• Southern Europe Junket 2017

    October 25, 2017
  • For fun in the sun and a bit more exploring of Europe, we skipped Florida this year after six consecutive years of travelling to the Sunny State. Something different would be a 21 day visit to Portugal and Italy during the month of May 2017. WestJet was offering great fares of less that $600.00 Canadian per person return direct non-stop to Gatwick, London which was very reasonable and a lot cheaper by about $400.00 Canadian return on Air Canada to London, Heathrow. We could get a one way fare from Gatwick to Faro, Portugal for less than $100.00 Canadian each on EasyJet. This was cheaper than flying to Florida, also quicker and not have to negotiate the Toronto Pearson International Airport jungle.

    The Streets of Old Town Albufeira, Portugal

    Some friends of mine gave me some great advice about the Algarve Coast in Portugal, and the town of Albufeira in particular! They referred us to the Algarve Getaways, a British property management company which rents self-catering holiday apartments, condos and villas in the central Algarve. We contacted them by e-mail, and they got back to us really quickly with some excellent properties with a number of alternative choices and we went from there. But first a little bit about our experiences getting there!

    Street Views Outside Faro, Portugal!

    The Trip Over to Portugal!

    Getting out of St. John’s Airport as booked is never easy anytime of the year, winter, spring, summer or fall believe me! Over the many years of our travelling experience we have encountered on at least 50 percent of the time a likely cancellation or major delay! This year was no different, fog, freezing drizzle this time delayed us for over 90 minutes in departing as we had to be de-iced before we left and there were planes ahead of us! So frustrating, but you can’t count on the weather at the St. John’s Airport to cooperate. Our stop over in Gatwick was planned for 150 minutes, so this late departure meant for only an hour to spare to catch our EasyJet flight to Faro, Portugal.

    Street Views on the Outskirts of Albuferia!

    Our flight was also fully booked and once we were airborne it was a great flight over to Gatwick, London. WestJet was flying a 737 next generation jet to Gatwick and Hubby really appreciated the improved legroom from our last WestJet flight to Dublin in 2015! Flying time was 5 hours and we arrived at 10:30 AM London time. We were travelling very light using one carry-on suitcase each, so we actually had time to get a full English breakfast at 11.50 pounds or $20.00 Canadian each. Not a very cheap breakfast for sure. but we needed something to fuel up before we bolted to the EasyJet gate to depart for Faro.

    View of Typical Street in Albufeira!

    Thankfully this flight was late too. It was a Wednesday morning, and the flight was blocked. EasyJet literally squeezes its passengers into all available space on their planes. Hubby was scrunched up like a pretzel. Need I remind you that he is 6’3”. He was not impressed but I reminded him that he was the one who booked this flight, so he would have to suck it up for this 3 hour ordeal. The EasyJet flight was an old generation 737, and it looked old and faded. You even have to pay for the water, no frills or freebies here, so we opted for something stronger to distract us from our surroundings! Most of the passengers were a very rowdy bunch, mostly Brits going down to the Algarve for a cheap drunk in cheap hotels with cheap food. We would see many more of these rowdy Brits on our time in Albufeira. While the flight as I stated earlier was about 3 hours, it seemed like an eternity. Hubby and I couldn’t wait to get of that plane. Anyway we arrived at Faro Airport around 3:00 PM and there was a very long line through Portuguese Customs, about a 45 minute wait to get through but hey we were now officially on vacation. The dreaded Trans-Atlantic Flight and the flight to Faro were behind us!

    Albufeira and Local Streets!

    Albufeira, Portugal May 10-20, 2017

    As I mentioned earlier, Algarve Getaways had provided excellent information on various accommodation alternatives complete with pictures of amenities, rooms, furniture to help us with our choice of a place to stay! Once we made our choice it was easy to book and pay on-line. We used PayPal which concerted the pounds into Canadian $ right off the start, so  you knew what you were paying. Algarve Getaways also provided a transport which you could book as well which meant you could be picked up at the Faro Airport for a very reasonable fee. This was also paid upfront so you didn’t have to pay the driver with the exception of a tip once he dropped you off. The driver met us at the Faro Airport with a sign as we departed Customs and he took us to our apartment at Solario De Sao Jose, a small 42 condo complex in Albufeira. So it was a very smooth transport which was about a 45 minute drive to Solario De Sao Jose. The driver supplied the codes to open the gate to the complex and the key and codes for the apartment we had booked. Very efficient. By 4:30 PM we were on our large balcony enjoying the Algarve sunshine, 22 C on May 10.  Just Great!!!

     Solario De Sao Jose: Our Algarve Getaways Condominium Complex!

    We soon got a knock on the door from the girl in charge of the rentals for Algarve Getaways. A lovely Aboriginal lady from Australia who married a Portuguese guy. She explained as best as she could that she was suffering from a bout of laringitius and her voice was a mere whisper, no wonder Hubby couldn’t hear her, but with my super hearing I could understand what she was saying. She tried to tell us how everything worked in the apartment, told us where the nearest supermarket was and gave us directions to the local attractions and restaurants. She was really sweet but she did look sick so we didn’t get too close to her. We bid her adieu  and she left!

    View of the Pool Area From our Condo: Solario De Sao Jose!

    Algarve Getaways rate per night was 55 pounds per night for ten nights, about $90.00 Canadian, a very reasonable rate we thought for that duration and time of year. A fraction of what you would pay in Florida for a comparable condo. We were really pleased with our vacation choice for Albufeira, Portugal. The condo had a fully equipped kitchen with stove, fridge, microwave, dishwasher and loads of cooking utensils. As time went on, I would have to say that the gas stove was a little tricky to work with. I found it extremely difficult to light it and keep it going. This could be that I am used to an electric range home and I must admit I was a little timid around the gas cooktop. The condo had a very lovely bedroom with a nice king size bed with its own access to an outdoor balcony. It also had a nice large bathroom and a spacious living room with a pullout couch for extra visitors which we would be expecting later in the week.

    Interior of our Condo at Solario De Sao Jose!

    The living room had a large screen TV with many channels, even the BBC News and CNN International and lots of steamy Portuguese channels too. A nice table to enjoy breakfast and lunch and a really great balcony off the living room with full sun from 2:00m PM onwards. You could even wash your clothes in the condo and hang them out to dry in the daytime sun on the clothesline provided on the balcony. There was also a small balcony off the kitchen which was really nice in the mornings when preparing breakfast. A great condo newly modernized overlooking the pool area and the ocean in the distance as we were at a higher elevation than much of the town.

    MK Outside the Solario Sao De Jose!

    Unpacked, we were booked in for 10 days of fun and sun! Algarve Getaways had provided us with a welcome package which we pre-purchased just in case we didn’t get there until late. You never know what can happen when you are travelling and if you arrive late then it is sometimes difficult to get your bearings late at night. The welcome package had fruit, cold cuts, bread, beer, coffee, milk, cheese, snacks and water so we were good for a couple of hours. No need to rush out and stock up the fridge, just relax for a few hours. After all, no sleep for over 24 hours, we deserved a little siesta. Around 7:00 PM we walked down the hill and less than ten minutes later we were at the local supermarket, Pingo Doce, a large supermarket chain in Portugal and we supplemented our supplies. We bought some wine, beer, and water. Everything is just so cheap in Portugal. Wine is less that 2 Euros, a six pack of beer is less than 4 Euros, Piri Piri Chicken 2 Euros, all just amazing!

    Kitchen Area of our Condo in Albufeira!

    We had enough supplies for the evening. The problem was getting up the hill from Pingo Doce to the condo about a kilometre uphill all the way. With several bags of groceries each anyway we made it back with some difficulty. We made sure that we rationed future visits to just a few bags of groceries. By the end of our 10 day visit the hill didn’t seem quite as intimidating. Since it was approaching 36 hours and as we had little sleep we cooked up a Pingo Doce Pizza for dinner to go with our cheap wine. We were pleased with our choice for dinner. The hardest part of every trip is getting in the supplies and trying to settle down the first night. Mission Accomplished or so I thought!!! 

    Our Wine for our First Dinner in Albufeira, Portugal!

    Alas it was not to be my night for sure. I noticed that I was having a little pain in one of my jaw teeth. I noticed it on the WestJet flight as we left St. John’s, however I passed it off to a small infection. So I took some Aleve and headed to bed. Hubby was so tired he passed out almost right away! Snoring away. I was also so tired and once the Aleve kicked in, I drifted of to sleep. It was late so I hoped  would sleep tight. Not so! About two hours into my sleep I was awakened by someone singing an Oscar Peterson song! I thought I was dreaming but my hearing is really great, almost too good if anyone can say that. It seemed to stop and I drifted back to sleep, only two hours later to hear the same music and song again. I thought I was going crazy. I stood up in the bed and saw that there were two speakers high up over the bed and this is where the music was coming from. It finally stopped again and I went back to sleep. Hubby was oblivious to all of this. I finally slept until the sun crept in the window! I tried to explain my night to Hubby but he looked at me like I was nuts! Anyways I thought he is pretty deaf so I decided to keep an ear out for this unusual music again during the day! I had a very restless night so needless to say this vacation for me wasn’t starting out like it should!!!

    Lets hope today would be better!

    MK