Many thanks to our great friend (and high-minded painter) Andy Baird, who both conceived and jump started this attempt to contemporaneously record at least some of the eventings of one move abroad. Regarding content, the narrower column on the left is the supposedly more timeless and reference stuff; ongoing entries are in the larger-width column on the right of the script below - following the (red)


by-line below. The plan is for these at least to be augmented over time.

It should also follow, therefore, that the most recently added post will always be at the top of this right-hand column; so if you want to get a flavour from earlier times, scroll and start NEARER TO or EVEN AT THE BOTTOM (only, please, please if you chose this option, allow yourself a series of snack-breaks; it can be repetitive, and boredom is guaranteed to increase with intensity of effort!)- but ANY comments are not only also welcomed ->but positively encouraged

Remember this folks ......

Remember this folks ......

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

                                    NEW READERS START HERE 

....... went to TOMAR last week, and would heartily recommend it to anybody remotely interested seeing a living testimony.

As befits an important historical centre, there are sights galore as well as a modern bright river-straddling heart, although notwithstanding the readily available tourist information, we found a little advance reading to be a well-rewarded preparatory step. Others have since told us about a selection of equally quaint, not outrageously expensive Hotels in the vicinity. Plus WE also had the good fortune to meet and enjoy a couple of beers, a chat, and an exchange of Knightly legends with a North East UK couple having a break from their Algarve home.

A few empty and `Liquidacao`  shops, yes; but the town itself was bustling, spotlessly clean and tidy and offered a considerable choice of cafes and Restaurants (with a range of appropriate prices; after a little bit of price comparison, we managed to find what turned out to be a French-run eatery, and had a Portuguese meal, served personally by the Portuguese kitchen Chef-lady; and all, including half a litre of wine between us for change from 14 Euro for the two!).

The main square is overlooked by the Palace of the Order of Christ (formerly the Portuguese section of the Knights Templar), and I can only say, having visited a fair selection of castles etc around this and other regions, that this really did emphasise the differences -in scope layout and scale- between the two types of building.
Doubt I have ever spent so much time literally enjoying surprise after surprise at the numbers, the variety (of purpose(s)) and the decoration of so many rooms. And I`m sure I counted at least eight separate courtyards, all tucked away until you had actually stepped inside!

(PS 6Euro entrance fee; but a bargain for a busy two or more leisurely three hours of constant delight).

Thursday, May 30, 2013

 Just enjoyed an overnighter coach trip to Santiago de Compostela - and a very interesting time, too.

We were there on the Sunday afternoon, and OK it was early season -even though the continuing cold seems to belie the fact that it IS almost June!- but there weren`t really very many people about. The attractions lived up to expectation, pervading Galician Celtic music was excellent, general touristy `tat` not overly expensive, meal billboards on the quaint little narrow paved streets seemed to range from diarias at less than ten Euro to `plates` (? for two) with little change from a fifty! (Thankfully, full board at a hotel was included in the price of our trip; and EVERY meal there or on trips included unlimited quantities of rather pleasant lightish <10> and fruity local wine). Didn`t have time for a pub visit, but managed to pick up a couple of bottles of what looks to be the local favourite of variously flavoured cream liqueurs.

Monday took us (after a sales presentation - boring, but clearly subsidised the cost!) to a little place called `the Grove` and a glass-bottomed boat trip out to see the innards of a moored mussel-growing platform; of which there were literally hundreds in the bays and inlets around the area (`think that was Rio Arouce; but shouldn`t be hard to find on a map. Fairly close to Vigo).

Bit of excitement as we had an unplanned coach exchange (broken gearbox/clutch) in Ponte de Lima, just inside Portugal on the way back. Had coffee whilst looking across at the bridge itself, that some may recall being featured on an edition of `Place in the Sun` a few years ago. The whole area looked delightful, as we again had the brilliant coincidence of near enough perfect weather. Plus, our mostly Portuguese traveling companions were their usual friendly, talkative and humorous selves!

Oh, we DID like to be -mostly- beside the sea-side.

Now back to reality; advised this morning by Dutch friends that some forecast they check is talking a long-dragged-out continuation of changeable weather. Oough.

Monday, May 13, 2013

M&G Spring Break – April 2013

Having opted for shortish drives and a tad of exploration (hardly Henry the Navigator, but still!) our `down` overnighter was in a small town called Ferrera de Alentejo, inboard and a little south of Lisbon. Lovely experience.  Apart from being only a stones` throw from Beja  -a fabulous and picturesque tourist attraction hill-fort town at which we arrived comfortably before lunch- our Hotel in FdA itself was in the “Rua (Street) de Visconte de Ferreira de Alantejo” and turned out to be yer actual Viscount`s former `palace` - complete with fabulous décor.
Then on to the Algarve!

In our opinion -    Albufeira`s great
Granted, we were visiting not only at the beginning of the season, but -fortuitously or what?- just as summer arrived, breaking the longest season of cold and wet that we`ve ever experienced in Portugal.

In three short days, we had an excellent time. Staying in a supremely-situated Hotel in Oura; right from our in-bound stop at Tourist Information, everything just seemed to gel; highlights for we country folk including a splendid afternoon in the company of  first-time-met, but long-standing  email Blog companions Victoria and Jim, a chance to pick up (OK not duty-free, but …) products not readily available here, and the always somehow hitherto-missed-out-on visit to Sagres.

Notwithstanding that the draught Guinness (aaah, 2Euro-a-pint Draught Guinness) didn`t travel –several such pints having to be `picked partaken and (re)poured` all within a tight timeframe- we found the general buzz of the place exactly the tonic we, and presumably thousands of other holiday-makers throughout the average year, needed. Prices generally were v.good, but it was the availability of many commodities and brands long since unavailable to the point of being practically forgotten, that really added to the charm of the place. And due to our packed schedule, we didn`t even get to the beach!

Agreed, we probably wouldn`t want to live there, and we don`t doubt yobheads take a toll (Perhaps they`re just trying to cram a years relief into the only week or two they can manage to get away  ???) but as against that, residents anywhere can dip in and out of the bits of local life they don`t find attractive, whilst still being able enjoy the Full Monty as and when they DO so choose.

Finally, last night in LISBON
Staying in another fabulous, recently refurbished, town house in the unbelievable district of Alfama.

Tasca do Chico pub/club
One of the principal motivating factors/goals of our entire trip, in the event Geraldine and I simply chanced upon both this fantastic little Club/eatery and the Museu do Fado virtually opposite. `happened as we were meandering through the narrow cobbled Alfama streetlets on the way back to our hotel. We had already eaten (`nother story), had a beer (`nother `nother story!), and listened from the pavement to the live singers from `spectaculars` in and on premises we were simply not prepared to pay the up to 50 Euro+  per person entrance plus meal charge to enter.

Check it on the web; but do bear in mind that the visual quality of `telemobile videos` reduce somewhat when performances begin and the lights are dimmed. Howandever, somehow Joao Carlos himself caught our eye and ushered us inside for an unbelievable nights` entertainment. The place was cosy, warm and bunged; drinks on the more expensive side (as against which, no pressure to purchase at the bar at all) and no cover charge. People were still arriving and having freshly-grilled lingüiça (sausage) after 10pm., fairly constantly `refreshing` tables in a space holding only about 40 persons.
The singers, and especially the musicians, were excellent, and the whole experience was superb; the one sadness being that restrictive capacity limitation (although, if it was a bigger venue, the atmosphere would suffer).

What a way to end our short break; if you`re ever within reach, do try it; should you be in luck you`ll get IN, if you aim for the furthest/back wall in what was basically a converted garageway, you`ll probably not be hassled in any shape or form, and WE cant believe you`ll not also be VERY contented!

Oh, great joy; although it IS nice now to be back home!

M & G

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

+ + DATELINE + + late September 2012 ……..

When in ... where was it?  ...  Rome?

Well, we`re not even in ITALY, but one thing we have learned is that watching, listening and mimicking our indigenous neighbours may be time (not to mention patience,      and language skills!) -consuming but invariably also offers pointers to more productive ways forward than anything we would ever have come up with.

Perhaps there are simpler explanations, but reminding visitors that “No we don`t get such-and-such here, but the locals use ……” or “Well, we wouldn`t do it that way, but by all means …”  just re-emphasises to us the importance of setting.  Here, for instance
People don`t have any great tradition, and consequently little respect, for animals – especially dogs, whose role, if at all, is seen as hunting for their masters or end-of-chain yard guarding
Officialdom, and bureaucracy, are local rather than top-down orientated; often creating an inaccurate impression of, at best, inconsistency, or worse, racketeering.
Yet people live, people survive –and on monetary pittances, though possibly backed-up with home produce- so there is -there has to be- sufficient food, drink etc., to permit said survival.

The Portuguese have their way of doing things. Or ways, since they too not only have differences but remain stubbornly and sufficiently non-homogenous to preserve regional customs and habits. And it works; without the ignorance, intolerance, selfishness and unnecessary greed that so epitomises the so-called `advanced` European economies.
It is all too familiar an experience for us to have to try answer the Why? Question; Why do they do this? Why don`y they do that?  Haven`t they twigged the importance / value / worth of the other?

Maybe they have; maybe they`re content with their own progress. Just happy.

Another year..
That`s not to in any way bemoan our situation. `speaking with G this afternoon and the summary goes something like:-

            Q. Would we be anyone else?

            WE`d both finished with work by our early 50`s. We`ve retained our independence; no onerous responsibilities (sum total: two children, absolute apples of our eyes, and two grandchildren, to whom sufficient of our own estate should ultimately filter down.) and no reason to imagine we won`t have enough to survive our own futures without any great hardship. How could we be other than well pleased?

Thursday, August 23, 2012

August 2012

It was both exceptional and extremely pleasing to have had the entire clan on-board this summer .....

Both children (Cally & Jason) plus both grandchildren (Joshua & Tiger) managed to make it -even overlapping their visits- for the summer; and it was GREAT.

Apart from glorious sunshine, their enjoyments included trips to an assortment of Silver Coast beaches -with surprisingly variable water temperatures!- including the new-for-all pastime of water boarding, ongoing and constant chatter especially in their respective generation-groupings (`been too long since we were all together last), exercising, relaxing with our pets and a selection of really good dineries!

Lovely to see everybody looking so good, so relaxed, happy, and bright.

(Hopefully, photos to the left <- em="em">

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Douro River Cruise

June 2012

Sunday, we had our first experience of the much-vaunted, often previously-considered but never-quite-achieved Douro River Cruise.

Absolutely superb.

Despite having failed to have the run `up` by rail (train strike!), the river journey back to Porto was fascinating - on so many levels.

Seven-and-a-half hours on board (pretty well all on deck, other than for the various drinks and meal breaks) just flowed (sorry!), and any small prior concern that a 4 a .m. -coach- start, returning by 2100 might just have presented an over-long day was completely forgotten. The two lock drops were an education – enhanced by my utilising an unusal ex-RN `blag` to get us both into the bridge during the first; a drop of over 100 feet .

Our only regret was that the drive straight to Regua delayed one of the Jose`s in our group from the traditional opening and sharing his 5-litre flagon of home product with we other mostly total strangers, until the journey back. Nonetheless, it too was delicious!

To quote a large riverside banner proudly displaying as we entered Porto,
"To be in Portugal is a privilege".


Thursday, March 15, 2012

A couple of consecutive postings from March 2012

Fingers crossed, we`ll have a completely insulated AND re-painted house by close of play this evening, although even the hanging about of the past couple of weeks has been handy enough in that at least some outstanding paperwork has been attended to.
Temperatures rising, frequently surpassing the mid-twenties this week; but Portugal, too, has a looming drought.
Just had our top VAT rate hoiked to 23% (eg up from 9% on electricity), and certainly supermarket prices are showing increases, but we struggle on.
Post `painters lull` we are, in fact, out for lunch both to-morrow and Friday with various friends not seen for a while. Managing to continue to eat out reasonably regularly – albeit that times are ever-more-clearly getting tighter here, Restaurants are for now holding prices at the `expense` of the quality cuts or through a provision of fewer diario options.
Retirement will eventually come to you all.


Updated for specific soon-to-be visitors, but worth a reminder:
Hopefully – your one-stop Visit info-pack, to
Central Portugal ……

We hope that, like us, you are looking forward to your stay in Portugal. This really IS a marvellous country, and we are blessed to live in a superb area. You will enjoy a marvellous time in a beautiful, gloriously green part of the world which, whilst being somewhat unrefined retains many of the better aspects of our own bygone ages. True, there is next-to-no public transport structure as such in this area, (other than taxis, plentiful and presumably inexpensive) it is HOT and Portuguese washing machines operate with cold water only, but life is tranquil, there is virtually no crime in the locality, and the whole pace is relaxed, the people friendly, `straight` and honest. But YOUR considerations will necessarily include more of the `How to survive` and `What to do`; so herewith a few pointers. In the end it’s your holiday: decisions and choices entirely at your whim.

Bumgalow BILL    the practicalities (including Catering)
An Estate Agent would probably describe the accommodation as `bijou`!
The cottage has two bedrooms, each with a double bed. It is possible –if cramped- to lay out a double futon in the lounge. The greater the uptake on all of this, obviously the less perambleable (!) floor space, but since we would hope that any visitors` spells indoors would be limited essentially to chilling & sleeping; overall, space should not be a problem Running off the main house is a further sizable common space which could be used as an additional sleeping area. There is an outside, enclosed courtyard. The kitchen (no cooker, but sink, fridge, kettle, microwave, dining table) is armed with ample crockery to facilitate continental-type breakfast, snack or light catering. Two reasonably sized supermarkets stocking all basic requirements are less than ten minutes away by car. There is only one toilet, with integrated shower cubicle. Hot water is via a bottled-gas geyser, but cold showers can be so invigorating, don’t you think?

the immediate vicinity
Do NOT be concerned, you won`t be disappointed, but ultimately what you get out will reflect your own understanding, input and effort. You should remember that Lourical is still essentially a piece of rural  Portugal. There is plenty to see and do within five min to under an hour’s drive from where we are Foz, `Portrush` for the Portuguese, with miles of beach, highly developed entertainment and international facilities up to and including a Casino>.  Conversely, neighbourhood attractions -even those deemed quite extravagant by the locals- are relatively basic, with perhaps their appeal being a distinctly `novelty` feel. Café/bars all over the place serve snack-food and alcohol, but dedicated “pubs” don’t really exist, and Restaurants may not open at all or have quite restricted hours at night. Again, this is not a problem for us (I’ve worn a collar and tie ONCE in nine years, but that certainly doesn’t mean we don’t have fun: real  Louricensians often don’t even get changed to change> to go out!), but again there are options for a more outgoing and exciting break, should that be your fancy. And notwithstanding earlier comments, we are both lucky enough to have a perfectly acceptable Restaurant within walking distance, and be within a ten minute car ride from a very popular public outdoor barbecue facility (another Portuguese favourite). Portuguese food can be somewhat agricultural, with Menus often featuring more pork than beef, but steak of some description will invariable be available <`cuts` are slightly different, too> and in any event it’s the sauce that provides most of the taste. Dishes can be comparatively roughly presented, but it’s good fare. The ubiquitous food `filler` is a Mista -ham and cheese in bread of some sort- and a version will be available whenever, wherever. Pizzas -easily obtainable in the supermarkets- are just about never on a menu, however, pasta only rarely, and they don’t seem to understand the concept of `vegetarian`. There are McDonalds in the major centres, but otherwise, for hamburgers read soup or filled rolls. A chicken & chip takeaway exists in Lourical, open in the evenings from 7.30 p.m. 
More traditional options include various cuts of meat, Chanfana (“Shan-fan-a”, a goat or sheep meaty-boney-leggybits stew), Alentejano (shellfish and pork, named after the area inland from Lisbon) - but grilled meat and steaks are nearly always also available.

The Portuguese way
An essentially subsistence lifestyle means that for residents the day starts earlier than most of us might be used to, and whilst we are aware that they often re-emerge for pursuits late on in the evening (they do siesta, but “not very”), the general thrust of their routine centres on having lunch from about 12.30 p.m. WE fairly often have our one `meal` per day out, with convenience and cost simply outweighing the hassle of home preparation.
And anyway, “bloated stomach syndrome” usually limits back-to-back runs, unless we’re celebrating.          We celebrate mostly between February and December.

Clearly, perhaps especially since we have a garden and two (playful, energetic) dogs, lazing around taking the sun is an almost perpetual and perfectly acceptable constituent of the daily routine: but there are any number of any length of walking or cycling circuits from the house, not to mention again our `blue flag` beach ten miles away, as alternatives. There is also a large and comprehensive tented market in Lourical every Sunday -apart from Easter and the August town Festa (“Feshta”)- so what with occasional friends` visits, village festas and eatings-out, we pretty well manage!

Not necessarily in any order, but we can survive rather well –especially in the much quieter winter- with television (NOT in the cottage however), music, games or even that old-fashioned conversation thing!           

Often over a drink, you understand.  …..  We did say they had drink here, didn’t we?

PLUS ... a  little detail……

Rather like we Brits, the Portuguese eat. 
     Quite a lot.          
Largely perforce their lifestyles, where, in employment or subsistence, they tend to rise early and work long days.
but there are nonetheless a few points , your knowledge of which may be of assistance on your travels. These notes refer to one set of experiences in more rural areas of Central/Northern Portugal.           Each to their own, of course.

Firstly, Timings and Routines. Many locals may well be up & about from 0700. They will often skip breakfast (pequeno almoco), opting instead for a coffee on the hoof. By lunch (almoco) time, they are hungry and tend to race through the mechanics of the process - regularly eating `out` in a Café/Restaurant. Although the quoted lunch-break is 2 hours, they don’t siesta as in Spain, and certainly trades/craftsmen are quite likely to have only a one hour stop. Then, at the end of a long working day, the evening meal is normally taken at home and earlyish, allowing for beddy-byes before the process kicks off again int` morning.

How this affects `others` (ie US!). Some time ago now, our Agent told us “The Portuguese have been here much longer than ANY of us, so even though it clearly upsets some Brits not to be fawned over, THEY -the Portuguese- aren’t about to change the way they’ve been doing things for centuries, simply in order to please us”.  Remains valid advice.

We have interpreted that to mean that to play the Portuguese game, with any hope of success, and certainly to benefit most YOURSELF, you may wish to adopt a strategy. Without doubt, it would be possible -for a price- to go `full English` and have everything laid back (ie late!), but that might be missing the point.

We usually start the day with toast, cereals, whatever <+, of course, tea!>, prepared at home. Before 0900, 0930. This latter is because a) We would normally have only one main meal per day OR dinner>, and b) if we’re eating out for lunch (something we would do at least once a week, more often in the summer months) we know that we’re aiming to be seated from around 1230, rarely later than 1300. This, in turn, is because we normally eat where it’s popular (AND where they serve `diario` - the two usually go together).

Diario (careful with the pronunciation Ted, it’s “De-are-e-o”) means that a fixed price covers the entire (set) menu from soup to coffee - with bread, olives, wine, main course and sweet in between. This is standard fare for lunching locals, quality & value being roughly reflected by the numbers of cars / trucks etc., in the car park. The downside can be that -although you’ll probably be served up until about 1400ish- the more popular menu `choices` will disappear pretty sharply. Thankfully, in our area staff won`t try to `take advantage`, and in general you’ll be treated exactly like everyone else.

A couple of hints. Depending on the size of Restaurant, the lunchtime menu will normally offer (at least initially) a choice of one or two fish (peixe, pronounced `pesh`!), plus two or more meat (carne) mains (and, frankly, with tables turning over rapidly, they don’t really want to start “a la carte” during that hectic period); but they will invariably to able to rustle up a `grelhado` (grilled steak of some sort: whatever `cut` happens to be in the fridge!) – and this may or may not cost a tad extra. Oh, and heated plates don’t exist, so when it arrives eat it. Condiments are not usually offered, but will usually be available.

The second point is about choices. As above, at lunch, they are busy, so probably best to head  (through experience or advice ?) for somewhere `safe`, stay with what’s offered, eat what you can, pay your seven or eight Euros, smile and leave.  The Portuguese aren’t really in to portion control, and you’d expect plenty of change from 10 Euro a head for the whole lot.  Inevitably, you’ll make a mistake once in a while, but rarely will you not manage to leave with a full stomach. Even if you are `picky`, you`ll eventually find places to suit and please. Tipping is not necessary in the daytime.

Depending on clientele, dinner will often either FINISH BY or effectively only START AT, 2130. At night, you may find more choice (possibly because you’ll be offered the house Menu) but this could be reflected in the Bill. If you have sensitive pockets, be especially careful about asking for a bottle (garaffe) of wine. The normally-included house wine is vinho da casa, either the normal tinto (red) or branco (white). Water is agua, natural (room temperature), fresca (chilled), or com gaz (fizzy). When we (and it’s rare) go out at night, there are far fewer diners - many Restaurants don’t even bother with evening hours. In any event, at night we would normally `round up` the bill, (usually involving nothing like 10% of the Bill (conta)), and the same general `meal` guidelines apply, except probably for August, or – presumably! -  posh places or sharp staff. 

Meal choices. Although, with the economy, becoming `tighter`, there really are sooo many variations and names, that one sensible approach, used by us, is to go out fairly often -possibly in company, sharing and experimenting- to try and decide.

Be aware, though
  • Genuine Portuguese food (“Menu Tipica”) could be described as an acquired taste **
  • Fish may very well be looking up at you from the plate **
  • There are endless varieties (& colours!) OF fish, depending on what has been caught – probably within twenty miles & the last ten or twelve hours.
  • Salmao, lulas and polvo are salmon, squid and octopus, respectively **
  • They tend to eat more pork (porco) than beef
  • `bife` translates directly as `steak` (so you can have a pork steak) and cuts do vary somewhat from the UK. Sirloin is lombo de vaca
  • yer actual beef could be vitela (veal, arguably the most common), novilho (bullock), or vaca (cow). They also eat things that we would throw away, &  Cozido Portuguese is an entire meal of just that – ears, noses, cheeks, tripe.
  • variations include sheep (ovelha) cordeiro) is not usually available>, goat (cabra), chicken (frango) and duck (pato). “Barbecued” is `churrasco`.
  • they eat rabbit (coelha); and leitao (suckling pig) is a speciality, usually served cold **
  • meat is often fairly well seasoned; thus it is not normal to deliver condiments to the table (but you can always ask: their cruet contains olive oil and vinegar, if you want salt, it’s sal)
  • nor do they generally have side plates – though you’ll quite possibly lift off a serving dish (yourself) to your dinner plate
  • they don’t really do vegetarian; nor Pizzas, except in a specialist Pizza place
  • the final fall-back <after grelhado> would be an omelette **

** in most places, they will recognise estrangerios (strangers) and usually give guidance – even if they -or you!- have to quickly develop new skills in sign language; think zoo!

Above all; have fun.  Bom `petite.