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.

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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!

 

 

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Lizard Love

 

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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.

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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.

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…mustn’t forget the stray!

Silver Coast Property Hunter

“There’s this job Zed…” I said, sipping the coffee he’d just brought me, “…being advertised.”  I had thought about it all morning.  We could do with finishing the kitchen.  The three kitchens.  Who has three kitchens and not one of them finished?  The olive trees needed attention, the windows were leaking upstairs, plus….I did spend a lot of time on the internet looking at old properties anyway, had (almost) renovated two houses and enjoyed months of house hunting.  If there was one job I would enjoy to supplement my income it would be this one.  I typed out the email, attached my cv and with a flourish hit ‘send’.

One thing I really love about Portugal is the amazing variety of architecture around with few properties the same.  There are balconies and towers, roof terraces at strange angles, an assortment of railing styles and shutters, teeny village houses and small farms or vineyards, ultra modern in bright colours or old and rambling.

Which is why if, like me, you love old buildings or modern architecture then finding properties with ‘Perfect Property Portugal’ for other people to start a new life on the Silver Coast is a lovely job.

“Go for it,” said Zed, as he handed me a quote for the windows.  Then another quote for painting the house.  Then another quote for…..

So now I have an extra job, hurrah!  On this page are my choices for the week in a selection of price ranges.  If you want to take a look at any or have your own personal search done you can go directly to the site and contact PPP (ideally mentioning this website or reference GZ) or drop a line in the comments below.  The site has its own search facility so you can browse yourself, but PPP also have access to about 3000 properties in the area through other agents so if you have specific plans to come over I can do a more thorough search.

Why buy here? There’s heavy investment planned to promote tourism in the area, Ryan Air have just moved into Lisbon airport and property prices are still low so it couldn’t be a better time to pick up a holiday home or start a new lifestyle.  If you don’t want to be near the beach and tourist bustle then head inland towards the Serra Do Montejunto or the Candeeiros National Park.

Meanwhile I’m going to make a start on the olive grove.

Er….no this blog isn’t going to morph into an estate agent’s site, but you may have to indulge me occasionally!

 

 

 

Planning a Portuguese Country Garden

Help! - A blank canvas

Help! – A blank canvas

Oh dear!  When we bought Quinta Blackberry last summer the garden was full of rubbish.  Struggling up between the brambles and the tin cans were roses, a peach tree and a rather sad looking nespera. This year I have a divine plan to turn the garden into an oasis of flowers, fruit and vegetables and maybe even have a pond.  Watch this space!

I may have a problem with this.  My mother had green fingers, my childhood garden was full of flowers which encouraged butterflies and bees and summer meant a plethora of home grown food. Similarly our neighbour’s house where I often played had a neatly manicured lawn and borders packed with pretty flowers all year round. With such influences you’d think I’d have green fingers too, but oh no, not at all.  Mine seem to be red, the opposite of green on the colour wheel.  My attempts at organic gardening means the slugs and snails, mice and squirrels, just eat whatever I grow.  Hmmm.  Haven’t quite got the hang of it yet.

An English country garden with leylandii and a cherry tree eaten by ivy.  Spot the flower.

An English country garden with leylandii and a cherry tree eaten by ivy

Meanwhile in Portugal Diggory our builder, his brother and a team of men worked from dawn to dusk last August clearing our garden so we could at least see an outline of a flower border, spindly rose bushes and potential for creating a haven with pergolas, spots to put benches and somewhere for the pool when and if we eventually get it in the ground.

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Diggory and his brother worked from dawn to dust clearing brambles and rubbish

I need to learn from my mistakes at our English house which suited it’s wild and overgrown look.  I started out with good intentions, buying a soil testing kit when we first moved into our Cambridgeshire house which I lost the first day and which strangely never reappeared during the following ten years.  Consequently I planted anything anywhere. With a garden of huge beech and walnut, plus masses of fruit trees and hedges of leylandii, there was no point planting anything requiring sunshine and good drainage.  Blue bells were the order of the day and fortunately a fabulous David Austin rose which thrived around the front door.

David Austin rose

David Austin rose

Now I have a garden full of sunshine throwing up new problems.  So far the roses which are tall and straggly, have got black spot, Jae has climbed up the peach tree and broken off it’s top branch and the olive trees bore no olives this year.

In November I planted more fruit trees.  Lemon, orange, tangerine, apple, pear, cherry and apricot. I planted most of them before Christmas.  I forgot to stake them but fortunately, courtesy of Zed, stakes have since appeared which is fortunate because the wind today is probably high enough to blow Dorothy from Kansas to the yellow brick road, let alone keep a few little saplings in the ground.

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Orange tree planted!

I dug holes a foot wide and a foot deep to put the trees in, filled the holes back in with the soil and put some rubble as a sort of mulch over the top.  We’ll see if any of them survive.

Zed popped in some staking

Zed popped in some staking

Meanwhile I’ve been trimming and dead heading the roses and cleared a border of nettles and brambles ready for some gladioli and….well maybe I should do a plan, come up with a border design, before I go any further.

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An attempt at clearing a border – and a long way to go

Meanwhile I’ll be picking up gardening tips from some of my favourite blogs, Karma Quinta and  pigletinportugal.

 

Exploring the Best Ways to Heat a House

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Land of sunshine – oh no it’s raining again!

Oh no it’s raining again!  We don’t have central heating but the living room is 14.5 celsius without it so that’s probably not too bad.  If you’re wearing a thick jumper.  I’ve read various online opinions from experienced expats on the most efficient form of heating in Portugal.  Double glazing and insulation being a given.  With that in mind, how are we doing?

Insulation and double glazing - not quite there yet

Insulation and double glazing – not quite there yet

Aha, we should move to Portugal I hastily thought as icy rain hit me in the face in England two years ago.  It’s warm there.  We froze through our first winter in the inland region of Castelo Branco in a house where we had ripped out the ceiling and therefore scuppered the chance of adding additional insulation.  Instead we created two mezzanine spaces.   They look good though.  Our neighbour insisted on giving us extra quilts which we were too polite to turn down, maybe we looked cold as we left the house and she was right, along with a constant supply of cabbages and oranges.

Bags of vitamin C

Bags of vitamin C

Eventually we installed a wood burning stove.

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The new wood burning stove in the old kitchen

Here we are, a year on much nearer Lisbon and the coast, again without central heating. On the bright side, touching wood here, I’ve not had a cold all winter.  The other day it was 20 celsius outside and a lovely sunny day.  Portuguese houses are traditionally designed to keep out heat though so it’s often much colder inside.

Much warmer outside, although you may need to be fully dressed to go swimming

Much warmer outside, although you may need to be fully dressed to go swimming

The heating system the previous owners had installed was let’s say, unusual.  A large pipe ran from the top of the fireplace around the ceiling into which hot air is supposed to flow from the fire.  It was then boxed in.  A builder who first came to look at the house said he had the same system and it was useless and advised us to dispose of it.  Diggory, the builder we finally employed, ripped out parts of it in the kitchen and showed us a nest that had been made inside, suspiciously more like rodent than birds nests, but then who knows the house was at one time full of birds before we moved in.  Evidenced by the amount of mess they’d left everywhere.

Central heating?

Central heating?

When the electricians came along they tore off another bit of the piping system leaving an ugly gap which we tried to hide over Christmas by hanging Christmas stockings over it.  Zed finally decided to rip out the rest of the boxing above the fireplace which is now ready for me to paint over.  Looking forward to it.

Just needs a lick of paint

Just needs a lick of paint

So what are we heating ourselves with?  Hmmm.  The main hall has a fire place.  Clearly it used to have a glass front which the last owners or vandals ripped out just leaving the metal casing. It’s not therefore very efficient but it burns wood and looks cosy.  For actual heat we have an ugly Calor gas heater in the living room and electric radiators in the bedrooms.

Gloves for indoors and outdoors

Wrapping up for indoors and outdoors

The long term plan is to install air conditioners which combine as heaters during the winter months as recommended by friends who have probably tried just about everything.  Costing around 700 euros to buy and install per unit.  Judging by various online forums, a wood burning stove seems cost wise to be the most efficient form of heating. Logs are approximately 100 euros a ton. Thing is I love to stare into flames in lieu of any decent TV programmes and so we will stay with an open fire and at some point replace the glass.  Solar heating isn’t apparently cost efficient due to the high price of installation (though of course a must for helping the planet if you can afford it) and we would eventually like to go that route for hot water.  We have been quoted 2500 euros although I’m sure we’ll end up paying more.  But that’s another story.

Meanwhile, a thick jumper will have to do and plenty of outdoor walks.

Plenty of outdoor walks

Plenty of outdoor walks

If you’ve got any tips and experiences on this subject I’d love to hear about them in the comments!

Chicken Surprise

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The rain lashed against glass and wind scurried round the olive trees trying to blow them down.  Now I don’t like to complain because I know it’s been tougher in England, I’m aware that people round the world have spent the year running away from hurricanes and tornadoes, but as the rain came pouring in under the windows I wished we’d got a move on with the double glazing.

Shouldn't complain, it could be worse.  UK Dec 2013

Shouldn’t complain, it could be worse. UK Dec 2013

We were supposed to be wrapping presents and making a jolly scene for Christmas morning not mopping the floor.  I grabbed a cloth and shrieked.  There was a spider on the window pain.  I knocked it off and the window pane fell out too.  A strong wind blew straight in to the bedroom. Zed discovered his emergency DIY skills and managed to nail the wood back into the soft wet frame while Dean Martin sang his heart out and wished us a ‘merry little Christmas’ in the background.

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Christmas morning was fortunately the jolly scene we’d planned.  I wore bIue velvet wellies.  We were having chicken instead of traditional turkey.  The chicken looked slightly thin though and….sort of huddled up like a new born baby on its back. A wave of emotion swept over me for the poor thing.  Also, there really was something strange and skinny about it.  Still I thought, it was a Portuguese chicken and maybe it wasn’t pumped up with chemicals like the regular British ones.  Jae clattered around the kitchen behind me in his new roller blades as I arranged it in the dish.

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The new roller blades

In England we’re used to having a choice of the cheap and sad chickens that have been stuffed together in a barn with barely room to move and costing a couple of quid, organic ones or the organic and ‘happy lifers who get to roam all over the place’ chickens.  On top of this is the locally reared option plus a few choices in between.  In Portugal, in my experience, you just go and get a chicken. No history attached. No back story.  Still, the one in front of me looked strange in its little dish.  I shut the lid on the oven.  At least it didn’t still have its head on, a mistake I made only once.  I’m not good at decapitation.

The roast came out cooked to perfection and Christmas dinner was well appreciated even without Christmas crackers.  Everyone wanted seconds.  Zed commented on the lack of meat as he tried to carve more for the eager faces round the table.  Finally he shuffled the chicken round and muttered  “did you mean to cook it upside down?”

“Upside down, but….”  Ah, so that’s why it looked so strange.

Dean M.

Dean M.

Maybe this could be a whole new dish for thrifty meals.  Cook the chicken upside down and the next day you can use it for another roast with the breast still intact.  Chicken surprise!

Everything but the kitchen sink

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“Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat, the kitchen isn’t finished in the upstairs flat!”

Well not a flat/apartment exactly but like many Portuguese houses ours has been made so that it can either be one big house or divided into two separate living areas.  We’ve gone with the latter idea and decided to put a kitchen upstairs as well as down.  Starting with upstairs.

Sometime around the end of November Jean Paul something de Local, a recommended carpenter, was booked to put in some wooden kitchen units which he very efficiently did and very nice they look too.  We were then left to call Diggory, the builder, to sort out the work top and buy the sink, cooker etc. ourselves.

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Somehow between then and now life became one long chaos of carol services, trips to Zurich, the parent visiting for Christmas and going back to England because it was too cold, looking for Christmas crackers (unsuccessful), writing Christmas cards (not yet posted), finding a British shop for mince pies (successful, hurrah!) and Christmas shopping. Oh hang on I haven’t done that yet.  Oops, two days to go, thank goodness for Santa Claus.

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“Do you think it’s too late to call Diggory now?” I said as I stuffed another mince pie in.  What I hadn’t yet done was called the builder to fit the work top, choose a cooker, a microwave, a sink and anything else that would have been useful for cooking a turkey with trimmings on Christmas day.  Hmmm.  Can a turkey fit into a small, round halogen oven I wonder?  On the bright side, we have a camping stove so we can manage the Brussels sprouts.  The children will be pleased.

Room for a turkey?

Room for a turkey?

Nope we can’t get an oven tomorrow because we have a three hour drive to the village house in Castelo Branco to pick up the Christmas tree.  Must get our priorities right.  Looks like a nut roast this year.

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