Silver Coast Property Hunter

“There’s this job Zed…” I said, sipping the coffee he’d just brought me, “…being advertised.”  I had thought about it all morning.  We could do with finishing the kitchen.  The three kitchens.  Who has three kitchens and not one of them finished?  The olive trees needed attention, the windows were leaking upstairs, plus….I did spend a lot of time on the internet looking at old properties anyway, had (almost) renovated two houses and enjoyed months of house hunting.  If there was one job I would enjoy to supplement my income it would be this one.  I typed out the email, attached my cv and with a flourish hit ‘send’.

One thing I really love about Portugal is the amazing variety of architecture around with few properties the same.  There are balconies and towers, roof terraces at strange angles, an assortment of railing styles and shutters, teeny village houses and small farms or vineyards, ultra modern in bright colours or old and rambling.

Which is why if, like me, you love old buildings or modern architecture then finding properties with ‘Perfect Property Portugal’ for other people to start a new life on the Silver Coast is a lovely job.

“Go for it,” said Zed, as he handed me a quote for the windows.  Then another quote for painting the house.  Then another quote for…..

So now I have an extra job, hurrah!  On this page are my choices for the week in a selection of price ranges.  If you want to take a look at any or have your own personal search done you can go directly to the site and contact PPP (ideally mentioning this website or reference GZ) or drop a line in the comments below.  The site has its own search facility so you can browse yourself, but PPP also have access to about 3000 properties in the area through other agents so if you have specific plans to come over I can do a more thorough search.

Why buy here? There’s heavy investment planned to promote tourism in the area, Ryan Air have just moved into Lisbon airport and property prices are still low so it couldn’t be a better time to pick up a holiday home or start a new lifestyle.  If you don’t want to be near the beach and tourist bustle then head inland towards the Serra Do Montejunto or the Candeeiros National Park.

Meanwhile I’m going to make a start on the olive grove.

Er….no this blog isn’t going to morph into an estate agent’s site, but you may have to indulge me occasionally!

 

 

 

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Fear of the Centipede

Not quite sure what I think about the centipede (Wikipedia)

Not quite sure what I think about the centipede (Wikipedia)

“Mum, mum, there’s a ….thing in the bath.”  Oh no, not a spider, please not a spider.  I peered in.  Ugh.  A strange, long legged centipede.  Like a spider with a long body and oh, about 100 legs.  Great. Now then, an elephant, a tiger, a mouse in the bath would all be fine.  But a tiny little insect. Aaargh!!!

I don’t mind lizards.  Mice, cute.  Rats, hmmm.  Ants, interesting.  Beetles, many hours spent rescuing them from pools and ponds.  A centipede, well this particular type, was new to me, and I wasn’t quite sure…

I'll happily rescue a beetle in distress

I’ll happily rescue a beetle in distress

With no Zed here it was down to me to grab glass and paper and remove it.  I took it outside and it hurried away on it’s 30 plus brown legs.  Not actually 100 legs, apparently. I didn’t count them.  Anyway, for the next half an hour whenever I felt anything on my skin, a dressing gown belt, hem of my skirt, I was convinced it was a many legged something and would jump.

I can cope with mice though.

I can cope with mice though.

I believe this brown, many legged creature is a House Centipede.  We’ve seen quite a few while we’ve been here.  On the plus side, according to information I found on real monstrosities they eat other insects.  Keeping the rest of the insect population down in the house.  They’re particularly keen on silver fish.  On the minus side they can sting and cause swelling or a rash.  Otherwise fairly harmless.

Maybe I’ll keep the house centipede and throw the elephant and tiger out with the bath water instead.

Power Cut

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I’m writing this in darkness. Groan. Another power cut. Zed was in the middle of a promising sentence “do you want a dri..?” when the kettle stopped. Time for candles, torches, another eccentric evening in Quinta Blackberry.

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I move closer to the fire remembering from my childhood the English power cuts of the seventies, wintery nights spent in darkness while the miners went on strike. Candles came out. It was exciting. Thrilled at being sent home early from  country dance class at school because there was no power.

Reminded of the power cuts in the 1970s

Reminded of the power cuts in the 1970s

Forward to the noughties and er…progress. Power cuts in our Cambridgeshire village happened every time there was a storm, which wasn’t surprising given the way the wires lit up across the road potentially electrocuting every bird perched on top.

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All power to Cambridge

Our burglar alarm would go off. The first time this happened I expected the police to roar up with a view to apprehending burglars. I waited with panic and embarrassment and then what happened? Er…nothing. No-one came. For that extra service, actual help and rescue, we would have to pay an exorbitant fee. That first night we called the alarm manufacturers and they charged triple figures to stop the noise. After that we just let it carry on and after twenty minutes the alarm went off by itself. It didn’t seem to matter since no-one was planning to rush to our aid. We bought a large, black dog instead.

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Neither did we escape power cuts when we moved to Spain. We only had a certain amount of power on the system so if we had a heater on and boiled the kettle we would be thrown into darkness should we decide that oh, we’d rather like to make some toast too.

Barcelona

Barcelona

It’s late now and I want to get to bed but it’ll be cold in the room with the electric heater off. This series of power cuts started during a storm several weeks ago but now they continue through milder weather. Zed’s braving the cold upstairs but I’m remaining by the gas heater.  Next to it I can hear a snuffling in the darkness, a soft furry body and then heavy breathing. A large black dog to keep me warm. Burglar alarm, heater and dog all rolled into one.

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Alternative Kindling

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Bountiful deciduous trees in France

Finally!  A use for brambles besides blackberries.  Zed spent the autumn chopping them down along the fence.  They’re lying next to the Lisbon house, Quinta Blackberry, in the lane that goes nowhere waiting to be burned or shredded and composted.  It’s been a cool, wet week.  A week to sit by the fire at night and watch the golden glow, toasting marshmallows.  Yum.

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I loved wandering round the orchard in England collecting fallen apple and walnut twigs for kindling then back to a roaring fire, hot chocolate, throwing branches onto the flames.  In France I pottered around ancient forests with the dog, coming back after every walk with a bag of twigs.

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French Woods

In Castelo Branco there were pine cones in abundance lying by the side of footpaths.  Pine cones.  To tell you the truth before coming to Portugal I’d never thought to use pine cones as kindling before.  We had a few dusty ones from summer holidays abroad that we stuck up in the attic with the Christmas stuff every year. But make fabulous kindling they do and sell for about 2.50 euros a sack here.

Pines and boulders in Castelo Branco

Bountiful pines and boulders in Castelo Branco

However in this region of Lisbon predominated by evergreens there are few deciduous trees with twigs to fall, no ancient beech or oak trees nearby. Just acres of pine trees keeping the winter green.  With pine cones a saleable commodity there aren’t any lying around on our regular walks.  Indeed the pine trees have already been cut down to be sold for winter fuel, changing the landscape considerably.  Our new garden has no old trees from which twigs fall in the wind.  We have palm trees, a few small fruit trees and many olive trees, none of which yield fallen branches.  Probably a good thing for the olives.  But we have seasoned brambles by the dozen lying unwanted in heaps.

Brambly hedge in the garden

Brambly hedge in the garden at Quinta Blackberry

I’ve been burning them in the fireplace for the last two days.  They burn easily and make quite a flame, lighting the bigger wood.  It’s satisfying, that sense of foraging, making use of what’s available. Like making jam. Back to nature and all that.  If a little prickly.

Foraging in France

Out foraging in France

Today the novelty’s worn off. Though I wear thick gloves to pick up the brambles my hands are still scratched and my clothes snagged.  I’m done with foraging for the fire.  I’m off to the supermarket to buy pine cones.

Exploring the Best Ways to Heat a House

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Land of sunshine – oh no it’s raining again!

Oh no it’s raining again!  We don’t have central heating but the living room is 14.5 celsius without it so that’s probably not too bad.  If you’re wearing a thick jumper.  I’ve read various online opinions from experienced expats on the most efficient form of heating in Portugal.  Double glazing and insulation being a given.  With that in mind, how are we doing?

Insulation and double glazing - not quite there yet

Insulation and double glazing – not quite there yet

Aha, we should move to Portugal I hastily thought as icy rain hit me in the face in England two years ago.  It’s warm there.  We froze through our first winter in the inland region of Castelo Branco in a house where we had ripped out the ceiling and therefore scuppered the chance of adding additional insulation.  Instead we created two mezzanine spaces.   They look good though.  Our neighbour insisted on giving us extra quilts which we were too polite to turn down, maybe we looked cold as we left the house and she was right, along with a constant supply of cabbages and oranges.

Bags of vitamin C

Bags of vitamin C

Eventually we installed a wood burning stove.

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The new wood burning stove in the old kitchen

Here we are, a year on much nearer Lisbon and the coast, again without central heating. On the bright side, touching wood here, I’ve not had a cold all winter.  The other day it was 20 celsius outside and a lovely sunny day.  Portuguese houses are traditionally designed to keep out heat though so it’s often much colder inside.

Much warmer outside, although you may need to be fully dressed to go swimming

Much warmer outside, although you may need to be fully dressed to go swimming

The heating system the previous owners had installed was let’s say, unusual.  A large pipe ran from the top of the fireplace around the ceiling into which hot air is supposed to flow from the fire.  It was then boxed in.  A builder who first came to look at the house said he had the same system and it was useless and advised us to dispose of it.  Diggory, the builder we finally employed, ripped out parts of it in the kitchen and showed us a nest that had been made inside, suspiciously more like rodent than birds nests, but then who knows the house was at one time full of birds before we moved in.  Evidenced by the amount of mess they’d left everywhere.

Central heating?

Central heating?

When the electricians came along they tore off another bit of the piping system leaving an ugly gap which we tried to hide over Christmas by hanging Christmas stockings over it.  Zed finally decided to rip out the rest of the boxing above the fireplace which is now ready for me to paint over.  Looking forward to it.

Just needs a lick of paint

Just needs a lick of paint

So what are we heating ourselves with?  Hmmm.  The main hall has a fire place.  Clearly it used to have a glass front which the last owners or vandals ripped out just leaving the metal casing. It’s not therefore very efficient but it burns wood and looks cosy.  For actual heat we have an ugly Calor gas heater in the living room and electric radiators in the bedrooms.

Gloves for indoors and outdoors

Wrapping up for indoors and outdoors

The long term plan is to install air conditioners which combine as heaters during the winter months as recommended by friends who have probably tried just about everything.  Costing around 700 euros to buy and install per unit.  Judging by various online forums, a wood burning stove seems cost wise to be the most efficient form of heating. Logs are approximately 100 euros a ton. Thing is I love to stare into flames in lieu of any decent TV programmes and so we will stay with an open fire and at some point replace the glass.  Solar heating isn’t apparently cost efficient due to the high price of installation (though of course a must for helping the planet if you can afford it) and we would eventually like to go that route for hot water.  We have been quoted 2500 euros although I’m sure we’ll end up paying more.  But that’s another story.

Meanwhile, a thick jumper will have to do and plenty of outdoor walks.

Plenty of outdoor walks

Plenty of outdoor walks

If you’ve got any tips and experiences on this subject I’d love to hear about them in the comments!

Everything but the kitchen sink

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“Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat, the kitchen isn’t finished in the upstairs flat!”

Well not a flat/apartment exactly but like many Portuguese houses ours has been made so that it can either be one big house or divided into two separate living areas.  We’ve gone with the latter idea and decided to put a kitchen upstairs as well as down.  Starting with upstairs.

Sometime around the end of November Jean Paul something de Local, a recommended carpenter, was booked to put in some wooden kitchen units which he very efficiently did and very nice they look too.  We were then left to call Diggory, the builder, to sort out the work top and buy the sink, cooker etc. ourselves.

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Somehow between then and now life became one long chaos of carol services, trips to Zurich, the parent visiting for Christmas and going back to England because it was too cold, looking for Christmas crackers (unsuccessful), writing Christmas cards (not yet posted), finding a British shop for mince pies (successful, hurrah!) and Christmas shopping. Oh hang on I haven’t done that yet.  Oops, two days to go, thank goodness for Santa Claus.

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“Do you think it’s too late to call Diggory now?” I said as I stuffed another mince pie in.  What I hadn’t yet done was called the builder to fit the work top, choose a cooker, a microwave, a sink and anything else that would have been useful for cooking a turkey with trimmings on Christmas day.  Hmmm.  Can a turkey fit into a small, round halogen oven I wonder?  On the bright side, we have a camping stove so we can manage the Brussels sprouts.  The children will be pleased.

Room for a turkey?

Room for a turkey?

Nope we can’t get an oven tomorrow because we have a three hour drive to the village house in Castelo Branco to pick up the Christmas tree.  Must get our priorities right.  Looks like a nut roast this year.

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Blackberry and W…. Crumble

Mellow fruitfulness

Mellow fruitfulness

“I’ve a surprise for you mummy.  Close your eyes”.

“Oh I love surprises.”

“Now open them”.

My son, dishevelled and shoeless, handed me a bowl of juicy looking, dark red blackberries.  The first of the season.  “Aah, thank you, that’s a lovely surprise”, I said, pleased at his thoughtfulness.

“Can we have a goat?”  he said, having bribed me with the blackberries.  “Do goats eat brambles?”

Do goats eat brambles?

Do goats eat brambles?

The following day, having already eaten yesterday’s offerings, I suggested he pick some more so I could make a crumble.  “No.  It won’t be a surprise”, he said.  “You’re missing the point, mummy.  It’s the surprise that’s the thing, not the blackberries”.

“Right”.

It's all in the surprise

It’s all in the surprise

We all love blackberries.  They’re healthy. Packed choc full of goodness.  They make great pies, smoothies, a substitute for sweeties.  They grow around our house in abundance.

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I love the way you pop a blackberry in your mouth, crunch the pips and get a shedload of vitamins.  When I washed them in the UK worms would float out of them. Blackberry worm and apple crumble. I wonder, sometimes, how many worms I have eaten in my life, eating the fruit straight from the bush.  In Portugal, surprisingly, I haven’t yet seen a worm wriggle out.

I expected to miss blackberries when we moved to Portugal. We used to have them the size of a small walnut snaking their way up the side of our garage and into the yard. I was struck with sheer delight when I spotted them in the hedgerows at Castelo Branco last year.  They are the epitome of food for free.  They are also spawned from one of the nastiest blighters known to man.  For this reason I will be the happiest gardener/home maker alive if I never see a blackberry in or around my garden EVER again.

Banish the blackberry?

Banish the blackberry?

When we bought the Lisbon house, which currently remains nameless and so for the purposes of the blog I shall now rename Quinta Blackberry, we couldn’t get to the bottom of the garden for the brambles.  We tried to hack a path through.  We didn’t get far.  Somewhere in there were olive trees.  I could see the tops poking through. Who knew what was also there?  A vineyard maybe.  An apple orchard.  Plums.  All we could see were brambles which tore at our clothes and summer sandels.

When we were house hunting every uninhabited house had its share of these thorn bushes.  I ruined a new pair of beautiful black French boots viewing the gardens.  I will never forgive them.

The brambles had to go.  It was the first job we gave to our Portuguese builder, Diggory.  The yard was still full of rubbish after our estate agent, Era, had promised to clear it for us after we’d made a deal with them.  After constant chasing it became apparent they were never going to organise this.  Diggory, our builder, got the job.  His brother and another three guys worked from nine till nine, collecting and loading rubbish, hacking away and chopping.  I was exhausted just watching.

Clearing the garden - exhausting just to watch

Clearing the garden – exhausting just to watch

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But lo!  The following day a miracle had occurred!  The brambles ten feet tall at the side of the house had gone.  We could see the end of the garden.  We had…..I went and counted….37 olive trees.  Yay!  Even a plum tree.

37 olive trees, a plum tree ... and the washing

37 olive trees, a plum tree … and the washing

A few weeks later I’m hanging out the washing with a makeshift line strung between the olives.  The odd thorny plant still twists its way round the trees with fruit hanging temptingly. The brambles are flourishing once more, growing between the cracks in the paving as though going for gold at the Olympics.  I wear wellies down by the olives even though it’s dry, sometimes 25 degrees and rising, to keep thorns from scratching my skin.  Time to do battle with weed killer.  Then the plough.  Maybe a goat.  Do goats eat brambles?

Brambles being sneaky

Brambles being sneaky – do goats eat them?