Lizard Love

 

lizard

I strolled into the bathroom after lunch to put the freshly washed towels away. It was light and sunny and now we have a shower screen it’s looking very like a normal bathroom and less like a semi-renovation job.

“Kids, come and see this!,” I shouted.

I put away the laundry and peeked closer into the bath tub. A baby lizard was scurrying about. Here’s the thing. I’ve always liked lizards, they remind me of Mediterranean holidays, and because we don’t have them in England they’re quite special and something to call the family about in a highly excited, squeaky voice. The kids raced in and we all peered into the bath at the very worried creature who had probably figured out by now that he couldn’t climb out and escape.

lizard

Er…the actual lizard

My daughter, after several attempts, managed to gather it into her hands and carefully carry him, or her, out into the sunshine and put him out by the wall.

I’m surprised there wasn’t a request to keep him as a pet. I think we’ve all realised that a dog and two guinea pigs is enough for now….oh, and mustn’t forget the stray.

dog, stray dog, stray dog in portugal

…mustn’t forget the stray!

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Lovin’ It In Lisbon

Finally we made it to Lisbon. I know, ridiculous. We live less than an hour away yet we hardly ever have time to go.

Tram. Lisbon, street scene Lisbon,

 

We went with our guests from Denmark. Now then, when I went to Alcobaca I was lucky enough to be shown around by a historian. No such luck this time you say. Well, we just happened to have a historian from Copenhagen in our little group who had done some research on Portuguese history.

DSC_0429

We started at Belem Tower. Built in the early 16th century it played an important part in Portuguese maritime discoveries of the time and was part of a defence system at the mouth of the Tagus River.

belem Tower, Lisbon

 

Plenty of time to sit and gaze at the view of the Tagus river.

Belem Tower, Lisbon, Tagus River

Followed by a trip to Jerónimos Monastery, built in 1502 to commemorate Vasco de Gama’s voyage to India.

Jeronimos monastery, Lisbon

 

 

 

The interior is fabulous.

Jeronimos Monastery, Lisbon

After that – well the day was just too hot so we headed off for ice creams, pastel de natas, cocktails then dinner.  Just to do a little research on contemporary Lisbon, of course.

IMG_20131101_173409

 

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

 

Thai Restaurant, Silver Coast and the Lucky Eggshell

Red heart petal

Yesterday I unexpectedly spent the evening at my favourite Thai Restaurant on the Silver Coast. Jae and I had been doing science experiments in the kitchen. Testing which ingredients dissolve in water. Soluble and insoluble. Zed appeared just as we were testing sand and put his arms around me in a romantic gesture. It was quarter to five in the afternoon. “Happy Wedding Anniversary!” Eh?
“Its 23rd July, had you forgotten?”
“Well…er….yes.”
“Oh good. I had too.”
We decided to celebrate by going to Supatra Thai restaurant near Bombarral.

Supatra Thai Restaurant, Silver Coast
We’d been there once before with the children. Lovely food with a smart yet stylishly rustic interior. Great food. What more could you want? Well…..there is something.
At one point the conversation had gone like this.
Me: “Can I have the coconut drink?”
Waiter/possibly owner: “There isn’t any left. We have some other cans, I’ll bring them out.” The waiter/possibly owner returned with cans of other interesting juices. One of them being mangosteen. Mangosteen? I examined the can. Never have I heard of mangosteen. Maybe it’s Portuguese or Thai for something else or we just don’t get it in England. I inquired about it with the waiter/possibly owner who I think that in his role as waiter/possibly owner he will enlighten me.
Me: “What is mangosteen?”
Waiter/possibly owner: “Mangosteen. It’s mangosteen.”
Me: “Yes, but what is it in English?”
Waiter/possibly owner, in tart voice: “Mangosteen. Look it up.”
Me: Oh, um thanks.

DSCF1172
Tonight the same waiter/possibly owner greeted us in his semi-warm style. Fortunately they had one coconut drink left so we didn’t have to go the mangosteen route, though I’ve since looked it up as advised.
We had a delicious meal. Prawns in satay sauce. Pad thai. Yum.

Chilli, Thai sauce dips
Onto pudding. Ginger ice cream for Zed. Chestnut pudding for me in a coconut sauce. Again delicious but…what’s this…this…little crunchy bit? Eggshell? I look closer into the pudding and spot flakes of eggshell. At this point I should send it back but its so delicious I can’t stop and eat on. Then I spot a bigger piece of shell, then a couple more. I pull them out and continue because it really does taste gorgeous.

Interior of Supatra Thai Restaurant, Carvalhal,  Silver Coast
The waiter/possibly owner came to collect our empty plates. I waited for him to ask if everything was okay when I could then politely mention the eggshell but the question never arose. All the same, I felt that I needed to point out that there were large lumps of eggshell in the tiny pudding. It was after all 5 euros.
Me: “Er… (pointing to side of plate)…there were these big pieces of egg shell in my pudding…”
Waiter/possibly owner, smiling: “That just proves it was made with fresh egg!”
Zed, not smiling: “I don’t think they should be in there though.”
Waiter/possibly owner whips away the dishes. Eh? Not even a ‘sorry you’ve just crunched your way through egg shell that’s been pooped through a hen’s bottom?’

Egg shell
Waiter/possibly owner appears again and explains jovially: “I used to work in a restaurant in London. A screw came out of one of the machines. It appeared later in a customer’s lasagne, so you are lucky. It’s only egg shell.”
I’m lucky? Aah. So – no need for an apology.
Perhaps the chef had been doing a scientific experiment to see if egg shell dissolves in pudding.
It doesn’t.

Interior, Supatra Thai Restaurant, Bombarral, Silver Coast

 

Cost of meal: E38.00 inc. IVA
2 mains, 2 puddings with egg shell on the house
1 can of coconut juice
2 jasmine tea’s.

Wine is approximately E12.00 a bottle. Zed was driving so we didn’t partake.

Couple celebrating at restaurant

Celebrating nine years of wedded bliss.

Supatra Thai: Rua Poeta Jose Ferreira Ventura, 73, Rossio do Carvalhal, 2540-422 Bombarral, Leiria, Portugal; Tel:262 842 920; Email: supatracarvalhal@gmail.com

 

 

International Book Deliveries

 

Boy with chopsticks in nose

I don’t need maths – look what I can do!

Earlier in the year there was a flurry of disappointment among expats everywhere as Amazon decided to change its policy of fees for international deliveries on books and other goods.

So when it was time to order a book or two for Jae who is currently keen on the ‘Young Samurai’ series, I thought I’d better do a little research first. Oh, and I secretly wanted to add in a maths book or two to keep him busy during the summer holidays.

The Young Samurai, The Way of the Dragon

Here’s what I came up with for the ‘Young Samurai’ series: ‘Way of the Dragon’ or ‘The Ring of Sky’, by Chris Bradford, for a standard paperback book.  Prices are for purchase and European delivery (exchange rate for 14 July 2014):

Better World Books – used $9.48, new $22.63. Free worldwide shipping. Total $9.48 (£5.55)
Books Etc. – £7.18 + £3.31 delivery. Total £10.39
Guardian Bookshop – £5.59 + £3.95 delivery per order + £1.00 per item. Total £10.54
Book People – £4.49 + £4.00 delivery up to 0.5kg (£5.00 up to 1kg). Total £8.49
Amazon – £4.89 (new) + £6.60 delivery. Total £11.49

Carol Vorderman maths book

Amazon – £0.01 (used) + £4.02 delivery.  Total £4.03
Alibis.co.uk – 0.80 euros + 5.26 euros delivery + 3.94 euros per extra item. Total E6.06 (£4.83)
Foyles – £5.10 + £5.00 delivery + £1.50 each extra book. Total £10.10
WH Smiths – £4.89. They don’t deliver outside the UK
Waterstones – £4.49 + £7.50 delivery. Total £11.99
The Book Depository – 7.67 euros + free worldwide delivery. Total E7.67 (£6.11)
Ebay (Buy it Now) – £2.72 used + £1.51 delivery.  Total £4.23

Young Samuari, The Ring of Sky, Chris Bradbury

The £0.01 used book that Amazon offered via their used books section came top of the list.  Plus I already had an account with them so didn’t have to set up a new one.  They also offered the maths books I wanted.  I ordered two ‘Way of the Samurai’ books and a selection of maths books, then waited.

...and waited...

…and waited…

And waited.  “When are the books coming mummy?” Jae said every day, several times a day, for twelve days.

I hadn’t noticed when paying that the delivery wouldn’t arrive for another twelve days.  By which time, on the twelfth day, we were off to England.  On the twelfth day one of the Samurai books arrived.  One book between two children wasn’t a good number.  We took one out in the library while in England to pacify the other child.

On our return home the other Samurai book had arrived.  “Hurray!” said Jae.  No maths books though. They wouldn’t fit into our letter box. I broke the sad news.  “Hurray!” said Jae.

Boy outdoors, fresh air

“Hurray – no maths!”

I went to the post office with the card the post man had left.  The post office (correio) only keeps items for six days.  I emailed Amazon.  I will probably get a refund of the product if Royal Mail returns them.  Otherwise…well…phew…luckily I bought some maths books from a high street shop in the UK.  Just in case.

P1050093

 

 

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.