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

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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

 

Beware! Wild Animals at Obidos Chocolate Festival

 

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A Chocolate Festival!  What a brilliant idea!  All my Christmases have come at once.  Off we hopped to the Obidos Chocolate Festival on the Silver Coast last week.  Just after Christmas we had visited the Vila Natal and attempted to see the fabulous light display, so we had an idea of what to expect – plenty of entertainment and attractions for all age groups.  Plus there was always the chance they’d replaced the skating rink that was there at Christmas with a big, chocolate filled swimming pool.

Part of the exhibition at the Escola de Hotelaria

Part of the exhibition at the Escola de Hotelaria

The theme this year is wild animals.  Amazing chocolate sculptures of gorillas, giraffes, snakes and other exotic creatures.  Fantastic cake displays. Once you’ve wandered up the main cobbled street, lined with artisan shops, museums, cafes and restaurants and of course stalls selling chocolate themed items, you turn left at the top of the hill where you can pay to enter the main event.  This is choc full (sorry irresistible pun) of displays and events including chocolate workshops and tastings.

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However we found enough to keep us occupied for an hour or two strolling up the main street.  We meandered along drinking ginja liqueur in a chocolate cup while the children ate strawberries dipped in chocolate fondue bought from a shop selling artisan food, organic vegetables and second hand books.  What more could a girl want?  (Okay, you can probably think of something).

chocolate fondue

Along that line, my son asked if he could go back and get ‘the reindeer lollypop’.  Now I’m not sure what he thought it was but it wasn’t a reindeer lollipop.  I headed over to where he was pointing which I thought was some sort of round edged sword. I had seen these round edged swords on quite a few stalls. Must be something to do with the Knights Templar and castle maybe.  As I stood pointing and discussing whether to spend the 2.50 euros on the lollipop my husband dragged me away saying it wasn’t appropriate for my son to have that because anyone could see it was actually a chocolate lollipop in the shape of male private parts.  Upon further scrutiny (of the lollipop) I realised he was right.  Oops.  I couldn’t see any hen parties or indeed anyone enjoying one in the spring sunshine so I’m not sure they did a roaring trade in those.  Indeed they may have sold more chocolate reindeer.  Well, they would have sold at least one.

Yep.  Its a cake!

The chocolate festival runs this year from 14th March to 6th April, so just one weekend left.  Let’s hope for more spring sunshine.  For further insight into the chocolate festival visit ‘Julie Dawn Fox in Portugal’ who did a brilliant round up of last year’s festival.

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The cake decorating exhibition was amazing!

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’.

What Can Go Wrong with a Spring Carnival Parade?

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A little butterfly sat on the steps crying.  A sweet ‘mariposa’.  My seven year old daughter was having her initiation into carnival when we lived in Spain a few years ago, parading round the narrow cobbled streets as a butterfly to celebrate the beginning of spring.  Sweets were thrown out of windows.  There was a mad scramble.  Spanish children have been clearly trained from toddlers to dive in and pick them up unharmed while my own little butterfly simply got crushed until I found her, one wing hanging off, in the middle of a group of school friends.

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Winding forward to one February day last year when I dropped my son off at his Portuguese school in fancy dress.  I’d grabbed a mask at the last minute when he mentioned that morning that he was supposed to turn up in a costume.  I waved goodbye as he stood among Snow Whites, Jedi and an assortment of costumes recycled from Halloween, and returned home.  When I picked him up in the afternoon he clutched a bag of sweets he’d been handed.  “Good party?” I asked him.

“Yes but we walked around the streets in a parade and where were you?”

“Ah, well no-one told me that’s what you were doing.  Sorry.”  Feeling of inadequate parenting and visions of son being traumatised for life because I hadn’t been there to watch.

Okay I’d missed my son’s first parade but at least he wasn’t crushed in any mad sweet scramble scuffle.

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This year I dropped him off at school in full knight’s outfit and watched the other children happily sporting zorro costumes, pirate outfits and flamenco dresses amid a sea of satin princesses. Ready for the parade they stepped out the school yard.  Then came the rain.  As it came tumbling down the teacher hurried them back inside.  I went home.  Another parade missed.

That was Thursday.  On Friday it was time for the carnival parade to take place in the  main town with all the schools attending. I dropped him off at school then headed into town. I sipped coffee with a friend as I waited in a café, unsure of the exact time, guessing the route. This time nothing would go wrong.  Surely.

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Suddenly groups of people started sauntering down the road.  I grabbed my camera and joined them.  The parade approached, teachers were dressed up too, one in a particularly fine bunny rabbit outfit.  A police car headed up the front of the parade while other police stopped traffic.  The children from my son’s school were dressed as snowmen  They looked fabulous.  Indeed all the schools did with each one having a different theme.  Some were nurses, others scarecrows with straw poking out the bottom of sleeves instead of hands, there were tiny tots dressed as lady birds, a group of spring flowers, Robin Hoods and many others all looking spectacular and well, there’s no getting away from it, just cute.  No-one threw sweets. It didn’t rain.

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I’m happy to say it was a perfect parade.  All hail the onset of spring and sunshine!

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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