A week in Portugal with a five-month-old baby
Federico F - Father and avid traveller,
February 11, 2012
Our second overseas trip with a baby was to the Algarve, Portugal, in May. I had learned my lessons from our first holidays to Cyprus, so this time we booked the Sheraton Algarve Hotel in Albufeira for seven solid nights. You may well say, why not ten nights if you already took the time, money and dedication to embark yourself in a new journey with a baby, to which I would shrug, raise my eyebrows and stay mute. Because the fact is, at the end of the week we felt we could have stayed another couple of days. That said, I do think that seven nights could be enough for some couples with a baby, who for the first (or second) time are away from home. I guess we are entering into subjective territory. What is crystal clear to me is that five nights -as my first experience in Cyprus- is too short.
But let's get back to the first part of this particular trip.
The flight from Gatwick (London, UK) to Faro Airport (Portugal, fifty minutes by car from Albufeira) was XX hours long and it was very pleasant, with the baby sleeping most of the time. The landing was alright thanks to my wife breastfeeding Karl during the last ten or fifteen minutes of the flight thus avoiding that painful ear-popping that children suffer so much.
This was our first time in Portugal and we were very excited about the prospects of knowing a new country, its people and its culture (as much as possible, given that we were carrying a five-month-old baby with us). The initial impression, however, was not very positive. At the airport, we went to the rent-a-car company with which we made a reservation not just for a car but for the child car seat as well. Then the problem started. The car seat was not of poor quality; it was worse than that. To start with, it was not Isofix compliant and I would say the last time that car seat was cleaned must probably have been before cars were invented. To no avail, other than wasting ninety minutes of our precious holidays arguing with a man who's English was poorer than my Chinese (and I don't speak Chinese), I "persuaded" my wife that it was not really worth the fight. We left, then, the airport heading to the hotel with a bitter taste in our mouths and a baby in the back seat who -as long as he was well fed and with his parents in sight- could not have cared less on whether the car seat was clean or covered in spaghetti.
Up to here, I have four pieces of advice: (a) if possible, take your own car seat to your holiday destination (needless to say, only if you are going to rent or somehow use a car); (b) before going on holidays (or vacations, for those on the West side of the Atlantic), make sure you have printed all reservations (flight tickets, car rental (and its car seat!), accommodation bookings, activities booked in advance, etcetera) and take them with you. It will save you many headaches as the Reservation Department and the Receptionist that you face once "in situ" are like in two different galaxies. So you may want to show him or her that you did actually asked -and sometimes even paid- for what you are now insistently demanding. Admittedly, such situations rarely happen when you book five star services and hotels. But then again, things happen...; (c) if you own a GPS that is portable (e.g. Garmin, Tom-Tom), take it with you and make sure you have downloaded the maps of the cities or places you are going to visit. It will save you a bit of money by not having to rent it from the rent-a-car company and it will save you countless and infuriating discussions with your wife, who was not born to read a map -let alone transmit the instructions in a matter of seconds, well before that corner to the right you have just missed; (d) the fourth one is: relax. You will be busy enough taking care of your kid and making sure that your wife can also have a pleasant time. So try to avoid stressful situation and discussions. Pretty obvious, I know, but one that I forgot far too many times and regretted it deeply afterwards.
After fifty minutes drive we entered the Sheraton Algarve Hotel. It was like passing the gates towards romantic old-fashioned Portugal, with stone streets, two-storey white painted bungalows, sky-high trees and a huge reception at the end of the road. Immediately after I crossed the security barriers, I could hear my wife giving a deep sigh of relief. We were welcomed as if they might have been waiting for us, knowing what we've been through (which was not that terrible after all but it still makes you feel good).
We were led to our room and were left there, contemplating the view through the open windows. A sky-like blue sea was welcoming us with open arms and the green of the spotless park that covered the distance between the building and the cliffs seemed to foster the feeling that we were getting closer to paradise. My eye muscles started relaxing and all of a sudden I felt comfortably tired. The cot was of good quality and already arranged. We quickly checked that the room was habitable for a five-month old baby and then started to unpack some basic stuff.
After having slept the whole journey from the airport to the hotel, our son Karl was fully awake by then and even though we were looking forward for a nap, with Karl wanting to wonder around, there was no point trying. So we headed to the restaurant beside the main swimming pool and ordered fresh fish food which brought our souls back to life.
From then on, our holidays with our little son were as close to perfection as you can hope. The weather was magnificent, not too hot not too cold. The hotel had many amenities for children, grown ups, seniors and seniors that want to be children. The golf course ranks among the best any player could wish for. There are heated swimming-pools so if you go during winter you can swim (although it is for the brave ones to get out of the water on a windy day).
As with our first trip, my wife and I took turns to take care of Karl while the other half was being pampered with some massages, sauna, jacuzzi or any other activity of our liking. I for instance took a few tennis lessons from an American coach who did not hesitate to show me how much I lost in style since the last time I played (which was a couple of years ago). Physically, my bad shape was also exposed by making me run from one corner to the other of the court, dragging the tennis racket as if it were an anchor and sweating as if I came from a walk in the Sahara, at midday and in August. When he saw me half dead, with my tongue hitting the floor and my body begging for a bench, he laughed and said: "Funny, isn't it, I enjoyed so much making you run and on top of it I get paid!". I drew a complimentary smile on my face, not entirely sure how funny his 'joke' really was. It turned out to be very funny when I told my wife about it.
But we, the three of us, also strolled around andacross the hotel premises around two or three times a day. Boring? not at all. To start with, one could see Karl's eyes scanning everything that crossed his sight. He was learning, he was absorbing images, sounds, smells. You could see him being marvelled by the sound of a bird that for us would not have raised the slightest of attention. His face expressed joy (and also tiredness pretty quickly!). We used the pushchair/stroller and, from time to time, the baby carrier, which was much more appropriate when going to the beach. The beach, ah, what a nice beach. Because the Sheraton Algarve Hotel sits on top of a cliff, the views are stunning. But also, the hotel has got a lift to take even the laziest human being to the sand. Down at the beach, there is a bar to drink quite a variety of cold drinks. And there is another bar at the top of the cliff, with views that seem unreal. To be sure, the cliff is well protected against accidents - a glass fence separates the park from the precipice.
To sum up, the trip was a massive success. But not as good as the next one for which I am now running out of time - and space. Till the next one!
Father and avid traveller