Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Travels in foreign lands-XVII (Spain and Portugal-II)

After my first visit to Gibraltar in 1993, I got another chance to visit the place in 1996. I had gone to Flagstaff in Arizona, USA, to attend an International Conference on mountaineering. On my return to London, I took a weeklong trip to Gibraltar. The British Airways ticket was quite attractive.
When I visited the office of the airline for my booking, the girl asked if my flights were fixed, semi-flexible, or totally open on both sides. I asked her the reason for this question and the reply was quite interesting. She said if I wanted fixed flights, it would cost £150, semi-fixed with possibility of changing return once would cost £200, and open both ways would cost £400! I bought a semi-fixed ticket and flew to Gibraltar. The flight is about two and a half hours. The landing on Gibraltar airport was exciting as the runway extends into sea. However, on this trip I did not move out of Gibraltar. I had caught a chill in Flagstaff which developed into a full-fledged cold. The next trip was in 1998 when I was on study leave. I stayed couple of weeks in Gibraltar and my sister decided to take a holiday with the family in Portugal. They usually get long week ends once in a while and to avail this we decided to drive to Lisbon, the capital of Portugal. Before proceeding I got onto the internet and surveyed the route and places of stay. The route goes from Gibraltar to Seville, then to Cadiz where from it crosses into Portugal. The first region is Al Garve. The expressway goes straight to Lisbon. I found out some good places of stay in Albufeira and Lisbon. We decided to stay a night in Albufeira in the Al Garve region which is famous for beaches.
As the distance from Gibraltar to Lisbon is well over 600 kilometres, we had to start quite early. The entry into Spain was quick as very early in the morning there is no rush. Immediately after entering Spain we took the route to Seville. We did not take the expressway but went through normal roads. This took longer and we reached Seville around noon. From here we took the road to Cadiz. From Cadiz we took the road going into Portugal.
The road passes along many orange gardens. On the way we saw a number of factories making orange juice. My niece Sara had been very fond of orange juice and for almost 2 years she had been drinking orange juice. At one spot we saw a huge juice factory with a large sign, "Sara's Oranges"! We joked with her that she must own the factory due to her too much juice drinking! After some time we reached a huge bridge which is supposed to be border between Spain and Portugal. I had expected to see the immigration and customs check points on the other side of the bridge. There was nothing. The expressway carried on straight away into Portugal. There was only a huge overhead sign saying "Welcome to Portugal"! The European Union had done away with all the borders. One could travel all over Europe as if it was one country. We travelled on the expressway for some distance till we came to exit for Albufeira where we had planned to spend a night. It is a very nice city next to a lovely beach and is a big attraction for foreign tourists especially the Americans and the British. We stopped at a number of hotels to locate a good one and after just couple of checks we located a very nice hotel.
It was cheap too because of the off season. May is usually the beginning of the off season. Maximum numbers of tourists visit this place in winter for the sunny beaches. We had to pay hardly 15 to 20 pounds per room for one night. One interesting thing I noticed on the hotel notice board was year round tariff for different seasons. The tariff for week ends and week days was also there. One can easily plan a holiday suiting one's budget. Next morning we got up leisurely and had our breakfast around 10 or so. After breakfast we started for Lisbon by taking the expressway. We covered the distance of about 200 kilometres in three hours and reached Lisbon in the afternoon. The first landmark of Lisbon is a huge statue of Jesus in the Lisbon bay. There is a massive bridge across which one has to cross to enter Lisbon. It is a dramatic sight. We drove straight inside the city into the main square. We again started looking for a nice hotel and just next to the square is a huge Intercontinental Hotel. Being a five star hotel we thought it must be quite expensive but were surprised to know the discounted price of only 45 pounds per night. We took two rooms and left our bags in the rooms. The rooms were exceptionally large with huge bath-rooms. In fact, the cupboards too were exceptionally large! One could walk inside the cupboard!
After a cup of refreshing tea with some snacks, we left the hotel on foot to take a walk around. There is a nice park next to the hotel and we enjoyed our walk in the garden. Before dinner we contacted the Hotel Manager for arranging some sight seeing next day. He arranged a Mercedes car with a chauffeur cum guide who would take us around for half a day. We had a round of the famous sights like the museum, the fort, the market and so on. Lisbon is a very interesting heritage city. It appears it is undersold as a good tourist destination. We returned to the hotel and after paying our bills started the return journey around 4 in the afternoon.
After taking the expressway, we stopped for a snack lunch in a road side KFC outlet. It was almost five when we again came on the expressway. We drove slowly and had intended to spend the night in a port city ahead of Albufeira. We reached the place around 9 and it was already dark. We roamed all the streets and lanes of the port city in total darkness but could not locate a hotel. After an hour's search we located a hotel but it was not very attractive and we saw all sorts of strange characters roaming in the hotel. On this we decided to return to Albufeira and almost at mid-night we finally reached the hotel where we had stayed last time. Luckily we got two rooms and being tired straight away went to sleep. Next morning we took it quite leisurely and started the return journey after breakfast around 11 or so. We traced our route backwards but took expressway between Seville and Gibraltar. We reached Gibraltar around 6 in the evening, thereby, bringing our short trip to Portugal to an end. I nostalgically recall that excellent trip especially our stay and sight seeing in Lisbon. Next, I will try to discover America in next few episodes!

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