This was the first time we'd been to the island and surprisngly travel agents seem to know very little about the place
by MichaelJM on March 6, 2008
The Holiday Inn although off the main airport grounds is only a five-minute drive to the South Terminal (another five/ten minutes to the North Terminal. We’d booked two; one night stays (one at each end of the holiday) with car parking in between. Being able to park your car at your hotel for fifteen days is a bonus at Gatwick and having hot to reception we were advised that the care would be moved to a more secure site but would be back at the hotel by the time we returned. That seemed fine by us and we just needed to remember to leave our car keys with reception when we checked out the next morning.I’m sure you’ll know this but it’s worth reiterating we always take a second key ring so that we can take the car key off our main bunch of house keys. It’s really not a good idea to leave your house keys as well as the care keys with the hotel. It would just be inviting potential problems and no doubt invalidates your house insurance if anything did go awry in your absence.Anyway back to the hotel!It’s a typical Holiday Inn design, so you won’t have too much difficulty finding it if you keep on the main Gatwick/Horley road. We stopped at the front to unload our luggage (although this is really only for coaches and we later found there is a back entrance which is perfectly accessible from the car park).Hotel reception was in a utilitarian design and although there were plenty of people behind the counter the main problem was that all the receptionists were from Eastern European countries and had thick accents with limited English. Not the best qualities for a busy airport hotel! We however, were checked in without too much of a problem and then found our way to the third floor by way of one of the three lifts. As we turned out of the lift the longest hotel corridor I’ve ever seen was stretched out before us and there are no prizes for guessing where our room was situated. Yes, right at the end, last room but one. At least there would be very little passing trade and we should have an undisturbed night that is except for the airplanes.The room was adequate although it only comprised of a standard double bed there was an additional double settee, a television, trouser press and a mini bar. Perfectly adequate for a nights stay. Throughout the night we did hear the places but at around 1am there was a terrible banging in our room; the mini bar was performing some early alarm routine all of its own. Frightened the life out of me and we both jumped out of bed in a strange act of self-preservation. We opened it, pushed the bottles around and then shut it again and that resulted the next morning when checking out being told we owed £2-50 for crisps from the mini bar. It was, however, easily resolved as I denied having had anything from the mini-bar and that was accepted by the receptionist.On our return to the UK we once again stayed at the Holiday Inn and this time we were given a ground floor room. Not a good idea! This room backed onto the car park and was alongside a busy open access corridor from the car to the hotel reception. As you can imagine it continued to be noisy throughout the night. If staying at this Holiday Inn I’d recommend that you always ensure you get a room on one of the higher floors.
by MichaelJM on March 7, 2008
Our hotel was around thirty minutes transfer from the airport and a mere five minutes (if that) drive down a bumpy cobbled road on the west side of the main town of Santa Maria. We’d chosen the hotel on two counts; firstly it was small; forty bedrooms, and secondly we were told that Thomson would not book anyone under the age of eighteen into the hotel.All rooms over looked a garden area with the swimming pool as the predominant feature. There are only two floors and three sides to the hotel accommodation whilst the forth side of the square is a covered walk way broken up with white hanging canvas bordering the pool in a lush grassy area in which is planted a number of palm trees offering interest and shade; mind you they were somewhat sharp to the touch if you got too close to them!There are limited sun sunloungers around the pool but all rooms have their own small table and sun chairs. We tended to use the sunloungers in the morning returning to our first floor accommodation for lunch and then enjoying the afternoon sun from our balcony. By and large there was no problem in getting a lounger, but there again we do tend to be early risers on holiday.We were generally very impressed with this boutique style hotel. Our first floor accommodation for two had a good sized bedroom with two real comfy single beds and a decent sized side table. A shelved wardrobe was the only source of storage for clothing but as we’d travelled extremely light there was no problem finding somewhere to put our clothes. Although I guess if you’d carried extravagantly you might find the space a little light.Air conditioning was available as standard and most nights it was pretty important to ensure a decent night’s sleep. On the third day a fuse blew on the system and within minutes of reporting the fault a technician was on site repairing the air conditioning service. As usual if there’s a chance of something breaking it will happen to us and a day after the air conditioning failed the fridge packed up. Again I reported it to reception and ten minutes later a couple of guys arrived and disconnected the fridge, removed it and replaced it with a new one. How’s that for service.There was a well-lit basin just outside the bathroom which was fitted out with modern, good quality fixtures. Although I could not describe the bedrooms as luxurious they were well laid out with higher than average specifications and certainly meriting the 4 stars that had been awarded to the hotel.Room service was spot on and the maids visited daily providing fresh towels every day and clean sheets on alternate days. Although shower cream and shampoo were provided on the first day these were never replenished, not that it mattered because we had brought our own.Beach towels were available freely from the hotel’s reception and although they had various systems in place to “track” the loan of the towels I was never convinced that they knew who had what! The area around the swimming pool was extremely well maintained and there was always evidence of maintenance staff who worked quietly and unobtrusively. The pool itself was de-salinated water and so there wasn’t that awful taste and smell that you get with chlorinated pools. I’m not sure that it was heated as it could feel a bit chilly when you first got in, but we were brave! Indeed for the first time ever we swam daily and for a couple of non-swimmers completing 40 lengths on each occasion was quite a feat.We’d booked a bed and breakfast deal and the hotel’s restaurant put on a fairly decent breakfast buffet with cold meats, cheese, fresh fruit, cereals, various breads, cakes, biscuits and an “interesting range” of jams. There were plenty of hot and cold drinks. The scrambled eggs (the usual “cooked” breakfast) were variable in quality but it was easy to check out the quality by both the appearance and smell. After the first day we realised that most people were “stocking up serviettes” with bread and cake for lunch. We joined the trend and happily sat on our balcony with a ham and cheese roll followed by an apple, pear, banana or orange. We’d normally “rescued” from breakfast a biscuit or two for afternoon tea (I’d actually remembered to take our travel kettle for hot drinks.We had a real enjoyable two weeks at Hotel Dunas de Sal in the tranquil and relaxed setting of a small “family” hotel. I’d certainly recommend this over the large impersonal hotels that are evident across the resort.
The ground floor restaurant at the Holiday Inn looks enticing enough and they sport a good menu in a light bright room with fresh flowers on each table. We were politely welcomed and shown to a table for two and promptly the menu and drinks list was brought to the table.The waiter rattles off the meals of the day (not shown on the menu) and then told me which draught beers were ‘on tap’. I understood hardly a word and momentarily thought that I must have been transported through time into another country.I consulted with my other half who had the same mystified look on her face as must have been on mine. We decided that we’d stick with the menu and I’d have another ‘go at the waiter’ to check out the beers. Fortunately I was saved that embarrassment as a waitress appeared with a much more discernible accent and I ordered my beer with both of us opting for the lamb with cranberry - me choosing chips and my wife the healthier option of a jacket potato.Interestingly the menu is divided into large plates or small plates; all large plates (including our lamb) are priced at £14. The meal took some time to arrive (we kidded ourselves that it would be individually cooked) and on first glance it looked fine except I was given new potatoes rather than chips. This was soon remedied and I settled down to enjoy one of my favourite meats.What a disappointment it was like chewing on leather, was full of gristle and fat. This was heading right back to the kitchen. Now here was the next problem as one of the waitresses claimed not to understand, another promised to be right back (and promptly disappeared). I finally caught the reluctant eye of a waiter who went off in search on the duty manager.When he finally returned my meal was pretty cold anyway and this manager, with a Manuel look about him (for those who can remember Fawlty Towers with John Cleese) finally after a bit of posturing he agreed to take the lamb dish away. He’d offered to replace it but I’m afraid I was not interested and opted for a chicken fajita (my wife opting for salmon and jacket potato). The jacket potato failed to arrive, having being substituted with boiled potato, but my wife was not prepared for me to complain again.At the end of it all I conclude it was a barely average meal and I refused to pay the discretionary service charge. I did remark to the Head Waiter that the chef was having a bad night and he replied ‘big time’. Indeed it was evident by the numbers of plates being returned with large amounts of food still on that we were not the only unsatisfied customers.In contrast the morning breakfast was much more organised and superbly tasty. We had a couple of breakfasts (the second being on our return to the UK) and they were equally good. There was loads to choose from including cold meat, cheeses, fresh fruit, cereals, and the full cooked (including black pudding if you fancied it). There was fruit juices, fruit teas, coffee and breakfast tea.Certainly breakfast at the Holiday Inn has much to commend it – I’d just avoid the evening meal if I were you!
We landed exactly on time at this small but not quite primitive airport on the barren island of Sal (being Portuguese for salt). There were several gasps of concern from a group of seemingly ‘flight virgins’ behind us as we suffered a fairly noisy albeit comfortable landing. The steps were efficiently brought to the rear and front of the plane and disembarkation was quick. It was around 3pm and we’d travelled form a cold and miserable Britain to a pleasantly warm Cape Verde island. Indeed the heat hit is as we got off the plans and I was soon unzipping the bottom half of my trousers to convert them to serviceable shorts. (I’d had these made during a holiday in India and they have proved to be of great benefit), socks were removed and I was now almost a ‘Brit abroad’ – sandals, shorts but a long sleeve shirt.The queen for customs checkout seemed to take an age and it turned out that several people did not have an entrance visa (ours had been sorted by our holiday company) and so those without a visa were being re-routed to another queue to make the necessary payment, still it unsettled everyone. We didn’t need to have bothered as we passed quickly through customs with a new stamp having been added to out passport (that happens less and less as the EU expands).A short conversation with the awaiting tour guide and we are directed to the small minibus that will take us off on our short journey from the airport to the resort and hotel.Overall the journey along the modern tarmac road was uneventful but as soon as we hit the cobbled roads of Santa Maria the passage was less smooth. This road has been recently constructed (according to some on the bus) within the past year but they must have built into the design the potholes. We were jarred consistently on the thankfully short run down to our hotel.After a little time to relax on the hotel balcony we decided to orientate ourselves and walk back down the cobbled street to Santa Maria whilst it was still light. So we returned down the road the bus had taken and confirmed that this was no more than an access route form Santa Maria to the hotels that are already built on either side, there are large plots identified for further hotels and concrete confirmation that Cape Verde is the holiday destination of the future. It certainly won’t be for lack of trying as its clear that there’s serious money being pumped into this island and hoteliers, tour operators and private investors will be sadly disappointed if their speculation is un-rewarded.In all honesty what little personality that is latent in Santa Maria (See separate entry) will soon be erased clear as the big all-inclusive hotels take over. We noticed that there are numerous restaurants around but as it’s getting dark and my wife became more and more spooked by the shadows in the unlit streets as we headed up to the garage (which has a small supermarket attached to it) to get water.
Cape Verde was a place we’d looked at in the brochures as a potential holiday, but for the past couple of years it had been relegated to second choice. Our plans for Peru had been put on hold and the Kenya safari holiday was no longer in the equation due to the civil disturbance in that country. I’d been working almost full time for a couple of months (a shock to the system after retirement and then a gentle two days a week consultancy) and so we opted for the Cape Verde Islands.You need a visa to enter the islands but fortunately that seemed fairly easy to sort with the travel agents (I managed to get a better deal with my local travel agents than I could secure on the internet) making an electronic application on my behalf. Although somewhat bizarrely I never had physical sight of a visa – apparently they electronically match your travel details and passport and check off the details on arrival. Let’s hope, I thought to myself, that’s it’s as trouble free as they suggest!Our next problem related to currency. You’re unable to purchase Cape Verde cash before arriving on the island (nor can you bring any off the island). Now everywhere that we’ve been to date, boasts an availability of ATM machines and a wide use of Mastercard or Visa. Cape Verde did not. Indeed everything we read indicated that you could use credit cards in very few places and that there was a dearth of ATM’s. The suggestion was that there was a single ATM on Sal and I got a half impression that it should not be relied on. So for the first time in over 20 years we were going to be reliant on traveller’s cheques. No problem, me thinks! But nothing is straightforward and wherever we go, who ever we speak with or whatever we read we gain a different impression of the best currency cheques to carry. Euros are best according to a couple of web sites, but our travel agents recommend US dollars. And then the bank believes that Sterling is preferred. We check in a specialist travel book that we have and here the strong recommendation is sterling. I return to our travel agents who check it out again and they confirm that their advice is US dollars are preferred but sterling is equally acceptable. My mind is made up it’s going to be sterling. Much easier as there’s only one conversion required!The usual decisions had to be made about travel but as there are no local flights it meant a flight out of Gatwick – a fair drive from Nottingham but an airport that we’d flown out of before. We were flying out early and getting back late so we decided to book two overnight stays at a Gatwick Hotel and accept the cheaper parking deal that went with it. Indeed courtesy of some old air miles that we’d been sitting on for several years we managed to secure the room at no cost. Now that’s what I call a celebratory rate!
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