David Whitley gets to Faro in , only to find that it’s closed.
Everything is eerily quiet. Shops are closed, and there’s not the slightest sign of traffic on the roads. Outside the church of Our Lady of Carmel, a single visitor tries clawing back the oppressive brown doors, evidently wanting to get inside to see the gold panelling and chapel made from the bones of monks. No chance, dear. The sign outside may say that it opens at 10am, but this is clearly an ambitious estimate.
The intrepid old lady is suddenly taken aback at 10.16, as the church bells go off with an almighty clang, but aside from ringing in that clearly significant time of day, Faro appears to be asleep.
Eventually, it’s time to abandon hope of ever seeing the glistening and ghoulish attractions inside and explore the main city of theAlgarveregion.
It a gorgeous old town, with the railway line clinging on to the last sliver of land before it gives way to the Ria Formosa Park Natural, a watery expanse dotted with tiny mudflat islands. Out there is a lone fisherman, casting off, while to the right is the vivid yellow of the castle wall. The three Byzantine towers go back as far as the sixth century, and with the peace that’s descended on the city, you’d be forgiven for thinking you were still there. Even the stork at the top of the belfry looming over the city gate has everything to himself. But where is everyone? Has a plague run through the town or something? It’s all very well having a lie-in, but there are some excitable tourists to entertain here.
Unfortunately, even the tourist information centre doesn’t want to see to that task. It too is closed, an empty shell by the main thoroughfare, the Avenida 5 de… Oh, hang on, that’ll be it.
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If a main road is named after a date, then there’s a fair chance that said date hasn’t just been picked from the calendar at random. A quick glance at the guidebook confirms that it hasn’t been. It’s Republic Day in Faro, a supposed celebration ofPortugal’s momentous change of constitution in 1910, and nobody seems to care.
In any other country, the streets would be awash with carnival floats, costumes and copious amounts of beer, but Portugal never has been a thriving hotbed of patriotism. Just under a quarter of Portuguese people don’t live in the country, and in a recent poll, 25% said they wouldn’t be too concerned if their fine land was incorporated into. Republic Day, therefore, appears to be an excuse to mooch around the house in slippers and perhaps watch a Sandra Bullock film on DVD.
Still, on the bright side, this curious desire to spend a public holiday doing absolutely nothing has two wonderful side effects; the bus to the beach is almost empty, and the golden sands may as well be a personal fiefdom. The only dilemma now is whereabouts on the miles of shoreline is the prime spot to lay down the towel. Hooray for the Republic!