Sunday, June 26, 2011
The Algarve, for two weeks in June? Thank you and yes please! Heidi's Grandparents wanted to treat their side of the family to a holiday to remember, and take it from me, it was. They both turn(ed) 70 this year, and celebrated another major wedding anniversary. This was how they wanted to celebrate it and we weren't ever going to talk them out of it!
Both their daughters (my mother in law, Nikki, and her sister, Julie) with their own families were invited. Julie and her husband Kit have two children, a daughter Georgina 11, and a son Harry 7. Although Harry can be a handful, it was lovely to have kids with us as they gave us much entertainment. That and we love them dearly. Mike and Nikki, Heidi's folks, have another younger daughter, Heather. Heather's boyfriend, Nick came for the first week although on a later flight. So we numbered 12 at best and 11 at all other times.
An eight bedroom villa in Almancil was our destination. Only about a twenty to thirty minute drive from Faro airport if you know where you're going. An hour or so if you don't.
On arrival we collected our rental cars. Three brand new Fiat Punto's were waiting for us. I had one, Kit another and Heidi's dad and grandad shared the third. As the only driver for the girls car i guessed i'd be chauffering an awful lot of shopping expeditions!
I did get a feeling of the Italian job with all three of us in convoy, OK so they weren't Mini's, but they were Italian built.
We did get to see the EstadioAlgarve en route. A thirty thousand odd seater stadium built for Euro 2004.
On arrival at the villa there was the chaotic choosing of bedrooms. Grandparents first, then a free for all. Heidi had made her mind up and was off! Downstairs and with glass doors opening out to where the two pool tables were. A good choice. This was followed by a tour of the place. Eight bedrooms, two kitchens, a rather lovely swimming pool and a dining room table big enough to cope with all twelve of us.
We were self catering so finding a supermarket was the first item on the agenda. As it turned out, this became a little bit of a running joke. We seemed to venture into one most days even if just for bread and beer, and i think i managed six different ones over the two weeks.
Cooking and washing up was done on a rota basis which worked well as no-one felt guilty for not helping when it wasn't their day. We did a wonderful curry in the first week to set the bar, but in all honesty every meal was superb. Every day we all feasted like royalty, frequently indulging in morning fry ups as well as large evening spreads. Eating and drinking wasn't all we did believe it or not, although the port was to die for as you would expect in Portugal!
A favourite of all tourists is the local market. We had one just ten minutes away, on the road to Quarteira, every Wednesday morning. I could probably get round the whole thing in about an hour. For the girls you could probably times that by three. While they wandered around buying scarves, ear rings and all things girly, i was trying to avoid the spivs desperate to sell me hooky watches, grass and cocaine. Out of all twelve of us, i was the only one approached. I blame it on my hat.
Just to join in with the thrill of handing over my hard earned, I did buy myself some Lacoste polo shirts. Not necessarily the genuine article, but very well made all the same.
Praise must go to one beat up old van selling refreshments. Sat under a tarpaulin which had seen much better days, i enjoyed one of the finest cups of coffee I've ever drunk. I went back the second week with Heidi's grandad just to have another cup!
A wonderful evening trip was to Fiesa, an international sand sculpture exhibition. There were an astonishing amount of sculptures from fantasy to cartoons to the animal kingdom to a sailing ship. As time got on and the sun disappeared, the whole place became floodlit with different colour lights. This just added to the experience, the temperature only dropping a couple of degrees into the high twenties meant we were in no rush to cut short our visit. Click on the link and check out some of the pictures for yourself. I have honestly never seen anything quite like sand sculptures before! The toad on the vespa (never thought I'd say that) was really something to behold.
Water theme parks are always another 'must do' experience whilst enjoying thirty degree sunshine. Aquashow was the first. Half water park, half regular theme park, the highlight had to be White Fall. On the website is a 'You Tube' video of this. None of the videos do it justice. When setting off on your rubber ring it feels like a sheer drop, only to go straight up the other side, just like the skateboarders etc do. This was such a buzz and really was borderline scary/hilarious! Heidi even got me on a roller coaster at this place. I hate all roller coasters with passion, so went on this one three times just to prove it to her. The girls sat in front of me and spent the whole ride laughing at my facial expressions!
Slide and Splash became the second park we would visit. A much further drive, this was solely a water park and was full of slides and tubes you could throw yourself down. It didn't have the highlight of the White Fall but did have much more variety. Longer tubes with many more twists, turns and drops guaranteed laughter (and bruises) all round. It was however slightly busier meaning queues at each ride. Stood just in shorts a little sunburn was inevitable!
You cant go to the Algarve without venturing out onto the sea. Our first escapade was a Dolphin search and cave visit, setting off from Albufeira, the town of crazy roundabouts. Not crazy for the layout, just the decoration. Look them up online if you want, very bizarre. We started with a relaxing coastline trip to see the rock formations, have a look at the photo and see if you can spot the shark.
We then ventured further out to sea to spot some dolphins. The two lads on the boat had all the local knowledge and GPS equipment to find them. None of this helped, as our search was fruitless. The lads did admit that no way near the same amount of families of dolphins were around as there were this time last year. Yes a disappointment, but to make up for it the boys did turn on the speed on our return to shore. This is the same boat as they use for paragliding so it's motor was powerful enough to get everyone screaming in delight. I did my best to look cool standing on the back of the boat. I got my just desserts as i got a soaking in the process!
A few of our crowd did go in for a bit of paragliding afterwards. I decided that coffee was a far more sensible way to spend that particular half hour. Heather's boyfriend Nick said the highlight was little Georgina being sick on him. Or something like that....
The next boat trip came the following week. A reef fishing trip sounded enticing enough for eight of us to sign up. I must point out here that there wasn't one experienced (or even slightly competent) fisherman amongst us. No problem, i can blag this.
The two gents that took us out were wonderful. We moored up and got an instruction on how to use a rod. I listened very carefully to take it all in whilst still looking like i didn't need to hear this beginners lesson. Guess who was last to catch a single thing. One very dented ego. In fact, Heidi's Nan who had already caught five swapped position on the boat with me out of sympathy. A good move as i went on to catch the most and save my embarrassment. In my defence, she didn't catch another thing so positioning on the boat is obviously essential. Mackerel and Bream were just two varieties amongst our haul but the catch of the day had to be the Red Snapper Julie caught. It was so significant a catch that our hosts wanted to show their friends this fish to their friends on our return to dry land.
We were told that this fish would cost us around twenty five Euros if we were to buy it in a supermarket. Dinner sorted then. This along with the rest of the haul equated to a big bag of very fresh fish which managed to stink out the boot of my car. Back at the villa Heidi's Grandad taught me how to gut and de-scale our prizes, then they were sent downstairs to the waiting BBQ. There is something very very satisfying about eating food you caught yourself, even if it does mean having its innards all over your fingers!
On the second Sunday, half a dozen of us ventured off to find a local church that we had heard of. The International Evangelical Church of the Algarve to give it it's full name was a wonderful church with some very special members. A great word was preached, a real tear jerking version of Amazing Grace was sung and some wonderful conversations over tea were had at the end. A special morning and lovely to keep Jesus at the centre of the holiday.
There was more, much more, that i haven't spent time on. Family games of cards, larking around in the pool, a trip to one of Portugal's shopping centres and some rather colourful garments of clothing bought by some members of the family at the market. All great memories and all special in their own way.
It was an unforgettable holiday, a much needed rest, and some very very special quality family time spent together.
I even got a tan!