You could tell everyone had been up early judging by the grumpiness of the passenger behind me as we taxied for seemingly miles along the runway before we took off – “What’s he doing? Warming the tyres up?” Otherwise our Jet2holidays flight to Faro, Portugal was thankfully uneventful. However less happily the car rental centre at Faro Airport was some way from the terminal and whilst there were trolleys, for a reason I can’t remember, we dropped ours at the terminal building and I lugged my heavy bike case over my shoulder several hundred yards.
Despite a prior internet booking I spent about 15 minutes in the rental cabin poking buttons on a screen to enable me to wrestle the car off them. As I’m providing lots of meaningless information such as ‘What’s you favourite food?’ ‘What colour underpants are you wearing?’ and ‘Who will win next year’s Eurovision Song Contest?’ a bloke from the rental company ambled across to ask how I was getting on? Error.
“Fine.” I hissed between clenched teeth and chipped in “Hopefully I can complete this before the return flight!” Anyway being curmudgeonly paid off and without asking we got upgraded from a small Toyota Yaris to a very nice VW T-Roc at no extra cost. Eventually we were heading west to Ferragudo, which is just across the bridge from Portimão. Anna had rented a flat in a new large apartment block that included a swimming pool. (Needless to say I won’t be dangling anything or let alone all of me in that: it’s November!”)
In fact the weather has been super. Very sunny (c20°C) without a cloud in the sky but out of the sun, especially with the wind, on the coast, it can be quite chilly. First thing in the morning could be very bracing. The plan is to eat out occasionally but otherwise to eat in. I like a toddle round a supermarket and provisions have been procured including the excellent local stout beer from Sagres. We’ve eaten out well so far and sardines are the local speciality, in fact Portimão has a Sardines Festival with merrymaking and music. Fortunately that event happens in August and not November! However, historically the catching and canning of fish was a major part of the local economy but nowadays, like all of the Algarve, it seems tourism pays the rent with nearly three quarters of the visitors coming from the UK.
Our daily schedule involves Anna going for a morning run and me disappearing around the area for a bike ride. For me there were some great routes but traffic in the urban areas can be busy and if there are any flat roads then you could be guaranteed that a lot of the pleasure is removed by a headwind. Although it did occur to me that this was an awful lot more fun than cycling in Blighty. Some of my sights along the way have been fabulous.
As well as cycling I’ve got the opportunity to do some maintenance on the bike including buying some new brake blocks from a local Decathlon. The flat has ceramic tiles through to enable the dabs of oil or grease to be quickly wiped up!
We forgot or couldn’t bring some essentials on the flight and this meant a trip to a local ‘China’ shop. No, not pottery but a shop common throughout the Iberian peninsula, an emporium full of everyday items shipped straight from China and run by Chinese people. The shops are usually stuffed to the rafters with items of luggage, electrical items, stationery, crockery, tools, car parts, craft materials, lighting, gardening implements, toys etc etc…. In fact you name it then it has it. All at low prices. We visited one in Portimão to buy a cafetière and peruse cases for iPhones.
Initially there was some disquiet that these shops sprung up everywhere from the indigenous Spanish and Portuguese population. It seemed they imported a few containers from Shanghai and were all set. I imagine low rent and rates assisted in their affordable establishment (and prohibit their appearance in Northern Europe?) Initially these retailers employed no locals and to compound the antagonism some shops in Spain were offering low prices as a way of money laundering for gangs! Prosecutions and changes in the law about employment followed. However, for all that they’re a feature of most towns and with the wide selection of goods and with the ‘open all hours’ Chinese work ethic they are widely used as a cheap and useful shop.
Our adventure continues….