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.
I 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 …)