Monday, January 28, 2019

Hiya Ayamonte

I'm a bit tardy with this post. I'm sorry about that. I'd intended to try and write one every couple of days but I've been nose to the screen editing my latest book. Anyway, now the weather's about as appealing as a wet woollen coat on a snowy day (actually it's sleeting, so just as bad), I'm happy to look at these photos and enjoy the sunny skies again. 

How lovely it was to be in Portugal. It's hard to believe we came back more than ten days ago. The photos below are actually of Ayamonte, which is in Spain. The border between the two countries is the lovely Guadiana River. 

Now why are you surprised we went there? And also that we took the ferry across the river instead of taking a bus? 

You're not, I know.

As you might imagine the boat trip was the highlight for me, just as the ferry to Farol was last time; I just love boats. The Guadiana is a tidal river that flows straight out to sea a kilometre or so downstream from the ferry, but considering it flows into the Atlantic, it is remarkably calm with a very slow running tidal current.

The approach to Ayamonte across the water is lovely. The boat follows a diagonal route and it takes about fifteen minutes, so not very long, but enough to give us that 'aaaaah' feeling of being on the water again.

 The views were marvellous. Above is Castro Marim, a castle we didn't manage to get to, but I've promised myself we will next time.

Ayamonte was very pretty straddling the hillside with its brilliant white homes and colourful waterfront.

I was fascinated by these fishing boats too. Apparently they are trawlers and those ramp things are where they haul the nets in.

And here we were saying Hiya Ayamonte. What an attractive town it is: full of colour and cheerful liveliness. It was odd that we suddenly went forward an hour and the difference between a not quite awake late morning in Vila Real on the Portuguese side and a lively Ayamonte in full lunchtime mode was quite striking.

The tidal harbour waters run deep into the town. I think this landing stage was for fishermen, though. It's too shallow for navigation and anyway, the bridge was fixed. The rest of the photos are just impressions from the backstreets that we found. I enjoyed it very much, steep hills and all.

Well, that's it for this time Allemaal. The weather here is quite horrible, so I'll keep posting about sunny Portugal until things improve a bit. I hear it's going to snow again tomorrow and Wednesday. Ho hum.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

A ferry island trip

Now, I'll bet you're all thinking the lovely building in the image above is where we stayed in Olhão, but I'm afraid that's not the case. I realise to my surprise I didn't take any photos of our hostel/hotel. I put it like this because it didn't seem to know quite what it was, but whatever the case, it was a lovely place to stay in a quiet (well, mostly...when the local football team weren't practising their cheering) neighbourhood close to the town centre. 

Last time I came to Olhão, I wasn't all that taken with it, but it intrigued me enough to keep looking at information on the internet, and I'm so glad we decided to use it as a base. It's a lovely place, very Portuguese as opposed to touristy, and full of character. The building above is just one, but the back streets and 'largos' of the old town are a visual feast. 

On the first morning, we did as recommended by the young man who acted as hotel receptionist, and went to the street market, which is on every day in the morning. It was a bustling hive of activity and we loved milling around amongst all the locals. The veggie stalls looked great and there was much lively trading to be had, not that we had any, but you get the drift. 

Then we continued obeying our host’s instructions and found the ferry terminal to take us to the Ria Formosa island stops of Culatra and Farol. The previous day we'd been offered a boat trip to these islands for €25 each. Granted they included a tour round the nature reserve and explanation of the bird life, but I'd already done that two years ago, so we were more than pleased when we found that ferry tickets to the same island were just €4,30 return each. The ferry trip took 45 minutes with a stop at Culatra before taking us further round the island to Farol.

Bird Island. I would have loved to get closer to see all the different 'makes'
of bird there were.

A water taxi steams past us

The ferry was pretty big. This was before it filled up

Locals waiting to disembark at Culatra
We watched with pleasure as most of the ferry passengers disembarked at Culatra. This was real local life and these people had been into Olhão to do their grocery shopping. The various designs of what we always think of as granny trolleys were amazing. They are quite the thing here and obviously a must have for the lively islanders. Everyone seemed to be pulling one loaded up with vegetables and other bags. There was even a man with a TV, which was passed to him over the railings of the boat. Too risky to take down the stairs, I suppose. Anyway, that took care of most of the passengers and then we were on our way again across the windy bay.

As it says 

Shopping trolleys are de rigeur and all the rage here

And even islanders need a new telly sometimes

The wind was blowing quite hard. A few shopping trolleys nearly got swept
to their death 
45 minutes to the second after leaving, we arrived at Farol. We decided our skipper must have done this a few times before as we were exactly on time. I'd peered through the bridge window on the boat and seen his hands on the wheel. One of them was sporting a large plaster, so I wondered whose nose had brushed up against him the previous evening. Speculation aside, he was very much in command and brought us safely to the landing stage, where we were greeted by an anxious looking dog waiting for her master. Very focused, she was. I didn't even get a look in.

And a local dog came to greet her master

Farol is stunning. The houses are just gorgeous and I would love to stay there a while. Imagine being able to hole up in one of these for the winter!

Then, there is the famous (well I think it is) lighthouse that stands in a very beckoning beacon like way close to the headland.

And on the other side of the island is the ocean, the Atlantic with proper waves and rollers. It's amazing how peaceful the Ria Formosa is by comparison. Despite being open through to the sea, the lagoon type delta is incredibly well protected.

The Atlantic as it really is. It even feels bigger, wilder and more untamed

Meandering back over the island we spotted more gems, not to mention the curious television aerials in the photo below. I wondered if it had anything to do with the distance they are from...well...anywhere.

Even here, they manage to have TV. Spot the aerials 
An African rondavel on Farol. Lovely!

And when your chimney needs fixing, there's always duct tape

And another cutie just waiting for me

The call of boats
We found a café open to have coffee and a cake (for Koos) on the island. We were the only customers but the coffee was perfect and just what we needed. An hour after arriving, we were ready to take the ferry back again. The return trip seemed faster, but it  took exactly the same time. On the way, we were passed by a kind of pontoon boat travelling at some speed. I was charmed to see a dog standing in the bow clearly loving the ride...dogdems, not dodgems.

Back  in Olhão, if you don't have a garden, use the roof

Back in Olhão, we explored the back streets of the town further. There's no doubt it's a bit scruffy, and even less doubt that it's a bit cramped, but we loved it and I was even more glad I'd chosen it as it has all the curiosity and local colour that both of us like.

The delight of the back streets

 It also seems incredibly safe. People leave their washing out on the street without any fear of vandalism or theft. There is a depressing amount of graffiti in much of Faro and also some on the outskirts here, but in town, evidence of that kind of random destruction seems to be much less.

As for the washing, leave it out on the street. No one will pinch it

So I'll leave you here with this special image of a special 'largo' (which I think means square). This is one of a few back street spaces where artistic representations of local legends are presented. This one is the legend of the Enchanted Moorish Boy. You can read the story below my photo. It saves me having to tell it :)

So that's it for today, allemaal. Tomorrow, or the next day, I'll take you to Ayamonte just across the river into Spain...

Friday, January 18, 2019

One week in Portugal: Faro

Last year, I made a decision to try and spend some of the worst of the winter in a warmer place than the Netherlands. The original idea was to be away for two months. Well, what with one thing and another, two months shrivelled and shrank down to one week (yes, I know), but what a week it's been.

I persuaded Koos to accompany me, much against his natural inclination (he loves to go east, not west, and absolutely not south), so I was very pleased that he embraced southern Portugal so fully, and in fact, he really enjoyed it.

We arrived in Faro last Thursday courtesy of Ryan(desp)air, and found our way quite late at night (11pm because the flight was late. Thank you, Ryan(rep)air) to our hostel, which was cheerful, clean and as accommodating as we wished our accommodation to be. It was a bit cold, though. Although the temperatures at night beat what ours are in Holland during the day, there's no heating, so where we are used to around a comfortably warm 16c inside overnight, in Portugal it's the same inside as out. At around 7c, we nicked the duvet off the other bed in the hostel and slept with our socks on. 

A workman repairing the paving

 The next morning, Faro greeted us with gorgeous blue skies and sunshine. We had breakfast on a terrace and a walk around town, fascinated by what was under our feet as well as above them. The paving in the Algarve is almost like mosaic. All these tiny stones are beautifully laid to form patterns and shapes, but like all footpaths, they often need repair, a process that is totally manual. The workmen have no machines to help them and the repairs are done with a claw hammer; the claw to pull up the stones, and the hammer to tap them back neatly. Given that all the paving and even some of the roads are surfaced this way, I imagine much patience is needed.

A forgotten boat complete with its outboard should anyone
be interested. At high tide, it is no longer visible

We then walked down to the harbour to look at the boats (as we do) and also to see the swampy ‘sandflats’ that are part of the shallow areas of the Ria Formosa, a natural delta area that in Holland we call verdronken or drowned land. It is also a protected nature reserve. During high tide, most of these areas of land are covered in sea water, but much of the time, they are sandy mud flats and the small boats sit at their moorings waiting to be refloated when the tide comes in again. Sometimes, they are left waiting too long as the picture above shows. I love the Ria Formosa; it has a natural, organic wildness that I find very appealing. Two years ago, I did a trip round the protected areas of the reserve with a friend. I described it (albeit briefly) in this blog post, so I won't go into it all again here.

Inside the old city...shame about the cars

We then took a walk to the old city enclosed by ancient walls. As before, it was peaceful and beautiful although cars are still permitted and somehow look out of place – very much the gaudy 21st century gadgets in this gracious old city. By mid afternoon, it was time to go and check-in at our accommodation for the week in Olhao (there's supposed to be a squiggly accent on that 'a' but I can't find it on my keyboard), so we picked up our bags and headed for the train.

I think that's enough for now, allemaal, so more tomorrow...or maybe the day after :)
Here are some more Faro photos.

A delightful kiosk

A back street in Faro

The Church of Bones (I think), which was sadly closed

Our breakfast Terras

A bench in the old city

Peace and tranquillity inside this enclosure

Friday, January 04, 2019

New Year's Exploration: Ellewoutsdijk Fort

Those who've been following my blog for the last few years will know that we have made it a habit to go to the coast on New Year's day, and despite the gloomy weather, we didn't depart from that habit this year either, but we did change one part of our routine. Instead of heading for the Zeeuws shoreline, we stayed in Zeeland proper and explored an area we've never visited before. 

I was looking at the map of the east side of the Westerschelde tunnel, the 6.6 kilometre tunnel that passes under the estuary. It's quite a challenge to reach it because the approach to said tunnel restricts access to the area, the reason being that it is a toll road and the powers that be don't want people nipping off and into the country before they've coughed up the approximately €5 required. What this means is that the villages and farms in the vicinity are very peaceful and quiet, although I'm guessing that in the summer that might be different.

We were heading for the village of Ellewoutsdijk, which Google reliably informed me had a fort that looked interesting. And it was. All of it. We found a small beach on the way to do our regulation walk along the sands, and then we drove towards the village itself.

What a delight it turned out to be. Quaint, pretty, cobbled, you name it, the village had it. There was also a marina, an interesting (and very old) wetland area, and (of course) the fort.

Koos doing what Koos does on the beach

I did my best to smile, but the wind was bitter, I have to admit

Not a big beach, but enough for us

The weather became gloomier, but I loved these mudflats at Ellewoutsdijk

The entrance to the marina

 The fort was built after the 1830 separation of Belgium from the Netherlands. Founded on a much older site, its purpose was to protect the estuary and Vlissingen. However, during WWII, it was taken over and occupied by the Germans who used it for POWs and defence. It obviously took a beating as the shell pits in the walls show (see bottom photo).

We were lucky because it wasn't actually open, but there was a friendly concierge there who welcomed us in and gave us a tour of the interior and the inner courtyard. I can imagine worse places to be locked up; the huge arched rooms were wonderful. Of course the Germans found it useful as they didn't have to worry about where to put their guns; the emplacements were still there. I have to confess I barely understood anything the concierge said. His accent was so strong it all just sounded like words in a tumble dryer to me, but his friendliness made up for everything, and luckily I can read, so I nodded, smiled, let Koos do the talking and took photos of the literature to devour later.

The Fort 'blurb'.

These days the Fort is a museum, but it's also used for events and apparently there was even a music festival held there a year or so ago. A fascinating place and well worth a summer visit.
The fort 

An impressive wall that originally looked out to sea, but now looks onto the
massive sea dyke

The interior room are wonderful

The inner courtyard 

And again

Shell marks around one of the gun emplacements

It was a real treasure of a find and we'd love to go back. On the way home, we found a gezellig Dutch café that was open for business so we topped off the trip by having coffee and apple pie...there really is nothing better on a cold day.

Have a great week, allemaal. I hope you have all settled into 2019 now and got used to writing 9 instead of 8! It'll take me a while. For now, wishing you all the very best for the coming months!