Dancing Wasp – The Wonder of Nature

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Okay, a little diversion from Portugal but I had to share it with you.  I could watch this over and over again it’s so funny!  Who says insects don’t have personalities?

Click on the video link below to see nature up close.

A real wasp on a car window with no special effects.  Starts off dancing then sticks with the car for the journey and does a spot of car surfing!

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The wasp is actually driving through Offord Darcy in Cambridgeshire.

We should give him a name – any ideas??!

wasp

 

The Secret Swimming Pools

Barragem Marateca

Barragem Marateca

“Mum!, the Bart Simpson picture on my pyjamas has turned into a zombie”. Hmmm. “Mum!, I’ve broken my leg”. Sigh. Not to panic. The scrape, scrape sound of nail file upon nail calmly came through the teenager’s bedroom wall. I was reading An Englishman in Italy’s blog www.englishmaninitaly.org and couldn’t tear myself away.

We were supposed to be getting our swimming stuff together to venture out in the 34 degree heat for a dip. My daughter emerged with leg intact wearing pyjamas so old they came to just below the knee. They’d been passed on to little brother but taken back in a fit of nostalgia. We have lots of fits of nostalgia now we’ve left England. Anything from home is sacrosanct. One thing we didn’t do at home though, which is one reason we have dragged ourselves halfway across Europe to live, is swim outdoors. Our little round pool would go up hopefully one rare hot day at the beginning of the summer holidays. We would look wistfully into it, and up at the cloudy, grey, sky every morning until it was taken down in September. We did become experts at insect rescue though because although I squash flies indoors with gay abandon, I cannot bear to see them drown, wiggling legs and gasping for breath.

Baragem Marateca

Baragem Marateca

Castelo Branco, on the other hand, is a great place to swim. It is inland. There is no sea. In that respect it’s a little like Switzerland, both making up for the lack of sea with stunning mountains, hills and ski potential. In summer the rivers of Castelo are dammed to make them deep enough for swimming in parts. Some have a café and a little beach for summer sunning. There are reservoirs for swimming and sailing, and a fabulous swimming pool near the centre of the city.

Baragem da Soalheira, Fundao

Baragem da Soalheira, Fundao

If you were to idle your way to Castelo Branco you would be generally unaware of all this. There are no advertisements, no signs to the river beaches. Maybe a little wooden, hand painted sign hidden behind a tree that could mean anything. I have no idea how we would have found any of these places without the help of friends and I know that after several years of livng here they have only recently found another swimming beach close by. But it was worth the wait. With a view of the hills above and eagles swooping by, often a stillness that comes on a hot day when you have the place to yourself, it is one of the best places to be.

Barragem Marateca - a place for all seasons

Barragem Marateca – a place for all seasons

The reservoir is ten minutes drive away from our village and fifteen minutes from the city, just off the A23 at the Lardosa turn off, then follow the sign to Barragem da Marateca. We come here all seasons, the children running around its shores playing pirates and Jedhi in winter, splashing in and out of the water with the dog, and swimming in the spring and summer. It’s a huge reservoir surrounded by heron’s nests with lagoon style areas which are fairly shallow though deep enough to swim. We won’t venture further into the lake than our little, rocky lagoon, staying safe from strong, hidden currents and sea monsters. Just in case.

Heron nests at Baragem Marateca

Heron nests at Baragem Marateca

After the river beaches and the reservoir there is one more, perfect place to swim. Hard to find, it is hidden away in the industrial/commercial area, between the Forum and Jumbo shopping malls. The municipal swimming pool in Castelo Branco is a perfect, clean and clear, blue gem. Last year we stayed at an apartment with a lovely pool, a generous host, and children for my own to play with, so we had no need to venture further afield for entertainment.

The perfect pool at our apartment in Lourical do Campo last year

The perfect pool at our apartment in Lourical do Campo last year

This year having only a balcony, we’ve been forced out of the village to drive around in search of the city’s pool, which we knew was out there. Somewhere. All winter I’d passed notices for the lagoa, where you can hire boats, and I knew the pool (piscina) was close by. So we drove around and around the area. Two or three times we went past the ‘Zone de Lazer’ which I thought was some sort of fun lazer place for kid’s parties and mentally started planning my son’s ninth birthday. We went in another circle and past the sign again. Oh I get it, leisure zone. Duh.

The municipal swimming pool, Piscina Praia, Castelo Branco.

The municipal swimming pool, Piscina Praia, Castelo Branco.

This was the best surprise. It is shaped like a lagoon so you can wade in to the warm water slowly. There’s a waterfall, and a small slide for children, it’s not too deep so if you want serious lap swimming or diving, this is not the place – although there is an indoor winter pool for that sort of thing which I haven’t yet explored. This is a pool to play in, no sand to get in your hair and mouth, you can sunbathe on the grassy decks, eat at the café, or just wade, splash, do water handstands, or gently swim around. We tend to play hide and seek around the columns which support the little wooden bridge.

You won’t miss the seaside if you come to Castelo Branco. Everything is here, you just have to look a little. Then again, the tourist board* may help and you can pick up a free map of the city.

*Tourist Board Castelo Branco, Praca do Municipio, 600-458 – just off the main square on the road that runs down to the station.

From Lisbon to The Stone Roses

John Squire at Stone Roses premiere - it was this or a pic of the train station

John Squire at ‘Made In Stone’ premiere – it was this or a pic of the train station

Today’s story is about Mr Indoors and the attempt to catch the train on time to get to Lisbon airport for the  ‘Made in Stone’ film premiere in Manchester. Except that Mrs not as Glamorous had other plans for him first.

Yeh, ok, I get it, as one of the editors Mr Indoors particularly wanted to attend this thing.  So all I had to do was drop him off at a train station near Lisbon to get him to the airport for the plane to Manchester.  Mrs not as Glamorous (me) on the other hand is not on the invite, but I don’t mind because really, there’s nothing like staying behind to varnish the new floor. On the way to Lisbon I decided it was a great idea to do a spot of multi-tasking. We just had to find the EDP office in Cadaval to get the electricity connected to the new house, fill out the paperwork and find the train station.  What could be simpler?

I'm sure his wife would rather be varnishing floors too

I’m sure his wife would rather be varnishing floors too

Our estate agent had confirmed there was an EDP electricity office in Cadaval.  I emailed him for the address. No reply.  I tried an internet search for the location but there was no reference to a local office in Cadaval.  We almost went into the EDP office in Castelo Branco but were advised against bothering for Lisbon.  Better to have a three hour drive. With dog. When we bought a house last year from a quite different estate agent, Remax, they took us to the EDP office and translated for us.  Then to the water board.  Then the bank. And anywhere else we needed to be.  Even drove us past the town swimming pool so we’d know where it was.  No help from our new agents. Just saying.

We drove around for twenty minutes then spotted the EDP office down a side street.  It was hitting 12.30pm.  The lady at the desk looked at her watch as we launched into pigeon Portuguese with rehearsed sentences about needing a new meter and connection.  She waved the watch at us.  I rummaged around for the right paperwork.  It had disappeared.  She shook her head and ushered us out, locked the door behind us and skipped off down the road.  Oh dear, come back!  We have a train to catch!

Ian Brown, Stone Roses - "hey Lady at Desk come back"

Ian Brown, Stone Roses – “hey Lady at Desk come back”

We watered the dog then hung out at a café where we were within viewing distance of the EDP office.  We saw Lady at Desk approach and legged it across the road towards the office.  In front of us a local darted out from the side street and straight into the office.  Lady at Desk and local chatted away while a bill was paid, chatted away afterwards, and chatted away while standing at the door on the way out.  We smiled as she looked at us, sharing a joke, and we smiled back as though we understood and tried not to show any signs of anxiety.  I wanted to wave my watch at her.  Finally, our turn!

"Could've stayed at home and gone fishing instead"

“Could’ve stayed at home and gone fishing instead”

This time I had found the paperwork, the deed, proof of existence, a picture of the house.  What else could they need?  Still, she shook her head.  Silly us, she needed the name of the last owner?  No?  The name of the owner before that?  No? Oh, OF COURSE, the name of the owner before THAT.  Otherwise no connection. Sorry.  Our paperwork didn’t go back that far.  There was no record of the house on the computer.  I showed her a picture.  “Look, it exists.  It just needs electricity.”  She made some calls.  Still nothing.  Nothing she could do.  ‘Go away now’, she effectively said, ‘and don’t come back until you’ve got something else’.

It was past 2.00pm. I had to pick the kids up from school, and still drop Mr Indoors at a train station near Lisbon.  I would never make it doing both.  We changed plans to stop at a station instead on the way back to Castelo Branco. We would never catch the planned 14.20 train from Cartaxo and the next one was 17.00 something.  We drove to Entroncamento.  We should have plenty of time this way.

"It's just down this street"

“It’s just down this street”

Have you ever tried to find the train station at Entroncamento?  Ha, don’t. It lures you in with the false promise of logical signposting.  We followed signs that led us towards roads with a big ‘no entry’ notice.  The GPS didn’t recognise this and neither did the signposts.  We were in a maze.  We hadn’t eaten since our mid-morning snack and hunger was making us snippy with each other.  I reversed down one road, up another, turned round in another.  We could see the tracks, we just couldn’t get to them. According to the GPS I was now going to be five minutes late to collect child number one. We asked directions.  Something about a rotunda.  We drove round the rotunda and back up the one way system.  Another sign which took us under the railway line.    Finally we pulled up at the station and Mr Indoors grabbed his suitcase, passport, and said goodbye to me and the dog as I hit the accelerator and drove far, far away from Entroncamento. Portuguese_Railways_2297_EMU_at_Entroncamento_Railway_Station

The Deed and a Matter of Principle

Hamster cheeks?!

Hamster cheeks?!

Today’s tale is about the complicated attempt to sign the deed on our new house.  A quick jaunt to Lisbon, an hour in the notary and hey presto….or so we thought.

“Erk, I have hamster cheeks!”   I was looking at the photo of my son and I that had just been taken across the table of a café, before we stepped into the estate agents for our very important date.

“Well, that’s a surprise, since you did ten sit ups the other morning.  So if you take that over the year that averages about 1.9 sit-ups a day”, said Mr Indoors.

“Maybe you could do the ‘de-tox’ diet again mum”, said daughter helpfully.

“Ouch”.  Fortunately I’m generally a glass half full type of person so not too sensitive about these matters.  I mean hamster cheeks can be cute can’t they?

Yay, about to sign the deed - or not?

Yay, about to sign the deed – or not?

We were sitting in ‘Sparkles’ café in Lourinha, waiting to go into the estate agents before signing the deed to the new house.  Sparkles I think is so called because it has a glittery loo seat which I thought was rather cool and now want one.  Maybe we could name the new house Quinta de Glitter or Casa Sparkly.

It took only two weeks from the offer to be accepted to the appointment at the notary, which frankly is amazing.  I’m used to 2-3 months in England, although much of the delay is caused by the searches which is probably a good thing.  Although we have appointed a good and independent solicitor I’m not sure we have anything specifically to say that a mine is not about to be dug behind the house or a new motorway is not planned to come crashing through the courtyard.

It should have been a simple day but when I put on the offer form that it was subject to the courtyard being cleared of rubbish, I REALLY MEANT that I wanted the courtyard cleared of rubbish.  We had chased the estate agent up on this earlier in the week and had been duly ignored, so on the way to Lisbon we decided we would stand our ground and not sign until this had been done.  I texted the agent.  The answer to my question was evaded.  I texted again.  And again.  No, unsurprisingly the yard had not been cleared.

Clear the rubbish or we'll walk!

Clear the rubbish or we’ll walk!

We stood with arms folded refusing to go to the notary until we had an agreement about the yard.  The agents called the owners.  It was an investment company and frankly, according to the agents, they couldn’t give a damn.  We did though.

Our appointment with the notaire at 2.00pm came and went without us. We rang our solicitor who was in a notary meeting in Fundao and unavailable.  Where did we stand, legally?  It was hot, 26 degrees outside, we were getting tired after a three hour drive.  The children were starting to fidget and major whining would kick in at any moment. The agents offered to pay half the cost. Nope. Matter of principle at stake. We tried the solicitor again.  Should we come back another day?  Another three hour drive each way, another 50 euros in petrol.  Another set of toll fees.

Not yet fidgeting...

Not yet fidgeting…

We paced the hot pavement outside.  The agents were getting agitated.  It was nearly three o’ clock.  We still had to pay the property taxes at the finance office.  I did not want to come back another day.  The investment company knew that.  We were running out of time.  We agreed, in the end, we would pay no more than a hundred euros and the agents would pay the rest.

We bolted off in the car to pay the taxes.  We were number fourteen in the queue, a half hour wait.  Clearly then, we would never make it to the notary in time.  Unless……the agent called his bank which was now officially closed.  We raced back to the car, drove off to the bank with the agents, handed over the cash to the bank so that we could pay the taxes via the cash point, ran round the corner to the notary, and yay….half an hour later we emerged into the sunlight with a huge bunch of keys to the new house.

Proud owners of a garden with house attached

Proud owners of a garden with house attached

Just Puttin’ the Kettle On and Waitin’ For an Answer

Portuguese countryside

Portuguese countryside

Today I am waiting for the email with the news that will change our lives.  That will make us jump around the room with glee.  Hurrah, open the beers, put up the bunting!  Our plan will finally go into action. But wait….we’ve not had that email yet.

In our English country garden

In our English country garden

It has been nearly a year since we accepted the offer on our house in England and moved away from our pretty English country cottage with genuine roses round the door, piled into the car and pointed it towards Portugal.  We miss our old home, mainly because we are living in a house we are renovating at the same time and brick dust is everywhere, plumbing is random and the electricity has only recently been updated.  Yet we have found two delightful houses near Lisbon, we have offered on both, we should have been given the decision on Tuesday but life is stretching itself out, until maybe I will go mad with anxiety.  The click of an answer phone when we call to chase an answer makes us boil over.  Time for a cup of tea. Or ‘cha’ in Portuguese.  Not ‘char’ but ‘sha’ as the lady in the village shop corrected me when I went to purchase a packet.

Olive groves and gorse

Cork trees, olive groves and gorse

Spring vineyards

Spring vineyards

In the background my husband is removing another jarful of ticks from the dog, despite the collar.  I can hear the shouts of mock delight as he pulls off another one.  She had muscle spasms the other night and I thought she was going to die.  She was leaping around the next morning.  Was it caused by ticks? Had she eaten something strange?  The dog will eat anything vegetable or mineral. Or that is tiny and runs. Or flies. Let’s put it this way, I didn’t need to bother with fly spray last summer. I am pinging back and forth to my emails while writing this.  Still no news.  The list of what we are waiting for is endless.  Houses, tax codes, schools.

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I’ll take the dog for a walk and maybe when I come back…. The Portuguese countryside is incredibly beautiful at the moment.  I thought I would miss English spring flowers, the daffodils that adorn the verges as you approach the village, the blossom in the orchard, bluebells, dandelions, daisies.  Here though, in Castelo Branco, every field is a wildflower meadow.  Wild lavender, gorse, fennel, grow wild by the tracks and line the vineyards and olive groves, taking my breath away.  Bright pink flowers with yellow centres dip among the pines, delicate blue petals flutter in the light wind, and bushes spawning huge white leaves hang lazily over hedges as though bored by all the sunshine.

Spot the toad

Spot the toad

On my walks I have seen frogspawn in puddles, toads in water holes, crickets with their babies, butterflies, trails of caterpillars nose to tail.  On the last walk we stopped in our tracks.  A badger stared at us from up ahead then darted into the scrub.  Sheep are herded past my son’s school and donkey and carts amble through the village.

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But still no email.

It’s Perfect, But I’m Just Not Feeling It

castle-martinchel.jpg

I drop the phone.  My cheeks are red with embarrassment after a conversation with the Portuguese estate agent. I rang them, desperate to find out if we had the house.  I had nicely worked out sentences.  The phone went to voice mail.  Aargh!  They rang back. Our agent doesn’t speak English.  My sentences went to pieces and I managed to mutter the holy words ‘I’ll send an email’.  ‘Gah’. All I wanted to know is ‘have we got the house!!’.

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It’s a waiting game.  A game we’ve been playing for four months now.  Like chess.  We are being out manoevered, mainly because we dither for too long until the house one of us really wants is gone.  My husband’s dream home went, like a bluebird flying out the window,  to someone else.  The house was perfect.  We couldn’t quite decide whether to go a bit higher in the negotiations, then…snap, someone else swooped in and it was gone.  Someone else has that perfect view, the gorgeous kitchen, the living room with the huge picture windows.  But wait, they’ve also got to put in stairs, fix up gates, install doors and flooring.  Not so bad then, at least it won’t be us.  We didn’t really like the village that much anyway, did we?  There’ll be other houses, other views.

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I can’t count the number of times we looked out over a big garden, a house twice the size of the one we left in the UK, with a good view and said ‘ it’s perfect but I just don’t feel it’. Finally we all felt it for a farm house in Torres Novas.  We arranged a second view to show the children.  What happened? The morning we were due to visit in pinged an email.  The house had two other offers.  We still went.  We put in a higher offer in case the other one fell through, to make sure we were next in line.  So I’m sorry, whoever you are, but I really, really don’t want you to get that mortgage.  I want exchange rates to go in our favour, the euro to crash and I want banks to stop giving out mortgages until we have our house.

Why is it like chess?  We have an offer on another house too just to make sure we don’t have to spend any longer living in the building site of the house we are renovating.  The other house is a repossession and they are meeting on Thursday about our offer.  We have to make it formal today.  Tomorrow is a bank holiday. So we need to know, before five o’ clock, whether we can have house number one.  We have fifteen minutes to find out.

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In the wake of my failure my husband is about to phone our estate agents again.  He is working out his Portuguese sentences with google translate.  My son comes in and distracts him.  He is picking up the phone.  We send the boy downstairs.  He bounces the football inside, annoying the neighbours and annoying the hell out of me, but I should be earth mother and go and play with him.  Oh we so need that farm.

At ten minutes to five my husband is speaking fluent sounding Portuguese.  I have to be at school at five and I hover in the background.  He puts down the phone.  “So? What did they say?”  He shrugs tensely.  “It was an answer phone”.