Cumin

Isn’t it funny how certain tastes and smells we experience, stay with us throughout our lives?

Standing in the kitchen today, frying up a couple of eggs for lunch, I decided to sprinkle a little bit of cumin powder on top of them.

As I lifted the lid off the cumin powder, I was instantly transported back to Marrakech. Although I long to go again some day, I haven’t been back since my first visit in December 2015.

Moroccans seem to add cumin to everything, including their fried eggs.

The smell was such a powerful reminder of my trip. Other memories came flooding back. Not just the smells, but the taste of the food, and the sounds.

Whilst visiting Marrakech, I heard the Adhan (the call to prayer) for the first time. The first time I heard the call to prayer, I had no idea what it was, but it sent shivers down my spine. No matter how many times I search you tube, I just can’t find a video that does it justice. Maybe it’s just one of those sounds you have to hear for yourself rather than through a video. Hearing the Adhan was like being cast under a spell. I wanted to follow the sound to see where it led me.

Along with the sound of the Adhan, and the taste and smell of cumin, the other smell that will forever remain in my memory, is that of the petrol fumes. If you have ever been to Marrakech, you will know that the souks are a maze of narrow streets full of traders, locals and tourists alike, bartering over the many goods that are on offer. It’s incredible how anyone gets through those markets in one piece, on or off a mode of transport. The scooters and motorbikes somehow navigate their way through the markets, dodging people, animals and other modes of transport in order to reach their destination.

I quickly grew accustomed to the powerful effect Marrakech had on my senses in the short time I was there.

When I returned home a few days later, I opened my suitcase, ready to unpack, and was instantly hit by a wave of petrol fumes, spices and memories of the Adhan.

The tastes, smells and sounds of Marrakech can be overwhelming and powerful to the western tourist. I know people who have visited Marrakech and couldn’t wait to leave. But for me, Marrakech stole a piece of my heart. I will forever remember the excitement that comes with having your senses caught up in the spell that is Marrakech.

There are many other smells, tastes and sounds which remind me of the past and they almost always give me reason to smile.

What brings your senses alive?

Praia Santa Eulália, Praia da Oura and Alfagar II Aparthotel

I’m now back in gloomy, grey, England after a beautiful few days in Portugal.

The flight into Gatwick yesterday was slightly unnerving, as we landed in high winds. There were gasps, followed by a few expletives from passengers as we made our descent, but thankfully, our pilot got us back safe and sound (and without the drama this plane had trying to land at Heathrow yesterday – https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/uk-47177383/plane-struggles-to-land-in-strong-winds-at-heathrow-airport).

Thursday was my last full day in Portugal. I had intended on having a rest day, but I also wanted to get back out to see what else was around, close to where I was staying.

I had been staying at the beautiful Alfagar II Aparthotel, which has private access to Praia Santa Eulália. Although I had taken a walk down to the beach on the day I arrived, I really didn’t explore that much. So, I decided to pack up my rucksack and head down to the beach armed with my book and my beach towel ready to explore Praia Santa Eulália.

View from Alfagar Resort
View from Alfagar Resort
View from Alfagar Resort
View from Alfagar Resort
Private access path down to Praia Santa Eulália.

Once I arrived at the beach, I noticed the tide was out, so I decided to keep walking and followed the beach around towards the next cove. The beaches around this part of The Algarve are stunning. They are rugged and wild, but magical and serene at the same time. The cliffs were something else, and their colours are just beautiful.

As I continued my walk around to the next beaches (Praia da Oura Leste and Praia da Oura), I turned back to look at the view. It was such a stunning spot. So it was there that I sat and read my book until lunchtime approached.

After a spot of lunch by beachside restaurant Vivaldo’s it was time to head back to the hotel to enjoy my last afternoon poolside.

The view from Vivaldo’s

As the evening set in, it was time to reflect back on a fantastic trip.

I booked the entire holiday (flights, hotel and transfers) through easyJet, and I couldn’t fault any of it.

The hotel was absolutely stunning and spotlessly clean, the staff were really friendly and helpful, the food at the Buganvilla Snack-Bar where I ate my evening meals was fantastic. The portions were huge, with a wide selection of starters, and main meals. The apple pie was to die for, and the chocolate mousse was simply divine! The evening entertainment was on the cheesy side, but I guess you expect that in resorts, and in actual fact, holidaying in February, I was probably lucky that evening entertainment was on the menu! The little supermarket in Alfagar Village was well stocked with everything you could wish for, including fresh bread, a butchers, and plenty of wine.

I didn’t use all the facilities on site (there is a car rental office on site – not sure I trust myself to drive on the ‘wrong side’ of the road yet!), but those I did use were superb. The gym, the spa, the pools, as with the rest of the hotel were spotlessly clean and well looked after.

On my first day, I had a slight problem with my lights not switching on in the apartment, however, I called down to reception, and within 15 minutes the maintenance guy was at my door, ready to fix it for me. 2 minutes later, I had light and had no further problems throughout my stay.

Alfagar Aparthotel
Alfagar Aparthotel
Alfagar Aparthotel
Alfagar Aparthotel
Alfagar Aparthotel
Alfagar Aparthotel
Alfagar Aparthotel
Alfagar Aparthotel
Alfagar Aparthotel

I had also booked my transfers through easyJet. Finding the meeting point at Faro airport was really straightforward, and only took 30 minutes to get from the airport to the hotel. On the return journey, thankfully I was early, and already in reception, because the transfer was a good 10 minutes early picking me up. We got to the airport early which at least meant I had a bit more time to look around duty free!

And despite landing in windy conditions, both flights were excellent.

All in all, a fantastic holiday!

Where to next I wonder?

(All photos in this blog are my own)

Olhos de Água and Praia da Falesia

After my relaxing day on Tuesday, yesterday I was back into explorer mode.

This time I decided to head east of the resort, and headed to the beach at Olhos de Agua. Again, I chose to walk, as good old Google maps told me it was only a short walk away.

20 minutes later, I arrived at the beach. Olhos is small fishing town where the local fishermen still pull their boats onto the sand when they arrive back to the shoreline with their fresh catches. It’s a much quieter town than Albufeira, but lovely if you have a young family and aren’t looking for somewhere overly commercial.

As there wasn’t an awful lot to do or see there, I decided to head down onto the beach to see if I could walk round to the next Praia (beach), Praia da Falesia.

(All photos in this post are my own )

If you are lucky enough to get down to the Praias on the Algrave’s south coast when the tide is out, it is really easy to walk from many of the beaches to the next without too many problems, albeit over a few small rocks. However, once the tide comes back in, these parts are pretty much impossible to reach by foot.

Luckily, the tide was out when I arrived in Olhos de Água, leaving a clear path right i round to Praia da Falesia.

As soon as I walked around the corner of the cove onto Praia de Falesia, the view took my breath away. Seeing the vivid orange colours of the cliffs and the distinguishable layers of rock, made my inner geographer do a little back flip of joy!

I must’ve walked down almost the entire stretch of the praia with a massive grin on my face. Every new section of cliff face I came to had something different to offer.

As I continued to walk along the beach, I realised how light and carefree I felt. I felt more relaxed and content than I have done in a long time.

As I walked along, I did a lot of thinking. I started to make a lot of sense out of things on that walk, putting some things into perspective, letting other things go, and thinking about some of the changes I need to make in order to create more happiness and feelings of being carefree, on a more regular basis.

I will share some of my thoughts with you over the coming days, but for now, it’s time to pack and wave goodbye to Portugal as I have a flight back to London to catch tomorrow.

Miss Explorer v Miss Relaxation

Since I arrived in Portugal, I’ve been feeling torn.

My intention was to get away, relax, get some self care points in the bag, and to have some much needed reflection time.

However, my inner explorer keeps trying to lure me away from this.

So, I’ve compromised, alternating each day. A day of exploring, followed by a day of rest and relaxation.

Thankfully the facilities at the hotel are great. With a gym, tennis courts, indoor (heated) and outdoor pools, and a spa, it means that I don’t have to wander too far from my apartment to enjoy some of these little luxuries.

As yesterday was my first proper rest day, I got up, enjoyed a leisurely breakfast in the restaurant, and then headed back to my apartment to catch up on some blogging (Albufeira was the result!). It was then time to check out the gym facilities.

I don’t think I’ve ever been on holiday and used the gym before, or even taken my gym wear away with me, but as I am becoming more aware of my health, as well as the mental and physical benefits of exercise, I came away with every intention of using the facilities.

Luckily, as with so many other parts to this holiday, I had the gym to myself.

I didn’t go too crazy, as I haven’t used a gym in around 3 years, but managed a good spell on the treadmill, the recumbent exercise bike, as well 3 x 10 reps on the lat pull down machine.

I say I didn’t go crazy, but I managed to work up a really good sweat, and came out of the gym feeling really good.

I had booked in for a full body massage in the spa for 2:30pm, so it was time for a light lunch back at the apartment before heading down to the spa.

I don’t remember the last time I had a full body massage (I normally stick to a deep tissue back massage to sort out the terrible knots I get in my back!), but it was lovely to switch off and relax. I must’ve fallen asleep a couple of times, as I remember dreaming once or twice! My only criticism was that the lady was too gentle. I like someone to really work on my knots when I’m getting a massage. However, it was relaxing, and it was lovely to just lie there and enjoy getting some pampering, breathing in the aromatherapy scents and thinking of little or nothing for 50 minutes.

Once I had finished in the spa, I had just enough time to sit by the pool and read for an hour before heading back inside to get ready for dinner.

It’s very easy on holiday to spend every waking moment on the go, and that’s understandable. Perhaps we spend all year saving for our holiday, and it may be that we only get one a year. However, it’s also really easy to burn yourself out when you go away. The last thing I want to do is go back to work next week feeling as though I’m not rested. I know I haven’t been performing my best since Christmas, and I need to listen to my body and my mind, in order to make sure I’m ready to hit the ground running when I get back.

So as much as my mind keeps trying to lure me into Miss Explorer mode, my body is fighting back and making sure I get lots of rest and self care opportunities too.

Albufeira

Yesterday was my first full day in Portugal. I am staying around 4km outside of old town Albufeira but I was keen to go and see what the town had to offer.

Whilst there were the options of getting a bus from the hotel at 10am, or a local taxi, I decided to walk instead.

I often find that we are so busy focusing on where we want to end up, that we fail to notice what’s on our doorstep, or in the surrounding area (something that can be said in all areas of life, and not just during travel!). Walking gives us a real opportunity to see what’s around.

Having never been abroad in February before, it was hard to know what to expect weather wise, and equally hard knowing what to pack. Whilst the days can be warm in the February sun, the nights can still be quite cold.

The weather was looking great yesterday, so I headed out in a thin jumper, T-shirt and jeans.

The walk into Albufeira isn’t the prettiest, and whilst the road takes you close to the coastline, you can’t see the sea until you reach Albufeira itself.

However, it gave me the opportunity to see where the Albufeira ‘strip’ is (I don’t think it matters where in Europe you are, if you’ve seen one party area, you’ve seen them all!), and to be grateful that I wasn’t spending my week there. Don’t get me wrong, I love a night out, and maybe I’m being very stereotypical here, but they just seem to be tackier versions of the clubs we have back home, with the main aim being to get so drunk you are sick, and to end up in a bed that isn’t your own. Spending all that money doing what you could be doing back home, seems a bit daft to me, or perhaps it’s just me getting old!

It took me around 50 minutes to walk into town, and when I arrived, I wasn’t disappointed.

Albufeira Old Town – all photos in this blog post are my own
Albufeira Old Town
Albufeira Old Town

By this point the weather was really warming up. Off came the jumper, along with thoughts of, why didn’t I pack any lighter trousers!?!

I’ve barely seen a cloud in the sky so far, and when you’re in the sun, even at this time of year, it’s hot enough to make this gingernut start to change colour (of course I mean red rather than a nice glowing golden brown!).

Once I arrived, I decided to take a walk straight up into the old town. It wasn’t quite lunchtime, so I had some time to explore before I needed to start looking for a pit stop. As I walked into the old town, there were signs that read Miradouro, which means viewpoint in English. I began to follow these signs to see where they lead.

Once I reached the Miradouro, there were spectacular views that looked over the bay.

From the Miradouro, I could’ve taken the lift down to the beach. However, I decided to keep walking as I had spotted the signs for the marina ahead.

I was quite conscious as I walked towards the marina that there were fewer tourists along this route. So I made the decision to walk to the next Miradouro and then head back into the old town to find somewhere to grab some lunch.

On my way back, instead of walking through the old town, I headed down to the beach.

The beaches here really are stunning. Everywhere I have been so far has been spotlessly clean. The sands are golden and pebble free, barely a sign of any rubbish or even seaweed lying strewn across the sands.

I wished I had worn my sandals instead of my trusted Nike trainers, so off they came, allowing my feet to breath and to enjoy the feeling of the sand between my toes.

As I got closer to the main hub of restaurants along the seafront, I decided to head off to find somewhere for lunch.

One of the many perks of holidaying in February means that it’s easy to get into restaurants at any time of day! I managed to get a table in the sunshine, in the first restaurant I stumbled upon. After an offer from the waiter to join me for lunch (I turned him down of course, but it was very flattering to get the offer), I settled down to look through the menu choices and to read my book.

Before coming to Portugal, I had read that they are big on their fish, especially sardines. I had never eaten fresh sardines before, but decided to give them a go. I hadn’t expected them to arrive with their heads on, and I had no idea which parts to eat, and what not to eat! But after a quick google, I tucked into them, loving every bite. Afterwards, I washed them down with one of my favourite cocktails, an icy cold Caipirinha.

After lunch, it was time to walk off those sardines with the walk back to my hotel, in time to spend a couple of hours by the pool and finishing the day off nicely in the indoor sun heated pool ☀️

Family time

After a hectic week at work, I returned home this weekend to spend some much needed time with the family.

I love living in London, but I am slowly learning that I need to take regular breaks from the chaos that comes with living and working in the city.

As soon as I reach the M1 the air changes, as does the scenery. With that my mind clears, the stress lifts and I feel energised.

Although we are now in September, the weather was beautifully warm this weekend, which also meant getting lots of sunshine.

When I first used to return home after moving to London, I would pack my weekends full, catching up with friends as well as family. However as much as I want to see everyone, it just wasn’t physically sustainable. I would return to London feeling more tired than when I left. By the middle of the week I would be frazzled and felt far from rested. So now, as much as I still feel guilty at times, I try to have a weekend of seeing family or friends, rather than both.

I can’t tell you how good it felt to escape from the city this weekend. Sitting at home in my parents garden, I switched off from work and just enjoyed sitting in the garden, letting the sunshine soak into my skin, eating good food, and catching up with my family.

I felt truly relaxed, a feeling I haven’t enjoyed in weeks.

And now, sitting back in my London flat, enjoying a glass of wine, I feel rested and relaxed and ready to tackle the week ahead.

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