Sunday, 7 July 2013

Portugal - The First Bit

It's 3.30am on Saturday June 29 2013. I've only been in bed for four hours. I've been to watch another dismal Saints performance, a 24-12 loss to Hull KR, details of which will be documented elsewhere. By the time I'd had a brew and sat through half an hour of Sandra Bullock talking about being in a plane crash it was 11.30pm. Nevertheless I have to get up. I have a flight to catch. Fortunately I'm too disorientated by sleep deprivation to remember any of the details of Sandra's aeroplane experience so I'm not put off. It couldn't have been any more frightening than any of the things she went through on that bus with Keanu Reeves anyway.

We're flying to Faro, Portugal at 7.35am. Neither of us have ever been to Portugal before. It's the unknown, in that respect. So unknown is it, in fact, that Emma's completely forgotten when she's asked where she is flying to at the check-in desk at Manchester airport. She tells me later she couldn't even remember what country we were flying to at that point. Luckily I'm on hand to provide the real tricky information to the girl on the check-in desk. We'd been lucky also to reach that point much sooner than expected. When we arrived there were the usual queues, but a lady working for the Monarch airline advised us to go straight to the front. There were surprisingly few dirty looks from those who were in the queue, standing around wearily leaning on their suitcases.

So at this point things are going far too well for comfort. There is no sign of the drama that always accompanies any attempts I make to travel and which keeps this column up and running. Even the bus driver at the airport car park had seen us struggling with the luggage and pulled up to let us on, despite our not being particularly close to a designated stop. Actually let's be factual. Start as we mean to go on. He had seen Emma struggling with the luggage. Moving luggage is one of many areas in which I am totally and utterly useless. I have one pair of hands and so the choice is simple. Hold the cases and go nowhere, or propel my chair and leave the luggage-carrying to Emma. Fear not anyway, for the travel problems are coming.

The first of these is the delay of the flight. After joining an unreasonably long queue at the bar we have managed to purchase a couple of alcoholic drinks, but looking up at one of the many flight information monitors dotted around we can see that the flight will now depart at 8.00. It may or may not be coincidence that this happens just a few seconds after I remark that since we had taken so long to get served we could do with an extra 20 minutes before taking off so I could finish my pint. Be careful what you wish for, they say, although I think it's rather unfair that I've never had a wish come true that quickly in the previous 37 years of my life. These are unusual circumstances anyway. Airports are one of few places where it is perfectly acceptable to consume alcohol at 6.30 in the morning. The only other occasions I can think of are trips to see Saints at Wembley. Once I opened a bottle of whiskey at something like 5.15am. It's little wonder I'm such a picture of health. When Emma writes on her Facebook she is in a bar with a Desperado and a bacon sandwich I somehow feel compelled to point out to her friends that a Desperado is a beer, and that she is not referring to me.

The flight itself is uneventful. I sleep through most of it. The only thing of note to report is the surreal experience of being dragged backwards on an aisle chair to my seat, and looking up to see Rio Ferdinand trying to look patient as he waits for me to get my shit together and get to my seat. It's not every day you inconvenience a former England captain. I remember thinking that I had grave doubts about how flying economy class was going to help prolong his club career, not to mention the 17 rounds of golf he is no doubt going to play during his stay in the Algarve. After an uneventful taxi ride we arrive at Hotel Vila Gale Ampalius at around 12.15pm and the queuing begins. Waiting is something you need to be good at if you are going to stay at the Ampalius. It takes 35 minutes to reach the reception desk and attempt to check in. While queuing I notice the lifts are at the top of a small flight of stairs. What I can't work out is how I'm going to ascend them. But Emma's checked all this out with the usual military precision, hasn't she? She's very good at this. Organisation is another of the many things that I am totally useless at. Yet neither of us can see an obvious way of getting to the lifts. There's a ramp on the other side of the lobby leading to the bar and restaurant, so maybe I have to use that and go all the way around the back somehow? The wait gives us enough time to figure out that there is actually an opening in the corner of the room which leads to a ramp behind a wall which is not visible from the queue. First panic over, we won't have to be moved to another hotel like we did when we went to Tenerife in 2008. We got an upgrade to a lovely hotel on that occasion, but we had a very bad first day.

This particular first day isn't going all that swimmingly now. When we finally get to the desk we are told that the room will not be ready until 2.00, which is roughly an hour and ten minutes from now. We are able to use their luggage storage room, however, so with little other idea of what to do we head out to the pool bar for a drink Another beer, naturally. To be fair the pool area is beautiful. There is a rather steep ramp leading down to the pool and bar which is going to be a challenge but there seems plenty of space and therefore opportunity for lounging around. We've been to far too many hotels where securing a lounger has been impossible without staying up all night but we should be alright here, I think. Emma's fiddling with her phone because she can't get a signal.

At 2.00pm we go back to the queue. It's another 20 minutes before we get to the front. This is mesmerising to me because there are not that many people in front of us. Everyone who hits the front of the queue seems to spend endless amounts of time discussing their issues with the gormless reception staff. There are three of them, which should be enough to see everyone through quickly but this is never the case. When it's our turn we are told that the room still isn't ready and will be another half an hour. Probably because I have been up so long at such a relatively early hour of the day I am a little peeved at this, and tell them so. The girl looks at me blankly as if she has forgotten all of the English that she knew 30 seconds ago. The upshot is that it doesn't matter what I say, we're not getting in the room for at least another half an hour.

Not wanting to have to come back a fourth time we leave it an hour before our third visit to the never-ending queue. We grab a quick lunch in the bar area which is again a top notch place. There's hardly anyone around because they are all outside so it's peaceful and the food isn't bad. And there is more beer involved so what is not to like? We go back to the queue at around 3.15 and are finally granted admission to our room, whereupon there are more problems. We have booked and paid for a room with an ocean view. The view we have is of what looks like the top of the reception area. It's a giant concrete slab. Sitting out here for lunch is not going to be idyllic. Emma's particularly put out by this and, staggeringly, finds the patience to go back into the queue. She is then told that none of the disabled access rooms have an ocean view. They sell this to us by letting us know that we have been given an upgrade to a junior suite. Not unreasonably, Emma argues that we might have been told that none of the disabled rooms have an ocean view at the point of booking. If we were going to get an upgrade anyway we could have booked the cheapest room available, or else found a hotel with accessible rooms and an ocean view. We are told that we can look at a room with an ocean view tomorrow and see if it is suitable. It seems a long shot given that the receptionist's negativity but we agree anyway. We have stayed in some dodgy rooms in our time so it might just be possible.

Which brings us to Saturday evening and a chance to explore the resort, suss out the bars and restaurants and get suitably intoxicated. At which point Portugal, The Next Bit, will unfold......

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