On the Rocks

2018 6

(The Clock Tower at Mȇda)

Continuing on our journey out of Portugal, two days ago we reached the town Mȇda. We are still in the land of huge rocks and it may not be clear from the photos how huge they really are. The medium-sized ones are the size of elephants and the large ones are bigger…

2018 7

(Stone wall… small rocks)

The outcroppings are everywhere. We stayed in a campsite in the town because our electricity and water need top ups and there was a mound of naturally occurring rocks there too. I walked up to the tower passing old stone walls that you might well see in Wicklow and definitely in the West of Ireland.

2018 3

(On the way to the Clock Tower… elephant sized rocks)

Earlier on our way into the town in search of a supermarket we passed a man and woman on a cart pulled by a donkey. Something I vaguely remember seeing as a child and seeing it here was very nostalgic. While pushing the trolley around the supermarket I almost bumped into the woman. They were doing their shopping. The new supermarket has been built just outside the town on a different hill. If you didn’t have a car it would be very difficult to shop there. The donkey and cart still has a place here. We passed them again going back down the hill and they were both walking, possibly too steep to let the donkey take the full load. Made me think of the donkey as part of the team.

2018 1 1

(While walking to the tower I saw a cart like the one at the supermarket, donkey-less)

All this is reminding me of home, even the weather. It’s been cold these last few days which is actually great for walking up hills. Also, the higher you go the better the breeze. I cannot imagine it in blazing sunshine. Must remember that, these expeditions are so much easier in a cool climate.

2018 2

(View from the top in the direction of Spain)

We’ll arrive in Spain tomorrow and we’ll have to change the clock to European Time. That’s another thing Portugal has in common with Ireland – the time.

Thinking of home. Mairead.

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Thank you, Celorico da Beira!

2018 1

(Funicular Viseu)

We are still in Portugal but moving every day. The day before yesterday we stopped off in the city of Viseu. Denis did some work while I went off to find the funicular to the old town on top of the hill. After getting a little lost at the bus station I eventually found it. It’s completely free and probably makes the steep uphill journey easy…

2018 3

(View from the station at the top)

Unfortunately, it wasn’t working. I walked up. Probably better for me. At the top there’s a cathedral and a couple of museums, tourist office and restaurants. It was lunch time so I resisted a very tempting ice cream shop (nata ice cream?) and went back to the van. We couldn’t stay in Viseu because we needed electricity so we set off for the next place after lunch.

2018 4

(Beautiful tiled courtyard at the cathedral, Viseu)

Our next stop was in a small town called Celorico da Beira where the town provides free electricity, for which we are very grateful. Thank you. This town is also on top of a hill and has a castle and walls! But no funicular. I went to have a look anyway. We were parked in the old part of the town and all the houses there are made of stone. We had got used to seeing houses painted white all over the country. Remember I mentioned the variety of Portugal? Well I don’t want to keep going on about it but it’s hard not to. This area is like nowhere else we’ve been in Portugal. It actually reminds me of the Rock of Cashel in Tipperary but on a much bigger scale. There’s outcroppings of rock everywhere for miles and miles. So I suppose when they were building the houses they used what was most plentiful – stone.

2018 15

(Here you can see the stone houses and how narrow the streets are!)

Only a tower remains of the castle and of course the walls around it. I was hoping to climb them but I have a new requirement for walls – railing. I learned this requirement the hard way. I have no trouble going up a staircase – because I’m looking up. It’s only on the way down – looking down – seeing the ground so far away and so easy to get to (but not in a good way) makes me a little dizzy. But I didn’t have to climb the un-railed walls because I climbed the tower instead. I wasn’t expecting a ladder at the top though…

2018 8

(Here’s the view of the new part of the town from the top of the tower. Can you see the old walls?)

In the summertime they charge €1 to climb the tower but at the moment it’s free. Thank you. There’s a steep staircase on the outside, then two more steep staircases inside the tower and then a ladder. Yep, a ladder. It turned out to be much easier than an un-railed staircase because you never have to look down on a ladder…

2018 9

(That’s the ladder on to the walkway at the top of the tower. I know it’s tiny and firmly attached to the wall but it’s very high up!)

Everything’s looking up, Mairead.

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Blue Skies and Craft Tables

2018 1

(Free motorhome parking beside the fishing boat harbour)

Yesterday was sunny and warm. We stayed at a fishing harbour. Even from the pictures I think you can see how it’s so different from the previous days. That’s another thing about Portugal, the variety. Each day can be different just by moving. Yesterday it was blue and green.

2018 3

(Little beach beside the motorhome parking)

I spent the whole day crafting. Even though there was a cycle path. Even though there was a town less than a kilometre away. Even though I could have written a blog. All because there was a picnic table… I mean, there was a craft table right beside our spot. Although it was warm and sunny, there was a breeze coming from the water so I was all bundled up but it was still fun. And it must have looked like fun because people kept coming up to me to ask what I was doing.

2018 4

(I’m not wearing the hairband to be fashionable… the wind was hurting my ears. Look at all the other craft tables!)

It’s hard to describe what I’m doing. Even in English. I’m playing? I’m working? I’m making cards of encouragement for others or for myself? I’m feeding some part of me that likes that kind of thing? The next time Linda and I run Mindcraftie (probably July) I’ll be making these cards. So if you want to come and watch me make or if you want to come and play or if you want to feed that part of you too, I’d love to see you there. I’ll remind you closer to the time but in the meantime if you want to see crafty stuff on your facebook feed click here and like us.

2018 1 1

(You’re a little treasure)

We’re still moving slowly out of Portugal through places we’ve never been before and seriously thirty kilometres or so the scenery changes and it all looks so different, the variety constantly surprising. As we leave we are soaking up every last sight, feel, taste, smell and sound of this country before it becomes just a memory.

A lovely memory. Mairead.

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The Free City Walls of Tomar

2018 4

(There is only one entrance… and this is not it)

This is my third time in Tomar. The first time was with the Camino walking women. We stayed in a hostel and went on a tour of the Convento de Cristo. The second time was last year with Denis and we did a quick tour of the castle/convent that overlooks the town but didn’t stay overnight. Now this year we stayed in the motorhome park and I went off to visit the Convento on my own.

2018 1

(View over of Tomar and the Convento de Cristo in the background)

The motorhome park used to be the municipal campsite but it was closed down several years ago, no idea why but when it opened up it was free. Yes free! It’s a paradise of wild grasses and trees with birds play fighting amongst the tall weeds. They really look like they’re playing. Dive bombing to hide in the dense greenery or landing on one of the tall stalks of wild oats that bend down to the ground with their weight. I actually think I can hear them giggle as they hop off and the stalk springs back upright. For us there are super clean toilets and cold showers and a place to dump and collect water. Perfect.

2018 11

(My new favourite imaginary place to go when I want to be still… and it’s real)

Yesterday morning started off cloudy. I waited for the sun to shine but it didn’t so I went off to the convent/castle anyway. As I had been here before I decided to mix it up a bit and go in the way I had exited the previous time. I thought it might be interesting to begin at the end and just see the bits I remembered liking. So I went to the back entrance. Except it wasn’t. An entrance, I mean. It was only an exit. There was a woman there and a cash register but there was no way she would allow me to come in the exit. As soon as I exited she closed the door, firmly.

2018 12

(Cute toilets at Convento de Cristo. Do not be put off by the worn door. In real-life real-old gets a bit battered looking. They have everything you need –  real-old door, real-old tiles (floor and wall) paper, soap and hand dryer. Thank you Tomar!)

So I set off for the real entrance. I still wanted a different tour so it seemed like a good idea to notice things I had missed on the previous visits. I walked slowly through the big gate and had a look at the tile covered benches and beyond them into the orange grove (convent/castles don’t have one or two orange trees, they have groves – full of orange trees.) Then as I got closer to the ticket booth I spotted a sign for the toilets. I had not seen the toilets on previous trips and you do know how much I love the Portuguese toilets at their castles. This one did not disappoint.

2018 8

(The courtyard of the Convento de Cristo)

I thought I’d seen everything I’d previously missed so I went off to the ticket booth. On my way I spotted something very exciting. A man taking my picture. Ok, that’s not the exciting bit. The exciting bit is he was taking my picture from a position up on the walls of the castle/convent! I had definitely never noticed the (safe, securely railed) walkway around the walls before. Seems like this is the year of the walls. (Yes I know yesterday I said this was the year of flexibility, it can be both.) Also, it was in the courtyard, so I didn’t even need to go to the ticket booth… the walls at the Convento de Cristo are completely free. Thanks to the woman who would not let me enter through the exit I had found them.

2018 6

(Look at that great railing!)

The walkway snaked slowly around the site and took me about 30 minutes to complete because I was talking pictures at every turn. It was really great up there and I was completely alone. The man who had taken my picture was long gone and no one else seemed to notice this gem, not exactly hidden but maybe camouflaged by the other treasures around it. On the castle/convent side of the walkway I could see the orange grove and there were other walled gardens. On the outer side there was a forest of trees edging on to the town.

2018 7

(Tomar from the castle/convent walls)

At the very end of the walkway was a stone staircase leading to the courtyard. There was something magical about the space so I sat down on the last step and closed my eyes. I could imagine brave knights and gentle nuns and honourable monks who passed this way. I sat listening to the birds completely hidden from people walking unawares to the ticket booth. Have you ever been at a workshop or done a guided meditation where the facilitator says, close your eyes and imagine you are in a beautiful safe place? I usually go to the walled garden in Powerscourt but from now on I will be going to those stone steps that lead from the walkway around the walls of the Convento de Cristo in Tomar.

Although you can’t enter at the exit it is possible to exit at the entrance, so I did. Mairead.

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Sorry we’re late…

2018 4

(There’s Denis with the rusty canons at Sagres Fort)

It’s different on the way back. We’re on our way back. We have been passing places we stayed in on the way out to this edge of Europe and now it’s different. On the way out at every parking spot it seemed like anything was possible. Stay for the night? Stay for a month? Come back again? Put off that tour, sure won’t we be back this way? It seems like the only restrictions were electricity, water and permission to stay.

2018 3

(More flora from the fort)

On the way back there’s another restriction. Time. Time moves more slowly in Portugal and not just for us. If we had places to go and people to meet then we might be frustrated by the laid back approach here. We might be… but we are not because we had neither places to go nor people to meet. That is changing. Fortunately for us it is changing slowly.

2018 8

(That’s the sound art, from yesterday’s post, to the right of the fencing)

Now we have places to go and people to meet. We have a ferry to catch and on the way we are meeting good friends. They will put up with us if we are late or if we just want to sit and stare at the sea or if we have nothing to say. They will give us electricity and a parking space and hot showers and if things work out like last time they will even feed us beautiful French food.

2018 5

(The view towards the east from Sagres Fort)

Hopefully by the time we reach Ireland we will know again how to be at a specific place at a specific time. Hopefully, we will successfully bring the car for it’s NCT while remembering that it needs a new battery before we can even get it out of the driveway. Hopefully, we will increase our trips to the washing machine and to the shower to allow more sweet-smelling encounters. I think we’re nearly ready but forgive us if we’re not.

2018 11

(Sunset looking at the lighthouse from Sagres)

We buy flexi tickets for the ferry each year, they allow us to move our booking if we need to. For things like snow and ice on the way out in February to staying longer on the way back. We’ve never used them but it seems this will be the year of flexibility so we changed our tickets. We even got a refund… of €5! But we’re not staying longer, we’re coming back sooner.

2018 9

(A single wild poppy at the castle in Silves)

While we were away the date for the Repeal the 8th Amendment Referendum was set and it turned out to be the day before we were due back. So we would miss it. That played on my mind. I have never considered myself political. I voted because I had the vote and my vote was hard-won for me by women who were long dead. But I never thought my vote made a difference… until the Marriage Equality Referendum. That’s when I realised, it’s not just the vote that makes a difference, it’s how the question, of which way I will vote, makes me different. It makes me reflect, which I love to do anyway but usually I reflect on myself! Why I’m here, what something means, how will I do this or solve that… But the reflection related to voting makes me think about others. I think it teaches me compassion and that’s what being political means to me.

See you soon… but I’ll probably be late. Mairead.

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To the end of the land and back…

2018 1

(View from the car park)

We’re on our way back… we went to the edge of Europe and turned around. The edge was very lovely. It was hot and yet a slight breeze kept us cool. The edge is at an old defence fort near the town of Sagres. No military there now just flora and fauna and some rusty cannons and… a wall, of course.

2018 1 1

(Can you see Sagres? The little toe below it is the fort. And to the west at the end of the N268 is Cabo de São Vicente and the lighthouse)

But really Sagres isn’t the edge edge there’s another little peninsula of land jutting out further west, called Cabo de São Vicente but they have no wall (they do have a little wall but it doesn’t following any of my guidelines for wall building…) and the car park has potholes (we are being very gentle with Ruby since the operation…) they do have a lighthouse though. Anyway, the fort at Sagres has loads of interesting things to see… for one, fearless fishermen. They stand on the edge of the cliff that runs around the inside of the fort, leaning over the edge to… well, I don’t know why they were leaning over. Why do fishermen lean over very dangerous cliffs?

2018 10

(A fearless fisherman)

There wasn’t just one fearless fisherman, but I stopped taking pictures of them because although I could see the steep drop, the pictures don’t show it. Plus I didn’t want to catch them off guard, one false step…

2018 6

(Another fearless fisherman)

There were also fearless tourists. They had to climb over a fence with a very descriptive warning poster to get into position.

2018 9

(Can you see the fearless tourists? And the drop to the sea? Via pointy rocks?)

There was also a piece of art, sound art… I don’t mean it was sound (although it was) but it was a place to hear (and feel) the ocean in the middle of the land. Isn’t that creative? So, there are naturally occurring chambers (caves, I suppose) leading from the sea up to the middle of the peninsula and as the waves come in, sea water is blown up through the caves. They built a kind of maze but not the kind you get lost in, the kind you walk around in until you get to the center. Where there was a grid platform you can stand on… and wait. Then suddenly there’s a huge gust of wind up through the grid and you can hear the water roaring. It is so surprising. It was like being a child again seeing a funny magic trick… but I could see nothing. Very sound and all the feels.

2018 2

(Here’s some of the flora. Doesn’t it look like paper that’s been cut with a pinking shears?)

We parked in the fort’s car park that night and saw the sun set over by the unwalled lighthouse in the distance at the edge edge of Europe. So that’s it, we can’t go any further. It’s time to head north and home. There’s still lots of time until we board the ferry at Cherbourg and I have to be very careful not to miss this last bit. Missing something when it’s right in front of you is a bit of a pity. Oh and we’re actually coming back early too but I’ll tell you about that tomorrow.

From the middle of a thunder-storm in Portugal, Mairead.

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Uncomprehensive Guide to Castle Walls

2018 5

(View of the town of Silves from inside the castle wall)

I realised I didn’t show you pictures of the castle walls or even the town walls around Silves. Probably because I was talking about the hidden things, like the well and mosaics. Castle walls are a little harder to hide and why would you want to hide them anyway? Castle and town walls are by definition supposed to be seen. You really want the marauding enemy to think, Oh look at the size of those stone walls, we’ll never get in there, let’s go to the next town!

2018 1

(The entrance to the castle with huge statue)

Or in modern times you want the tourists to think, Oh look at those amazing stone walls, let’s go have a look! Walls give the best value for money when they can be seen. The colour of your wall is key too. You don’t want to look like all the other town walls but as stone is very heavy it’s probably best to choose it from your local area, that cuts down on delivery costs. I just hope it’s a good colour. 

2018 9

(Inside the castle walls)

The positioning of your walls is very important. The absolute best place to site your wall is on top of a hill. If your chosen hill is a bit high and you don’t want excessive gusts of wind you could build your wall into the hill and use the hill as a natural defence. This would have the advantage of also looking very attractive to the tourists.

2018 13

(Deep foundations of the old town walls. Can you see the arch up top for a gateway?)

Of course you will also need to have deep foundations. These will not be seen (unless things go very badly for your wall… ) but everyone will know they are down there under the earth keeping everything in place. Let us not forget gates. Without them no one can get in. I know what you’re thinking – keep everyone out – well yes, but… you will starve.

2018 12

(Can you see these foundations? There were palatial houses within the castle walls)

Finally, if possible please add some toilets. Each monument I have visited in Portugal has excellent toilets, I am so grateful. You don’t know for sure what future visitors to your wall will need… except for toilets, they will definitely need toilets. Not too visible is best but err on the side of easy to find, if you are unsure.

Have I forgotten anything? Mairead.

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