PORTUGAL TRIP 4. -7.10.2020

Coimbra

This year our olive harvest was finished after 3 weeks with the help of 4 workers and ourselves. After the workers moved on to another finca, we cleaned up after them. Because even we always leave a few olives hanging as they tend to hide behind leaves. In three days we managed to get another 50 kgs, 25-30 euro from this exercise.

We also had a German guest staying who wanted to check out the area, as her friend is in the process of buying a finca for her horses. After she left, we took a well deserved short city break and drove to the north-west of Portugal.

Nigel always wanted to see Porto and I wanted to see Coimbra, which was once the capitol of Portugal. It is the fourth largest town after Lisbon, Porto and Braga.

It was a great choice for a quick escape, as Portugal is so much more relaxed about the virus threat or should I say corona codswallop. Businesses have to make sure you wear a mask but on the street it’s up to everyone to make their own decision, a lot more freedom and common sense.

On the way up we stopped at Peniche, a peninsula and one of Portugal’s most important fishing ports, which exports fish all over the world and is also prime surfing destination.

Coimbra Calling

As we had a long days driving behind us, 660 kms, we didn’t look too far for a bite to eat and ended up in The Murphy’s Irish Pub just across from our room at the Praça da República. Nigel tried a glass of Guiness which was bad, watery. I had vegan sausages, all in all not a revelation but it is a cosy pub, lots of space on two levels, very helpful and nice staff and great decor.

Afterwards we wandered around and Nigel ended up ordering a Kebab and we were accosted by a  Spanish student. She was very chatty, very curious and very drunk. Her two companions surely had their hands full looking after her.

Coimbra houses 21,000 students and 1,500 teachers/researchers and is the most cosmopolitan university in Portugal. This is reflected in the night life and vibrant arts scene in the town. We arrived on a Sunday and the following Monday being a holiday the students weren’t back in the town. Also of course the covid-19 measures put a little damper on things, like the street parties being dispersed by midnight. At least that meant we were able to get a car parking space across from our accommodation and the bars and restaurants were not overcrowded.

cute balcony

Our room was part of the NS Hostal & Suites group on Rua Lourenço Almeida de Azevedo, just across from the Sereia Garden, Jardim da Sereia which is a very sumptuous green park with tall, old trees, several fountains, stairs and cobbled paths.

From there we went through the Botanical Garden past the Aqueduto de São Sebastião to the promenade along the Mondego River. What I love about having a city break, and expect, is to have everything in walking distance for a change. You can have a nice view across the river to the old town up the hill, all spread out in layers of houses climbing up to the top, where the palace was and now the university lies.

The University of Coimbra was founded in 1290 by Dom Dinis and is the oldest academic institution in the Portuguese-speaking world and a world heritage site. In fact King Joao III gave his palace to the university in 1544, and it is still used to this day by students.

We visited the palace; unfortunately not much was left from the original ceremonial rooms because most of it is converted into lecture halls and seminaries. The Capela de São Miguel (St. Michael´s Chapel) [see https://www.centerofportugal.com/poi/st-michaels-chapel-of-the-university-of-coimbra/ ] is worth mentioning, because the organ (1737) has 2,000 pipes and I’d love to hear a blast from it.

The Biblioteca Joanina however was a revelation. It is a baroque building, so lots of gilding, decorations and wonderfully carved wood.

I was not allowed to take photos, which is understandable, considering the age of the books. The building has three floors and shelters about 200,000 books dealing with medicine, geography, history, humanistic studies, science, civil and canon law, philosophy and theology. Today, the University has seven faculties – Arts, Law, Medicine, Science and Technology, Pharmacy, Economics and Psychology and Educational Sciences.

We also visited the laboratory and building of sciences, where many very old simple instruments and machines for measuring and weighting anything you can think of, gasses, metals, distance of planets in the solar system and others, too many to absorb in one visit.

After our walking tour of Coimbra and a nice Sushi lunch we went on our way to Porto, only 120 kms from Coimbra, on the coast. The weather was grey, drizzly and only 20° Celcius, as opposed to our 30 degrees in Almonte, but it was a nice change from the dusty heat.

The Pleasures of Porto

Luis I Double-Deck Bridge

We arrived in Porto slightly after the check-in time and had gotten detailed instructions how to get into our ‘Vintage’ apartment right at the river at Avenida Gustavo Eiffel. From the apartment we had a wonderful view of the other side of the River Douro to  Vila Nova da Gaia and the Luis I Bridge, a double-deck iron construction,the top for the tram and buses, below for cars and pedestrians. An amazing sight.

I really begin to fall in love with north Portugal. It does not have the stony harshness and touristy feel of the Algarve, but maybe I haven’t seen enough of that part yet. I am attracted to the fresher feel, the greener vegetation and old trees, which are missing in the deep south of Spain and Portugal.

Also the flair of a crumbling, decaying former colonial civilisation is part of Portugal’s attraction, being the poorer neighbour of a much bigger Spain. I have to admit, I also prefer the music in Portugal, which is more influenced by English tunes on the radio, they seem to be stuck in the 80’, and the more french sounding traditional songs. Also because of the financial constraints American tv shows in english are not dubbed and so the Portugese speak and understand english well, which makes it much easier for us there,as we are still struggling to get a handle on the southern Andalusian dialect back home in Almonte.

Did we make the right choice? It could have maybe been easier settling in Portugal, but would we have had the great experiences growing olives and welcoming guests as we have now?

It’s not too late, our next move could be to Portugal…

But let me tell you about the cute wine bar that was only two houses from our apartment, A Bolina. We spend both nights there, eating (nearly) everything on the menu, which was not that much, as it has more wines than dishes, being a wine bar. I discovered a Portugese cake without flour and with pumpkin jam which I will try to bake soon, which is right down my path of gluten-free cooking.

The next day Nigel took a day off driving and we boarded the Yellow Bus for two tours around Porto AND its twin across the Douro, Vila Nova da Gaia.

Its a great way to learn about the history and interesting places without getting sore feet, getting lost or wasting time waiting for buses, additionally it was raining, so we huddled under the covered part on top of the bus.

We had a nice seafood lunch in Matosinhos [https://porto-north-portugal.com/matosinhos-porto-portugal.html] a major fishing and surfing town with lots of beaches and any amount of restaurants to chose from.

seagulls resting

We also tried out the funicular, that brings you from the river level up to the old town for €2.50 which is pulled up along the old city wall of Porto.

Across the River Doura is the much bigger town of Vila Nova da Gaia as I mentioned before. And actually Porto is a bit of a imposter, as the wine of the Douro region is actually stored in the cellars of  Gaia! All the well-known port wine manufacturers, like Sandeman, Taylor’s and Cálem have their warehouses there to export around the world [https://www.travel-in-portugal.com/vila-nova-de-gaia].

We happen to bring back a bottle of said ‘Portwine’ and boy, is it strong with its 19% vol alcohol. As we learned on our bus tour, to enhance the flavour and preserving the wine, they add a dash of  grape spirit called aguardente after 4 days fermentation, this process is  called fortification.

authentic Port Wine

[look here for in-depth knowledge of the several different types of port wines https://wetravelportugal.com/port-wine/ ].

The next day we drove east across Portugal to visit a lawn growing enterprise near Placencia in Spain. The drive through the mountainous terrain inland was so different from our level plains around Almonte.

Tobacco in Placencia

The outstanding feature around Caceres and Placencia are the tobacco fields and drying sheds. We had not a clue what these huge brick buildings were used for that were scattered in the fields until our curiosity could not be contained any longer and we drove up close to some buildings. As soon as I looked inside I realised they were tobacco drying sheds as the leaves were hanging up on rafters on several levels. Women were working , tying the bundles, stripping the dried leaves off the stalks and stashing the leaves into boxes bound for Switzerland to be used as chewing tobacco. I had no idea that people still use that stuff.

Apparently the tobacco drying warehouses contain different varieties of tobacco for the mixing of flavour. I have seen dried tobacco before, in Ireland. Even there once tobacco was grown for the domestic market.

Placencia and Caceres, being in the province of Extremadura, are a prime example for an industry that hasn’t changed much through the centuries, watching the women doing their work by hand with the so called ‘dark tobacco’, all year round as they tell us.

A Short History of Tobacco in Spain

It was back in 1492 when Christopher Columbus, in his first trip to America came across people smoking a cone called “Tabaco”. Seville then developed as the port that received all the legal trade with America and from there tobacco first entered into Europe.

The French ambassador in Spain brought the tobacco plant to France, from where the plant and habit of smoking spread across Europe. The first tobacco factory was established in Seville in 1728.

In 1636 the first tobacco monopoly in the world was established. It was called “Real Estanco del Tabaco”. However, the Canary Islands have a special tax regime and were never part of the Monopoly so other companies make cigarettes and cigars in the islands, with many small cigar manufacturers existing, mainly in the Island of La Palma.

The number of tobacco factories in the Spanish Peninsula has been reduced since the 1990s from 13 to 2, one for cigarettes in Logroño and one for cigars in Cantabria.

Tobacco is grown in several regions of Spain with Extremadura producing 95% of the total production, especially in the valleys of the Tiétar, Alagón rivers and Jerte, in the North of Cáceres, providing an income to around 20,000 families in the region.

The traditional Dark Air Cured Tobacco (Tabaco Negro) has been replaced by flue-cured and Burley for its use in American blends. The traditional Spanish Dark Air Cured cigarettes nowadays represent 10% of the market, with American Blend cigarettes being the most popular ones. Virginia, Burley (E and F), Havana and Kentucky are the varieties that are the main crops being Virginias of greater extension with a total of 8.167 hectares.

Spain is the third biggest producer of tobacco in Europe. Through the overproduction in countries in America and Asia the international market is saturated and thus the industries here in Spain claim that they can barely pay the farmer 2.40 euro per kg. A century ago contributed around 16 percent of the country’s GDP Spain’s tobacco industry. Today, that figure has fallen to one percent, the overwhelming majority coming from heavy sales taxes.

Another blow to the tobacco industry is the EU-wide ban on menthol cigarettes commenced in  May 2020. And this is the reason our German guests was unable to find her favoured smoke, when she visited in late September. In response the tobacco industry circumvents these new laws by selling menthol oil to drop onto your filter or self-roll tobacco or menthol flavoured filters.

In 2018, tobacco companies sold 31.4 billion flavoured cigarettes in European Union countries, the highest consumers being in Finland, Poland, Hungary and the UK. Now no cigarette with a characterizing flavour can be sold in these 28 countries to prevent young smokers to get adiccted to a perceived ‘healthier’ cigarette.

Sources:

https://www.interempresas.net/Agricola/Articulos/52072-Extremadura-campo-de-cultivo-del-tabaco-espanol.html

https://english.elpais.com/elpais/2016/01/27/inenglish/1453899453_789142.html

https://www.thenationalnews.com/business/in-pictures-tobacco-farming-in-spain-1.262797

Early summer in February

dav

Fresh grass in Vila Nova

We had some time on our hands, a few days with no guests booked and decided to go on our second trip to Vila Nova de Milfontes on the Portuguese West coast to collect our new lawn. This time it was gorgeously sunny and warm. The hotel HS Milfontes Beach, Duna Parque hotel Group, sits right at the beach with a breathtaking view from the restaurant. In the winter it hosts Olympic rowing athletes from Russia, Poland, France, Germany and other countries training for the next competitions.

We booked the ‘Romantic Break’ just after Valentine’s day and so were greeted by a chilled bottle of bubbly and towels shaped into swans with lots of red hearts dotted everywhere. The price was a steal for €82 for one night including dinner buffet and breakfast buffet.

Because we had traveled with jeep and trailer and not stopped on the way we were hungry and made the most of the buffet, so much so that bed was the only option after eating our way through all that was on offer and since they were used to hungry young sportsmen and ~women there was plenty of good food: freshly baked pizzas, sushi made on-site, salads, fish and meats cooked to your liking and anything else.

The breakfast buffet was good and I had per-ordered gluten-free bread which came with two gluten-free muffins.

dav

We had a stroll through the charming cobble-paved streets and drove up to the other side of the river Rio Mira before collecting our tonne of freshly cut and rolled up lawn. Camposol does not only grow grass/turf for football pitches, golf courses and amenity sites, it also grows root vegetables for the Spanish and French market.

On our way home we were stopped to let about a thousand racing cyclists pass, also from all over Europe.

News from the Garden

We have a few newbies, apart from another fountain at the front we purchased a set of garden furniture on-line through Mano-Mano. The set includes 6 pieces and came in boxes. Unlabelled. The instructions author should take a leaf from the Ikea book, but  I put them together eventually.

Nigel has fulfilled his dream to do away with the plain brown tiles around the base of the house and replaced them with decorative tiles.

Our garden, which has lovely fresh peas, leeks and cabbage available at the moment (in February!) is being extended into the old potato plot. We installed a fiberglass container as a Hochbeet (high plot), filled it with layers of twigs, home-made compost and soil and it has now chamomile, carrots, beans and maize coming on. The carrots and chamomile were direct sown and covered with fleece, which speeded up germination and the maize and beans were raised in my little hotframe.

This must have been the hottest February on record. We had 24 degrees on at least 3 days and the beach and restaurants in Matalascañas were packed on the Sunday.

Out the Window…..

On the second last day of February we had our brush with a suspected case of corona virus.

A mother and daughter had booked to stay for 3 nights and on arrival the mother felt really ill and went to the local health center. She received antibiotics and was told it was just an infection. In reality there are no testing kits for the Covid-19 virus available, so nobody knows what she had. Her symptoms were headaches, fever, lethargy, no appetite while her daughter was coughing across the table. We took it upon ourselves to entertain her 8-year old daughter, who was full of energy, loved our cat Jack, enjoyed the hammock, and played cards with us and with the soap bubbles for a while.

Unfortunately we had a full house and the guests downstairs overheard the conversation and slipped out the back window in the morning to avoid contact with the sick lady.

They did however explain themselves to Nigel, when he was out feeding the hens. This lady had asthma and so was alarmed and afraid to contract the virus. They still loved it here and promised to be back.

In the meantime I proceeded to contact the as-yet-to-arrive guests, what I thought was my duty under the circumstances, as the sick guest worked at the Madrid Airport and we received one cancellation. At this stage we weren’t feeling too well ourselves with a tension headache. I proceeded to close all our rooms for three days, just in case.

In the end the sick lady decided it was best to return home, even though it meant to drive to Sevilla, return the hired car and take the train to Madrid, meanwhile spreading whatever made her sick.

Today we feel better and are much relieved to have a full house of healthy guests…

 Out the window, the second

As you are not allowed to smoke in the rooms, the guests in our downstairs bedroom seem to make a habit out of opening the tall window and stepping outside to smoke, leaving their stubs behind.

As for the other st of guests, which also smoked and booked for two, arrived with three (bringing the teenage daughter also), and then complained the bed wasn’t comfortable enough and stating that there were clearly three windows and no bars, they gave us a 6.3 score.

I feel like commenting in my reply to their review, if you want bars go to prison…

 

THE STORKS ARE BACK

dav

 

For the past two weeks already the storks are making themselves at home and comfortable in their nests around here. In La Palma de Condado the pair on top of the church were busy repairing the storm damage by adjusting and adding twigs to their nest.

 

Any days we have no guests we use to explore our area. We still know very little about the town of Huelva and its beaches. So one Sunday we drove to Punta Umbria, which is another summer escape for town people with hotels, villas, apartments and restaurants. It also has a sports boat harbour. In the winter of course it’s quiet and not many places are open but there will always be people at the weekends and fiesta days to enjoy the sand, sea and stunning views.

 

The other good news is that WE NOW HAVE A GENERATOR IN PLACE. There is no solar system in place, as far as i know and have researched, that has not got a back-up system in place. Most dwellings are connected to the net, if they are not, they have a generator. Ours took a while to arrive because it will run automatically once the solar battery bank reaches a low level. It is such a relief and it got us already over one week of rain and the period of shortest day length. For the past three weeks we have spent about €30 on diesel to recharge our batteries. Which is essential for pumping water for showers and toilets, wash machine and generally all appliances and lights.

 

 

The Private Health Saga

There are two health systems in Spain; the public one, where 95% of the population are looked after, everybody that is employed here, and the private system, where you voluntarily pay a health insurer, that’s us. We are unfortunately not eligible for the public system because we arrived here after 2012, when eligibility changed and excludes immigrants, which are not employed. Even though we work, we are self-employed and pay taxes, which do not entitle us for free health care. It’s complicated. In order to qualify we would need to pay monthly contribution of at least €280 per person, rising with age. The public system is good, one of the best in Europe, but there are also waiting times for surgery etc. Anyway, so we pay a little less than €200 for two per month, which pays for a range of essential health care, i.e. consultations, x-ray, biopsy, annual check up plus blood test and others we haven’t yet needed. It does not pay for medication or dentistry, although a yearly check-up and cleaning is included.

This is a rural area, Huelva with ca. 100,000 inhabitants being the next biggest town. So there is not much choice in private clinics or doctors. We are currently on No. 2, which is a lady doctor in La Palma de Condado, hence the photos. We needed to change as the previous doctor, a heavily overweight guy who practices only on Wednesday afternoons in Almonte and sits otherwise in Pilas, was very inefficient. It took three visits until he finally gave us a referral for blood tests and his prescription for Nigel turned out to give him increasingly painful muscle cramps. Every time we go, he swipes the insurance card and cashes in.

For my annual check-up I have teamed up with Teresa and we go to the private hospital ‘Costa de la Luz’ in Huelva together. It has all the specialists and equipment to do all sorts of investigations and surgery. I am only exploring at this stage and am very lucky to have Teresa to explain the ins and outs to me and even make the appointments. This is actually quite normal here in Spain, usually all the family goes together to any doctor and gathers daily around the hospital bed.

In the public system all is happening streamlined as you would expect it from Germany, Ireland or England. In the private system here however it seems you are punished for your choice and money. Everything has to be done by the patient, the doctor basically only writes referrals and prescriptions. So for the blood test we have to go to another location, a laboratory that specialises just in taken and analysing bloods. For x-ray it’s another special unit, or the hospital. For any tests you have to get them done, collect the results in person another day and bring them to your GP who will interpret them and write a prescription. Luckily in the Costa De La Luz Hospital all specialists are in the same location. But that doesn’t mean you get all the investigations done in one day, or the results. That’s as far as we have figured it out.

Christmas – Navidad at Casa Halcon

sdr

 

We had pre-Christmas visitors, Dylan, Nigel’s son and his girlfriend Kaycee from Hongkong.

It was nice to have youngsters around and I really enjoyed this bit of family-time. Of course we showed them the usual places, El Rocio, the beach in Matalascanas, Mazagon and Christopher Columbus’s ships by Huelva. One day they took the bus to Sevilla.

 

We included a trip to the western side of Portugal, to Vila Nova de Milfontes, because there is a company, Camposol, that grows roll-out grass, which Nigel wants to use for our front lawn. This place has a lovely beach, with a river outlet and even though it was rainy, windy and dull it looked stunning. I am already looking forward staying there again, this time without the rain, when we go back in March to collect our piece of ready-made lawn.

Kaycee gave an impromptu concert on the piano in the restaurant where we had a few drinks. She is a gifted musician and it was a really uplifting, wonderful experience listening to her. Unfortunately it rained all the time during their few days with us, so not many photos were taken. These photos below are taken from the web to show the location.

But honestly, this cute town should be kept as a secret, because it kept its charme  by not being build-up with hotels and is mainly enjoyed by locals and Portugese, see https://algarve-south-portugal.com/vila-nova-de-milfontes-portugal.html for more information.

Vila-Novade-Milfontes.8

 

 

LISBON

IMG_20180901_134251

We have actually worked quite hard between Nigel amongst the olives and me keeping the house, the pool and the larder in good shape for the rotating arrival of guests since the end of June. So I was ready for a little break.

My daughter spent a weeklong holiday in Lisbon with her boyfriend. I took this as my cue to visit her there (If the mountain will not come to Muhammad, then Muhammad must go to the mountain…).

IMG-20180908-WA0001

So we went on a whistle-stop tour to Lisbon with our trusty Toyota. This took us 5 ½ hours, including an hour lunch break in a small but dear town, whose name I forgot. It was a prosperous town because of the quartz mine and the aluminium factory nearby. Hence the prices were surprising steep for a countryside town somewhere off the main motorway.

We arrived in Lisbon via the A2 over a bridge, that spans the Tagus river and gives a nice view of the town.

We had managed to book a stylish Airbnb in the heart of the Alfama, the old town, not far from the Church of São Vicente of Fora  and the flea market on the Saturday.

Lisbon has a different feel and flair. I like its shabby chic, the bygone glory of a different era still visible in its architecture and the antique shops. It is of course a tourist trap and hence expensive in the old town quarter, the Alfama.

We had only one day to spend and went to Sintra. Definitely worth a visit, but bring good walking shoes. We drove to Sintra town with our Toyota and parked for free in the town. We then looked for a bus to bring us to the mountain top castle. Waiting at the bus stop a Tuc-Tuc, the Portuguese Rickshaw, came by and we hitched a lift with the second, as the price was a lot better than the first chap quoted us. He also lied about the price of the bus ticket, but we are not that gullible. The way up is quite long and steep, so if you want to last the whole day do yourself a favour and take a lift.

Horse drawn cart ride through the Park of Pena.

In the Sintra-Cascais Natural Park is situated the fairy-tale looking Palace of Pena, a feast for the eyes and a breezy spot up on top of the turrets and wall-walk. The whole park is made of wondrous winding paths and surprises like fountains, a cute Chalet which belonged the Countess of Edla, stables for the amazing looking draught horses and randomly scattered seats of stone or carved wood. Within walking distance is the Hilltop Moorish Fortress, which also grants views over the whole National Park up to the coast.

On the way back we started walking but were a bit discouraged by the distance and again a Tuc-Tuc came puttering about and we got a real speedy, cheap ride to the car park for €10. It was a bit like being on a rollercoaster, speeding downhill around the sharp bends and the wind whistling in our ears.

We left Lisbon over the 17 kms long Ponte Vasco de Gama, with the morning haze slowly lifting.

IMG_20180902_082519

On the way we saw cork oak forests and  a truck bringing the cork and timber to its destination.