Awesome Alcobaca on the Silver Coast

Alcobaça monastery, Silver Coast, Places to Visit

Alcobaça Abbey

A tragic love story.  That’s about all I knew about the town and abbey of Alcobaça on the Silver Coast. They also have a groovy food festival but I’d never been to that either. I’ve driven past it a zillion times on the school run over the past year determined to find the time to go.

Street in Alcobaça

Alcobaça

Alcobaça is an inland town on the Silver Coast. When my Norwegian pal Hege agreed to accompany me on a trip I was looking forward to finding out more.  Hege is a historian. If you are going to visit a monastery then a historian is the person to go with.

Alcobaça

Alcobaça street style

Alcobaça abbey, the abbey of Santa Maria, is fabulous. As you enter, the gothic vaulted ceiling takes your breath away. Hege pointed out the bricks with identifying marks from each particular stone masons. The monastery is hundreds of years old yet you could imagine the guy chipping out his signature. It reminded me of the stone in our 100 year old house at Castelo Branco with a mark that belonged to our builder’s grandfather. I wonder if brickies do that these days.

Alcobaça abbey, stone signature, stone mason

Do stonemasons still leave their mark?

Alcobaça abbey, stone pillar, mark of stonemason

I stood in the vast abbey with that beautiful smell of old stone and a calmness that reminded me of my home church at St Peters, currently redundant. Religion aside, I love standing in empty churches with the light flowing through. This abbey was actually full of tourists but I still had a sense of peace.

Alcobaça abbey

Vaulted gothic ceiling inside the abbey

Onto tragic love story.  The tomb of Inês lies opposite that of Pedro. In a nutshell Pedro, heir to the throne, was ordered to marry Princess Constanza but he was actually in love with Inês, a noblewoman.  When Constanza died Pedro married Inês in secret but the king had her murdered as he thought she and her family were a threat to the throne. When Pedro’s father, King Alfonso, passed away Pedro dug up the body of Inês and had her crowned – forcing the court to kiss her decomposed hand in acknowledgement. Nice one. This was all quite a while ago around 1355. Kind of feel sometimes that the world hasn’t really moved on much.

Alcobaça abbey, cloisters, cleaned stonework

Abbey cloisters, notice the contrast with the stark, white, newly cleaned area of the lower building

Alcobaça abbey, cloisters

Interior of the cloisters with vaulted ceiling

The abbey was free but we paid to stroll through the cloisters which were around E6.00. Intricately carved Manueline stonework adorns the courtyard and I could imagine the Cistercian monks pottering along the stone floor on their way to the kitchen with its fantastic 18m high chimney.

Medieval kitchen, Alcobaça abbey, Silver Coast,

18m high chimney, that’s a lot of cooking – you should see the size of the fireplace!

If you want to know more about the abbey the Unesco World Heritage site explains the history of the abbey in more detail.

http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/505

Alcobaça, Silver Coast, Portugal tourism

Loved the little lanes and well kept architecture

Alcobaça is full of restaurants and restored old houses down little lanes. A river runs through it and the name Alco and Baca come from the two rivers. Indeed, the River Alcoa and the River Baça.

Alcobaça, River Alcoa, Silver Coast, Places to visit in Portugal

River Alcoa

There are some lovely individual shops here too but we hadn’t come for shopping.

Alcobaça, shops, street scene, Portugal Silver Coast, Places to Visit

Tempting – but we hadn’t come to shop

We ate in a restaurant off the main square then headed to the monastery at Batalha, built to celebrate the Portuguese victory with the Castilians at the Battle of Aljubarrota – a battle which only lasted about an hour.

Batalha, monastery, unfinished chapel, places to visit, Silver Coast

Batalha, Manueline stonework, medieval abbey, places to visit, Silver Coast

Ornate Manueline stonework

 

Batalha, tomb of Prince Henry the Navigator

Here lies Prince Henry the Navigator

Similar in style to Alcobaça, gloriously impressive, the highlight of the abbey I felt was actually the strange unfinished chapel, with ornate Manueline decoration around the archway, roofless, open to the sky with tombs around the side.

The striking unfinished chapel - sorry, didn't get round to the roof, mate

The striking unfinished chapel – sorry, didn’t get round to the roof, mate

More information can be found about Batalha at http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/264

Batalha monastery, drinking fountain, places to visit, Silver Coast, Portugal

Drinking fountain

Batalha monastery, cloisters, Silver Coast, places to visit

Cloisters

 

I heartily recommend a trip to both these towns. We didn’t have time to fit in Tomar which has a rather grand convent. I’ll have to find another historian to go with, Hege has returned to Norway.

Batalha monastery, cloisters, Silver Coast, places to visit

 

Batalha gift shops

Plenty of quaint gift shops at Batalha

*(Hege…please contact me!)

Thai Restaurant, Silver Coast and the Lucky Eggshell

Red heart petal

Yesterday I unexpectedly spent the evening at my favourite Thai Restaurant on the Silver Coast. Jae and I had been doing science experiments in the kitchen. Testing which ingredients dissolve in water. Soluble and insoluble. Zed appeared just as we were testing sand and put his arms around me in a romantic gesture. It was quarter to five in the afternoon. “Happy Wedding Anniversary!” Eh?
“Its 23rd July, had you forgotten?”
“Well…er….yes.”
“Oh good. I had too.”
We decided to celebrate by going to Supatra Thai restaurant near Bombarral.

Supatra Thai Restaurant, Silver Coast
We’d been there once before with the children. Lovely food with a smart yet stylishly rustic interior. Great food. What more could you want? Well…..there is something.
At one point the conversation had gone like this.
Me: “Can I have the coconut drink?”
Waiter/possibly owner: “There isn’t any left. We have some other cans, I’ll bring them out.” The waiter/possibly owner returned with cans of other interesting juices. One of them being mangosteen. Mangosteen? I examined the can. Never have I heard of mangosteen. Maybe it’s Portuguese or Thai for something else or we just don’t get it in England. I inquired about it with the waiter/possibly owner who I think that in his role as waiter/possibly owner he will enlighten me.
Me: “What is mangosteen?”
Waiter/possibly owner: “Mangosteen. It’s mangosteen.”
Me: “Yes, but what is it in English?”
Waiter/possibly owner, in tart voice: “Mangosteen. Look it up.”
Me: Oh, um thanks.

DSCF1172
Tonight the same waiter/possibly owner greeted us in his semi-warm style. Fortunately they had one coconut drink left so we didn’t have to go the mangosteen route, though I’ve since looked it up as advised.
We had a delicious meal. Prawns in satay sauce. Pad thai. Yum.

Chilli, Thai sauce dips
Onto pudding. Ginger ice cream for Zed. Chestnut pudding for me in a coconut sauce. Again delicious but…what’s this…this…little crunchy bit? Eggshell? I look closer into the pudding and spot flakes of eggshell. At this point I should send it back but its so delicious I can’t stop and eat on. Then I spot a bigger piece of shell, then a couple more. I pull them out and continue because it really does taste gorgeous.

Interior of Supatra Thai Restaurant, Carvalhal,  Silver Coast
The waiter/possibly owner came to collect our empty plates. I waited for him to ask if everything was okay when I could then politely mention the eggshell but the question never arose. All the same, I felt that I needed to point out that there were large lumps of eggshell in the tiny pudding. It was after all 5 euros.
Me: “Er… (pointing to side of plate)…there were these big pieces of egg shell in my pudding…”
Waiter/possibly owner, smiling: “That just proves it was made with fresh egg!”
Zed, not smiling: “I don’t think they should be in there though.”
Waiter/possibly owner whips away the dishes. Eh? Not even a ‘sorry you’ve just crunched your way through egg shell that’s been pooped through a hen’s bottom?’

Egg shell
Waiter/possibly owner appears again and explains jovially: “I used to work in a restaurant in London. A screw came out of one of the machines. It appeared later in a customer’s lasagne, so you are lucky. It’s only egg shell.”
I’m lucky? Aah. So – no need for an apology.
Perhaps the chef had been doing a scientific experiment to see if egg shell dissolves in pudding.
It doesn’t.

Interior, Supatra Thai Restaurant, Bombarral, Silver Coast

 

Cost of meal: E38.00 inc. IVA
2 mains, 2 puddings with egg shell on the house
1 can of coconut juice
2 jasmine tea’s.

Wine is approximately E12.00 a bottle. Zed was driving so we didn’t partake.

Couple celebrating at restaurant

Celebrating nine years of wedded bliss.

Supatra Thai: Rua Poeta Jose Ferreira Ventura, 73, Rossio do Carvalhal, 2540-422 Bombarral, Leiria, Portugal; Tel:262 842 920; Email: supatracarvalhal@gmail.com

 

 

International Book Deliveries

 

Boy with chopsticks in nose

I don’t need maths – look what I can do!

Earlier in the year there was a flurry of disappointment among expats everywhere as Amazon decided to change its policy of fees for international deliveries on books and other goods.

So when it was time to order a book or two for Jae who is currently keen on the ‘Young Samurai’ series, I thought I’d better do a little research first. Oh, and I secretly wanted to add in a maths book or two to keep him busy during the summer holidays.

The Young Samurai, The Way of the Dragon

Here’s what I came up with for the ‘Young Samurai’ series: ‘Way of the Dragon’ or ‘The Ring of Sky’, by Chris Bradford, for a standard paperback book.  Prices are for purchase and European delivery (exchange rate for 14 July 2014):

Better World Books – used $9.48, new $22.63. Free worldwide shipping. Total $9.48 (£5.55)
Books Etc. – £7.18 + £3.31 delivery. Total £10.39
Guardian Bookshop – £5.59 + £3.95 delivery per order + £1.00 per item. Total £10.54
Book People – £4.49 + £4.00 delivery up to 0.5kg (£5.00 up to 1kg). Total £8.49
Amazon – £4.89 (new) + £6.60 delivery. Total £11.49

Carol Vorderman maths book

Amazon – £0.01 (used) + £4.02 delivery.  Total £4.03
Alibis.co.uk – 0.80 euros + 5.26 euros delivery + 3.94 euros per extra item. Total E6.06 (£4.83)
Foyles – £5.10 + £5.00 delivery + £1.50 each extra book. Total £10.10
WH Smiths – £4.89. They don’t deliver outside the UK
Waterstones – £4.49 + £7.50 delivery. Total £11.99
The Book Depository – 7.67 euros + free worldwide delivery. Total E7.67 (£6.11)
Ebay (Buy it Now) – £2.72 used + £1.51 delivery.  Total £4.23

Young Samuari, The Ring of Sky, Chris Bradbury

The £0.01 used book that Amazon offered via their used books section came top of the list.  Plus I already had an account with them so didn’t have to set up a new one.  They also offered the maths books I wanted.  I ordered two ‘Way of the Samurai’ books and a selection of maths books, then waited.

...and waited...

…and waited…

And waited.  “When are the books coming mummy?” Jae said every day, several times a day, for twelve days.

I hadn’t noticed when paying that the delivery wouldn’t arrive for another twelve days.  By which time, on the twelfth day, we were off to England.  On the twelfth day one of the Samurai books arrived.  One book between two children wasn’t a good number.  We took one out in the library while in England to pacify the other child.

On our return home the other Samurai book had arrived.  “Hurray!” said Jae.  No maths books though. They wouldn’t fit into our letter box. I broke the sad news.  “Hurray!” said Jae.

Boy outdoors, fresh air

“Hurray – no maths!”

I went to the post office with the card the post man had left.  The post office (correio) only keeps items for six days.  I emailed Amazon.  I will probably get a refund of the product if Royal Mail returns them.  Otherwise…well…phew…luckily I bought some maths books from a high street shop in the UK.  Just in case.

P1050093

 

 

Pet Dispersal

Black labrador and German Shepherd cross breed

“What are we going to do with the dog?”  said Zed.  “And the guinea pig?  Thank goodness we didn’t treat ourselves to a goat!”

guinea pig

We were off on a break and decided it was a bad idea to take the animals.  They should have their own holiday.  So the organisation began.  At this point I was pleased we didn’t have ten ducks any more ….

Dog and ducks in snow

and that we hadn’t yet bought a llama or two.

llamas, uk, national forest llama treks

We had however recently acquired a guinea pig.  Hmmm.  Not such good timing.  Fortunately our friends at ‘Hey Portugal’ magazine were more than happy (well didn’t mind) to have a temporary pet.  So Zuko – or Womble as he’s been nicknamed much to the children’s dislike – went off to eat carrots at chez ‘Hey Portugal’.

Then it was Millie’s turn. Millie loves going to our friends who live near Castelo Branco.  So much so that she almost jumped out of the car window one day when we approached them and if she could would have squealed with delight.

Castelo Branco, countryside, olive trees

Castelo countryside

I miss Castelo Branco.  Here we have our other renovation.

Village house, Castelo Branco, Portugal, rustic house

The other renovation

I miss watching the donkey and carts ambling through village streets, the rock roses and lavender and miles of pine forest.

fauna, Castelo Branco, Portugal

We drove down the drive to Millie’s new holiday home.  They have the prettiest house here with a traditional rustic annex and a gorgeous view. It’s up for sale and I’ll be sad when they move.  I have garden envy when I sit among the fruit trees and roses, jasmine and ….. hundreds of other flowers I can’t name.  (I have no professional interest in this particular house by the way!)  We left Millie happily scampering around the garden among the lemon and fig trees.

Castelo Branco, Remax house for sale Castelo Branco, countryside Portugal

Millie’s holiday home in stunning countryside

Village house for sale, Remax Castelo Branco, Portugal

120,000 E, 3 bed + 4 bed annex + 1000sq.mtr garden

Back home  Zed has been watering our new fruit trees rigorously.  Our neighbours at Casal Garcia suggested they nip across and water from time to time, take a dip in the pool and keep an eye out for strange things afoot.

orange tree, sapling

The new orange tree

There was just one little problem.  Dakota, the neighbour’s dog, has come to believe she lives with us.  I’m not sure why because we don’t feed her or encourage her in the house.  I expect she was slightly bewildered to find everyone had disappeared one day.  I knew she’d be fine though and it was nice to know there’d be a cheerful little dog running out of our garden to greet us on our return.

cross breed, stray dog Portugal

Dakota

 

Adventure story age 8

Available in print or kindle on Amazon.

 

 

 

Kitchen Disasters

Explosion

Okay, it wasn’t quite this bad.

 

Minor disaster day.  The toaster exploded.  I like to believe there was a spiritual connection between this and our shopping trip for an oven at the weekend.  The first proper oven in the Portuguese kitchen we are attempting to renovate.  While looking for this we’d been distracted by luxury toasters.  But we already had a toaster, a nice one at that which we’d been bought for a Christmas present, so we couldn’t justify a new one.

pic: Tod McLellan

pic: Tod McLellan

Now we’ll probably have to get one.  We all rely heavily on toast between meals in this household.  Although we do have a George Formby grill to keep us going which I found brand new and still boxed in a house I once bought, so we’ll not starve on the toast front.  Zed is meanwhile inspecting the workings of Portuguese plugs.

Toaster John Lewis

This one….

John Lewis toaster

or this one….

red toaster, john lewis

… or this one.

Meanwhile, aargh,  I then managed to burn the soup for our midday meal.  I know that’s quite a difficult thing to achieve and I only have a small window when Jae is home from school for cooking lunch.  Clearly being happily engrossed working on the computer while multi tasking at cooking doesn’t work for me.

Soup

It didn’t look like this

I replenished the saucepan with water (tip it away – are you kidding?)  and vowed never to go on the computer again while cooking.  On the way back from the bathroom I just…had a peek at emails…clicked through to a blog (about a Vietnamese food tasting tour on motorbikes) then skyped a message to my god daughter’s mother that my god daughter, who is currently in Vietnam, should try the food tasting tour.  I’m not sure her mother will welcome my suggestion that she travel around Ho Chi Minh city on a motorbike tasting food though.

Maybe I should take the tour

Maybe I should take the tour

Meanwhile, the pan was looking black again and burning smells wafted out the kitchen.  Hmmm.  Don’t have time to cook anything else.  Add more water again?

Strangely it tasted delicious.  Here is the recipe for ‘Cook and Double Burn Soup’.  One for Halloween?

Two carrots, three potatoes, handful of frozen cabbage stalks, an onion, cup of peas, stock cube.  Approximately 1 3/4 litres of water.  Put in a pan and cook until the water has almost boiled away and the pan is going brown. Replenish the water.  Boil the water away again until the saucepan is almost ruined.  Replenish the water.  Blend.  Serve with rolls, warmed in a George Formby grill or oven.  Or toast, for those of you who can.

No.  Not serious.  Don’t try this at home.

Adventure story age 8

Available in print or Kindle from Amazon.

 

 

The Water Bill and The System

abstract_water_elemental_hd_picture_5p_165692

This morning I went to pay the May water bill. Every month we get a bill for 12.07 Euros and pop into the Multibank (cash point, ATM, hole in the wall or what you will) to pay it. I tried to pay it at the Multibank the other day but strangely it wouldn’t let me.  “Are we a couple of days late?” said Zed. “You know what they’re like.”  I went to the Town Hall to pay it instead.

Now I know the system at the Town Hall. On entering you take a ticket to wait for the particular counter you need. You take a ticket wherever you have to queue to pay anything in Portugal; post office, meat counter, Via Verde. Took me a while to work that out.  Now I’m trained to always look for a ticket machine. Even if there isn’t a queue you’ll be sent back to get a ticket anyway. But I digress.

lemon_into_the_water_instant_highdefinition_picture_165638

I was told the bill had already been paid at the cash point a couple of weeks ago. Hurray!  I’m too efficient for myself.

But no. Thing was, I had accidently paid the May bill first instead of the April bill, leaving April’s unpaid. But instead of the payment being transferred to April it meant the computer said April’s bill was unpaid. So, a thirteen pound extra charge. Just for putting in the wrong reference.  Duh.

Above ground swimming pool

Can’t do without water!

Sometimes life’s a beach and at others it’s just ‘muito complicado’.

Silver Coast Property Hunter

“There’s this job Zed…” I said, sipping the coffee he’d just brought me, “…being advertised.”  I had thought about it all morning.  We could do with finishing the kitchen.  The three kitchens.  Who has three kitchens and not one of them finished?  The olive trees needed attention, the windows were leaking upstairs, plus….I did spend a lot of time on the internet looking at old properties anyway, had (almost) renovated two houses and enjoyed months of house hunting.  If there was one job I would enjoy to supplement my income it would be this one.  I typed out the email, attached my cv and with a flourish hit ‘send’.

One thing I really love about Portugal is the amazing variety of architecture around with few properties the same.  There are balconies and towers, roof terraces at strange angles, an assortment of railing styles and shutters, teeny village houses and small farms or vineyards, ultra modern in bright colours or old and rambling.

Which is why if, like me, you love old buildings or modern architecture then finding properties with ‘Perfect Property Portugal’ for other people to start a new life on the Silver Coast is a lovely job.

“Go for it,” said Zed, as he handed me a quote for the windows.  Then another quote for painting the house.  Then another quote for…..

So now I have an extra job, hurrah!  On this page are my choices for the week in a selection of price ranges.  If you want to take a look at any or have your own personal search done you can go directly to the site and contact PPP (ideally mentioning this website or reference GZ) or drop a line in the comments below.  The site has its own search facility so you can browse yourself, but PPP also have access to about 3000 properties in the area through other agents so if you have specific plans to come over I can do a more thorough search.

Why buy here? There’s heavy investment planned to promote tourism in the area, Ryan Air have just moved into Lisbon airport and property prices are still low so it couldn’t be a better time to pick up a holiday home or start a new lifestyle.  If you don’t want to be near the beach and tourist bustle then head inland towards the Serra Do Montejunto or the Candeeiros National Park.

Meanwhile I’m going to make a start on the olive grove.

Er….no this blog isn’t going to morph into an estate agent’s site, but you may have to indulge me occasionally!