Monday, July 16, 2012

Southern Portugal - first impressions of Faro

View of the old section of Faro from the sea
In late June, I headed to the Algarve region of Portugal on the southern coast to spend five days sitting on the beach with Hauke to celebrate his birthday. I took the train down to another delightful Ryanair airport near Eindhoven, and flew down to Faro, the biggest city in the region. There, after a frightening moment when I didn't realise Portugal was a different timezone to the rest of Western Europe, I met Hauke off the plane from Germany. We bussed into the city and after I got us lost (note to self, do not draw a map on the back of a plane ticket that the flight attendant will rip in half!) and Hauke asked for directions (yay progressive European men!) we found the youth hostel, where the world's funniest Portuguese girl checked us in for a night.

Me drinking a cocktail
Portugal was hot! After the horrible grey and rain of Amsterdam, it was amazing to be somewhere where the temperatures ranged in the 30s and we could actually see the sun. There were a couple of interesting Eurocup games on, so we watched these at a small but packed bar, where Hauke was delighted to discover the beer was only 50cents each! In general, Portugal is much, much cheaper than the rest of Western Europe - we paid 15euros for an actual room in a hostel, compared to around 30 for a dorm bed most other countries, and we paid about 6euros for dinner that night at a little alleyway restaurant where Hauke was fascinated by little lizards running over the walls like we had in Costa Rica.

Hauke riding a mechanical bull
The Portuguese had won their game against the Dutch, so everyone was out on the streets celebrating. They had erected a huge screen in a kind of town square on the harbour, and were playing music afterwards, so everyone was kind of milling around there. There were fairground type rides for the kids, and a mechanical bull that Hauke had great fun riding, and even more fun laughing at me attempting to ride it will wearing a very short skirt - I think I became a spectacle that most people in the square were laughing at! Making the most of the cheap prices, we sat at a nice bar with a cocktail, and then called it a night.

Buildings in Faro
In typical fashion for the pair of us, it took us a long time to get up and moving the next morning. We wandered through the city a little bit. Faro is bigger than I thought - there are only around 40 000 people in the city proper, but it's the big administrative and business centre for the region, so there are a lot of office buildings and shops. The centre is all clean and new, with amazing mosaic tiled pedestrian-only streets, but if you head out a little further you find old narrow alleyways with decaying old buildings, and many old defensive walls. Like Costa Rica and Spain, houses are build right up against the footpath with square dimensions and quite flat roofs.

House covered in ceramic tiles
These houses were often covered in beautiful ceramic tiles. One thing that was noticible throughout both Portugal, and Ayamonte which we later visited in southern Spain, was the halted construction work. I never noticed this in Madrid, either the economic crisis hadn't hit so bad, or I simply didn't register it, but in this area you could see half built houses and commercial buildings everywhere, and a lot of men lazing around on the streets when you would have expected them to be working.

The heat forced us to stop mid-way to the train station for a drink in the shade, and then we arrived and boarded a train to Tavira, where we would spend the next two nights over Hauke's birthday, a mystery location that I had organised and he knew nothing about!

More photos of Faro are here.

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