Archive for May, 2011

Spain and Portugal for Easter

May 31, 2011 10am in Random Ramblings | Comments (2)

I just realised that I wrote this on 27 April, but never published it because I was waiting for photos. But since I’ll probably never get around to the photos, here it is.

My birthday was during the easter long weekend this year, so rather than sit and hide in the corner like I do most years, I decided to go with Pablo to Spain and Portugal. The weather was forecast to be heavy thunderstorms in both places, and London was having unseasonably warm weather, so that wasn’t a good start.

Friday 22 April

I was working on Friday morning after waking up at 6am, and at 2pm we left the house to catch the bus to Liverpool St station to catch the train to London’s Stansted airport.

We were flying RyanAir who I don’t like at all. Normally they’re the cheapest airline and it shows, but because we booked with only three days in advance we paid £275 each for tickets. Since RyanAir had the best timetable we flew with them anyway. RyanAir used to charge fees for checking in at the airport (as opposed to checking in online), but then used to forbid anybody without a European passport to check in online, so non-EU citizens had no way of avoiding this charge. I always considered this to be illegal (as it’s the law to include all taxes and unavoidable fees in the advertised price) so I never flew with RyanAir on principle. But I see they’ve changed that now – now they charge you to check in online AND at the airport! Still, at least they’re more upfront about it now, and include that fee in the online price. Non-EU citizens still have to have their passport checked at the “bag drop / visa desk counter”.

At Stansted, we queued for about 20 minutes with all the people dropping off bags so that we could get our passports checked. Then, we queued at security and queued again in the massive line at the gate. No problems there though, that’s RyanAir, and expected. I actually thought to myself “wow RyanAir, no more hidden charges, and reasonably efficient service – you’ve redeemed yourself”.

During the queueing at the gate, I mentioned to Pablo “I hope we get on soon, because with RyanAir there’s no allocated seats, and once the seats fill up, you have to stand in the aisles and small children have to go in the overhead bins”. The guy in front of us overheard this, and said with a worried look on his face “is that TRUE?” to which I said rather sheepishly “um, no, it’s not”. Then the woman in front of him burst out laughing which made me start giggling too. The guy who asked the question looked very embarrassed. Maybe there are certain times and places where joking is not acceptable :)

We arrived on time, and picked up a car from Sevilla. Eek – no GPS – I’d ordered one on Alamo’s website but apparently this location doesn’t stock them. This should be fun!

We drove it to a hotel outside of Jerez de la Frontera, called La Cueva Park. The drive was through heavy pouring rain – looks like the forecasts were accurate. We were starving, but I was hesitant to stop for food since it was already 10:30pm and I didn’t want reception to close – this hotel was out of the city so I figured it was some obscure little hotel which was not open 24 hours.

But when we saw a motorway services, we pulled off. This wasn’t anything like motorway services in England, which are bigger than some small towns… this was a small petrol station and a tiny little shack which looked like it had a leaky roof. Inside the small shack were 7 or 8 different types of meats, and there was a selection of drinks, and that was it. There didn’t even seem to be any rice, or any dishes that went with the meats! Pablo speaks fluent Spanish, and even he couldn’t work it out. So we just had juice and kept driving.

When we arrived at the hotel we were surprised to see it was very big with a traditional Spanish feel to it! (Oops – I just reread what I typed, and it originally said that it had a “traditional Spanish eel”. Luckily I noticed that error.)

We went to the hotel’s restaurant, who pointed out that we were quite late (they weren’t wrong, it was 11:20pm by that time). Again we were presented with what seemed to be nothing but meat on the menu. Perhaps that’s what they do here? Maybe I’d have to just eat the free bread that was given to us.

I ordered the Spanish omelette which actually was very nice. When we finished, they’d charged me €12 instead of €10 for the omelette (trust me to notice that) and it turns out that the bread they put on the table wasn’t free after all, it was actually €3.60. Oops. €3.60 for stale bread! What a scam! :-D

Saturday 23 April

I woke up to lots of banging – the walls in this hotel are paper thin. You could hear every noise from what seemed to be the entire floor and also you could hear the racetrack across the road. This wasn’t such a bad thing – we shouldn’t be sleeping anyway.

I opened up the room’s windows, dreading what weather I might see, but there wasn’t a cloud in the sky – unbelievable given the forecast. We drove to Cadiz, a place I had been four years ago which I remembered having a really nice beach. Spent more than two hours lying on the beach, which is of course what holidays are all about. I’d hoped to find bars on the beach, but they were closed – I think they only open for special events. Or maybe it was something to do with the fact that it’s socially unacceptable to drink before 11:30am. Bah.

We also went to a shopping centre in nearby San Fernando which was absolutely heaving. I bought two childrens’ books in Spanish and Pablo got his hair cut. We experienced slow service at the restaurant there, but it had a spectacular view (of both the harbour and the desserts) so it wasn’t a problem. I had a four cheese pizza for lunch and the biggest icecream sundae known to man for dessert. Yum.

We did some driving around the centre of Cadiz. There were people lining up along the streets for what we assumed was an Easter procession but we didn’t stay to watch it.

Sunday 24 April

Lots of driving today – we were driving from the hotel to Faro in the southern region of Portugal known as Algarve. But we couldn’t leave the hotel without a dip in the pool first.

Actually, the pool was too cold for me, despite another day of absolutely amazing weather. So I just took photos.

The drive was quite uneventful. Clear signs on the road made it easy to find the way there.

Once we got to Faro, it seemed quite rundown, and since we had no GPS for the car, we drove around blindly until we found some water – I knew that the hotel was called Hotel Eva and that it was by the water. After 20 minutes of random driving, I pulled into the first available carpark I could find to check the directions on the hotel reservation.

Pablo went off to ask someone for directions, but he either didn’t tell me or I didn’t hear him, so I looked up at one point and he was gone… I suddenly realised that I was in a scary area where I spoke no Portuguese and not knowing where Pablo had gone. It was a bit worrying.

A couple of minutes later I realised that we had actually parked literally right outside our hotel by sheer coincidence. In an area of some 45,000 people, that’s not too shabby. So once Pablo returned, we went in and checked in.

The hotel was not bad, we didn’t get a view of the marina and the whole floor smelled like strong mens’ aftershave, but it was nice, and very central.

We went for a walk around the area and found that Faro has a small central area which is enclosed within a wall, it was very quiet and seemingly untouched by modern life.

Being Easter Sunday, almost everything was closed, except for a few resturants. I sat by a photo of someone who some might know I’m rather a fan of.

At a restaurant, it was all seafood, except for one chicken dish which I got. We also got bread and olives given to us – I’m starting to see a pattern with the restaurants here. Although I ate the bread because I was so incredibly hungry, and this time it wasn’t stale. I wonder if you can refuse bread and olives which are automatically brought out, and if you do, will they be offended?

We sat outside in the sun, and then we had to move because the sun got too strong, so we moved under the umbrella a bit. Then, we had to move again, because it started raining. After a while we realised that it was 4pm and we were the only ones there, in fact, they were starting to close up shop around us.

Back to the hotel to nap for a bit. We ended up sleeping for about 4 hours, it was 9pm when we woke up again.

We went for a walk around the area, but it didn’t look like there was much to see. At least the rain had stopped. I’d heard that Faro is one of those places where cheap Britons go on holiday because it has an airport where RyanAir fly to – so that must mean there is nightlife somewhere.

Purely by accident at around 10pm we stumbled upon some people setting up a stage in a square surrounded by a number of bars. I’d forgotten that in Spain, nightlife does not really begin until 11:30pm and Portugal was probably no different. So we had cocktails in nearby Cafe Bar Upa Upa. We stayed there quite a while, and slowly but surely the square started to fill up with people.

When the band started there were a lot of people around, and we’d had a few cocktails. The waitress asked us if the cocktails were strong enough. Mine were okay but for some reason Pablo’s were quite weak and he told them so. So for the next drink, they asked Pablo to make up a cocktail and he did… it ended up being called “the Pablo” and it was very strong. I can’t remember what was in it (in fact I can’t remember much after we started drinking those) but I know it had a lot of tequila.

Monday 25 April

We stumbled back to the hotel at about 1:30am, I think, and I woke up with quite a hangover. But the free buffet breakfast on the top floor of the hotel made up for that. There was a great view from up there, and it was another glorious day.

We checked out of the hotel before midday, and our flight back to Seville was at 9:15pm. So, first we went to Faro beach which was near the airport. We saw this great roundabout with giant people looking up at the planes. I loved these people.

Faro beach was one of those beaches where the sand goes down at quite an angle, so the water got deep very fast. Lots of people were around and the parking was free. But there were lots of little towns along the southern coast of Portugal so we drove back through them on the way back to Sevilla airport.

We arrived at Sevilla airport at 7:55pm, which for a 9:15pm flight I thought was okay, but perhaps cutting it a bit close. Oh wait… this is RyanAir we’re talking about, so we’d better get a move on.

First thing was to follow the instructions on the boarding pass – the “you must get your boarding pass stamped at the bag drop / visa check desk” it said. So, we stood for half an hour in the bag drop line, just as we had done in Stansted. However this time, once we finally got to the front of the queue that we had been waiting all that time in the wrong place. “You need to go to the office over there” she said. “But it says here that we must go to the bag drop – is this not the bag drop?” I said, and pointed to those exact words on the boarding pass. She was having none of it.

So, begrudgingly, we went and stood in the other queue. By this time it was 8:30pm and the gate closed at 8:45pm. This time, the queue was not long, but there was only one woman serving, and she looked very stressed out. She was on the phone helping a customer and the queue wasn’t moving anywhere. Lots of very anxious-looking people started to form behind us, who were presumably waiting for the same thing.

I started getting very edgy at this point, and so were lots of other people – they were queue jumping and going straight to the window to try and get stamps. It got to the point where Pablo and I positioned ourselves and our bags so that nobody could get past until we were served.

After clearing security, we got to the gate at about 8:42pm, and we saw a tremendous line. It turned out that everyone had to go through outgoing passport control, and it seemed like there were no agents at the passport desks. We weren’t too worried because we had it confirmed to us twice that this was the queue for Stansted, and so at least we were as close as possible to the gate.

However again, this is RyanAir we are talking about, who play by their own rules, and who were reported in the media as having refused people from their flights for being late after whatever airport it was had been evacuated after a fire alarm.

And lo and behold, who should join us in the line but the guy we talked to in the line at Stansted – the one who asked me if it were true that you had to stand in the aisles. He was very very nervous, and kept asking me questions that I had no way of knowing – such as “what do you think the chances are of us making this flight” and “why is the line not moving”? It was quite a stressful time. But everyone did get on the flight in the end.

On the flight, people had landing cards (required by non-EU citizens). Nobody had offered me one, so I pressed the call button and asked for one. “Later!” I was told sharply. When later arrived, they started handing them out but then they ran out of cards and I didn’t get one.

Normally I’d say that you get what you pay for so I can’t complain, but we’d paid a lot for our tickets – probably more than 90% of the people onboard and so I wasn’t happy. They know how many people are onboard, and they know their nationalities, so how can they run out of landing cards? When I got to Stansted, I was sure to pick up a whole pile of landing cards so the same thing doesn’t happen again, and also I made the usual “I’ll never fly with RyanAir again” promises which I’ll no doubt break when I realise how much cheaper they are than everyone else. But I realised that my idea of “RyanAir – you’ve redeemed yourself” was shortlived. They’re still as ghastly as ever. And we were half an hour late getting back.

Arrived in London at 11:20pm, through customs by 11:40pm, on the 11:45pm train back to London and on the 12:35pm bus back to my house! And then, only 7 hours before back to work – joy.

But, it wasn’t long before the awfulness of the return flight faded, and I was left with really great memories from a wonderful holiday.