2018 – Portugal (Christmas )

After spending Christmas 2017 in Abu Dhabi I found myself at a loose end for Christmas 2018, so decided to try a ‘singles’ break to Cascais, just outside Lisbon.

My journey to Heathrow on Saturday afternoon was painless, two hours to Terminal 4, then the ‘Hoppa’ bus to the Holiday Inn Ariel, which I’ve driven past a thousand times.

My room – 360 – was clean and efficient, nothing to complain about, which a huge TV and extensive beverage capabilities and – gasp! – a ‘Corby’ trouser press!

Dinner in the restaurant was better than I expected, made more enjoyable by an elderly (ie older than us) couple arguing incessantly. He wanted to espouse his thoughts on ‘classical music’ while his partner kept telling him she was not interested.

I returned to my room for an early night, the bed was very comfortable and I slept the sleep of the just until I woke at four. I left the hotel at five, took a taxi (an ‘S’ Class Merc. A bargain for a tenner) to Terminal Two, dropped my case at the self-service bag drop (10kg, Val would be ashamed of me) was through security by five thirty and into the lounge for the – now traditional – pre-flight Bloody Mary.

There were several elderly (over seventy-five) ladies in the lounge who were later joined by a very school marm-ish lady with a ‘Just You’ clipboard who declared that the was ‘not a rep, but the tour manager’. My heart sank, particularly when she declared that she was off around the lounge to find the men, but thankfully it transpired that they were off to Salzburg.

As I queued to board my flight, I checked out the other travellers with ‘Just You’ baggage tags – I’d ‘forgotten’ to put mine on – and it was feeling a lot like a big mistake. Time will tell.

We landed in Lisbon at eleven, and by twelve fifteen most of us were ensconced on the coach waiting for the final two members of our group. First impressions of the group – we’re a group of 30 – are a 50/50 male/female split, and 80% ‘elderly’ (as defined above), and a few doddery. Maybe half a dozen of us are under seventy.

The school marm in the lounge earlier spoke disparagingly about ‘Solo’ holidays saying that she’d had to share a hotel with them once and she described it as a ‘shag fest’. It’s early days but I can’t see that happening with this group!

Eventually we left the airport with one man missing, it was a forty minute drive to the hotel, which sits on the coast. My room, on the second floor is spacious, nothing to complain about there.

In the afternoon we went for a stroll into town, then, in the evening we had a ‘welcome drink’ (a glass of something local, resembling sherry) in the hotel bar, followed by an extensive buffet dinner.

Christmas Eve morning saw us take a coach trip up to Sintra, a national park, and home to the National Summer Palace – lots of steps, lots of ceramic tiles, but an interesting enough excursion.

Then to Cabo da Roca, the westernmost point in mainland Europe where – inevitably – there’s a lighthouse.

The Portuguese are big on lighthouses.

Back to the hotel early afternoon and I set off into town to buy some ciggies for Jeremy. I’d missed the local hyper market on Sunday, but managed to find it and get a supply for him. Then back to a local bar, where I’d arranged to meet a couple of fellow travellers.

We were joined by a couple more – five of us (all under seventy!) including the cute one (Julia) and the sassy one (Monica) who had paired up the previous day.

Most were on our first ‘singles’ trip.

Dinner was another buffet, the hotel is pretty busy, so I guess a buffet is the most efficient way of feeding people, after which a few of us adjourned to the bar until around midnight.

One of our group – Stan – who is ex-military, invalided out after surviving a helicopter crash, tried hitting on Monica, despite her telling everyone that she’d left her partner at home to enjoy Christmas with his family.

That scared Julia off, she was on her first trip since losing her husband two years ago; she declared that she needed an early night and retreated to her room.

I woke at about seven on Christmas morning, then down to breakfast for nine. It was to be a long, quiet, day. I wandered down the coast a way mid-morning to the ‘Mouth of Hell’ – a local tourist spot; it was a beautiful day, with clear blue sky and bright sunshine.

Lunch was served at twelve thirty, supposedly a ‘special Festive lunch’ but it was the same buffet we’d seen a few times before.

Then at four thirty a bunch of us wandered back to the ‘Mouth of Hell’ to watch the sunset. Inevitably, like Mallory Square in Key West, the last of the sunset was masked by clouds, but it was a nice experience.

Then back to the hotel for a beer before dinner.

Dinner was billed as a ‘Festive Portuguese Dinner’, actually it was the same buffet we’d had every evening, but no matter.

Boxing Day was a full day trip to Lisbon, departing at nine. We had the same tour guide as we’d had on Christmas Eve, she was excellent, and showed us round the Maritime Museum, filled with beautiful models of ships through the ages.

Then a coffee, a couple of photo opportunities at the ‘Belem’ tower and the statue commemorating Portugal’s explorers. From there the coach drove us through central Lisbon, dropping us all off in one of the main squares for an afternoon of ‘free time’.

A couple of us wandered down and found an interesting bar – the Museum of Beer – that served beers from around the Portuguese speaking world.

Then back to the Hard Rock Café for a couple more beers and some retail therapy, before catching the bus back to the hotel.

Dinner was the same buffet, then an evening in the bar. I’d decided to take the initiative and collected tips for our tour manager, somebody had to. I grabbed the microphone from our Tour Manager before we set off, said a very few words and presented her with the envelope ‘from her new friends’. A couple of my fellow passengers observed that I didn’t have a problem making a speech “I get the feeling you’ve done that sort of thing before.”

Now and again!

We departed the hotel late morning for our mid-afternoon flight back to Heathrow. Unfortunately, due to low visibility, the flight was delayed until four, and the wheels didn’t lift until four thirty. We made up some time, landing at 6:45 and delivered to the gate literally yards from Passport Control… I was on the tube by 7:20, and home by 9:45, not bad going.

So, overall it was an interesting experience, it wasn’t as bad as I feared at the departure gate at Heathrow; I’m not sure if I’d do it again. I’d happily return to Lisbon, and to the hotel in Cascais, if the opportunity presents itself.