Albufeira, Portugal

Easter in Albufeira

Easter has arrived here in Albufeira, and with it a bizarre collision of tourists and religion.

First and foremost, Portugal retains many of its Catholic traditions.  Along with regular church attendance at a multitude of churches in Albufeira, there are regular public holidays throughout the year to celebrate various festivals and saints; the majority of shops still close on a Sunday.  Obviously, Easter is a major celebration in the Catholic church and Albufeira is no exception with a wide variety of services being held a churches throughout the town.

Santa Casa de Misericordia

We have front row seats to the spectacle that is the beginning Easter in Albufeira.  Our apartment is directly opposite the oldest church in the town, Santa Casa da Misericordia, a tiny two-story building. Easter begins with a Procession of Panels from the church which begins at 9:30 on the evening of Holy Thursday.  The panels represent the Scenes of the Passion of Christ and, most probably, originate from the seventeenth century.  The scene is set, the road is covered with rosemary branches, members of the brotherhood arrive and don a variety of gowns, the panels are handed out, and flame torches are handed out to members of the public.  To add to the atmosphere street lamps are all switched off and Easter weekend is launched by the local priest, via a loud-speaker, leading the assembled crowds on a procession through the town to a final celebration of the sacrament.  This year we were provided with an additional treat.  What can only be described as a dirge, being played through the loud speaker from 10:00am in the morning until 10:00pm in the evening.  It’s not my cup of tea, but it’s great to watch every year.  This year we had the added treat of watching the Procession of Christ’s burial – which summed up the contrast within the in town – we watched it from the comfort of our local bar.

Procession of Christ’s burial

And then there are the tourists!  I do love seeing the town come alive.  During March I have seen the town go from having just a handful of restaurants open to every restaurant and bar opening.  There’s been cleaning, and painting and blocked roads as bars and restaurants start to receive deliveries.  There is a real sense of excitement about the town, the tired and exhausted staff of October are reinvigorated and raring to go for this new holiday season.  Unfortunately, the novelty wears off fairly quickly!

Tourists are generally great.  They bring money to the town, they bring laughter, colour and vibrancy.  The umbrellas and beds are starting to go out on the beach with more and more people spending their days there.  There’s nothing quite like watching a family playing in the sea and enjoying their holiday time together.  We’ve met some fabulous people and even kept in touch with some, visiting with them back in the UK, but as with everything there are the good and the bad.

Unfortunately, tourists tend to bring cars with them and for some reason seem to want to eat!  As a consequence, the roads that have been so quiet are suddenly packed.  With people who haven’t got a clue where they are, or in the case of the British, quite which side of the road they need to be on.  This is not helped by the Portuguese who as a nation are quite possibly the worst drivers ever, the majority of whom have not clue what an indicator is for, or what a speed limit is.  The queues in the supermarkets are so long, again, not helped by the fact that your average checkout assistant has one speed – slow.  Aside from when they are driving the Portuguese generally take life at a slow pace and doing their food shopping is no exception, so don’t expect a quick trip to the supermarket!

View over Old Town

As I mentioned earlier, we live in the Old Town directly opposite an old church on a one way system.  The distance between us and the church is probably about 15 feet, and the road narrows to a very tight bend – sufficient that an RV can’t get around.  So no opportunities for parking.  But that doesn’t stop people trying – oh no!  Endless hours of amusement are provided by people (primarily Spanish) who drive around and around the one way system trying to find a place to park. There are many car parks on the outskirts of town, but for some reason people would much rather waste their time hunting for none existence spaces than pay a few euros for hassle free parking.

And then there are the people (primarily British) who haven’t quite worked out the difference between pavements and roads.  They merrily walk out in front of cars and vans totally oblivious to the traffic that is driving around them. One aspect of driving in Portugal that I have embraced wholeheartedly is use of the horn.  Call me mean, but watching how high an unaware tourist, who has chosen to stand in the middle of the road, can jump when you honk your horn is very amusing.

Another thing I absolutely love the British tourists for is their absolute dedication to being on holiday.  It can be windy, raining, blowing a gale – but they will still be out in their vest tops, shorts and flip-flops.  Those of us who spend time here, along with the local residents are still in our jeans, jackets and winter boots – especially in the evening, but the Brits are on holiday, and wear their shorts they will!!!  You can generally spot them a long way off!!

This time of year also sees the arrival of the stags and hens.  Not difficult to spot – there’s usually a tiara involved – for both stags and hens it seems!!!  As with everything there are good and bad, and unfortunately a tiny majority have created a bad reputation.  In the main they are a bit loud, a lot funny and pretty harmless.  It remains to be seen how many do come this year as the prices for flights to Faro and the costs of accommodation seem to have risen astronomically this year, so many may have been priced out.

All of this colour collides at Easter.  It’s a spectacle that is well worth embracing in all of its glory.


Albufeira, Portugal, Well-being, Yoga

Yoga, but not as I know it

Imagine, if you will, your typical yoga class.  Full of beautiful, serene, slim yogis moving seamlessly from posture to posture, a delight to behold.  And then there’s me.  Mid 40’s, a little overweight, huffing and puffing red faced from one posture of torture into the next.  In my head, however, I believe I look like the former typical yogi.

That, for me sums up yoga.  In the same class you will find those that epitomise yoga: those that really want to and are a million miles away; those whose hearts aren’t really in it but think they should do yoga because it will make them less stressed; those who think it’s going to be really easy and want to cry 10 minutes into the class (these tend to be young, and / or male) and those who we all hate (this could just be me) – who turn up for the first time and can get into all the poses with ease.  Every class is normally a mix of the above.  All are welcome and all are encouraged to take from the class what they can and all are reminded that this is a journey.

Imagine then, if you will, this slightly rounded 40 something trying yoga in a foreign country.  Oh yes, this is the situation I found myself in earlier in the week.  Buoyed up with enthusiasm for my new favourite form of exercise I was on a mission to find myself a class in Albufeira.  There aren’t many – certainly not many that are advertised at least – and even fewer that are taught in English.  This was not going to put me off and I thought a yoga class was as good a place as any to master Portuguese – and all the yoga poses have sanskrit names, so how hard could this be.

Off I trotted on a very wet morning (it’s rained A LOT) in Portugal during March, but that’s a whole other matter, to my very first and very last Portuguese yoga class.  It would seem that there is a whole other form of yoga which I have not heard of, until now.  Samkhya yoga – which according to is ‘an Indian philosophy that defines the language of yoga……. The Samkhya philosophy systematically deciphers every part of our being, from the lowest level of mortal existence to the highest level of eternal consciousness and spirit. The journey through Samkhya unfolds through three processes: reading (comprehending terminology and philosophy), contemplation and meditation (understanding and feeling the philosophy), and yoga practice (applying the philosophy so that our understanding results in authentic experience)’.

It would seem that there are 25 elements to Samkya yoga and it would also seem that the aim is to include all 25 elements into each and every lesson.  And so on a very wet and cold morning in March I found myself sitting cross legged, holding my nose in various different ways whilst breathing, clapping whilst chanting to the accompaniment of jingle bells, holding my arms out to the side and looking at my thumbs without moving my head and meditating.  Eventually we got to the poses, and I was ready – I understood this part – I was back into my comfort zone.  Four poses later and we were back in a seated position giving thanks to the great guru for bestowing this gift of yoga upon us.  At which point, I think I may have lost the plot a little.

I appreciate that I am appearing dismissive of this method of yoga.  I’m a convert to meditation and so understand the benefits of including it, but beyond that I’ll admit I was a bit lost.   It’s a form of yoga I don’t understand, which doesn’t mean it’s in any way lesser to other forms I have tried before, but at this time and place it’s not the right choice for me.  I found myself thinking of reasons to go again, why I should go again as the teacher and the other students were so lovely and so thrilled to have me joining home in their class. Upon further investigation, it would appear that this is the most popular form of yoga in Portugal, this particular teacher is very experienced and her classes are incredibly popular.

My experience has left me quite wary of trying other yoga classes in the area and also with a dilemma – how and where to practice my yoga – at least twice a week whilst I am living in Albufeira.  Imagine, (again), the early morning sun rising on the beach, the waves lapping lightly upon the shore and me effortlessly moving from pose to pose, with people watching in a state of awe.  This is my vision of doing yoga in Portugal.   More realistically, I fear people will find me on my purple mat, trying yoga on a slope struggling to get it flat, still huffing and puffing my way through some poses, getting sand everywhere with a colour on my face that increasingly matches my purple mat.  Either way, it is going to require some planning and research on my part to achieve that aim and I need to step away from classes.


Alternative Therapies, Mindfulness, Well-being

Overcoming Resistance

It’s been a while since my last blog post.  Primarily that has been due to my own resistance to writing it.  In the last 6 months or so my life has taken me in a direction I’ve been unsure of myself, into a big unknown and one that I’m quite certain was laying me open to ridicule.  Ridicule that I have been keen to avoid.


So yes, I go to an amazing Mindfulness class every Monday evening.  And yes, I meditate for at least 20 minutes every day.  And yes, if I don’t go to yoga three or four times a week I start to get anxious.  I’m only a very short way in to my journey but already I am fascinated by it and keen to learn more.

One aspect of this journey is that it is so very alien to my childhood.  I was brought up a ‘christian’.  I put it in inverted commas because essentially it meant we went to church every Sunday.  Even as a child there were aspects of it that I questioned, but I think I knew that I would not be satisfied with the answers I was given.  When I left home for university it was put on the back burner and I rarely visited church.  There are two instances where I tried it again, one I must admit has been quite recently, but on both occasions it has again raised more questions than answers.  I sat and looked at the people around me and wished that I could be so certain in my faith, but then it began to feel like I was forcing it, because I should, not necessarily because it was right for me.  Bizarrely, one thing that really did resonate with me was the history of the American West.  I taught it at GCSE (even at that level I suspect I know more than the average American) and one aspect that always stood out for me was the way that the Native Americans approach death.  They believe that life goes full circle and they return to the earth upon death and so when they became too elderly or ill to continue with the tribe they would be left behind.  It was a decision they made when the time was right.  It often caused great discussion with the class because it is so alien to the way we would judge what is appropriate in death.

pexels-photo-289586.jpegI’ve always been interested in alternative therapies.  I often felt that the medical options provided to me at various points in my life didn’t quite do the job I needed them to do.  Taking a drug that I was told ‘seems to work for this condition’ didn’t really work for me.  I have used Homeopathy, investigated Bach Flower Remedies, use Aromatherapy, go to Reflexology and also visit a Kinesiologist.  Yes, I know I have opened the door to yet more ridicule, but I might as well get it out there all at once!  At different times in my life different therapists have crossed my path and I would say in all confidence that they were there for a purpose that needed to be fulfilled at that time.

But now I have arrived at meditation and mindfulness.  From my initial reading I have discovered the following:

  1. As I have mentioned before, it does have a scientific basis and I do like that about it.  Now, you could argue that given I embrace alternative therapies so enthusiastically, why does that matter?  It matters because for once I have science to back my madness up.  For once I am not spouting nonsense.  Google neuroplasticity if you don’t believe me!
  2. Multi-tasking doesn’t work (see Cleveland Clinic for a simple explanation).  The same science has figured this out.  All that multi-tasking does for you is make the stress you are putting yourself under even worse.  You end up doing several jobs inefficiently, rather than doing one job well.  It’s not a skill that is good for you.  I’ve spent many days running around in circles getting nothing done despite a to do list as long as my arm.  It’s not boring to do one job at a time, it’s efficient!  Don’t get me wrong I really struggle with this.  My mind darts from one thing to another, I struggle to make a cup of tea without getting side-tracked to something else instead.  I am trying, to focus on one thing at a time, to just put my face cream on and focus on the textures and the smells and not to try to do a million other things at the same time.
  3. Happiness is now.  It’s not when you get your new car, or your new job, or a new pair of shoes.  Even when / if you do get those things you cannot guarantee that it will make you happier.  That isn’t to say that you still shouldn’t strive for those things – just don’t depend on them to make you happy, because once that initial rush of dopamine has died, you will be the same you in a new car.
  4. It’s much harder than I imagined it would be.  I like a quick fix.  This is not going to be quick!
  5. Trying to approach situations without agenda is really difficult.  My brain is wired to expect things – how people will react to me, how I will react in a given situation.  Just noticing the situation and not being drawn in is a bit of a challenge.

I am at the very beginnings of this journey and there is so much more to investigate, but as with other things I have tried in the past at this time there are several aspects of meditation that resonate with me and I can already see small positive changes.