We took a train from Porto to a town called Albufeira. It is amazing how you can get from northern to southern Portugal in a matter of hours. This ride was about 6 hours in total, including changing trains in Lisbon.
The Perpetual Bus Ride
We left the train station in Albufeira and had to take a short bus ride to a central bus station, and then another bus to the old town center of Albufeira. We would look for a room for the night. We got on the bus and missed the stop for the old town, the driver said not to worry, we could stay on the bus and and take the route again. We still didn’t know where to get off the bus. The driver forgot to tell us, so again we missed the stop! Around we go again! It was starting to turn into something out a bad dream, the bus you could never get off of! Some British tourists finally helped us to get off at a place where they said we could easily walk to the town center.
Neil Diamond Impersonators, Fish And Chips Everywhere, And More British People Than We’ve Seen In England. Are You Sure We Are In Portugal?
We would check out to see if Albufeira was a place we would want to stay for an extended time to relax. It was quickly evident that no, this was definitely not the place. This is a prime example of a place that has been completely ruined by over tourism. As our Lonely planet book says it sold its sole to mass tourism back in the 60′s. We thought we would give it a try anyways.
The town has different areas of holiday apartments and hotels clumped together. In the old town there are many hotels as well. The place is so loaded with British tourists you would think you were in a warmer version of England. The weird thing is everyone from Britain visiting this area seems to have brought a baby with them. There are baby buggies or prams as they call them everywhere. Sometimes we would be walking down the street and half a dozen would be coming at us at one time. Jack was wanting to make a video of them and have it narrated with “the British are coming, the British are coming”! This area really goes out of it’s way to cater to families with children, they are allowed everywhere, even in the bars. We saw babies sitting right up at the bar with their parents on the stools. I wouldn’t be surprised if we caught one drinking out of the draught tap in front of them!
There is very little here to make you aware you are in Portugal, most of the restaurants are trying to cater to British with English style food, fish and chip joints a plenty, full English breakfasts being advertised everywhere as well. At night we wandered through the old town streets, they were crammed with tourists pounding back the drinks and listening to Neil Diamond impersonators belting out the lyrics with microphones. It was all a bit too much for us, not our idea of what we were looking for in Portugal. We will check out a few more places in the Algarve, hopefully another place will suite us better.
A Bit About The Algarve
The Algarve is the southern portion of Portugal. It is over 200kms long with 150 kms being beach. The western half of the beaches have large rock formations with most beaches set in coves, the eastern half has long stretches of sandy beach. In some areas the beaches are not along the coast but on long islets off shore. Small boats will run you out to them. This area of Portugal remains warm well into the winter months, the real off season doesn’t start until November, but people still come to enjoy it through the winter months to escape from other cold climates. We have met many people from Europe that come to stay during the winter. Most locals would still probably consider it cold, but the tourists have been known to still take dips in the pools into January. We were also surprised to find out that Portuguese is up in the top 10 most spoken languages in the world. In fact it ranks at number 8, with over 190 million speakers, over 120 million of them in Brazil alone.
Onwards To Faro
We decided to head a bit further east to the city of Faro. This is where the main airport is that serves the Algarve area. It is the only larger city of the Algarve. The rest of the towns are mostly just tourist resort areas or small fishing villages. We thought since it had a life of it’s own besides tourism, it might be a better place to visit. Again we were amazed how close everything is. We were in Faro after a short 40 minute train ride.
We arrived at the station in Faro and headed into town to find a hotel. We came across a reasonably priced one fairly quickly. We had our own large balcony, and a huge room with an en suite. The couple who own the place are very friendly. They don’t speak English but they try to help out in any way they can. The name of it is Pensao Recidencial Central, we paid about $35 euros for our room at the time.
We had a mini mart next door to our hotel room. In the morning we could clearly hear the beep, beep, beep of the items being scanned through the till. To the other side of the hotel was a wine and port specialty shop. The guy has been collecting for years. He has some port that is from the early 1900′s. Our hotel balcony also overlooked a square where many bums hung out each night. They would start drinking at about 6 or 7pm each evening and then start to argue with each other, it got quite comical at times.
A Charming Town To Spend Some Time In
Right away we could feel the difference between this place and Albufiera, first of all we didn’t have touts asking us every 2 minutes if we needed a room for the night. It was a city with a nice feel to it. It was small enough that you could get around to most places on foot.
The entrance to the historical Old City is gained through the 18th century Arco da Vila gateway. The gate has a clock and a bell tower.
Many of the common areas, sidewalks and pedestrian streets are done in mosaics of small basalt rock. It is pounded into sand. This can be seen in many towns and cities around Portugal. It is very predominant in the cities of the Algarve area, it gives them a unique charm.
There is a newer area of Faro. It is up hill going away from the water. There are local buses that you can easily catch to take you there. There is also a large shopping mall out towards the airport.
Faro is a University town, so there were lots of youth around to keep it lively. It seemed to be initiation time, every night there were crowds of them gathered, they would be doing cheers just near our hotel. It was so loud. Many of them had costumes on, we saw one guy wearing a small cardboard car. They were made to do songs and different activities in the streets. The first night we heard the chanting and cheering we thought some kind of protest was going on.
How To Navigate Around Faro
The airport is located only 6kms from Faro so the planes come in really loud and low over the buildings, kind of freaks you out when you are walking around sometimes and one comes in and takes you by surprise.
There is a 3 circuit bus system that goes all over town, it only cost 50 cents for any one of the routes, so it is a great way to see the city. Just don’t ask the driver where it goes, or pull out your map, they are really grouchy!! The tourist info just laughed when we told them this and said that’s why we are here to help the tourists.
Igrega do Nossa Senhora do Carmo (Church of Our Lady Of Carmel)
A Chapel Of Human Bones
On the same property just behind the Igrega do Carmo church is the Capela de Ossos Bone Chapel. It is a bizarre chapel built from the bones of monks. It was very creepy. The bones and skulls have been used like bricks with mortar placed in between them to build the walls.
The Faro Cathedral was rebuilt and remodeled after the large earthquake in 1755. The acrchitecture is a mix of Baroque, Gothic and Renaissance styles. Like the other churches in Faro and throughout Portugal, it also has elaborate tile work and gilded carvings.