There is no sun in London. Ever. Okay, well, once in a while the sun comes out, but it is rare. So, us sun-loving LeRoys headed to Portugal for Kevin’s term break from school.
On the way to the airport, we saw signs “Diamond Jubilee Celebration; stay clear of central London.” We were certainly doing that! I suppose it is unfortunate that we missed the big deal. We missed the royal wedding too. But I digress…
This was one of the few rides to the airport during which Kevin did not throw up. That set us up for a nice day. The boys were well behaved on the ever-chaotic Ryannair (think Southwest, but with more stuff for sale on board – they sold smokeless cigarettes, scratch and win cards, discount attraction tickets for the destination, the usual duty free, and finally pre-paid phone cards). We rented a car in Faro and drove to our VRBO-rented apartment. The place was impossible to find and after 30 minutes of driving down very narrow roads, we called the apartment’s landlord and told her to meet us at a nearby restaurant.
Our apartment was awesome (we are true believers in VRBO – they’ve worked well for us on so many trips now). It was located right smack in the middle of old town Albufeira. The front door was on the 6th floor, the back door was on the 4th floor, our car was parked on the 2nd floor, and the ground floor led the way to old town. Other than the air conditioning units dumping large amounts of ice water on the slick floors of our bedrooms, we all enjoyed the apartment. The boys spent hours playing with the powered blinds that were built into the windows. We cooked breakfast every day, and several dinners – always easier than trying to eat out every meal with kids.
We’ve also become true believers in TripAdvisor for restaurant recommendations. The suggestions quickly help you zero in on kid-friendly places that have good food. We went to Os Arcos for dinner 3 times – it was the best food we found. And Jose, the owner, was so much fun and loved the boys (picture below). Kevin and Ryan spent most of the time running up and down the alleyway and climbing up to stick their heads through the window before the food came – it kept them entertained and it allowed Dave and I to actually have a conversation.
Ryan’s favourite thing to do was sit in the helicopter/train/car gizmos (that cost 1€ to make it “go”) and pretend he was in charge. He’d have spent the entire vacation in this helicopter if we didn’t drag him out of it (always kicking and screaming). Here, he allowed a cute pudgy girl to sit with him, and he talked her ear off.
The boys played on the beach for hours on end most of the vacation (that’s really why we went to Albufeira, after all). Kevin loved to dig deep holes and “muck” in the soupy sand at the bottom. Ryan was a bit more fussy, but he seemed to enjoy being buried. Regardless, they got sand in every crevice and loved every moment of it.
Ryan took to bathing in the bidet – it was just his size.
We happened to arrive in Portugal shortly after the Fiesa International Sand Sculpture festival had started. Pictures just don’t capture the magnitude of these sculptures. The boys were mostly interested in the Madagascar cartoon characters, but the sculptures ran the gamut from Steve Jobs with an iPhone to Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. We were surprised at the number of famous Americans captured in sand. But no, no Obama.
We spent a fair amount of time scootering around old town, shopping for junk, and eating ice cream. Kevin tried out the electric go karts. The first night he tried when Dave watched, he was cautious and slow, but then got the hang of it. The second night I saw him. I was floored! He had a lead hand on the gas – he passed all the other (bigger) kids and his facial expression never changed – complete focus and determination.
Kevin and Ryan were sucked into every store front, mesmerized by flashing/singing remote-controlled cars and other toys. They each got to spent 5€ at the end of the trip for the toy of their choice. Kevin managed to finagle Ryan out of 3€ so he could by an 8€ toy (promising, of course, to share nicely). Ryan didn’t know any better and spent his 2€ on a silly Styrofoam mouse that he was convinced was Stuart Little (his new favourite movie).
We managed to take our rental car and get out of the beach spots for a bit of sightseeing and culture. We drove west to Lagos and took an hour long boat tour to see caves. Ryan whined the whole way about keeping his life jacket on, but Kevin, Dave, and I really enjoyed the clear blue water and interesting rock formations.
After the boat tour, we drove to Sagres Point, the most south-western point of Portugal. It felt a bit ends-of-the-earth with fresh sea breezes. Kevin and Dave enjoyed climbing on the cliff rocks while Ryan slept in the car. Then Kevin and I roamed around an old abandoned fort and made up wild stories about all the weird looking rooms and paths.
Our final cultural excursion was a 20-minute drive to Silves to see the Moorish Castle. We spent an hour roaming the castle walls and making up stories about good guys fighting bad guys. By the point, the boys were ready for the beach again, to close out our Portugal vacation.
All in all, it was a pleasant trip. We were glad we had a rental car, which allowed us to see a few things more than the beach. To get much more Portugal history, you’d probably have to travel to Lisbon (a 3.5 hour drive away from the southern coast).
Stay tuned for our next (and final) European adventure – Lake Maggiore, Switzerland in July!