Sunday, April 22, 2012

Some feedbacks about Algarve and our trip

This morning, the CE organized a meeting to have our feedback regarding the trip. Overall, everyone was happy and satisfied despite the chaos before our departure. They praised the hotel services, contented with the kids club activities, appreciated the foods and enjoyed the road trips around the areas.

As for us: Aelig seemed to enjoy it, me disappointed about how the CE handled the crisis but thrilled to spend a nice week with the family. As for hubby, not satisfied with the overall arrangements.

Here are some of my observations regarding Algarve:

1. Clean streets: don't have to raise alert about dog poos.

2. Historical and modern links with Malaysia
Malaysia was once occupied by Portugal. I could see some words that are similar to the Malay language: ijreja vs gereja (church), escola vs sekolah (school). Houses outside of the cities looked similar to bungalows, double storey and shop houses in Malaysia.

Bungalow: Those in Malaysia are without the chimney of course.

In Malaysia, I used to see some housing advertising selling Portuguese style / European style houses, they were not lying after all.

Shop houses: Just like in Malaysia, ground floor is used for business purposes and from first floor up to the top floor are for residency. Even the way their displayed the shop names resembled the one in Malaysia. At one point I thought I was seeing Public Bank (red) and RHB Bank (blue).

Double-storey linked houses.

This kind of gate is very common in shop houses in Malaysia.

And this for the window, you could see it anywhere in Malaysia.

Many old style bungalows have this kind of wall.

Never expect to see salted dried fishes here! Did the Portuguese introduced the Malaysians the ikan masin as well?

3. Crystal clear sea waters and stunning flowers

There were a lot of small beaches separated by rocks and cliffs. This gives a sense of privacy compared to large beaches.

The water is so clear it made me want to swim.

The flowers were blossoming everywhere.

Similar species to those in Brittany.

A sea of flowers.

Oranges everywhere too.

4. Friendly inhabitants

I rarely saw Asian here so I was glad that nobody was starring at me. The Portuguese were quite friendly. We passed through small alley and greeting the residents around with "Bom dia" (good morning). One grandma corrected us as it was in the afternoon and we should have said "boa tarde" (good afternoon).

5. Portuguese language

Since Portuguese is a Latin based language, we didn't have much problem wandering around. This is one of the advantages knowing French I guess. At one point hubby saw a sign indicating "barragem". "Barrage" in French means dam, so he thought there should be a dam nearby. And guess what we found the dam!

6. Kid's club activities
A feedback regarding the trip. I had never been to a hotel who proposed activities for kids so I found it interesting and useful.

See how the little angel was so happy.

Every evening from 8.30pm on the club organized a disco party. Beside dancing they also had bird show.

This peacock was having vacation too!

2 hours of painting classes = 2 hours of resting time for parents.

7. Lack of gastronomy experience
The biggest down point for this trip was the lack of gastronomy experience. I was happy to have all inclusive package but after this trip I don't think it was an good idea anymore. Basically, we ate 3 meals a day in the hotel, which prevented us from savoring the local cuisines. We had British breakfast every morning. There were some local dishes involving seafoods for lunch and dinner but most of the time it was European normal hotel style serving. When we went for a day trip, the packed lunch was a pity: 2 tiny sandwiches + an apple + a bottle of water.

British breakfast every morning. There were different kind of breads and fruits available so the French were happy.

An example of my lunch. Next time it would be preferable to book an hotel with breakfast and has a real food tripping in the local restaurants. We had a nice gastronomy experience in Barcelona, I don't know how many tapas I stomached and how many sangria I drunk.

Looking forward to our next trip to Prague. Leaving in 5 days!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Algarve: The citrus county

When we were riding the bus from the Faro Airport to Algarve (the region we were visiting), we were intrigued by its orange orchards. Later we found that some of them were actually lemons and mandarin oranges. When we had our road trips, I was hoping to visit an orchard, but we couldn't find any signs that would allow a visit. My thirst to pluck an orange fresh from the tree increased everyday. It seems that every house with a garden has a lemon/orange/mandarin orange tree. We saw this in downtown Monchique. We didn't dare to pluck them though.

And the flowers smelt so good! I didn't know orange tree is such fragrant plant. We finally found some orange trees in a small villages which we thought belong to nobody. Most of them were eatable and plenty dropped on the floor. Aelig collected 10 of them but she was unable to take all of them, she was so furious. We decided to pluck one from each tree, so we got 4 of them.

Just like in Malaysia, the Portuguese sell their oranges along the roadside. Some have a stall in front of their house. The cheapest I saw was 2€ for 5kg. I saw this sign in the market but I'm not sure if it means 39 cents per kilo.

Don't know what this is but I saw them in the French supermarket sometimes.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Holiday is about...

We survived the 12 hours trip and arrived safely in Algarve, South of Portugal. I need to learn from those French mothers who kept their kids occupied with lots of books, card games. The older kids were with video games though.

The hotel was new, started operating in 2011. We saw this magnificent pool, all to ourself as there was not much tourist yet. Unfortunately, at 19°, nobody dared to swim in it. They have an area for kids, Aelig would have enjoyed it. No choice, if we want to use the interior heated pool, we need to pay 5€ and kids are allowed to use the pool only between 6pm to 7pm.

We had a briefing from the travel agency on Sunday morning. Their excursion trips were expensive. We decided to rent a car and travel around. The first stop was the beach facing the Atlantic Oceans.

Father and daughter jumped inside the water despite the not so hot weather. I lack the courage, I admitted.

With hubby, we walked and walked and walked. We climbed the mountain, we walked along the beach. We visited the End of the World in Portugal. There must be a lot of places they called themselves the End of the World. We know one already in Brittany. It refers to the end of the Europe facing the Atlantic Oceans.

To make up of all the disappointments we had on this trip, the travel agency brought along 5 people to entertain the kids. Programs are held throughout the day and in the evening to please the kids. Aelig was so excited when the music was playing. She was dancing with a bunch of kids without wanting to stop.

And, she went on the stage to show those kids how to dance.

When Aelig is happy, we are happy.
We are enjoying the trip!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

A traveling nightmare

In January, we were so excited that we got selected to join the CE (Committee Enterprise)'s spring traveling program to Portugal. It is a subsidized trip according to family's income level. We were proposed all inclusive packages: 3 meals a day, free open bar with unlimited alcohol, close to the beach, free bus services to close-by destinations, children's club, sauna... Hubby said we were going to something similar to Club Med, we will just stay lazy around, do nothing but eat, sleep, drink, swim... I have been telling Aelig that we are going to take plane, swim the whole week...until we received an email.

One week before the departure, my coworkers informed me that all flights from Nantes to Portugal have been canceled, and we need to depart from Paris. Several people sent email to the CE asking for more information, but no answer was given. People started speculating on all the possibilities, a lot think that we would take the train, some said we would arrive in the early morning in Paris and need to stay overnight...I approached my coworker who has an important position in the CE, who told me that they have done their best, and we will be traveling to Paris by bus. All information will be communicated early next week.

Later that day, we finally received this email from the CE:

Dear All,

We are sorry to inform you that two global events, the economic crisis and the events in North Africa, have influenced the conditions of the trip to Portugal. The Airlines we were taking has gone bankrupt and the travel agent just filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy this week. All these translated into two big changes:
1. modification on the departure
2. we will be staying in hotel X instead of hotel Y
We will give you more information next week.

What a big disappointment! We were so frustrated that the CE informed us last minute and nobody was appointed to answer our questions. The information was given little by little over the week, and one day before departure, we do not know what is waiting for us in Portugal. Here's the chronology of the communication:
D-7: got informed that two global events have influenced our trip.
D-4: got a mail telling us the departure and return time from Paris. Transfer Nantes - Paris will be done with bus. Needed to prepare our own lunch. Bus schedule will be informed later.

Our frustration has gone to the roof and we were asking ourself if we should not just cancel the trip. The in-laws asked us everyday what time we depart as they will need to send Aelig back according to our planning.

I sent an email asking about the possibility to cancel, and I was informed that I could cancel but the CE does not guarantee any refund, and I have to confirm the cancellation within 3 hours. Talked to another coworker and she said she was told that not only will she not getting the refund, she would have to pay for a cancellation fee.

D-3: received a convocation with the air departure information + who's who going to be in the same bus.
D-2: finally received the bus departure information.

Until now we don't know if all the conditions are maintained with the hotel. Checked the hotel website, they have a huge outdoor swimming pool, we don't know if we could swim at 17%. We will need to pay extra charges if we want to use the indoor heated pool.

We are so not motivated to go. I don't know if Aelig could go through all these:
6.5 hours bus trip to Paris
2 hours waiting in the Airport
2.5 hours plane trip
1 hour airport - hotel transfer.
It is going to take almost the same time to go Paris - Kuala Lumpur by plane!!!

And this is not the worst. Our return trip will bring us back to Paris at 10pm, that means arrive around 4am in Nantes. How nice is that.

Luckily we have her to cheer us up. Her first visit to the hair dresser and everything went well. She didn't make any fuss.

Monday, April 09, 2012