Portugal–Part Two

Back at the Oriente metro station on Sunday, I made a beeline for the mainline station and found the platform for my train to Fundao. The train arrived exactly on the minute. My brother had pre-booked my ticket and kindly got me a window seat. The train journey wasn’t that exciting, but I had plenty to read. It was strange not having any form of ticket, but I needn’t have worried. Once I gave the conductor my name, I was allow to continue my trip, which took three hours.

The view from the train to FundaoI took this from the train as we approached Fundao.

I could hardly wait to see the property Roger and Billy had bought and I was really looking forward to settling into Pastor’s Cottage up on the hill.

I’d visited them in Montpellier over a decade ago when they were managing a little hotel there. Both of them are wizards of the land and manage to make something beautiful everywhere they live. But the area in which they now live is arid which necessitates experimenting with what grows and what doesn’t.

They met me at Fundao train station and we had a cup of coffee in a café in the sun before heading back in their little jeep to their Quinta in Paradise Valley (Vale de Prazarez).

Their Quinta is near the Spanish border. On a clear day you can see Spain in the distance.

the view from the terrace of Pastor's cottage

We sat out on their terrace and admired the full moon which was perfectly aligned beside the neon-blue cross over the village church down in the valley.  Billy made a special local dish for dinner. It was very thoughtful of him as I’m pretty sure it was in my honour.

On Monday morning Billy and I went to the market in Fundao where all the locals come to sell their wares, plants, vegetables, baskets, piles of dried cod, all sorts of grains and beans and piles of clothes, shoes, boots and sets of knickers, men’s underwear and what-have-you.

It's a cod at the market    grain and beans at the market Fundao

After the market we met up with a couple of their friends at a local café. The cafés are generally very basic, and this one was no exception, but it is generally a very unpretentious place. Ann and Grant have also taken a big step out of the so-called rat race and have bought a plot of land there too, on the other side of the mountain. They’re making a new life for themselves, renovating an old ruin, planting vegetables and living in very simple conditions until the house is finished. All this while trying to learn the language—it can’t be easy.

This area of Portugal is famous for its cherries. I knew this because Margreda had mentioned it to me, as did a couple of other people I’d met along the way.  The sad thing is that a lot of the young people have left the area to live and work elsewhere. There were several ruins right in the local village. The irony is that most of the new influx of people come from cities like Brighton where the cost of living, I believe, has become exorbitant. I met several of them when we went to the local pub, and I remember one conversation in which a fellow in his forties was berating the price of rents and the cost of his daily commute to London to work. I suppose it all balances out in the end. Some leave, others come. But these ‘others’ obviously have to have capital and live frugally as I imagine there aren’t many jobs available.

ruin in the village

Finally, I moved into my little cottage, which basically consists of one-room open-plan (with bathroom). It’s perfect for a single or a couple. I bought a few basics and set myself up. I was glad my husband suggested I take my Notebook because I had music and could continue writing my next novel.

Billy had enticed me, saying the walls of the cottage contain quartz from the local mountains, and that one of the guests had said she’s awoken with all these sparkles lighting up the room.  He also said it was a hotspot for UFO sightings, but I suspect he was pulling my leg. At least I didn’t see any unidentified objects. It was so serene and I didn’t feel the need to do anything much, except sit out on the gorgeous terrace, listen to music, read and write a bit. Usually, around noon, I’d hear Billy making a bird call and spot him through the trees, climbing up the hill like a young goat. (I know he’ll be flattered by that!). That was my prompt to put on the kettle and make some coffee.

picture of the cottage PortugalIMG_20170413_124651


In the evening I’d go down and join them for dinner. They were very hospitable and we had some good laughs, listening to music and singing to some oldies.

They were both working on the land, planting, cutting back, digging, clearing the well, taking care of the chickens and of course, doing all the work involved in keeping a B&B (although actually breakfast isn’t included). They’d leave fresh veggies of the season, or fruit, and eggs if the chickens were being productive. For the few days I was there, the guests were mainly from Spain, but I know they’ve had guests from all over as you can see by the brilliant testimonials.


On Wednesday, we visited Castelo Branco, the nearest big town and had a little breakfast in a nicer café on the square. It was lovely watching the world go by and seeing all the locals out and about. We then walked around town and ended up in a mall, where we had lunch. They did their ‘big food shopping’ in Lidl (yes, they’re everywhere). The first thing we did was look to see what plants were on offer that day. They really do love their garden. Roger bought a big bag of clams. They had lobster and all sorts of seafood there and it was interesting comparing produce to my local Lidl. We were all glad to be back to the serenity of ‘home’ after the hustle and bustle of the city and the midday heat.

I had another few hours on the terrace with a grand view down the valley. The weather was perfect—at the beginning of April it was about 26 deg. with a slight breeze.  I don’t know where all the wildlife was hiding because I didn’t see many birds, or wild boar during my stay. But I believe the locals love to hunt everything that flaps, peeps or grunts, and so I suppose the animals were there somewhere. I took a few excursions in the vicinity of the cottage and checked out the wildflowers, the pond etc. but I was resting my leg and so I must admit, I was pretty lazy.

small blue flower at the Quinta         IMG_20170413_124453


Later, Roger prepared those delicious clams with garlic, lemon juice and coriander and a fantastic mixed salad, topped off with fresh strawberries soaked in Port wine.

And all too soon, my fantastic holiday was over. The evening before I left, there was a Reggae Party in the next village, organised by one of the local ‘new’ residents. We met up with some of the others in the pub beforehand and had delicious gin and tonics for the grand price of €2.50 a glass.

The evening was a great success. I particularly enjoyed watching the African Dance performance–yes, I know it was a Reggae Party–by a lovely woman from Porto. She said she was returning in August to teach a workshop. I said I definitely wouldn’t be returning in August as it would be far too hot for me. We chatted to her and her husband outside while we waited for the taxi driver to arrive. What lovely people.

I knew it would be late, and my train was leaving at about 7 a.m. the next morning.


That’s all for now, folks!

Sorry, I know this is long.

Photos all taken with my phone. i did my best.

(to be continued …)


If You Want to Write


photo: thanks to pixabay and pablo

I’ve written this as an inspiration to others who may have been longing to write for years but who haven’t started yet. And I may continue this theme by writing about the books that have inspired me and how I went about publishing my book. 

I love to write, but so do millions of others. But could I actually write a novel? Should I? Why not?  If you can imagine it, you can do it. Then there’s the age old battle between the ego and the spirit. Should I remain humble and keep my mumblings to myself, or should I live my dream and publish a book, or two, or three?

It’s so easy and yet so hard. We must learn the rules of writing. And what better way to learn this that to give it a try. Start with a short story. But read, read the classics, read different genres. These authors make it look so easy, right?

At some stage, you’ll begin to read like a writer. You’ll find yourself thinking about the way the scene was set up, or the way the character was portrayed. How did the author do that? Where did they get their ideas from?

We might look at Picasso’s work and think ‘What the dickens was he on?’ His abstract paintings look simple. And what’s with all those distorted heads?  But his style was innovative at the time. He had learned the ropes so he could afford to do something ‘different.’ He knew all about perspective, colour and form.

A writer’s tools may be different. We have to learn how to paint pictures with words, create characters with depth and paint scenes in such a way that the reader can see them vividly. Learn the basics and go create your unique story.

What kind of book would you like to read? Do you have a theme you’d like to explore?

Anything is possible, almost.

I think that’s the secret. That’s where you should begin, by writing a story that pleases you.

While some people cannot write without an outline, others just begin and hope it will all come together at some stage. I fall somewhere in between.

It’s a good idea to keep a journal and jot down your ideas.

Even if you write on your computer, the journal writing and the plotting should be done with good old pen and paper. At least that’s what works better for me.

And you might find yourself distracted as you go about your day, wondering what your characters are up to when you’re not controlling them. They might even begin to control you.

One thing I’ve learned is that it’s impossible to please everybody. Somebody will find your plot too unrealistic, your characters too flat, your pacing too slow and your story unoriginal. That’s the risk you have to take when you finally put your book out there for the public to see and critique. Some will love it; some won’t. That’s life!

Don’t give up. Write the next one. Learn from your mistakes. Be daring.

Listen to critique, take it on board, work constantly on improving yourself, but more than anything else trust your own instincts.

Don’t write for the glory or the fame, or for the money. Do it because you love it.

Commit to writing a little every day. While writing a novel can seem like a momentous task, if you write a page a day you’ll have a book finished within a year.

If you begin without any great idea of a plot, create interesting characters and see how they interact with each other. Write one scene with these characters. Describe the setting. Play with dialogue. There are many good books on all aspects of writing. Read as many as you can but be careful not to  become paralysed by all these rules.

You’ll reach a place in your novel where you’ll need to figure out where the story is going. This is where mind-mapping or other such tools can be most useful. Plotting is tricky. I’m currently writing my second novel and am trying to work my way through a difficult plot line. I know where I want to go but am not sure how to get there yet. I don’t want to waste days of writing only to have to go back and delete all my hard work. Because it is hard work.

You can write for years, spend a small fortune on books and workshops, travel to see your favourite authors talk, and all without any promise of reward, except the feeling of having completed another novel.

Sometimes I listen to binaural beats when I’m writing. There are many on YouTube and I find them particularly useful. I cannot listen to lyrics when I’m writing, but I do need some sort of light background music. I also listen to classical music. It can be dramatic if the scene is dramatic, or light piano music if I don’t want to be distracted.

If you get stuck in one chapter, you can leave it and continue to the next scene. That’s the beauty of computers. Imagine how laborious it was to write a novel before the dawn of computers? Now, we can delete and add sections as we see fit. We can move chapters around. We can use the ‘search and find’ option, and we can format as we go along. I usually edit as I go along, but a lot of writers advise getting the story on the page first. That’ll be your first draft. Afterwards you can go back and edit.

We all have our own pace. Appoach your writing as a delicious addiction, it will bring you both pain and pleasure. It is not a race.

Keep reminding yourself that most of the writers who are applauded today collected many rejection slips on their path to success.  They never gave up.

I began posting my writing on an international writing site about ten years ago. I was nervous at first, but I started with poetry. Although I hadn’t written poetry for years, I loved playing with words and rhyme. I signed up using a pseudonym, paid the small fee and quickly wrote a couple of poems and posted them. I tried to settle my galloping heart as I ducked for cover.  Since I’d given myself a pseudonym, I felt safe and anonymous.  Imagine my delight when I checked in a few hours later. Yuhooo!  I had great feedback. I got gold stars. This was fun. A published poet became my first fan. ‘You have it in you,’ he said.  I felt a bit like a pretender.  If I was really a poet I would have been collecting and reading poetry books, wouldn’t I?  True, I had a few, but certainly not a slew. I found it easier to condense my thoughts and put them in poetry form. It didn’t take as long to write a poem as it did to write a short story either.

Ah, but that was my ultimate goal—to write short stories or novels.

And so I began writing short stories, more poems and then a novel. I’d post a chapter of my novel every week. That was doable. I could fit it in around my other duties. It was great getting feedback, and I learned a lot that way. But it was taking up a lot of my time; it was becoming an addiction. Not only was I writing, but I was also reading a lot of the other members’ work. The more work you reviewed, the more points you accrued, which in turn allowed you to post your next piece of work. There was another option, which was to pay for each piece of work you wrote. I didn’t choose that one for obvious reasons.

I began recognising names and making online writing buddies. It was a helpuful and fun community and remarkably well-run.

Since I live in Germany, I didn’t have a writing community here. Joining an online group was definitely the next best thing. In fact,  I was quite prolific during those couple of years. There were several published novelists on there and great poets too.

That was what got me started. I’m ever grateful for the advances in technology and the ability to connect with people from all over the world. I’ve met some incredibly helpful and supportive people online, particularly on Facebook. I’ve even met some of them in person. This is my motivation for sharing what I’ve learned.

But there are many challenges. Like posting pictures and removing the image of your face floating in the clouds. I’ll work on that.

Tschüss for now!

A Trip to Ireland

IMG_20160510_141924It seems as if we’ve been on the road for ages. We’ve seen so much, and now that it’s raining (spilling out of the heavens, in fact), it’s the perfect time to write a new blog post. I’m enclosing some random photos which I’ve taken with my mobile. I loved this house below, obviously derelict. I’d love to know who went to the trouble of painting in the faux doors and windows. This was on the way to Glasson, in the heart of Ireland. I wanted to pop into a craft shop, but it was Tuesday and the shop was closed. We did find a lovely little pub next door and had lunch there, so all was not wasted.

We came over for my nephew’s wedding, which was held in Slane, Co. Meath. It was fantastic to see all the family again and meet some new people too. The music was great, both at the wedding and afterwards, with various musicians and friends of Peter entertaining us all. It was one of the nicest weddings I’ve ever attended. The couple made their own vows, the sun shone, the mood was great and everyone was wrapped in the melody of love.

Since Slane is just around the corner from Newgrange and The Hill of Tara, we extended our stay a couple of days and inhaled a bit of history and culture.

The picture below is of Newgrange; it doesn’t look too spectacular, but the energy was pretty amazing there. I didn’t feel the same at The Hill of Tara, but we had a most interesting encounter in the coffee shop.

We climbed the hill, walked around a bit, checked out the eerie graveyard with the typical half-fallen stones and faded engravings of a bygone era. The ominous sound of cawking crows nesting in the high trees added to the sinister feeling. IMG_20160506_163211

There was a coffee shop and gift shop to the front of the actual hills, and it was doing a buzzing trade, so much so that we sat at the front, away from the crowds, in a little niche.

A man in his sixties came to sit beside us, asking if that was alright.

“Sure;” we said, in unison.

I moved my hat and coat to make space for him.

“I’m dying for a cup of tea,” he said, as he looked around him. “I’m waiting for my client.” He stabbed his fork into a delicious-looking chocolate eclair and took a bite. He even had us on edge, wondering who and where this client was. “Yes, this is my third year working for this particular client,” he said. “He’s from the U.S., looking for his ancestors. Problem is, he doesn’t have a name.”

“Well, that’s going to be hard,” I said. Maybe you need a psychic.”

It was a joke.

“I’m a psychic,” he said.

“Really.” I checked his eyes to see if he was joking.

“Actually, I’m a healer,” he continued. I don’t charge for my services. Why don’t you turn around.”

I caught the glint in my husband’s eye, as I obediently turned to the side.

The man put his hand on my lower back and I immediately felt a surge of warm energy rise upward. I knew he was not a fraud, although my husband later insisted he was some sort of a chancer.

“I didn’t tell my client I’m a psychic,” he said. I understood that. Too many sceptics around. IMG_20160506_144443

It was a bizarre encounter, like something out of a film. My husband was enchanted, as was I. “This could only happen in Ireland,” he said.

I would have loved to catch a glimpse of that ‘client’ but never did. We spotted Robbie again on the partking lot. He jumped out of his big car when he saw us, bluetooth headset in his ear. Still no sign of his client.

After another few days in my hometown, catching up with friends and family, we even made it to The Kilbeggan Races and placed a couple of bets on horses. Two of my horses placed and I recouped my minimal bets. IMG_20160513_194828


to be continued….




Petals of One Flower


We watch and wait with bated breath and woe

Confronted with confounded sense and fears

Events unfurl, such sudden death, in tow

Who’s next we ask, in sad suspense, and tears


To see our clan who suffers such travails

While we continue with our lives back here

We pause to feel their sadness, hear their tales

The pain’s so harsh; we flee and go not there


We enter worlds, distracting from that place,

Where buds are sprouting from awakened soil.

Birds chirp and chatter, dismal thoughts erase

Horrific scenes from whence our souls recoil.


This too will pass and we’ll forget once more

For this is how we cope with fear and stress

What’s far away cannot affect our core

It’s nature’s way to toss it and suppress


We must remember in this most dismal hour

That all of us are petals of one flower


Throwing Seeds for Bees


We’re in between two eclipses
Illuminating insecurities
Re-examining our past
Getting glimpses of the future
Where are we going? What’s important?
What’ll we leave behind?
The baggage, the worn-out clothes
Idiotic ideas, psychobabble

And you know, you can’t find your own truth
If you don’t listen to yourself
Cut out the noise for a while every day
Re-align yourself with who you are
Go back to the happy times, the best moments
Those times you laughed out loud
They are probably the simplest moments

Maybe it is true that this stage we’re on
The play we’re in is self-written
Isn’t that just something?
We can mould and shape is as we want
Rewrite the script
Add more humour, snazz up the dialogue
Cut out some of the annoying characters

Our cells respond to the vibration of the words
The thoughts we think, the food we eat
The drinks we drink
Let’s think dazzling thoughts
plant a few pansies
They’re not expensive
Or Violas with their little smiling faces
Dig up a few weeds and cut back
The rose bushes?
If you know where to cut; I’m not always sure

The sun will be shining soon and you want that
Garden to be pretty
But don’t cut back too far
Leave room for the bird’s nests
And don’t forget to throw
Handfuls of wild flowers seeds
We need those bees