Estremoz and more of Evora!!…

Estramoz is our nearest town – it is where we do most of our food shopping. Like most of the towns around here it is steeped in history. It is the largest marble town in the province of Alentejo in Portugal. Its castle, turrets and city walls from the 13th century are perched high on a hilltop and are still remarkably intact.

It is not difficult to be transported back to medieval times as you walk around these little towns with their narrow cobbled streets, white washed buildings and city gates and archways. Life seems to have stopped here and you half expect a knight to come charging over the cobbles on his horse heading out to battle.

We went for a wander around on Friday evening; with the sun less fierce and an early evening breeze blowing it was the perfect time to climb to the castle for a look at the view.

View admired and photos taken we retired to a restaurant that has been built in what was once the prison. We sat outside and marveled at the quiet whilst sipping a well earned beer (well I did, hubby was driving!)

Early the next day we set of into Evora to do the shopping (supermarkets here in Portugal open at 8.30am and not 10am like in Spain) Shopping done we then went for a wander around town. This time of day before the sun gets too hot is also a perfect time to be tourists and roam the quiet streets,window shopping and taking photos. Once is started to get too hot we stopped in the main square for refreshments before heading back to the car and home for lunch. A perfect saturday morning.

The castle walls of Estremoz

This doorway looked and felt really old. Imagine all the people that have walked through it….

The 13th century castle was also the Royal Palace

Having a rest at the top

Ahhh…..beer stop!!

The restaurant/bar was once the old prison; lovely now but I bet it wasn’t always as nice!

Early morning in Evora – hubby proclaimed he had never seen trees with purple flowers before !!! – bless…

Everywhere you look there are glimpses of the past, old skylines and architecture nestling amongst the new.

I seem to be drawn to buildings at the moment. I loved this ornate window.

Me in my new floppy ‘Brigitte Bardot’ style sun hat – a bargain at only 3 euros 50!!!

Wild goose chase…

We are nearing the end of our gas canister and hubby had read on the internet that we would need a different type of regulator for it in Portugal so yesterday we went off in search of one.

Serbo at the campsite had given us the names of two shops where he thought we would get sorted and marked them on the map for us so off we went armed with the phrase we needed to ask for it all written down, dictionary in hand and optimistic hearts!!!

Into the first shop, hubby does his bit in his best Portuguese and back comes the answer ‘no’. Luckily we had a back up phrase all ready – ‘where can we get it from’ and the chap directed us to the other shop that we had been given.

So, into the second shop, same request, same answer ‘no’. This time when we asked where else we could try the chap led us out the shop and pointed us in the right direction for shop number three; which was actually a garage.

Into the garage, again we asked, again they answered ‘no’. Hmmmmm getting a bit bored of this now….. Again we asked where else we could try and this time a lot of gesticulating, looking at our map, sighing and shaking of the head ensued. The chap then went and tore off a piece of till roll and drew us a very basic map of where to try next.

So, off we trotted again in search of the elusive regulator. As we were on route to shop number four we passed the Tourist Board and so popped in to see if they could help as well. The lady there looked in her phone directory and found the same place that we were headed for next and managed to find it on our map.

10 minutes later we arrived at the fourth shop, asked again for what we needed and again got the same reply ‘no’. Then the young lad got on the phone, had a very animated conversation with his collegues, spouted off a load of Portuguese to us (which he received blank looks for) and then grabbed his car keys and indicated that we follow him!!

So we did. Like two little lemings we trotted out after him and followed him about 5 minutes back down the road until we got to a rather derelict looking garage. As we walked up to the garage a little old man appeared and shook both our hands!! Then he led us all inside to a car that a chap was working on. He had a quick word with the man in the car, the young lad said goodbye and left and we just stood there not having a clue what was going on and waited. The guy in the car finally came across and again hubby asked for what we needed. The guy then led us back outside to a stack of gas canisters and IN ENGLISH explained that we didn’t need another regulator as they were the same in Portugal as in Spain.

Lots of smiles, lots of ‘muito obrigado’s’ (many thanks) later and we were on way. Utterly exhausted,sweat pouring down hubbies face we made it a few yards back up the road before falling about laughing with relief. What a way to waste an hour or two!

So, moral of this story, stop believing everything the internet tells you and instead learn the language of the country you are in so you can converse with people and save yourself a lot of hassle!!!

I said just a trim…

My gorgeous boy Oscar is a Maine Coon – all lovely long silky fur, a mane around his neck and a wonderfully bushy tail. He also has (and this is my favourite bit) tufts of fur between each toe; adorable.

Yesterday though we gave him a hair cut. As you can see quite a big hair cut!

The reasons for this dramatic decision were three fold:-

  1. The heat – the poor boy is getting seriously hot. The temperatures has been nudging the mid 80′s here all week and at 18 years old he is not coping as well with the heat as he has in the past. We spent 18 months in France about 9 years ago and whilst we were there we had a major heatwave; 4 weeks of 100 degree plus temperatures. The lad was younger then and would be the first out the door each morning to take up his sunbathing spot for the day. This time around though he seems to be more effected by the heat and flops out in the shade for much of the day only crawling out for drinks of cool water.
  2. Grooming – he has never been a big fan of being combed and it was always a struggle to groom him. Luckily his fine fur meant that he doesn’t need the daily attention that Persians do but I do still need to keep on top of it. Problem is though that he now suffers from Rheumatism in his back legs and hips (is a common problem with Maine Coons as they are such large cats). It has got so bad now that it is just too painful for him to be combed at all and his fur is now getting matted. I cut the matted bits out on a regular basis but having the whole lot cut seemed a better solution.
  3. Ticks and fleas – we have never had a problem with fleas until we came to Spain (I think I have already done a post on them). Now we are in Portugal it is even worse as we are surrounded by meadowland and long grass and that means ticks as well. I don’t want to use Frontline on them as a/it is not good for the cats and b/living in a small space it won’t be any good for me and hubby either. So we are managing to keep on top of them by spraying the cats with a 50/50 solution of apple cider vinegar and water once or twice a day (this has been really effective and they have hardly any on them now) and combing with a flea comb twice a day. Molly loves the combing bit so she is easy but Oscar is obviously not so keen although he doesn’t mind his neck being combed which is where most of them are anyway. So, for him shorter hair seemed a better idea as then I can see them easier.

All these points added up until it was clear that a haircut was the only solution. He was a good boy and stayed still for the most part although he was not happy when I got to his back legs and cried a little; lots of cuddles and kisses helped. It’s not the best hair cut in the world but it has taken years off him!! he actually looks just like he did when we first got him. At six months old he hadn’t grown into all his fur and it was still short and spiky. He looks really cute and cuddly and doesn’t seem bothered by his hairdressing experience!!

Still a beautiful boy!

Settling in

It’s been a week since we arrived here in Portugal and we are once again settling into a different routine and a different pace.

The absence of any wind (did I mention that it was windy in Cadiz!) means that outdoor living is once again on the cards and in the 36 degree C heat that we have been having all week somewhat necessary.

Morning runs now have to be completed by 8.30am as by then it is just too hot to even contemplate putting running shoes on let alone actually doing any running in them. Likewise yoga has now been allocated a new evening slot and it is now lovely to be doing my practice as the sun cools down and works it’s way down the horizon (and it means I get out of the washing up!!)

The cats have been very hot teddies this past week and they now spend much of their days snoozing in the shade or lapping up cool water. They are enjoying sitting out with us in the evening when the temperatures become more bearable for them and we are finding that none of us heads in much before the sun finally goes down.

The insect life here is a source of amazement to us with a mass of weird and wonderful looking critters traipsing in and out of the awning. Oscar has a habit of bringing some of them into the caravan attached to his long fur and so now he has to be ‘frisked’ before he comes in for the night as I have had enough of waking up with spiders on me!! The mossies here are something else and we have both been bitten alive – citronella oil is just not cutting the mustard so if anyone has any other suggestions please let us know (of a non chemical variety). You can see the mossies coming a mile off as they are so big; like a jumbo jet coming into land!

We are off into Evora again at the weekend (we went and had a look around the old part of town last saturday) to see if we can buy a couple of fans to try and cool the caravan and awning down a little. We also want a quick look at Evoramonte (our nearest town) as it has a very impressive looking castle. I think trips out this summer will have to be quick ones though as leaving the cats in the caravan during the day is going to be too hot. The campsite owner is putting in a swimming pool at the moment which he hopes to finish in the next 2 weeks! I can see hubby and I being in there an awful lot!

Anyways, below are some more insect piccies and some photo’s of our visit to Evora.

Hot teddies….

Sticking paws in the air seems to be the way to go…

A rhino beetle – don’t mess with this little guy…

Is it a slug? is it a caterpillar? who knows but it sure did move fast…

Evora a Unesco Heritage Site due to its well preserved old town…

√Čvora has a history dating back more than two millennia. It may have been the kingdom of Astolpas and may be named after ivory workers. It was known as Ebora by the Lusitanians, who made the town their regional capital.

The Romans conquered the town in 57 BC and expanded it into a walled town. Vestiges from this period (city walls and ruins of Roman baths) still remain. The Romans had extensive gold mining in Portugal, and the name may be derived from that oro, aurum, gold).

Giraldo Square, in the centre of √Čvora.

Portugal…

We are now in Portugal, arriving here on Friday. What was to have been a two day journey took a day in the end when we decided on a change of route which took less miles but meant we did it all in one day. The journey was easy going on near empty roads and the cats did great and because Portugal is actually on UK time and not an hour ahead like Spain, we gained an hour coming over the border.

We found the campsite with no problems and the dutch owner – Siebo and his Portuguese wife Catrina could not have been more helpful since we arrived. It is a small site set in farm land surrounded by cork trees and wild meadow flowers. The only down side is that there is a busy road running along the side. We are far enough away from the road that it won’t cause a problem for the cats but it is a little noisy; can’t have everything obviously.

One of the reasons the road is so busy is that it runs parallel to a toll road and at 6 euros for less than 20 miles no-one uses it! Portugal are going through a deep recession and are likely to be the third country from the five PIIGS countries (Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain) to need a bail out from the economic disaster. The government proposed an austerity package back in March which was rejected by the Lisbon parliament and led to the resignation of the Prime Minister. The new government is not due to be elected until June so interesting times here for sure.

As well as expensive toll roads, fuel costs here are very high. In Spain we were paying 1.30 euros for a litre of diesel; here it is between 1.32 and 1.43 euros for a litre of diesel with petrol being a whopping 1.69 euros (more than the UK!) I was bracing myself for food costs to be a lot more but have been pleasantly surprised that they are slightly less than Spain.

Driving here is a terrifying experience. The accident rate is 4x higher than in the UK; the road that runs outside the campsite is about 35 miles in length and last year there were an eye watering 738 deaths on that stretch alone! Needless to say hubby and I are being very careful every time we venture out and getting out of the way of the more fool hardy manoevours that go on!

On the plus side, the Portuguese seem a very friendly bunch of people; less in your face than the Spanish. Actually they are nothing like the Spanish which surprised me as I thought they would be quite similar. They are fairer skinned, speak with a twang that is almost Eastern European and other than being raving lunatics behind the wheel seem to go about their business in a quiet and unobtrusive way. I think the next 6 months are going to be fun!!

Bessie’s new pitch

Molly keeping an eye on the bunnie’s on the first night!

Oscar approves of his new surroundings

Some of the local ‘insect life’ this little fella looks like he has stepped straight of the set of Pixar’s ‘Bugs life’ and at about 3 inches in length he’s not so little either!!

And the ants are monsters too!!!

Campsite is all cork trees and wild flowers – really pretty and tranquil

Last night on the beach…

We’re off tomorrow so went down to Conil last night for a final walk along the beach. I have fallen in love with this stretch of beach that reminds me a lot of the Atlantic coastline in Cornwall. All big white expanses of sand and crashing breakers.

We won’t be near the beach in Portugal as we are staying up on the plains out the way. That’s the thing with having to work as well; you need some peace and quiet to get on with it and summer on the Algave, whilst being extremely lovely I’m sure won’t give us much time to get our heads down and work.

So, last night and my morning run today will be the last of the beach for a while so I was sure to take lots of photo’s to remind me and no doubt we will be back in this area again another time.

Six months on…

It seems a lifetime ago when we were sat in the wee hours of a cold and wet October morning waiting to board the Channel Tunnel. With three very disgruntled cats in the back and numerous cups of black coffee trying to hold back the crushing tiredness that had taken up residence in our bones; we felt less like excited travelers off to conquer the world and more like two startled rabbits caught in the headlights of a passing juggernaut.

Thankfully 6 months can make a big difference and memories of that night have been banished to the deep recesses of our minds. Life now has a more peaceful and tranquil pace to it; even hubby has calmed down considerably in our 6 months away. In some ways it seems like no time at all has passed and in others it seems like we have always been living like this.

My fears that I would quickly get fed up of living in a caravan have failed to materialise and I am still head over heels in love with the easy and simple way of life it offers us. We have stayed true to our word and continued to let go of some of the material possessions that we brought with us. Things that we haven’t used in the 6 months since we left the UK will soon be finding themselves new homes as we prepare to move on with our travels and head into Portugal later this week.

Spain has been a lot of fun, we have met some great people, visited some interesting (and not so interesting) places and tried to get our heads around the Spanish road system; to no avail. I still don’t know who has right of way half the time and trying to follow signs can lead to an early grave from the stress it causes!

One thing I have learned about Spain that I didn’t realise is that it can get very windy! From nearly being blown off a viaduct in the caravan in Almeria to having my sunglasses torn from my face in Cadiz it seems that everywhere we have gone the wind is never far behind. The only saving grace is that when the wind does die down the sun is never far behind.

We have had plenty of adventures whilst we have been here; off-road driving and being rescued by Raphael springs to mind, whilst climbing La Maroma back in Iznate was certainly a highlight. Seeing Eagles flying overhead up in the mountains on Christmas Eve was breathtaking and having friends to stay for a few days back in April gave us a time off to behave like tourists and enjoy good food, company, a few to many drinks and explore more of the coastline than we might otherwise have done.

Of course it hasn’t all been plain sailing and losing our dear beloved Tinker was a low spot for us and she is still missed by us all and hubby is fast learning that rain, caravan and wifey don’t necessarily mix; at least not for days on end.

But we have enjoyed our 6 months in Spain and getting used to a completely different way of living. On Thursday we set off for a two-day drive to our ‘summer site’ in Portugal. Neither of us has been before so we are looking forward to the experience and wondering how different it will be from Spain. The language looks more complicated :( so more vain attempts at getting the locals to understand what we mean will ensue for sure that usually result in sign language and desperately pointing at key words in the dictionary!

It promises to be fun though….hope to see you there!!??