The Puppies All Grown Up

Random 2 (3).png3From the cute puppies Zed found abandoned under a bush in the Portuguese countryside we now have two boisterous teenage dogs!  Meet Random and Bramble.


Our English dog, Millie seems to be getting along fine with them.  I think she keeps out the way most of the time.

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At least they have plenty of space to run around in…

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…and Jay adores them too.

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Zed’s looking after them at the moment while I’m in Cambridge doing a spot of candle making…more about that here!




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 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 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.

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

Batalha monastery, drinking fountain, places to visit, Silver Coast, Portugal

Drinking fountain

Batalha monastery, cloisters, Silver Coast, places to visit



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


How Do I Get A Cup of Coffee Round Here?



Some days I think my language skills are improving although I still get a blank stare or a reply in English.  I asked for azucar the other day.  Sugar.  Only when I said it in French was I understood. Strange. Could it be my accent?

“Azucar por favor.”  Pause.  “Azucar?  AZUCAR?”  Then, “sucre?”

“Aaah, azucar,” said the shopkeeper.  Didn’t I just say that?


I’m coming to terms with the fact that I will never nail the word ‘galau’.  Milky coffee in a glass.  I know this because I went to a charming café with my daughter a few days ago moments before she was due to take her IGCSE Portuguese.  I tried several ways of asking for galau but the waitress still looked blank. I’m in a café so what else would I be asking for?  A haircut?



The cafe was packed with lunchtime diners and the busy waitress then reeled off a list of dishes.  Oh, they must only be serving food.  We’ll have to find somewhere else.  That must be the problem. No coffee.  Then my daughter who understood everything piped up.  Which makes me think she may pass her Portuguese.  “Mum they think you’ve asked for bacalau.  Not galau.”  Bacalau?  Cod?



So all this time have I been going into cafes asking for a CUP OF COD?




Where’s our Puppy Gone?


We were tempted by these puppies last year but common sense ruled.

“Dakota’s had puppies!” yelled Zed, coming in from taking Milly on her evening walk and looking slightly windblown with a light drizzle of rain still glistening on his shoulders.  “Who wants to come and see them?  I think we should see if we can have one.”

We raced over to the neighbouring barn.  Dakota isn’t our dog.  She lives under a table next door and belongs to someone in the village.   Whenever she breaks free she bounds over to our house and scampers around with Milly, our Labrador cross.  We don’t actually know her real name but Dakota is as good as any don’t you think? A little black and tan mongrel featured in a previous blog ‘Scruffy and Woofy’.



We peered under the table at the two tiny, black, newly born creatures wriggling around near their mother in the dark.  I could see two but maybe there were more hidden the other side of her.

“Should we ask if we can have one?” asked Zed. In that moment all common sense went out the window along with the unspoken and disturbing thought that maybe they weren’t wanted and would be drowned.  Home was, after all, a table.

The following morning Zed dashed out with a translated note which said something like ‘If you don’t want all the puppies can we have one?” and left it on top of the table for the owner to find.

Later that day the owner came by.  Zed tried out his Portuguese and after a conversation of sorts managed to establish that there were three puppies, that the owner was having one, another neighbour the other and there would be one for us.  Well, we think that’s what he said.  At one point the owner mentioned ten puppies and reeled off names across the neighbourhood.  Ten puppies?  Eh?  Where were they? What?

Dakota and her puppies were rehoused in a wooden shack the following day. At intervals I would peek my head around the door and watch them suckling or barging around the room. They were as cute as teddy bears and I couldn’t resist them, couldn’t wait for the day when we could take one home. They were black and tan like their mother.  There was just one little thought bothering me, we could still only see two puppies…not three…not ten…

Ola, ola!”  shouted a neighbour at our gate late one evening. My daughter translated their problem.  It seemed that the puppies had gone missing. Oh no!  Had we seen them? Knowing that Dakota plays in the garden we wondered if she’d brought them in and hidden them somewhere. Clearly wanting us to be the proud owners.  Were these the neighbours who were having the other puppy?

The following morning a makeshift fence had been put up in the yard.  Outside on the road stood Dakota, shaking slightly. I could hear the puppies whimpering in the shed.  They’d returned safely from their wander but she couldn’t get to them.  Emergency!!  I raced into the house to fetch Zed to help me lift Dakota over the fence. When we got back the dog was already the other side having found another way in.  As they fed and then scampered out to play I wondered whether we would be given the boy or the girl. I didn’t mind which. We hadn’t come up with a name yet. Maybe ‘The Wanderer’?  I bought a tin of puppy food.  Just in case.


We waited for them to be weaned, visiting them often, holding them, playing with them. They started eating solid food.  One evening my son came rushing in.  One of the puppies had gone!

The following day we watched the carnival parade in town then came home and cuddled the last remaining, gorgeous, fluffy puppy.  Was it ours?  When could we take it?  Where was the owner to ask? More importantly – do we really need two dogs?


carnival parade

The next morning Dakota was there, bounding happily in front of us as usual.  At the shack there were no puppies left.  Not ten, not three, not two, not one.  They say dogs start to look like their owners and with his light, tan, floppy hair and cute face Jae was starting to look uncannily like one of the puppies.  It clearly wasn’t the sign I thought it was though.

Done hens and ducks.  Tilly the hen.

Maybe a chicken instead.

Ah well.  They have chickens for sale in the Agriloja store.  Maybe a more practical option.  They are for sale next to the cutest floppy eared rabbits though…..


book cover rivoli

‘The Rivoli Wigwam’ by Alicia Sunday
A fantasy adventure
for 7-9 year olds.

Teacher in Portuguese Wanted, Cambridge


Are you…itching to move to Cambridge, fluent in Portuguese, hold a degree, a language teaching qualification and experience at teaching in higher education?  Spotted this on the Cambridge University Job Board today….Monday 2nd Feb 2014.


Okay, sometimes surfing the net leads me places I hadn’t planned!

Language Teaching Officer in Portuguese

“The Department of Spanish and Portuguese in the Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages at the University of Cambridge is seeking to appoint a full-time Language Teaching Officer in Portuguese beginning 1 September 2014. The successful candidate will be responsible for the teaching, coordination and examination of the Portuguese language at all levels, and will be expected to carry out related administrative duties.”


Saying Red

red_car_208721The school run along the Silver Coast goes on for miles, a long distance sprint each day, with only pine trees on either side of the almost empty road.  The monotony this morning was broken by my daughter talking about school work, Valentine’s Day, red hearts…the colour red.  Staring straight ahead at the road I learned these words of wisdom.


“Did you know that there are two words for ‘red’ in Portuguese?” said daughter.

“Well no, I didn’t know that.  Actually, I can’t remember one word for red…which is fairly shocking considering how long I’ve been here.”


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‘capacetes vermelhos’ or ‘red helmets’

“Don’t use it that often.  Apart from at the fish counter when asking for a red herring.”

“Well, you may like to know that in Portuguese there are two words for red, “vermelho’ and ‘encarnade’.”


Seeing red in Lisbon

“That would be like saying vermillion or red in English I suppose?”  I slowed the car down for a small, ginger dog that was trotting across the motorway.  Luckily for the dog there wasn’t another car in sight.



“Nope.  It’s more confusing.  In my old school at Castelo Branco they said you should use ‘vermelho’ because ‘encarnado’ was out dated.  Only old people ever said ‘encarnado’.”


café in Castelo Branco

“Hmmm.  Better not say that then.  Don’t want to seem old.”

“No but…here in Leiria I was told that if you use ‘encarnado’ it’s hopelessly cool.  The latest way to say red.


Portuguese football shirt. Camisa vermelha. Maybe.

Sounds like an ‘arenque vermelho’ to me…..or an ‘arenque encarnado’?*


images herring

*red herring.


Art for Art’s Sake Day

A wet Friday in February.  Aaah, what to do.  Hey, let’s have an ‘ Art for Art’s Sake Weekend’ celebrating well…music, art, crafts. The great thing about the internet is anyone can create artistic projects and send them out across the world, let people see stuff without waiting for a big name publisher, art gallery, record company or department store to stock it, promote it or ignore it.  Life’s just so interesting in that way these days.

Tattoo by Siren Art.  Wow.

Tattoo by Siren Art. Wow.


Suzi Gutierrez

A Peruvian artist based in St Ives.


Suzi holds an MA in printmaking from Anglia Ruskin University and has been invited to exhibit her first solo show in Lima, Peru at the Inca Garcilazo gallery.



Louisa Sobral

Louisa Sobral is a Portuguese artiste who studied music in New York.  Influenced by Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald.


Listen to Louisa here!

The greatest shame though these days is how much artists are dependent on a screen to promote their work, market an exhibition and sell tickets, and I realise the irony as I write this blog staring at a computer screen.

Tobias Zaldua

Based in Lisbon, Portugal.  Electro pop influences.  Latest single written by Tobias Zaldua with Tobias Zaldua and Kirsty Hawkshaw on vocals.


Listen to Tobias and Kirsty here!

However if you can’t beat it join it, so welcome to Alicia Sunday’s ‘Art for Art’s Sake Weekend’.

Collette Naomi Kinley

Collette designs and makes beautiful handmade children’s clothes and pictures.


Visit Sewn by Collette here.

So if you’ve read this far…you’ve seen a few of my favourite things.  Some of these are Portuguese, living in Portugal or have some connection to this country.  Others are there because I love what they do.

Sally Clay

Sally makes gorgeous handmade silver jewellery in a studio in rural Cambridgeshire.  Each piece is unique.


Visit Sally Clay Jewellery’s website here.

Let me know if you can recommend some Portuguese artists, I’d love to hear about them.