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!

15 August 2013

Are Toys Us?

The other day I was having a tidy up and that meant a quick dust and re-positioning of my childhood toys.  Yes, I admit it, I still have a couple though to be fair one of them was a much later birthday present.  The oldest childhood toy I still possess is Woofles – and no, I haven’t a clue why it ended up with that name.  

Woofles was originally quite a smart terrier on red wheels with a red collar and I have memories of tottering along hanging on to the handle to push him along – obviously an early walking aid for me.  His most traumatic adventure was being left at the side of the road in error, after I had had an unpleasant queasy moment on our move from Surrey to Cheshire.  I seem to remember the car being sorted out along with myself, and then driving on only for me to start wailing about Woofles.  We returned and discovered not only Woofles, but my mother’s beloved portable typewriter had also been left behind.  In mitigation, my poor parents were trying to clean everything up in the dark.

My other toy is William, a rather battered bear which I received from my father on my 17th birthday.  Bizarre present for a 17 year old I know but I never had one when I was little and had always coveted one since I had spotted them in Hamley’s window (London posh toy shop) as a kid.  He has had many adventures over the years.  He has sat on drum kits at gigs, been made to impersonate the Bear Brand Bear and witnessed more things that a bear really ought to have done but has survived into his retirement in the sun.  The pair sit on a blanket chest, occasionally squashed by a cat, watching the world go by.

How William used to look when he was a stunt double

Here in Sintra we are lucky enough to have the wonderful Museu do Brinquedo (Toy Museum). www.museu-do-brinquedo.pt. (English button available). Open Tuesdays to Sundays (including Public Holidays except 1 January, 1 May and 25 December).  Closed Mondays. 

João Arbués Moreira created the Arbues Moreira Foundation and donated his personal collection of over 20,000 items (gathered over 50 years) and in 1989 the museum opened to the public. The original location quickly became too small so when the Sintra Fire Brigade Headquarters moved, the collection moved to its present site.  It is now rumoured that the museum has over 40,000 items in it.
Spanish Bugatti 1930

The collection is spread over three floors and the first floor has toys from the 2nd and 3rd centuries BC, the 19th & 20th centuries, from the Industrial Revolution. Also trains, boats, cars by Carrete, Lehman, Bing and others. Penny and novelty toys, circus characters, hand-made toys, games, books and space toys.

Hornby 1930

On the second floor there are cars by Citroën, Jep, Rossignol, Paya, Rico, Schucco, Gama, TCO, Dinky, Matchbox, Ingap, Burago, Polistil, Maestro and others.  Also motorcycles,  toy soldiers,  Portuguese toys,  plastic and celluloid toys,  pedal cars, tricycles, scooters and aircraft.

English lead figures 1940's

The third floor has the Doll’s attic and Restoration Room.

Portuguese china doll's set 1940's

French Tin Carousel 1890

Here are a few images of the collection as a taster.

Japanese space ship 1960's (long before Buzz Lightyear)

Portuguese bucket and spade 1940's - I love the shape of the spade

The Museum is an absolute joy to visit whether you are an adult (with an inner child) or a child plus you have the added bonus of exclamations of "Oh, I had one of those!" to "Wish I had kept mine" comments.  Modern children will marvel at how simple our toys used to be and how we looked after them and in those long off days, didn't howl on Christmas Day because there were no batteries - just a string to pull.

14 August 2013

Medieval Fair, Sao Pedro, Sintra

Last year we chanced upon the Medieval Fair in Sao Pedro, and enjoyed it so much I kept a careful watch out for when it was due this year and promptly stuck it on the calendar for another evening out.  The fair runs over a long weekend and this year took place over the 19-21 July.

Last year we picked up a man bag for Glenn, some wonderful honey soaps, a selection of spices and sampled some draft mead - you bought the first drink which was served in a terracotta mug and you kept that and just got a refill! Excellent stuff.  We have carefully looked after these two mugs in anticipation of a refill this year.

The fair is organised in the main square in Sao Pedro - where the normal bi-monthly market is held on Sundays.  It is fully decorated in medieval style with shacks, straw bales, bunting etc.  There are actors playing the parts of drunks, beggars, quarrelling couples etc entertaining the crowds which all adds to the atmosphere.

A couple of the players resting

Some of the shacks/stalls and tables and benches for the diners

We arrived early evening just as everything was starting to get going and the first thing we heard was the band.  A fantastic group of people playing bagpipes with a really driving beat from the drummers - all music of the period which made me think that music must have been quite good back then and certainly very loud.  We followed them down through the square for quite some time as they were so entertaining. Wish I had got their name as I would like to hear them again.  The drumming was really infectious.

The band

I found my stall for spices quite quickly and got a good supply of the spice mix for chicken dishes that I like to put in a sauce with the chicken and turkey meatballs I buy from a good butcher up in Ericeira.  I also stocked up on a spice for fish.  He was offering a BOGOF deal - not quite medieaval but good business practice!

The spice and herb stall

There were quite a few places selling honey and honey based items as in soaps, handcreams etc.  Children found it interesting to see the honeycomb featured on this particular stall run by a 'monk'.

A honey seller

As the evening got going, so did the actors who played their parts effectively as can be seen in this photo.

Getting into the spirit - possibly too much ale

Other stalls were selling bread and cakes, cheese and spicy sausages, selections of herbal teas, handicrafts, clothing etc.

Cheese and spicy sausages

Last year we watched some of the actors terrify the children with a renactment of George and the Dragon, this year there was an opportunity for the children to fight knights.  Some really got into the spirit of it so it was just as well nothing was sharp.

Knights versus knaves?

For the less brave, there were pony rides or a carriage ride for those who wanted to be a maiden waving at her followers.

Pony rides

Carriage for a maiden

We came across a bit of a crowd and stopped for a watch and saw some pretty impressive juggling and fire eating with comedy routine added in for extra enjoyment.

Fire eating, fire jugging and comedy

We searched for our mead stall to no avail and eventually asked someone where he was in case we had missed him somehow.  Sadly, this medieaval fair clashed with the one being held in Obidos and as he was based in Torres Vedras, Obidos won as it was nearer.  So we put our mead mugs back in the bag and headed for a beer stall.  We sampled some rather pleasant different brews and Glenn was allowed to see if he still knew how to pull a pint.  He isn't that short, by the way, the other guys were standing on a platform.  

He can still pull a pint

It was now getting dark and we started to get a bit peckish.  There were so many choices from soups, barbeques, crepes, pao com chourico (the beautiful wood fired baked bread with spicy sausage) - you name it, could could get it.

Fancy some pork?

Perhaps you prefer ribs or sausages?

Getting rather busy

We sat at a table with a lovely local couple who quizzed us about Wales as surprisingly for their age group, they wanted to visit Wales and not London as they prefer the countryside.  It never fails to amaze me how the Portuguese are so interested in why we chose to live in Portugal.  They love it when we tell them it is because of the people, the culture, the lifestyle and, of course, the food.  

It was getting late so we decided to leave and as as we headed for our car, this strange procession of quite alarming looking monsters headed into the crowds which parted to let them through.

Not certain about what these were supposed to be or represent but they were scary

As we were leaving we looked back and saw just how popular this event is. We will be back again next year.

Our final sight of the fair

13 August 2013

Night life

Living here on the side of the Sintra hills, we tend to have rather a quiet social life, preferring to be of the 'early to rise, early to bed' types but occasionally we have a night out - and thoroughly enjoy it for being something special.

Last year, as I mentioned in a previous blog, we had the pleasure of meeting Luis and Regina who run Insider Cooking (www.insider-cooking.com) and they told us about an event that takes place up in the village of Penedo, where the locals comes together and organise a music and food event in June.  Obviously we were very interested and kept a keen eye out for when it was going to take place.



As we subscribe the magazine from their site, we got early warning of the two day event and promptly reserved our tickets for the Friday 14 June.  The event was called 'Sons e Sabores do Penedo' ('Sounds and Flavours of Penedo) and we chose the Friday because it was was Jazz. The musicians on this night were Mário Laginha, André Fernandes, Demian Caboud and Marcos Cavaleiro. The food specialities from Germany, Austria and France were overseen by Chef Bernard Phister who is the Head Chef at Hotel Palacio in Estoril.

On the night we drove up to the hilltop village and managed to park quite easily just below the centre of the village.  We walked up to the Tuna Euterpe União Penedense building which was the musical event was being held.  This is what the building normally looks like for most of the year.

However, this particular evening, the front patio section was full of people chatting and enjoying a refreshing glass of Espumante Conde de Vimioso before going across to the Mercearia da Aldeia do Penedo, where a selection of mustards and vinegars from Austria were available for tasting.

Guests enjoying a pre-dinner drink

Around 8.30pm we all headed up to the local restaurant, Refugio do Ciclista (Cyclists Refuge) to have a dinner of a terrine of wild boar and goat cheese, followed by a selection of barbeque specialities from what is claimed to be the best German butcher in the Algarve (Hotel Vila Vita, Algarve) with 3 different mustards, potato salad, coleslaw, beetroot and green salad, finished off with Apfelstrudel with custard and apricot schnapps.  There was also a choice of white, red and rosé wine from Conde de Vimioso.

The tables set out ready for the special dinner

Refugio do Ciclista in Penedo is one of our favourite lunch places.  It is a wonderfully simple place with long tables covered in white paper tablecloths and we all sit on long benches and it has been the greatest place to meet people from all walks of life.  The menus are simple - either 6 or 8 euros - which includes a soup, a main course and dessert along with a bottle of local wine, lemonade, olives and bread inclusive.  You choose from the selection of items in the display cabinet and then it is grilled on a monster grill - no 'ping ping' here.  Just good wholesome food in a wonderfully unpretentious location.

This particular night, it looked somewhat different with tables beautifully laid out, with waiters kitted out in black and white and Insider Cooking maroon aprons.  We were on a table with Portuguese, Welsh, German people - in fact the guests were a United Nations of nationalities!  We all tucked in to a lovely meal along with rather good wines.  

Guests enjoying dinner

After dinner we all made our way next door to have coffee and then down the street to the concert venue and the jazz concert.  Once everyone was settled, a welcoming speech was given and the music started.  Sadly, due to having a very early start in the morning, we could not stay until the end of the concert, but what we saw and heard was excellent.  Definitely looking forward to the next one in 2014.

Paulo and his Dad serving coffees and drinks

Enjoying the night air before the concert outside the cafe

The concert in full swing

Short trip to Porto

Recently I was lucky enough to have a mini break up in Porto with one of my best friends from the UK, who nipped over for a few days in the sun.  We got a great deal at the Sheraton Hotel and Spa in the Boavista area of the city and I got e.tickets from www.cp.pt for 55 euros each return – not bad for a journey of 2 hours and 44 minutes considering the extortionate rates people have to pay in the UK.  The train we chose was the Alpha Pendular, which is about 20 minutes faster than the Intercity version. 

Santa Apolonia Station in Lisbon

The e.ticket states your carriage number and seat allocation so finding your place was very easy.  The interior of the train was clean and more like a plane with comfortable seats and folding tables.  We were next to the buffet car but there was also a trolley service with various snacks and drinks and a steward also came round asking people if they wanted lunch and then it was delivered (hot) to your seat.  Very impressive.  Obviously, as is the way of all travel, the snacks etc are not cheap but they fill a hole if you want them.

The interior of the Alpha Pendular

We set off bang on time and above the doorways you can see the usual next station information but alongside that, was the speed of the train.  The Alpha Pendular is a fast train – I mean fast.  At one point we hit 230kph (142mph).  Although there was a bit of a roll, it was nothing like First Great Western in the UK at a much lower (practically stationary) speed.  We passed through some beautifully blue tiled rural stations as well as more rustic ones which looked quite sad in comparison.

The countryside was interesting as it changed from urban to rural constantly. Railway type cottages next to the line, vast areas of agriculture with cows, sheep, goats, horses etc.  There were wonderful olive trees with massive trunks, fruit trees laden with fruit, fabulous villas, sprawling farms, curious ruins with colourful climbing vines over them, church towers, abandoned factories - something different every kilometre.  In no time we arrived at Porto Campanha station.  A quick, and rather hair raising (even with my experience) trip by taxi to the hotel and we were in Porto.

Porto Campanha Station

We checked in and were given an upgrade giving us use of the Club facilities. Issued with our ‘key’ – our luggage having been mysteriously whipped away – we headed for the all glass lifts.  Now it has been quite some time since I stayed in a Sheraton and technology has moved on dramatically.  The ‘key’ (think credit card) has to be inserted into a slot in the lift and removed quickly and then you hit the button for the floor you want.  Well, we played with this for a bit and then got the wrist movement right and successful hit the 10th floor.  The same wrist action was required to use the ‘key’ to get into the room where our luggage was already in place.

I was a bit taken aback at the glass wall between the bedroom and bathroom and it took some investigating to work out how to drop and close the blind on it as neither of us fancied seeing each other’s lumps and bumps in the bathroom. We had the usual robes, slippers, toiletries etc but no tea and coffee making facilities in the room. The room service menu and prices of the stuff in the mini fridge were extortionate but we were happy with the inclusive breakfast and free Club facilities instead.

The double bed version of our twin-bedded room - note the view into the bathroom!

The map of Porto issued by the hotel and the tourist office is unwieldy and pinpoints a vulnerable tourist so I put it away and resorted to asking a local for the nearest metro which involved a bit of a walk. We got off at Trinidade and wandered down to Avenida dos Aliados and looked around the square at the wonderful buildings. Then headed up towards the Torre dos Clerigos – a fantastic tower that is a particular landmark for Porto. We were fortunate enough to be next to the tower at 6.00pm and were treated to a wonderful carillion of bells – apparently this happens at 12.00 and 6.00pm every day so we struck lucky.  We walked and walked and eventually took a taxi to the waterfront as we had been given the name of a little restaurant not far from the Farol de Sao Miguel.  Sadly, being a Monday, it was closed so the taxi driver took us back up to Rua do Carmo and we found an absolute jewel of a restaurant. 

The metro

Avenida dos Aliados

Torre dos Clerigos

A Tasquinha (www.atasquinha.com) serves traditional Portuguese food and considering we found it by pure accident, it made such an impression we returned for dinner the next night. The head waiter (whose name I stupidly did not get) was amused at our choice of dishes – I don’t think many tourists go for Favas (a delicious broad bean stew).  I have to say that both meals were some of the best I have ever eaten in Portugal. 

The exterior of the restaurant.  You can enter from the side or from below where the tables and chairs are

The interior of the restaurant

The rather splendid selection of wines

The next day was our only full day so we took advantage of the Yellow Bus Tour (www.yellowbus.com) and as we had bought our tickets at the hotel (22 euros each including river trip), it entitled us to travel on the  local bus into Avenida dos Aliados to pick up the tour.  I have never done one of these tourist bus trips before but cannot recommend it highly enough. It is a ‘hop on, hop off’ tour which allows you to stop and visit anything that takes your fancy and then rejoin. You are issued with free headphones which you plug in and listen to a commentary about the city and its monuments, places of interest etc. The tour took nearly two hours and was fascinating as it was Historical Porto.  You get a really good feel for the city and because you are high up, you get a wonderful view of streets, parks, monuments, the river and the beautiful bridges.  You also get to see the residential areas and there are some beautiful villas – old and new – parks and gardens to see.

The Yellow Bus

A view of Porto from the Vila Nova da Gaia side - Torre dos Clerigos on the skyline

The pretty boats and bridges

When we got back we had a late lunch at a super little tasca – Garota da Baixa in Rua das Flores and made friends with Estela Pereira – a lovely lady who was working there since she had been made redundant from a hotel that had closed down.  A real loss to the hotel industry because she was bright and sparky with excellent English and would be a real addition to tourism.  I really hope she finds a full time job soon.

We then got on the Yellow Bus again and this time we were on the Porto Castles tour.  Again another two hours of interest, this time we went across the river over to Vila Nova da Gaia, where the port wine buildings (and tastings) are and then back along through Foz and Matosinhos where we spotted this beautiful piece of work – the locals call it the Anemone – dedicated to the fishing industry. I would love to see it billowing in a winter wind as although it was fairly windy on the bus, it must be incredible in a real gale. Sadly we ran out of time for the river trip but the four hours touring Porto was so worth the 22 euros.  Things you definitely would not have seen by ourselves in such a short time frame.

The Anemone sculpture

Vila Nova da Gaia frontage

In the evening, after refreshing ourselves back at the hotel in the Club, we went back down to the Ribeiro area to look at the local food fair.  Lots of interesting stalls selling cheeses, wines, handicrafts along with food stalls.  We then had a wander along the front before dinner.

The next day, as we were on the 11.40 Alpha Pendular back to Lisbon, we just lazed around the hotel discussing our impressions of Porto and how much we had enjoyed the whole short trip.  I certainly thought there had been a big improvement since I last visited (2002).  The riverfront is full of interesting buildings, cafes, restaurants, the original tram also still runs down here and up into the centre, a helipad for flights over the city, boat trips up the river to see the sights and the bridges. On the Vila Nova da Gaia side there was also a Teleferico de Gaia (looked like good fun but we did not have time) On the other hand, similar to Lisbon, there is a lot of retail outlets that are empty and rundown and I felt the streets could have been a bit cleaner but all in all, it is well worth a trip and I hope it won’t be too long before I return.

The Teleferico de Gaia