Dancing Wasp – The Wonder of Nature

wasp

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

 

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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.

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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.

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Let’s Visit Caldas Da Rainha

Caldas da Rainha, places to visit, property for sale Silver Coast, boutiques, travel portugal

 

If you’re visiting the Silver Coast this summer don’t miss out on the town of Caldas da Rainha.  If you’re thinking of locating it’s also a great place to live, with plenty of art galleries, museums, great sports facilities including a world class tennis centre and hey, even a boating lake in the park.

This is an old spa town with a tradition of ceramics.  There are museums dedicated to ceramics, cycling, a hospital museum and of course art and sculpture plus a large cultural centre hosting regular events.  If museums aren’t your thing, there are a couple of large, indoor shopping centres too.

Wander around the old part, stroll through the centre with a range of individual shops or visit the daily fruit and vegetable market.  Then when you’re done have a galao (coffee in a glass) at the cafe in the park or in one of the many side streets off the main square.

Caldas da Rainha, Silver Coast, Sight seeing, Places to visit, church, Portugal, tourism Portugal

 

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

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

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.
http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/505

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 http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/264

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

Drinking fountain

Batalha monastery, cloisters, Silver Coast, places to visit

Cloisters

 

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

 

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.

 

 

 

Walking on stilts: Obidos Revisited

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.