17 November 2013

A Return to the UK in October

It has been six years since I was last in the UK for my eldest niece's wedding and since then she has had two children so I thought it was about time I met them in person. When I made the decision I had to research the best, and cheapest way of returning.  What a minefield.  I thought I would try the cheap (sorry, low cost) route first.  Nothing worked out to get me either to Bristol or Heathrow without travelling at hideous hours and then there was the hand luggage problem. Also by the time you added everything together, it was not cheap (oops sorry again low cost). Quickly took that off the list.  Next, being a fan and having always travelled with them, I looked at TAP but sadly although I could get to Heathrow the options for return flights were either from Gatwick, Luton or Stanstead for some reason - all completely unworkable.  So, biting the bullet as my previous experiences with them (when working for a living) were not good, I looked at BA.  After a bit of backwards and forwards I eventually procured a flight for a return fare of approximately 200 pounds. One problem solved.  The next was to find a way of getting from Heathrow down to Wiltshire.

Train?  Book in advance and save pounds the adverts scream - yes and how? I looked at all the sites and could not find one decent fare considering you have to bus it to Reading to get the train in the first place or take the Heathrow Express to Paddington and then go from there.  The prices were absolutely mind-blowing.  How do tourists cope?  I know I am spoilt rotten here with fares for a 40 minute return journey being 3.40 euros but First Great Western seems to need millionaires to travel on it.  Scrap that one.  Bus?  National Express site was not particularly user friendly and they wanted 30 pounds each way to go from Heathrow to Corsham - even trying to book in advance to - yes, you guessed it - save pounds!  At this point I was muttering to my best friend about prices and bless her, she said she would pick me up as she would be working close to Heathrow that day.  Problem solved getting to Corsham.  I would tackle the return nearer the time.

The day arrived and I set off with my suitcase and large handbag. I have been travelling through one version or another of Lisbon Airport for the last 20 years and the changes have been immense.  It was pretty glamorous when I travelled six years ago but even more changes have taken place since then. Now instead of choosing to go into the Duty Free area, you have to walk through it.  Well that took me all of a minute as I have no wish to spend any money in there.  Then I was somewhat bemused as the other changes with upmarket shops, bars etc.  All I was interested in was a cup of portuguese coffee and a sit down until my flight was called. Eventually, tucked away in the back of the Food Hall, I found a place that sold portuguese and not some other import.  Suitably fuelled up I hiked to the gate - I say hiked as the distance you walk in airports these days is amazing.  How the elderly or toddlers manage without a sit down is a miracle.

The flight was fine and comfortable and my Kindle kept me occupied although why they feel they need to serve 'food' (an icy cold wrap filled with over spiced chicken) is beyond me.  Why not lower the fare and just serve a hot drink?  Flying over the south coast of England I was cheered to see brilliant sunshine - however that disappeared very quickly as the clouds descended and we landed in greyness at Heathrow.  Another long and tiring hike to retrieve luggage and then out into the Arrivals Hall to meet my friend who handed me over to my brother-in-law at Swindon.

The first evening I went to the local pub and practically fainted at the cost of drinking - no wonder the pubs are closing.  A pint of Guinness and a glass of reasonable red wine was the price of a three course meal with wine and coffee here in a local tasca.  I find it sad that this traditional way of life has been continuously under attack by governments, greedy breweries, irresponsible supermarkets and other interferring entities. 

The following morning was a wander round the shops in Corsham.  Very nice to still see some individual shops surviving in the harsh commercial world of today.  One shop was The Deli at Corsham (www.thedeliatcorsham.co.uk) run by Cristophe and Rachael Bonneau.

Cristophe Bonneau and Charlie

I loved this shop.  A huge selection of what you would expect and more.  The best bit was finding Ribblesdale Cheese on sale!  I was able to tell them more about Iona Hill who runs it and they, in turn, told me where they sourced it so I could tell her.  Small world.  Obviously I had to buy some and my sister also bought a couple of rather super French cheeses too.  Another shop well worth seeking out.

Charlie weighing out my choices

My favourite day out of the trip was when we went to Bath Farmer's Market  which was fabulous.  So lovely to see lots of stalls all selling wonderful produce. A great mix of antique, second hand, dairy, vegetable meat, bakery etc.  http://www.bathfarmersmarket.co.uk  The website gives a good overview of the traders and what they produce. After cruising the second hand stalls that were tempting, I went off to investigate the myriad choices of cheese.  As I was going to be cooking a portuguese meal for my sister and brother-in-law's friend that evening, I wanted to get a cheese and this stall took my eye immediately.

Talking to Tim Homewood I managed to choose a beautiful sheep's ricotta which proved to be a real hit at dinner.  His stall was very inviting and he is happy to let you taste before you buy.  Well worth stopping by.  I was also thrilled to know that he knew about Ribblesdale Cheese.

Tim Homewood and Angela Morris run Homewood Cheese (http://www.homewoodcheeses.co.ukand recipes for using their cheese are on the Bath Farmers Market site too

Happily moving around, tasting here and there, I then spotted this incredibly mouth-watering display.

An eye-catching array of flavoured olives

Obviously I had to buy some to have as appetizers before dinner and was assisted in my choices by Fey, who shyly agreed to having her photograph taken and to tell me about her family company Jacob's Finest (www.jacobsfinest.com) that specialises in Falafel but her 'baby' is the olives. Unfortunately although I have requested numerous times to their email for more information on Fey and her products, none has been forthcoming.

Fey of Jacob's Finest

A close up of some of the olives

Eventually after exhausting myself wandering around and buying some rather nice organic vegetables, it was time for a coffee and breakfast courtesy of my brother-in-law. 

A full English breakfast - old style

The Sunday was a trip to Bristol for a family reunion and the only black spot was the torrential rain and gloom.  Amazing how you forget how dark the UK is at this time of year considering Portugal and the UK are the same time zone, it is definitely better being that further south so it stays lighter longer. It was a rare treat to be driven everywhere and able to look at the countryside which is still very beautiful and rather nice to see cows and sheep - none around me here sadly. Parking around my niece's house was reminiscent of Lisbon before parking meters!  Every bit of pavement appeared to be covered in cars with just a narrow gap for traffic.  I did notice that the tailback for people heading for Ikea in Bristol was just as I remembered it too!  Some things never change.  Catching up with nieces and other halves and my great nephew and niece was the icing on the cake for me.

The time went very quickly and soon it was time to sit on the suitcase and start the long trip back to Portugal.  Just before I left, I had attempted to get a cheap bus fare back to Heathrow from Corsham - one of the designated stops for the 403 National Express Service.  Again, after a frustrating time on their website and rather a lot of bad language about the cost, I somehow got a fare for nine pounds from Bath to London Heathrow.  That would do nicely.

Come the day, my sister dropped me at the bus stop in Corsham and awaited the bus.  It was late and when it did stop, I was told off in no uncertain terms by the driver because my ticket was from Bath and although the stop is on the route, they have to be told otherwise they may well not stop and go via a different route. He was also in a temper because the motorway was closed and he was stressed about getting to London.  I apologised to him and privately pondered the fact that a ticket from Bath to Heathrow is only nine pounds but if you get on at Corsham - about 15 minutes from Bath - the cost would have been 30 pounds!!!!  Something odd there I think.  Anyway we set off and it was rather nice to be able to travel along the roads I used to drive regularly and see the changes.  I was rather surprised (I suppose) to see that Swindon Bus Station is still as disgraceful as ever.  It really does need something doing to it. As the motorway was still shut, the driver took the old Oxford Road to head up to Heathrow.  A rather beautiful way to go rather than the M4 and considering everything, we were only 15 minutes late.

Again, armed with my boarding card and being well in advance of flight check in, I went over to the desk just to see what time I should check in.  Having ascertained I would need to wait about 45 minutes, I found a place close by and got stuck into my Kindle.  Alerted by a lot of noise, I looked up and saw an immense queue had formed at the desks.  I worked out that if I joined it, my desk should be ready for my luggage by the time I got to the end of the queue.

It quickly became clear that chaos was happening all around me.  Apparently a flight to Thailand had been cancelled the previous night and this queue was a mixture of people going for the new flight, people like myself heading for Europe and the Thailand flyers were less than patient.  Stories abounded about the lack of information the previous evening and how some had gone home for the night and others had been forced to stay in Brighton as the cheapest hotel rooms for the night close to the airport, had been in the region of 400 pounds.  The queue quickly started to get stroppy due to lack of information and the people for Europe added to the noise level by wanting to know what was going on as their flights were being called and they still have to check in.  Eventually, another balcony opened with a harassed woman trying to work out how to separate people into some form of order. Although the majority of us had our pre-printed boarding cards, some hadn't and did not know how to cope so had to be helped by other passengers.  Then the rumour came down the line about we now had to print our own boarding flight tags and the more computer literate in the queue helpfully aided some rather haughty and unimpressed European ladies.  All in all it took an hour to get to drop off my bag - glad I got there early.  Heathrow is still in need of a rethink on how it treats and communicates with passengers.  Passing out bits of paper for people to comment on, is hardly what is needed.

The next chaotic scene was customs.  Obviously Heathrow caters for thousands of passengers but attitudes are unhelpful, unfriendly and in some cases, downright obnoxious.  In the queue to have my handbag x-rayed I was astonished at the rude way that was used to tell people that if they had not put their electronic devices into the tray, they would be confiscated and it would at least 45 minutes before they got them back.  I know it is a difficult job that the customs people do, but surely a "please" and "thank you" is not too difficult ask for.  I felt very sorry for some of the foreign travellers with limited knowledge of English being treated so roughly.  A very unpleasant experience.

I just had enough time to grab something to eat - I wandered around aimlessly looking for something healthy that did not need an overdraft and found the cheapest option was an Italian restaurant.  Cheapest meant over 10 pounds but it was well cooked and the wine was nice for the exorbitant price. Same BA flight experience with cold wrap option and coffee so it was a relief to fly over Portugal and land in sunshine.

I will return but possibly not for quite some time and perhaps I may well choose another option for travel.

15 November 2013

A View of Colares, Portugal

Someone asked me recently to give them a 'feel' for where I go shopping and have coffee, so yesterday we went out and took some photos to show you why we love Colares so much.  It was a lovely day - this time of year (November) you can usually guarantee some beautifully sunny days although the temperature does drop in the evenings.  You can still sit outside cafes and watch the world go by if you wish.

It takes about five minutes to drive down to Colares and as you turn the corner, after the Cooperativa Agricola de Colares - where you can get everything from animal feed and equipment for agriculture to wine and pet food, past the Estalagem de Colares and the little butcher on the left hand corner, the road straightens up and we have our local Pharmacy and Post Office.

Estalagem de Colares - a lovely spot for lunch or dinner and, should you wish, as a base for exploring the area

The Pharmacy which also sells beauty products, does various medical tests and is much appreciated in the area.

Our Post Office which is now run slightly differently and offers help with things IT.

Spacious free cark parking for the Pharmacy and Post Office opposite.

A little further along you come to the Bombeiros - our fabulous fire station which has, at the rear, a heated swimming pool which is very impressive and very warm!

Although shown closed, at weekends the shutters go up and the barbeque is lit and you can buy wonderful barbequed chickens, pao com chourico and other goodies as shown on the sign below.

Next we come to the first of our two petrol stations.  Both play an important role as the next one is in Sintra.  No self service here - all done the old fashioned way.

Around the next corner we find The Salvation Army Home.  This place has lovely gardens and a little shop.

The main building

A shot of the garden and chapel

Need a woodburner installing?  Then you have this place on hand to advise and install for you.

Next is our second petrol station opposite Riberinha de Colares - a super little restaurant (on the first floor) and cosy cafe downstairs - and our local GNR headquarters with the Council Offices upstairs.

The restaurant/cafe Riberinha de Colares

GNR/Council Offices above

The second petrol station (BP) which we use as they are so nice and helpful. 

We have now reached the T junction where if you turn right you can go to Praia das Macas and Azenhas do Mar - and also where the Council have just revamped the little square where the bands play in the summer.

The newly refurbished square with the first of our banks (Banco Espirito Santo) is opposite

A recent addition to the square showing who is is named after

Opposite the junction is the wonderful Paper Shop where the two ladies have an impressive array of magazines and newspapers in various languages as well as taking care of the lottery, bus tickets and much, much more for the local community.

So, not taking the road to Praia das Macas quite yet, we continue along past the Paper Shop and on the same side of the road we have a taxi rank, public loos, another cafe, a gift shop - Pau de Canela - you can always find a good present in here - and then an excellent estate agency.

Nice view from the car parking area

Public loos are in most villages and are usually of a high standard of cleanliness

Cafetaria O Moinho Cafe - also sells bread along with a good selection of cakes

Pau de Canela Gift Shop - lots of lovely stuff and a lovely lady who is always helpful with Zurich Insurance above.

Riberinha Imobilaria - great estate agent - some wonderful properties available here

Looking back towards the T junction

The T junction 

A view of the river which is rather low at the moment but will soon fill up with the winter rains.  Here the ducks get their daily bread from children and adults alike.

A view to the hills of Sintra

At the side of the river here is a lovely cafe that does wonderful pastries, flans and cakes and in the summer is a lovely spot to sit and watch the world and the river go by.  

Cantinho da Varzea Cafe 

On the same side as the cafe we then have our second bank (Caixa de Geral de Depositos) and another estate agent (Remax) and then on the other side of the road, my greengrocer/grocer run by the wonderful Manuel and Fernanda. I spend a lot of time in here as they stock all that I need and I love to have a coffee at the tiny bar and listen to the local chat and watch the serious business of choosing bread - Janas or Assafora.  Everyone has their favourite.

The wonderful 'Poms' as we call it.

Back across the road and nearly opposite is a small children's playground - not unknown to see the odd adult playing on the swings!

The playground

Opposite the playground we have our electric charging posts for electric cars.

Just ahead now is where the tram comes out in Colares before it starts heading towards Praia das Macas.  We also have the Adega Regional de Colares.  A fabulous building and open to the public.  The size of the barrels is breathtaking.

Note the tram track cutting across the junction.

A fantastic view of the barrels of the wonderful Colares wine

Opposite the Adega is the local Health Centre - not ours unfortunately as we miss the limit by yards - I kid you not.  We also have another bank - Montepio and down the side of that is a Builder's Merchants who have been extremely helpful to us.

Colares Health Centre

Montepio Bank with entrance to Builder's Merchant's on the right

Very sadly the superb local Drogaria where we have bought so much in the way of DIY stuff, closed its doors a couple of months back due to the owner's ill health.  We really miss it.

Back across the road and just after the main entrance to Adega Regional de Colares, we have another bank, Millenium BCP.

Millenium BCP Bank

The bank is on the corner of the road which leads up to the village of Mucifal.

And also on the opposite corner is our final bank, BPI which we belong to. They are so helpful in here as have all the BPI branches we have dealt with. To the left of the bank is an insurance agent and the pink building on the far left just in the shot, is the second butcher of the village.  On the right of the bank is a nice little cafe, a Chinese shop (there is another one round the other corner) and bit further along is an area which has some small shops opening in a patio.  Also another restaurant - Central - on the same side.

Instead of turning right here, if you look up the road to Praia das Macas, on your left hand side you will see this wonderful building.

Caves de Visconte de Salreu

Close up of the front

This fabulous place is usually open for exhibitions and food tastings at various times of the year and the photographs of times past, are truly fascinating.

I hope you have enjoyed this quick look around Colares and if you are visiting Sintra, grab the tram and come and have a look round.

16 August 2013

The Six Month Check Up

Dentists.  We love them or hate them but we have to go to them.  If you are lucky it is only a couple of times a year.  In my case I am lucky - it's every six months.  Moving to another country away from the all-embracing old National Health Service system, I took the opportunity for a total check up before I left for Portugal. 

As a child, I have no memory of my dentist in Surrey, my first memory is of a dentist on the main road between Horwich End and Whaley Bridge (Derbyshire) and receiving a lolly or sweets after each visit!!!  How times change.  There again, the sweets we consumed in those days were probably made from real products, unlike the weird, multi-coloured addictive varieties of today.

Moving to Macclesfield in my teens, I then became a regular visitor to a lovely white haired, red cheeked dentist.  This is the first surgery I vividly remember.  Full of black and stainless steel contraptions and a strange, antiseptic smell. He also did a very good line in the pink mouthwash, which I was quite particular to.  I saw him every six months for the check up and he was the dentist who identified my impacted wisdom teeth and sent me off to Macclesfield Infirmary to get them removed.

For the operation, I had been asked if I would mind being observed by trainee dentists because I had rather interesting impacted wisdom teeth - the bottom two lying horizontally which apparently was unusual.  I had no problem with this - always been keen to be of service. I checked in as requested the day before and dinner was in the Children's Ward (!).  As I crouched down at the low dining table set in the middle of the ward, a boy with his leg in plaster and a hoist, lying in the bed opposite, enquired why I was there.  I told him I was having my wisdom teeth extracted the next day.  He grinned and informed me that his mate had had that done and died!  I think I offered to adjust his hoist! 

The operation appeared to go well but the following day I woke up feeling worse than I had ever (even to this day) felt.  I had an incredibly swollen and bloody face, and my mouth had shrunk to something resembling a goldfish's pout.  I managed to indicate to a nurse that she should put my mother off from visiting as I thought she would probably have kittens seeing me in that state.  I then passed out again until the following morning when I managed to clean my face after having been offered corn flakes or fish cakes for my breakfast (both of the crunchy and scratchy variety) I conveyed the fact that I couldn't eat a thing due to my mouth being about two inches wide and and full of black stitches.  Luckily I got an early release home and spent the next two weeks on sloppy food.  The pain of the operation brought home to me how painful procedures are in and around the face and to this day, cannot imagine why anyone would go through plastic surgery on their faces.

When I returned to the dental specialist for my check up, I discovered the main course of pain was the fact that my jaw had been dislocated to remove the bottom set of wisdom teeth.  Thank goodness for anaesthetic.  I was given the teeth as a souvenir and I was astonished at the size of the lower teeth.  They were both about an inch long and considering they were lying horizontally, I could see why my jaw had been dislocated.  The top two, also not small, had no space to grow in and therefore also had to be removed.  Made me wonder how big our ancestors jaws were as so many of us have our wisdom teeth removed.

My white haired dentist was rather thrilled with my experiences but I soon had to find a new one as he was coming up to retirement age and as I chose only to see him in the mornings - once having made the mistake of seeing him in the afternoon to be nearly gassed by the smell of gin - I asked around friends and was recommended a rather handsome chap I had seen around the area for years not realising he was a dentist.

Brian was a very good dentist and was horrified at the state of my mouth.  It appeared that my lovely white haired dentist, although doing my regular check ups and the odd filling or too, had totally failed to do any work on tartar.  The first check up to remove the tartar was injection driven and I returned to work later that morning doing a good impression of Dudley Moore in 10.  Dribbles of black coffee were prominent on my front as I failed to connect the cup with my mouth.

Leaving Brian behind when I moved to Edinburgh, I found a very nice Scottish dentist in Davidson's Mains (the Scots have wonderful names for places), and was informed by him that if he had as many patients with teeth like mine, he could play more golf!  I took that as a compliment.

Back down in Wiltshire, I became a long standing patient of The Barley Mow Surgery in Malmesbury.  My dentist had the clever idea of covering the ceiling with postcards from all over the world which took your mind off whatever he was doing inside your mouth.  He was also a staunch Stoke City supporter and I see that Dr Rory McNulty has now been made a partner from its website and is still flying the Stoke City scarf.  Congratulations!  It was a lovely little practice with smiling receptionists and a good variety of magazines to peruse. Great importance is always put on magazines in dentists and doctors in the UK!

The Barley Mow Dental Surgery, Malmesbury

When I arrived in Lisbon I knew I had six months or so to find a new dentist.  I struck lucky with a recommendation of friends, who had an apartment above a dental practice and although my portuguese was very limited, we managed to get by quite well.  Then I moved to Cascais and again on recommendation, I found the dental practice I have been with ever since.

Dr Harley has a practice in a building overlooking the market square in Cascais on Avenida 25 Abril (25 of April Road).  He has a very interesting background as he worked in private practice in Paris for 20 years before moving to Portugal.  He is a lovely, gentle dentist with a great sense of humour and I always enjoy the banter.  His hygenist, Victor Assuncao deserves a medal for working on my tartar problem.

As most people will be aware, the modern method of treating tartar is somewhat different to what I grew up with.  I gamely (twitching a lot) tried to cope with the myriad of items that go in the mouth, but eventually I had to admit defeat (ok cowardice) and persuade poor Victor to do it the old fashioned way, with the hooks and brute force.  He now works tirelessly on my problem and has probably got more muscles than Popeye in preparation for my twice yearly visits. He also has a nice line in green mouthwash rather than the pink. I also have to mention the lovely Graca - she makes everyone feel welcome, calms the nervous, politely phones the idiot (me) when I forget to make an appointment and always has a smile to greet you. Here's a nice photo of the three of them. 

Victor (in green), Dr Francis with Graca in the front

A nice modern dental set up at Dr Harley's practice

This was the one I remember from childhood - I know which I prefer!