Praia do Vau, Portugal - August 2002
The travelog was written every evening using the cool Palm m515 and the incredible Palm portable keyboard.
Saturday 17 August 2002
Well I’m completely exhausted. Each day involves increasingly frantic efforts to get everything ready to go on a fortnights holiday in Portugal, along with equally hectic efforts to leave work in a decent state whilst I’m away. I sometimes wish I wasn’t this conscientious and could do what others do - walk out whatever things are like leaving colleagues to deal with the problems you leave behind - but I can’t. Consequently, I’m completely knackered.
We had the usual last minute efforts to put everything we need in the suitcases. Michelle persuaded me to buy those new pull-along suitcases for the girls. This was a brilliant idea. The girls love it and my life is easier as I no longer have to carry the luggage for 5 people!
On the plane, we were all stuck in four seats separated across the gangway from each other. Elise wasn’t very happy about this, but she eventually got used to it and we survived the flight. There was no extension seat belt on the flight for my 15 month son Ethan to use. The stewardess said that the safety rules no longer required this. We have since discovered this is untrue and the plane only has belts for two babies even though they know in advance how many babies will be on the flight. Ethan can’t keep still for five minutes and spent most of the flight running up and down the narrow aeroplane gangway.
The transfer from Faro airport to the apartment was very good. We were taken in our own modern MPV. The driver was very pleasant, and thankfully spoke reasonably good English.
We are staying at Coral do Vau Apartments in Praia do Vau on the Algarve. First impressions of the apartment were very good. It is spacious, modern and air-conditioned.
Unfortunately it hadn’t been cleaned since the last occupants. The rubbish was not emptied and the towels and sheets were unchanged. In fact one towel had blood marks, two of the window shutters were broken and the ordered cot was missing. We reported the problems and they were rectified quite quickly. I’m very happy now although Michelle says the dusting is not up to her standard. We arrived well after midnight and slept well as we were all really tired.
We decided to park and drive in the long stay car park at Gatwick airport because we have to get back in time for Bob’s 60th birthday party - David’s Uncle. This is in the evening of our return to the UK and also there are now five in our family.
The outward flight was good even though we were in separate seats. The girls were very well behaved, but Ethan would not stop running up and down the aisle. We arrived at Faro airport at approximately 23.30 and the transfer time was 45 minutes.
The apartments are all 4 star. However on closer inspection I was horrified to find the bins unemptied, cooker with crumbs, fridge dirty, beds full of sand and blood on a towel. I went to reception to have matters rectified. They were very apologetic and rectified what they could immediately.
Natasha and Elise have a bigger room than us with bathroom en-suite. Our bathroom is not en-suite.
Sunday 18 August 2002
No food for breakfast!
Attended the usual reps opening meeting and had brunch afterwards. We bought a few provisions in the nearby limited and expensive shop, and then had a nice swim in the pool. Unfortunately the smaller splash pool is too deep for Ethan. Not too much more today.
The apartment is well located: close to a lovely beach, yet away from the overcrowded and over commercialised Praiya do Rocha.
In the evening we had a stroll along the coastal road. This was pleasant although I was really suffering from tiredness.
We went to the welcome meeting to see the Style Holidays rep and found out about everything else that they were selling including the restaurant in which the welcome meeting was held. After that we stopped off for lunch a local câfe.
We cooked dinner and then used the swimming pool. I thought it was freezing (David disagrees), but I was warned that it may not be heated. The Algarve is not along the Mediterranean but the Atlantic coast so in the evenings it can be fairly cool, but still warm enough for a T-shirt. My children and the other children seem totally un-phased by the cold water.
Monday 19 August 2002
A good nights sleep, and not too bad a breakfast. We have booked two excursions, on Wednesday we will go to Zoomarine and on Friday we are going to Slide and Splash. Horror of horrors! This morning one of the children found an old pair of defaecated children’s knickers in a cupboard.
We took a Taxi to a place called Modelo. A hypermarket with other shops and a cinema. The main aim was to buy provisions. It was very busy in the supermarket. The major difference isn’t the food on the shelves but the way that everyone behaves. We have heard that drivers don’t give way or let people out of side roads, and this manifests itself in the shop. Things that you take for granted at home are conspicuous by their absence. I first noticed it in the queue to weigh vegetables. Several people pushed in at the front, but when I was next to be served, three people just came along and got their fruit weighed before me. I soon worked out that queuing is futile, all that matters is which bag of vegetables hits the scale first. At home in England you hear lots of radio phone-ins with people bemoaning that English people aren’t as polite as they used to be, well I say come to Portugal. Don’t think that I have taken a dislike to the Portuguese - I haven’t, All the Portuguese that I have met were really pleasant. Just that certain courtesies that we expect in England do not exist here. Another early night, I’m still feeling a little ragged at the edges!
We got a taxi to the supermarket. It was actually located within a large shopping mall. I’m afraid to admit due to my girls being slightly fussy eaters at the moment (I am working on them) we had lunch at Pizza Hut.
Upon entering the supermarket their is a security guard that seals other shopping bags that you may have inside another plastic bag to prevent shop lifting. He was not concerned about us though. After the experiences of this supermarket I can only assume that trolley rage originated here in Portugal.
We cooked dinner and went for a pleasant stroll around Praia do Vau. A lot of Portuguese people also seem to holiday here which I hope is a good sign. I have been mistaken for being Portuguese. Some of the locals just start conversing with you, and when you look at them blankly they realise.
Today we got up late and went to the beach. Trying to get three fighting children ready can be a struggle against the odds sometimes. My Mum wonders why we bother going on holiday with the children. You do still manage to get a nice break. It is nice to experience a different culture. Being of Caribbean origin myself some of the food, in particular the fish and the way it is cooked namely the dry salted cod is very prevalent here.
David is missing my home cooking. I think he is just a bit fussy or really does enjoy my cooking!
Tuesday 20 August 2002
Excellent a fairly long sleep - a rarity. After breakfast and a slow start, so slow in fact that we have lunch before we go out, we walk a few yards to the beach. The beach is excellent - holder of a blue flag. Large, very sandy and not too packed. Yes it was crowded by the water edge and around the cafés, but there were some fairly quiet spots to be had. Another thing Michelle persuaded my to buy was a beach tent. It was very lightweight, so much so that Natasha carried it to the beach. I was very sceptical about buying this - something else to carry in our suitcase. It is really good, quick to assemble and take down, and great for a break from the wind or sun and keeping you bags etc. sand free. It is especially good if you have a toddler like Ethan that wants a nap.
This was Ethan’s second experience of the sea and beach. He didn’t like it at first. Walking on the moving sand disconcerted him and the sea (possibly the noise of it) didn’t suit him at all. But he soon grew accustomed and got into the swing of things. He didn’t especially like the sea, but he did enjoy it lapping at his feet - that is until a strong wave made him cry. Ethan saw some kids burying each other and he toddled over and tried to copy. He really did like it when I started cover his legs in sand whilst he was sitting up. He even had a go at covering me with sand. The girls are very good in the sea, their swimming lessons are really showing through. However, Natasha fell over in the sea and Michelle had to give her a helping hand to get out. I’d say we had a pretty good day.
The children woke early as usual, and were playing hide ’n seek and 'homie' ('had' in my day) in and out of the cupboards in the living area. The beach today. It is literally across the road. The water is absolutely freezing, but at least I can practice my swimming in the pool as you don’t feel the cold for too long. What can I say about my beach tent except that it was a brilliant buy and David got the best use out of it.
Wednesday 21 August 2002
Early rise, for our trip to Zoomarine. We arrived at the collection point on time. The coach was late, and whilst we were waiting I realised I had left Ethan’s bottle in the apartment. A crazy dash back to the apartment ensued. Fortunately I made it back before the very late coach.
Zoomarine was great. A mixture of animal shows, fairground rides for younger kids and other attractions like an aquarium and swimming pools. When we arrived - despite our breakfast - we were hungry, so we decided to find somewhere to sit and have some of our packed lunch. We headed for the picnic area and found that all the picnic table an parasols had somehow been ’reserved’. Local Portuguese families all took large cool boxes, blankets etc. and placed these on top of the picnic table and then lowered the parasol down. The effect of this was that no one else could use the picnic area as they were all taken. This is another example of selfish behaviour that would not be acceptable at home. Why should a few families be able to monopolise this facility, even though they only use it for a short while themselves?
We saw the sea lion show, went on a few rides and were so hot that the swimming pool was irresistible. Ethan managed to tumble off the edge of the paddling pool and I had to drag him out. In the larger pool I persuaded the girls to do running jumps (on condition that I caught them in the pool). At one point the girls got out of their depth and Elise was play climbing on Natasha. Natasha started struggling and Elise didn’t really appreciate this and was pushing her down more. Natasha had a real look of terror on her face and she was in real trouble. Unfortunately I was holding Ethan in my arms in the pool at the time. Somehow I had to lift Natasha and Elise above the water surface and carry them to the edge to recover whilst still carrying Ethan. It wasn’t easy - I suppose it’s a case of finding the strength to do what you need to do. Fortunately no one came to any harm, although Natasha was a little shocked. The worrying thing was that the lifeguard had no idea that two young children were in trouble.
After the pool we saw the Dolphin show. I don’t know why, but I didn’t enjoy this like the Sea-Lion show. By then the sun was really getting to us and we had a well-needed rest and meal before going back to the coach.
We got back, washed and cleaned ourselves and went out for a meal. The meal was great and very filling - Cataplana fish (fish stew). We met a friendly Irish couple, the second Irish family that we met today. Another enjoyable day. Tomorrow we’ll have a relaxing day by the pool before our trip on Friday to the Water Park Slide and Splash!
Thursday 22 August 2002
A rest day. We just stayed around the pool and in the evening we went to Modelo to get some food and provisions for the trip tomorrow. We bought some really good value sunglasses (my nice one were broken a couple of days ago). Natasha used some of her spending money to buy a thumb ring and Elise to buy some sunglasses. We waited about 40 minutes for a taxi back. In a strange country when you can’t speak the language, at 10.30 at night with little kids, it was worrying to think that we may have difficulty in getting back to the apartment which is only a couple of miles away.
Great fun with the children in the pool, especially as I can actually swim now. The pool is kidney shaped and about 15m long at the longest part.
The local shopping mall has everything that you need. The food in the supermarket seems so much fresher and natural than I find at home with out paying that premium for natural food. All of the chickens have that yellow corn fed tinge, neither do they appear to have been injected with growth hormones to produce monster size chickens. The vegetables notably the cucumbers and tomatoes look home grown as they are all naturally imperfect in shape and size and taste so sweet. The fish is so fresh, the eyes are still bright, skin gleaming and that smell of the sea … wonderful (apologies to vegetarians). The marble cake, a firm favourite with me and the children is so moist and cooked to perfection. Normally I will not buy shop bought cakes.
Visit a Portuguese supermarket when it is busy and you take your life in your hands. This is where trolley rage was invented. There does not appear to be a queuing system for fruit and vegetables. You have to be the first to put your provisions on the scales.
Friday 23 August 2002
Up early for the trip to Slide and Splash. Taking three young kids and my wife’s hair on a day trip requires the most amazing list of things to take for it to go smoothly. Today we are a bit more organised and have taken all the things we need - being a techno-sado I used the excellent Palm software Handy Shopper as a list to make sure that we remembered all the bits we need. The best thing we took was the new beach tent. It made a great base for storing our things and for lunch and recuperation between the water activities. This was the first time that we have been to a water park. Before the girls were too young and not really sufficiently water confident. It is also the first time since Michelle learned to swim. She has learned swimming brilliantly. When we first went on holidays, she couldn’t go in water more than waist high, and would not under any circumstances get her hair wet.
We had a great time. The only drawback was that someone always had to stay back with Ethan. We didn’t go on all the slides as some were too much for young children, but they took on some slides that I thought they wouldn’t try. On the way back we met a couple of Irish ladies from Dublin who were with a girl - Kate - that was about the same age as Natasha.
We telephoned back home, and I managed to get the score of Chelsea v Man U from my brother. I did have a ticket for this match and was pretty disappointed that I would miss it whilst on holiday. When we got back we were all pretty tired and had an early night.
I could not believe I bumped into one of the parents who takes her son swimming when Natasha and Elise have their lessons.
Saturday 24 August 2002
Today it is overcast and pretty windy. It’s a good job we hadn’t booked Slide and Splash today! We left late and walked towards Praia da Rocha. We bought some vegetables from a roadside seller and walked along the cliff-high seafront. Praia da Rocha has a single attractive point, namely a very large sandy beach. Trouble is that in front of the beach are many, many multi-storey hotels and the beach front are the scores of bars and restaurants. It is the archetypal overdeveloped European seaside resort. On the way back we bought the girls some pastel beaded bracelets and necklaces. Which they are delighted with and really suit them.
We also walked along the almost deserted Praiya do Vau beach, outside our apartment. We had a great time exploring the ’caves’ and collecting seashells. Back at the apartment the girls had hours of fun using these to set-up a shop, and somehow they managed to persuade us to part with our coins to ’buy’ the seashells that we helped them to collect.
A very pleasant relaxing day. Sometimes I need to chill and relax with the children. Today was one of those days.
Sunday 25 August 2002
David Another overcast day. Still pleasantly warm and not as windy as yesterday. We went to the local fishing village of Alvor where we had a pleasant lunch. Virtually all the restaurants have exactly the same menu: chips with pizza or chicken cooked the local way with a crispy and very salty skin or the ubiquitous burger. An alternative of grilled fish with salad and boiled potatoes is usually on offer. In most cases the fish is the local dish of sardines - very tasty.
This restaurant unusually had something different on the menu, namely chicken stew with potatoes and carrots. Ethan and I really enjoyed this. The village of Alvor has lots of souvenir shops, but many are more upmarket than usual and have a stylish range of pottery and other decorative items for sale. We bought my brother and sister-in-law a pretty tea set. I usually don’t buy souvenirs - they are all junk, but if I see something really good I’ll buy it. Alvor has lots of shops selling incredibly cheap wines and spirits, and again we bought a bottle of Port and Whisky for gifts.
The other attraction to Alvor is the harbour, along which we enjoyed a pleasant walk, and also recovered some seashells to add to the girls new collection. On the way back the taxi driver was older than usual - probably in his seventies. He didn’t speak English, but he got a little worked up when the girls got into the car as they had a little disagreement about who was sitting where. On the short drive to the apartments Ethan was mischievous and grabbed the door handle. For safety sake Michelle slightly opened the door and closed it securely again whilst the car was in motion. The poor fella was beside himself. First he muttered under his breath, then he did the sign of the cross and pulled over. I was worried that he was going to kick us out. Fortunately he said something or other in Portuguese and carried on. I think he was pleased to get rid of us as a fare. It must be a very long time since he came into contact with children.
Today we went to Alvor. They have some very nice (untacky) gift shops, a lot of Irish pubs, a lot of very cheap drink and cigarettes. I hardly drink and do not smoke, but did buy myself a bottle of port and drinks for my parents and grandparents. We had lunch. The girls had an enormous portion of chicken and chips. Ethan loves chips. David had a chicken stew and Ethan had a lot of that as well. I had grilled bream and salad.
The children then played in the local park. It was small but clean with trees, grass, sand (and more sea-shells to collect) and a child size toilet. I could not imagine these toilets surviving in a suburban London park. We then walked towards the harbour. The scene here was just how I imagined the Algarve. The older fishermen sitting around having a seriously heated debate and the restaurants around serving up the catch of the day on the BBQ. <Natasha and Elise had great fun collecting more sea-shells to add to their collection which would sometimes end in tears with arguments over possession.
Further along the harbour are some trendy cafes and coffee bars. A very pleasant day.
Today we decided to walk to Praia da Rocha harbour. We packed stuff so that we could have a ’picnic’ on the way. We could also get some provisions on the way back and replace Elise’s bracelet that Ethan broke. The walk was quite a long way. Early into the walk Elise’s first milk tooth (top right) fell out. The tooth had been dangling for many days. It looked like it wasn’t in a rush to fall out, but was being pushed out - like it or not - by the adult tooth underneath. She decided to keep it for the English tooth fairies.
In Praia da Rocha were many street vendors. Including two men, who separately approached us, whipped out a ‘gold’ chain and whispered "have a look at this, its good". It is hard to believe that there are people around who are gullible to fall for this sort of nonsense. Perhaps they feel intimidated into making a purchase?
In Praia da Rocha it was crowded, hot and we had walked a long way. Everyone was getting cantankerous. We had our picnic on a couple of stone seats that lead down to the beach. It was away from the crowds and in some shade. It was that sort of break that you really need. Afterwards we all refreshed.
As it happens the harbour was only about 200 metres further on. At the harbour we stopped for a drink and ice cream. From here we could see that opposite the harbour and the large Praia da Rocha beach - on the other side of the water - are several decent sized beaches that were virtually deserted. Why is that? Perhaps access is difficult? Perhaps they just are less known to tourists? Certainly they seemed to be few hotels near those beaches - in stark contrast to the multi-storey hotel-hell of Praia da Rocha. The walk back was much easier. It was 6.30pm. The sun was less intense, the crowds fewer. The street vendors had gone.
On the way back we played with the walkie-talkies that we bought earlier in the year. We stopped at a closed restaurant and took the liberty of letting the children play in their private kiddies playground. A reasonably enjoyable day, although the walk was perhaps a little over ambitious bearing in mind the sun and the heat.
Today the girls wanted a picnic so we walked to near by Praia do Rocha along the pretty promenade to a mini supermarket there to buy provisions for the picnic. The start of Praia do Rocha / Praia do Vau does not have a lot of hotels; mostly shops and restaurants which by and large sell unauthentic ‘Portuguese food’ and the usual tourist souvenirs. Towards the middle of Praia do Rocha are more of the same plus a lot of hotels. It is very busy there. Discos bars, English and Irish pubs, casinos and an enormous beautiful beach. Towards the end of Praia do Rocha it is less built up and more pretty, less touristy.
Personally I prefer to be where we are. It is a lot less busy all around. The beach is not as big but you can still find isolated coves away from the restaurants and cafes which are still not too far. There are a lot of Portuguese here at this resort and actually at the apartments in which we are staying.
A good day had by all including Ethan as long as he gets a break from his pushchair.
Tuesday 27 August 2002
Either we had a fantastic day so action packed that we didn’t find time to make a few minutes to write down our day in the travelog, or we couldn’t be bothered because we were so chilled out. I can’t remember which!
Wednesday 28 August 2002
I’ve got that 10 days feeling. You know the one. It takes a few days of holiday to wind down and catch up on sleep (other working parents will know that always-frazzled feeling). Then you enjoy some really good days, when you’re not tired and just enjoying the experience. But then about 10 days into the holiday it starts happening, you start thinking of home and god forbid even work! Although I’m having a enjoyable time, the sand in the bed and on the bottom of my feet all the time niggles me, I miss home cooking and comforts. The bed is not quite as big as we have at home and this is very important when the end of every night results in Ethan and Elise joining you in bed. I miss the duvet. Here we have just a sheet and bedspread, which isn’t quite warm enough, especially when you are hanging over the end of the bed (’cos it is so overcrowded), with hardly any of the covers. Despite being a techno-sado, I haven’t missed it very much. In fact I’ve had more time to read books (although I read them on my beloved Palm Pilot). Since the holiday started I’ve read…
- The retreat from Flanders - “We shall defend ourselves whatever the cost”.
Winston Churchill House of Commons speech June 4 1940.
- The manner and form of the Coronation of the Kings & Queens of England 1385 - 1460.
- The life of King Alfred From A.D. 849 to 847 by Asser.
- Martin Luther King Jr. “ I have a dream” Words spoken on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial 23 August 1963.
- Martin Luther King Jr. “I've been to the mountaintop” Memphis Tennessee 3 April 1968.
I’m now reading the absorbing long novel The Empty Chair by Jeffrey Deaver.
Today is my Dad’s birthday. He - Kenneth David Thrale - would have been 74 today. He died 15 years ago, aged almost 59 from heart attack. It is really hard to image what he would have been like as a pensioner! I always remember him as a younger man. If he had of lived to see his 74th birthday, he would I’m sure still be doing the things he liked, enjoying good wine, port and Stilton cheese. In fact whenever I visit a decent off-licence with a good range of wines I still always think of Dad, and did so when we visited a Portuguese shop that sold vintage ports a few days ago.
Dad would, money permitting, enjoy occasional trips to neighbouring countries. He wasn’t in a highly paid job, but always saved for the family holiday from his modest weekly pay packet. As usual on his birthday, the weather is sultry, the tomatoes are sweet - something that he, and I, both have a taste for - and life seems good. He, and Mum who also died far too young a couple of years ago, are both sorely missed. … oh yes, and today we went to the beach!
Spent the day at Praia do Vau beach and had lunch at one of the cafes there. David thinks that the first restaurant we went were racist as they told us that they were fully booked despite having numerous empty tables. We walked around the beach to where the crowds were less. We met a friendly Portuguese family with four girls who were moving from Lisbon to Praia do Rocha to open a restaurant. There little girl approached Ethan and she stayed a while to play. The weather for the past two days has been overcast and cool, but still warm enough for a t-shirt. The sea water is so cold.
Thursday 29 August 2002
Today it is sunny again. We went to the local shop for a few provisions. Had lunch in a local cafe, nothing interesting except Ethan spilling Natasha’s drink. Spent the rest of the day in the pool. It’s a hard life!
Friday 30 August 2002
The penultimate day. Unexpectedly it was foggy this morning. Something that you don’t expect in the Mediterranean in August! I am really looking forward to going home. I have had a great holiday and recommend the Algarve before it is ruined by the creeping over-development . Today we went to Portimão. Strolled along the narrow streets. lots of restaurants to choose from most selling authentic Portuguese food. These days though everything comes with chips especially for the children. The Portuguese fish with potatoes was very nice. As mentioned previously with regard to another fish recipe the way this dish was cooked with the sweet peppers, onions and vinegar is very similar to the way my mother and grandmother would cook cod. The Spanish and the Portuguese escovitch fish (that is a spicy pickle) has left its mark in the Caribbean.
Saturday 31 August 2002
We had breakfast at one of the bars below the hotel serving continental or English breakfasts as David was starving and the coach was not due until 12:30. David also got the chance to top-up his tan. Natasha and Elise enjoyed the trip to the airport, but Ethan would not settle, despite offers of food, drink and restricted play on the coach. Eventually after a long hard struggle and desperate attempts between David and myself he eventually fell asleep.
To avoid being separated on the plane, at the airport David asked the rep to put as close together as possible and she kindly obliged even though seats could not be reserved before check-in. It really helped that Natasha and Elise were able to pull their own little suitcases this time.
On the plane their was no seatbelt attachment for Ethan. David would not accept this, and each time they gave us an excuse, David calmly but firmly said I would like a safety harness for my child. He would not take no for an answer. Their problem was that they had already given out the harnesses that they had (despite having had the passenger list for weeks beforehand). Eventually the stewardesses 'cannibalised' her safety harness and gave it to us for Ethan.