30 August 2011

Flog it Almocageme Style

It's incredible to realise that a year has flashed past and last Sunday 28 August was the 2011 Cortejo e Oferendas e Leilao in Almocageme (the fruit and vegetable auction).  For our second visit we were more organised (we thought).  Last year we took the bus thinking parking would be difficult and had to leave ages before the end, so this time we drove up and parked close to the square about 3.00pm which was the scheduled start time.  However, this being Portugal, things were still being organised so we chose to have a coffee in the coffee bar that gave a good view of the action whilst we waited for the start.

Nice coffee house (not on the actual day as it was much busier than this)

About 4.00pm we moved over to the square as the ritual of microphone testing had begun and out of the fire station rumbled the most beautiful 1950's fire appliance closely followed by a truck similarly attired with green branches,and set off down the main street to make the tour of the village through the one way system, up the main road and back down to the centre collecting other little trucks en route.  After about 20 minutes the procession of trucks led by the fire engine, made their way slowly and carefully into the laid out square ready for the start of the auction.  Each vehicle carries items from a particular area and they are sold in sequence.

Returning to the main square

Approaching the square

Side view of appliance

Goodies on board

One of the trucks

And another one

We moved into the main body of the square to get our seats and to check out the other vehicles and, of course, the bar/cake area.  It was a lovely day and it was noticeable that we were the only people who chose to sit in full sun - the portuguese choosing to shift their chairs out of the full sun leaving us rather exposed as the foreigners.

Cakes to the left, beers to the right

English in the sun, locals in the shade

The fire engine was unloaded first with all the goodies being placed onto a table in front of the bandstand and the same auctioneer as last year, who is excellent fun with great banter and teasing of the crowd, obviously knowing the majority personally.

Goodies being arranged ready for sale

As all the items are donated by invdividuals from the villages, they are sold village by village.  The auctioneer reads out the name of the donor and then whips up the crowd for bidding.  He has a helper to point out any bids he might miss, although the normal procedure for this appears to be whistling or yelling for attention.  After each vehicle's contents have been sold, the total for each village is read out and cheered. 

This year there was an abundance of pumpkins, melons, pears, apples, nectarines, peaches, tomatoes, onions, plaits of garlic, potatoes, dried beans, along with ducks, chickens, pigeons, cactii and other plants, wine, spirits, port, liqueurs, handbags, pictures, storage pots, champagne and sparking wines, cold box, cheese, homemade jam, grapes, copper jug, beer, large cake, traditional cakes, hampers and candles.

The pumpkins ranged from round to oblong, small, medium and large as in this photo.  This monster that took two men to pick it up, weighed 60 kilos and was sold for 11 euros to the great amusement of the crowd.

This beauty that need two strong firemen to lift it

I desperately wanted to buy the two ducks to release them into the river by us, by was prevented so they went for 10 euros for the pair.  The pigeons were bought by people who then released them up into the sky to rounds of applause which was a lovely moment.

The two ducks - fear not, the one in the bag is alive

He thought this was a great auction buy, she was not so certain

Bidding got rather heated when the alcohol appeared.  There was a great selection of reds from the Douro, Alentejo and Colares as well as the white jug variety.  Most went from between 5 and 8 euros a pair of bottles, the white, obviously not quite as popular either went for the same price or less.  The wine from Colares, an expensive wine normally, was rather interesting to watch.  We picked us this bottle for 7 euros (75cl) but the others went for between 15 and 25 euros.  Some to the owner of the local grocery store.

Our bottle of 1997 Colares wine

Interestingly it seemed to be our senior ladies who went for the sparkling wines.  One lady near us managed to get one bottle of sparkling and one of champagne and then went on to successfully bid for a rather nice pink, embroidered bag to put them in.  She was beaming merrily as she set off with her bargains.  Another senior lady went off with a very nice green, wicker bag which she showed off to her friends around the fountain for admiration.

One young girl was desperate to get her hands on a cactus and the first batch went without any success for her.  Suddenly whilst she was busy talking to her parents, another pair came up for auction.  They shoved her forward and a lovely man at the side, stopped bidding to enable her to get them for 5 euros.  She was estactic. 

The young girl trying to bid for her cactii
Amusingly there were two instances of couples bidding for the same item because they were so intent on bidding that they had not realised their partner next to them, also had their hand up.  Friends bid against friend but all in a lovely, friendly way, and in some cases you could see people divving up their spoils between bags in the time honoured 'one for you, one for me' tradition.

As the sun started to go down, so the pigeons started to swoop over the square and the temperature dropped and cardigans and fleeces appeared.  Next year, we must remember to bring one!

Pigeons flying over the square

About 8.00pm the auctioneer stepped down in after a strenuous couple of hours and handed over to one of the firemen to continue with the remaining two trucks.  By this time the light was starting to go so the firemen brought out a very flash floodlight.  It looked like a plastic bag on a stand, but then it slowly inflated until it shone brightly on the proceedings.

The inflatable floodlight

We left shortly after the floodlight went up due to being somewhat chilly.  Next year - cardigans and jumpers for bidding after 8.00pm.

So here are some of our bargains.  We also picked up 6 bottles of red wine for 15 euros and a bottle of Grants Whisky for 6 euros. A cool box, brand new, for 6 euros.

Tomatoes - 6 euros for the whole box

8 euros for these beauties

So for the next few days I will be featuring tomatoes and onions in my cooking.  Tomato Jam, Gazpacho soup, Tomato Sauce, Onion jam, French Onion Soup........

Next year, must remember - get there early to park and get chair in shade and bring a cardigan or fleece for the evening.  Can't wait.

24 August 2011

Summer festivities

Cannot believe how long it is since I last blogged. This is not due to an over excess of sunbathing on white sand in front of blue seas, far from it.  This has been the most bizarre summer I have ever experienced.  We had rain on 1 August and again the following week and then thunderstorms and grey skies and hints of dampness.  Very unusual and precludes visits to beaches.

In June and July I had problems first with the internet and lack of signal.  Various excuses given over a period of nearly a month until it returned and then the phone vanished.  Reasons for this ranged from copper thieving from nearby villages, to trees!!!  The trees were dealt with a couple of weeks ago and guess what, the phone has died again.  The internet is always wobbly when we have large cloud formations coming in from the Atlantic as they like to perch on the top of the Sintra hills, covering our side with a lovely mystic mist and the other with rolling clouds that look like melting 99 icecreams minus the chocolate.

We have been busy on our garden bits and pieces and although we were given a piece of the estate for an allotment, we had to give it up as the battle against weeds inevitably beat us, but we salvaged what we had planted and transplated to large bins close to the house, where everything has taken very well.  Our tomatoes were not as good as last year but that could be because we used a different variety or the weather - who knows.  I have sourced some wonderful tiny currant-sized ones to try next year.

It is the season of village festivities.  The hills are alive with music is an understatement.  Living on a hillside we get the full benefit of the evening entertainments from across the valley.  Some is very good, some has extra loud bass lines, and some is downright funny.  All of this music does tend to start with rehearsals about 4.00pm with the usual "testing one, two" etc and then you get a minor blast about 8-9.00pm and then peace whilst food is consumed and then it starts in earnest around 11.00pm, getting louder until about 2.00am and if you are really unlucky and a light sleeper, you can get blown out of bed again around 3-4.00am.  The latest this year, so far, was an extra loud session at around 6.00am.  Good job we both like music and can manage to sleep through it although we often comment on how people who live opposite the social centre and surrounding houses cope - they must all be participants!

This coming Sunday is the Fruit and Vegetable Auction in Almocageme, that we went to last year.  This time I intend to be much more organised with what I want to bid on.  The car will also be coming with me.  Last year, because we did not know how busy it would be, we took the bus and then had to carry a large tray of tomatoes back with us!  Not this time!  Annoyingly it clashes with a festival in Praia das Macas which is a religious ceremony, where the Madonna is carried into the sea.  I really wanted to see this but will have to wait until next year.

Last Wednesday we went to visit the Sao Mamede de Janas Festival because we had been told how interesting it was.  Wednesday was the day for animals and a blessing and recommended by my friend in the pet shop, so armed with her directions on how to find it, we set off about 3.00pm as the blessing was due at 4.00pm.

Typical street decorations at Festa time

As we approached the road blossomed with decorated arches and lamps which most villages have for their festas.  One side of the road was a traditional fair with various rides, roundabouts, dodgems (and yes they do the same - stand on the side and check out which is the fastest), doughnut vans, cherry brandy stands (a shot of cherry brandy from Obidos in a chocolate tasting cup for 1 euro), and a couple of stall selling clothing, pottery and electrical bits and pieces. 


The other side was given over to serious stalls of clothing, pottery, cake and bread vans, ice cream stands, food stalls etc.  Parking was down the sides of the roads (for early birds) and organised fields for the rest of us - all good humouredly monitored by the local police.

Bread and cakes to one side, clothing to the other

Very jolly and smiling police

Amongst the stalls were speciality food stalls like this one selling suckling pig, which is a much loved delicacy here and found on most markets.  You can have it in restaurants, and some shops specialise in takeaways of it.

A roast suckling pig stall

Could not resist a fartura - extremely tasty and no doubt very fattening but there are times you just need one.  They are like a doughnut mixture which is rolled into a large curled round and then chopped into pieces which are rolled in a mixture of sugar and cinnamon.  You can also buy other versions which have a line of chocolate or jam up the middle, but the original are the best.

Naughty but nice

We wandered down to where all the animals were penned and bumped into our butcher and his wife.  He has English pointers which he was showing although one of them was making a concerted effort to tunnel his way out of the pen to meet and greet the people.  There were some beautiful goats - this one actually posed for me - some with pretty baubles attached to the ends of their horns. 

Ready when you are Mr de Mille

Some of the cows and sheep were sporting fetching multi-coloured ribbons - whether this was an award or just purely for cosmetic use, I really don't know.  There were cages of ducks, rabbits, a large trailer of exotic birds also selling animal feed, a cute donkey and cart, horses, cows (looking somewhat bored by it all) and the noise level was amazing with people shouting to each other, animals making animal sounds, and on top of this, was a rather impressive stack of speakers around the stage with an accordion player and keyboard player, blasting out.

He seemed very calm in all the confusion

Not impressed with her ribbons - perhaps wrong colourway

Good sound system

People seem to have either come for the week or the day and were camping all over the fields around the fair.  All very well organised with blankets, picnic or dining tables, chairs and even a sunbed or too.

Resting in the shade of the trees

There was a small area roped off for the mass with a set of bleachers for people to sit on and as it got towards 4.00pm, they started to fill up and people started to congregate around the area.  The priests were in beautiful robes and were led into the ring by a man carrying a large cross.  There was a lovely little choir who sang beautifully and then various ladies read pieces from the bible.  One priest in particular appeared to be rather shy and was mouthing the words to hymns.  The service continued with the backdrop of mooing, baaing and general chattering but it was a really nice thing to see.

Awaiting the start of the Mass

The priests following the cross onto the dais

6 May 2011

It's raining again - now where are my wellies?

Whilst the UK has been basking in glorious sunshine and blue skies, we have been somewhat grey and damp.  As you can see from the photographs, I have nothing to complain about because it has done the tomatoes immense favours.  The tomatoes were like this in the middle of April:

And look at them today, 6 May!

They are already smelling tomatey when they are watered and we are encouraging Boris and Beyonce, the huge bees we have, to do their work.

Although it is a bit irritating when you have had some glorious sunbathing days and got the patio organised, we need rain badly for the crops and vines and, unlike the UK, you know the sun will return shortly, so a quick re-organise of patio to get sunloungers under cover, plants away from edge of cascades off the roof, means we are organised to get the best of the rain.  We are also utilising our spare wood bin as a water butt.  We have it under the edge of the roof and it basically fills in about half an hour when the rains come down heavily as it collects all the run off from the roof.  Excellent for watering the plants too as they certainly prefer it to water from the well.

I have not posted for a while because I seem to have been 'busy' but please do not ask me what I have been doing because I can't seem to work out why I have not had time to post!  Glenn went back to the UK for a few days and returned shocked at the price of things, and whilst he was there, my lovely friend, Wendy came in his place.  There is nothing better than having a girlfriend over for a good catch up session.  The weather was superb which was a bonus, the car playing up was definitely not!

My car is now nearly 11 years old and has been a wonderful purchase.  However, just like humans, cars start to get a bit cranky and mine is no exception.  It decided to throw a wobbler whilst Wendy was here.  We took the car down to a garage in Cascais that has successfully repaired it after a couple of altercations with other cars, and they checked it out and said it needed a new bit to sort it out and that they would call when the piece was in, but to be very careful as the car was actually in 'get home mode' only ie only drive when necessary. 

Even a local trip a couple of days later proved too much for it and it refused sulkily to start after another visit to Colares.  A lovely local man offered assistance and the name of an electrician, which was incredibly kind and shows how lovely the local people are here but we managed to start it and after a chat with the garage again who said the part had actually just arrived, drove carefully to Cascais praying there were no hold ups which would mean stopping and stalling!  We got there and the wonderful garage fitted the piece there and then with smiles and jokes and we were able to drive home again without any problems.

The following week I organised that the car would go in for a full service ready for an MOT, which is due in July.  We had to leave it overnight and when I picked it up, they had actually taken it for the MOT, therefore saving me from having to lurk about in July and apart from a couple of small things that need to be done before winter and the next MOT in 2012, everything had been done.  My grateful thanks go to Pires Auto Nova, Rua Jose Florinda, Cascais and in particular to Jose (the Fox), Diogo and the lovely Marina who is in charge of the paperwork.

The 'Fox' and Diogo
The 'Fox' and Diogo
The lovely Marina

 We have been extremely lucky this month as our lovely landlords offered us a piece of ground to grow our vegetables.  I think they thought we were running out of space on the patio!!!  I  chose a patch that had previously been a small allotment and then we got out our books to see what would be best to grow.  Ignoring all the advice in the two books I have, on the pretext of visiting the garden centre to give some cat sachets (a lovely gift from Aunty Wendy to my two, who promptly decided they did not like them - how rude was that) to their lovely little cat who has just given birth to a couple of kittens - the father having done a runner as per usual - we ended up (or rather I wandered off up the fruit section) with three raspberry canes, one blackcurrant bush and one redcurrant bush for our starter kit!  I also invested in some onion seed, some leek seed and was rather sternly told to resist anything else until we had worked on the earth!!!

As you can see from the photo, it is a rather large area, so we have chosen just to take a piece of it to begin with and see how we go from there.  We have dug a small section and planted the fruit.  It is full of little stones so that takes a bit of organising, but we are doing it in stages, helped by our two doggy friends who think its great fun to get in the way and sit on things.  Dread to think what they might do when we start using our compost!  The labrador already has a love of the open water drain and paddles through it or even lies in it to get the full benefit of rotting, dropped leaves. 

Looking up towards our new venture

New beginnings (fingers crossed)

Although it would have been nice to have the allotment closer to our house, the walk will do us good and we can use the car down the track when we need to carry the big stuff.  We are also lucky that there are plenty of gardening tools for us to make use of and there is a water supply just close by, which was obviously in use when this side was full of grapevines - it's now given over to growing pines.  Our only concern is the bunnies!  We appear to have three on the estate that I am aware of.  One close to our house who likes to graze along the sides of the driveway by the grapevines; one who lives up near our allotment and one who is over the other side of the grapevines.  I am hoping that there is enough green stuff for them to scoff without having a go at whatever we try.  The dogs often disturb them but don't catch them as it's too much like hard work!  They prefer to give chase for about 5 seconds and then sit and watch!

The spring rains have encouraged all the flowers to bloom beautifully.  I gave the roses I inherited a good 'haircut' as Ted Weeks used to say, and I have been rewarded by them coming out and looking far healthier than they did last year.  It is so nice to cut them and bring them inside and admire them.  I usually buy flowers at the weekend market at Almocageme but using your own is really nice.  The back raised flower bed still needs a bit of work but the wisteria, honeysuckle and lavenders are all doing well and the jasmine smells gorgeous.

One of my rose bushes

The first bouquet of roses of the year

The fireflies have been out again and caused a bit of amusement as Glenn got a bit over-excited as he had not seen one before.  There was one on our patio door so he decided to have a closer look and got the torch and shone it on the poor thing, who obviously felt humilated by the competition and promptly stopped flashing.  Luckily Frank, as we called him, returned the following night and brought his friend, Felicity, with him so we had a lovely light show.   They are so pretty to watch flying in and out of the hedgerows or sitting on the door.

A firefly in all its glory

So when the UK has finished with our sunshine, we would be very grateful for its return and we will send your rain to water your lawns.

3 April 2011

The sun's out and it's nearly holiday time

I am often asked where I am going on holiday.  This usually produces a reply on the lines of not going anywhere as I have everything to hand here that I would normally have gone on holiday for.  Some portuguese find this strange.  The portuguese love to travel if they have the opportunity and finances available.  Sadly, the lure is usually over-priced London.  I do my bit of promoting the rest of the country as hard as I can and was thrilled when Gabi, who set up my blog for me, told me she and her husband and son, were off to the UK during the last half term. 

Gabi is half English so is not unaware of the beauties of the UK but this time she had already been on line and booked up bed and breakfasts.  Out of interest I asked her where she would be staying and then got very excited as she was going to be in areas that I know well.  I sent her lots of links to places that I could recommend and she made a note of them.  A couple of times whilst they were away, I got a text message to say how grateful she was for the recommendations and one message that really thrilled me was the one where she was having lunch in The Whole Hog in Malmesbury, where I lived for 15 years before moving to Portugal. 

The Whole Hog, Malmesbury just behind the Market Cross

Must be the original sign as the phone number should be 0166

When Gabi came home, she invited Glenn and I over for tea to show me her photographs and to tell us all about the trip. They had had a brilliant time and loved my suggestions and hopes to pick up a few more for when they go over again.

When you go on holiday it is so much nicer when you get personal recommendations or have 'someone on the ground' to point you in the direction of something different.  I have always felt very, very sorry for tourists who come off the cruise ships into Lisbon and if they have not booked a tour, are left to their own devices and miss so much that can be seen in a short space of time and sometimes, due to lack of confidence, end up eating in a worldwide chain restaurant and miss out on the wonderful portuguese cuisine.  Back in January, an old friend of ours arrived in Lisbon from a cruise and we arranged to meet up with him and his friends for lunch.  On Steve's previous visit via a cruise, he had caught the train down to Cascais and we showed him round and took him for lunch in a lovely traditional restaurant in Areia, just out of Cascais. 

This time I thought long and hard about where to take him and his friends for lunch which would be something different.  I decided that the restaurant Casa do Alentejo  would be ideal.  This is the most amazing building which unless you are 'in the know', you would never find as it is so subtlely hidden in a side street off Rossio in Lisbon.

The entrance hall

The dining room

Glenn and I took the train from Sintra to Rossio and walked down to meet up with Steve and his friends.  It was a very wet day so it was lovely to go for lunch in this amazing old palace.  The food, the ambience, the decoration just add to the atmosphere and as they said, they would never have found the place themselves.  Check out their website for more stunning photographs and if you have never been, try it.  http://www.casadoalentejo.pt/ .  The site is not in English as yet, but they are working on it and you can still appreciate it quite easily.

Another of my favourite restaurants to take visitors, is in Alfama - the oldest part of Lisbon with a wonderful history.  Alfama sits just under O Castelo de Sao Jorge (St George's Castle)  and is a maze of twisting turns, alleys, unexpected views, tiny cafes, shops and restaurants.  I am lucky enough to count the owner, Vitor, as a friend as I have known him for many years and all my friends love going to the restaurant for its food, atmosphere, music and not least for Vitor, who is a wonderful host and gets loads of mentions in The Rough Guide to Portugal and quite right too.

The fabulous Malmequer Bemmequer Restaurant in Alfama

Vitor speaks various languages so there is never a problem and the food is fresh and fabulous.  He also has an incredible wine list to choose from - always go with his suggestion as he is a great authority on portuguese wines.  The website is still under construction, but you can see some nice shots of the interior.  It is only small but is very portuguese.  http://www.malmequer-bemmequer.com/ .

I have overheard some ex-pats complaining about having to show visitors the sights time and time again - why?  I never, ever get tired of showing off my adopted country.  Nothing better than driving to Cabo da Roca and walking to the end of the most western point of Europe and staring out to sea.  I can understand why the brave sailors of the past thought they would drop off the edge of the horizon as it is an incredible view.  Normally the sea looks very calm but I have not been during a gale yet.  I want to do that this year because I can imagine it would be some sight.

The monument with the famous inscription from the portuguese poet Camoes

Next stop ....

This week my friend Wendy came to visit as Glenn went to the UK for a few days.  Wendy has been here a lot and knows her way around very well now, but this was her first visit to my present house as she was unable to come last year.  It was such a pleasure to be able to take her to the villages, shops and markets where I now shop.  We always end up at some point at Bar Moinho de Don Quixote in Azoia.  This is a beautifully converted windmill with gardens overlooking the bay of Cascais.  In cold weather it is nice to sit inside with the log fire but it is rare that you cannot sit outside gazing at the view and patting the lovely tabby cats that also live there.

Bar Moinho de Dom Quixote

Part of the gardens with views down to the bay of Cascais and Guincho

The colourful interior

The one thing to always remember when visiting is to take cash as they do not have a credit card system - something worth remembering these days as more places resort to the 'cash' only method due to the horrendous charges by banks.

The weather was pretty good whilst Wendy was here so we had ice creams down at Praia Grande watching the waves crashing onto the beach and getting slightly pink in the process.  The water was a beautiful blue which makes the crests so much more dramatic as they roll and break.  We also had a trip round the corner to Praia das Macas to see the bigger waves and to remember a summer a few years ago when Wendy and her daughter Chloe came to stay and we narrowly missed a soaking as a rather large wave sneakily tried to get us - it missed but got lots of the other people which was very, very funny.

The waves on 1 April at Praia das Macas

We were really lucky as we had a crossover with Glenn yesterday and therefore we were able to all have lunch before Wendy took the train to Lisbon for her flight home.  We went down to Alvide and had a lovely meal at Restaurante Cubata do Crossas.  We usually go here with my friend Martin, who lives round the corner and sit outside under the awning but it was a bit windy yesterday so we sat inside.

Restaurante Cubata do Crossas

The interior

So then it was off to the station to see Wendy off on her return to UK - always an emotional moment but at least I know she and her husband will be back in July - I can't wait!