Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Christmas Presence

Well, let me start by wishing you all a very Happy New Year! It has been a little while since our last post, but you will be rewarded by two in quick succession over the next few days. I thought I would write this post to update everyone on our activities over the festive season, whilst my better half gets on with the juicy post covering our most recent passage from Portugal to the Canary Islands.

Alex and the boys enjoy our little stopover in Faro, before flying home

So, as you are all well aware, back in December we had been in Alvor for a fair old while and were getting rather restless and eager to move on. However, repeatedly checking the forecast did nothing to improve it for us and it was looking like we would be spending Christmas and the New Year on the Algarve. Of course, there are far worse places to be, but I started casually checking flight prices back to the UK, just to see if we might be able to afford a trip home. I was pleasantly surprised with finding flights for around £50 return each from Faro to Gatwick, provided we travelled before December 24th and after January 2nd. I ran my idea past Alex and, happily, he was very keen on it. We began to think about how much fun it would be to keep our families in the dark about our plans, letting them know at the very last moment by turning up on their doorstep.

We enjoy a picnic with Fran and Tim, from Springtide,
before heading back to England

And so it was; on Wednesday 18th December we got a lift ashore from Firebird with Tim (from the boat Springtide), so that we didn't have to leave our dinghy on the pontoon for the next fortnight. Tim kindly let us row ourselves ashore in his wooden tender, which was great fun although we could do with some more practice... our coordination left a little to be desired. We certainly won't be winning any boat races any time soon! We headed off to Faro to spend the night in a lovely little bed and breakfast, costing only €15 for the night, including free WiFi, unlimited coffee from the machine in the kitchen and fresh rolls for breakfast. But, most importantly, a long hot shower. Bliss. We had a lovely relaxing evening before our early morning flight back to the UK.

Firebird, looking very secure on Teade's mooring buoy in Alvor

Before leaving Firebird in Alvor, we hooked her up to a mooring buoy which a kind Dutch guy called Teade let us borrow, as his catamaran is on a hard standing until March whilst he is chartering in the Caribbean. We felt happy to leave her on this buoy as it was new and strong, and a couple of friends at the mooring said they would keep an eye on her for us. Before leaving, we diligently closed all our stop cocks to ensure that Firebird wouldn't sink if for some reason we sprang a leak on some of the internal plumbing. Half way to Faro, the penny dropped and Alex realised that we had stupidly closed the two stop cocks at the stern of the boat which allow the cockpit to drain! We felt so foolish, but didn't have time to go back and just had to hope that Alvor didn't get record amounts of rain whilst we were away. Thankfully, on our return, there was only about 70mm of rainwater sloshing around in the cockpit, so not enough to cause any problems.

We visited a few friends whilst back, including Tim and Amy, with
whom we thoroughly enjoyed playing "The London Game"

We arrived back in London and headed straight for a coffee on Fleet Street, to await Alex's family's return from work later that evening. It was a real pleasure to be back in the big smoke, surprisingly - I found that I had quite missed seeing the city's many impressive sights; St. Paul's Cathedral, the Thames, the Houses of Parliament, the Eye, the buses... I could go on and on. Additionally, we found it to be a real luxury to be fluent in the local language, and be able to order exactly what we wanted in cafes and restaurants! However, as nightfall drew in before 16:00 and we started getting chilled to the bone by the biting wind, we remembered why we had left and headed south.

Alex standing on the walkway at Marine Lake, Weston-super-Mare

Surprising our families was the highlight of the trip. First, we surprised Alex's sister Lucy by turning up on her doorstep and ringing the bell. Unbeknownst to us, she was in the shower getting ready for a dinner party and so was a little flustered at having to jump out and answer the door, believing that perhaps it was some guests arriving far too early! Her face was a picture; one that you will soon be able to see, as we filmed all of the surprises and they will be appearing on the YouTube channel once Alex has finished editing them.

We got to meet Alex's mum's adorable
new Border terrier pup - Bertie!

From Lucy's, we headed around the corner to spring the same surprise on the original Mr and Mrs Mitchell. Alex called his dad for a chat and ascertained that they were both at home, before simultaneously ringing the doorbell to add to the confusion. Alex's mum came to answer the door and, upon opening it, did a sterling impromptu job of containing her surprise so that Ian didn't hear! We burst into the kitchen and announced that we were crashing Christmas - he was gobsmacked and they were very happy to see us, as we were them.

The Mitchells had a lovely New Year's Eve meal,
before going to watch the London fireworks

Next on the list was my brother. Lucy had been invited to a Christmas party at Ben's apartment on the Saturday evening, so we hatched a plan that involved us turning up with her, unannounced. She rang the buzzer on arrival and was let into the building, at which point Alex and I took the lead up the stairs, filming, of course. Ben's face was an absolute corker - his jaw just dropped open with surprise, which neither myself nor Alex have ever seen before! It was so great to see him, and we enjoyed the rest of the evening socialising and eating lots of Christmas party food.

Me and Ben with our Spanish cousins, John and Kelly,
at a Christmas family gathering in Bristol

The following day, Ben and I got the train from Paddington to Weston-super-Mare, where Mum and Dad were to be collecting Ben from the station. When they arrived, Ben went to the car first acting completely casual and, after a few seconds, I jumped out from my hiding place and ran up to show my face! Just as Ben and I had predicted, Mum started crying, bless her! Dad looked thoroughly bewildered, too - it took a good half an hour for it to sink in properly, I think. Many more surprises followed; my nan, my sister Trace, cousins, friends, extended family... we never tired of seeing people's reactions!

Alex gets a lift back to Firebird

On the 4th January, we flew back to Faro and headed back to Firebird. It was really great to back on board, after getting a lift with a local chap who happened to be heading out with a friend in a little boat. We stayed for one more week in our anchorage, before finally seeing a weather window that we thought would get us safely to the Canaries. It was a very enjoyable final week, and I'm pretty certain that it won't be the last time we see Alvor. All in all, we had a fantastic stay in Portugal and feel really lucky that our delayed departure from there gave us the chance to return to England and spend some quality time with those we love.

Our friend Pedro, from Alvor, took us ashore and taught us to catch
razor clams on our last week in Alvor. It was such fun, and we caught eight!