19 November 2012

Abandoned Animals Need Our Help

Fear not,  I am not about to detail nasty stories but just to highlight how we can help.  Instead of that expensive and unnecessary Christmas gift for a family pet, how about using that money to help the abandoned?  Or better still, give a deserving animal a new and loving home for the rest of their lives. 

I have not had that many cats since I was small as most lived to great ages but all came from similar backgrounds - not wanted or abandoned.  Before I moved here I lost my two favourite cats so was not able to bring them with me - something I had planned and talked about.  Prudence Kitten was 21 when she died and Pebbles was 16 but they ARE are here - in the sun - as I brought their ashes with me so I did not break my promise to them.

So when I arrived in Lisbon, cat-less I lasted three months before someone told me of a kitten desperate for a home, having been rescued from the street outside El Cortes Ingles in Lisbon.  I went to meet her in a tiny apartment in Alfama where she was being cared for by a lovely Italian man and his partner.  We checked each other out and later that week she arrived tucked in his leather jacket and on the back of a motorbike! I quickly changed her name from one that was certainly controversial and Pansy Potter joined the house.

(Princess) Pansy Potter

A year later, now living in Cascais, I heard a sad tale of another kitten looking for a home.  Someone had taken him but it had not worked out so he joined us and was promptly christened Pompey Bum, after a character in the Shakespeare play Measure for Measure.  Now the pair of them share our life here on the hills of Sintra and I would not be without them and if I could, I would adopt more but common sense prevails so I try to help the charities in some small way when I can on their behalf.

Pompey (Tubs) Bum

There is a crisis worldwide as people struggle to feed and clothe themselves and their families.  A casualty of this is the family pet.  In the UK, the RSPCA - www.rspca.org, The Blue Cross - www.bluecross.org.uk, the PDSA - www.pdsa.org.uk , Battersea Dogs and Cats Home  www.battersea.org.uk, The Cats Protection League - www.cats.org.uk and various other charities, do wonderful work in this field with bands of volunteers selling goods, baking, giving up their time to help.  Here it is rather different.

In the UK we are far more aware of the care of animals thanks to advertising campaigns and not forgetting the wonderful programmes shown on TV over the years like Animal Hospital, Vets in Practice etc.  Those programmes did teach people a lot about animal welfare although, sadly, there are still appalling cases of cruelty in the UK not least of which are badger baiting and dog fighting.  The more people report people for these vile practices and get them prosecuted the better.  Out of the UK, animal welfare is a vastly different concept.  What we take for granted is no necessarily how it happens here or elsewhere in Europe

Remember the old saying:  "A dog is not just for Christmas but for life"? This applies to any animal adopted as a family pet from mice upwards.  A pet is a commitment not something to be disposed of because you are bored or can't afford to feed it. 

Think before you give in to a child's demands - all animals need feeding, exercising, holiday accommodation or someone to take care of them, regular trips to vets for injections against disease, worming tablets, flea treatments etc etc.  With larger animals like horses etc, this bill can be astronomical.
We have some wonderful voluntary associations who do sterling work in rescuing animals from horses, donkeys, goats, rabbits, dogs and cats, as well as raising money to neuter/sterilise dogs and cats to try to solve the never-ending problem of puppies and kittens.
I try to do my bit and have bought some things from the wonderful www.animaisderua.org which has a very informative website. They raise money for sterilisation, medical bills and rehoming.  They have frequent on-line auctions to raise more money. Another good one is BIANCA - Association for the Protection of Homeless Animals www.bianca.pt.  Again a wonderful organisation doing what it can to help the animals get a better life.  They also offer a service to find someone to take an adopted animal to another country if lucky enough to find a home out of Portugal.  A very clever idea.  I have knitted some blankets and donated reworked blankets to help keep the animals warm.

Medical supplies for treating the animals comes at a large financial cost and details are on many of the websites of the types of product required.  Many vets here give tremendous support to the organisations for free.  However more medical help is always valued.  Many times you see volunteers collecting pet food in supermarket entrances - a great idea.  Another idea is animal adoption days in  shopping centres or popular meeting places.  You can check out the animals, ask questions about their stories, the cost of keeping one etc or even give a donation - all will be gratefully received.

I cannot mention all the organisations here but these are some who have pages in English as well as portuguese but ALL need help - financially, medically, physically and not forgetting old blankets, towels etc to keep the animals warm and comfortable.

For horses, ponies and donkeys:
A group of animal lovers with a common interest in the rescue, rehabilitation and re-homing of horses, ponies and donkeys in the Silver Coast region of Portugal.  They support and educate horse owners by sharing and providing information on all aspects of horse husbandry and stable management.  They work with local veterinary clinics and authorities to provide a safe haven for maltreated or abandoned equines.  They also adopt horses, ponies and donkeys from those experiencing financial difficulties until suitable foster or permanent homes can be found as well as forming relationships with local schools and the general community to educate and raise awareness of equine and general animal care.
For cats and dogs:
A group of young, multicultural, highly motivated, men and women that devote – on a voluntary, non remunerated basis – their short free time to improve the living standards of abandoned and mistreated dogs in Portugal.
The Union for the Protection of Animals. UPPA is a non-profit organisation, made possible by the generosity of donors and fee-paying members. All money raised is used for the bettering of the lives of animals most in need, through the offering of medical treatment and the search for new owners willing to adopt an animal.  The following do not have an English option.

www.grupovoluntarios.hive-creations.com - have frequent collection days for food and other donations, in supermarkets.

http://errantes.org - (Patas Errantes) another great example of raising money holding markets and car boots to raise much needed money.

www.uniaozoofila.org - established in 1951 runs various campaigns, one of which being reducating people into not abandoning their animals when they go on holiday.

www.lpda.pt - Portugal's representative in Eurogroup for Animal Welfare, World, a member of  World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) and  Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA).

Many more can be found on the web or on Facebook.

Please help if you can.

28 September 2012

Hooray. The tram is running until the end of October

Yesterday whilst driving up to Sintra, I noticed workmen doing some work on the lines.  I thought it strange as the tram had finished its shortened stint at the end of last week.

Today I heard the familiar sounds of it trundling along in the valley below me and had a quick check on a fellow blogger's site (www.riodasmacas.blogspot.com) and saw that someone has had the sense to continue the tram until 28 October.  Wonderful news.

So for those who have not travelled on it yet this year, or are visiting Sintra, please, please do take a trip along the line from Sintra to Praia das Macas and enjoy the wonderful views.

It would be even better news, if the tram could run all year unless the weather was too bad.  There are tourists in the autumn, winter and spring after all!

Here's the new timetable:

22 September 2012

Tingling Tastebuds

Over the past few months we have been lucky enough to discover new restaurants and cafes in our local area.

People often ask for recommendations but it can be a bit of a minefield.  What one person likes, another might hate.  A style of cooking could be too 'out there' for someone visiting the country for the first time, or a simple restaurant that has no frills might not be the preferred choice but I am a great believer in recommending when I have found something I would like to share.

I drive through Nafarros frequently but it was only fairly recently that I realised there were two restaurants - O Padeiro and Adega do Saraiva.  We had eaten at O Padeiro previously but the Adega do Saraiva was a totally new experience. 

The restaurant was previously an adega and therefore is a bit of a warren.  The menu (in portuguese) is very traditonal with an emphasis on the really good dishes that only the portuguese know how to cook and present.  Taking the time to choose, we were able to spy on other diners to see what everyone was having.  The table behind us with four gentlemen in varying ages, were tucking in heartily with lots of praise for the food.  Always a very good sign.  Considering it was a mid-week visit, it certainly did not lack customers. 

I could not resist Filetes de Pescada (fillets of hake) and Glenn went for the Lombo de Porco (pork loin).  Both dishes were fantastic. As was the house red wine. The specialities of the restaurant include Bacalhau na Brasa, Caldeirada mista, Feijoada de Chocos, Cabrito no forno and the portuguese favourite, Cozido a Portuguesa.  The desert menu was also very good but special mention must be made of the bread!

Now bread is a good topic of conversation here.  People have their favourite bakeries, type of loaf - that even includes what to chose to have for your toast in certain cafes!  Now where we live we tend to stick with bread from the bakery in Janas, which is sold in most local shops or you can visit the bakery and buy direct.  Fatal really, considering the smell of bread is so irresistable.  However when I asked the waitress where this particular bread came from she told me it was from a village on the road to Ericeira.  I still have to find this bakery as the bread was divine.

The restaurant is a joy and although we were the only estrangeiros, we were made to feel very welcome and another visit is due to be made in the next month.

Another wonderful find, but at the other end of the spectrum is Refugio do Ciclistas in Penedo.  Tucked away at the top of the village, with spectacular views to the sea and over towards Mafra, this restaurant is reminiscent of the restaurants I used to love in the Algarve before it got 'glammed'.

You enter along a passageway and the door opens on to a large room with a smaller room at the back.  There is a counter with the days selection of fish, meat, poultry etc and a huge grill run by Antonio.  The tables are all laid out in a school canteen style.  Long benches run along the tables - always take care if you are on the end and the person at the other end gets up - you can suddenly take off!  It is decorated with framed Tshirts of famous cyclists, photographs and other memorabilia to do with cyling.

It is an amazingly friendly place as you share the tables with whoever is sitting there - local builders, forestry boys, phone engineers, pool maintenance guys, tourists, walkers or locals and this week, our local lifeguard and his girlfriend (lifeguard duties having finished in case anyone is wondering why he was not at his post).

In fact if anyone remembers 'first and second sittings' at school, it is a bit like that as about 13.15-13.30 you have to be aware that trucks, vans and cars are heading out of the village along the practically single track roads which lead to the village from Colares in one direction and Almocageme in the other, with few passing places but quite a few mirrors.  This makes it rather interesting or for the nervous, white knuckle. 

The menus are 6 or 8 euros.  For that you get bread, olives, soup, main course, a bottle of red wine, a bottle of 7UP (or you can opt for white wine, water or similar), a main course with veg, chips, rice or salad if you wish and dessert.  Everything is fresh and grilled to order so no worries of the dreaded 'ping'.

Antonio's wife serves and controls the tables, sometimes assisted by other members of her family and there are two other ladies in the kitchen keeping on top of washing up and preparation.

What we love, apart from the wonderful food, is that you meet new friends because of the layout of the tables.  One interesting encounter was with a very nice man who was having lunch with his very beautiful daughters and their friend.  We got into conversation and I discovered that he was involved with promoting portuguese food.  He has kindly allowed me to share his website on my blog and I am hoping to take part in one of the courses in the not too distant future.  The site is www.insider-cooking.com.

A few weeks ago we had to go up into Sintra for a meeting and I had been told by a friend that there was a wonderful cafe that we should visit close to the terminus of the Sintra-Rossio train line.  What a find.   If you are up in Sintra do please check out Cafe Saudade.

The building is beautiful and was originally one of the factories that produced the lovely Sintra cheesecakes (Queijadas de Sintra).  It has been restored and is a fascinating place to go and have coffee, cakes, snacks or even a drink.  Beautifully decorated with some rather comfy armchairs, it also sells a good range of teas to take away with you.
And before I finish, I must make mention of a site that has just come to my attention today.  A couple of very enterprising ladies - Amelia Macedo and Margarida Jordan have set up a lovely site called Belas Tartes.  All freshly made by themselves with deliveries to Cascais, Estoril and Sintra.  Choose from savoury or sweet.  Here are a couple of examples to wet your appetite:

Asparagus and cheese pie (with or without ham)

Lemon and raspberry tart
The girls do not have a website or shop as yet but can be contacted for more details of their lovely wares via www.facebook.com/BelasTartesSintra or by telephone:  Amélia Macedo: 919614527 / Margarida Jordan: 914561136.  I really hope this takes off for them as it is a fabulous idea and everything is freshly made by them on a daily basis. 

10 September 2012

The valleys are alive with music

The summer is always a fun time for people.  There are festivals here, festivals there and music everywhere (sorry). The season starts normally in about June and gets going seriously throughout July and August.

Living on the side of a hill we get the benefit of the music without having to venture out to the event.  Sometimes this can be highly entertaining and other times slightly annoying - a lot depends on the wind direction, the time of the concert, volume/level of musicians.

There is also a wedding venue on the other side of the valley so when you hear music out of season, that is usually the reason.  This music tends to be much lower in volume though so unless there is a particularly loud bass note, we tend not to notice it.

A typical concert stages looks like this

This was the stage for the celebrations in Sao Mamede in 2011

Note the banks of speakers - these are frightfully important.  You have to be able to reach the WHOLE of the village/small town and outlying areas! 

The music can be kicked off as early at first thing in the morning but this is normally recorded and just plays away merrily to entertain whoever might be in the locality not forgetting the long suffering dogs who howl along with it if they don't particularly like a track.

The afternoons tend to be fairly quiet and then early evening you have band practice.  Universally known as "One, two.  Testing.  One, two" in any country. Then perhaps the enthusiastic bass player has a bit of a go with riffs and then the drummer and then a full practice but not at full volume. More like a rumble with the odd bit that starts you wondering what the tune might be.

Depending on the type of occasion, there is a strict agenda of happenings. Normally an opening, a pause for eating, music, pause for the stripper (!) and back to the music and general frivolity.  Food stalls sell tasty snacks to soak up the alcohol and there is always some form of attraction for the children who never seem to go to bed in the summer - possibly because sleep will not be an option with the musical volume.  Accordian music is a feature and can be extremely bouncy and loud.

A tasty bifana

A typical van selling scrummy doughnut-like treats

Made in a round like a Cumberland sausage then cut and sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon.  Seriously addictive.

Some parties are larger (both in size and length of time) and others are just small gatherings.  All will be eagerly attended by everyone with much gossiping, drinking and dancing.

A recent one was just outside Ericeira.  It only happens every 17 years (somewhat like the once every 20 year Preston Guild) which, for a friend was probably just as well, as the event took place in front of her house and was seriously well attended to the tune of thousands. It went on for a week.  We had a laugh when she Skyped up to let us hear one of the amateur groups rehearsing.  They weren't bad actually.

One of the noisiest events near to us takes place every year in celebration of the motorbike fraternity.  You have the blare of bikes and then the blare of music.  To be fair, they usually have extremely good bands on, mainly doing covers and you can go to bed and bop along with it although it can wake you up when they get to the Freddie Mercury section.  This event is over three days but the interesting thing is, there never seems to be any trouble.   
The most recent musical event took place a week or so ago at the finale of a cycling event in Nafarros.  The usual music blasted out and then the last act of the night came on and I have to say, were very, very good.  So much so I checked them out on the net and discovered they were called Semibreve.  I can recommend them.
Now the season is coming to an end so the hills will become quiet, the dogs will be sleeping peacefully, but I will miss the music.


2 September 2012

Sun, Sand and Sadness

You cannot have failed to have read in the newspapers of the tragic accidents that have happened along the Portuguese coastline this summer. 

The Atlantic is an unforgiving force of nature.  The coastline along where I live is famous for surfing and bodyboarding due to the height of the waves and most people will remember that wonderful photograph of the surfer up by Nazare, riding that world record of a wave.

BUT the Atlantic is dangerous.  Very dangerous.

In the last few months I have only seen the green flag flying on the beach we use, twice.  The rest of the time it is either yellow or red and as the tide turns, you hear and see the waves increase in size and volume.  It can be amusing watching the unsuspecting sunbathers getting caught by one of the larger waves as they can creep stealthily up the beach quite some distance to submerge towels, handbags and sleepers before retreating at speed leaving chaos behind. 

These waves move at top speed and when they retreat, they don't hang around and the undertow is very dangerous.  This is what catches people out.  It is not easy to keep your feet in these conditions and even harder for a child.

Sitting on rocks can also be very dangerous as the waves can pull you off them very easily and many a fisherman has lost his life in this way.

What I find incredible is the number of people with children on the beach, who seem to be totally oblivous to the dangers.  I have seen children run down to the waves without an adult (more interested in smoking/reading their book/talking on mobile), adults with very small children trying to jump into the waves and being knocked down and complete idiots trying to swim out in the rollers.  Usually this takes place whilst red and yellow flags are flying. This is the official status of the flag system.

Beach flags

Red flag

A red flag means stay out of the water completely

yellow flag

A yellow flag means no swimming but you can paddle

green flag

A green flag means you can swim

During the summer season many beaches are patrolled by lifeguards and will be displaying the safety flags. However from 1st October the lifeguards and the flags may be gone so it is important to take extra care at that time of the year.

We have a wonderful life guard service on the beaches but only in summertime.  They cannot patrol the whole of some of the beaches and that makes it even more important that people observe the flags.

On our beach you cannot raise an umbrella in certain places so that the lifeguards can have a clear view of everything.  They blow whistles to warn people to get out of the water who have ignored the flags.  These guys risk their lives regularly to assist people who have got into difficulties and do not get enough praise for their work.

A calm sea

A less calm sea

A sad thing to see recently was the coastguard patrolling along our piece of coastline, searching for the body of an unlucky person who was lost off Praia Grande.  His two friends were lucky enough to be rescued.  It is not nice to think that someone's loved one is out there somewhere and incredibly distressing for their families to not have a body to bury.

So if you come on holiday and your sea of choice is the Atlantic, do please take extra care and remember there are vicious currents under the waves; waves can sweep you off rocks and out to sea in the blink of an eye.  Stay safe and respect the flags and out of season, be very, very careful.

22 August 2012

The tram is back but you will need to be quick to catch it

During the summer it is nice to hear the little tram trundling along the line at the bottom of our valley.  However this year it has been delayed due to a tree falling on the line at the beginning of the year, and then the stealing of copper from the overhead lines.  This has meant that it only came into service about two weeks ago and will only be running until the end of September.

I think it is very sad that it is not something that runs for a longer period.  Normally it starts around June and finishes at the end of September or beginning of October but it only runs on a Friday, Saturday and Sunday unless it is hired out privately. I would love to see it running as often as possible as it is only 2 euros to travel from Sintra to Praia das Macas or 2 euros from Praia das Macas to Sintra.

The terminus at Praia das Macas.

Leaving Praia das Macas heading for Colares

The journey is about 40 minutes and trundles along at a fair pace but not so fast that you cannot thoroughly enjoy the views through the valley and the hills surrounding the Monserrate Palace.  At times it veers off around the backs of houses and you get a good view of gardens and if quick enough, you might be able to scrump a lemon from an overhanging tree or two.

Leaving the terminus at Sintra and being out-raced by a bride and groom!

The view from the front as you leave Sintra

Interior of the open sided tram

The controls

View of main road from Sintra to Colares

Just about to change sides to head for Colares

If you get a chance, do try it.  The trams run fairly regularly in both directions and more information can be found at www.cm-sintra.pt.  This is the main website for Sintra.  There is an option for English - just click on the Union Jack symbol and then the option for Tourism and Culture and you will find lots to see and do in Sintra along with the details of the timetable of the tram.


18 August 2012

Help Save the Iberian Wolves

Last Saturday we went to visit the Centro de Recuperacao do Lobo Iberico to see the work that is being done to save the Iberian Wolf.

After a nice lunch and coffee we set off in search of the sanctuary.  I had a vague idea of where it was but was unable to print off written directions due a fault on my computer but thought "it can't be that difficult to find".  Hmmm.

We headed for Mafra and then took the road to Gradil and the Tapada (the old hunting estate of the royal family and well worth a visit).  We passed one sign and then.....  Now living here as long as I have, I am used to this but even I got baffled after driving through the centre of Gradil and out the other side with no other signage.

I pulled up next to a local who was selling fruit and vegetables out of the back of his little van and asked for directions.  Armed with these I did a U turn and went back into the village and turned as instructed, opposite the church that was hosting a rather glamorous wedding.  A sign pointing to the right gave us hope and off we went down the cobbled streets, past a quinta where I had been to a wedding and we carried on, and on, and on and .....By this time we were getting a tad fraught and irritable with each other and then the mobile went off so I hastily pulled over and whilst I was talking to the sanctuary, who had rung to find out where we were, Glenn was being waved at and directed by a local standing grinning opposite the car.  We had actually stopped next to the sign for the entrance!  Only in Portugal. 

Heading up the incredibly steep hill, and then up through what felt like someone's back field, we made it and parked.  Feeling like naughty children we were met by a lovely guide and made our apologies to the two other couples with children who had kindly waited for us.

Our guide then gave us a preliminary overview of the sanctuary in Spanish, Portuguese and English which was an eye opener.  The wolves had used to roam the whole of the Iberian peninsula but now due to the fact that humans had systematically destroyed their food sources, humans had hunted them for their fur - you know where I am going with this - the wolves were now very rare.  Luckily they now have protected status and it is against the law to hunt them.

The site is 17 hectares in size and split into sections.  An interesting fact was that in the wild the wolves rarely live beyond eight to ten years, but in the sanctuary they can reach 18 years due to being safe and getting regular feeding.

We set off with the guide to see whether we would be lucky enough to spot them.  The first place we stopped was where an elderly wolf lived happily on her own in retirement.  She was shy and her eyesight was not what it was and was possibly slightly deaf and unfortunately she chose to stay out of sight.  Apparently she was normally seen at dusk when she came down to have a drink from the water trough.  Her area was full of trees and bushes and looked rather good for a retirement home.

The next stop off was to see a wolf who had been bottle raised and who had just had cubs.  Our luck was in because she was watching our every move.  In fact she stared everyone out and it felt as if we were the ones in the sanctuary and she was the viewer.  Her name was Faia and she was stunning.  Her eyes were the most wonderful clear blue/grey and her colouring was what we would call 'brindle' but with dark stripes down the front of her legs.  She was much smaller than I thought she would be but Iberian wolves are the smallest in the wolf world.  We all felt very privileged to have been so close to this lovely creature.

I apologise for the quality of the photos of Faia but there are many more on the web site which do the wolves far better justice than my efforts.

Unfortunately she was the only one we saw but I imagine that later in the year, when the weather is cooler, the chances of seeing more of them will be higher.  There again you did wonder whether they were all sitting up under the trees in the cool giggling at the humans trying to spot them with binoculars:

The guide had some rather disturbing stories of how some of the wolves arrived at the sanctuary but the one that tickled me the most was the story of a man who rescued one from a drainage ditch and took it home as he thought it was a dog.  After six months he realised that it really wasn't a dog but a young wolf and brought it hastily to the sanctuary!

When the horrific fires of 2005 threatened the sanctuary, the wolves were sedated and taken for safety to Lisbon zoo.  We were interested to know how they did this and apparently it is done by blowpipe!  They will only use the tranquiliser gun in an extreme emergency due to the dangers of damaging the wolf.  It sounded like the blowpipe lessons were quite amusing.

The sanctuary has only two paid members of staff, everything else is done by a wonderful band of volunteers.  As long as you are over 18, you can go and stay and help out for holidays, staying in little rustic houses on site.

The worrying thing is that the owner of the land where the sanctuary is, wants to sell it and now it is imperative to raise funds to help the wolves remain in this wonderful place.

You can adopt a wolf for as little as 35 euros a year and there is an on-line shop with items to buy to help.

It is a very interesting place to go to and you could combine it with a visit to the Tapada.  It is open for visitors on Saturdays and Sundays and public holidays.  October to April from 14.30-18.00 with guided tours at 15.00 and 16.30.  May to September the hours are 16.00 to 20.00 with guided tours at 16.30 and 18.00.  You should always ring in advance to let them know you will be visiting.

The web site (also in English) is www.http://lobo.fc.ul.pt

The address is:  Quinta da Murta, Picao, 2665-150 Gradil, Mafra.

Tel:  (00 351) 261 785037

Email:  crloboiberico@fc.ul.pt

They also have a page on Facebook