Monday, February 19, 2007

MIA = Meandering In (the) Algarve

Oops. Did I forget to mention that we were going away?

Contrary to what the top entry on this blog for the past gazillion days might have led you to believe, we have not actually been snowed in here for the past week and a half. Instead, last week was Half Term (British-speak for school vacation week) and we have been gallivanting about Portugal with friends from the States who flew in to join us on one of our little European adventures.

Doesn't that sound fabulous? Uh huh. Most things do in print. But in truth, it is a good thing that said friends are good sports, because as our European adventures go, I must confess that this one was slightly less than stellar. We all had visions of postcard Portugal... little cobblestone streets meandering through charming villages, stunning scenery and sardines grilling on every corner. What we found? Well, it looked a heck of a lot like Florida, truth be told.

I can see why the Algarve is such a popular short haul holiday destination for the British. Just two and a half hours away, the southern coast of Portugal offers miles of oceanfront property and plenty of holiday attractions; beautiful beaches, grand resorts, lots of golf, a theme park or two, a water park or twelve and all the mini golf a child can play. All of this adds up to fabulous vacationing for all of the same reasons that Florida is so popular. But quaint European charm? Eh.

A certain amount of charm can be found, to be sure. We did eventually locate a bit of picturesque Portugal, and I'll try to post photos later in the week when I get around to downloading them. But it took some work, and the lack of adequate road signs or coherent directions to assist us in our hunt did not bring out the finest in any of us (picture Paul's head about to explode with frustration and me picking inopportune times to laugh at the futility of the situation and the kids whining and fighting over a pinwheel in the back seat and you've pretty much got our Portuguese adventure in a nutshell). Portugal may not have lived up to our mental picture of old world Europe, but we certainly lived up to the Portuguese people's mental image of ugly Americans at times, I fear.

Clearly, this was not the best travel destination I've picked to date, and yet, I think this was my favorite trip we've taken here so far. Why? Quite simply, there is just nothing like the pleasure of spending time with true friends. After five months of working to tentatively forge new friendships, of always making an effort but not too much of an effort, of constantly trying to appear friendly but never truly letting down your guard, a person can almost forget how comfortable and easy it is to be with people who know your true selves and yet like you anyway. Our time in Portugal was spent laughing and drinking and eating and relaxing in the company of people whose presence we wholeheartedly enjoy and have greatly missed. The kids fell in with each other like they'd never been apart and spent the week happily attached at the hip to 3-year-old Kerry, Paul and Steve spent the week chatting up the locals in any and every watering hole they could find and Steph and I just kept opening more of that fine Portuguese wine and snapping a few more photos. Good times, all of them, even if some of that time was spent wandering around a bizarre, overcrowded gypsy market that looked like a cross between a Floridian flea market and a New York City street full of vendors hawking the stuff that fell off the back of a truck rather than the stalls full of local artisans showing off their handiworks that we'd envisioned.

We'll never go to Portugal again, I suspect, but we'd happily travel with these friends just about anywhere else they'd be willing to accompany us. We had a great time vacationing with them. And in my mind, that makes this trip a rousing success. So what if we took an exotic trip to Portugal and my kids' favorite part was the mini golf? A good time was had by all.


Blogger Steph said...

Sorry that it wasn't the exotic European vacation that you originally thought it would be. But, I gather that being with old friends more than made up for it. Glad that you had a good time!

1:51 PM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

I cannot say I picture water parks and mini golf when I imagine Portugal. But I do have a wonderful picture of what it is to be with good friends. So - YAY! (At least to that portion.)

7:31 PM  
Blogger Gretchen C. said...

Hee . . . reminds me of the time Ben and I went to Honolulu and it looked just like L.A. But hey, it's another stamp on your passport, right? Besides, as I learned in the Caribbean, "exotic" isn't always "good".

7:46 PM  
Anonymous Margie said...

It's the modern world, Becca. We have lamented about all of the great places we visited in Mexico in days past that are now like Miami Beach. As for Portugal, we had the trip you envisioned back when Jesse was 9 and Andrew was 7 (as were you). We stayed at bed and breakfasts, bought great bread, cheese and wine (for the grown-ups) for afternoon picnics, explored isolated beaches, saw lots of cork trees and olive trees, etc. I guess you need a time machine. Glad you had so much fun with your friends!

9:01 PM  
Blogger Lindyloo said...

*putting on embassador hat*
Aahem... I hope you visit Portugal again. It is a gorgeous country but NOT the Algarve!! The Algarve has been ruined by the Brits!! It's filled w/ pasty white Brits looking for a full english and cheap beer!! Lisbon is beautiful, very walkable, and one of the most inexpensive Capital cities in Europe. There are loads of quaint fishing villages and stunning beaches. OK, I'm done.
I do hate that you didn't enjoy yourself. Hopefully it was a cheap holiday. Nothing sucks more than a crappy expensive holiday!

7:19 PM  
Blogger Lindyloo said...

Eeer, did I mention I'm Portuguese??

7:22 PM  
Blogger denzylle said...

I agree with Lindyloo. There are unspoilt parts of Portugal. It's a shame your visit was disappointing and that you don't feel inclined to go back there. But, I guess that, if your time in Europe is limited, there's only time for one visit to a country.

Don't be discouraged. There *are* still unspoilt places left in every country in Europe, I'm sure (mainly the parts that Brits-en-masse haven't yet found, as Lindyloo says. You just have to (re)search them out.

But I'm glad the disappointment of the locale was made up for by the congeniality of old friends.

10:56 PM  
Blogger Dana said...

Welcome back! There's a Family Circus cartoon in which whole family is at the Grand Canyon, its majestic beauty surrounding them. The kids are crouched down looking at the ground. The caption: "Look ANTS!" That is most of our vacations to a "t"
:-) Friends and family make it fun.

11:43 PM  
Blogger algarve_holidayer said...

So you went to the Algarve and you couldn’t find: ‘little cobblestone streets meandering through charming villages, stunning scenery and sardines grilling on every corner’?

How about talking to a Portuguese person next time before you go?
Preferably, one that knows the non-commercial Algarve?

Amazingly, I’ve been going to the Algarve for the last 30 odd years and I never for 1 minute confused it with America!

It must be for the same reason that the British never get in my way and I in theirs!

Much as I might be tempted to get up and go, it would not occur to me to travel to Scotland just because of it’s charm without some careful preparation and guidance. Without preparation, I know I would get lost! Or end up in some undesirable spot/situation!I Just as I wouldn’t meander through tourist resorts expecting to find ‘the real McCoy’. A victim of ‘tourism’…

11:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I too am sad that you didn't enjoy the Algarve. I live here and love every minute of it (and I can't get away from the damn fish :)). You wanted sardines? Surely you read a guidebook that stated sardines are only available in the months without an "R".

You probably won't come back, but I wish you would because there are many beautiful things here apart from the weather. Great blog by the way - I am off to read a little more.

Cheers (not a pasty white ex-pat Brit living in the Algarve).

7:25 PM  
Blogger Rosemary said...

I'm so glad I read your blog, REbecca. I've been planning a trip to Portugal for the past few years (keep waiting for my bank account to catch up with me!) and now I kno to take special are to find the "real" local places.

I'm glad that it was all good in the end!

1:18 AM  
Anonymous algarve said...

Looking greaat toppie...

12:16 AM  

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