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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Residency Myth Buster

Windmill for sale Portugal

Try living in a windmill!

“You must get a NISS number,” said the teacher, standing in the sunlight and showing me a piece of paper with a list scribbled on it. “We need a NISS, and a vaccination certificate for your son. Also a health card.” All that? Where do we start? Well for a start you can’t get a NISS number without residency, which of course I found out the hard way.  So we set out to get our residency certificates.

School days - just need a NISS

School days – just need a NISS

Thus began our journey to get a NISS number (Portuguese National Insurance Number) to send our child to school. We’re in the EU and so as an official told us, the schools can’t technically turn our child away. Still, we wanted to do things correctly so we went off to the local town hall to apply for Portuguese residency first, armed with passports, utility bills, blue sky and sunshine.

Heading out under blue skies and sunshine

Heading out under blue skies and sunshine

The town hall is a vast, airy building, large floor to ceiling window at one end with a tree planted in front of the window – on the inside. Quite pleasant to hang around in, unlike the tatty social security office where you get your NISS, or the Finance Office where you get your Fiscal Number. We took a ticket for ‘Tesouria’ and sat down at one of the light wood chairs until our number came up on the screen.

Paula who served us spoke English which was a relief. She’s getting to know us quite well and is always called upon when we turn up at the Town Hall to explain stuff such as we haven’t got the right piece of paper for my child to have school dinners or that we are in the wrong office to pay our IMI (council tax). This time she explained patiently what we would need to get our Residency Certificate. I asked for non habitual residency. Actually I insisted upon it. It would keep our tax rate down. Paula shook her head. “Nao.”

This was a starting point for confusion. All Paula knew was that non habitual residency wasn’t something she dealt with and after some enquiries discovered that this was purely tax related and that it was something we had to apply for at the finance office after we had got the initial residency. So doing things in the right order, the first thing we needed to get for our residency certicate was a criminal records check.

Need a criminal records check.  Pic credit here.

Need a criminal records check.  Pic credit here.

We were sent to the Justice Department up the road to get the criminal records check, another smart, beige stone building. This cost 10 euros and took about ten days. During this time we were off to England so it was some time later when we actually collected it and some time later still when we returned with it to the Town Hall. As we waited we noticed an expiry date at the bottom of the document in tiny writing. Which was the end of that week. Well, that should present no problem.

Ferry, Brittany ferries

Off on holiday to England

Our lady at the Town Hall smiled at us and explained we had to get proof of where we resided at the Junta de Freguesia in the village. To get over our disappointment of not getting immediate residency we went to the cafe and had some local Montejunto cakes, a crispy filo pastry filled with a Bakewell tart like treacly mixture. Heaven. We were over our disappointment therefore fairly quickly and headed to the village Junta de Freguesia. We met the white-haired mayor who was very friendly and handed us some old brochures about the area to browse through while we waited. Should we have bought him a bottle of wine, I wondered, or was that just in France?

Delicious Montejunto cakes

Delicious Montejunto cakes

Armed with the correct paperwork for my husband and I, and pleased as punch at feeling initiated into the village, we went back to the Town Hall. Handed the new bits of paperwork over. Went back again to the Junta de Freguesia as we hadn’t asked for any documents for the children, thinking it included everyone at the address. Another hour or so, then another day, went by.

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Another day went by.

 

Back to the Town Hall. Oh, we hadn’t bought bank statements. The lady apologised at having to take bank statements but it was necessary. Being a citizen of the EU, I wondered why. Ho hum. It was close to lunch time and we had the school run to do. Aware that our criminal records check was shortly due to expire we nipped back for lunch and returned straight after school drop off with the bank statements.

Paula took our documents and we waited. I sat and examined the polished marble floor and flicked through a brochure showing photos of local festivals we hadn’t been to and events we hadn’t known about. Twenty minutes later she returned and handed us our residency certificates. We handed over 10.50 euros per certificate. Then wahey! We were residents.

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Local festivals around Montejunto

Local festivals around Montejunto

Oh, but wait. I had always been confused about the length of time a residency certificate was valid for. We now found out that it is until your passport expires. So while my children and I are done for around the next five years, my husband whose passport expires next year, will have to go through the whole process again in a few months time.

Now for the NISS number. Back to the cafe first though for some more Montejunto cakes.

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Summing up, you will need for each person:

Criminal records check + 10 euros

Bank statements

Passports

Utility bills

Certificate from the Junta de Freguesia

10.50 euros per certificate

N.B. Residency will only last until the passport expires.

The above apparently varies from town to town and is a rough guide based only on our own experience. I take no responsibility for any mess, legal or otherwise, you find yourselves in based on this information.

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

 

Pet Dispersal

Black labrador and German Shepherd cross breed

“What are we going to do with the dog?”  said Zed.  “And the guinea pig?  Thank goodness we didn’t treat ourselves to a goat!”

guinea pig

We were off on a break and decided it was a bad idea to take the animals.  They should have their own holiday.  So the organisation began.  At this point I was pleased we didn’t have ten ducks any more ….

Dog and ducks in snow

and that we hadn’t yet bought a llama or two.

llamas, uk, national forest llama treks

We had however recently acquired a guinea pig.  Hmmm.  Not such good timing.  Fortunately our friends at ‘Hey Portugal’ magazine were more than happy (well didn’t mind) to have a temporary pet.  So Zuko – or Womble as he’s been nicknamed much to the children’s dislike – went off to eat carrots at chez ‘Hey Portugal’.

Then it was Millie’s turn. Millie loves going to our friends who live near Castelo Branco.  So much so that she almost jumped out of the car window one day when we approached them and if she could would have squealed with delight.

Castelo Branco, countryside, olive trees

Castelo countryside

I miss Castelo Branco.  Here we have our other renovation.

Village house, Castelo Branco, Portugal, rustic house

The other renovation

I miss watching the donkey and carts ambling through village streets, the rock roses and lavender and miles of pine forest.

fauna, Castelo Branco, Portugal

We drove down the drive to Millie’s new holiday home.  They have the prettiest house here with a traditional rustic annex and a gorgeous view. It’s up for sale and I’ll be sad when they move.  I have garden envy when I sit among the fruit trees and roses, jasmine and ….. hundreds of other flowers I can’t name.  (I have no professional interest in this particular house by the way!)  We left Millie happily scampering around the garden among the lemon and fig trees.

Castelo Branco, Remax house for sale Castelo Branco, countryside Portugal

Millie’s holiday home in stunning countryside

Village house for sale, Remax Castelo Branco, Portugal

120,000 E, 3 bed + 4 bed annex + 1000sq.mtr garden

Back home  Zed has been watering our new fruit trees rigorously.  Our neighbours at Casal Garcia suggested they nip across and water from time to time, take a dip in the pool and keep an eye out for strange things afoot.

orange tree, sapling

The new orange tree

There was just one little problem.  Dakota, the neighbour’s dog, has come to believe she lives with us.  I’m not sure why because we don’t feed her or encourage her in the house.  I expect she was slightly bewildered to find everyone had disappeared one day.  I knew she’d be fine though and it was nice to know there’d be a cheerful little dog running out of our garden to greet us on our return.

cross breed, stray dog Portugal

Dakota

 

Adventure story age 8

Available in print or kindle on Amazon.

 

 

 

The Firefly Sessions; The Deans play live in Portugal

The Deans

The Deans

I love nothing better than sitting in a barn with a glass of wine, lovely food, a buzzy atmosphere and live music. I know.  Not the sort of thing I was expecting to find in Portugal.  Rural France maybe, deepest Somerset.  Well aren’t I lucky because in the same village we have Casal Garcia which along with unique holiday accommodation have turned their large barn and courtyard into a music venue, showcasing some incredibly talented musicians as part of the Firefly Sessions.

The Deans

The Deans

Headlining this weekend are The Deans, a rock trio from Southern Ireland who won the prestigious “Unsigned Only song competition” in the U.S. in 2013 and are currently touring Spain.

Early this month I was privileged to attend the first Firefly Session, and after the fabulous buffet by the resident chef, Gee, there was time to stroll around and enjoy the surroundings before the bands came on at 9.30pm.  I wallowed in the warmth of these beautiful voices heralding from Portugal, Ireland and Switzerland and headlined by Nicole McGuire, culminating in a special homage to the memory of Taidhg Burke, original instigator of these special evenings.

Nina's beautiful voice

Nina’s beautiful voice

Apart from having to physically carry the neighbour’s dog, Dakota, home halfway through the evening because she’d followed us there in the hope of an extra meal it was a fabulous evening and I’m looking forward to more of the Firefly Sessions throughout the summer.
Casal Garcia is based near Cadaval with a superb view of the Montejunto hillside.  Tickets include a meal by resident chef Gee.  For more information and bookings contact Sandie at lightrailproductions@gmail.com.

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.

FestivalChocolate_gr

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’.