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 …)


Portugal Part 1


Travelling is good for the soul.

I think we all need to step out of the hustle and bustle of life every now and again. Holidays are so rejuvenating. We can forget about duties, bills and the everyday pressures of life. At least it’s true for me.

I’ve just returned from my first ever trip to Portugal and had such a fantastic time. My main reason for going there was to visit my brother Billy and his partner Roger. Last year they took the plunge, sold their house in Ireland and moved to Roger’s home country, Portugal. They bought property near the Spanish border and have been working like crazy renovating the three houses (which are now complete), clearing out wells, planting and beautifying their spot of heaven. I was really curious to see it for myself and had booked seven nights in the stone cottage,  one of the properties on their land.

More about that in Part II.

When I mentioned to my friend, Muffy, that I was planning on stopping off in Lisbon or Porto and spending a night or two there, she said, ‘Oh, you must visit my friend, Margarida. She has a B&B outside Lisbon.  Without further ado, I booked two nights in Margarida’s B&B.

Sometimes we are faced with challenges when we really want to do something.

My challenge was a tendon problem in my right leg. It appeared out of nowhere when I was walking with my husband a couple of weeks prior to my trip.  I was seriously worried about navigating my way up and down stairs with luggage. I was also nervous because I’d never been to Portugal before.

Maybe I was getting cold feet!

Or becoming paralysed with fear?

Our bodies have an interesting way of reacting to our subconscious fears.

But I was going to do it anyway. I’m very stubborn when it comes to seeing things through.

A week beforehand, I was at the hairdressers.  The hairdresser asked me where I was from. I said Ireland. “Oh, that’s interesting. I’d love to go there,” she said. “A friend of mine is visiting Scotland at the moment.” And she went on to tell me that this friend is very active in the local community and that she’s an amazing woman who just married a couple of years ago. “Both she and her new husband married late, just a couple of years ago, and her husband has a severe disability which makes walking difficult for him.”

That was it. Here I was fretting over a small problem but these two people were travelling to Scotland despite severe mobility problems.

The cosmic web has an interesting way of passing on messages to us. We’ve all heard of that book falling off the shelf, hearing an interview on the radio or a song that magically provides us with a solution to our problem. Oftentimes, these messages come in dreams. So be alert for messages.

I had a fabulous time staying with Margarida Freitas and her lovely partner in their B&B in Monte Estoril, outside Lisbon. Granted, I had to take the Metro, change lines, get a mainline train there, but it was well worth it.


As we sat out on Margarida’s terrace that first evening, exchanging stories, drinking wine and snacking on olives and cheese,  she convinced me to visit Sintra instead of travelling back to Lisbon the next day. Since I tend to follow the signs, I did as she suggested.

The next morning we walked down the hill to the waterfront and continued along the coastal promenade to Cascais, which is a couple of kilometers away. The electric blue water sparkled and palm trees swayed in the breeze in 25 deg balmy sunshine.  This was really exciting. I had no idea how gorgeous it would be. Joggers passed us by and people were sunbathing in early April! A woman in her seventies stopped to talk to Margarida, blew kisses to us and zoomed off with her shopping trolley. Margarida told me that older woman does that walk several times a day.

I’d been looking at brochures the night before and decided to visit Quinta de Regaleira, one of Sintra’s many tourist destinations. It sounded the most interesting as it is steeped in mysticism and contains an eclectic mix of esoteric symbolism, statues of Greek Gods, a deep well signifying Dante’s layers of hell, a lovely little chapel, statues of Greek Gods, and many other fascinating details. It’s not huge, and you can roam the forest-like grounds for an hour or two and soak up the peacful atmosphere, which is just what I did.

I took the bus to Sintra. I think I probably got off a bit too early; apparently there’s an old part of the city and a new part. After walking for a few minutes, I spotted an interesting-looking boutique and couldn’t resist . . .

That’s the joy of travelling by yourself. You can do what you like, when you like.

I bought myself a much-needed backpack and a straw hat. The sun was quite hot at this stage and the backpack was definitely a good buy.


But I need it, Mommy, as Cassandra, my friend’s daughter used to say.

I knew these would be my only purchases on this trip and, let’s face it, they were necessary. I dumped all my accoutrements, sunglasses, phone, diary, pens, scarf (in case it got cold) and my purse into the backpack and found somewhere around the corner, on a side street, to have lunch.


The café was perfect and the food was freshly-made and delicious.

Fortified and feeling quite peaceful, I continued walking into the buzzing centre of Sintra. It was teeming with tourists but not half as bad as late afternoon. From there, I followed the signs to my destination, the Quinta da Regaleira, hobbling a bit but curious at the same time.  I think it probably took me another twenty minutes to reach the entrance. It was uphill but manageable.  The guard at the gate directed the woman in front of me to continue on for another couple hundred meters to the ticket office. They were the hardest. Of course I could have taken a jaloppy or a taxi there. There were plenty of modes of transport available, but I’d made it this far!

I spent a couple of hours walking around the grounds and enjoying the peace and solitude. Despite the fact that there were many tourists there, there was plenty of space for everyone. Due to space restrictions, I cannot post too many pictures here. Besides, the internet is full of information and pictures.

Before going into the palace, I sat in the open-air cafe for an hour or so with its views onto the grounds and the imposing palace in the distance.

A view from the house onto the cafe, the interior, the long walk up, an interesting door (I couldn’t resist feeling it–surface was felt) , a fiew from the tunnel.


Returning back to the tourist centre was a shock after the peace of the gardens. It really was abuzz with people and I just wanted to get back to Cascais. I walked back to the bus station and made it back by 7 p.m. Margarida and her partner picked me up in Cascais. We took the scenic route along the waterfront and I was sorry I wasn’t staying longer. There’s so much more I’d like to have seen. But I hope to return one day. We spent another lovely evening on their spacious terrace.

Boy, does Margarida have interesting stories to tell.

That crispy chicken was delicious!

Margarida, her partner, her mother who is 96, and their lovely dalmation!


You can find her on Airbnb.

I’ll be posting the second part of my journey next week.


Bye for now.

Insights from Amsterdam


It’s always nice to get away; I usually return refreshed and invigorated.

This weekend we went to Amsterdam. We are lucky to live a three hours’ drive from that vibrant city with its canals, boats, flowers, markets, smiling happy people and bicycles.

And we were visiting good friends who we met over thirty years ago, shortly after we got married and moved to the U.S. for a few years. Carl was an assistant professor, starting at Iowa State University and Wies, his wife is Dutch. My husband and I arrived back then in Ames, Iowa, with a rucksack each and returned with our first born, Sebastian, a couple boxes of books and a wealth of experiences.

Now Carl and Wies are back from Maine, spending a year in Amsterdam and living in a fantastic apartment right on the Prinzengracht.

We shared many happy memories of our time in Ames, although we’ve been seeing each other regularly over the years. My first son was born in Ames, and Wies’s only daughter was born almost a year later. We have happy memories of taking them to the park to play, going for walks and letting them splash in the bathtub while we drank coffee and chatted. We never run out of things to talk about!

But this weekend, after hours of sitting around over leisurly breakfasts, we usually parted ways. Carl and Fr. did their thing and Wies and I strolled through the city, went to the markets, to the English Book Shop, bought flowers and cheese and herbs and jewellry, looked at antique books at the book market, had coffee and reminisced and planned for the future. Where are they going to end up? Where are we going to end up? That theme again, Where She Belongs–and here I’ll do a shameless plug for my debut novel–http://bit.ly/29Yao5z. You can click on the link if you’re interested. We talked about the refugee crisis, the U.S. elections, the Trumpet, as he is known, and everything else in between.

On the Rembrandt plein there is usually a small gathering of artists displaying their wares on Sunday mornings. I was happy to meet up again with Sara J., who hails from South Africa but now lives near Amsterdam. There’s that theme again. A city like Amsterdam is so multi-cultural; you’ll meet people from all over the world. I bought a couple of Sara J’s prints, Zebra Pleasure and Madam’s Kiss. One is an early Christmas present for my sister. Here’s a link to Sara J’s art site: http://bit.ly/29Yao5z. We were going to go to one of the museums but the weather was just too nice for that and we didn’t want to have to queue up for ages either.

The market’s are fantastic, of course, and now is the time to buy tulip bulbs for next spring. I recommed the book Tulip Fever by Deborah Moggach, by the way. She’s also the author of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, which I love, but Tulip Fever is entirely different. My brother gave it to me years ago. It’s full of suspense and will transport you back to the time when people were going crazy speculating on tulip bulbs. It’s a gem of a book. I wrote to tell D. Moggach how much I liked her book, something I rarely do, and she answered me. Gold stars for her!

Now I’m going to post a picture I took of cheese–just because. The Dutch do love their cheese. Germans call the Dutch Käsköppe (Cheese Heads) and the Dutch call the Germans Krauts (the cabages), but that’s well known. If you go to Amsterdam you must buy some cheese.


Yes, I know. I really need to minimize these pictures, but I don’t have the patience for that at the moment.

Adieu for now!







Writing Retreat in Venice


I took this photo at the Danieli. Angelica and I treated ourselves to tea, cappuccino and biscuits

I really wanted to go to that Writer’s Retreat in Venice, the one I had so flippantly signed up and paid a deposit for at the beginning of the year.

Venice, oh Venice. I wanted to go there before it was completely taken over by massive cruise ships, or even worse, before it sank. Well, after watching a couple of documentaries on the place, I was convinced the time was NIGH!

Rather than merely visit as another tourist, I wanted to see Venice from the inside.

Janys Hyde, the English woman organising the retreat had lived in Venice for many years. I was also familiar with the name of the retreat speaker/teacher, Roz Morris, because I was working my way through her book Nail Your Novel, along with several other guides, in an attempt to snazzy up my first novel before looking for a publisher.

At the risk of overdoing the clichés, I was killing two birds with one stone, getting to see Venice and getting expert editing tips. Without further ado, I clicked the button and signed up.

I immediately heard from Janys, the organiser who, of course, was thrilled to have had an immediate response.

Roll forward to September. Everything fell into place perfectly. I booked my room, the least expensive I could find, through airbnb. At €50 per night, that was a pretty good deal. Thanks Gianna! Later I decided to add an extra night as I realised I wouldn’t otherwise get to see much of Venice. What a shame that would be.

The entire trip was surreal, and although I’d seen many pictures and films set in Venice, nothing can beat actually being there. It suddenly dawned on me, too, that I had spent a couple of days in Amsterdam before heading for Venice and polished off the whole trip with another couple of days in Amsterdam with my husband and our good friends. What’s with all the water, I thought to myself? Me, who tends to look for the deeper meaning to events and happenings in life. But then, as Janys said, when I lost the painting I’d bought in Venice, ‘it just means you lost the painting, dahling.’ So, being in two cities built on water just meant nothing!! Okay, what do I know…

Amsterdam is also built on stilts, but you don’t have the feeling or the threat of imminent drowning when you’re there. Come to think of it, I only had one such moment in Venice when I had to literally jump onto a packed boat and nothing to hold onto. That’s when I lost my painting.

I’ll skip to the Writer’s Retreat for now. It was held in a lovely venue on the island of Giudecca, pronounced Dew Dekka (according to one of the locals). Giudecca is one of many Venetian islands and a ten-minute Vaporetti (boat) trip from Venice.

Oh my Lord, upon arrival in Venice, I felt swamped by throngs of people. People, people everywhere. I live in a small village in Nordrhein-Westfalen and so I tend to forget what it’s like being amidst so many people until I visit London or Dublin once a year.

The stage was set. Our retreat location, which doubled as a gallery and multi-purpose venue for Giudecca, was bright and airy.


I took this photo in Giudecca, over the little bridge I crossed several times every day.

Janys busily rushed around getting everything ready the next day. There she was, setting up the props, laptop and projector and making sure we all had seating. It was time to meet the other course participants and, Roz, our mentor/teacher.

I had met the lovely Angelica the previous day as we had flown in from Amsterdam on the wings of an eagle. I had also met Janys upon arrival as she had kindly kept tabs on us and made sure we found our way to our accommodation on time.

Janys lives on the island of Giudecca and she did Trojan work carrying foods and all sorts of accoutrements like laptops, a pult, biscuits, lasagne, serviettes and fruit, not necessarily in that order, back and forth.

The coffee was brewing before we even got started with our istruztioni.
I won’t reveal too much about the actual tips and discussions we had, but it was useful and entertaining too.

If you want to know about Lady Roz’s editing system, I strongly advise you buy her book, Nail Your Novel.

Another course member, the kindest woman with the dulcet voice, Tammy, whizzed in on her speedboat from Milano. Lady Roz galopped in on her trusted steed, accompanied by her number one guard, Henry, a knight of the old order.

It was a wonderful writing retreat in a gorgeous location. The knight, Henry, told us about some of the battle fields upon which he had fought and won his honours. He gave us an idea about the fine print we needed to read and absorb should we ever make it to the fine halls of publishers. It’s a strategy. You must plan ahead, he said, Well, he didn’t really, but it all seemed rather tricky.

Another famed author, Lindsay Stanberry-Flynn, stopped off for vittles in her gilded carriage and graciously shared nuggets of wisdom whilst encouraging us to persevere in our quest to write and publish our tomes.

We drank wine in goblets and sat under the vines in sunshine as we shared and partook of Janys’s al fresco lunch in the garden of the venue.

The good news is that Janys is busily planning next year’s retreat. She is also planning a photography and a watercolour class on the island of Giudecca. I wouldn’t hesitate to attend again, in fact I’m almost reluctant to spread the word because it was such a harmonious group and I’m sure space will be limited when the word gets out.

Sadly, I’m having problems uploading any more photos at the moment. Perhaps I can add some more later and show you the venue and a couple of panoramic scenes of Venice.