Saturday, 9 February 2019

Full English Breakfast with a view

Tuesday 2nd – Our property manager and the trusty builder we have used for all our work arrived at 10am to discuss a project for the winter which will improve the layout of our very open plan living room and create more wall space for storage. We had had a very good summer season and had retained our 5-star rating. Our ‘unique selling point’ is that we are a four-bedroom house sleeping 8 people. I work hard to make sure the house is fresh and well equipped with large pans, lots of catering equipment and loads of crockery and cutlery so catering for large groups is a pleasure rather than a chore. We have never left welcome items out but our property manager told us that now the opposition are providing bottles of wine and water when people arrive so that is our new aim.
After we had finished planning the building work we decided to head for the new Ikea at the Mar Shopping complex near Loule. This has the advantage of all our favourite shops being under one roof so Beth can trawl around the fashion and make-up outlets while we browse in Ikea. Mar Shopping is only 15 minutes or so down the A22 from Guia where we used to shop but is more convenient when you get there. However even after a few visits the layout of the carpark remains baffling. In Ikea we were on the hunt for an affordable sofa bed so we could ditch the one we inherited with the house which was after four seasons looking shabby. And I used my phone camera to take photos of storage solutions and close-ups of labels we liked the look of so we could think about how to furnish our new living space. We found a very affordable but basic sofa bed with removable, machine washable covers which could seat up to four people. My motto is ‘buy cheap, buy twice’ but in this case the heavy cotton covers reassured me it would stand up to wear and tear and the spring mechanism appeared robust. A check with the sales assistant revealed we could expect it to be delivered in a week for 49 euros so we made a note of the details.
We ate from the McDonalds (only because it serves gluten free food for Beth) in the food court and sat on the huge balcony with its expansive views of the central Algarve down to the sea. But it was hot outside and flies were busy trying to share our lunch. After lunch we went into Worten to look at dehumidifiers, but air conditioning units were still in evidence, so we were too early in the autumn season. Then we went over the road to Leroy Merlin where I was delighted to pick up the Rust-Oleum chalk paint and wax I had seen in the UK as we were planning have a go at up-cycling some old furniture. I also picked up some pretty porcelain handles for a fusty old sideboard which had been in the house when we bought it. It will be interesting to see how successful chalk painting is as I have been told there is no need to rub down old finishes to create a key. You just chalk paint then finish with a wax rub. It sounds so simple – what could possibly go wrong? But then we are talking about me with a complete lack of artistic ability!
Back at home I made a hearty fish soup with crusty bread with cheap, over-ripe, tasty tomatoes from the supermarket which made an excellent base.
Weds 3 October – As another beautiful, bright day dawned I read a book and waited for the others. When they were up, we made a plan to go to Portimao to buy a new light for one of the en-suite bathrooms. The one we had installed the previous year had stopped working and although it was cheap, when we checked the LED bulb was integral. On the way to Portimao we stopped in Como Novo in Chinicato which sells second-hand furniture. Amongst the usual offerings was a beautiful, handmade pink sofa which whispered quality but pink has no place in my colour scheme. However, a good quality, large, cream chest of drawers which had caught my eye in June was still for sale. I pointed it out to Gerard as it would look great in out master bedroom crowned with a decorative cream mirror which is currently hanging over our mantlepiece in the UK. After some price haggling to take account of the need for a glass top, I took some photos and measurements so we could we could think about how we could transport it to the Vale da Telha. Without a large car, transporting furniture is frequent frustration for us and when we move permanently, we will need a car big enough to carry larger items.
After buying the new light fitting in AKI we decided to go to Praia Rocha for the first time and set up the satnav which took us to a carpark on the cliffs between Praia Rocha and Praia do Vau. We got out to admire the amazing view of cliffs and beach but unfortunately it was ruined by the overpowering stench of urine carried on the up draught. Many men must have stood, apparently admiring the view, while having a crafty pee. Ugh! There were a couple of simple cafés on the clifftop but two by the car park were closed. One with cabanas had fallen down and the other had tables and chairs stacked inside the dusty window which suggested this was a spot which was not currently prospering from tourism. Maybe people no longer want high-rise apartments which are certainly alien to most Brits.  Amongst people we talk to, low rise Alvor with its board walks and estuary views just along the coast is very popular. 
Clifftop splendor - shame about the smell!

Lacking choice, we drove on into Praia do Vau where, with the beachside cafes full, we opted for a large touristy restaurant with cheap beer and food and a persuasive waiter trying to drum up trade at the entrance. Full English Breakfast was on the menu despite signs promoting Cozinha Portuguesa. The waiter was reassuringly careful when asked about gluten-free options and came back from the kitchen to report that the prawn salad sauce contained ‘amido’ which I was able to reassure him meant corn starch rather than wheat starch so was fine. Full marks for food allergy management. The view along the beach and cliffs here is holiday brochure perfect and the sunny day added to the perfection.  But as we drove home we could see banks of clouds rising in the west which was a portent of incoming sea mist. We stopped at the friendly Chinese shop, next to the little carpark as you drive into Aljezur, for a job lot of lightbulbs to restock our spares box. Back home we had hoped to sit on the patio in the sun but the sea mist was thickening making sun bathing a bit pointless although it was still pleasantly warm. So instead we spent a couple of hours doing some jobs from the list including weeding the brita and knocking down cobwebs from around the outside of the house, while checking outside lightbulbs were working. We worked together to dust under the very heavy glass which sits a couple of millimetres above the dining table thus forming a crumb trap. By using a broom handle we can roll it one way then the other to get under it without picking it right up. I also measured the hire car boot and decided we could just fit the cream chest of drawers to bring it home in.
As we had eaten well at lunch we decided we only needed a snack. I am not sure if an appetite declining with age is an advantage or a disappointment for a foodie like me. As it was Wednesday it was quiz night at the Solar do Vales so we went along. It was the first time we had been since the previous November but it was good to be recognised and welcomed back onto our old team where our contribution placed us second with 50 out of a possible 80 points and the winners only achieved 52. Well done our team! For 3 euros per couple and the price of a drink it provides cheap, enjoyable socialising and a chance to flex our brain muscles.

Thursday, 31 January 2019

Go West where the skies are blue...

Solar Boat trip on the Ria Formosa

Sunday 30th September – After 15 weeks of continuous summer season rentals we were finally back. We had initially been concerned that last winter’s price increases would dent our occupancy rates but we needn’t have worried as a loss of a few days at the edges of the season had more than been compensated by increased rental income and a reduction of costs in terms of servicing at the lowest price periods. We had flown in on Saturday evening, had spent the night in the Loule Jardim, which is a pleasant, characterful and reasonably priced hotel in easy reach of Faro Airport. During Sunday we went into Faro and I showed my daughter Beth the house I had stayed in as a child in the centre of the town. The years roll back for me, to those days when four of us young girls, giggling and whispering, had crammed into a double bed beneath the tall window at the front of the house. The house looks a bit tired and unloved now but back then it had been the home of the black-clad granny of my hosts. Down the street at the side of the house I could see the door into the little courtyard where stairs rose to the roof terrace. I remembered standing up there as a girl and looking over the rooftops of Faro. Something of the sunshine, the fabulous light and the lifestyle had captured my heart back then and now I had come back to live here as an adult.
Later we took a solar boat trip out onto the Ria Formosa Nature Park where we glided silently towards the bird life with a knowledgeable and enthusiastic guide. It was a beautiful bright day with a temperature in the 30’s.
On the way to the Vale da Telha we stopped at the Intermarche in Aljezur and drove home the Monte Clerigo way to drink in the view. Although it was late in the season the beach was the busiest I had ever seen it. Climbing the bank to the house my anxieties were coming into focus as I contemplated potential damage of a full season of guests. The last visitors had left that morning.
Monday 1st October – I woke at 7am as light was just starting to filter into the bedroom. Once up, I checked my little dolphin thermometer, it was already 20 degrees – it had been a warm night and we had slept with the windows open to create some airflow. As I sat reading in the sitting room a sea mist blew up the valley to the front of the house suddenly obscuring the far-reaching view. Then a persistent noise started up nearby and checking what was going on I realised men were clearing the overgrown building plot next door with chainsaws. It has been for sale all the years we have lived here, and I have not expected it to be built on due to the current building ban on the Vale da Telha.
A few days earlier I had received an email in work informing me that my current job would not be ending as planned in March 2019 but would be extended until March 2020. I was still coming to terms with what many people might feel was good news but for us put our plans to move to Portugal on hold for a while. Meanwhile every single plan we had made for 2019 had been thrown up into the air. But there were some undoubted benefits including the opportunity to sit back and let the unravelling story of Brexit unwind a bit more and to further reinforce the pension pot. It also meant that some of the preparatory jobs we had planned to do over the winter could be set on the backburner. Overall it should mean moving permanently just six months later than we had planned, setting the date back to April 2020 so it’s not too disastrous.
By 10am the sea mist had totally away and with perfect blue sky above it was already 22 degrees in the shade. The men had finished clearing the plot next door and the tatty hand-painted ‘Se Vende’ sign had gone too. I wasn’t sure what that meant – had it been sold? Was it still for sale? Or no longer for sale? Surveying their work from the top terrace of our garden,  I now had a view across the cleared plot and right into next door but one’s back garden for the first time. I was glad for privacy’s sake that our patio and pool were hidden away inside the sheltering L-shape of our house.
View over the cleared plot next door

Trekking around the house, rental season attrition was revealing itself – a bedside rug frayed beyond repair and a broken bin in an en suite bathroom. After four years, some of the basic items we had set up the holiday rental with are showing signs of wear and tear. I needed to think about how to tart up the house ready for next year without spending more than is necessary.
At 10am my gardening friends drew up in a car outside and we drove to the Museu Batata Doce in Rogil for a coffee in the beautiful gardens. This is in fact not a museum but a café with making the most of the local aubergine-skinned sweet potato with fabulous cakes and a pretty garden set out with lavender-fringed paths and shady cabanas. High hedges create wind breaks and flowers have been planted in inspiring drifts. We chatted about all sorts of subjects including the challenge of learning Portuguese and getting pronunciation right. A new member of our little band moved here a year ago and her husband had spent that time landscaping and transforming their garden. I gained some tips for buying plants from local garden centres. The behaviour of some tourists locally over the summer was also leading to complaints. People tend to think this far corner of the Algarve might be isolated but all life and amenities are here as well as a sense of community which often demonstrates itself in people getting involved in raising money for local charities. And as elsewhere in the Algarve, people still seem very keen on playing golf.
Driving back through Vales, a removal van was parked outside the shops which have been under a sloth-like construction. I learnt that the supermarket Continente is going to be in one of them with a neighbourhood-style store and café. This will be serious competition for the neighbourhood store, Roque e Filho, but it will also be good not to have to traipse all the way to Aljezur for basics or when short of one ingredient for a meal. It is also a sign of growth on the Vale da Telha which in the four and a half years since we arrived has ridden out the financial downturn, which as a newly established community affected it significantly, and is now thriving again. For anyone looking for tourism business opportunities in an untapped market I would say, look here as opportunity abounds. But don’t expect people here to buy swanky cocktails and flash surroundings. People who live and holiday locally are nature lovers by nature who value simpler pleasures and experiences so do your market research well.
Back at the house I found our daughter Beth had been weeding the brita and had already covered a lot of it but she was complaining her new nails were ruined. I wasn’t surprised: this job is tough on nails. After a simple bread, cheese and chourico lunch we continued recceing the house and assessing the maintenance and repairs required before driving to Aljezur for a EuroMillions ticket (we can dream) and a chicken for the BBQ. The Intermarche was packed with shoppers and in the lower carpark a huge campervan was getting in a fix as it tried to manoeuvre in the limited space between the concrete columns. And it has become a case of count the Indie Camper vans – now that is a business that has boomed in the last few years!

Sunday, 13 January 2019

A Cliff Top Walk, Wild Boar and Pig Cheeks....

Thursday 14th June  – For our last full day I had suggested to Beth that we walk from our house along the cliffs to Arrifana. It was a bright, clear blue-sky morning but not too hot. This stunning walk makes my spirits soar and it always takes longer than I expect. With sand underfoot the first section of the cliffs is a good calf workout. And the views are a knockout!

The views from my favourite walk around the cliffs on a perfect day

We passed a couple walking in the opposite direction and after the Ribat da Arrifana another couple and a dog followed us for a while. There are some stunning frontline properties with amazing sea views along this stretch. Down into the wooded hollow with dense pine needles underfoot where you need to watch out for wild boars hiding in the undergrowth. Then past the cattle grazing in the pasture by the farm at Palmeirinha. By the time we reached Praia da Arrifana we had walked over 10km and the breeze had kept us cool. We had a basic, wholesome lunch and a drink in one of the laidback cafes and, as always, enjoyed the totally different vibe of Arrifana and its majestic views from the cliff tops. Afterwards we walked home through the houses. This is a chance to have a good nosey at what others are doing with their houses and, more importantly, to inspect gardens and what is growing. Coming out of the trees after passing the convenience store, Roque e Filho, and on towards home I felt a sense of familiarity as Monchique came into view inland.
While we had been out Gerard had busied himself by giving the BBQ area a good clean. After Beth and I had enjoyed a short sit down, we joined him in tackling some jobs on the list as every task done was one less for tomorrow. (Unfortunately, I always find more jobs for the list.) Then I sat down on my beautiful patio and thought that the only reason I wanted to return to the UK the following day was to see my daughter and my beautiful grandchildren. Our life here is almost in touching distance now and its form is very real and appealing. I reflected that our ‘Big Adventure’ has become a reality but is certainly not mundane. 
As it was our last night we decided to eat out and checked out Trip Advisor for what is hot and what is not locally. We opted for Varzea opposite the Intermarche in Aljezur. It is situated in a building which was formerly a ‘Portuguese’ restaurant with a low profile, so we had never visited. It is a new venture for the popular Gulli restaurant on the road to Lagos. They have done a great job of creating an attractive, informal open-plan space and a garden area with tables. We opted for a range of sharing platters which were gluten free for Beth. We enjoyed sharing and talking about what we enjoyed about different aspects and flavours. I loved the tuna ceviche and it has inspired me to have a go at cooking this at home. Gerard was surprised to be told the tuna was uncooked by anything other than lime juice. For a food heathen this was a bit of a revelation and I was surprised that this unreformed ‘steak and chips’ man enjoyed the food so much too. We also enjoyed the stewed pig cheeks served with a cheesy mash which would have made a delicious meal by itself. We agreed we would definitely visit again and take visitors as it was good value and has a slightly smarter but unpretentious vibe which contrasts with some of the more basic ‘recycled’ cafes locally.
Friday 15th June – I woke at 6.30am planning how to create a funnel so we could fill the two plastic parasol bases we had bought from the Chinese shop in Aljezur with beach sand. I am sure there is probably a bye-law about this somewhere but I don’t think anyone will miss a few kilos of sand and in a few centuries time it will probably have blown straight back to where it came from. Rising early, I was preparing myself mentally for work on Monday morning. The first load of washing went in as soon as I was up as it is always a chore to get washing dry enough to put away on the last day. Fortunately, the list of jobs was not too long but every last day starts like this and degenerates into a mad dash as the time to leave for the airport draws closer.

The long shadows of another perfect morning
I took some photos of the garden under a perfect blue sky with long shadows as the sun started to climb above Monchique in the east. Shortly after 8am I had hung out the first load of washing and had cleaned the oven and hob. These are Candy appliances, were already installed when we bought the house, and are starting to show signs of wear. For a keen cook like me they are ineffective as the gas burners are not hot enough to bring a big pan quickly to the boil and the oven takes too long to heat up then gets too hot although in theory it is a fan oven so should distribute heat evenly. In the UK the Neff appliances I had installed over 10 years ago are still providing excellent heat control, so I notice the shortfall and will need to replace them when we move permanently. This all raises the question of should we budget for a new kitchen when we move permanently, or can we replace some aspects of this one and add to it?
Before we knew it, it was time to begin the final countdown and pile the last of our personal possessions into the lockable spaces as we prepared to leave for the airport. We were not due back until the end of September and another peak rental season was sitting between us and then.

Saturday, 5 January 2019

Of Parasols and Pottery...

Wednesday 13th June – We had been expecting blue skies but the day dawned overcast again. Back in the UK it was our little grandson’s first birthday which we were sorry to miss. I had been present at his birth and memories of that day reawakened. The work on the house next door but one house had been continuing and it was good to see it being transformed, from untended and tired-looking to fresh and inviting. We have never seen anyone living there so it will be interesting to see if residents turn up now. The gap between stagnation and generation is a small one here which reflects the feel - prosperous or run down - of all properties and businesses. We have also been hearing chainsaws running constantly, over beyond the recycling station, in the old campsite as some of the taller trees are felled, so we are hopeful that, as a result of the new nationwide forest fire protection measures, we will have a view of the sea and of Espartal on the other side of the valley.
We still needed to sort out the issue of the patio table delivered damaged which had been running on for far too long. And as we required a new parasol (there is not enough shade on the patio) we decided to suggest that we keep the damaged table in exchange for a parasol. We had called in at the furniture warehouse twice the previous day, but it was locked both times. As we pulled up today it was clearly open, and we waited downstairs calling out ‘Ola!’ and ‘Bom dia!’ before I marched upstairs to the manager’s office. He immediately recognised me and told me that the problem was that he no longer delivers to the Vale da Telha. I mentioned the need for a parasol and he looked mightily relieved. ‘I give you’ he beamed. I said I wanted a 3-metre fibreglass parasol, but he said he no longer supplies these as they break in the wind. Minutes later we walked out to the car with two 2m fibreglass parasols having shaken hands and made friends again after a year of hassle. I felt pleased with myself, and Gerard was surprised at my successful negotiating, the only problem was that we now needed suitable parasol bases.
We had decided to try the Cabanas beach restaurant near Burgau for lunch as we had called in there in March when it was closed. This is a very stylish spot in a cove just off the main road. Day beds can be hired on the beach with bar service while the white-boarded café has a sun-bleached seaside feel. Beth said it reminded her of the Winking Prawn in Salcombe, Devon where we had once seen a posh group rack up a £600 plus lunch time bill. Despite the upmarket, exclusive feel the food was different and tasty and not overly expensive. I enjoyed my Moroccan spiced carrot and chickpea salad and Gerard, who was initially not going to eat anything, said his steak and chips were tasty. While I love children, the ambiance was somewhat ruined by a lot of small and noisy children and a one-year old behind us who had recently discovered his voice and was experimenting with screaming. This was in competition with the constantly running coffee machine just behind us so the relaxing atmosphere was somewhat spoilt by the noise level.
After lunch we drove on to our favourite bargain hunter’s pottery barn at Sagres, O Po with loads of plates on the walls outside, as I wanted a few more serving dishes for the kitchen. I ended up with a bargain set of five stoneware serving dishes, in a trendily retro orange fondue style, for 8 euros as well as a pretty plant pot for my sister’s birthday which would mirror the reclaimed tile floor in her new house. It is possible some of the crocks here are slight seconds, but they are excellent value and the only problem is that they do not take credit cards, so make sure you turn up with cash.  
We drove back to the Vale da Telha via pretty Carrapateira and called in at the Chinese shop next to the little car park in Aljezur to buy cheap plastic parasol bases. Then on to the Intermarche to buy some fish for the BBQ. As the assistant was gutting them, I said ‘A cabeca’ and made a throat-cutting motion in international ‘sign’ language which resulted in the heads being removed. I have noticed I am getting braver at trying phrases in Portuguese and picking out words in conversations. Back at the house we wasted no time setting up our new parasols. They were not as big as I had hoped but they looked smart and together they offered a reasonable amount of flexible shade. While Gerard lit the BBQ, I picked some wild fennel from the roadside to cook the fish on between on the bats. This worked a treat and fragranced the moist fish without it overcooking. And we finally managed to eat outside without getting too chilly. We decided not to go to the quiz night as intended as the evening was so beautiful and felt precious. There will be plenty of other opportunities to go in future.

Saturday, 29 December 2018

Shopping Tips and a Stunning Sunset

Tuesday 12th June – For the first time since the new mosquito nets were installed, I was disturbed by a mozzie in the bedroom overnight. So, the screens are working but they can still get in somehow. Perhaps they sneakily stow away in the day when doors are open.
I had started to collect jars ready for when I live here as I had decided that I really miss pickles and chutneys which are a staple of British food and liven up cold meat, cheese, pates and pies. I will need to buy up fruit and vegetables when there are seasonal gluts to make batches of store-cupboard condiments. We tend to eat more healthily in Portugal as we buy whole foods rather than ready meals and we avoid cakes and biscuits as to be truthful, when you have tried them you realise that although they look appealing on the shop shelf they are underwhelming. I notice that we eat food with a low amount of sugar, but my appetite is well regulated. We had been thinking about how we could be more ‘self-reliant’ with regards to both food and energy and this is as opposed to ‘self-sufficient’. Part of this is as a means of saving money. Do we need to consider a bread-maker or a juicer? And what about making our own yoghurt? During this trip I had purchased a 1 kg tub of Greek yoghurt which I used for breakfasts and cooking, but it had cost 6.19 euros, so it was not cheap. Likewise, fresh orange juice costs 3.70 euros per litre in the supermarket and a good juicer would allow me to use seasonal fruit and vegetables.

We were going shopping to Portimao and Gerard had not left Aljezur and the Vale da Telha for nine days, so it was reassuring to hear him say that he had been quite content with that. We needed to chase up a patio table which was delivered damaged in May last year which we had been told would be replaced but had not been. But no one was present at the furniture warehouse lockup. We also needed pillow protectors. We called in at a bed showroom in Chinicato where we had purchased a bed at the start of our first rental season. The proprietor gave me a great tip for pillow protectors – Primark at the Aqua Shopping   in Portimao which was where we were headed. When we got there, she was right as I brought 16 soft, plump pillow protectors for 5euros a pair. Job done for 40 euros! We popped into AKI, a DIY store we like, for some more interior paint and clothes pegs. I have decided to stop buying plastic ones and opt for wood instead. No matter how good the plastic ones look they deteriorate quickly when left on the line, become brittle and snap in half. I seem to replace pegs at least twice a year. We were also looking for an electric knife sharpener/can opener like our one in the UK but the sales assistant in Worten showed us an electric carving knife instead and looked mystified when we tried to explain further. I know the frustration of trying to prepare food with blunt knives in a self-catering rental property and I try to make sure my kitchen is a pleasure to cook in for myself and my guests. Catering for up to eight people is chore at the best of times, never mind in an unfamiliar poorly equipped kitchen. Once again, I managed to get lost in the vast underground car parking chambers of Aqua Shopping. Oh dear, talk about totally disorientating. 
We went back to Lagos Marina and the Oasis café for lunch as it is so friendly, and the food is tasty with huge portions. We love to sit and people watch here but chose a table under the awning as the sun was popping in and out from behind the clouds and a fresh breeze was blowing making it quite nippy. After lunch we tried food shopping in the Pingo Doce which was busy. It made a change from the Intermarche and the fresh produce was better. We brought a wooden 2 kg crate of strawberries for 4 euros. Some items were cheaper than the Intermarche but there was less choice and till control was poor, meaning we spent a long time waiting to pay. When we got home the sun was shining and we sat on the patio. It was so peaceful and sunny. After we had eaten Beth and I walked down to the sea. The distinctive smell of the matagal is  familiar now. People were heading to the clifftops to watch the glowing orb of the sun merge into the horizon and light up the sky. We walked around the back of the cabins on Monte Clerigo beach and back up the road towards the Vale da Telha, cutting up the rough track beside the old campsite. We came through our front door just and into the welcoming light as the last of the daylight was fading outside and everything earthly was inky black against the darkening sky. We felt we had earned a bowl of strawberries and ice cream.

Monday, 26 November 2018

Garden Dreaming....

Saturday 9th June – It was drizzling when we woke up and by mid-morning it had become heavier. We had a slow start after our return from Lisbon and decided to go into Aljezur for a food shop and to buy a hacksaw blade. As we drove to town, we could see it was pouring towards Monchique. We went into Fertilizur, the hardware and agricultural store behind the Bombeiros and looked around for a hacksaw blade without success but as soon as we asked at the counter one was produced. From there we went to the supermarket which was packed with camper vanners and surfers, doing the same as us by getting the boring food shopping out the way before the better weather due in the afternoon arrived.
By the time we arrived home it was brightening, and the patio table and chairs were drying off which allowed us to eat lunch outside for the first time since we had arrived a week earlier. While we ate we developed a plan for the following few days which included completing the outdoor painting and doing some shopping. Our property agent had emailed a list of suggested ‘essential’ items for rentals from the ‘Homeaway’ site and we had read through it and taken note. We decided some things, like two sets of towels for each guest, weren’t for us (the cost of laundry would be prohibitive). As part of this ‘upgrade’, we had brought smoke and carbon monoxide alarms out to install although this isn’t a legal requirement. It makes good sense though as the impact of a death in one’s property would definitely put a big black cloud over a holiday rental venture. AirBnB want alarms to be a requirement and to be honest I had been thinking about them and just needed the final shove to install them. After lunch we read the instructions about putting them in the most effective places before getting the job done. Then Beth and I did a bit more weeding. The sun was shining, birds were flying around, and life felt calm and peaceful after the hurly-burly of Lisbon. Later I put some pork steaks in marinade and when we thought we had done enough work, so we sat in the sun on the patio and played a card game. Everything felt right with the world but surprisingly the temperature was only just topping 21 degrees. Later my sister phoned and we discussed the relative merits of which had used to book our Lisbon apartment versus AirBnB which we both use to rent out our own properties. We decided has some advantages, not least of which is the relative simplicity of their booking system which does not focus on people (both hosts and guests) as personalities. I like the anonymity of this as well, not having to convince people of my trendy uniqueness. Here I am hopelessly unhip, again.
In the evening we tried a bottle of Ginja, a Portuguese cherry liqueur for the first time. I decided it was enjoyable enough: similar to sloe gin with the whole fruit seeping in alcohol in the bottle and not as syrupy as cherry brandy.
Sunday 10th June – Another dishwater-dull day which we decided to use to finish painting outside. By 2pm we were done. After lunch Gerard and I went into Aljezur for a food shop, leaving Beth washing the sunbeds which had not been set out yet due to unseasonably cool spring weather. Aljezur was busy: the number of camper vans about is increasing and the camper van rental is a booming business with Indie Campers galore. In the Intermarche I had a go at buying my seafood from the counter in Portuguese. The assistant understood what I was saying but I need to practice quantities and numbers more. Back at the house it was on with the weeding. There were thistles at the front of the house with tap roots as deep and thick as carrots. Fortunately, the ground here is sandy and if I dug down carefully I could pull them out in one non-proliferating piece.
After our evening meal Beth and I walked out to the cliffs. There were so many wild flowers lying low to the matagal. I picked a few leaves of one that looked like thyme but when I rubbed them between my finger and thumb, the aroma was of lavender. Aromatic yellow curry plants were flowering close to the ground and wild fennel was unfurling fresh, frothy leaves to reach skywards. Note to self to try it on the BBQ. The burning ball of the sun was heading towards the sea when we turned to walk back towards the dusky land. There is an old track that cuts off past the abandoned campsite which we had not taken before. We went up it and came out further down our road. The old campsite is slightly creepy with its graffiti, abandoned pool and tennis courts. Not too many years ago it must have been someone’s dream venture, all folded now and disintegrating back into the land. I realised this is the new preferred dumping ground for local garden waste since the area opposite our property has been blocked off by the camara. There must be a business here for someone shredding it to use as mulch and to compost.

Evening stroll to the beach to see the sun set
Monday 11th June – I was out for coffee with my gardening group friends and a new member who has recently moved in not too far from me. Our conversation ranged far and wide across topics as varied as oil drilling and fracking off the coast, earthquakes, whether to compost due to snakes hiding in the heap, wild boar, and human excrement/toilet paper which has become a major and unpleasant problem on local footpaths due to the increase in camper vanners. I enjoyed a walk around the garden of a new friend who had moved here 18 months previously and had been landscaping her patch. I was starting to realise that the harsh climate means that success is measured in individual plants rather than lush landscapes. Poor topsoil and micro climates everywhere mean it is very difficult to know what will thrive. I learnt that the man who has the bigger nursery in Rogil will tell you what to plant if you take a sample of your soil to him. Ground is either rock/clay or sand. I have both types in my garden but one of my problems is that it appears that a lot of already meagre topsoil was removed when my plot was developed.
Back home, I set about imagining where I wanted to create vistas; where I needed windbreaks and where it might be viable to grow fruit trees or vegetables. And how to achieve all this without spending a fortune? After lunch Beth and I got on with some more weeding and one of the local dogs came by to watch us work while lying on the cool tiles by the pool. For the first time since we arrived, by late afternoon the breeze was actually hot. Once again, we were waiting for the renewables man from Lagos but no word came to say he was on his way. We celebrated the completion of the weeding and painting and the seeming return of good weather with a BBQ. But by the time we came to eat the outside temperature was cooling rapidly so we sat in the house to eat with the doors open. TV news was all about the Trump North Korea summit in Singapore and pre-World Cup Fever.
The BBQ man in action - where does he get those hats?

Tuesday, 30 October 2018

Hopelessly Unhip - My Sojourn in Lisbon Part 2

Thursday 7th June – Chloe had been active on the internet again and had identified the on-trend place to go for breakfast. Having met up, we set off walking down the narrow lanes back into town, with her in the lead on Google maps, to find another hip joint where I ate delicious vegan pancakes in a huge, fluffy pile accompanied by blueberries. From there we set off walking up numerous staircases over the back of the city to the tile museum. Let me tell you it wasn’t easy while those pancakes were digesting and one thing I noticed is that vegans enjoy fabulous, huge breakfasts. I think it was at this point that I decided that Lisbon was not going to be a city that Gerard could enjoy as it is just too hilly for people with breathing difficulties. The pleasure is in walking and admiring as there are not that many must-see attractions but rather it is about the overall impact of a historic maritime city with its own distinctive character.
The Tile Museum
The tile museum gave us an appreciation of the development of tiles over the centuries making it easier to date them. I loved the huge tile panorama of the Lisbon skyline viewed from the river which was created just before the devastating earthquake of 1755 which was situated on the top floor. This allows visitors to appreciate the churches and other historic buildings that were destroyed. Leaving the tile museum, we took another Uber to Belem to view the tower and it was during this ride I appreciated just how spread out the riverfront of the city is. By now the weather was really mucky and dressed in light summer clothes, we were feeling a bit shivery, so we decided to forgo the queues to look inside. From there we walked over to the Monasterio de Jeronimos with its Manueline architecture unique to Portugal. The streets were full of jacaranda trees in full coats of violent purple blossom making the vistas appear surreal. There was a conflagration of tourist buses and taxis out the front of the monastery as this is one of the Lisbon must-sees on the tour trail. But Chloe was on the ball again and had already found out that we could skip the queues by buying a combined ticket in the archaeology museum next door. I enjoyed the exhibition from Loule about the archaeology of the central Algarve which contained some finds from the roman villa in Vilamoura which we had previously visited. And I was fascinated by the 8,000-year-old writing carved into stone slabs which has not been deciphered yet. 

The Monasterio de Jeronimos

The best part of the monastery itself for a history buff like me was the huge timeline which ran the history of Portugal parallel to World history. I learnt a lot more about Portuguese history including something about a dodgy monarch with podgy daughters who had to flee to Brazil which was a shame as Portugal never regained its glory days when the navigators who opened up the World’s trade routes (we will draw a veil over their role in the slave trade at this point).
The Belem Tower
We used Uber to return to the city centre at the end of the afternoon and in rush hour traffic this took over 45 minutes through hectic streets. For four people Uber proved a very cost-effective way to get around as four journeys, some quite lengthy, split four ways it cost 8 euros each. Meanwhile I am still working my way through  the ethics of the gig economy which for someone who has studied industrial relations seems like a backward step in terms of worker protection dressed up as progress.
Friday 8th June – for the last day I had a fabulously huge brunch for 10.50 euro in the totally gluten-free café Despensa No. 6. We were out of the main tourist throng in this area of Lisbon and we really liked this clean, smart café. After we had stashed our cabin bags at Entrecampos station we walked down to the Museu Calouste Gulbenkian, which house a fine art collection bridging the centuries with a post-pop exhibition particularly focused on the Revolution of 25 April 1974 and the desire of artists in all media for creative freedom including sexual and religious freedom, freedom of speech and workers’ liberation. I was reading Orhan Pamuk’s ‘Snow’ which looked at the same issues through the opposing lens of an isolated eastern Turkish town where the secularism of Ataturk is being confronted by the growing Islamic fundamentalism of the townspeople. It is the eternal struggle between freedom which allows us to be ourselves and conservatism which brings a collective sense of belonging. I enjoyed looking at the exhibition as it coincided with when I was last in Lisbon and it looked so dated but, in my memory, of course it isn’t dated or black and white at all. More a fabulous flurry of bright embroidered cheesecloth, loon pants, fairground lights and beaches and of course the red backdrop of the post-revolutionary period.
Goodbye Lisbon from the 25 de Abril Bridge
Beth and I left Sarah and Chloe in the museum to walk back to Entrecampos to catch the train. They reported that they loved their visit and spent a long time sitting in the beautiful gardens. We, meanwhile, had a 55-minute delay for our train but at least I now have enough Portuguese to be able to understand the station announcements, so we didn’t need to panic and seek an English-speaking platform attendant. As I said, trains don’t seem to be big in Portugal. When our train finally pulled in we had been allocated seats in carriage 24 but the ticket conductor told us we would need to move up to carriage 22 or 23 to be able to alight at Grandola so we had to move. We could hear lots of American voices around us complaining loudly about the delay but by the time we got off in Grandola some of the delay had already been made up. It was a twisty 2-hour drive home, but it was sunny and bright, and the countryside looked so much prettier than it had in the rain two days earlier.