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Monday 16 November 2009

Closed for the Holidays

The number of restaurants closing for “the holidays” – or in a few cases, closing never to reopen – in the old town of Albufeira grows daily. But a close inspection shows that many will reopen next month. To be opening your doors when the days are at their shortest, and the climate less amenable, looks on the face of it to be a perverse move. But this fails to take into account the holiday habits of the Portuguese.

Christmas and New Year are a season in themselves for those from further north, as they look to take a break in the least cold and rainy part of their country. What at other times of the year is merely a weekend thing – travelling south on Friday afternoon and returning late Sunday – becomes a migration. Trains “sell out”, even with more capacity put on (you aren’t allowed to turn up and go without there being a seat available), in both classes, throughout the period. I suspect that coaches operated by Eva, Rede Expressos and Renex will be similarly in demand.

So it makes sense for businesses to take advantage of the influx, especially as the numbers coming from the UK and other northern European countries seem less reliable – or those Brits that have settled here find the exchange rate nudging them towards a rediscovery of cooking dinner, and making their own sarnies for lunch. Those that can afford to kick back for the whole of the holiday period can usually be relied upon to eat out occasionally.

Then, almost as soon as the New Year celebrations have died down, the move back north starts in earnest: the size of the early afternoon Intercidade from Faro on the first day of January is constrained only by the number of coaches that can be rustled up, and the weight limit imposed on anything using the rail deck of the Ponte 25 do Abril crossing the Tagus back into Lisbon. There are never any last minute seats available.

So what happens to all those reopened eateries? That I haven’t yet discovered, but suspect that there will be a further “holiday” closure for many, until the following March brings more daylight, more northern Europeans, and the next temporary migration comes with the arrival of Easter.

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