Stairways and Sand Sculptures

We arrived back in Sarasota on Monday 7th November.  Great to be back in the warmth and sunshine, and to see our Sarasota friends again.  Central Park looked much the same, except for the stairwells.  They all have to be replaced (at considerable cost for the owners!) and the contractors are now in the middle of the work.  Thanks to reports from our neighbour Rich, we knew that they were currently working on Building 3, where we live.  We’d missed the noise of the pneumatic drills, and our new concrete stairway had been created, but the railings had not been set up.  This final stage has taken longer than we expected, so at present we are still using the temporary wooden stairs.

Back to Central Park

Preparing to pour concrete

Our temporary stairs

Another new thing we spotted at CP2 was a sign by the water warning of alligators and snakes. Such signs are common near Florida ponds and lakes, and we’ve never seen any indication of the presence of an alligator here.  We did however spot a snake (fair sized, but harmless) wriggling its way across the footpath.

Keeping busy

We’ve been pretty busy since we arrived.  We unpacked all the many and varied things we’d brought from the UK; restocked our fridge and freezer; got the car up and running – no problems, it started first time, but it was due a service anyway, so we got that done.

Refurbished Lemon Ave fountain

Tile detail

We resumed our regular Florida activities.  Sandie is back on duty at the Cat Depot and the library, and taking part in her tap dancing classes and international folk dancing group.  Ian has started painting again, and has attended his writers’ group.  We’ve resumed our Saturday morning visits to the market, and our search of charity shops, still looking for the missing Lost 4.

Evening sky on the way back from the Library

In addition, there have been plenty of other things to occupy our time.  We finished our work for the Sutton Trust before leaving England, but have since had to write a proposal for work to be done next year (and beyond).  Sandie agreed to help again with marking business plans for the High Wycombe Young Enterprise group, and Ian offered to help with analysing the results, so that kept us busy over last weekend.   We’ve had style proofs to check for our book, which is due to be published next March.  And we’ve been in regular touch with our agent about problems with our Slough flat – empty now, but needing a lot of work to make it fit to rent again.

Days out

Even with all of the above, we have managed to have a few outings – we can’t miss all the sunshine, and we need some fresh air and exercise!  Last Monday we went to see the annual sand sculpture competition at Siesta Key.  This is always well worth seeing, and the professional sculptures were, as always, amazing.  We combined our visit with a walk along the beach and back through the village, where we stopped for lunch.

The queue for the sand sculpture exhibition

Sand sculpture (1)

Sand sculpture (2)

Sand sculpture (3)

Sand sculpture (4)

Sand sculpture (5) – that’s why we’re in Florida!

Sand sculpture (6)

Sand sculpture (7)

Sand sculpture (8)

Sand sculpture (9) – Valkyrie

Sand sculpture (10) – left brain

Sand sculpture (11) – right brain

Looking over the sand sculpture venue

On Wednesday we went for a walk along the Legacy Trail, a tarmac ‘multi-use’ path following the old railway track.  One of our reasons for doing this was that Sandie wished to calibrate her pedometer, and the Legacy Trail (marked with distances every 0.05 miles) is the perfect place to do so.  It can also be good for wildlife; we spotted an unusual red-headed lizard, and saw a hawk sitting up in a tree, but the turtle was camera shy and dived into the water as we approached.

Red-headed lizard

Hawk

Yesterday we went to our favourite Anna Maria Island.  We’ve walked along the beach there many times, usually the top half or the lower half of the island, but decided it would be fun to walk the whole length (about 10-11 miles) in one go. We parked at Manatee Beach (about the midpoint of the island) and took the free trolley up to City Pier.  It was then we had a shock, because the pier was closed!  We’ve been there many times over the years, and it usually forms the starting point for our ‘top end’ walks.  We found an alternative café for our morning coffee, and asked the lady there why the pier was closed.  It was apparently damaged by Hurricane Irma – the first example we’ve seen of this – and repairs will take 18 months!

Bad news

Under repair

The beach near the pier is much narrower than it used to be, so we had to walk ‘inland’ for a bit until we could walk along the beach.  But soon things were back to normal – wide stretches of pure white sand, cloudless blue sky and sparkling sea. As usual there were lots of birds: not just pelicans, and of course seagulls, but herons, egrets, terns, sanderlings etc etc.  And for the first time, we saw lots of jellyfish (of varying sizes) stranded on the beach.

Beach gang

Jellyfish (1)

Jellyfish (2)

Jellyfish (3)

Jellyfish (4)

Cormorant

Manatee Beach

We stopped at the Sandbar for drinks, and reached Manatee Beach at lunchtime – carefully planned, so we could get our picnic out of the car.  Then it was on to the Coquina Beach Café for afternoon drinks.  Just a little further to the southern tip of the island, then a trolley back to Manatee, where we had dinner while listening to the live music. A very pleasant day out!

Greater egret

In a rush

Royal terns bathing

Anything I can scrounge?

Aha!

Florida sunset

Evening on the beach

 

 

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Autumn leaves and coffee crawls

During the second half of October, we had some decent weather – sometimes bright and sunny, not too cold – and we took advantage of it to go for several walks, often through woods where we could admire the colours of the autumn leaves.  Even before the clocks changed, the evenings were getting dark, so our Friday pub crawls had to end (unless we stayed in the town, and walked on lighted roads).  Mornings seemed to be the best time for walks, so we designated them ‘coffee crawls’; usually we were able to find a village pub or café for our 11am (approx.) caffeine fix.  We’ve lived in Wycombe for several years now, on and off, but we are still finding new footpaths and country lanes to explore.

Red sun due to Hurricane Ophelia

Through the woods

Autumn leaves (1)

A rather small pony

Autumn leaves (2)

Halloween apparition

Walking to Hughenden Manor

Misty landscape

Hughenden Manor

Autumn leaves (3)

It must be Halloween

Coffee time!

Wycombe cemetery

Monument to a tunnel disaster in 1902

Pann Mill

West country wandering

On Friday 27th we hired a car and drove to Bussage for a weekend with Claire & co.  It was Oscar’s sixth birthday earlier that week, but they had all been in France visiting Ant’s dad. And his party had been held before the half-term holiday.  So the birthday dinner we had was his third celebration.  Next day we met Ant’s five-year-old son Logan, and we all went to Tewkesbury to meet other members of his family.  We had lunch at his mother’s tea shop, and were joined by his stepdad; later we met his sister who was running a cake stall in the town’s market.

It’s still my birthday!

Wow!

Tewkesbury farmers’ market

The Terrible Trio

Carving pumpkins

Three little monsters and their pumpkins

On Sunday it was off to Tetbury, where Charlie was playing in a rugby match.  He has only recently started playing rugby, but really enjoys it.  His team (the Minchinhampton under-9s) played matches against two Tetbury teams, and Charlie scored two tries. We were not entirely certain which team won – even the players seemed unsure, but they had fun anyway.  From Tetbury we went on to the West Swindon Centre, and had lunch in a pub there.  Claire & co went home afterwards, but before leaving we went for a nostalgic stroll up to the house where we used to live some 30 years ago.

Rugby action (1)

Rugby action (2)

Rugby action (3)

Flying saucer or rugby ball?

The Link Centre at West Swindon

We lived here once

Ready for the off

On Monday morning we returned the car; we then had just a week before heading to Sarasota.  When we first bought our condo, we imagined that – once it was fully equipped, and we had complete sets of clothes there – we would be able to cross the Atlantic with just hand luggage.  We soon realised that this was never going to happen!

We may not need to transport clothes back and forth (though sometimes we do, for particular reasons) but there are many other things, including books, papers and files we want to work on.  There are lots of things (including food items) that are better, cheaper or easier to find on one side of the Atlantic.  For example, Ian does his oil painting in Sarasota (no room in Wycombe) but buys his canvases from Poundworld. And he has to take supplies of his various pills, enough to last six months.  This time we needed to transport two large chess sets (Ian’s birthday presents) and nine silver teaspoons acquired during out European travels, all to be added to the collections in Florida.  And then there was the Christmas cake, and the mince pies…..

Sandie decided that she would pack on Tuesday.  But when we assembled all of the spoils, we wondered whether they would fit into our two cases.  Since there were so many different shapes, it was like compiling a giant 3D jigsaw.  Sandie managed to squeeze everything in – just! – and was congratulating herself until she opened her wardrobe and found other things that had to go.

The only solution was to buy a bigger case. On Thursday we went to Slough for the day, visiting the cemetery, calling at our solicitors’ office and having dinner with friends in the pub that used to be our ‘local’ when we lived in Langley.  We spent the time inbetween looking round the shops, and finally settled for a case that was bigger than our old (rather battered) one, but not too enormous.  So Friday’s task was to repack everything, but it’s done now and we’re ready to go.  Today it’s cold and wet – looks like autumn is turning into winter, so time for these snowbirds to fly south!

Getting his nuts in a row

Autumn leaves (4)

 

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47th on 42nd

After returning from Manchester on 1st October, we kept ourselves busy.  The analysis and reporting for Sutton Trust occupied most of our time until the report was submitted late last Friday.  We have had problems with our Slough flat, and began to consider if this was a good time to sell.  Discussions, research and meetings took up a lot of time.  And Sandie got involved in a Young Enterprise event, helping Caroline with a presentation to the young people who are to be managing directors of their various companies.

Still, there were opportunities to enjoy ourselves, such as meals with friends, and visits to pubs or restaurants.  We went to the local cinema twice, to see the film Kingsman: the golden circle (quite entertaining) and the NT-Live Encore screening of Hamlet, with Benedict Cumberbatch.  We went to our folk dance club; the first time since May that we’d been able to go, and the last time for quite a while!  And we had two days out, to celebrate special occasions.

Our wedding anniversary

47 years ago

On Tuesday 10th we celebrated our 47th wedding anniversary with a day out in London.  It followed the usual pattern of our ‘London days’, with perhaps some extra treats along the way.  We went first to Leicester Square and were amazed to find there was no queue at all at tkts.  After coffee, and a visit to Stanfords, we walked the final stretch of the Thames Path (for the third time).  In August we completed a short walk on the Isle of Dogs, so we started from there this time.  Walking from Crossharbour DLR station to the river, we stopped for a drink at a pub called Pepper Saint Ontiod.  We’d never heard of any Ontiod, saint or otherwise, but an online search next day showed that there was no such person.  The address of the pub was Pepper St On The Isle Of Dogs – they’d decided to abbreviate to Ontiod and make him a saint!

Saint Ontiod of blessed memory

We followed the Path to the end of the Isle of Dogs and then through the Greenwich foot tunnel, emerging by the Cutty Sark and the Royal Naval Museum.  The painted ceiling was closed, but we had a quick look in the chapel and lunch in The Old Brewery, an interesting place which (luckily for Sandie) had some American-style IPAs.  Then we continued our walk along the river.  It was years since we were last in that part of London, and we were amazed at how much building was going on.  We paused for a drink at the ‘Anchor and Hope’ pub, where we remembered stopping before.  Having only discovered Aperol Spritz in June while in Italy, we now find you can get it anywhere – Gt Yarmouth, the east End of London…..

Looking back at the City

Through the Greenwich foot tunnel

Sandie finds an IPA!

The chapel at Greenwich

An atmospheric sky

The Dome

Captain, I think there’s a problem with the ship!

Gormley’s Quantum Cloud

Now, where are we exactly?

Sunshine and Aperol Spritz – perfect!

We reached the Thames Barrier at 5pm, and needed to get back quickly to the West End. The Underground does not extend that far, and there was no obvious bus. We asked a man to confirm that we were heading in the right direction for the nearest railway station, and he kindly gave us a lift.  We reached Charing Cross with just enough time for a pub dinner and a cappuccino on the way to Drury Lane for the 7.30 performance of 42nd Street.  It was brilliant – wonderful costumes, great sets, and fantastic tap dancing.  It made Sandie keen to be back at her tap class in Sarasota, though she knows she will never be anywhere near that level!

The Barrier

Inside the Theatre Royal

Cheers!

A special birthday

Ellie’s 40th birthday was on Friday, and as part of the celebration we were invited to a family tea on Sunday 15th.  Claire, Ant, Charlie and Oscar were going too, so they kindly detoured to pick us up on their way from Bussage to Faversham.  It was a long journey for them, especially as there were hold-ups on the motorways.

We reached Andrew and Ellie’s house at 1.15pm.  Ellie’s mother and sister, her brother and his family were already there, so 16 of us sat down to lunch.  Ellie did a great job of seating and feeding us!  Some of us had not seen Hope since her birthday last month, so there were presents for her too – and congratulations for Isobel, who just a few days ago heard the good news that she’s passed the Kent test, and will be joining Hope at grammar school next year.

The kids’ table

The adults’ table

Now, what can it be?

Just what I’ve always wanted!

After lunch was cleared away, we all went out for a walk at the Oare Gunpowder Works Country Park. The children enjoyed running around, and we all collected edible chestnuts – we’ve never seen so many!   Sandie regretted having bought some the day before. Back at the house we had cake (made by the girls), and then Ellie’s family moved on to Rebecca’s house, leaving more manageable numbers for tea.

Feeding Lucy

Into the woods

This is where they used to make the gunpowder…

Now I realise why they said ‘No Smoking’

Climbing the walls

Cousins assemble

Who let these kids into my woods?

Chestnut hunting

Cake time!

We left at 7pm, and (after more hold-ups on the M2) reached our flat at 9.15. Claire and co did not stay, as they still had a long way to go.  We relaxed and watched TV – while eating plenty of roast chestnuts!

 

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Stop Brexit now!

Following our return from Norfolk, we had another weekend away, this time ‘up north’.  We decided to combine two things: visiting Paul and Alexa, and taking part in an anti-Brexit protest march.

To Bury via Alcester

In fact, we were able to combine three things, because on our way to Bury we met up with our friends Jenny and David.  They live in Redditch, just south of Birmingham, which makes a convenient stopping point when travelling north.  This time we met them in a hotel in Alcester, not far from their home.  We enjoyed lunch and a good catch-up.

A pleasant time with friends

Unfortunately, the traffic was bad when we continued our journey round the M42.  We took the M6 Toll road which speeded things up, but later it was very slow going through some roadworks which stretched for miles.  It was 7.15 when we finally reached Paul and Alexa’s house, but we were revived with drinks, food and chat.

On Saturday it was raining, so we did not go far – just walked into the centre of Bury, had coffee, looked at shops, had drinks and a very nice light lunch in one of Paul’s favourite pubs, then looked in more shops.  We had an early evening dinner at another pub, this time a few miles out of town.   When we were in the house we passed the time playing Oh hell!, a family favourite card game.

In the pub, just for a change

Brexit wrecks it

On Sunday morning we said farewell to Paul and Alexa, drove into the centre of Manchester and parked.  We made our way to All Saints Park, where the first of two ‘Stop Brexit’ rallies was held.  It was well organised, with huge TV screens so that you could see what was happening even if you could not see the stage.  There were several speakers, most of them loud, clear and inspiring.  The final speaker was Alastair Campbell: although we were never fans of his, we thought his speech was good, but were less impressed by his rendition of Ode to Joy on the bagpipes.

Ready to march

Boris with a creature from his fantasy world

Superheroes against Brexit

If that doesn’t scare the Brexiteers, nothing will!

When we first arrived, there were only a few hundred people around, but when we set off to march, at 1.30 pm, the crowd was enormous –  it was estimated at 50,000.  We paraded through central Manchester, draped in EU flags and carrying banners or placards, often with quite entertaining slogans.  The march was held in Manchester because the Tory conference was there, but we were not allowed to get too close.  It had been pre-arranged with the police where we would disband.  Officers lined the streets, which seemed unnecessary as the marchers were the most peaceful, polite and good-humoured protestors we’ve ever seen.

We’re off!

Marching through Manchester

Ironic, really

When the official march ended, many continued walking to Cathedral Gardens, where a second anti-Brexit rally was held.  This was rather an anti-climax, as it was much smaller and less well-organised than the first.  When we arrived, a succession of people were performing rude and not terribly funny songs.  However we did enjoy the performance of a Boris Johnson lookalike – he really was uncannily like Boris in appearance.

Even the King is against Brexit

Teresa and Boris sing a duet

At 3.30 there were speakers.  It was beginning to rain, so we were not keen to stay long.  There was only was only one speaker we really wanted to hear.  Stephen Dorrell is Chairman of the European Movement UK, to which we belong, and he was also our MP long ago when we lived in Loughborough.  Luckily, he was one of the first to speak, and his speech was brief and to the point.  So when he had finished, we set off on the long journey home.

Stephen Dorrell tells it like it is

It was great to be in Manchester, among so many people who feel strongly, as we do, that Brexit will be a total disaster for Britain.  It made us feel hopeful that – as the impact becomes more and more apparent – we will be held back from the brink.  However, since arriving home, listening to the news and reading comments on Facebook, our optimism is beginning to fade.

 

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A trip to sunny (yes, really) Norfolk

After returning from Portugal, we got started on the work we’d undertaken for Sutton Trust.  This and other things kept us pretty busy, but we had a couple of evenings out at the weekend.  We did our usual Friday evening pub walk, this time aiming for the Crown at Penn, where they do Sandie’s favourite ‘vegetarian fish & chips’.  When we left the Dolphin (our first stop) the rain came down heavily, and after walking through the woods we were soaked.  This necessitated stopping at another pub (shame!) to shelter and drink port to warm ourselves up.  The following evening we went to see the film Victoria & Aqbal – Judi Dench was wonderful as ever, and it was a great film.

Any port in a storm

The Crown at Penn

Off to Yarmouth

The next weekend we were off again, this time to Norfolk. It was our first trip there for some time, and was arranged to coincide with Sandie’s cousin Mike’s golden wedding anniversary. We wanted to combine this with a nostalgic visit to Great Yarmouth, Sandie’s home town.  We collected a rental car on Thursday afternoon, so we could make an early start on Friday.  On our way we decided to have a coffee stop (as we always used to do) at ‘The World Famous Comfort Café’ (yes, that really is what it’s called) but to our disappointment it had not yet opened when we arrived. We ended up at the ‘Waffle and Pancake Shack’: the location was familiar but the café was not.  We discovered that it had changed hands (and names) twice since our earlier visits!

In Yarmouth we parked near the far end of the Pleasure Beach.  (Those who do not know Yarmouth may want to skip this paragraph, as it won’t mean much to them.)  It was that time of year when the Pleasure Beach and some other places open only at weekends, but although the place was quiet there were still visitors around. We strolled along the seafront, noting lots of changes since our last visit.  The Big Wheel that used to stand in the Pleasure Beach has disappeared, and a new wheel has been erected in a different location.  The jetty has been demolished, and the Wellington Pier no longer reaches the sea.  The Winter Gardens is in desperate need of some TLC – a shame, as it is (or should be) such an attractive building.

Gt Yarmouth Pleasure Beach

The new Big Wheel

On the beach

Seaside colours

Beach huts and the Winter Garden

The other great change was in the weather.  It was actually warm and sunny – miraculous for Yarmouth at any time of year, let alone late September!  We ate our lunch sitting outside one of the many beachside cafés.  Later we walked up Regent Road to the town centre, and couldn’t resist some Yarmouth market chips.  Back on the seafront we had a drink (again sitting outside) and walked north to the Waterways, due for complete restoration nest year. We just had to have some hot donuts (another seaside treat) on our way back to the car.

Sandie with Chef Charles

Chips!

They even have Aperol Spritz here!

Donuts on their way

Yumm!

On to Ormesby

A few miles outside Yarmouth, we stayed two nights with our friends Una and David at their home in Ormesby St Margaret.  On Saturday we all went for a walk in the woods near Acle.  In the evening we all had dinner at the Filby Bridge restaurant, where we were joined by our other friends Linda and Don. We recalled being there in 2012, for their ruby wedding celebration.   Sandie, Linda and Una were at school together – many years ago! – and it was great to meet up for the first time in some years.  The food was great, and certainly plentiful, more than even Ian could eat, and that doesn’t happen often!

A walk in the woods

Sunbathing butterfly

Norfolk landscape

Old friends’ reunion

And then Sheringham

On Sunday morning we said goodbye to Una and David and drove across to Sheringham, on the north Norfolk coast.  There is a steam railway which runs between Sheringham and Holt; Mike (a real railway buff) and Jane had chosen to celebrate their golden wedding with lunch onboard.  About 40 of us filled two railway dining carriages.  From Sheringham to Holt is a short journey (only about six miles), so it doesn’t take long, even by slow steam train.  But there has to be a longish wait at either end while the engine is moved to the front of the train.  We did two round trips while eating lunch: a starter on our way to Holt, and main course on the return, then pudding on the second trip to Holt, and coffee on the return. The food was excellent, and the portions very generous.  The service was brilliant. And the weather was amazing – again!

Waiting on the platform

Old station building

Steel and steam

Here comes the Black Prince

When we finally arrived back in Sheringham, lots of us went to Mike and Jane’s house (quite close) and enjoyed a cuppa sitting in their beautiful garden.   There was food too, but nobody had any appetite left!

The happy couple (1967)

The happy couple (2017)

Norfolk sunset

And finally Ely

We’re cheating a bit, because Ely isn’t in Norfolk – it’s in Cambridgeshire.  But we’d reckoned it was about half way between Sheringham and Wycombe, so decided to stay overnight on our way home with our friends Robert and Teresa, another couple whom we hadn’t seen for years.  Another opportunity to have a long chat and catch up with each other’s news!

On Monday morning we visited the magnificent Ely Cathedral, accompanied by Robert who is a voluntary chaplain there.  The weather wasn’t so good, and there was even some light rain while we were driving home in the afternoon.  But we couldn’t complain, as the weather had been so remarkably good for the past three days.  We’d had a great weekend – the golden wedding party, the nostalgic wander around Yarmouth, and seeing so many old friends – but it was definitely not good for our waistlines!

Ely cathedral

The Octagon

Looking down the nave

Jesus and Mary Magdalen

River Cam at Ely

 

 

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Portugal II: And so to Sintra

Saturday 9: Breakfast was delicious – a change from the standard buffet.  Unfortunately, the weather was ghastly when we set off for our circular walk: very heavy mists, as well as strong winds (though not nearly as bad as on Wednesday).  There were no views, but most of the time we were on forest tracks, so it didn’t matter too much.  Several times we felt sure it must be raining, but it was just water dripping off the trees.

A walk in the clouds

A distant view of Pena Palace through the murk

After two hours we reached the ‘Cork Convent’, which made for a fascinating visit. It acquired the name because it was inhabited by Franciscan monks whose only concession to comfort was to have the walls, windows etc lined with local cork!  But (ahead of their time) they were also concerned for the environment, and the building blends perfectly into the landscape with its large boulders.

The Cork Convent (Convento dos Capuchos)

Internal passageway

Some of the cells

Window frame lined with cork

The weather had slightly improved when we returned to our accommodation (by a different route).  Tonight we went to a Vegan restaurant we’d heard about, but it was rather a disappointment. The food was good but the service was very slow, and we were sitting alone in a kind of big conservatory which was very cold.

Sunday 10: Blue skies and sunshine made a pleasant change from yesterday!  We headed for Sintra, and after two hours we reached the Palace of Monserrate.  We explored the grounds and the palace itself – all very picturesque.

A sunnier walk

Monserrate

Inside one of the domes

The Music Room

Central corridor

The mansion from the grounds

Jolly gryphon

Then on to Sintra.  The last part of the walk was on a narrow road – barely enough room for two cars to pass, but it was crammed with traffic.  The town itself was packed with people; we knew it would be busy, but had not expected such crowds.  Brighton on Bank Holiday Monday could not compare!

Traffic in Sintra

Sintra

Evening sky

Moorish Castle at night

Monday 11: The last day of our walking holiday – and this meant walking around Sintra, visiting more of the sights in and around the city.  First stop was the Moorish Castle, perched high on a hill, so it was a steep climb, but worth it.  There’s no central building left, but the walls – interspersed with towers – stretch quite a way.  From there we could see the Pena Palace, our next destination, also on a hilltop.  Not far as the crow flies, but we are not crows!

Castle entrance

On the battlements

Turret view

Walls and turrets

Pena is probably the most important – and certainly the most popular – of the Sintra palaces.  It reminded us of Neuschwanstein, which we visited less than two months ago.  Another fairytale castle, with lots of turrets, but even more colourful – red and yellow, and today we had the advantage of bright blue sky as background.  The crowds were amazing – we had to queue for a full half-hour to get inside the palace itself, and then shuffle through the rooms with everyone else.  Afterwards we explored the extensive grounds.   We walked up to the ‘High Cross’, on the highest point of the Sintra Hills.  We saw various other statues etc, and got good views of the palace.

Pena Palace

Round (and very yellow) tower

This guy doesn’t like tourists!

Tile details

Inside the palace, at last

Fancy candleholder

Dr Seuss’ Lorax lives here!

The High Cross

Statue of the Warrior

It’s that palace again!

We went down to the Valley of the Lakes, and left the park by a different exit. We followed a footpath down to main road, and on our way into Sintra we passed the Regaleira Palace, which was also on our list of places to visit.  But by then it was 5.30, and we decided we’d done enough sightseeing for one day!

Duck castle, in the Valley of the Lakes

Sintra Town Hall

Tuesday 12: We walked back to the Regaleira Palace, and explored the grounds, complete with follies, grottoes, fountains, tunnels, and a very deep well with stairs all the way down.  Unlike the ‘romantic ruins’ we’d seen elsewhere, these were deliberate creations by an owner who clearly loved the fantastical!   The house itself is also ornate, but much smaller and less colourful than the Pena Palace.

Regaleira mansion and chapel

A tunnel into the mystic depths

The Initiate’s Well

Mosaic floor

Inside the chapel

The side of the mansion

After lunch in the city centre we visited the Royal Palace – the rooms were interesting, but there was little to see outside, so our visit did not take long.

Swan ceiling painting

Giant chimneys at Sintra Palace

The Heraldry Room

Ceiling of the Heraldry Room

We collected our luggage and went by train to Queluz (half way between Sintra and Lisbon) where there was yet another palace to visit.  Our accommodation was an apartment above a restaurant.  The owner spoke no English, and we do not speak Portuguese, but we managed to communicate in French!

Train to Queluz

Wednesday 13: This morning we visited the Royal Palace.  The interior was well worth seeing, especially the elaborately decorated ceilings.  The formal gardens were beautiful, with the palace as background – rather similar to Versailles.  But when we explored further afield, we found the grounds rather disappointing.  A lot of TLC was evidently needed; it was sad to see that many of the decorative tiles were cracked or broken.

Interesting headgear

 

Throne Room, Queluz Palace

Do you come here often?

Tile art

Queluz Palace, from the Neptune Garden

Your place or mine?

The tiled waterway

Detail of the tiling

Palace, with the Lion Staircase

After lunch we returned by train to Lisbon.  We’d discovered that the simplest connection was at Oriente station – on a direct metro line, only three stops from the airport.  We had some time to spare, and were able to find a luggage locker, so we were able to look round the area.  In a way it’s similar to Docklands – apparently it was run down, but redeveloped for World Expo 1998.  As well as the ‘futuristic’ station, there is a flash shopping mall, and a long waterfront with many restaurants, gardens and an aquarium.  Europe’s longest bridge extends across the Tagus, and a tower with an observation deck is the highest structure in Portugal.  Unfortunately it was closed when we were there, but we did manage the short ride in a cable car along the waterfront.

Oriente Station

I don’t know what it is, but don’t argue with it!

Tagus riverside

We took the train from Oriente to the airport, and checked in for our evening flight back to Heathrow, where a taxi was waiting for us. We were home soon after midnight. Another walking holiday ended, and another place to cross off the bucket list!

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Portugal I: Lisbon and the wild west coast

On Monday 4th September, we were off on our travels again, but it was just a short trip this time.  Way back in 2001, we spent a weekend in Lisbon.  We hoped to do a side trip to Sintra, but didn’t have enough time, so Sintra remained on our bucket list. And we love walking holidays – so when we found a walking holiday which majored on Sintra, that seemed perfect for us.  It was a week’s holiday, but we added on a night at each end, making it a ten-day trip.

Monday 4:  Taxi to Luton Airport, where we met our friends Ian and Martin for coffee.  Ian is a part-time chaplain at the airport; he wasn’t on duty that morning, but he and Martin came to the airport especially to meet us, which was really nice as we hadn’t seen them for two years.

Our flight to Lisbon was on time; we took a bus into the centre and checked into a cheap hotel. We walked down to the main square, had drinks and went for a stroll along the riverfront.  Then we walked up the main street.  We intended to go up the Elevador de Santa Justa, but when we saw the length of the queue we decided to walk instead.   We enjoyed the views towards the castle in the evening sun, and had dinner in the restaurant on the floor just below.

Cruise ship in the city centre

Sandie reaches port

Tagus river traffic

Statue in the main square

Elevador de Santa Justa

Castle in the evening

Castle at night

Tuesday 5: We took a lift and walked the rest of the way up to the castle. Great views from there over the city.  Had coffee at another viewpoint, then back to our hotel via the cathedral.  Checked out and walked with our luggage to the Cais do Sodré railway station.  The queue for the ticket office was impossible, but the queue for machines was almost as bad – it took us 30 minutes to get tickets for Cascais.  There we checked into the hotel which was the starting-point for our walking holiday. It was an attractive old house, with a beautiful garden where free port was available in the evening.

View from the castle

Tagus panorama

Castle sculpture

On the battlements

Blue tile picture

Lisbon tram

Cascais is a seaside resort (‘Yarmouth with sun’ said Sandie) and there were plenty of people on the beach there. A path stretches for miles along the seafront; we walked one way to Estoril, and the other way to the Boca do Inferno (Mouth of Hell), although the spouts of spray were not much in evidence while we were there.

Our hotel in Cascais

Seaspray on the prom

One of the beaches

The Red Hand Gang woz ‘ere

The fortress

A simple seaside cottage

Waiting for action at the Boca do Inferno

Wednesday 6: We were to be collected at 11, which gave us time for another stroll around the town in the morning.

Where pyramids come on their holidays

Duck and turtles chilling together

We were driven just a few miles, and then dropped while our luggage continued to our next destination. The notes for our walk had warned us that it was wise to take a fleece, and Jonathan explained that the temperature was likely to be 10 degrees cooler a few miles further on.  Nevertheless, we were amazed to emerge from the car into a howling gale.  We walked a mile or so along the cliffs, battling against the strongest wind we’d ever encountered.  Cascais is in a sheltered bay, but now we had the open Atlantic on our left – no sunbathers here!

In the photo, you can’t see the wind!

It was already past our usual time for morning coffee, but more than anything else we longed for shelter from the wind.  After a while we came to some restaurants, but they were not yet open for lunch.  Then a hotel, which looked incredibly posh, but we reasoned that it must be open (for resident guests) so we ventured inside.  The receptionist called a suited underling who escorted us to the bar.  We commented on the weather; she said it was ‘a bit windy, but not the worst’.  We both made a mental note not to visit during the worst weather! We sipped our cappuccinos while sitting on luxurious sofas and watching the Atlantic rollers crashing against the shore.

Our refuge from the gale

Later we came to a beach which was surprisingly sheltered, so we had a snack lunch at a beach bar. Then we went inland – and encountered fierce winds again. We were quite glad to reach our destination, a former convent now a kind of hotel which caters mainly (though not exclusively) for walkers.  Meals are served in what used to be the chapel; there is one long table, so you get to know your fellow guests.  We met a couple on the same holiday as us, but they had started a day earlier, so they were able to tell us about the next day’s walk!

Glad to hear it

At the beach bar

Where we’re staying is right down there

Made it to the gates

Our accommodation in a converted convent

The dining room is the old chapel

Thursday 7:  The wind had dropped, and the weather was bright and sunny.  We did a circular walk, or rather a figure of 8.  There was a steep climb up to the Peninha chapel, a derelict and frankly ugly building, but the views were good.

Peninha chapel

View from the chapel

Walking back through the woods

A bar with nice beer and a cat – how good is that?

Back at our accommodation, we checked emails and did not get good news.  Ian did not get the job he tendered for last week, although he continued to work on the proposal for a major international evaluation project which ERA will be involved in, if successful.  And we had worrying messages from our Florida friends about Hurricane Irma!

Friday 8: Problems with wifi this morning meant that we could not access emails about the proposal – and today was the deadline for submission.  Phone calls were impossible as there was no mobile signal where we were staying!

At 10 we were driven to the Cabo da Roca – the most westerly point of continental Europe.  It was very windy there, but nothing like as bad as on Wednesday.  On leaving we did a detour up to a picturesque village, then down to a scenic beach: a very few sunbathers here, and we watched a few brave surfers.  As we continued our walk along some sandy cliffs, Ian had a phone conversation about the proposal.  Everything was under control, but I was strange to be discussing business in such a remote place!

Cabo da Roca

A nearby cove

Ulgeira village

Rock arch at Adraga beach

Surfer dude

Wipe out!

So what’s gone wrong now?

Our new accommodation did not provide dinners, but the hosts will drive guests to any of the nearby restaurants.   Along with six others, we went to the small café in the nearest village. It was packed, and there were two fado singers performing.  Luckily the music was not as miserable as we remembered from our earlier visit to Lisbon! With good food, good wine (plenty of it) and good company, it was a very pleasant evening.

Fado musicians

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