Thursday, June 26, 2014

[FARO] Welcome to Iberia

My decision to include the Iberian Peninsula in my itinerary turned out to be a good one. Not only was I excited to practice my Spanish and my Portuguese, I was also eager to get toasted by the sun after the rather frigid welcome northern Europe gave me. And so I hopped on a Ryanair jet from Billund to the Algarve region in southern Portugal. After almost four hours, we finally landed at Faro International Airport 15 minutes after midnight. Português mode on!

Despite the two-hour delay, which comes as a freebie for most Ryanair flights, the realization that I was in a Portuguese-speaking territory was just too overwhelming to shake off, and that sort of kept dizziness at bay. I had to figure out how to get to the guest house, and since it was already after midnight, taking a cab was the only logical choice. The taxi ride took 15 minutes, and it came cheap because I shared it with a Danish girl.

My first interaction em português was with some guys inside the airport, whom I asked if my hostel was within walking distance. They said yes, around 10 minutes or so, which turned out to be unreliable information because it took the taxi 15 minutes. Well, we still had to bring the girl to her hostel, which was out of the way. Still, I remember that we had to cross a bridge and go around in circles before we reached my destination. Factor in getting lost and it would have been an hour on foot for me.

The cab driver was chatty, which was cool because I wanted to speak as much Portuguese as I could. He was also rather lewd, because he kept on asking me if I wanted to sleep with the Danish girl. He also narrated that he was in Hong Kong a decade ago and that he wants to end up with a Filipina wife, the reasons for which I no longer asked. Not an hour in Portugal and I already have a homeboy concerned about my sex life. What friendly people they have here!

My Portuguese practice came to an end when I checked in, because the girl manning the reception desk would only speak to me in English. Her accent tells me that she is American. How she ended up working here is not rocket science. Most North Americans are allowed three months in Europe visa-free. Sleep came easy and the next thing I knew I was already awake around six hours later and taking advantage of the free breakfast.

Faro is really small, which is cool because I only had a day to spare. Considered as the southernmost city of Continental Portugal, this capital of the region of Algarve serves as the gateway to some of the more popular beaches in the Iberian Peninsula. Most of the tourist attractions were walking distance from my hostel. The streets are navigable; some of them even cobblestoned. If you have been to Macau, the resemblance would pique your curiosity.

The sun was stark raving mad that day and I absolutely loved it! An hour was enough to check out the walled portion of the city center, which has been preserved and was definitely worth the stroll. From the cobblestones to the tiled names of the streets etched on the walls, every detail will vie for your attention. Make sure your camera’s battery is fully loaded.

That area is called Vila Adentro and it is usually teeming with tourists. Cars are allowed to go in, which means you can’t really go full retard carelessly taking photos and videos because there is just the possibility of being run over. The plaza containing the cathedral is evidently the most tourist-infested, but it is just fun to listen to tours in various languages!

There is a portion of the wall which grants you access to the quay upon exit. There you will find ferry boat tours selling for around 25 euros round trip if you plan to visit some of the islands nearby. I would not know if they are worth it because I did not go. I went to Albufeira that afternoon and as far as beaches are concerned, they say the ones in Faro just don't compare. So if you need to economize your time and you are going to Albufeira anyway, I’d say just skip those islands!

If you need to buy train tickets to Lisbon, the train station is not that far away. In fact, I just walked all the way there. It takes around 20 euros one way, and the transaction is pretty much straightforward. Spending a day in Faro would most likely be enough, especially if you get bored easily. But if you like to do some more island hopping and enjoy the slow pace of everyday life here, then by all means, do stay longer.

[FARO] Welcome to Iberia

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