It is the 22nd December today and I’m feeling a bit pensive. For years I’ve talked about doing something different at Christmas and this year we’re actually doing it. Doing Christmas at home with all the traditional food and planning has been my total experience of the festive season thus far so this feels like a massive change.
We’re very very happy that Chris (youngest son) and Mary (youngest daughter in law) have flown over from the UK and rented a wee chalet right next to us on this fine campsite. We’ve got a hire car and we can go exploring to our heart’s content and share our first experience of a non traditional Christmas together. Our friends Katherine and James are on site too so the six of us are going to have a distinctly non traditional day on the 25th. We’re planning a Safari Christmas where we have tapas starters at K&J’s van followed by another course at ours and finally desserts and coffee at Chris and Mary’s. With the inevitable drinks and plans for games and entertainment as we go along this event will probably last all day and well into the evening. We’ll report back after we’ve recovered from our non traditional festive excesses. As I write this Shirley is listening to a spoof song about Christmas to the tune of the Can Can that makes fun of the fact that Christmas is all about shopping. The good news about this particular one is that we’re doing very little of that massively over rated activity. Secret Santa on the day to the grand value of €10 for one present is the sum total of our Christmas shopping activity. If we’ve learned anything on this trip it’s that shopping as a pursuit of happiness is not for us. Watching Atlantic breakers on a deserted beach in the sunshine on December 20th wins hands down.
Alvor beach was spectacularly beautiful. We parked at a quiet end where the sand is wide and flat and walked towards the craggy cliffs and rocks that looked, from our perspective, to be the end of the bay. To our amazement, once we got up close, you could walk under natural archways and round small headlands to find a number of tiny sheltered coves. The breakers make a massive booming sound as they hit the sea stacks, the water is truly aquamarine, the sand soft and the whole place, at this time of the year, very nearly deserted. Mary did see a nude man sunbathing but thankfully didn’t tell us until we were back at the car. She’s a kind girl – managed to keep a straight face and everything. We were all dazzled by the beauty of the place and we kept having to say “This is December – Wow!” After our three and a half mile walk we were hungry so we found a small fish restaurant right by the water and had an amazing meal of freshly caught fish and vegetables. Shirley and Chris had sword fish. If you haven’t tried it, it’s like tuna steak in texture but with a milder flavour. Their servings were just about the size of a plate. I had sea bass and it took up a similar space, covering the whole plate and then Mary chose traditional Portuguese salted cod. Her portion was enormous too – so much so that the waiter congratulated her on her bravery. The food was all beautiful and we sat sleepily over a coffee for a while afterwards, staring out to the small boats tied up right beside us and trying to believe we were really here.
As we sat quietly enjoying the sunshine and marvelling at the wonderful meal we’d just finished, a Frenchman from another table approached us. Speaking directly to Mary he said, “Sorry to interrupt but I just wanted to say that my wife loves your t shirt and my daughter loves your hair.” Mary was wearing a black t shirt with the words I am a feminist on the front and she has a wonderful red swathe of colour dyed into her beautiful black wavy hair. He chatted for a while, delighted with himself that he’d picked up that Chris had a Scottish accent, agreed with us that this is a truly beautiful place and that his little daughter is indeed a wee cutie then left to go back to his family. Isn’t it lovely when a total stranger comes up and warmly pays a compliment with no motive other than to be friendly? We’re reminded again that saying something genuine and warm to another person, even a total stranger, can brighten their day more than we probably realise.
Last night we began our festive celebrations in Katherine and James’ van where they had kindly invited us to soup, cheese and listening to the Messiah. Katherine is a great cook and we were thoroughly well fed with two varieties of wonderful soup, a selection of delicious cheese, a good deal of sherry and wine and a lot of chat. The Messiah played along in the background while we talked about running, yoga, travelling, work, food … you name it, we had it covered. Shirley and I gave in first and wobbled back to our van, fell into bed and hit the zzzzs within minutes. It’s been said that cheese keeps you awake or gives you nightmares – not in this van it didn’t. Ten hours later we emerged sleepily from our cocoon to find to our amazement that it was morning.
Staying here is not all about food and drink and strolling on the beach. The site offers a morning exercise class each day and so far I have made it to two of them. The other girl who stays in this van has managed to wriggle out of both of them. To be fair, she has been in the unheated swimming pool and that isn’t something to sneeze at – oh wait a minute.
Katherine and I went to the morning stretching class on Monday and enjoyed it. it wasn’t too demanding and we were outside breathing fresh air and looking up at the bright blue sky. Feeling pleased with myself that I could still bend my body I agreed to go with Katherine, Mary and Chris to Yoga / Pilates fusion. This was a whole different experience with the instructions from the trainer asking us to do things that seemed frankly unreasonable for a normal human body. Looking round there were people who really could lie on their stomachs, hold up both feet behind them with their hands, lift up their heads and rock. I could see Mary and she was giving it a good go. I, having given it a couple of attempts, was lying flat on my face giggling.
Chris and Mary are off today on a serious walk up a mountain somewhere. We’re going to stroll to the beach at Praia da Luz and probably have a coffee in a beach bar somewhere. Each to their own.