‘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

 

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!

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.

 

 

 

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!

 

 

 

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.

Dean martin

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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bbcgoodfood

“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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