Silves and Mercy

(Old door on the church needs very big key)

Silves is a lovely town with plenty of cafes and restaurants and two motorhome parks, €6 per night if you spend more than one night here. You might remember we were here last year, I’d been very brave and walked on the walls at the castle.

(Part of the old town wall, Silves)

This year I’m visiting a couple of churches just outside the castle. One of them was very interesting and free. The other not so interesting and cost €1.50, which isn’t a lot to be honest.

(The street of Mercy)

The interesting church began as the hall for a volunteer group called The Misericórdia (the long name, translated, is The Brotherhood of the Invocation to Our Lady of Mercy) that was set up in 1498 in Lisbon by Queen Lenora. She set it up because there was great need to take care of the poor in Lisbon at the time. You might remember this was the time when Portugal was discovering the new world. It was becoming a prosperous country and people were flocking to the capital to make their fortune. Unfortunately, prosperity is never evenly shared and this led to a huge problem with poverty and overcrowding in the city of Lisbon. The brotherhood later spread to towns and cities all over Portugal.

(Close up of the old town wall)

The brotherhood had a list of intentions and there were huge wooden panels depicting them on the back wall of the church. Namely, clothe the naked, give shelter to the pilgrims, give drink to the thirsty, visit the infirm, ransom the captive, feed the hungry, bury the dead. I loved the simplicity. In Silves they built a hospital and now 500 years later it still serves the community. With a crèche, nursery school, day care, nursing home, day center, long term care unit, home care, and a Social Canteen.

(Detail from income and expenditure ledgers, 1700’s)

A funny thing happened in the 20th century, well I suppose it wasn’t that funny… There was a great tradition of people leaving money in their will when they died to the brotherhood at Silves. Unfortunately, they also including some stipulations that regular mass be said for their souls. What’s the problem with that? The brotherhood had to pay for masses to be said and it nearly bankrupted them.

More from Silves soon, Mairead.

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Heading for the Hills

(The blackened trees surrounding Alferce)

While at the beach Denis read about a village that had a swimming pool, showers and toilets just north of the Algarve. And it was all for free. So next morning we travelled past amazing views, up steep ravines and eye-wateringly scary ridges to come to the town of Alferce.

(The swimming pool with lovely toilets)

This town is in the middle of nowhere and has amazing views and very friendly inhabitants. It had nearly succumbed to forest fires last August but survived and in almost a display of courage they have painted almost every building in the town. You can hardly see a sign of the fire.

(View from the main street)

Until you look at the trees. All around on the steep slopes, blackened trees as a reminder, that nature can sometimes be cruel. You might think it would be eerie but it’s not, it’s beautiful.

(The laundry)

The town also provided laundry facilities – the old fashioned kind with the built in washing boards and strings of clothes lines. But my favourite feature was the frogs. Right beside the motorhome parking there was a pond with about 20 frogs, all different sizes. I discovered them by following the sound. They had a very distinctive sound, like a complaint in grumpy language. Not very unpleasant but also not entirely attractive.

(Can you see the one pretending he’s dead in the water?)

Anyway I followed the sound to see what was making it and eventually noticed there were frogs. They seem to be able to make the sound without moving a muscle and as soon as they become aware of me everything stopped. No sounds. No movement. There’s isn’t a twitch. They remain completely still except for the one or two who had jumped into the water. They’d dived to the bottom and I could see small bubbles popping on the surface in their wake. There’s also one or two who know how to pretend to be dead in the water.

Smart Frogs, Mairead.

(There’s Alferce. Free parking, free water, free swimming pool, toilets, showers and frogs)

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Off to the Beach

(Nice flowers in the dunes)

One of the great things about Portugal is that no matter how hot it gets there’s always (almost always) a breeze near the coast. So when it got really hot by the river we moved to a beach.

(Not a lot of shade)

The beach was Santo André and it’s just north of the city of Sines. There are board walks, a cafe and a restaurant and lots of sand. We went for a couple of walks on the sand and along the boardwalk but the main attraction for us is the breeze and they have great breeze here.

(Can you feel the breeze?)

My band of comfortable temperatures does surprise me every time I hit up against it. It’s very narrow. For instance, at 10 degrees I think I’m freezing to death and at 25 degrees I think I’m roasting to death. Outside that band I stop making rational decisions. When the temperature hit 30 degrees in Alcacér do Sal the only thing I could think of to help was to go to bed.. inside the van… where the temperature was higher. Funny enough that’s also my answer when the temperature falls below 2 degrees.

(The boardwalk)

Meanwhile there are people out jogging, riding bikes, playing boules, lying in the sun. How do they do that? One of my favourite fairy tales when I was little was The Princess and the Pea. In case you don’t know the story… the Princess went to visit another kingdom and to make sure she was really the princess they did a bit of a test. They put a pea under her matress. Next morning they asked how she slept, she replied she was a little uncomfortable. Next night they gave her a second matress but the pea was still underneath. When they asked her next morning how she slept she said she was grand but the matress was still a little uncomfortable. They kept adding mattresses until she almost touched the ceiling and they were convinced she must definitely be a Princess if she could still feel the pea under so many mattresses.

I don’t want to blow my own trumpet but I’m obviously a Princess, Mairead.

(There’s Santo André. Free parking, toilets open when cafe open, free water, loads of breeze)

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Son of Alcacér do Sal

(Statue of Pedro Nunes in Alcacér do Sal)

After Setúbal we moved to the town of Alcacér do Sal. We were here last year. You might remember it was the place I built up the courage to ask someone to tell me their story?

(Famous guy born here)

The weather was beautiful and we settled down in a parking space on the banks of the Sado river with views of the town. From the van I could see, across the river, the statue in the first picture above and remembered seeing it last time too but I couldn’t remember who it was.

(Bought the book)

When we were in Porto on the morning before our tour I spotted a pretty book shop. There’s lots of lovely book shops but what made this one so interesting was there was a book in English in the window. It was called A Very Short History of Portugal by A.H. De Oliveira Marques. I have wanted to know more about Portuguese history since first going to the town of Beja two years ago. At one of the old churches I met a lovely guide with very little English but loads of passion for the history of his town and country. So of course I bought the book.

(Night time in Alcacér do Sal)

Now I have learned something very interesting from this book. That is to, Read the Title. Read it a few times to be sure this is the book you want. I read the title and was immediately attracted by the fact it was in English. Then it said Short. In fact it said Very Short. Excellent. Unfortunately, it was missing one word. Simple.

(Cute narrow streets)

The history of Portugal is long because a lot happened since man arrived here more than 4000 years ago. The author of the book is a renowned historian, he has degrees from all over the world, he was a professor in Portugal and Germany and America and he died in 2007. He has a lot to say. Making it very short was probably really, really difficult for him and he never promised simple. I thought short meant simple. So I pushed it to the back of the craft cupboard to lessen my guilty for not reading it.

(And loads of steps)

Then I saw the Pedro Nunes statue and he was born in Alcacér do Sal, I wondered… I couldn’t find him in the book, he’d probably in the long version but I googled him and he invented something complicated for navigation. He was also a professor. What I did find in the book was Portugal in the 1500’s started getting into exploration and were really good at it. The king was interested and he provided the money to make it possible. They more than any one else proved through experience that the world was round. By 1640 things were going bad though, wars, fighting with neighbours, king issues. But for a short period of time Portugal was the smartest and richest country in the world.

Anyone interested in a barely used very short history of Portugal? Mairead.

(That’s Alcácer do Sal south east of Setúbal. Free parking by the river, public toilets nearby. There’s also a nice municipal campsite outside the town and a great tapas restaurant up the hill)

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How to sit in nature…

(I loved this place)

After Lisbon we went to Setúbal, the place the train would have brought us to if we’d stayed on board. We arrived on a decent sized road and as often happens our sat-nav system decided we would appreciate some short cuts through the town. We never appreciate them.

(Early morning at Setúbal)

After a couple of reverse back up hill maneuvers we stopped obeying her (she has a female voice) and stopping in the middle of a junction to work out which direction might be widest. The locals were very kind, they did not beep, they’ve probably seen this many times.

(The town is very green and pretty)

Eventually we found the best route to the municipal campsite. Although the road was narrow the view was immense. It was Sunday afternoon the sun was shining and we got the last spot facing the sea. A light breeze made the perfect accompaniment to my cup of tea with a view.

(With lots of art)

I had been in training for this moment since the Spanish beach at Foz and I knew what to do. Sit, sip and smile. That’s what I did for two days.

(The world definitely does)

We had arrived without going to the supermarket (big mistake) and there were no shops or restaurants nearby so when the last pot noodle was eaten we had to leave paradise.

There’s no bread in Paradise, Mairead.

(There’s Setúbal, Municipal Campsite, €12 parking, electricity extra, magnificent toilets and showers included, sea front spot if you’re lucky)

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The heartbroken Princess

(Setting sun)

Once upon a time there was as a little princess who was magic. She was able to get anything she wanted with her magic.

(Cozy quilt by the sea)

You might think a princess like this was happy or contented. She wasn’t. The first thing she said as soon as she got something was “but I want…” or ” but I need…” followed by what she wanted next. And because she was magic she got the next thing. So again you might think she was happy or contented because she got the next thing. She wasn’t.

(Wide door)

The sad thing was she was heartbroken. Of course she was. You see all she could think about was what she didn’t have. Her mind was full of loss and not enough and not as good as and less than and they have more than… You would be heartbroken too.

(Narrow passageway)

The most sad thing about this little Princess was she had the power to be happy. She could have been happy every single day of her life. She just didn’t know it. And no matter how many times the people around her told her she could not listen because her mind was so full of what she didn’t have.

(Funny statue in Setúbal)

You might ask why didn’t she get happy with her magic? Her magic could only bring her things, bring her places, bring her people. It was her power that could bring her happy. She never used it. There was a way she could have been happy for one day, just one day (or maybe half a day, just half a day) with her magic. By placing one of the things she got by magic in her mind for a full day (or just half a day if a full day was too long.) If she had been able to think of nothing but the joy of receiving the most recent thing she got and think only of that for a full day (or half a day) she would have been happy for that day.

(Lovely view in Alćacer do Sal)

She was never taught this by her parents so she didn’t know. She didn’t know about her power either and that was sad because it was even more powerful (that’s not a surprise is it?) than her magic. Her power was the story she told herself and her story was lack. Her story could so easily have been, plenty. Mine definitely could.

Could yours? Mairead.

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Lisbon… Part 4

(Waiting for the bus)

We were pretty much finished in Lisbon after our scooter trip but before we left we had a Nata in Belém. No, not at the place with the queue. Then we waited for the bus.

(25th April bridge takes cars on top and trains underneath)

I mentioned previously that there was a transportation theme to our Lisbon tour. There was another theme: the 25th April bridge. So far we had driven over the bridge the previous Thursday, sailed past it in the ferry that morning, sat underneath it between scooter trips in the afternoon and now we were going under it.

(Red ticket machine and green ticket machine. The red one is for going over the bridge)

The 25th April bridge is a double decker bridge and the train between Setúbal and Lisbon goes under the motor vehicle deck of the bridge. We took a bus to Campolide station, north of the city. At first we couldn’t find the right ticket machine or the right line but eventually we spotted the colours of the machines were different… there were two train lines.

(Although we got very close to trams we never did get on one…)

The train is a two level commuter train and it was packed so I have no pictures but if you get a chance it’s well worth travelling on it to see unrestricted views up and down the estuary. Stand near the doors for the best views. Two stops are we were back at the beginning.

We walked home, tired and sun-burned but happy, Mairead.

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