A Castle on a Hill

A quiet road meanders slowly across to the horizon, the sun shines down warmly and the sky’s perfectly blue without a cloud in sight on this spring day. A hill pops up over the horizon, and as one draws near the skyline clears and little details start to appear. A castle battlement stands tall and proud over whitewashed walls and red tiled roofs, a stone wall is distinctly structured around the village perimetre part of the way down the hill…. This is Montsaraz.
A medieval village fortified by the Knights Templar in the 1200’s to secure against the Moors, if one was to remove the vehicles and street lights, you could be forgiven for believing the village was still living in it’s ancient past.
From the battlement there is an exquisite view of the Alqueva lake in the distance and close by, the intricate details of the village becomes more apparent. Watch your step up the worn rocky steps, especially with a wriggling Savannah on your back.

The tightly packed little homes create small windy narrow cobbled streets. The tiny doors make one wonder if “here do midgets reside?” Below the battlement there is a tiny dusty arena with stone structured stands. It is here that bull fights have been held for centuries and is still used annually. Unfortunately, today it was just Tam and Dave chasing a Sav around with a white tissue in a sandy ring….the “Olé!” being replaced with the cackling laughter of a two year old.
Visiting this region in Spring is fantastic, the weather is good, the roads are quiet and the areas of interest are not jam packed with tourists. Our lonely car was the only one parked in an area clearly constructed for 300 odd vehicles.

A small little chapel sits off from the walled village. This dilapidated building is slowly caving in on itself. The interior’s been gutted and a broken-down shrine is all that points to this being of catholic origin. Faint paintings on the wall are peeling off and the roof is beginning to fall in as well, while not much to look at it echoes of an age when village life was simple, the church managed opinion and the strongest sword ruled the land.

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Tam enjoying the history…and sun!

Moorish Evora

Evora is a charming little walled city about a hundred and twenty kilometres east of Lisbon. The city dates back to the days when the Romans ruled this part of the world and one of it’s distinguishing features is The Roman Temple, standing in the centre of the city, with it’s proud pillars proclaiming the magnificence of roman design and architecture still 2000 years later. This temple of Diana has a “bloody” past with it being used as an execution ground during the spanish inquisition and then as a slaughter house right up until the end of the 1800’s.
It’s best to find a detailed map of the city before beginning to wonder about, as the maze of moorish designed cobbled streets soon have you criss-crossing your way in circular routes that leave one wishing for a trail of gingerbread crumbs to lead you back to the hotel.

The central square is where most of the one way entry/exit roads lead too. A fountain dating back to the renaissance period forms a main feature. While tiny shops line the periphery and the church forms the main back drop to this social meeting ground. If one has a spare five minutes, stopping off by any of the many tiny cafés for a Delta espresso and Queijada de Requeijão (sweet little “custard cake”) rewards you with a “to be repeated” experience.

One of the architectual beauties of Portugal is the “Sé Cathedral” and it is ironically build within a stones throw away from the Diana temple. This intricately decorated building hosts a multitude of beautiful paintings as well as masterfully crafted wooded lattice work and crafted stonework. while we’re not great fanatics of cathedrals, its continually amazing to see how mankind has build magnificent designs through the centuries.

A short wonder to the southern side of the city bring you to the market place which is inside a munciple building, not far from the wall. The selection of sausage (porco preto), hams, breads,cheeses and fresh produce is enough to make you buy more than you need and makes for a fantastic picnic.

(Unfortunately pic are all on my camera…and not on the bb. Pics to follow!)

Song for the day….. Cheryl Crow – A change will you Good.

The 5am Taxi Express

Late night packing went down smoothly and after running through the check list to end all checklists for the 10th time, we decided that our passports were not going to disappear and it was time for bed. Five hours later Tam kicks me out of bed to make coffee and 20 minutes after that we’re in the taxi heading South to the airport (Luton, Easyjet to Lisbon).
Travelling alone and travelling with a family in tow is quite different. For one luggage requirements vary massively. The normal backpack has been replaced with two cargo bags, two sets of hand luggage and a child carrier. The peaceful settling down to a glass of wine and a movie replaced by a restless, wriggling, kicking little girl fighting an intense feeling of claustrophobia. Relax fellow passengers, she’s not going to stop yelling her lungs simply through your irritable glances, this is Sav in a good mood ;).

Top song for the day…. Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks – The National

 

 

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(Allowing dad to tap away merrily on the Blackberry)

Peterborough to Petrolina (Brazil day 1)

Brazil has always been an enticement and when an opportunity arises to go and see this powerhouse of the southern hemisphere in action, it needs to be grabbed onto with utmost vigour. 

Airlines are always going to try and cram as many people to a flying tube as possible. They calculate their costing as number of humans per square centimetre, and somewhere in-between all of the excitement and profit projection they forgot that 1 human did not fit onto a square cm, and TAP is no exception. TAP goes the extra mile by ensuring that you can’t check-in on line in time and can’t select you seating between Lisbon and Recife, the net result being a feeble attempt to sleep in mid space without the luxury of a window to slouch on.

The Portuguese once ruled the world but that was many centuries ago and the chaos that ensues from a collapsed empire is still evident in the way the airport is designed and operated in Lisbon. No clear transfer zones means hanging around waiting for directions from an over-crowded official. However the long walk through a glass divided corridor soon reflects happy home comers and tourists flocking to the Portuguese capital. A brief, relaxed slander through security, while holding my shorts up (belt through the scanner) and before long one is enjoying TAP hospitality for the next 7 hrs.

It’s always a tossup between keeping the belt on, thereby risking some random security guard frisking you where no man wishes to be frisked and sending it through the big black box and holding your shorts up while tiptoeing through the metal detector. I pity the sorry soul who’s forgotten his keys in his pocket and taken his belt off. He gets frisked with his shorts falling down.

Mid air sunrise
Sunrise over the Atlantic

Arriving into Brazil you start to get an idea of the immensity of this country. Parts of the NE region are fairly dry, with rainfall averaging on 600 to 700 mm per annum. Vast areas of brown thorn scrub are broken occasionally by irrigated farmland and a few towns and villages. The down side of only transiting a city is that all you see is the airport and normally a dingy view of the said city’s less attractive side, on landing and take-off. Well if the city of Recife is anything like its airport then it’s definitely worth visiting. Clean, bright, new and quite impressive all round.

Tour note: rumour has it that the little village of Olinda has a fascinating  history, slave trade market still standing, and “chicken beach” being a must see. When the “entire” world had banned slavery, the Portuguese decided to list them as chicken cargo….hence the name “chicken beach”.

The one hour flight to Petrolina is fairly uneventful. If taken at night one will miss the impressive Saõ Francisco river snaking below. This bright blue (or brown depending on the season) water mass is at least 500 m across in some parts. The city is built on the bank of the SF and doesn’t bode much except for being the centre of a massive grape and mango production region.

Judging from the flights in and out of Petrolina, not many people arrive and leave this place. All four of these flights taken were less than half full. This Ibis hotel is apparently a new addition to the Petrolinian landscape. It’s a 10 min drive from the airport and holds true to its global image that one ibis is as practically identical to the next one (the sales idea is that if you know what you’re getting, then you’ll go for what is known instead of stepping into the unknown). That’s the practical side, the reality is that you never get to experience the culture of a new region unless you take a few risks, and book into something slightly more cultural.

In this instance, after travelling for 27 hours, practical is more appreciated than cultural and stretching out on clean sheets and a comfortable mattress with the air-con blowing gently in the background at 4 am htz (home time zone) beat having to sleep in an upright aircraft seat hands down.