Thursday, 29 March 2018

To Guimaraes for Easter

It is somewhat too bouncy, roly and wet in Porto ... so have planned n excursion to Guimaraes once the capital of Portugal ... where we hope to pass some tranquil Easter days ...
Right now my Photos file has gone on strike ... but who know,s it will recover...
Spring is here, we keep on hoping ...
Ciao, a dopo ...

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

Braganza, Chaves and back to Porto

Because of Catharine of Braganza. The wife of Charles II of England. The two of them failed to have children together; but Charles (while fathering several other notable offspring, such as the Duke of Monmouth, and who knows who else) never repudiated Catherine. In Portugal they say she was a remarkably intelligent lady and as we know she introduced the habit of drinking thee /tea (cha in Portuguese!!) to the English court and it caught on like wildfire. 'Tea time', the words rang through the country, and down the centuries. And of course it gave the ceramics industry a tremendous boost. So we had to call in on her city. Alas, faded glory... down the main street house after house (displaying evidently eighteenth-century windows and facades) was boarded up, paint peeling, wood cracking. A sad sight. Happily, in a few cases an enterprising company had taken a house into its care and restoration was underway.
Braganza has two parts: the really old upper section, with excellent citadel (crenellated walls and narrow cobbled streets) and the lower eighteenth-century part, where the cathedral stands. It was Sunday so the cathedral wasn't open. It was Palm Sunday to boot!
We parked the car near the fortress and found a sunny spot where we could enjoy our picnic. It was close to a medieval building, reportedly the only remaining one in Europe, formerly used to settle disputes concerning land.
After steeply climbing up and down in Braganza, we set off for home via a devious route which led us up and down and zigzagging and tacking (the boatish touch!) until we reached Chaves.
Another Roman foundation with medieval touches. Delightful. Had wonderful thick hot chocolate and home-made (yes!) scones in the Benda d'Arc, small cafe on the edge of the river.
They have hot-spring baths (terme) in Chaves. Might be a good place to return to...
Home through the watery sunset splendidly lighting up the western sky. Great to live in a boat on a west coast (even if a trifle damp at times!)
 Along the motorway to Porto...

The top of the world in Miranda do Douro

Spring's not come yet ... no wild geese flying overhead (Shakespeare aficionados will recognize the reference ...). The boat still gets very bumpy and the nights are filled with squeaks and groans from the mooring ropes. The clocks have sprung forwards and the light has changed, and indeed, for the first time this year we have supped in the back cockpit, enjoying the sun. This interlude did not last long.
I picked up a head-cold on the train coming back from Braga. Sniff snuff, and cough cough. Irritating.
But last weekend we rented a car and drove up to Miranda do Douro, ancient city, former Roman settlement, deserted in the 1960s, now regaining life and colour, and home, among other things to the wonderful lively songs and dances in la musica tradicional di Tras-is-Montes. There is an apart language still taught in the schools of the region of Miranda,  a cross between Portuguese and Spanish. The music is delightful, full of syncopation, reminiscent of medieval French music. Happily, I bought a CD in the museu of Miranda do Douro. A joy preserved.
This small city stands atop a stupendous gorge, at the bottom of which curls the Douro. We were lucky enough to capture some sunny spells and walked to a point high above the river, where a lone hawk was hovering...
We sat there, no one else around, and even the wind grew quiet.
This is one the most impressive places I have ever been. So far unmarked by signposts and barbed-wire fences. I thought you could quite easily tumble off one of these edges, and fall a long way down.
Here we are sitting securely, with our sturdy walking sticks (bought for hiking in Brunei!) and full of peace.
Well, at this point
 my reader is meant to see two pix of David, and me, side by side: BUT I have still not mastered the intricacies of putting pix where I want them...

Anyway, if you look carefully at these photos, far below at the left you will see a green-brown curl of water which is the river Douro.
Miranda is a joy for every historically-minded visitor and seems to be on a revival course. The cathedral is built above a former mosque, above a pagan temple and clearly in the most admirable position. See pic of the commanding position:

Inside the cathedral we found some remarkable paintings, oil on wood panels in the Choir section.  And a sweetie Madonna Lactans carved from wood in the 15th century. Very simple and pleasingly un-baroque!!
It wasn't clear to me whether she came from the cathedral or had been transported from elsewhere. But a very sweet Mary.

We spent some time in the Museum of Miranda, accompanied by an elderly lady with whom we communicated in our Portuguese... which went very well.

And later we ordered a typical Mirandese meal with no problem!!

The next day we drove to Braganza and Chaves...

Sunday, 18 March 2018

Return to Portugal and the stormy seas

After a brief sojourn (one and a half days!) in Amsterdam I flew south to Portugal. In the teeth of the gale!
The boat bounces and tugs and groans and squeaks ... I feel just somewhat seasick ... so, off to Braga and a quiet bed!
Braga is beautiful, despite the lowering clouds and sudden sharp hail falls! In between, there are streaks of brilliant sun and wonderful buildings and gardens to discover. Also much music and artistic creation going on. We attended a delightful performance given by an actor accompanied by musicians, telling a fairytale to classes of schoolchidren (held in one of the old university halls); the children laughed and clapped and there was general merriment.
We had an excellent unpretentious hotel near the cathedral, which we duly inspected (old, built upon a former mosque, on top of an ancient Roman foundation...). Below, part of the stunning organ, and two of the remarkable carvings which adorn it...

A satyr posing in the carving decorating the cathedral of Braga

Hoping for better weather, we trained back to Porto, and had a most interesting journey with no fewer than 23 stops between Braga and Porto central station, providing us with plenty of time to study the vast variety of faces in the train...

In Leca da Palmeira, where our boat is moored, the sea had quietened somewhat. The marina is awash with flotsam and jetsam, and to use an expressive Italian word: sporcissimo, meaning, utterly filthy.
Photos below (for the record!).

But the walk along the seafront compensates for all: the sea and the rocks and the pebble-clouded sky and the crashing waves (now reduced from nine metres to about four!!).

And sleep is a rocking as in the treetop, but no boughs break (we hope).

Poor Stroemhella
 in the filth...

So now we know how much yuk there is in the sea... it's very depressing. But look how beautiful it can be:

Monday, 5 March 2018

Snowy Stavanger

So quiet here. The snow falls softly and covers the hilly grass and the black ice on the lake.
We sit in the house and watch the deer walking softly across the lawn outside, to disappear between the trees; or the peacock, tail folded and sweeping the ground, followed by his modest brown partner.

We have a full schedule during the week: up early and leaving the house just before eight. Already considerable traffic on the roads leading into Stavanger. Packed days: shopping (food and things for the house, and the kids!), Norwegian lessons (great fun, a group of six young people from all around the world: Korea, Croatia, Portugal, Poland and Judy and me). I as Granny do not quite fit age-wise, but no probs! Norwegian is so closely related to Germanic languages I know that it is most diverting working out brother-words in Dutch, English and German!

As ever, I find there are not enough hours per day to achieve all I would like, and so far I have not written a poem... but last week I did some high-speed editing for a friend's PhD, on Chinese women writers of the (Asian) diaspora. Most satisfying. Nice to feel professional again!

And I combatted a trauma and walked onto an ice-covered pond where local Norwegians were skating, preceded by Judy, Christiaan and small Rachel (so I reckoned, if they could walk on that ice, so could I!)
Here I am on the frozen lake:

There are many small lakes in and around Stavanger and all frozen last week. But now the temperatures are rising and it's snowing again.

In Amsterdam and elsewhere in the Netherlands it is also deeply freezing.
But I suspect by the time I get back on Thursday afternoon it will be thawing there.

And soon I'll be flying south to Porto. Which is in the grip of incessant rain. But considerably warmer.

Still time to make a poem ...