On Sunday we went to Church at the same Church we attended the previous trip and week. There was a visiting pastor from Ireland as the pastor and his family were on holiday for 2 weeks. Apparently the visiting guy has done this for the last 8 years – he comes over for 2 weeks of holiday in the Algarve and runs the services for 2 weeks while the pastor and his family go away. Unfortunately we missed his name so we couldn’t google him. We wanted to do that because he led the service very well and then preached an excellent expository sermon on John 3:22-36. Burgers for lunch, Sunday afternoon nap, dinner and then a walk on the beach at sunset.
The beach was obviously a popular place on Sunday afternoon as there was a traffic jam getting out from there when we came in. The club on the beach was also absolutely packed and pumping out the music. Helen was determined to try to have a swim this time as well and after a few attempts gave up citing the seaweed was too annoying.
Monday morning B & I had another golf round booked at my favourite course in Vilamoura – Millennium. We had booked the first tee off time to (a) miss the heat of the day and (b) be able to play without having to wait for anyone in front of us. We unfortunately got paired up with another 2 ball (husband and wife, English but spend a lot of time in Vilamoura). The first thing they said to us was “We hope you play quickly as we need to finish by 11am”. No introducing themselves or anything. B goes over and says “Hi my name is B” and you can see they are a little taken aback. Not the most pleasant of starts to a round of golf with unknowns. We tee off and B & I both hash our first drives and they are probably thinking to themselves “Great … and these guys can’t play golf”. But hopefully after the 3rd or 4th time of me driving about 50 meters further than him when he thought he had hit a good drive they might have thought otherwise! Unfortunately B didn’t play very well so they might not have altered their opinion about his golf (sorry B!). The ladies (I seem to remember) might have gone shopping again in the afternoon.
P, H, S & B (still being punished for marking the car location)
Friday morning we had breakfast in Sevilla (we found another place around the corner from the apartment to do that). S went traditional and had a Spanish omelette. The rest of us went for non-traditional American type breakfasts. Helen said they dropped the salt pot into scrambled egg – which looked like fried egg that someone run a fork through a few times. They clearly don’t know how to make scrambled eggs in Sevilla. We then packed up and walked (with our luggage) to where we had parked the car and then drove back to Vilamoura (it is about a 2-hour drive).
We stopped on the way back and bought some groceries for the next few days (actually we tend to end up at the shop every day – we aren’t very good at planning ahead it seems). Helen made a prawn risotto for dinner which was top class. Didn’t know she could do so good a risotto … have high expectations for risotto at home now more frequently.
Saturday morning is traditional for 2 things – for 3 of them – a morning run. Usually that is in Cape Town with a whole lot of other people – now the competition was on for better photos and who could run further (nothing competitive of course). After they got back we head off for the 2nd traditional thing – Saturday market at Loule (traditional only when you’re staying in Vilamoura). The market has plenty of fresh produce – fruit, vegetables, meat & fish. We particularly wanted to get sardines and prawns so we could have them for dinner. Not much else done on Saturday but we did enjoy the sardines and prawns that night on the BBQ. So much so we need to have sardines again on the BBQ in the next few days.
Saturday ended with H & B on their backs plotting the stars in the sky with their apps!
P, H, S & B (B is deservedly at the bottom of the blog because he saved our car position when we parked at Loule because he didn’t trust us to find our way back to our car even though we told him we knew exactly where we were going)
We had the whole of Thursday to explore Sevilla. The lady who met us at the apartment told us that she like La Canista for breakfast which was pretty close by and so we went there and had pastries and coffee for breakfast. It was right next to Seville Cathedral which was open with no queue so we wondered in and took a look around. The main section was closed off and there was some kind of display/altar with what looked like Mary in it. Given we speak no Spanish, it was pretty hard to figure out what was going on. The rest of the Cathedral is also pretty impressive though and includes Christopher Colombus’ grave.
Our plan was to go to the Real Alcazar (royal palace) afterwards but by the time we arrived (again just a short walk from the Cathedral), the line to get in was already very long (I reckon close to 500 people) and probably would have been over an hour to get to the entrance. None of us fancied standing in a line in the scorching sun (it was already in the 30s C). We had read that the number 1 attraction in Sevilla is Plaza de Espana which was a relatively short walk away. On route we stumbled across a university building which was open and so we wandered in. The building was very impressive with statues, marble etc – we just couldn’t figure out what faculty it was (again our lack of Spanish didn’t help)!
The Plaza de Espana was pretty impressive though and what made it more impressive was the fact that it was only built in 1929 (it looks like it couldn’t have been built in 1800s). It was built for a Spanish-American exposition and now houses some government departments. It was also used for various films and TV shows including Lawrence of Arabia and Star Wars (if you’re in to that sort of trivia). No photo I took does it justice. The tile work is quite incredible around the plaza and over the bridges. There is a park alongside the Plaza and we spent some time wandering around there as well and then headed back to our apartment walking along the river and past Plaza de toros de la Real Maestranza (the Sevilla bullfighting ring). Unfortunately no bullfighting happening at the moment. As the temperature was now up in the mid 30s C, we decided siesta was necessary after lunch. The plan was to head out late afternoon (around 5pm) to see the Real Alcazar (hopefully the queues would be gone by then).
When we got to the Real Alcazar, unfortunately there was still a queue but it only took 20 minutes for us to get to the entrance. That gave us just over an hour 30 minutes to wander around the palace. It is Europe’s oldest palace that it is still used (it is the official residence of the King in Seville). Each room is tiled from floor to ceiling. It is impressive and then eventually it feels like the same thing every time you enter a new room. B said “it feels like I’m at CTM” – some people have no culture (but I did find it funny)! The gardens around the Palace are also very impressive and are quite cool. One of the King’s of Spain asked to be brought to Seville to die in the Palace as the gardens were his favourite place.
We had dinner at another recommended Tapas restaurant. It wasn’t as good as the first night so we ate less and then rather had gelato for desert. Some street musicians were playing brass instruments (tried to post the video but was too big for this site apparently) which made for a nice atmosphere while eating our gelato.
We had booked to stay for 2 nights in Sevilla. It is only a 2 hour drive from our house in Vilamoura and so quite easy to get to (on a motorway). As Helen’s luggage was meant to be arriving from Madrid (via Costa Rica and London), and because we could only get our accommodation from 3pm, we decided to go via Faro airport (which is sort of on route). We arrived at 12:30pm. Unfortunately the baggage handling is only in the arrivals hall and to get into the hall you have to apply for a temporary access permit. Only 1 of us could get the access permit so I did the chivalrous thing and went for Helen. You have to go through security scanning (why I have no idea because you can only get into the baggage hall and nowhere else). They then wouldn’t allow me to go to the counter without an escort (which finally arrived after a few minutes). There was a queue at the counter but the good thing was that I could see Helen’s bag … yipee! I sent her a whatsapp photo as proof before I got my hands on it.
When I re-emerged from the baggage hall, Helen’s irritation that she was holding back for 5 days came flooding out! She asked me to type an email to BA complaining about their service and to tell them I was doing it with my middle finger 🙂 It took her a few hours for her irritation level to subside to normal levels.
We arrived in Sevilla at about 4:30pm (there is a 1-hour time change when you cross the border so it felt like 3:30pm for us). I had told the handling agent (we had rented an apartment for 2 days) that we would be there at around 3pm (not knowing that there was a 1-hour time change). Waze (the navigation software) took us down some pretty smalls streets again and then said we had arrived at our destination. Wasn’t clear to us that we had arrived. Managed to pull over (not understanding whether we could park there or not) and phoned the agent and she said she would be there in 3 minutes. Turned out we were at the correct place – the door just wasn’t very obvious. We unpacked the car and then B and I went to find the parking we had reserved (you don’t want to drive in Sevilla unless you have to as the roads are ridiculously narrow). They also make the parking garages with the smallest possible entrance (I reckon they must have a deal with panel beaters) and the parking spots are built to only fit a mini (but we had to get our station wagon into one of the spots). We managed to negotiate everything without damaging the car and then walked back to the flat (temperature was around 36 degrees at this point).
We went for a late afternoon walk around the area we were staying. The Plaza Nueva was very close to the apartment (that is the Plaza at the centre of the city apparently and contains the city hall). We also walked around the shopping district and then back to the apartment for a quick rest before dinner.
We had dinner at an appropriate Spanish dinner time – around 8:30pm – the temperature being 32 degrees at that point still! We had been recommended a few tapas restaurants which were all pretty close to us so we picked the one we liked the most (and could get a table in). We really enjoyed the food and some sangria (for ladies) and good Rioja (for men). The pork cheeks in sauce, the calamari and the grilled goats cheese were undoubtedly the favourites.
On Tuesday B & I played our first round of golf. As the temperature rises quickly we opted for the earliest tee off time we could get at Pinhal Golf Course (https://www.dompedrogolf.com/courses/pinhal-golf-course/). B played better on the first nine. However, I managed to shoot one of the lowest back 9s I have ever shot including a birdie on one hole (pic of shot of birdie putt) and a few pars. It was mainly due to my putting as I rolled in a few putts from off the green even. We finished at around 11am and it was already well into the 30 degrees at that point.
Overnight I had received a text from BA saying that Helen’s luggage that was meant to have arrived from Costa Rica (after its sightseeing trip) on Monday midday, had in fact gotten delayed in Madrid and now would only arrive at Faro airport on Wednesday midday. That meant she had to go and get some more essentials items including a charger for her Apple Watch. The only Apple store we could find was in Faro. We dropped off H & S so that they could go to H & M at the relatively newly opened mall near Loule and then B & I went to the mall in Faro to find the Apple store.
On the way there we drove behind a minivan converted into a hearse. As you can see from the picture, it had a glass back and you could see right in to the coffin. While that was a bit weird, why it makes the blog is that when we had purchased the watch charger at the mall and were heading back to fetch H & S from H & M, we ended up driving behind the hearse again. Not sure if there was a message in that or not … we are hoping not!
Braai for dinner (pork strips, turkey kebabs and chicken wings) …
P, H, S, B (because S moaned that she was always at the end and so I simply moved her to stop the moaning but read it P, H, B & S)
Monday morning the 3 of them went for a run as the sun rose. On the way down to the marina, they saw a roadblock with numerous people sitting on the side of the road outside of their cars. It seems that Sunday night was a party night and many of these people were only heading home in morning (and weren’t quite sober). Unclear on whether they were arrested or just being detained until they sobered up.
After they got back from the run, we headed to Silves which is an inland town about 30 kms from Vilamoura. It is also in the direction of where the Portugal wildfires had started (they were at Monchique on Monday but heading south). We figured Silves would be OK (and it was) but it was clear that there were major fires in the area from the smoke haze in the sky over the whole area. On a side note, it is nice to know that people worry about you when something major like wildfires are taking place. We have had numerous family, friends and even work colleagues checking on us to see if we were OK.
Silves is the former capital of the Algarve and is a small town (about 30000 residents) with the major landmark being the Castle. They are not entirely sure when the current Castle was built but they believe somewhere between the 8th and 13th centuries. The Moors occupied it and expanded it and it is remarkably well-preserved. However, they reckon the Romans were the first to use it as a castle in 201BC! That is probably the oldest place I have ever visited.
Driving around Silves is a major issue as the roads are very small and can hardly fit a car down them. B reckoned I was within a hand width from hitting the walls at points (when I say hand width I don’t mean the size of your hand, I mean the thickness of your finger!). Fortunately (despite the backseat driving) I did manage not hit anything at any point. We did have to park at the bottom of the town and walk up to the castle (which wasn’t as easy as it sounds given it was around 35 degrees C). By the time we were finished with the castle, the only thing on my mind was where we were stopping for a beer on the way down.
We spent the afternoon relaxing at the house and then in the evening after dinner we headed to the marina for ice creams. August is clearly the busiest month in Vilamoura. The traffic to the marina was backed up to such an extent that we took an early turn and packed at the far end of the marina and walked the extent of it to get to our standard gelato shop. There is also a distinctive change of tourists present in August – mainly families with young children. When we have been here previously in June/July it was generally couples (with the lady usually dressed up in high heels, make up plastered on etc). The quantity of people in the town feels like has doubled from what we are used to from being here in June/July. Add to that the extreme heat – even at 9am it was around 28 degrees – it probably isn’t the best time to actually come to Vilamoura.
Some of our regular blog readers have started complaining that they were expecting a blog and nothing has been forthcoming. The reason I haven’t written anything so far is not due to lack of action but rather due to lack of energy. It has been so hot that it just saps you of energy and so by the end of the day I pretty exhausted and just head to bed. I will try to catch you all up over the next few days. It promises to be highly entertaining reading.
I left Cape Town last Tuesday morning (i.e. a week ago) but had to spend 2 days on business in Johannesburg. Then I flew to London on Wednesday night and so did Helen (she flew from Cape Town). We landed at similar times and managed to meet up on the platform of the Heathrow Express. I didn’t get much sleep flying over because the passenger next to me moved around every 5 minutes (or so it felt) and when he did move he managed to rock the whole plane (or so it felt). He did manage to break the seat in the middle of the night due to his aggressive moving. Helen (I was told) slept like a baby on the flight over.
We had two days in London – I was working; Helen walked a lot. It was pretty hot still in London (in high 20s). On Saturday we took the Gatwick Express at 5:15am to Gatwick airport for our flight to Faro. We built-in extra time in case we had a repeat of Chloe’s experience but fortunately (while the driver was late to work) we only had a 5 minute delay and made it to Gatwick with plenty of time to check in and have some breakfast. The flight gate was meant to have been put up at 7:30am but never appeared. When I asked at the desk they said they are towing a plane onto the stand but due to congestion, they were battling to get it there. At about 7:50 they put up the gate (our departure time was 8:10) and said ‘Go to gate’ then two minutes later it said “Gate closing at 7:56”. That gave us 4 minutes to get to gate that the guy at the desk told us would take 15 minutes to walk to! Anyone who has ever traveled with me will know that I am “airport fit” and probably can get through an airport quicker than Usain Bolt but this was going to be a stretch for me even. We did get to the gate at about 7:58 to discover they weren’t boarding yet. Someone behind us complained about the notification and they said “yes it is an automated system and we can’t change it” … Ridiculous!
We left a little late out of Gatwick but the pilot said we would arrive early (and we did). Through passport quite quickly and my bag came off relatively early but no sign of Helen’s. Everyone else gone from the belt, still no sign of Helen’s bag. Notification changed to ‘All bags delivered’ … internal groan – no bag. We went and reported it and they said they would let us know when they found it. All of Helen’s clothes etc in the bag. She had nothing else with her hand-luggage. Her toiletries and even her charging cables (vitally important in today’s world) were all in her suitcase. We had recently been reminded not to get too attached to your worldly goods in various sermons – now Helen got to put it into practice (just glad it was her and not me that got tested).
We collected our rental car and then headed straight for the mall to buy some clothes for Helen for the next day, toiletries and then also some food for our time in Portugal. What I forgot to say though was that it was around 36 degrees and this was around midday – it got up to 38 degrees. HOT and irritated with BA – not a good combination.
Our friends (B&S … not to be confused with BS) were joining us. They flew in on Emirates into Lisbon and then drove down to us. Lisbon temperature was 40 degrees (though the weather app said ‘feels like 50’). They arrived at around 5pm looking tired but relieved to be with us. S in particular was relieved that they had arrived safely … B was driving for the first time on RHS and after 18 hours of traveling with little sleep it seems his driving ability had suffered (sorry B … couldn’t resist!). They did still have some energy for a walk on the beach (our usual evening activity). It was quite spectacular as a thunderstorm had built up and was passing through as well.
On Sunday we went to the Church we had visited when we were here in July with the family – IEC Algarve (https://www.iec-algarve.com/en/). Most interesting thing was they served communion and they had the outer ring of glasses as real wine and the inner ring as grape juice. Of the 4 of us, I was the only one to go for the real stuff. Feel much ‘holier’ for doing that.
After Church we took B’s rental car back to Faro airport to drop it off there. As we hadn’t heard anything from BA on the whereabouts of Helen’s luggage we made a quick stop in the terminal building to enquire if they knew anything else. The ‘enquiry’ person had to speak to another person and when she finished doing that she said “Good news is that they know where the bag is but I’ll tell you where in a minute” … ok so this was going to be interesting. Turns out the bag went to Costa Rica … yes you read that correctly. Problem is BA only fly there twice a week – Saturday and Wednesday. Bag not coming back any time soon. On Sunday night we got notified that it had been sent on Iberian Airlines to Madrid and should arrive in Faro on Monday midday. That came and went and no sign of it. Last night I got a notification saying it would be sent to Faro tomorrow and arrive at midday (not holding our breath). In the mean time Helen has started a new wardrobe courtesy of BA (they just don’t have the bill yet but it will be sent to them).
So that takes you up to Sunday … I will try to send Monday and Tuesday in the next day.
Wednesday & Thursday were just Helen and I in London. M & O were with my parents in Hope Cove and touring the area including Looe and some other places on Wednesday and then they drove back to my parents home for Thursday night. We didn’t get many details except the regular posting of food from various meals.
Helen spent both days walking around London. On Wednesday she had breakfast at some restaurant that she has been to previously and really liked. It was near Marble Arch and then she went shopping down Oxford Street and surrounds. She was very proud of herself that she never bought anything for herself. Well that isn’t strictly true – she found Lindt on sale at £1 per slab and so she stocked up on that!
Helen and I were offered some tickets for the Globe Theatre but after reading the review online I was put off. We considered going to watch a show but by the time Helen was looking for what was available we came to the conclusion that neither of us felt like it anymore. We decided to go and eat out rather and went to a Chinese restaurant we have visited quite a few times before called Ken Lo’s (http://kenlosmemoriesofchina.com/). We went with a menu for 2. The food was excellent and plentiful and we were so full at the end that Helen said all she wanted to do was lie on the bed! The 15 minute walk back to the flat helped consume a few of the calories.
On Thursday Helen went to the V&A Museum (https://www.vam.ac.uk/). She seemed to really enjoy it as she said she spent over 2 hours in 2 rooms only. There is value in doing a museum by yourself in that you never experience the pressure of the other people with you always being ahead of you. She also spent some time reading in Hyde Park. She said she really enjoyed the relaxed day. She did also spend the afternoon cleaning the flat. (Mom and Dad – you’ve never seen the flat so clean!)
If you want to know what I was doing … working! Both Wednesday and Thursday were full days for me. In particular Thursday was very busy as my boss was over from Germany as well. Someone has to earn a living!
Monday was back to work for me (unfortunately). So while the others were out touring, shopping and relaxing, I was back at work stuck in meetings and my emails. So my view of days 4 onward in London is slightly different from what everyone else might have experienced.
Monday was the day that we all started doing different things though. M & O took a train down to my parents who live in the New Forest. For those of you who don’t follow UK news, the UK trains have been a disaster recently. After numerous years, some bright spark decided he could improve the train timetable and so changed it. That resulted in major issues across almost all train lines in the UK. One train that was meant to go to Reading ended up in Birmingham (not kidding) … driver said he got lost! About a month ago I took a train down to my parents and what usually takes 1.5 hours ended up taking 3.5 hours. Fortunately M & O didn’t have that problem and their train journey down seemed to go without a problem.
S, K & C went to the British Museum. If you’re ever in London it is one the museums you should definitely go and visit. Entrance is free and you get to see all the treasures that the British have managed to plunder in their various colonies in one place. They regularly change their displays and apparently have 10 times of what you see on display, stored in the back rooms not on display. A guidebook is essential otherwise you get lost in the detail and miss the important items. A lot of artifacts and displays link to Biblical times. The best way is to use Through the British Museum with the Bible by Brian Edwards (https://www.dayone.co.uk/products/through-the-british-museum-with-the-bible).
I did manage to do something I hadn’t done yet and that was go up the Shard. I had a client dinner and we ate in the Obelix restaurant (https://www.the-shard.com/restaurants/oblix/). The views are incredible (though I was with clients so unfortunately didn’t take any pictures); the price even more incredible (fortunately the company paid).
On Tuesday M & O went with my parents to Hope Cove on the south coast of England. Only thing we got from them were a few selfies and lots of photos of the food they ate. I am assuming they had a good time down there with my parents.
It was the last day in London for S, K & C. S & K took a boat that goes under the London Zoo (again no other details or photos so you’ll have to ask them directly if you want to know more). They all seemed to also do some last-minute shopping including K buying a Kitchen Aid to take back (a fraction of the price of what she would have paid in SA). Early evening they had to head for the airport – taxi to Paddington station and then train to Heathrow. Their flight left 9:40pm and was pretty much on time.
Finally H and I were alone …
P, H, C, S, K, M & O (because she supported Djokovic)
Sunday was S’s 22nd birthday but as it was Sunday we planned to go to Church first and have a birthday dinner celebration only in the evening. In between there was time to watch the Wimbledon final and World Cup final. What much more could you ask for a birthday than that!
As some of you may know, C is planning to start studying in London in September. She has actually been accepted (provisionally) to two universities in London. Before we went to Portugal she spent the weekend in London and one purpose was to write an English competency exam (which encouraging she passed quite comfortably – not surprising as her one A-level is in English literature). The other purpose was to try find a Church to attend and she did manage to do that too – Christ Church Mayfair (http://www.christchurchmayfair.org/). Our plan was to take the bus there (only 20 minutes) but it turned out that when we got to the bus stop we had just missed the previous bus and the next one was 11 minutes away. It meant that if we wanted to arrive in time that we had to walk. It is a nice walk though passed Buckingham Palace and through Green Park. We arrived with 5 minutes to spare.
The Church seats about 250 people and is in a traditional old building with stain glass windows that are quite impressive. The service was led by the Assistant Pastor and was quite informal. They sang similar songs to what we would at TCC. The singing did sound particularly good though as the acoustics in the building were excellent. One of their previous members who is now studying at Oakhill College preached and for a young guy in training he preached very well. The guy clearly has the gift of preaching. A reasonable number of people introduced themselves to us (including the assistant minister) and made us feel welcome. I reckon Chloe has found the right place for her to attend when she is studying in London. We walked back again to the flat and picked up some lunch at Itsu (sushi/Asian place) on way back.
The afternoon was spent watching the Wimbledon final and then the end of the World Cup Football final. Unfortunately neither of the underdogs won those events. We had a reservation at Gaucho’s (Argentinian steakhouse) at Piccadilly Circus for S’s celebratory dinner. The taxi dropped us off just short of the Circus because the roads around were closed off as they had been screening the football final. The French supporters seemed to be everywhere and were celebrating non-stop. They had climbed up the Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain and had covered it with people. By the time we left from dinner (at 9:30pm), they were still on the fountain celebrating.
The steaks at Gaucho’s are very good (some might even say phenomenal). Accompanied by a good Argentinian Malbec. It was a lovely dinner and evening with good company as well. At the end of the evening the restaurant brought Stephen a ‘Happy Birthday’ plate of truffles which was a nice touch to end the evening. 5 of us walked back to the flat with the two boys taking the tube. It was a lovely evening for a walk (probably still around 25 degrees at that point). We even managed to walk park two places H is currently reading about. London is filled with historical places and they have ‘Blue plates’ on the walls of homes where famous people lived.
P, S (because it is his birthday), H, C, K, M & O (because I still can’t believe that she supported Djokovic over Anderson)