Friday, 19 December 2014

Back in the Alentejo

After many enjoyable weeks in the sun at the quinta near Marvao it was time to return home to catch up with family and friends so I headed across to Lisbon breaking the journey with a quiet night alongside the lake at Montargil.
Easy Parking at Lisbon airport provided a secure place to leave the van at around £4 a day and I was soon whisked over to Departures and by mid afternoon we were banking towards Bristol airport high above Weston Super Mare's pier.
The journey to Shropshire was broken by a very comfortable night and excellent meal at The Bear near Crickhowell and we arrived to find Mum looking fit and well and her new home as cosy and welcoming as ever.

After catching up on paperwork and news over a few days I then headed north for two weeks in the Lake District where amongst various groups of friends I enjoyed some memorable walks, good food and stunning scenery with predominantly fine weather. The Langdale Pikes, Coniston Old Man and Wetherlam were all tackled as well as the shore walk on Ullswater, a circuit including Tarn Hows and the undulations of Lingmell. The Britannia Inn was as unspoilt as ever and for this year only we were in the rather sumptuous Beckside West Lodge with high tech entertainment systems, a stylish fire and showers of unnerving strength and complexity. Our usual abode was having a major refurbishment and looked very smart but we have decided to put both weeks on the market as the opportunity for family to stay in the future is dwindling - however there is no rush to sell and I may well be fortunate enough to stay again next year.
A smooth journey down to Pembrokeshire passed through some of Wales's finest scenery and whilst down there we took the major decision to book flights to Melbourne in the Spring. Thus we are committing ourselves to a 6 week outback tour that will cover around 6000 miles of unforgiving territory but should give us a tremendous insight in to a part of the world that we touched on briefly four years ago.
During my final week in Shropshire Mum and I visited family friends in Cheshire and I arranged van insurance for Morocco and met friends from my smallholding days for meals before heading to Bristol where Bill and Sue kindly put me up and then delivered me to the airport for my return flight. Somewhat illogically Easy Parking only pick you up from Departures which caused a slight delay but the van was in good order and, after reconnecting the battery kill switch, started first time.
Soon after I was a little further along the coast at a free aire in Belem tucked amongst a few other vans alongside the river. Two roads, a tram and a rail line created a bit of noise but it was quiet enough overnight and by mid morning on the Monday I was on the tram in to Lisbon proper after posting my old insurance certificate back to the UK. The centre part of the city was totally refashionned after the destructive 18th century earthquake and has a major square near the river linked to others by wide streets with high class shops, numerous cafes and a host of classical buildings. Street artists were at work in the warm sunshine and the colourful old trams rattled alongside the more sophisticated new carriages that move both locals and tourists alike. A maze of alleys led me up to the castle for extensive views including back down to the cruise ship terminal where the Oriana which had glided past me overnight sat overpowering a smaller liner. Back at Belem on a mild evening I took some photos of the old Lisbon power station and the April 25 Bridge which mimics the Golden Gate one in San Francisco before passing another quiet night.

Tuesday morning began with a walk up to the iconic Belem tower followed by a visit to the Maritime Museum and the Manueline monastery alongside before a visit to the old power station - now a remarkable museum with plant and machinery on an impressive scale all beautifully preserved. After lunch I set the sat nav for Marvao and enjoyed the 3 hour drive on empty roads through familiar scenery. A spectacular sunset as I arrived at Marvao finished off a good day and I was soon tucked away alongside the convent beneath the hill top town - almost deserted in comparison to the throngs that were enjoying the Chestnut Festival on my last visit.
Unfortunately the Sisters of Mercy provided too much shelter as their church blocked out the rising sun but by mid morning I was back to Yolande's to be greeted by the enthusiastic dogs, raucous geese and saintly Colleen. Much progress had been made on the roof, a wood shed, fencing and the domestic electrics and it all seemed comfortingly familiar as I spent the day checking the contents of the van and loading up with the items I had left in storage.
Yesterday I spent a warm and sunny day in Castelo de Vide enjoying the views from up on the castle roof and receiving email confirmation that my letter posted on Monday had arrived and been dealt with regarding insurance for Morocco - remarkable service from all concerned.
My base for the next fortnight is once more Camping Asseiceira where I have the cosy round room - a former wine store - with ensuite shower and kitchen. The closed site looked in excellent order as a mild autumn has allowed the grass to grow and Gary reported another busy and successful year. The sad loss of a local expat and the imminent demise of another who is seriously ill had upset the rest of what is a close and supportive community so I hope his holiday across in Spain is a chance to recuperate and enoy a break before the season begins again on the 2nd of January.
A group of us enjoyed a good meal in Portagem where the wood stove kept the chill night at bay before I spent a slightly restless night as a rare cold has developed over the last few days.
However I expect to be as right as rain soon enough and will get the bike out if only to ride over to Yolande's on Christmas Day as they have invited me to join them.

A look back at some of the highlights of the last month will be found at this link and my locations will be reported here.

Apologies for the long interval since my last update but I took the bare minimum of luggage back and trying to post via a small phone screen would have been rather tedious.

Wishing everyone a very Happy Christmas wherever you are spending it and looking forward to a rewarding New Year.