Portugal

Jo’s Monday walk : Portagem to Ammaia

It’s always good to start a post with a flamboyant flower, don’t you think?  Though in this case it has only a little relevance.  How many circular walks do you know that start and end by a river, exploring Roman ruins along the way?  I can actually think of one other, in the Algarve, but I was quite unprepared for the scale of these ruins, at Ammaia, in the Alto Alentejo region of Portugal.  Ruins I’d never even heard of!

I have to say that the last walk was a very hard act to follow.  Having seen the valley from the lofty heights of Marvão, I was curious as to how the village would look when viewed from below.  Driving back down didn’t seem half so difficult as the haul up to it had been.  As usual, I wasn’t doing the driving, but gazing out at the scenery.  Sleepy Portagem was a lazy dream of a day in early March.  Come back in July and it might be a different story, with screams and splashes echoing up the valley from the river beach.

Yes, that’s Marvão, right up on the top.  No wonder it’s serene and peaceful!  I read that the village hosts a Medieval Fair in October.  What a sight that must be!  And yet, for once, I’d opted for serenity and loved every moment.

It was, pretty much, also what we found on our descent from Marvão.  A river beach has been constructed on the River Sever and, alongside it, a smart pool complex.  Totally deserted, of course, in March.  Used, as I now am, to an early Spring in the Algarve, I was astonished to find bare trees, just awakening to the gentle warmth of the sun’s rays.

Looking at the sign boards there seemed to be a choice of two walks, PR1 and PR5.  So long as we didn’t have to climb all the way back up to Marvão on foot, it didn’t much matter which.  The river curved away into the distance, beneath a beautiful old bridge.

Crossing the bridge, a decision of sorts was made.  Inaccessible castle ruins and a more modern calamity, ripe for renewal, directed our steps.

Poppies danced overhead as we followed a grassy trail around the back of the village.  I stopped to admire a haphazard clump of irises, triggering a frenzy of barking from behind the fence.  Buried among bright green foliage, could that be a wild orchid?

Moths and butterflies fluttered by, intent on the beautiful day, and a patch of tiny, jewel bright violas.  A narrow road led between fields full of olive trees, where a farmer and his wife were clearing and burning tired, old tree branches.  They surveyed us with curiosity, nodding at our greeting.  I doubt if too many strangers pass their way.  Set back against the hillside, we became aware of some ruined structures, and speculated on what their purpose might have been.  The sign Fornos do Cal da Escusa suggested a connection with ovens.  We later found that these had been lime quarries, quite possibly dating back to Roman times and the nearby city of Ammaia.

In the distance, across the fields of olives, vines and sheep, Marvão kept watch from on high.

We had circled back towards Portagem but, just before the village, a right turn took us through the tiny hamlet, São Salvador da Aramenha, home to some beautiful camelias.  Past the church and a diminutive café, a left brought us to the Roman ruins, unimposing behind a locked gate.

Thankfully they were simply closed for lunch.  Just beyond the gates, a small museum, with a film show relating the history of the site.  Then we were free to wander, full of expectation.  The website Ammaia can provide details.

The site is surprisingly large, and actually spans a country lane, but much of it has yet to be excavated.  Remnants of the South Gate, the Forum and a bathing area are clearly visible.  Ongoing since 1994, progress is slow and reliant on students and volunteers.

There is enormous potential here, and in the stillness of the surrounds you can let your imagination roam.  Romans, gossiping in the Forum, languid in the baths, or patrolling the walls with Marvão on the horizon.  Meanwhile the grass grows long, sprinkled with wild flowers of lemon and blue.  Leaving the site, it was about another half hour, through the dappled shade of fragrant pines and yet more olives, back to the village of Portagem.  I think we mostly followed PR5.

But where’s the cake, I hear you say?  Well, there’s plenty at Su’s place, and Jude has some luscious meringues to share.  Perhaps you’d like to join them.  In this sleepy corner of the Alentejo, I was hard pressed to find a cake shop.

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A few more walks for you this week.  Please, keep sending them.  I don’t mind if they’re just of your back garden- it’s all fresh air, and a pleasant distraction for each other.

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Alice has a beautiful walk for us in these troubled times :

Prayer Garden

But nobody says it better than Drake :

Lonesome Avenue

Fancy a little climb with Irene?

Top of a Sand Dune

Meanwhile Natalie is staying positive :

Looking Forward to Spring

And playing in the waves.  Wish I could!

Fit and Fun Walk: Waves

Nobody captures beauty better than Lynn.  Treat yourself to a walk with her :

LOCAL WALKS: Signs of Spring in the Pacific Northwest

Wonderful Italy!  Cathy shares a journey I always wanted to make :

The Cinque Terre: Monterosso al Mare

Still in Italy, Sheetal takes me across the lagoon, to one of my most beautiful memories ever :

Colours of Venetian Isles

Stay safe out there!  We’re all traveling by armchair now.  Might as well get comfy.  I’d better go and find some cake!

Jo’s Monday walk : Magnificent Marvão

Dawn breaks over the castle at Marvão, serene and beautiful.  I had been niggling for a little while.  ‘Can we have a few days away?’ before company arrives and the summer hots up.  How lucky was I?  A virus was nibbling away at all our lives.  The situation was to take a turn for the worse in my absence.  But I was granted a reprieve.  Pure escapism!  To the border country, on the heights of the Alentejo, here in Portugal.

It was a little drab on our arrival, cloud pressing down on our heads, but undeterred we took to the walls.  Finding them full of rich promise.

As evening settled around us, slowly, a break in the clouds, and the last of the sun’s warmth painted the sky.  Coral tones, delighting my heart.

I could hardly wait to see what the next day would bring!  The world floated beneath me, the natural park of the Serra de Sáo Mamede.  Ahead the proud and mighty castle, never yet conquered, with its petticoat of gardens, and a fountain playing gently in the dusk.  Nearby the Igreja Santiago seemed still to be open.  Timidly I poked my head inside, to be greeted with a welcoming smile.

Gratefully we returned to the hotel for supper.  Although the forecast for the next day was good, I wasn’t overly confident, but it dawned with clouds high and puffy in a beautiful blue sky.  I would be able to see Marvão at its glorious best.

Much of the village is in pristine condition, but here and there a door or window caught my eye.  A candidate for a little affection.

Personality and gentle humour seem to characterise Marvão, but nothing overshadows the castle, looking down on the village from its granite crag.

The cisterna is remarkable for its size, 10 metres by 46.  It was built to gather sufficient rainwater to last 6 months, in case of siege.  There is no other natural source on the peak of the mountain, almost 900 metres above sea level.

Just beyond the castle, the former Igreja da Santa Maria is now a very beautiful museum.

We had much to see in the valley below, but later that evening we returned to Marvão for supper, to find the castle floodlit.

The photo quality is poor, but I know you always appreciate cake.  You may have realised that I was completely smitten with Marvão.  We were leaving the next day and, desperate for one last look, I crept out of the hotel at dawn, entranced by the mists floating in the valley.

I had not intended to return to blogging so soon, but much is happening in our world, and for me you are all a part of that.  On our return, Portugal had closed schools and suspended all public and social events.  Group activities are at an end, restaurants are reducing numbers if not closing, and now the border with Spain is closed.  It is all precautionary and time will tell how effective it will be, but meantime I shall try to brighten your lives, as I always have.  And, of course, there are walks to share.

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Rupali, reminding me what snow looks like (and it does snow in Marvão, but not on my visit)

Just a walk…

Liesbet has a little fun, and gets licked!

Happy Cows – A Walk in the Field

Drake knows Paris better than most of us :

Feeling at home out

Miriam brings us beautiful vistas, in her own special way :

Wild about the Grampians

While Cathy continues to be beautifully disgruntled in Rome!

Promises, promises in the Vatican Museums

And Margaret?  Well, it seems she likes wallowing in mud  🙂

Roughly the Same Walk as Last Week

That’s it for now.  Take good care of yourselves, and don’t loose heart.  We’re all in this together!

Jo’s Monday walk : Vaqueiros in Spring

Last week’s walk may have been a little long-winded, and I was chided over the lack of cake, so this one needs to be both short and sweet.  The blossom is appearing everywhere and it’s a crime to be indoors.  Come with me to Vaqueiros, in my Eastern Algarve.

Vaqueiros is another hill village situated on the 300km Via Algarviana, and a good starting point for two circular walks.  I took you along on one of them a couple of years ago, so let’s go and see the other.

An information board indicates the way out of the village, on a gentle ascent.  A tinkling of bells alerts me to the presence of goats, an elderly goatherd leaning, unconcerned, on a wall in the shade.  And then, in a valley, a wonderful surprise.  Clear, sparkling water, flowing freely.  It’s been a long dry spell and recent, welcome rains have done their work.

The patterns in the rock crisscross like a giant game board, and I linger, thinking what a great place for a picnic and a paddle.

Our walk leader tells us we have a steady uphill climb for half an hour, and to keep our voices down when we pass the beehives.  It’s probably too early in the year, but the last thing you need is a swarm of angry bees.  Fortunately, nothing stirs as we tiptoe past.

Next we find ourselves the object of much curiosity.  Sheep certainly seem to abide by the maxim ‘safety in numbers’.  I couldn’t spot the shepherd but I’m sure there’s a stray goat or two in the pack.

The trail wends its way around and beneath a canopy of trees, mostly pine.  We pass by a nicely shaded picnic table, knowing we are not too far from our café stop at journey’s end.  And you know what that means!

In the small reservoir a bird flaps down to perch on the stump of a tree, and I try to zoom for a clearer photo.  Not my forté.

Now I’m not really sure that you’ve earned cake, though we’ve certainly burned a few calories.  Sorry!  Somebody just couldn’t wait  😦

But at least one of them makes a delightful square for January Light.  Just 5 days of Becky’s challenge to go!

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So nice to have water in the rivers again, though I may not be saying that tomorrow when I have to cross one!  Thank you all for your company, and please find a little time to visit each other.  Join me any time, here on Jo’s Monday walk.

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Just a warm-up from Natalie, but so pretty you might want to linger :

Hiking to Peguche Waterfall

Amanda has found a happy new home by the sea to put a big smile on her face :

Sunday Morning Beach Walk

Contrary to popular belief, I don’t mind the odd invigorating walk, and I’m happy to join Jonno and Jo :

Wild and Windy Walk at Heddon Valley

Speaking of windy, what better than the one and only Chicago?  Thanks, Janet!

Jo’s Monday Walk… the Windy City

Slade, and a pink house that I remember, in Montmartre with Drake :

Kind of rocking culture

I’m not great at whistling, but I’d give this a go, Alice :

Echo Square- Savannah

Denzil takes us gently wandering again in Belgium :

Sclaigneaux 2k(for kids) and 10k walks

And how beautiful are these, from Irene?

Glimpses of Dawn

Living Desert Garden

Margaret takes me very close to ‘home’ with this one :

Highlights of a Bird-free Bird Reserve

In fact, this was my very first Monday walk, and I can’t resist re-sharing  🙂  Almost 6 years ago!

Jo’s Monday walk : Greatham Creek

I’m sure you’ll have heard of this place (the English version follows the Italian).  Please stop by and say hello!

Alberobello:tutto il fascino dell’orientalismo pugliese

Cathy does a fabulous job here!  Don’t miss her truly gorgeous photography :

Morocco: the blue-washed Chefchaouen

It’s going to be a great year here for blossom.  I hope you can enjoy it with me.  Take care till next time!

Jo’s Monday walk : Cultured in Coimbra

Central to the University of Coimbra lies a vast square, looking down from which you have the city at your feet.  To reach it you have a steady climb, up through winding streets.  On a fine day, a magnificent view will be your reward.  Sadly, our skies were grey and misted with a fine drizzle, but we were celebrating a birthday and determined to enjoy it.  A 45 minute train ride had brought us here, from Aveiro, out on the coast.

In Roman times Coimbra was known as Aeminium.  An aqueduct and traces of mosaic discovered in this area date back 2,000 years.  The first Muslim occupation of the Iberian peninsula took place between 711 and 715, and Coimbra surrendered in 714.  Many of the street names survive from that period, and the alcáçova, or fortified palace, where the governor of the city lived, formed the basis of the Royal Palace of the first kings of Portugal.  During this time the high part of town was walled and fortified.  Coimbra was reconquered by the Christians permanently in 1064, becoming the capital of the first Portuguese dynasty, in the ever complicated history of this country, in 1131.  It remained so until 1255, when the seat of power was transferred to Lisbon.

It was almost by chance that we came upon the Sé, or Old Cathedral, in Largo da Sé Velha.  Built in the Romanesque style, on the site of a temple dedicated to Santa Maria, from the outside the cathedral resembles a small fortress.  Steep steps lead to the main portal, beyond which a hush descends.  My eyes alighted on huge seashells, the like of which I had never seen.  Labels proclaim them Tridacma shells, from the Indian Ocean.  The alcoves on either side of the nave feature compelling spotlit portraits, while the walls gleam with 16th century edged Múdejar tiles from Seville.

The Gothic cloister, begun around 1218, is the oldest in Portugal.  Unintentionally it’s a green space for small children at play.  Leaving the cathedral, it’s an upwards slog to the University complex.  Robed nuns paid us scant attention, going  about their business within the solid walls.

If I knew anything at all about Coimbra it was that the University was beautiful, and had been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2013.  Founded in Lisbon by King Dinis, in 1290, it alternated between the two cities till it was definitively established in Coimbra in 1537.  It is one of the oldest in Europe, and was the only one in the Portuguese-speaking world until 1911.  The life of the city revolves around the state-run university.

We purchased a composite ticket for the Palace and the Joanine Library.  The latter had to be viewed on a specific time slot so we headed first to St. Michael’s Chapel, where we gaped upwards at the painted, arched ceiling and astounding baroque organ.  Just time for a coffee before descending the Minerva stairs to patiently await our turn.

Finally we were shepherded into cool chambers with dense walls and arched ceilings, not quite sure at what tomes we were looking.  This was just a preliminary.  The gasps came later.  With over 200,000 books, mostly in Latin and pre-18th century, the Joanine Library (named for King Joáo V) is recognised as the most sumptuous university library ever made.  The 72 shelves, arranged over 2 floors in 3 rooms, are minutely decorated with Chinese motives.  I had thought the library in Trinity College, Dublin amazing, but this one defied description.  Nor were we allowed to take photos, conservation being necessarily important.  The books have an unusual ally- a colony of bats who entertain themselves at night by feasting on wayward insects.  This was one of those occasions when I was glad I’d purchased a full colour souvenir brochure.  As I explained last week, I’ve lost all except one of my photos from this visit to Coimbra.  I’ve used my husband’s photos throughout this post, but I managed to find a video to give you a brief glimpse inside the library.  It barely does it justice.

Still awed at what we’d seen, we continued around the Palace and out onto the balcony for misty views down to the river.  During the Middle Ages Coimbra was divided into an upper city, where the clergy and aristocracy lived, and a lower city for merchants, artisans and labourers, down beside the River Mondego.  Since 1772, the Botanical Garden has wrapped a green cloak around the skirts of the city, combining the beauty of nature with education and research.

A cobbled path leads from the rear of the gardens down to the riverside, where fountains play majestically across the water, reminding me of Geneva.  A footbridge spans the river, and playing fields line its banks.  We crossed to the far shore to look back at the city, before returning to the station.  Take a more comprehensive look at Coimbra, with Julie Dawn Fox.  She lives not far away, and has many suggestions for walking throughout Portugal, too.  And incidentally, if you can’t face the climb, there is a bus that will take you up to the University grounds.

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Not so many walks this week.  People are busy with Christmas preparations.  I hope to have another Jo’s Monday walk next week but I’ll understand if you can’t join me.  Even though I promise to bring cake!

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Janet made me smile with this title and I’ve been singing it ever since!

Monday walk…like an Egyptian

Drake always makes me smile!  You will love this burst of heat and colour :

Genuine authenticity

Much more subtle colour from Georgina, tempting me across the border into Spain :

Autumn Walks in the Sierra Aracena

A nice bit of variety, and some daily exercise, with Yvette :

Photos from Daily Walks (2020 Countdown 13 of 31)

And a truly beautiful bit of night photography from Becky :

Christmas at the Botanics

While Cathy finally completes her journey :

(Camino day 47) Pedrouzo to Santiago

Wishing you all a great week!  We have a rainy forecast here so there will be some delighted skipping in puddles.

 

Jo’s Monday walk : Aveiro & surrounds

Art Deco Museum- copyright Mike Bradley

You can look forward to something too much, can’t you?  You could definitely say that about our couple of days in Aveiro, back in July.  The city almost made the itinerary on our Porto trip, a few years ago, but we opted for a day in Guimaraes instead.  Aveiro seemed to warrant more time than that.  I’d seen photos of the wonderfully painted barcos moliceiros that ride the canals, not to mention the candy striped houses at neighbouring Costa Nova.  Both irresistible, in prospect.

A birthday is always a good excuse for a jaunt.  It wasn’t mine, but that seldom stops me.  I was surprised that he chose to drive us there, but it did add flexibility to the plans.  And so we left the Algarve for the ‘cooler’ north.  Except that the dial on the car read 36C when we arrived.  Several degrees warmer than our sultry south.  More of a surprise was the motorway, that ran parallel with the canal, right into the city and onward in a rush to the coast.  Aveiro was much bigger than I had anticipated.  Time to stow the car in the hotel garage and take to the streets.  A canal boat with my name on it must be waiting out there.

No, not this one, but there actually was a lovely green boat, named Santa Joana.  A sign, if ever there was, though the only certainty was that a boat ride would be taken, on the morrow.  Wikipedia reveals that Santa Joana was, in fact, the daughter of King Afonso V, and spent her life in the convent in Aveiro.  Meanwhile, a walk around the canal network seemed highly desirable.

The city rose to prominence on the strength of its salt production, stemming back to Roman times, and seaweed harvest.  The moliço, or seaweed, was used as fertiliser before chemicals were developed for the purpose.  The flat-bottomed gondolas were used to transport it across the lagoon.  The silting up of the river in the 16th and 17th centuries hindered the trading of the seaport and led to the closure of the canals, and stagnation of the waters of the lagoon.  The network of canals we see today were artificially constructed and opened in 1808, bringing prosperity back with them.

Canal Central is a grand sight!  The graceful boats, with their highly accomplished crew of two- one steering and the other providing commentary and skipping nimbly onto the stern to signal manoeuvres- glide across the water in a serenade of colour and ceremony.  Out past the Rossio park towards Canal das Piramides, and the salt pans, then under the bridge onto Canal de Sáo Roque.  Old warehouses rub shoulders with modern developments here.  A sleek bit of turning, and some hand signals guide the vessels through the narrowest of openings.  Fascinating to watch how well they coordinate their efforts.  In high season 25/28 boats ply their carefully orchestrated trade.  Part way along Sáo Roque a new bridge was under construction.  A gravity- defying curve of metal suspended over the water, I lingered over the reflections.

Much of the architecture is very beautiful.  A combination of art deco and those so Portuguese azulejo tiles.  An atmospheric fish market and a plethora of restaurants, huddled in back streets.  A cathedral of contrasts- wonderful old chorister seats, in dark wood carved with African masks; an antique pipe organ and its shiny new counterpart.  Churches, of course.  Huge Dom Pedro park, with its golden yellow villas and Monet bridges.  Two things not to miss : The Art Deco Museum, beside Canal Central, and a confectionery called Ovos Moles.  Gooey marzipan in a soft, seashell sculpted case.  We sampled ours at a tiny café by the canal, A Barrista.

Back through the city to Canal do Cojo and a sleek extravaganza of shopping mall, topped with a garden roof terrace.  Time to sit in the sun and watch and wave, as the boats sweep beneath a bridge decked in ribbons.  Sadly I can’t show you.  Soon after our return from Aveiro I was having laptop difficulties.  In trying to assist, my husband accidentally deleted the vast majority of my photos from the trip.  To this day I have been unable to recover most of them.  I was devastated at the time, but I’ve used what I have, including some from my phone and a handful borrowed, and credited, from him.

I loved the canals, the camaraderie of the crews, and the old part of Aveiro, but it’s fair to say, nothing was quite as I expected.  If I hadn’t lost the photos I’d have regaled you with more posts.  I’ll simply say that the weather changed, and the plan to spend the birthday by the beach at Costa Nova wasn’t feasible.  A short visit on our homeward journey left us both underwhelmed.  The stripey houses facing the lagoon had sacrificed much of their charm to commercialism, and the beach was no match for the ones here, at home.

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Time to smile, and share.  Many thanks to you all for reading, and for your welcome contributions.  Join me any time, here on Jo’s Monday walk.

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Let’s start out with Jude.  This is such a beautiful post.  Life is good, indeed :

A Bracing Beach Walk

I suspect the Christmas market will be brightening this place now, Drake :

Last days of November

Iceland doesn’t have the most reliable weather, but it is undeniably beautiful :

Enduring the Laugavegur Trail

Nor would Switzerland be a place to seek winter warmth, but Mercedes loves it :

The beautiful lakes of Flims

Someone else with a love for mountains is Nicole :

A Panoramic Hike along the Grand Balcon Nord to the Mer de Glace in Chamonix

160 slices of cake!  Even by my standards, that’s a lot, Jackie!

Cake Vendor

Alice likes cake too, but let’s start with a main course :

Fish Heads and Frames

How well do you know South London?  Anne is a good tour guide :

A walking tour of historic Southwark

While Anabel is ‘away with the fairies’ this week :

Going up Doon Hill

Mel has big plans for 2020!  How about you?

The Camino Less Travelled in Spain – Camino San Salvador

But Cathy is just one stop from her goal on this epic journey :

(Camino day 46) Arzúa to Pedrouzo

Taking us back though a shared European history, in his own inimitable style, it’s Andrew!

A Walk Through Corfu Town

Denzil too enjoys sharing stories.  Perhaps you saw the prequel to this :

A walk around Alden Biesen

Australia and Corfu couldn’t be more different, but they’re both islands, with lizards! Agree Carol?

Small Town, Big Walk

I’m always on the lookout for something different, and this is fabulous!

Sunday Walk Through Paltan Bazaar Dehradun

Next week I’ll take you to the university city of Coimbra.  It was a grey day, and I have just one single surviving photograph, plus a few of my husband’s, but it’s too interesting a place to ignore.  Hope to see you then.  Take care!

Jo’s Monday walk : Back to Serenity (Monte Velho)

I thought long and hard over whether I ought to include this walk, but I loved it.  Full of warmth and companionship, it was in celebration of a very special lady.  Roberta Smith was always Bobbie to me, and she was there right from the very beginning of my Algarve walking days.  A very determined lady, she had overcome a near fatal aneurism to get back to walking in the hills she loved.  Always she was spurred on by the promise of the one gin and tonic she allowed herself each week.  Simple pleasures for a lady who needed to be frugal.

Always kind to others, in the end life wasn’t kind to her.  Months short of her 65th birthday, and of drawing the pension she had so looked forward to, cancer abruptly claimed Bobbie.  We, her walking friends, were in shock.  It has taken close to a year for us to make this walk, in celebration of our time with her.  On a day of blue skies and softly drifting clouds, many of us said our goodbyes.

I’ve never struggled to know what Bobbie saw in these hills.  From the first time I ventured up here, I was under their spell.  The patterns that trail from valley to summit and down again, as the clouds gently jostle for position.  The trees, in silhouette on the horizon, gnarled and torn, up close.  The isolation of distant dwellings, and the ruins, sorrowful remnants of life.  The blues and violet shades that come with evening.  I love them all.

It is the time of year for medronho, the berries ripening with gold and scarlet temptation.  Recently I was offered them with a dessert, but more often they are distilled to a fiery beverage.  To keep out those winter chills.  The wind can be cold up here.

Finally, at the summit, a ceremony was performed.  One of our group had carried her ashes.  Another filled a glass with the G & T she loved.  Another had photos of when we were last all together.  We had no idea, then…

We continued through desperately arid land, streams dry as dust, but life clinging on determinedly, as it must.  Afterwards we convened at a restaurant in the hills that we often use.  Those who had been unable to walk joined us there, to celebrate Bobbie’s life, and to raise a toast.

Life is short.  Some are luckier than others.  But all of us must find a path.  I hope that Bobbie and her many friends will not mind me sharing hers.

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There are many walks and lives to share here this week.  Please find a little time to visit each other.  See you next time, on Jo’s Monday walk.

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Patience is rewarded, oh, so beautifully, for Jude :

Waiting for a sunny day

While Alice finds beauty of a very different kind :

The Elephant on the Desert

Feast your eyes on this lot!  Sandy plays gourmet in Lisbon :

Food and Restaurants -# Portugal

Someone else who doesn’t have an aversion to food- you can always eat well with Jackie :

Hot Chocolate

Some beautiful finds in the woods, with Janet :

Monday walk…in memoriam

While Natalie shows us Autumn in all its splendour :

Agawa Canyon: From Rail to Trail

A follow-up to Denzil’s recent Foresters’ Memorial post :

The 2-Memorial Sonian Forest Walk

And to Ann Christine’s walk through stunning Old Tbilisi :

Thursday Thoughts – A Last Walk – Until next time, Aleksandr!

Have you been walking with that lovely man Ernst lately?  And Gisella, too :

A mountain hike in the Appenzeller Alps (Switzerland)

Or that other lovely man, who sometimes likes life a…

Little bit dangerous

And talking of gentlemen, have you seen this post from Debbie?

A very short walk with a Superstar

It’s a little cool for me in Irene’s part of the world.  Or do I mean, ‘a lot’?

Frosty Morning Walk

A Winter Fantasyland

And Karen can hardly see her hand in front of her face!

A soggy walk in the Blue Mountains

I don’t know much about this part of the world, but I wouldn’t mind keeping Athena company :

Hiking the Columbia Gorge

And I had hoped to join Cathy on her journey, but it wasn’t to be :

(Camino day 44) Lestedo to Melide

I did, however, make it to the Azores, and I will return.  If these photos don’t entice you…

Hiking the Azores: The Mystery behind the Mistérios Negros

That’s all for another week.  I’m feeling quite emotional.  It must be the time of year.  Thank you so much, all of you who’ve followed the Living the dream journey with me.  Stay well, be kind to each other, and enjoy your week!

Living the dream… a year on!

Who’d have thought the 70th year of my life would turn out like this?  I sat on the roof terrace with my daughter recently, and we talked our way back through time.  Her memories are so much more vivid than mine.  I was just happy to have her sitting beside me, sharing the view of sky, sea and salt marsh that brings me so much pleasure.

Living the dream… 6 months on had me on the verge of an adventure that makes me smile whenever I think about it.  The Azores, a true love affair that reunited me with clouds and refreshing rain.  That made me want to dance in the puddles like a child.  On my return to the Algarve, more doubts set in.  Was I really suited to this energy sapping heat?  I like to live my life at pace, keeping age at bay you might say.  I was assured that this was a cool summer, by Algarve standards, but still it was a relief to return to the UK for most of August.  A delight too, to share time with my family, made more precious by their distance from my new life.  However hard I try to bridge the gap, with texts and phone calls and Skype, there is no substitute for a hug.

Back in the Algarve, both me and my husband were a little down and disorientated.  Though my son’s beaming smile when he announced his engagement was a moment to savour.  We tried to find ourselves again.  The continuing heat necessitated almost daily trips to the beach, me desperate for a breeze, him happy to laze with the waves lapping his toes.  I had ‘discovered’ croquet and a new circle of friends, while he joined a tennis club.  We were a little at odds and grumpy with each other, uncertain who to blame for the fading dream.  I planned a couple of trips on the water, always guaranteed to make me happy.  September drifted past, and gradually mutual friends returned from their summer sojourn.  The life we had loved was about to resume… but first, a frenzied October.

We had issued numerous invitations to family and friends on our UK departure.  All had given us space to settle in, but October proved to be the tipping point.  We welcomed a succession of guests, all of whom seemed to be as dazzled by our Algarve home as we had been.  Michael donned his chauffeur cap and I assumed my role as planner and tour guide.  All of it very enjoyable, for they were an appreciative audience, and lovely people.  At the same time, we were enrolling for a new term of Portuguese lessons (oh dear!) and trying to maintain our social life.  I didn’t feel well and slept poorly.  But the warmth of responses around me couldn’t be ignored.  People were so kind and caring.  How could I not respond?

A kaleidoscope of events since then!  Walks aplenty, two meetups with lovely blogging friends (in the same week!), entertaining at home (which always makes me nervous, but I needn’t have worried), birthday celebrations, a fantastic light show in Faro.  Do I still have regrets?  Of course!  I wish facility with the language came a little easier.  Overheard snippets of conversation that you can’t understand are no fun at all.  I’m still trying.  The big loss, of course, is the ability to zip down the road to family.  I’m not alone in that.  But I can honestly say, a year down the line, that this place feels like home, and continues to put a smile on my face.  You can’t ask for more, can you?  Even for a restless soul.

Rio Arade, A special place

Relaxed and comfortable at the helm of his small fishing vessel, Luis has found his special place in the world.  All of his working life, a fisherman, he was saddened at the sight of an elderly friend’s boat, abandoned by the water in Ferragudo, because he could no longer sail it.  With great reluctance the friend sold his boat to Luis, assured that it would be far better to see her proud on the water than slowly decaying.  She was lovingly restored and refurbished, so that Luis could sail her on these waters he so loves, and share with us his delight in this special place.

Many times I have crossed over the waters of the Arade estuary, either on the motorway or, more excitingly, over the gracefully arched bridge that spans it, low to the water.  When the tide is out bare mud flats stretch all around, but when the tide swells and surges up the river, it is pure joy to be carried along with it.

Leaving the harbour, Luis takes us across to the other side of the estuary and begins to share the history of the local fishing industry.  We look up at the baskets on the quay, where fisherman used to haul the catch by hand.  The chimneys dotted around the landscape are remnants of sardine factories long since abandoned.  We pass by Portimáo’s proud waterfront and head for a sequence of bridges.  Luis takes great care when sailing beneath them not to catch the lines of the fishermen above, and then we are racing across the water towards the next bridge.

I look upwards, excited to finally sail beneath this beauty.  And then we are beyond the bridges, gently bobbing on calm waters as we round a curve into open countryside.  Luis stills the boat beneath a rocky crag where wives used to gather, gazing seawards to pray for the safe return of their fishermen.  The spot was consecrated as a chapel in the rocks by a bishop.  In winter these waters are not so benevolent.

And then Luis gently steers the boat to where the waters divide, and we enter the channel which will take us to our destination, Silves.

Slowly we approach the city, former capital of the Algarve, and visible from afar across this flat stretch of countryside.  When the tide is out the water here is very low and it’s a paradise for birdlife.  We watch, spellbound, for heron, soaring off across the water and storks circling overhead.  One day we must return to hike the riverside trail.  For now we are hugely entertained by Luis and his knowledge and humour.  He waves gaily to passing craft, seeming to be on first name terms with all who sail here, from solar powered boat to the owners of a tiny marina/restaurant.

The clouds have gathered and I’m grateful for a brief respite from the sun as we glide towards Silves.  A shower was forecast, but we seem to have dodged it.  Two large Viking style boats are moored at the quay, leaving little space for Luis, but he good-naturedly nudges his boat alongside.

We step ashore with an hour and a half to stretch our legs.  Time enough for a stroll through the riverside park and across the river to look back on this magnificent, ancient city.  Coffee and cake, perhaps?

Back on board, we retrace our journey, pausing to examine a tidal mill and the caves beyond, and a former sardine factory, now a smart hotel.

The sun is low in the sky as we reach the bridges, again carefully avoiding fisher folk suspended above.  Luis explains that the arched bridge is designed to look like a fish, the eyes glowing brightly when floodlit at night.

Soon we are approaching Luis’ beloved home, riding high above the water.  I’ve grown to love this place too.  The beauty of this stretch of water, with its many moods and tidal changes speaks to me.  You can only sail this route when the tide is right, but there are other trips you can take with Ferragudo Boat Trips.

So, when Tina asked me to Pick a place, special to me, I had no hesitation.  Join me on Monday and we’ll do a walking tour of Ferragudo.

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!