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.