Portugal

A Call to place : the Azores

I can’t remember where it was that I first read about the Azores, but it goes back many years.  Açores, they say, here in Portugal, a softer sound; with a kind of reverence, and a far away look in their eyes.  A chain of nine islands, adrift on the North Atlantic, and just loosely tethered to the mainland, their volcanic origins creating dramatic scenery, soothed by the Gulf Stream.  That’s enough to stir the imagination, isn’t it?

I was born on an island, and have always loved the sea.  That azure colour, glinting in the sunlight, sits permanently in the back of my mind, though many’s the time I’ve seen it leaden grey.  I loved Portuguese Madeira and the volcanic aspects of the Spanish Canary Islands.  I felt impelled to know more.  Where exactly were they, and how could I get there?

850 miles west of mainland Portugal, and over a thousand miles south east of Newfoundland, Canada.  An autonomous part of Portugal, they are divided, for convenience, into 3 groups : Grupo Oriental, to the east, with the largest of the islands, São Miguel, and much smaller, Santa Maria; Grupo Central comprises the ‘happy’ island of Terceira, Graciosa,  São Jorge, Pico, with its volcanic cone- the highest mountain in Portugal, and Faial, with its port Horta, known for Peter’s Sport Cafe, the sailing capital of the Azores; and the most mysterious and far away, Grupo Ocidental, to the west, Flores and tiny Corvo.  It was obvious, from the very beginning, that visiting all of the islands would be expensive, and time consuming.  So, which ones, and when?

Whenever I read of the islands there would be reference to volcanic lakes, surrounded by hedges of hortensia, or Hydrangeas, as I know them.  A ‘Granny’ plant, I always thought of them, filling the front gardens of old ladies’ houses.  But the pictorial evidence showed lakes of blue and green, in Spring and Summer wrapped around with foaming, creamy blue mopheads, like nothing Granny had ever imagined.  For years I brooded on these.  Not given to extravagant holidays, whenever I caught sight of an offer I would avidly read the small print, wondering if this might be the one.  But the timing was never right.  Finally I suggested to my husband that it would make a brilliant 70th birthday present, but could ignite little interest from him.  He was focused completely on our intended move to the Algarve.  I knew that I could fly directly to the islands from Lisbon, so it made sense to be patient.

Meanwhile, I talked to everybody I could who might know anything of these islands.  One of our Algarve walking friends had made a solo visit one winter, and been so enchanted with São Jorge that he planned to organise a group visit.  It never happened.  I joined the Seniors Club in Tavira, only to find that the 5 day Azores trip they were offering clashed with my son’s visit.  I enthused so much that 2 other of our walking friends organised a celebratory visit to São Miguel for their daughter’s graduation present.  Despite mixed weather in February, they loved it.  Still others remembered swimming in thermal pools there, more than 15 years ago.  Was I the only person never to have been?  Whenever the subject was mentioned, eyes would light up, and memories be triggered.

I turned to the world of blogging and to Instagram to broaden my knowledge of where to go, and what there was to see.  I was considering an organised walking holiday with Inntravel, or a cruise with Artisan, but I couldn’t quite get the balance right (or the price!)  In the end I booked it all myself, using SATA, the Azores airline.  Roughly following the Inntravel itinerary, I booked ferries and chose hotels with much deliberation.  13 nights, 4 islands, 6 flights, 2 ferries and 6 hotels.  The date was chosen to coincide with the flowers being at their peak.  It never even entered my head that I would be missing the French Open, and an amazing 12th title at Roland Garros for Rafa Nadal.

All a little daunting, I was desperate for it to come together seamlessly.  Or with a minimum of hiccups.  🙂   Much information on the islands and their history is available on Wikipedia.  For me, this is the beginning of a memorable journey.  Thanks to Cathy at Wander.essence for the opportunity to share it.  Read of the determination that took her to a Call to place: the Sultanate of Oman.

Living the dream… 6 months on

Half a year in, I’ve gone from hopping about to keep warm, to melting slowly.  32C at the end of May.  Definitely warmer than average!  But not every day, and even on the hot ones it’s possible to catch a breeze at the beach.  The season hasn’t yet started, and I’m still able to claim a wide expanse of sand, all to myself.   But not for much longer.  The other day I watched in fascination as the beach umbrellas were assembled.  Heavy, circular woven mats, hefted up onto poles, creating small pools of shade.  And beyond it, endlessly blue sea, swaying to its own rhythm, mesmerising.  Like the wild flowers in the fields.

This isn’t as easy a post to write as I’d thought.  I keep wandering back to the comments on Living the dream… 3 months on.  You were all so very kind, and I obviously touched a chord with a lot of people.  So, where are we now?  A landmark for us.  A first visit from a couple of old friends from the UK, who had never been to Portugal before.  We waited anxiously to see how it would be received.  Would they shake their heads and wonder why we’d left good old England?  Perhaps if I tell you that they both love cake you’ll know that this place brought enormous smiles to their faces.  And it wasn’t just the cake!

And in the meantime?  As you wisely forecast, good days and minor hiccups.  Small triumphs in language. (very small- I’m thinking recognised words here, not flowing sentences)  A succession of goodbyes.  Many people come to the Algarve in the winter months and leave again as the temperatures begin to rise.  This is another adjustment I will need to make.  But I know that many of the friends I have made will return.  We share a love for this place and, once the bond is made, threads of our lives mingle, across the globe.  Still, I’m quick to feel alienation.  I court a warm response, but always hold something of myself back.  Some lessons are harder to learn than language.  Maybe that’s why I’m a wanderer, dipping safely in and out, without commitment.

I’m on the verge of a long awaited adventure in the Azores, though some might wonder why I need a holiday.  By the time you read this the packing and angst should be done.  If I don’t publish now I know this will be swamped by my impressions of an archipelago of islands.  I’m off to catch a breeze!

 

Six word Saturday

Sharing a few memories with friends

It was a great week, in excellent company.  ‘We’ve been so many places, I can’t remember the names!’  The first was Fuseta.  Click on the photos for a clue.  And then pop over to Debbie with six words.  She loves photos!  Happy Saturday everybody…

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Six word Saturday

Viva Mãe Soberana!  Viva  Mãe Soberana!

An emotional day in Loulé, last Sunday, celebrating the festival of Mae Soberana. 

For 15 years I’ve wanted to be a part of this ceremony.  The captions tell part of the story, but it’s a memory I hope will stay with me forever.

Impossible to share in Six Words, but I tried.  Viva Mãe Soberana!  Wishing you all a peaceful weekend.

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Six word Saturday

Yes, I do have tranquil moments!

I don’t spend all of my life zipping about the place, though it may sometimes seem that way.  Thanks for your interest in the flash mob.  It was a wonderful experience and we hope to have a video on YouTube, after editing.  Now I’m going for a cuppa with Debbie on Six Word Saturday.  Have a great weekend!

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Jo’s Monday walk : Street art in Silves

Silves, as one of the loveliest towns in the Algarve and its former capital, is one I seldom fail to take visitors to.  Last weekend, while strolling the streets on my way to a Mediterranean Garden Fair, I was much taken with some distinctive and amusing street art.  Boxes housing electricity cables are seldom an attractive feature, so an initiative to transform them must surely be a good thing.

‘Stencilpes’ is described as an urban intervention project to encourage young people’s interest in art, using images from history, architecture and nature.  I could find little information about the individual artists, but I thoroughly enjoyed spotting the artworks.

Whimsical creatures rub shoulders with cork oaks and olives, grapes and strawberries, birds and butterflies.  On the riverfront, these pieces of modern art pay tribute to Silves’ Moorish past.

High on the hill, the red brick fortress looks down on peaceful streets.  The morning market supplies restaurants and locals alike, but then the town seems to sleep, leaving just the storks to keep watch from their lofty perch.

Great, aren’t they?  No need for me to say much!  A nice change for you.

I found myself wandering into an area I didn’t really know, in pursuit of the boxes.  On the corner of Rua Dom Afonso III stands a pretty little church, Igreja Nossa Senhora dos Martires, and a statue of the martyrs, which looks like it’s seen better days.

I don’t know about you, but I was starting to feel the need for some refreshment.  You’ve been very patient this week, so I’ll give you a choice.

While I was eating, a clattering noise overhead caused me to look up.  What a magical sight met my eyes!  A stork was descending to his waiting mate, on their nest above.  I averted my eyes, politely, from their noisy love making.

The garden fair wasn’t the highlight of my afternoon, but I did buy a couple of plants and a terracotta pot.  I wandered back to the riverside parking, a big smile on my face.  And spotted another couple of boxes!

I’m sure I’ve missed a few, but maybe next time?  I hope you enjoyed them too.  S is for Silves will give you a little background on the city.

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Thanks so much for your company on my little jaunt!  Join me any time you can, here on Jo’s Monday walk. You’ll always get a warm welcome.

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Debbie posts some amazing sights, as she whizzes around the world :

Burrowing into Baku

A rainy day in Paris?  Don’t despair- just follow Jude’s lead!

Walking the Right Bank Passages in Paris

It’s all a bit weird and wonderful at Drake’s place this week!

Third degree street parade

There are options for healthy eating with Irene :

Through the Edible Garden

Then you could have coffee with Jackie :

Espresso

Natalie is someone who sets herself health goals and walks for fitness :

Wellness Post #3 : Ice Breakers 2019

It’s a little grey at the beach with Sandra, but there’s beauty aplenty in those Spheres :

#Alki Beach, #Seattle

#Amazon #Spheres – Saturday Snapshot and Jo’s Monday walk

Eek!  That white stuff is still to be found!  But Rupali is happy with blue skies :

Tour day!

Susanne has found plenty of sunshine in her neck of the woods :

A Walk at Coulon Park on the Last Day of Winter

Lisa too, but still a little cool, I understand :

Jo’s Monday Walk

I don’t think they have winter in Alice’s part of the world :

Step Forward or a Peek into the Past

Follow Ulli to Germany- it’s beautiful too!

Enchanted Forest

Janet knows I love a glass or two of wine :

Monday walk…Vinas De Garza

Covering up the weariness with a smile; you must be following Cathy’s epic journey?

(Camino day 9) Villamayor de Monjardin to Torres del Rio

There’s a regular Monday meetup over at Sami’s Colourful World for all those of you who love street art.  Have a great week, and see you next time!

Living the dream… 3 months on

It was quite easy to leave England.  Or so I thought!  I had a home in the Algarve, and a ready made life, carefully nurtured over 15 years.  A variety of friends awaited, and activities to engage in.  I loved the place I was moving to.  You’ve seen the photos.  How could I not?  And yet… was the honeymoon over?

There was a certain euphoria in making the dream a reality.  Even saying goodbye to lifelong friends was done with gaiety, each one a celebration of our shared lives.  They could visit, couldn’t they?  And the same for my family, though not without a pang or two.  Everyone was excited and pleased for me.  The move went smoothly.  Fragments of my old life, packed in cardboard boxes, made its way overland to join me.  But when it arrived I was filled with dismay.  Much of it seemed irrelevant to my new life, here in the Algarve, squeezing our comfortable space till it felt cramped.  I closed the door on the second bedroom.  Avoiding it all.

I didn’t miss my old home in the UK, as I thought I might, but I did miss its warmth.  I had moved to a land of sunshine and blue skies, but the house was cold.  Designed to keep out heat in the summer, in the winter they are not so easy to keep warm.  Tiled floors, though beautiful, don’t help.  Out and about and busy in the daytime, I was happy enough, but returning home meant putting on extra layers of clothing.  The house is air-conditioned and individual rooms can be heated, but moving between them was uncomfortable, even with plug-in heaters.  I was miserable, and cross with myself besides.  Why was I not happy?  Everyone knew I was living the dream.

Language is so important to me.  I hide behind photographs, but I deal in words.  Somehow it hadn’t mattered when we came to our holiday home but, proudly obtaining residency, I felt inadequate and frustrated by my inability to converse freely with locals.  I still do, but I’m trying!

So much gloom!  Did you know?  Could you tell?  My life in pictures continued to shine forth at intervals.  I reinstated my Monday walks, reflecting the joy I still found in the amazing outdoors, but on a personal level I couldn’t quite find the idyll.  People here are kind, and my disorientation was noted.  We discussed heating issues, and others, and I was assured that the first year could be difficult.  The weight of expectation, perhaps?

Gradually I am getting there.  Most of the boxes are unpacked, and painting done.  With new settees and carpet our home feels comfortable and welcoming.  But I’m not flexible and adaptable.  Why didn’t I know that about me?  My husband has made the adjustment far better, and retained his much needed sense of humour.  And he can still make me smile.  How lucky am I?  Living in ‘almost paradise’.

Linking to Cathy’s Prose invitation, over on Wander.essence.