our city centre apartment in Lisbon and move on to our final stay south of the River Tagus in Setúbal .  This should have been straight-forward but obviously wasn’t.  I could have predicted that.

The cobbled streets are not good for drag bags and Kim lost a wheel after only a few yards so we had to find the missing parts amongst the stones and then put together some sort or temporary repair and cross fingers and hope that it would hold out.  We made the train station and then a two stop ride to the transfer station to Setúbal. 

Now, buying a train ticket in Portugal is not easy but when using the national rail operator the automated ticket machines all have an option to use the process in English.  Not so the service from Lisbon to Setúbal which is run by the only privately operated train service in Portugal and which obviously doesn’t consider the translation service to be essential.  That is the private sector for you of course, private profit rather than public service.

So, after a wait of glacial proportions I made the front of the line but was quite unable to interpret the instructions so with a queue forming behind me and beginning to feel slightly awkward I had no alternative but to  abandon the quest and stand back and observe.  I watched a few  local people to get some tips. 

The first man was far too quick for me  and he galloped through the process but the second and third were thankfully  a bit slower as I tried hard  to remember the sequence.  Eventually I felt mentally prepared and optimistically rejoined the queue.

After twenty minutes I was back at the machine and I sailed through it  this time like a local expert who had been doing it all of their life.  Insert cash now it said and I offered a twenty euro note that was immediately rejected so I tried again and was instantly rejected once more.  I tried a different note and was instantly rejected.  A line was beginning to form behind me again and then someone tapped me on the shoulder and helpfully informed me that the machines only take a maximum 0f  a ten euro note.

Now I needed change so I went to a cafe bar who said that they were unable to help but then discovered that they could help if I was to purchase something.  So I bought a small bottle of beer, drank it quickly and returned to the ticket machine line.  Twenty minutes later I had the tickets to Setúbal  but by this time we had of course missed the train so with fifty minutes to spare we went back to the cafe bar for another beer and spent the change that they had just given me.

After that it was all plain sailing.  The train crossed the 25 de Abril Bridge, the forty-seventh longest suspension bridge in the World (a long way behind the Humber Bridge near where I live at twelfth) and then carried on towards our destination.  I was looking forward to crossing the bridge but it was an inevitable disappointment because from on board the train there is nothing to see.  It is much better to view the bridge from a good viewing point with a train crossing over it than to be on the train crossing over it with nothing to see but flashing girders.  Anyway, I have done it and I was glad of the experience.

This is the Ribblesdale Viaduct in Yorkshire, much better to see a train crossing it than to be on the train crossing it.

On the positive side rail travel in Portugal is very reasonable, no, it is better than reasonable it is cheap, and the benefit of being over sixty-five, the fares are half price.

After the rail delays we arrived in Setúbal  around mid afternoon, stopped immediately for a pavement glass of wine and then proceeded to our city centre apartment which turned out to be quite excellent. 

I think I mentioned before that on this trip we had chosen apartments instead of hotels and we were so glad that we did, so much better value for money and so much space.  I generally wake first in the morning and in a hotel room this means lying still and not being able to make a cup of tea.  In an apartment I can get up, close the bedroom door and enjoy a brew in the kitchen.  We will be doing it this way again.

The facilities were so good that we thought we might stay in tonight and cook for ourselves so we took the short walk to the nearby Pingo Doce supermarket and thereby hangs another tale which I will tell you about next time…

 

Portugal – Belém and the Age of Discovery

I like Lisbon, everything about it.  Really, there is nothing not to like about Lisbon.  Even the graffiti.  Even the graffiti.  It is a little understated and has no pretensions like other European capitals. This was my second visit and I would happily go back for a third.

I am always interested in place names and how they travel. There are sixteen place in the USA called Lisbon over fourteen States (Maine and Wisconsin have two each)  most are in the east and the most westerly is in Utah.  Portuguese ethnicity in the USA is thirtieth in a long list but the Portuguese language is thirteenth most spoken.

What I find even more interesting is that there are no places in Brazil called Lisbon or in a lot of other ex-Portuguese colonies.  There are however  four in Columbia and one each in Peru, Bolivia, Equatorial Guinea and Mozambique.

The Portuguese Empire…

I immediately liked Belém, it was a little more relaxed than Lisbon city.  Our plan was to visit the centre and visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Jerónimos Monastery and the tomb of Vasco da Gama but the queue was huge and I am not good with queues and Kim is not good with UNESCO World Heritage sites so we abandoned the plan.

The  Jerónimos Monastery is a World Heritage site that I have seen from the outside but not the inside.

I didn’t get to see the tomb but there is a large statue of him in the adjacent gardens.  One of the early explorers European Vasco da Gama discovered the route to India via the South Atlantic around Africa and the Cape of Good Hope and he opened up the trade route in spices from the east which made Portugal temporarily fabulously rich.

From the centre we made our way to the River Tagus and the UNESCO listed Belém Tower, a fortification built on an island in the river to provide protection for the city and a launch site for the explorers in the Age of Discovery.  I had to queue for tickets  of course but it didn’t look too busy so I didn’t mind waiting.

But then it began to get difficult.

The Belém Tower was built five hundred years ago and was designed as a fortress without any allowance made for accommodating thousands of tourists hundreds of years later. 

The rooms and stairways are small and tight and can only accommodate a few people at a time so there was a lot of waiting about as the flow of visitors was managed by a team of patient staff.  This made the whole process rather tedious and what was even more frustrating was that there was nothing to see in any of the rooms where we were continually kept standing and waiting for the one way system to flow.

The Belém Tower is definitely a World Heritage Site better seen from the outside rather than the inside.

Close to the Tower is the modern  Monument to the Discoveries.  Located on the edge of the north bank of the Tagus, the fifty metre high slab of concrete, was erected in 1960 to commemorate the five hundredth  anniversary of the death of Henry the Navigator. The monument is sculpted in the form of a ship’s prow, with dozens of figures from Portuguese history following a statue of  Henry looking out to the west, perhaps contemplating another famous voyage of discovery.

Portugal and Spain once ruled much of the World but their Empire building was in a different style, Portugal had Henry the Navigator, a methodical explorer seeking out new trade routes with maps and charts and Spain had Conquistadors like Francisco Pizzaro swashbuckling their way through the New World with swords and gunpowder in search of gold and conquest.

Lisbon was an important port during the Age of Discovery when Portugal was a major maritime nation as it built a World empire.  It competed primarily with neighbour  Spain to make discoveries in the New World and in 1494  after years of squabbling  a Treaty was signed which divided the World in two along an arbitrary line of latitude roughly half-way between Cape Verde Islands (Portuguese) and Hispaniola (Spanish) effectively giving Spain the whole of the New World and Portugal with bits and pieces in Africa and the Far East.

The treaty was signed at the castle of Tordisillas in Castilla y Leon which is somewhere that I visited several years ago in 2010…

For Spain this might have seemed like a very  good deal at the time but it rates as a serious negotiating disaster  as they failed to take into consideration the South America eastern bulge which gifted Brazil to Portugal and it gave up the Amazon rain-forest and all of its riches for the barren Andes of Patagonia. 

Some historians suggest that the canny Portuguese already knew about this when quill was put to parchment.

This Treaty was an example of extreme European arrogance of course.  Spain and Portugal conveniently ignored the fact that there were already people living there with a completely legitimate claim to the land.  Later as Spain and Portugal went into decline other countries like France and Britain simply ignored the Treaty (endorsed by the Pope no less) and went on a colonisation spree around the World.

Portuguese expansion continued and by the mid nineteenth century Portugal had the fourth largest European Empire but at only 4% of World territory was way behind France (9%), Spain (10%) and Great Britain at a huge 27%.  That is a massive amount of land grab but I wonder if the Roman Empire might have been even greater given that the known World was much smaller two thousand years ago. 

Thanks to Empire,  Portuguese, by the way, is the eighth  most common language in the World. 

Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa…

Portugal – Lisbon, Heatwave Sightseeing

We arrived in Lisbon early afternoon, it was hot, very hot indeed, everyone kept telling us that Portugal was in the grip of a heat wave and that it was too hot, but we didn’t mind, we were on holiday.  We settled into our excellent studio apartment, cranked up the air-conditioning and then left and made for the nearby centre of Baixa.

By now it was late afternoon and the heat was beginning to drain away into the deep shadows cast by the tall buildings and the sun was melting into the deep pools of shade of doorways and courtyards so we enjoyed a walk to a shady park where we stopped for a beer and then took a stroll through the elegantly tiled but grotesquely graffiti scarred streets of the city.  I was shocked by the urban scrawl which some call art but I call vandalism.  I didn’t like it.

In contrast I liked the views from the top of the city.  From a high vantage point we looked across to the castle and the cathedral and down to the river and the commercial centre.  We continued to walk down and down, I had no idea that Lisbon was going to be so steep and hilly and it was beginning to make Rome or Valletta seem like Florida in the USA or Lincolnshire in the UK.

Eventually we reached the ruins of a cathedral but it was getting late so we didn’t pay to go inside.  Ruined because it was destroyed in the 1755 Lisbon earthquake which was one of the World’s major catastrophic seismological events – ever!

It occurred before the introduction of the Richter Scale of course (1935) but today it is estimated that the Lisbon earthquake had a magnitude in the range 9.0  to 9.5 which, on a scale of 1 to 10,  is just about as big as it is possible to get and makes the event possibly the biggest ever in the history of the World.  The resulting Tsunami reached the Caribbean in the west and as far as Greenland to the North.  This was one hell of a bang let me tell you.

We were struggling to get our bearings but managed to grope our way back to the apartment passing on the way a restaurant that caught our eye for evening meal.  I found a shop for beer and wine and next day breakfast essentials and then we sat and relaxed, changed and wandered back to the restaurant.  It was full, really full and no slots left all evening so we booked for the following night and set off to find an alternative.

After a long walk I liked where we found but Kim was still sulking so we didn’t linger long after dining and returned and spent our first night in Portugal in our apartment.

The next morning the sky was blue, the sun was rapidly rising in the sky and by the time we had prepared and eaten breakfast, tidied up and left the apartment the mercury was already rising rapidly.

The plan was to make our way down to the River Tagus and then take in some of the sights along the way.  Some way along the planned route we took an unnecessary detour and we managed to get sucked into the labyrinth of back streets and got quite lost.  I confess that this was entirely my mistake but happily Kim didn’t seem to spot this, or, if she did, she generously chose to overlook it and not mention it.  I kept quiet about it.

We eventually emerged from the streets down to the river and some way away we could see the famous 25 de Abril (previously António Salazar) Bridge and we started to walk towards it.  It turned out to be further than we estimated and the view wasn’t that special anyway so eventually we abandoned the walk and made our way back up another steep hill to the city centre.

At the top of the hill we visited the Basilica but I have to agree with Kim on this point, it wasn’t memorable and it looked like any similar church or cathedral in Catholic Europe and as we walked out of the door I immediately forgot all about it.

Back at the river we stopped for a drink and an hour in the sunshine and then we tackled the walk back to the apartment. We passed through the Commercial Centre with its magnificent buildings where it was possible with a bit of imagination to conjure up a vision of a major naval and commercial centre with ships and dockyards where now there are tourist river cruises and ice cream parlours.

Eventually we found our way back to the apartment where we sat and enjoyed the local environment before making our way to the chosen restaurant which turned out to be absolutely excellent.

 

A to Z of Postcards – S is for Sorrento in Italy

Sant’ Agnello itself is a completely separate municipal commune from what is strictly speaking the town of Sorrento and walking the other way was another separate municipality of Piano di Sorrento, which was a working fishing village without the trappings of modern tourism.

The famous Victorian poet Robert Browning, who, it is said, adored Italy lived in this area and mentioned the countryside of Piano and other localities of the Sorrentine peninsula in his poem ‘The Englishman in Italy.

Read the full story Here…

Portugal – Obidos and Acrophobia

When it comes to hiring a car  if I get involved nothing is ever straightforward.

Even if I haven’t been involved in the hiring arrangement in the first place.   

And after getting dragged in and some inevitable faffing about at the car hire desk regarding levels of risk and insurance and some misunderstanding we eventually gave in, paid up and took the motorway north out the city towards our first destination, the town of Obidos.

We had decided that this time we would avoid hotels and book apartment accommodation instead mostly on the basis that they are cheaper  (always an important consideration in my book) and we were delighted with our first selection which was a three bedroom family house about half a mile from the centre with a sunny garden terrace and a very fine view towards the town.

After settling in, choosing rooms and approving the accommodation we took the short walk into the town.  My research had let me down here because I had no idea that it was such a popular tourist destination and we passed through a car park packed with expectant coaches waiting for day trippers to return from a whistle stop drop to be taken on to the next tourist destination.

Once inside the city walls we immediately understood why.  It turns out that at almost one mile long it is one of the longest complete walled towns of medieval Europe and on a list that includes Carcassonne in France, Dubrovnik in Croatia, Avila, Toledo and Segovia in Spain and Valletta in Malta.  

Simply stunning, a long sinuous wall of solid stone, crenellations, battlements and punctuated at regular intervals by watchtowers and sentry posts and in the centre a magnificent castle, magnificent even if today it is a luxury hotel complex.  

Tourist shops of course anticipating an impulse purchase…

Narrow confusing cobbled lanes that sometimes led to nowhere and at other times back to the exact place where we had started out.  Flower bedecked whitewashed houses decorated with washing lines strung out like bunting as though in anticipation of a carnival.  Multi-coloured shutters thrown open like the wings of a butterfly,  Houses all painted white to remain cool, blue and yellow to deter insects, or so it is said. 

I have heard this before, someone told me this in 1997 on a visit to the Algarve but I am unable to confirm whether or not it is true.

And a perfect uninterrupted rooftop vista.  It took me a while to understand why and then it struck me, no air conditioning units, no satellite dishes and no tv ariels.  I came to the conclusion that there must be regulations about this sort of thing in Obidos.  I came across it once before in the north of Portugal in the city of Guimarães.

It seemed like a good idea to climb to the top of the wall until we got to the top of the wall. 

Forty feet high or so and barely a three foot wide path around the battlements with nothing to stop an unfortunate slip and fall.  The Castle is a disaster waiting to happen, with uneven surfaces, irregular steps and almost completely without handrails or safety barriers to prevent visitors accidentally slipping off of the high battlements and becoming a permanent addition to the rocky foundations. 

To be fair however they do have warning signs at regular intervals together with a long list of disclaimers.

I am not very good with heights.  It is called acrophobia.  I can’t explain it.  I don’t know when it started.  It just did.  My intestines churn and drop to the pit of my stomach, my head spins with vertigo, I have an urgent need to cling on to anything that might prevent me from falling to certain death including people.  Even complete strangers.  It is the same feeling that I get whenever a dog comes anywhere near me (I have told you about that before I think), the fear of pension fund collapse, another five years of Gory Tory government and my grandchildren’s future in uncertain times. 

I have to confess that I was so glad to get down off that wall, find a bar and take a beer to settle my shredded nerves.  Then I had a second.  If I had had a third I might have been persuaded to go back up.  But maybe not.

As we walked out of the town back to our town house accommodation everything was rapidly changing.  The tour buses had gone, the crowds had disappeared and there was a transformation from tourist town to simple Portuguese.  The shops became less frantic, the restaurants began to prepare for evening dining and the shadows deepened in the narrow lanes.  It was all so much more agreeable.

On the edge of town we chanced upon an effervescent little bar/restaurant which was flowing over with local people so taking that as a good recommendation we made our way inside, secured a table and enjoyed an excellent but rustic evening meal.

The Algarve – A Tense Walk to Albufeira

 

“By the end…it was clear that … spiritual and cultural isolation was at an end, overwhelmed by the great alien invasion from the North of money and freedoms… and slowly, as the foreigners poured in, its identity was submerged, its life-style altered more in a single decade than in the previous century.”  – Norman Lewis – ‘Voices of the Old Sea’.

I understand that breakfast service at the Tui Blue Faleseia was once used as an initiation test for new recruits to the SAS but it was discontinued because it was considered too tough even for this.

The food, it has to be said was very good indeed but the restaurant ambience was rather like Dante’s inferno!. Wooden chairs being scraped across tiled floors, cutlery being dropped on the floor with a clatter, great training for the ‘World Pushing In Championships’ and the constant attention of the cleaning up crews who, if you weren’t careful would whip your plate away from under your nose even before you had finished.

It was in the dining room that I first noticed the tattoos, because the amount of body art on display here was absolutely incredible.  Personally I cannot understand why anyone, unless they are a Maori, would want to disfigure themselves in this way but here at Tui Blue it seemed as though they were almost in the majority.  Here there were bodies decorated with lions, wolves and dragons, goblins, fairies and skulls, a comprehensive A to Z of boy’s and girl’s names and more Indian braves than General George Armstrong Custer  had to fight at the Battle of the Little Big Horn!  Why do people disfigure themselves in this way I wonder.

So we started off to Albufeira but as it turned out it wasn’t an especially good walk and less than half way there Kim began to complain.  Too hot, too hilly,  too touristy with which I had to agree but keep it to myself.

We walked through the resort town of Santa Eulalia which I remembered from thirty years ago as a quiet place with a couple of modern hotels.  Not so anymore, it is a noisy place with a couple of d0zen modern hotels and a nasty strip of English bars, ticket offices touting tours and car rental places.  Quite horrible.

But, if that was bad we (I) managed to take a wrong turn and we found ourselves in little Liverpool, a place for lads and tarts, tattooed from neck to knee, nursing hangovers and already drinking mid morning.  Praia do Oura or more correctly Praia de Horror was a dreadful place and this diversion didn’t improve Kim’s mood a great deal so I was glad to reverse the mistake, get out and carry on.

Thirty minutes later we arrived In Albufeira.

Up until the 1960s Albufeira used to be a small fishing village but is now one of the busiest tourist towns on the Algarve and has grown into a popular holiday resort for tourists from Northern Europe and even though this was early May it was surprisingly warm and there were a lot of people about this morning.

This was Albufeira when I first visited in 1985., the year the town acquired city status.  It is called Praia dos Pescadores. More fishing boats than sunbeds in those days.

.

I have to say I found Albufeira both interesting and disappointing in equal measure.  It has clearly long abandoned its fishing heritage and the economy is now driven by tourism.  The Old Town is street after street of bars and cheap beach shops, travel agents selling tourist excursions and waiters waiting to ambush at every street corner.  We were looking for a tradional Portuguese restaurant that we had enjoyed three years earlier but when we found it it was closed and had clearly been so for some time.

Looking carefully beyond the shop facades and up above it was still possible to catch a glimpse of old Abufeira but sadly you will have to be quick because it is only a matter of short time before it is certain to go.

 

I am getting to sound like Norman Lewis now.  I suspect the place once had an easy sort of charm, fishermen’s cottages on the beach and whitewashed house with blue doors and elegant balconies in the old town but much of this is now hidden behind fast-food places and Chinese and Indian restaurants.

People have probably always complained about development and progress, it is quite likely the Saxons looked back at London with fond memories and complained about the Normans building new castles and Cathedrals.

After the discovery that the Portuguese restaurant that we had walked six miles to see was no longer there we stopped just long enough for a pavement beer and then took a taxi back to Olhos de Agua.where spent the remainder of the day on the balcony of our room.