Monday, 30 January 2012

American Suburbanite in Portugal: Chuva, Foz, and the rest of the walls in Obidos

This was the first (and only) morning the mist didn't burn off. Instead it lifted a bit, but returned as light "chuva" or rain showers later in the day. We did not let it stop us though, after all it had been chucking it down in England not to long before we left.

I had wanted to see the "foz" or estuary Lagoa de Obidos. Along the way we stopped briefly at a cliff-top overlook and took in the cadet blue skies wondering when it would rain and where were the rainbows? In Foz do Arelho, we parked in the large public lot at the beach. First impression was a bit bleak as big diggers and heavy machinery sat across the foz. There were no grassy marshes or trees lining the water and only a few seagulls were first spotted amongst the fisherman and trash.

We walked along the shoreline of the lagoon and spotted some baitfish running as well as several different egrets and diving birds feeding upon them. More fisherman joined the coastline as well. The heavy machinery seemed to be laying some sort of pipeline down under the sand, hopefully they restore the water flow to the original inner shores of the lagoon.

As we came around the sand dune, along the inlet to the lagoon, and confronted the Atlantic ocean, the wind and waves picked up. Any warmth built up walking along the soft pack sand was blown away as we returned to the car. The weather was not without it's benefits as surfers were gathering amongst the waves. Once we returned to the car, we found a hillside perch upon which to park, eat a pear, and watch the surfers (6 now) from the warmth of our car.

Upon leaving Foz do Arelho, we headed to Obidos to finish walking the walls we started on Sunday. The rain held off thankfully, as the walls are very steep and narrow compared to York, and there are no handrails to make sure you don't fall off. I was also quite thankful to be wearing my Keens as opposed to my Sketchers for some extra grip and support. Although the views were not as picturesque in the overcast skies, I managed to take plenty of pictures, even a few of a black cat.

Since the weather was turning colder, we stopped in Rabaceira at our other holiday villa to sort the keys and return the electric heater (Mouraria was lovely and warm now after a few fires in the wood burner coupled with the underfloor heating). When our errands were completed, we headed back to Mouraria Vacation Villa, and indulged in a warm bubble bath before going out to dinner for the night.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

The American Suburbanite in Portugal: Markets, Monasteries,and Fishing boats

Our first destination of the day was the market at Caldas da Rainha. It was mostly local produce with a couple of bread trucks, one meat and cheese vendor, and a flower stall. We made our way around stopping for bread, olives, and bacon. We also picked up some fruit, beautiful oranges, strawberries, and my obligatory bananas.

After dropping our shopping off at the villa, we set off for Alcobaça, and I drove us there! I only scared my husband a little. He said I drove too fast (pot calling kettle black) and he thought I was going to drive over one round about. I will admit it came up a bit fast, but I handled it just fine! I think my fear of downshifting comes into play if I slow down too much too fast. Ah well, no one got hurt!

Alcobaça is centered around a medieval Catholic Monastery. This anchor to the town is now a UNESCO World Heritage sight. Across the square from the monastery were cafes and shops,and even in January a number of people were sat outside enjoying their lunch. Lovely as it was, we did not go in or stay long because my husband recalled another monastery more grand than Alcobaça.

We returned to the car, and ate our chorizo breads we bought at the market. My husband now driving,we headed towards Batalha. As soon as you come into town the enormous monastery is visible. Batalha monastery is also a UNESCO world heritage sight. It was commissioned in 1385 in honor of the Portuguese victory in battle over the Castilians. It was a 200 year project with beautiful results.

We were unaware of its UNESCO status upon arriving and wandered into a side door. I was instantly in awe by the light inside. Most gothic churches I've entered have been dimly lit, but here the interior was bathed in light. Bright white stone decorated with the refracted light from the stain glass windows could make the lowliest of man feel spiritually uplifted. We did not spend much time inside, as we were whistle stop touring, however for €6 each we could have gone through gardens, chapels, and cloisters.

Our last stop of the day was Nazare. A coastal village known well by big surf riders thanks to rides like this one:

Although on the day of our visit the surf didn't look quite that impressive, if he was towing in, he must have been near the mouth of the bay.

We stopped first at the cliff top looking down on the bay. The old men and women sat up there gossiping about the days events. I am sure my husbands shorts in January brought up a few comments about tourists as well, it would have in Florida at these temperatures! We drove along the top, past the Casa da Rosa (the B&B my husband stayed in before buying his first holiday villa on the Silver Coast) and a big hotel before turning around. We saw a few women walking through the recently cut pines collecting cones (for pignolia perhaps) and firewood. We decided to stop and collect a little wood as well before heading down to the beach.

Nazare is as much a fishing village as Peniche must have been before becoming a commercial fishing port. Women in traditional dress sat next to large racks selling the fish their husbands presumably caught. A man fixed his fishing nets on the beach. Another man on a bench with his buddies, no longer fishing, but selling miniature nets to tourists. Loads of people walking up and down the promenade. All the sights and sounds of a village steeped in tradition yet trying to keep up with the modern world.

Although we have been up and down beaches along the Silver Coast, some boasting resident dolphins, we had minimal wildlife sightings at all, let alone cetaceans. I did get very excited at the end of the pier in Nazare though, I spotted a massive jellyfish very close to the concrete rick rack that protects the man made seawalls. It had to be as big as a basketball. It was do big it was able to swim against the waves which would have obliterated it against the concrete. As a marine biologist, plankton is equally as exciting as charismatic mega fauna!

Once again, after I upload a couple of pictures, they start to choose their own order... They are:

The fishing village of Nazare

The monastery at Alcobaça

Over looking Nazare

Inside the monastery at Batalha

The Caldas da Rainha market


The monastery at Batalha

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Where ever we may roam...

We let the day unfold with no big plans. Our initial though was to start at the market in Caldas da Rainha, however we had a very relaxing start to the day. We slept in a little, leisurely had breakfast, took showers, packed a bag for the day, and before we knew it, it was nearly noon. As we drive towards Caldas, I remembered a post from the blog "Emma's house in Portugal". She mentioned the market shuts down by mid day, so we redirected to Peniche.

My husband recalled Peniche as a little run down when he was here 5 years ago, but indulged my desire to go based on what little info I found on the internet. We were both pleasantly surprised as we drove into town. A large hotel is situated on the peninsula to have both bay and ocean views. The docks, probably heaving in summer were quiet on our visit. Kiosks for the boats out to the Berlenga, a small group of islands off the coast, we're unmanned but displayed lovely posters of the potential summertime sights. This is said to be the way to see dolphins off the Silver Coast.

We walked along the dock, then towards town via the walled seafront. This is not a sea wall to prevent erosion, it is a seawall to defend a nation. As the western most city in Europe, Peniche has played a valuable role in defense for hundreds of years. I found one of my favorite beaches within the walls of Peniche. It is only accessible at low tide, so we were very lucky to have stumbled upon it. Literally, I twisted my ankle slightly on the cobbled and weather worn steps down to the beach. I found myself sitting on the steps with my pride injured more than my body, but the beach was well worth it.

After walking through town and back to our car, we stopped on the Atlantic side to see if any surfers were out as Peniche is supposedly a surfers haven. Only one lone surfer braved the waves. He didn't catch any swells, just paddled about on his board. Better him than me, too cold for me to get much more than my toes accidentally wet!

After Peniche we decided to head towards Lisbon to Sintra. My husband recalled a UNESCO world heritage sight there and thought I would be interested. Once arriving in Sintra, you are immediately aware of the towering spires at the top of the mountain (I think it's a mountain not a hill). The silhouette of the massive walls against the sun left us no doubt of out destination. We wound up the narrow road, thankful my husband was driving, towards anything that looked like an entrance. Finally we came to a "Cabine de bilhete" (ticket booth), so we parked the car and looked at the map. We realized we needed to walk uphill a bit further to find an open ticket booth. We asked for the best views and the attendant recommended the Moorish Castle.

Not sure of what we were going to see, we took his word and went towards the Moorish Castle. Along the path to the castle there were a few signs regarding the history of the grounds but nothing to indicate what you were about to encounter. We passed large boulders, some scaffolding, a new archeological dig, and a chain link gate into the walls.

As we approached the walls and began to climb the steps we were in awe of what man had built in the 9th century. It's location is obviously a good place to see approaching foes. However, the leap from thinking to building an enormous fortress so high atop a mountain peak long before machines were available to move rocks, is beyond my imagination.

Completely happy with our purchase, we traversed the walls and gazed down on Sintra and up to the Pena Palace. The "Castelo do Mouros" is definitely one of the seven wonders of Portugal and well deserving of its World Heritage status. I would call it a must see for anyone visiting Portugal

As i am uploading the pictures from the mobile app, they do not seem to stay in order.
The first picture is the Atlantic side beach sign in Peniche.
The second and third are the Moorish Castle of Sintra.
The last two pictures are the walls of Peniche.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Our second day, Sao Martinho do Porto

We had grand plans to walk to the nearby beaches of Sao Martinho do Porto Monday morning. We checked weather and planed our route with google maps. On Sunday we appeared to find a route via some of the small farm roads that was only about a 5.2 km walk. We both thought that was extremely achievable and still have energy to enjoy our day at the beach. We dressed appropriately for a day with lots of physical activity, I packed our backpacks with water and snacks as well as extra layers of clothing and even flashlights encase we were later than expected getting back.

All ready to leave, we sat down with the iPad and google maps and suddenly it was a 7.6 km walk. Although equally as manageable, it just seemed like a lot to tackle when my husband should be relaxing and recharging. It also took us on the main road. Although it is not a superhighway by any stretch, we didn't want to face portugese drivers on foot. There is very little sidewalk between the village and the beach. We decided best to drive, and we were glad we did come time to head home.

We still managed to get some exercise in. We parked the car on the southern end of the bay and joined the boardwalk. We walked towards the "foz" or estuary, crossed a little bridge and stared up at the giant sand dune. My husband had climbed it 5 years ago and decided he would do it again. I looked up with hesitation, inclines are not my strong suite, and took a step. Then I took another step, and loads more, sliding backwards for every step up. Eventually, I made it to the top it was well worth it as the view from the top was breathtaking, or maybe that was just me out of breath from the climb!

We spent the entire day along the shore doing beachy things. We watched a cormorant hunt, collected sea shells, got our feet wet, had an enormous fresh fish lunch, and walked it off afterwards taking in more spectacular views.

Once the sun began to go down and the evening chill began to set in, we were again very glad we had the car to drive home. Our next day was unplanned, but turned out fabulous. Can't wait to tell you all about it tomorrow!

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Out and about, Costa de Prata, the silver coast of Portugal

On Sunday we ventured to Obidos, a lovely town surrounded by fortification walls. The gates in and out of the walls are as ornate as any church alter. Speaking of churches we saw three as we walked through town! My camera battery died less than halfway through our walk :( very unprepared of me, but I got some good snaps before and had the iPad for a few more.

My big adventure on Sunday took place behind the wheel of our rental car. I drove! It is left hand drive, so much easier for me, but it is a manual transmission. Driving used to be such a relaxing activity but put me behind the wheel of a manual and my shoulders tense, my brow furrows, and my heart races.

I gave us good reason for all of that once. We were on a tiny road that happened to be an extremely steep hill. My husband tells me to rev it up, so I think he has the hand brake on and I am going to do hand brake start. WRONG. We suddenly start going backwards very quickly. It took me a second to break, thank heavens no one was behind us. Once we both regained our composure I once again put the car in first gear, managed the start stop technology, found the bite in the clutch and got us up the hill. All in all, I am driving manual much better, especially after driving automatic almost exclusively before moving to England. Start stop technology is probably giving me more hassle than shifting, I am getting myself out of predicaments that my instructor would have had to do in the past, and most importantly I have not given up yet. Now I just have to drive again while here...

At the top of that steep hill lies our other holiday villa in the village of Rabaceira. One of the reasons for coming to Portugal was to check up on the holiday villas, make sure everything seems in working order, and let our business partner know if there are any major concerns before the height of holiday season begins. The views at this villa are absolutely stunning. We walked around the village using what little portuguese we know "ola" and "obrigado". When we returned to the house I was again struck by the gorgeous views across the valley in front of the house. I promise pictures to come soon as we need to stop back at the house before leaving.

Next stop Sao Martinho do Porto, see you there!

All of the pictures were taken within the walls of Obidos, hope we have time to go back.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Arriving in Portugal

We have been in Portugal for three days now and it has been fabulous minus one snafu.

Travel has never been smoother. We drove to Stansted airport Friday night with no traffic. We booked our hotel on one of those secret deals and expected parking to be offsite, but it was on hotel property. We could see our car from the emergency exit. The hotel has a shuttle to and from the airport and although it cost £2pp it was fast and easy.

When we arrived at the airport I had to check in because I travel on an American passport. We were convinced after waiting in line for about 15 minutes we would be told we did something wrong, but no, checked in with ticket stamped, good to go!

We were there so early we had tons of time to go through the lounge, have a leisurely breakfast, and play some games on the iPad before getting our gate assignment. We strolled to the gate with people running past us this time instead of us doing the running. When we reached our gate we determined it was well worth the £6pp/per flight to get priority boarding. We flew with Ryanair, which is first come seating. Worse than Southwest ever was, they don't even have boarding groups, just priority and everyone else. There were only about 4 people in front of us out of a full flight, money well spent.

When we landed, customs was a breeze. I have a new stamp in my passport and received it with a smile. I could even say "obrigado" upon return of my passport.

Upon arriving in Portugal we wanted a 3G sim card for my iPad. We saw a vodaphone kiosk and stopped. There were 2 people working, both with customers. My husband was ready to walk out based on our previous experiences (it took over an hour to get one going in the States and about 30 minutes in the UK). I am glad we stayed though because one employee finished with his customer, went to the computer for a second, asked if we needed help and 5 minutes and €14,90 later I was on 3G and walking to the car rental kiosk!

We picked up the car and made a few circles around the airport before getting on the correct motorway. Had a lovely drive down to the Silver Coast from Porto.

We arrived at the villa just before sunset. We easily got the key from the lock box and suitcase from the car to walk into our lovely, freezing villa. Bare in mind this is typically used in summer where heating is far from the issue. We are here in January because we have no bookings. It was however, warmer outside than it was inside. We looked at the guide for the underfloor heating, did exactly as the instructions indicated, and went out for some groceries and a meal. All indications were the house should warm up in about an hour so we figured it would be better when we returned about three hours later. We were wrong. We called our friend back in the UK who comes down at least once a season to make sure everything is running smoothly. He could only suggest resetting and then reiterated the instruction manual to us. So we did as we were told and went to bed under 3 duvets and several blankets, wearing numerous layers of clothes.

We woke up to not much better. However, today we are much more comfortable. We built a fire in the wood burner last night and i only needed one duvet and a blanket! We are still not quite as warm as we would hope (I am under two blankets as I write this, but that is fairly normal for me). We think the house was just so cold, it took a bit more to get it warmed up...

Loads of sights to see around here so more posts to come soon!

The photos are:
Our pool, don't think it will get used on this trip, but I might do some yoga on the deck if we are here on an afternoon

Some of the firewood we collected from the woods behind the house. A little bit of pine and some eucalyptus.

Our fire! We were nice and warm with that going. Should get one going again tomorrow night :)

Thursday, 19 January 2012


I don't know why every trip I go on packing is a huge ordeal. I start setting things aside a week or two in advanced. As I put laundry away, I have a spare bed stacked with things I don't want to put in the closet so I don't wear them again before my trip.

This time was no different. Usually I have a generous stack of clothes that I whittle away to a reasonable wardrobe to fit every mood. I have had to limit myself more than normal for our next holiday as we are flying with RyanAir. Every item carried and checked onto the plane will be scrutinized, measured, and weighed. We are only paying for one checked item between the 2 of us with a maximum weight of 20 kg. we can each take one piece of hand luggage, but must be under 10 kg and aXbXc dimensions. If you make a mistake by even a few grams you get charged £40. It starts to defeat them purpose of flying cheap...

Wish me luck, I have another day to fiddle with my packing!

Thursday, 12 January 2012

At the pictures...

You wouldn't think there would be so many differences in one language, but I can tell you sometime I think my husband is speaking Greek.

Last week my husband asked if I wanted to go to the pictures. I asked what pictures? My husband said "the movies" like dah... what do you think I meant. He then laughed when he realized it was another language barrier broken through.

We were planning to see Sherlock Holmes last week, so I made sure I was ready to go as soon as he came home from work and even had dinner ready. I also had some clothes out and the heater on in the bathroom so he could get ready quickly.

We made record breaking turn around time, which was good because we had just enough gas to get there as long as my husband didn't engage the turbo in his Audi TT. It was also very good that we were driving a bit slower than normal as an enormous tree had fallen across the dark country road we were driving.

We quickly flashed our high beams to alert oncoming drivers so they too could avoid a collision. As we began to turn around, another car was coming up behind us. Fortunately he too stopped before hitting us or the tree.

Needless to say that was the end of our movie for the night. We instead navigated to a gas station (I mean petrol station) and reconsidered our options for the night. I'll post about that soon.

We finally made it to see our movie yesterday. Robert Downey Jr. and Jude law work really well together and I love the twist they have put in this adaptation of the classic with Holmes a bit on the wacky side. Stephen Fry plays Sherlock's brother and adds another fabulous layer of humor to the crime series.

All in all it was well worth the wait and would recommend the film. I have grown up with my father watching quite a few different adaptations of Sherlock Holmes. I will have to make sure he sees the films (2 in this series now) before he comes to visit as the Sherlock Holmes museum in London is on our list of things to do when he visits!

The photo is the tree that blocked our way after it had been cleared from the road. I still want to stand next to it to see how big it really was!

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

The weather...again lol

I know, every time I mention the hideous weather I have no one to blame but myself. I willingly left my home in Florida to be with my husband in North Yorkshire, England. I knew it would be rainy and cold, dark and dreary, I just didn't or couldn't understand the extent of the poor weather.

There are some similarities between the two opposing climates though. Let me see if I can adequately compare and contrast the two.

Daily rain showers, both get them, Florida's are warm and lovely and occur in the summertime and often give a spectacular light show along with the nourishing rains. I would often go outside in swimsuit in the rainstorms if no lightening was associated with them. Best way to cool down is a Florida rain shower!

England usually has them in the autumn and winter, sometimes spring and this past year even the bit of summer that I was here for. They are cold and grey without light shows. Driving rain and winds that can rival a few of the tropical storms I saw in Florida. There is no intense heat between these showers to dry the ground, or anything else for that matter... The roads are often flooded, not for a few minutes or hours from the sudden drop of water from the sky, but often for weeks at a time because the ground is supersaturated and the rivers are overflowing their banks, there is simply no where else for the water to go. If I go outside in the rain here, it is usually under several layers of clothing with at least one waterproof layer in there and often a thermal layer closest to my skin. Any sense of style I had has been lost to the heavily layered look. Leggings and boots are the norm so that I can keep my feet dry and the bottom of my jeans/trousers don't get soaked or mud laden.

There is a silver lining to the clouds here. When the sun does peek through the lighting is gorgeous for photography. The rural landscape is a lush green and the stormy skies add a contrast and excitement to the photos. Now it is just getting out and back in before the stormy skies on the horizon open overhead.

The pictures are from my phone, I didn't want to bring my camera out in case I got caught in the rain. Good thing, at least I was layered well and the phone was safely hidden away in the pocket of an interior layer!