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.
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.
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!
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.