In My Dreams #flying100


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.


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.


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


‘Tis the Season to Pick Pears

pears, pear tree,

Pear season has begun.  Aah, it brings back happy memories of last year.  “Tomorrow the workers will stop work on your house to go and pick pears all this month,” said the builder.

“Oh. Right. Okay.”

Serra de Montejunto, pear orchard, apple orchard, orchad, pear tree, travel, tourism, rural portugal

We’re still renovating the house and the pear season is once again in full swing.  The pear festival begins this weekend in our village.  Lights and decorations are being put up across the street and there will be dancing and a stage with music.  We went last year and had candy floss.  We will go this year and have candy floss and sway from side to side listening to the local bands.  The children, as last year, will decide they are too old for the kid’s attractions and beg instead for sweets.

pear trees, montejunto, silver coast

In this area there are pear trees, olive groves and vineyards.  We will buy the seasonal fruit and make pear compote, pear crumble, pear clafoutis, pear pie.  Oh, and pears baked in red wine, white wine, brandy, ginga and drink pear juice on the rocks.

pear orchard, pears, pears portugal

Meanwhile I go for a drive and a tractor pulls out in front of me.  It is going to the agricultural co-operative which is along our road.  It turns off and another tractor full of pears pulls in front.  Another whips in behind.  I am trapped, driving at a snails pace.  I have never seen so many tractors and trailers.  All packed with pears.

crates, countryside portugal, pear crates, fruit farming

Crates lined up ready for filling with pears

It reminds me of the only fruit tree which I haven’t yet got around to planting.  A pear tree.  I’m not sure if we really need our own.

countryside portugal, Serra de Montejunto, pear orchards, apple orchard, pear tree


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.


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.



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 + 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



Adventure story age 8

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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.


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

The Album 'What You Really Mean'.

The Album ‘What You Really Mean’.

Walking on stilts: Obidos Revisited


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.