Portugal had not been on my agenda. I mean, I’d always wanted to visit but I didn’t think there would be time during this stint in Europe. I planned to return from Greece and then spend the next month holed up in the library writing my thesis.
Then my flatmate peer pressured me into coming with her.
“I don’t have the money,” I said.
“You can pay me back,” she replied.
“I need to write this final project so I can graduate,” I said.
“They have Internet in Portugal,” she replied.
A couple glasses of wine later and I had confirmation of a flight to Faro in my inbox. I was going to Portugal whether I liked it or not.
With the stress of a project worth half the total grade for Master’s degree weighing on me fully I didn’t have time to do any research at all. I think I Google imaged search Faro once. I knew it was southern Portugal and I knew there’d be beaches. That was about it.
Our flight landed in Faro at nearly midnight and after waiting ages for our bags and wandering the airport looking for the company we’d booked our transfer through, we finally made it to the apartment we rented in Albufeira at nearly 3 am. Cloaked in darkness, I wasn’t sure what to expect from this seaside city.
A few hours later, sun light streaming through the windows, we woke up, threw on out bathing suits, keen on seeing what Albufeira was really like.
For starters, it kind of looked like Florida. Our apartment was between a large supermarket and a rather dated looking hotel and sat a few hundred feet off a six lane highway. It didn’t have the sort of European charm I was expecting. But I wasn’t deterred.
We began our morning with coffees and pasteis de nata, Portuguese egg tarts that became a daily part of my diet that week, and then wandered toward the beach.
It soon became apparent why people came to Albufeira. The beach, while crowded, was beautiful and full of amenities. We rented beach chairs and spent the day reading in the sun, eating ice cream, and cooling down in the frigid Atlantic. My heart was full of that happiness that comes from 8 hours spent in the sun and a warm ocean breeze.
While I spent most nights in our apartment researching and writing, I ventured out a couple times in search of good food and good times. There are two main areas of Albufeira where you can find bars and restaurants: Old Town and New Town. New Town has a very spring break in Cancun vibe and is filled with sunburned Brits and drink specials. While Old Town is similarly filled with foreign vacationers, there’s also a tad more culture. As the name suggests, the architecture is more traditionally Portuguese and this is where I found my European charm.
We happily wandered down narrow allows and up the steeps stairs that led to the top of the cliffs in search of fresh seafood and crisp vinho verde. Sure, maybe everyone else at the restaurant was a tourist too, but the service was friendly, the food was decent enough, and the views were killer. I was happy and on holiday. The worries about whether this was the most authentic cod preparation suddenly didn’t mean much anymore.
When I woke up on my seventh and last morning in Albufeira, I felt a little sad. Some of it was because the end of this vacation meant my days in Europe were numbered, but also because I’d fallen in love a bit with this seaside town. In a way it reminded me of childhood summers spent on the Atlantic beaches in the United States, and I’d gotten used to our laid back days on the beach and nights spent writing or wandering the Old Town.
And if nothing else, Albufeira also provided a great base for exploring some of the Algarve’s more beautiful and remote towns, something I’ll cover more of on Thursday.