Travel 2009 – Portimao, Days 1 and 2

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Thursday, 10th/Friday, 11th September 2009 – Portimao, Days 1 and 2

We were quite excited about the prospect of going to the new race track, the Autodromo Algarve International after hearing many a driver rave about it. Anyway, with that in mind, we set off for Birmingham Airport and a flight to Faro late on Thursday afternoon. The flight was on time, relatively dull once the party of twenty-something girls finally calmed down and stopped screeching hysterically anyway. Arrival in Faro was spot on time, the luggage was off-loaded pretty promptly and we rounded up the hire car, a huge Hyundai people carrier, from Avis with no effort at all. Now all we had to do was wait for Glyn and Bogusia to show up. As they were flying in from Gatwick they were due in about an hour after us, and that was the point at which we started to pay for our prompt arrival. They were eventually over an hour late, which gave us time to drink a coffee or two and run into a raft of other racing people all arriving from various airports around the UK. Anyway, eventually we were all gathered together in one place, which meant we could pack the car and head out into the warmth of a Portuguese night to try and hunt down our hotel in Portimao, the Hotel Globo.

The hotel booking had been a source of some concern as it seemed to be so much cheaper than a lot of other hotels in the town, and although some of the reviews on the likes on TripAdvisor were very positive, an equal number seemed to be anything but… Anyway, it was only for the duration of the race weekend, which meant we wouldn’t be using it for much other than sleeping and eating breakfast. We eventually left the motorway and found ourselves heading into a series of ever tighter, tinier streets, but the hotel was well signposted, and the space outside for people to drop off/pick up was empty. Initial impressions were good with friendly, helpful staff, speaking more than adequate English (my Portuguese is close to non-existent). Anyway, I dropped off all the luggage and then set off, following the map the receptionist gave us, to find an on-street parking place. It was far easier than I’d been led to believe by the reviews, despite being accosted by a wobbly Paul Anthony (who recommended the fish restaurants down the road – clearly their wine was good at least!) en route. The car duly parked it was back to the hotel to unpack and try and get a reasonable night’s sleep given that it was now almost midnight.

The first part of Friday morning was spent discovering that the hotel restaurant on the 6th floor did indeed have impressive views across the river and out towards the coast, and that – again despite what some reviewers said – the breakfast was very good, very fresh and the bread in particular was excellent. Breakfast over with, we dumped our things in the car and wasted a great deal of time trying to find our way to the track. Because it’s brand new, and because there really wasn’t anything there before, it doesn’t appear on most satellite systems, and when it does, it doesn’t appear accurately. We’d been told to take the motorway and get off at Junction 3, which has a brand new link road that leads directly to the track. Except that Doris (Glyn’s SatNav system) was insistent she knew where we needed to go, and it didn’t entail getting onto the motorway at all. In a spirit of adventure (to say nothing of deep doubt, in my case at least) we wended our way past lemon and orange groves, tiny vineyards and some stunning villas, driving along lanes that got narrower and narrower until Doris announced we were at our destination, except we weren’t. We were in the middle of nowhere with no circuit to be seen (or heard) anywhere that we could determine. We retraced our steps, while Bogusia (who is Polish) muttered, in a spirit of political incorrectness brought on by 40 minutes rattling over potholes, that she thought Doris must be a Russian SatNav system as she was so unreliable. Cue a renaming of the system, which will henceforth be Natasha… Anyway, we located the motorway, got on and got off about two minutes later at the correct junction, about 400 yards from where we had been as it turned out.

Once in, we found a very modern, shiny facility, with a massive press office, huge garages, and a superb track. It’s very up and down with some interestingly varied corners, including a tricky hairpin in the middle, and – something that would turn out to be significant – some interesting uses of Astroturf in place of grass.

It’s also the first time I’ve encountered what amounts to a swimming pool in a paddock.

It kept the area by the circuit cafe/restaurant pleasantly cool, though even on Friday it seemed to me likely that there’d be silliness involving drivers and water before the weekend ended. And so it would prove, but more of that anon. Meanwhile, having set up, discovered we would have to pay for wifi access, and established that you couldn’t hear any commentary or see the start/finish line from the press office, Lynne and I headed out to take a look at the track, which involved a lot of walking in fierce heat (32 C) and struggling to keep stable in what felt like a howling Atlantic gale. It made photography difficult too, until I gave in and tied my hair back. We also spent some time trying to establish where the red zones (which you are not allowed into because they’re too dangerous) are. Apparently, there weren’t any, though no one had told the marshal at the hairpin that because she came and chased me away from the outside of the Hairpin, though not before I’d got some good shots. Eventually, after a lunch break by the pool (very inexpensive, fresh cheese and ham rolls, custard tarts and a cold beer each – €8 in total) and a delay for the photo shoot (in which Sam Bird was very silly):

We headed back to Portimao (probably much to Bogusia’s relief – she really doesn’t like motor racing). Once there Lynne and I freshened up, and headed to the hotel bar on the 7th floor, where we watched the sunset and drank caipirinhas with Adriana Huertas, Carlos’ mother. She’s wonderful if more than a little crazy, and we arranged to have dinner with her the following evening.

And at that point we staggered off in search of the fish restaurants as recommended to us the night before. And thus we discovered Dona Branca, a not especially pre-possessing looking establishment, which we might have wandered past had the French (or at least Barazi Epsilon) been eating there for the second night in a row. We figured that was a good sign, as indeed it turned out to be. We eventually got a space at one of the long rows of paper-covered tables, and a menu was stuck in front of us. It was really no contest – after tackling the olive and carrot salad and bread, and drinking some white port, we had to eat fish.

In this case a shoal of sardines…

And a bucketload of arroz mariscoes (seafood rice), washed down with a very pleasant vinho verde.

We finished with coffee and some sort of local firewater, and got change from €25! And ironically given that this meeting replaced the scheduled Bucharest round that was canned because Madonna wanted to hold a concert there that weekend, our waitress was Romanian.

And so, we finished with a meandering return to the hotel, taking in Portimao by night, before a good night’s sleep.

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