No sooner had our Daughter returned safe and sound from Oz when we were off to Portugal on our cycling adventure.
We flew into Faro and walked to our hotel from the airport, trying out our foldaway backpacks for the first time. They were ok for the short 20 minutes walk but I can imagine that we would have struggled to cope with a longer distance as the general lack of robust support made for a slightly uncomfortable walk but I’m being picky as in general I was well chuffed with our choice.
This was the first time that we have gone back to the same hotel, Hotel Rialgarve and although it had only been one year earlier, for some reason we were excited about returning. Would that friendly, overly excitable and helpful receptionist still be there? Would he remember us? Would it still be the same boring breakfast? We arrived too early for check-in so headed to the pool for some late afternoon sun. Having just left Scotland, which was quickly heading towards winter, it was nice to feel the heat of the sun again. Unfortunately, the previous receptionist had moved on, nobody remembered us and the breakfast was as boring as ever – hey ho!
The next day we walked back to the airport to collect our car. The queue was short so we reckoned that it would be a quick process. Unfortunately, we were stuck behind an array of customers with various problems – ”The named driver is in hospital, can I drive instead” – ” I don’t speak English or Portuguese. I speak French?. Do you speak French?”. We stood there for the best part of an hour! Finally, we were next, we had booked using air miles – total con! By the time we paid for insurance etc, we worked it out that the air miles had contributed around £20 to the rental. We would have been better off shopping around instead of being limited to somewhere that accepted air miles, lesson learned. Anyway rant over, we then drove back to the hotel, collected our bags and checked out. When I say we drove back, I mean I, Tom, drove back. I have driven on the right-hand side of the road before, in America but that was with an automatic. A manual takes a bit of getting used to but unfortunately, I didn’t have time. Straight onto the roads with Aileen looking and sounding like she wasn’t enjoying my ”in at the deep end ” learning style. And relax!
The toll roads took a bit of getting used to, basically keep left at the choice of barriers if you have a tracking system in your car, which we did, as this will pick up your car details and it gets deducted from the vast amount of deposit money you leave with your rental company. It means you can just keep driving through the toll hassle-free. So why did I go right?? By the time I’d realised i.e. it sunk in what Aileen was shouting about, I had left it too late and was now beside a cash-only option. When I say beside I mean too far away to reach across and put in coins. So I had to jump out, work out the currency (which I dropped) and eventually pay enough for the barrier to open. In the middle of a busy road with impatient car drivers behind me. And relax!
We decided to drive to a village called Beja on route to Lisbon for some Portuguese culture and the route was also far enough away from our cycle route as we didn’t want to see any sights that we would be seeing when we were cycling back from Lisbon. Beja was further away than we expected and appeared to be in decline. It had some interesting architecture and, to my dismay, small narrow streets. I genuinely thought I was going to jam the car in one of them! In one particular street, there was an elderly man slowly walking ahead in the middle of the road. For some inexplicable reason, he was oblivious to me and I was making very slow progress. I gave my horn a ‘gentle’ tap and out came a very loud noise which gave the elderly gentleman a huge fright but it worked and he let us ‘speed’ past. Unfortunately, some 100 meters further on I had to maneuver the car around a very tight 90-degree angle, which required a bit of forward and reverse gears. I then looked in the rearview mirror and there was my elderly gentleman friend looking to get past me as I was slowing him up. And relax!
We drove onto Lisbon and navigated to our B&B, through crazy rush hour streets, dropped off our bags and then had to drive to the airport to return the car. This was reasonably straight forward and once the guy from the car hire company was satisfied that, against all odds, I hadn’t scratched or dented the car, he let us go on our way.
Lisbon airport is so busy but we had a cunning plan. We used our UBER app and managed to get a taxi booked virtually straight away. We stood there outside the airport feeling smug as we surveyed long queues for taxis and buses. Then we got a message from the UBER driver to say that he was waiting for us at the arrivals area. Did he thinks we had just flown in?? We quickly made our way to the area described – no sign of him as far as we could see and no taxi fitting the UBER description parked nearby. Aileen gave him a phone but he spoke little English and it became clear that we were going to miss our taxi!! All of a sudden we were back to square one and unsure how to get back to Lisbon city centre without having to join those even longer queues. We were also charged by UBER for not showing up!!
Then Aileen had a brainwave, let’s take the metro to Lisbon centre. This turned out to be a great decision and we would recommend this to any futures travelers. After some help from a member of staff, we had our tickets and headed down the escalators. We had to make one change of train but it wasn’t an issue and we finally got back to Lisbon city centre. The underground building is very impressive and is a great first impression of a lovely city. Lisbon centre was full of life with a buzz about it.
By the time we had eaten and wandered about, it was getting dark and we only had Google maps to direct us to our hotel. I’ll admit that we came across some dodgy-looking streets as we walked back to the hotel but it all added to a rich tapestry that is travel.
Our B&B was an odd setup. Entry to our room was via a door by the roadside leading to stairs. The reception was across the street in a shop front and breakfast was served in a basket hanging from a hook outside our room door. It felt safe and was comfortable so all was good. Time to get to sleep as our bikes were arriving in the morning.