Monday, May 12, 2014

An Expensive Toll Road to Villa Real de Santo Antonio

Monday 28 April 2014
Villa Real de Santo Antonio is the last town on the Algarve before you reach Spain. In fact you can wave to the Spanish across the river and even catch a ferry to have coffee with them of an afternoon - but be sure to get your timing right because they're an hour ahead of Portugal in time!

We wanted to go to Villa Real de Santo Antonio for their linen. I'd promised to find Meghan and Paul, my daughter and son-in-law, a big Christmas tablecloth to fit their 3 metre long table. (That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it!)

It's about an hour's drive on the A22 motorway from Albufeira to Villa Real de Santo Antonio. Here lies a warning: the A22 has a system of charging tolls - more than €10 in all for this strip of road - not using toll booths, whether manned or unmanned - but by cameras strung out above the road after each sliproad. We happened, by chance, to read about this method of charging tolls, on the internet just before we left Ireland, so were forewarned. Heaven help those who don't use the internet because there aren't any signs or warnings anywhere that they're photographing your registration plate and will find you, come hell or high water, to pay your dues .... and possibly with fines if, as an unsuspecting traveller you simply gazed up at the cameras wondering whether they were speed traps! There are small signs showing a camera with ever increasing sizes of brackets aimed towards an image of a car. But that's it.

So, what you do is: the first service station you find on the A22 you pull in and purchase a card for €20 or more ... and make sure you have a workable mobile phone because you have a little procedure to go through, by text, in order to register your newly purchased card. It also helps if you have access to a computer so that you can check your balance and know when to top up your card. Unless you keep a pen and paper handy and mark down the amount of each toll as you whizz beneath its cameras.

A better solution if you're staying on the Algarve, is to travel by train. We went by car on this day so I'm unable to give you an idea of the cost of the train ... but I do know it's half price for OAPs. I'm going to guess, going by other fares we paid, that it's in the region of €15 or so for a return ticket for non-OAPs from Albufeira and is probably about two hours travel time.

We'd visited Villa Real de Santo Antonio about four years ago, so I knew exactly where the linen shops were on the main road running along the sea front, and after Alan's usual plea for a coffee, we made straight for linen heaven. The linen is good and the prices are very reasonable. We hadn't as yet bought swimming towels and couldn't bring ourselves to buy any of those thin towels with Spiderman or an image of a beach ball on them. Instead we found a couple of gorgeous, thick, maroon bath sheets .... nice and big .... for €9.99 each. If we never again use them for swimming they're lovely as bath towels. And we found Meghan and Paul their beautiful Christmas tablecloth.

As we wandered along, Alan pointed up to the top of a chimney where two Storks were nesting. These are my best two shots of these remarkable birds.

The building with the Storks nesting on the chimney

There's one main pedestrian corridor where you'll find most of the cafes, clothing shops, more linen shops, florists, and general gift shops. You'll also find lovely old buildings, many of them painted with yellow or blue or orange borders around the doors and windows. This is a very Portuguese thing, and it's lovely.

We wandered down, right to the end of the shops, in our usual way trying to find the non-touristy cafes - which we did - and where we had a light lunch of pork in a roll with a beer. I don't usually drink beer, but here the bottles are small and it's so much better than a Cola Light or Cola Zero or whatever. Bottles of water cost double when ordered with lunch, and don't seem to touch sides much, so we rather buy those from little shops as we walk along.

In a hardware store (luckily closed) bordering the pavement cafe where we had lunch,
Alan spotted distilling equipment and his eyes lit up! He tried tojustify
his eagerness as the interest of that of a scientist (which he is per degree).

This is the top of yet another linen shop where I found a couple of bath mats for home and a bug net curtain for Milly ... the bath mats were €2.50 each and the full length chiffon curtains were two for €10 - to give you an idea of prices in 2014.


Buildings that begged to be photographed.

We'd left a huge bag of laundry to be done back in Albufeira, with a pick-up time of 6pm, so had loads of time on our hands to wander around and take photographs.


This square used to house the gallows!

A photographic record of a visit to a Portuguese village just wouldn't be complete without capturing layers of life within layers of wall .....

The heat drove us back to Milly and we took her a little way along the riverfront road to see what we could see of Spain and the boat life. It's great taking this time out with no agenda in mind and it's definitely the best way to get the feel of a place without trudging the soles off your feet. There are ample parking lots along the road, with trees for shade if you're lucky ... and this time of year is not overrun with tourists, so Milly had her shade and we had our peace to watch the town go by.

After a while we got out to photograph flowers and sat on a bench watching Spain sitting on the other side of the river watching us.

And of course you tend to play with your cameras, so here are some results:

Himself with Spain in the background.

The ferry between Portugal and Spain, in blue.

So that was our day in Villa Real de Santo Antonio. Lots of linen to tempt ... and buy, lots of buildings to excite the feeling of times gone by, nesting storks, walks along the promenade watching boats with the fishermen and locals, hot-country flowers, the ferry to Spain ... and a costly toll road back to Albufeira.

In all, a grand, peaceful, hot day.

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