Algarve Adventure Starts Here (after we politely ask the lizards to leave the bedroom)

Algarve Adventure Starts Here (after we politely ask the lizards to leave the bedroom)

Time to pick up the keys to our new little house in the Algarve. It feels like I’ve been counting down the days obsessively since we had our offer on it accepted on 23rd December, and that’s because I have. No, far more obsessively than that: tally charts, crossing off multiple calendars, writing the new total days in my diary every day and Tippexing the previous day’s count out, counting over and over again just in case I got it wrong and it wasn’t REALLY that long to wait. And now it’s here and it feels weird, extremely stressful, and weird. Keith will be here for most of the next 6 months, I will be to-ing and fro-ing to the UK to work in order to keep us in fava beans and piri piri chicken. We’ll see how that goes.

Algarve Adventure Starts Here - 01

We decided to drive to Portugal so that we could take plentiful supplies of muesli, Listerine and Johnson’s talc – all things which are widely available in Portugal, but things which Keith can’t live without (see: Bold Crystal Lily Rain thing), so no risk could be taken. Had we considered that the car would do somewhere in the region of half its normal fuel consumption due to the ridiculous amount of stuff we packed into it and on to it, perhaps we would have thought again. Added to that we also had to buy a roofrack to put the bench that someone (me) took a fancy to in a second hand shop and wrongly calculated that it would fit in the boot. Expensive bowl of porridge, that. The sensible bonus of taking our car is that we don’t have to pay for car hire over the expensive summer months – you can legally take a car to Europe from UK for 183 days each year (as long as your insurance and MOT is sorted).

Algarve Adventure Starts Here - 02

We caught the Plymouth-Santander ferry which is a 19 hour voyage of joy last travelled in reverse on our way back from last summer’s Channel to Spain bike ride. The onboard musak features low budget cover versions of familiar songs sung in such a way that they sound absolutely nothing like the original. It’s as though the vocalist was given the lyrics of a song completely unknown to them and asked to make up their own tune. The result is an interesting game of Name that Tune and a wonderment that anyone can destroy a perfectly good Hall and Oates song quite so magnificently. On the subject of music, you’ll be pleased to know that Sinitta is alive and well on Spanish radio.

Once in Santander its a 600 mile drive down to the Algarve. 600 claustrophobic miles sat in an overloaded car with a picnic box and a rucksack on my lap because the boot was full of Alpen and Marmite. The weather was interesting to say that least with a snowstorm and temperature of 0 degrees. In Spain. Bloody grateful not to be on a bike this time.

Followed 20 minutes later by:

I may have said before how much I really like kilometres. There are more of them, it’s true, but they pass so much more quickly than miles and are far more satisfying in terms of progress. We did more than a thousand of the buggers.

We spent the night in a hotel in Merida and went for a wander in the evening. I had never heard of the place but it has an incredible amount of Roman architecture all over the city. We had some food in a tapas bar and ordered various random unknown things from the Spanish menu which turned out to be clams and cuttlefish. Er, yum? I am one of those people who feels the need to at least make a dent in the food that is given to me, even if I really don’t like it. It’s a stupid trait considering I’ve paid for it, but that’s the way it is. Keith doesn’t feel any social requirement to not upset the chef, so my burden is not even shared. Let’s just say that I have committed the Spanish word for cuttlefish to memory so that I never make that mistake again. Not a patch on KFC.

On our way home we passed what can only be described as 40 people carrying a giant bed with some wrapped up statues on top accompanied by a brass marching band.

The quality of the photo is poor, but there are definitely 40 people walking extremely slowing under there. Makes my picnic box on the lap car experience comfortable by comparison. Don’t their heads hurt? Are the ones in the middle freaking out? Where are they going? So many questions and no answers. Much like life, eh?

Our past experience of stumbling across random festivals (the tuna stew competition in Castro Urdiales springs to mind, the ‘Let’s-dress-up-as-pirates-and almost-drown-swimming-across-the -bay’ in San Sebastian does too) says that this is standard fare for Spain, even at 9.30pm on a Monday evening in March. I presume this was some kind of practice for an Easter do of some religious nature but it might just be what the Meridians(from Merida?) do for fun. Next morning provided another opportunity for ‘Asians at Breakfast’ (last seen in Athens), which involves watching the coachload of middle aged Asian tourists navigate a European breakfast buffet. Today’s piece de resistance combo was bacon, egg and doughnut. There are Japanese people sitting in hotels in Tokyo at this moment crying with laughter at Europeans eating the Japanese food faux pas and mixing their bento with their sashmimi.

Back on the road and eventually arriving at Casa Torta, our house; which translates as ‘crooked’ or ‘cake’, so take your pick. Both fit pretty well given the predilections of the new residents and the height of the doorways. OK, so it was all we could afford. What’s a daily dose of mild concussion in exchange for a life in the sun.

Algarve Adventure Starts Here - 06

This is the view from our house once you have ducked down far enough to leave it.

It is the same view as from the much larger, luxurious and expensive villas which surround it. Our house is the slightly drunk, dishevelled uncle at a family gathering: seen better days, wonky and with an odd smell. But you love him all the more for it.

The house has been empty for many months – or so we thought. On opening up Keith’s old French house, we were frequently greeted by scorpions. Here, it’s lizards, big ones with suckers on their feet. Our new squatters. They are far, far more welcome than a scorpion, although that opinion is subject to change the night that one falls on my face from the ceiling. When we went to Santorini, we found that the lizards there were partial to cake, so maybe these are too.

First meal at our house. Too cold to eat outside really, hence the coat, but it’s not every day you move to Portugal.

Nice bench.

Day 22: Santander. Waiting for a boat.

Day 22: Santander. Waiting for a boat.

Reader, you may recall that I said I had been to Northern Spain twice before, once to Bilbao on the occasion of the end of my marriage. Well, for balance, I think it only reasonable to confess that my first visit to this region was actually the honeymoon of said marriage. Weird, eh?

My Santander honeymoon was not your average romantic experience, partly due to the fact that we were camping and were accompanied by two children. The weather was awful, our campsite was a 45 minute walk from the city centre and we had no car (too expensive to bring it on the ferry). My son, was 2 years old and travelled in a 3 wheeler buggy which looked more like Steptoe’s wagon with tent, pans and general camping accoutrements hanging off it. We all four slept in a little tent, pitied by other campers who gave us flasks of tea and biscuits. It was utterly miserable. We couldn’t go home because we had to wait for the ferry. Much like today but much, much worse.

I should say that I have history of shit honeymoons: my first one was in a Youth Hostel in the Lake District with just the one child and, this time: a dog. My daughter has the dubious accolade at being present at both of her mother’s weddings and honeymoons. I’m not proud of this.

Santander is a perfectly fine place to be but doesn’t have any spectacular landmarks aside from a stupendously ugly festival hall.

Photograph of the steps leading up to the Festival Hall in Santander, Spain. It is a very ugly building.

There are some nice buildings but disappointingly no llamas. This is more disappointing due to the fact that the city map advertises a place called ‘Las Llamas Parque‘. Hurray, I thought, something to do which involves animals (my favourite). No amount of Googling could reveal any information about the llamas. ‘Llamas’, it turns out is the Spanish for ‘name’ or ‘to call’. Nothing to do with spitty camel things. We then saw on the shopping channel in TV that you can call for free: ‘llamas gratis’ and chortled about getting a free llama with every cubic zirconium ring.

Photograph of a terrace of buildings in Santander, Spain.

Photograph of Sarah with Santander, Spain beach and sea in the background.

Other amusement for today was this unfortunately named women’s clothes shop. It’ll never take off in the UK, although Keith did suggest that I might be a 4×4 woman. I have no idea what he meant and didn’t ask.

Photograph of a Santander, Spain shop sign saying '4 by 4 Woman'.

Other learning is that sometimes things are not as expected. The glorious concoction below was in a photographed ice cream menu of the type popular in the 1970s: peach melba, banana split etc. It looked nice, so we ordered one. Ordering only one may have actually saved our lives. No ice cream in sight. It was a bucket of cream with honey, caramel sauce and nuts chucked in for good measure. One of us feels sick, the other one has developed diabetes. This might both be the same person.

Photograph of a blue ice cream dish full of whipped cream and walnuts and covered in sauce.

FYI: Nata =cream, not ice cream, regardless of its inclusion on an ice cream menu. Reading menus = a good idea. Idiot.

Apart from a visit to the €uro shop (Spanish Poundland) for gifts for the grandchildren – who wouldn’t want a Spain World Cup 2014 pencil case?, we went for walk north of the city to Cabo Major. Cue more photographs of spectacular coastline.

Photograph of rocky coastline near Santander, Spain.

Photograph of coastline, rocks, sea and lighthouse west of Santander, Spain.

We saw a fella with a snorkel and harpoon gun swimming off the rocks looking for his tea. We hung around hoping for a Johnny Weissmuller style encounter with him wrestling a fearsome sea creature but nothing doing. If you look closely, you will see him.

Photograph of the sea and a very small diver

Not a crocodile in sight.

Another evening, another mealtime totally out of sync with the Spanish food clock watching TV we can’t understand and considering phoning up to try and get a free llama. It is useful to know that watching a Jason Statham film dubbed into Spanish does not affect the overall experience one little bit.