In My Dreams #flying100

Madeira

Madeira.  I remember a small, white handkerchief with pink embroidered flowers sewn into one corner. “Here,” said Paul, “for you. From Madeira.” I was thirteen. Paul, brown haired, brown eyed with a calm, wistful expression was my first boyfriend. We saw ‘Grease’ together and ‘Abba, The Movie’. Went ice skating and roller skating. Exciting times. He’d just been on holiday to Madeira. With the impulsiveness of a thirteen year old I let go of Paul a few weeks later but I still have the handkerchief and a hankering for Madeira, a small island off the coast of Portugal.

reef on Selvagem Pequena, Savage Islands,  Madeira

In my dreams I have a blurred image of sharp, blue seas, dolphins waving, varnished wooden sail boats lazing into shore. In my dreams as I lie on the golden sand my freckles and pink skin tone have gone to be replaced by the smooth colour of warm tea as I stretch out under the sun with an imagined sylph like figure watching dolphins jump past and fish nibbling my toes. I wander around Funchal and get lost among old yellow buildings, look up at dazzling emerald green countryside with volcanic mountains bearing down above me.

Madeira

Yet what do I really know about Madeira apart from – oh isn’t there a cake named after it? Madeira cake indeed. Further research and I find that the cake is named after Madeira wine. Friends visit and acquaintances recommend the place but still I haven’t been. Other islands have lured me sooner; Tenerife, Fiji, the Cook Islands, Tahiti.  Yet this small island sits in the Atlantic Ocean to the north west of the Canaries, waiting for my visit.

Madeira

What have I been missing? I glimpse pictures of those blue seas and golden beaches on web pages and in magazines. Mountains shrouded in mists. Stunning images of Europe’s first underwater nature reserve off the Garajau coastline. Another site offers breath taking mountain views though Laurissilva forests. I delve further because – what is a Laurissilva tree? I discover it is laurel. A forest of laurel. Sifting through articles with lists of things to do I am tempted by water skiing, surfing, diving, fishing, whaling and dolphin spotting.

Laurel forest in Madeira

How have I missed this? Why have I gone to other islands only to realise Madeira has it all a short flight away. I see myself and the children pottering happily through rock pools, diving into the sea salt swimming pool at Lido, myself and my husband riding the cable cars at Funchal and strolling through streets steeped in history and bright buildings full of character. The tourist board tells me that the island is bathed in a tidal wave of festivals throughout the year, culminating in fireworks on New Year’s Eve.

Funchal ferry crossing

Oh it seems that everyone has been, declared it breath taking, glorious, but me. Even Christopher Columbus stayed here for a few years and well, why wouldn’t he?

Christopher columbus, Madeira

This post is an entry for the #Flying100 Family Holiday Challenge, celebrating how flying allows us to make memories and ‘be there’, in association with #Flying100. Find out more at http://bit.ly/flying100

Let’s Visit Caldas Da Rainha

Caldas da Rainha, places to visit, property for sale Silver Coast, boutiques, travel portugal

 

If you’re visiting the Silver Coast this summer don’t miss out on the town of Caldas da Rainha.  If you’re thinking of locating it’s also a great place to live, with plenty of art galleries, museums, great sports facilities including a world class tennis centre and hey, even a boating lake in the park.

This is an old spa town with a tradition of ceramics.  There are museums dedicated to ceramics, cycling, a hospital museum and of course art and sculpture plus a large cultural centre hosting regular events.  If museums aren’t your thing, there are a couple of large, indoor shopping centres too.

Wander around the old part, stroll through the centre with a range of individual shops or visit the daily fruit and vegetable market.  Then when you’re done have a galao (coffee in a glass) at the cafe in the park or in one of the many side streets off the main square.

Caldas da Rainha, Silver Coast, Sight seeing, Places to visit, church, Portugal, tourism Portugal

 

Awesome Alcobaca on the Silver Coast

Alcobaça monastery, Silver Coast, Places to Visit

Alcobaça Abbey

A tragic love story.  That’s about all I knew about the town and abbey of Alcobaça on the Silver Coast. They also have a groovy food festival but I’d never been to that either. I’ve driven past it a zillion times on the school run over the past year determined to find the time to go.

Street in Alcobaça

Alcobaça

Alcobaça is an inland town on the Silver Coast. When my Norwegian pal Hege agreed to accompany me on a trip I was looking forward to finding out more.  Hege is a historian. If you are going to visit a monastery then a historian is the person to go with.

Alcobaça

Alcobaça street style

Alcobaça abbey, the abbey of Santa Maria, is fabulous. As you enter, the gothic vaulted ceiling takes your breath away. Hege pointed out the bricks with identifying marks from each particular stone masons. The monastery is hundreds of years old yet you could imagine the guy chipping out his signature. It reminded me of the stone in our 100 year old house at Castelo Branco with a mark that belonged to our builder’s grandfather. I wonder if brickies do that these days.

Alcobaça abbey, stone signature, stone mason

Do stonemasons still leave their mark?

Alcobaça abbey, stone pillar, mark of stonemason

I stood in the vast abbey with that beautiful smell of old stone and a calmness that reminded me of my home church at St Peters, currently redundant. Religion aside, I love standing in empty churches with the light flowing through. This abbey was actually full of tourists but I still had a sense of peace.

Alcobaça abbey

Vaulted gothic ceiling inside the abbey

Onto tragic love story.  The tomb of Inês lies opposite that of Pedro. In a nutshell Pedro, heir to the throne, was ordered to marry Princess Constanza but he was actually in love with Inês, a noblewoman.  When Constanza died Pedro married Inês in secret but the king had her murdered as he thought she and her family were a threat to the throne. When Pedro’s father, King Alfonso, passed away Pedro dug up the body of Inês and had her crowned – forcing the court to kiss her decomposed hand in acknowledgement. Nice one. This was all quite a while ago around 1355. Kind of feel sometimes that the world hasn’t really moved on much.

Alcobaça abbey, cloisters, cleaned stonework

Abbey cloisters, notice the contrast with the stark, white, newly cleaned area of the lower building

Alcobaça abbey, cloisters

Interior of the cloisters with vaulted ceiling

The abbey was free but we paid to stroll through the cloisters which were around E6.00. Intricately carved Manueline stonework adorns the courtyard and I could imagine the Cistercian monks pottering along the stone floor on their way to the kitchen with its fantastic 18m high chimney.

Medieval kitchen, Alcobaça abbey, Silver Coast,

18m high chimney, that’s a lot of cooking – you should see the size of the fireplace!

If you want to know more about the abbey the Unesco World Heritage site explains the history of the abbey in more detail.
http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/505

Alcobaça, Silver Coast, Portugal tourism

Loved the little lanes and well kept architecture

Alcobaça is full of restaurants and restored old houses down little lanes. A river runs through it and the name Alco and Baca come from the two rivers. Indeed, the River Alcoa and the River Baça.

Alcobaça, River Alcoa, Silver Coast, Places to visit in Portugal

River Alcoa

There are some lovely individual shops here too but we hadn’t come for shopping.

Alcobaça, shops, street scene, Portugal Silver Coast, Places to Visit

Tempting – but we hadn’t come to shop

We ate in a restaurant off the main square then headed to the monastery at Batalha, built to celebrate the Portuguese victory with the Castilians at the Battle of Aljubarrota – a battle which only lasted about an hour.

Batalha, monastery, unfinished chapel, places to visit, Silver Coast

Batalha, Manueline stonework, medieval abbey, places to visit, Silver Coast

Ornate Manueline stonework

 

Batalha, tomb of Prince Henry the Navigator

Here lies Prince Henry the Navigator

Similar in style to Alcobaça, gloriously impressive, the highlight of the abbey I felt was actually the strange unfinished chapel, with ornate Manueline decoration around the archway, roofless, open to the sky with tombs around the side.

The striking unfinished chapel - sorry, didn't get round to the roof, mate

The striking unfinished chapel – sorry, didn’t get round to the roof, mate

More information can be found about Batalha at http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/264

Batalha monastery, drinking fountain, places to visit, Silver Coast, Portugal

Drinking fountain

Batalha monastery, cloisters, Silver Coast, places to visit

Cloisters

 

I heartily recommend a trip to both these towns. We didn’t have time to fit in Tomar which has a rather grand convent. I’ll have to find another historian to go with, Hege has returned to Norway.

Batalha monastery, cloisters, Silver Coast, places to visit

 

Batalha gift shops

Plenty of quaint gift shops at Batalha

 

Trekking with Llamas

Llama

Hurray – we’ve finally found an animal that likes eating brambles!  Llamas.  I’ve been told they eat anything spikey and just to prove it they munched and nibbled hawthorn in abundance when we went for a short llama trek.

That’s just one of the interesting facts we found out on our recent visit to National Forest Llamas treks.  I know, the National Forest isn’t in Portugal, (actually in Leicestershire, UK) but as we’ve found there don’t seem to be any llamas to trek with in Portugal.  I hope someone reading this blog will prove me wrong but apart from Quinta Pedagogica, and Aljezur Alpacas on the Algarve which of course only have alpacas, we can’t find a single llama farm. Which is a shame because we would really like to have some Portuguese llamas.

children with llamas

Not just to eat up the prickly plants at Quinta Blackberry, with its over abundance of brambles for which I am finding all sorts of uses, but to run our hands through their thick woolly coats, hug them, walk with them, talk with them and watch them.  Use them to keep foxes and wild dogs at bay for our planned ducks which they are particularly good at and maybe, you never know, get some wool from their gorgeous, woolly coats. Indeed, I see myself in a natty llama capelet as styled by the casting on couch.

Domestic llamas, llama farm

My current dream, apart from finishing the two houses we are renovating, writing children’s books and expounding the many virtues of Portugal, revolves around trekking through the countryside with a wonderful view of the Montejunto hills, llama in one hand, picnic in the other and the dog at our heels.  Trekking with llamas would be fabulous.  If only we could find some.

Available on Amazon £4.99 or less.

Available on Amazon £4.86/£1.86 Kindle edition

Coming soon from Alicia Sunday, ‘Alfie!’ and ‘Angel Super Sleuth’.

 

 

 

 

The Firefly Sessions, Good Food, Awesome Music!

Nicole Maguire

Nicole Maguire

Can’t wait for St Patrick’s Day in Central Portugal when our neighbours Sandie and Gee will be launching the Firefly Sessions at Casal Garcia, near Cadaval, an hour’s drive from Lisbon.

It’s going to be an unforgettable experience, an opportunity to hear a range of fabulous live Irish music from several musicians throughout the evening, eat gorgeous food, make new friends and honour the  memory of Taidgh Burke, with whom these sessions were conceived, from the awesome Irish band ‘The Calvinists’.

The Calvinists

The Calvinists

You don’t have to be Irish (I’m not) to appreciate this evening, just have a love of good music, good food and unique surroundings set in the gorgeous countryside close by the Serra de Montejunto, a protected landscape with glorious views.

Hosts Sandi and Gee always create a lovely, warm atmosphere and it’s no surprise that Casal Garcia itself is already booked out with guests flying over from Ireland for the event.  Aer Lingus probably can’t believe their luck!

Nicole Maguire

Nicole Maguire

So who’s kicking off the evening’s entertainment at the first Firefly session?  That’ll be Cork’s much loved singer/songwriter Nicole Maguire.  Taken under the wing of Grammy Award Texan singer Nancy Griffiths and Ireland’s preeminent live performer Damien Dampsey early in her career, this is the buzz:

“Her voice is serenely beautiful and carries her intricate flowing sublime melodies effortlessly. She has an eagle’s eye for detail and her lyrics transport you to places, with great stories. She is a great communicator and can always win over a tough crowd that isn’t her own and all her hard work is now paying off. Definitely a star in the ascendency.” Damien Dempsey.

Nicole Maguire

Nicole Maguire

“Nicole’s singing and playing convey a real purity of sound and emotion. There’s no artifice with her – Nicole’s absolutely the real thing.” Mitchell Froom, music producer.

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Come and join us in the beautiful Montejunto countryside.

The Firefly sessions will continue throughout the summer with The Deans dropping by for the April Firefly Session, so if you can’t make this Monday, 17 March 2014, I’ll keep you posted about further events or you can check yourself for information through the Facebook page of Casal Garcia.  Tickets are £25.00 and include a meal by resident chef Gee.  For bookings contact Sandie at lightrailproductions@gmail.com.

The Album 'What You Really Mean'.

The Album ‘What You Really Mean’.

Walking on stilts: Obidos Revisited

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I wobbled across the floor on a pair of wooden stilts.  Hey, I still had it!  We were at the Toy Museum in Obidos.  Of course at this point we were supposed to be watching the light display or the Natal Luz.  Hmmm, I’ve heard that somewhere before I hear you say.  Wasn’t that what you were trying to do in the last blog?  YES WE WERE!  We were jolly well supposed to be watching them New Year’s Eve and missed them, and then, because I don’t like failure or maybe because once I have an itch I need to scratch it till it bleeds, or for whatever reason we went again on New Year’s Day.  We arrived with plenty of time to spare.  Then waited.

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While I polished off a bag of hot roast chestnuts Zed strolled up to a wooden booth in a dark corner and noticed a small sign that said in Portuguese that the Christmas village was closed due to the rain.  We concluded that this extended to the Natal Luz, the light display we had come to watch.  We strolled away, while other couples came along, stood, looked for the light display and walked off.

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On the bright side we discovered the charming toy museum.  Scary, but true, it had some toys that I remember from childhood oh, a while ago.  Santa showed us up to the first floor exhibits and then we were let loose on the top floor where you are allowed to play with a good selection of outdoor, traditional wooden toys.  I hogged the stilts, my daughter semi-mastered the cock and hoop.  Zed found a pair of stilts for adults and managed some stairs with them.  Jae pulled himself back and forth on a kart and we all had a go at some floor games.  We were the last to leave.  I think, in fact, they were waiting for us to go so they could close. Sorry.

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We rounded the evening off with ice cream and hot chocolate almost reliving a second childhood, until I spoiled that myth by ordering ginga liqueur in a chocolate cup.  Which I fully recommend along with the toy museum.

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Visit to Obidos: Looking for The Light Fantastic

Vila Natal

Vila Natal

“Must be up this way,” said an English group passing us.  They were probably looking for the Natal Luz, Christmas lights, and it was on the tip of my tongue to say “no, it’s not on” but maybe they knew something we didn’t.

It was half past eight in the evening on New Year’s Eve. I looked at the leaflet for the last time and there it was, clear as the blue waters of Obidos lagoon printed in white on a red background.  Natal Luz.  Christmas Light.  ‘Every day of the event 1800-2200.  Exception for Dec 25 and Jan 1 1800-20.00′.  Not ‘to’.  Definitely not ‘to’. So according to the leaflet it should finish at ten.  We checked the original Portuguese description which confirmed this.  Can’t tell you how many times we re-read that leaflet. You see, we weren’t just wandering around looking for any old Christmas lights, but a particularly magnificent display on the side of a wall.  Somewhere in Obidos.  An attractive town with a castle situated on the Portuguese Silver Coast.

Ice Slide

Ice Slide

In the afternoon we had visited Obidos for the first time.  We had a delightful time.  We entered to the smell of hot roast chestnuts.  The narrow, cobbled, main shopping street was festooned with stalls selling ginga (cherry liqueur) in little chocolate cups and local crafts in cave like shops.  At the top was the Christmas village.  We paid 6 euros each and 4 euros for the nine year old and went in passing reindeer foraging below us.

First stop was the ice slide which was free. We paid another euro and let him have a go at wall climbing.  We passed a life sized model of Santa’s sleigh on our way to the food court.  We decided to get a snack.  Nothing was competitively priced so the children couldn’t believe their luck when I suggested just getting a doughnut.  Christmas had come again, doughnuts for lunch!   We missed the puppet show (free) to go skating.  The skating rink was four euros each for twenty minutes.  I went on with Jae and….what can I say about skating?  It was a small rink with real ice.  We had a good time.

Wall climbing

Wall climbing

We moved on to the charming mock Scandinavian village for the face painting (free) and the delightful exhibition by local children set in a dark room in one of the ‘houses’ and lit by neon lighting.  Around us were street performers, actors, jugglers. We caught the last of the birds of prey being put away, a huge owl in one corner with brilliant orange eyes.  The Vila Natal (Christmas Town) closed at four so we decided to head home, eat and come back for the light display.

Face painted

Face painted

In the evening we walked through the castle walls and emerged under a canopy of Christmas fairy lights.  We never saw the main Natal Luz although we spotted the closed projection box facing the front of a church.   Clearly it  finished at eight. The stalls had disappeared with only restaurants open.  We found a café and stopped off for hot chocolate and ice cream.  It was still delightful, though quiet, and not a bad place to be on New Year’s Eve.  I’d enjoyed wandering around the cobbled streets. We thought about driving into Lisbon to watch the fireworks but the lure of a real fire, marshmallows to toast, mulled wine, cream liquor and on British TV Jools Holland’s Hootenanny lured us home.

At midnight we took sparklers outside and made our own light show.  Tonight at six, as darkness falls, we may head to Obidos again and find the light show.  I will watch it holding a little chocolate cup of ginga liquor.  I know it will be fantastic.  If we don’t find it then…. there is always the Obidos chocolate festival in March.