Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Seen in Figueira

Out and about this morning early - well, quite early - I came across some old fortifications. The rusty information notice said it was a small fortress erected by King Miguel to protect the town. Now it is seriously overshadowed by taller blocks of flats. Clearly the fortress could not protect against an invasion of tall buildings in the 20th and 21st century. 

Later I looked up King Miguel. King of Portugal from 1838 to 1834, he was eventually forced of the throne and out of the country, spending the last 32 years of his life in exile. Turbulent times! (Note to self: refresh knowledge of Portuguese history.) He is described as being the favourite child of his mother, Queen Carlota, and was consequently rather spoiled. As a child he liked to dress up in military uniform and as young man of 16 was noted for riding through town knocking people's hats off. Would he get away with such behaviour now?! 

I had set off for my morning walk on the lookout for a chemist to see if I could buy something like Lemsip. Phil's chess tournament progress is being hampered by a stinking cold and the Lemsip has run out. In Spain in the past I have managed to buy something similar. So far here I have only succeeded in buying tablets, to be taken three times a day. I did manage to explain what I wanted in my halting Portuguese but perhaps I would have been more successful if my knowledge of the language had been more extensive. I was going to have another go in a different chemist's but did not come across one. As a rule there seems to be a chemist's shop on every corner. Once you start to look for one, they all disappear. 

Keeping up its nautical appearance, as well as our boat-shaped hotel, Figueira has anchors on roundabouts and seaside-related stuff inlaid in the pavements. All the pavements here seem to be made of white cobble stones. 

Last year we saw some stretches of pavement being repaired. The individual cobble stones, with a top surface of around four square inches, are embedded about eight inches deep. Very labour intensive to install, I would imagine, but once laid the surface must last pretty well forever. At various points the pavements are decorated with kind of mosaic patterns, including fish, shells and crabs. Very nice! 

I also admired some of the fanciful buildings, with turrets and would be fortifications that clearly serve no more purpose than mere decoration. Here is a rather fairytale-looking example. Strangely odd alongside more mundane styles of architecture! 

And here is the Castello Engenheiro Souza. When we first came to Figueira, possibly five years ago, the tower at the top of this building was collapsing and there was scaffolding around it. It even looked as though the whole building was in a serious state of disrepair. However, they did not knock the while thing down, the building was given a facelift and the tower was restored ... in a way. To me it looks a little out of place but it's not my responsibility. 

Now it looks as though it could do with a new coat of paint but I still like the look of the place. I wonder as well about possible Moorish influence on some of those windows. When the Moors invaded The Iberian Peninsula, did they include Portugal in their conquest? Did they get this far? I know that further north the Galician claim that the Moors did not reach them, even though I see occasional Moorish elements in some of the buildings there. (another bit of research called for!) 

All this before ten o' clock in the morning. Quite an interesting start to the day!

Monday, 23 November 2015

Another day in Figueira.

After yesterday's rain, obviously sent to freshen the place up, we woke to brilliant sunshine this morning. It was a little chilly to start with when I strolled round to the market to buy fruit but on the whole a good start to the day. 

Yesterday I put a picture of the outside of our boat-shaped hotel. Here is a picture of the dining room. No need to go on a cruise now.

Some time after breakfast we went for a stroll in the sunshine, up the coast to Buarcos, not really another town, more an extension of Figueira. It must at some time have been a separate place but now, as with so many places, it has all merged into one. 

Judging by the fortifications that remain, the people of Buarcos must at one time have wanted to keep themselves to themselves. Unless, of course, they just wanted to keep the sea out. Now it's a hotchpotch of the old and the new. 

There are buildings that date from the 19th century at least. Indeed, the cemetery was established there, on the edge of town, in 1715. Now it too has been absorbed into the greater conglomeration and finds itself almost as adjunct to the Lidl supermarket carpark. Everything changes. 

At lunchtime we met a Canadian friend, another chess player who we got to know during the summer in Sanxenxo. He had been playing chess in Mallorca and had just flown to Portugal this morning, having taken three byes in the chess tournament here. So we showed him a good place to eat. More soup and fish for around €10 apiece. Not a bad life. 

Reading the papers online I came across a report of an interview with Diana Athill, literary editor and writer. At 98 she seems to be sharp as a button still and has just published her latest memoir. I always thought her name was pronounce At - (h)ill but according to the journalist, the lady herself pronounces it Ath - ill. There you go. Always a little something to learn! 

The article tells how "For the best part of 40 years, while she lived more or less happily with the playwright Barry Reckord, Athill wrote little – “because I didn’t have any awfulness to get rid of”. It was only when she retired that she bowed to pressure from friends to write about her lifetime in publishing". It's an interesting idea that, in order to be creative, a writer needs some "awfulness" to get rid of. 

I have come across this idea before. There is a theory that if some of the great poets had been prescribed anti-depressants they might never have produced the works they published. I wonder! Most certainly, a writer must have a compelling need to write. In Carlos Ruiz Zafon's novel "La Sombra del Viento", the protagonist as a young man wants to write novels and is convinced that owning a particular fountain pen, allegedly once owned and used by Victor Hugo, will enable him to produce great work. Understandably, he is disabused and disappointed! 

The headline of the Diana Athill article struck me. Of all the things she did in her life and said and wrote about her life, the one fact they chose to headline was her revelation that she had expected to be devastated when she had a miscarriage but had been surprised to find that she took it in her stride and just got on with her life. Why did they select that fact rather than any other? Why choose that particular stick to beat women with. 

On a similar sort of topic, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg states that is planning to take two months of paternity leave when his daughter is born. He said in an online post “outcomes are better for children and families” when working parents take time off to be with their newborns. He called the decision “very personal”. I must say he is very lucky to be able to take that very personal decision. 

Here are a few facts about parental leave:- Facebook offers its US employees up to four months of paid parental leave. Announcements by tech companies on parental leave have prompted a debate about the schemes’ value and which employees are eligible for the benefit. Netflix said in August it was giving some of its US workers up to a year of paid leave following the birth or adoption of a child, though a row broke out over which employees would receive it. Adobe and Microsoft also bolstered their parental benefits. If only all employers offered good terms to their people. 

At the other end of the scale the Yahoo boss, Marissa Myer, prompted dismay over what expectations should be placed on new parents when she said she would be “working throughout” while taking two weeks’ maternity leave to give birth to twins. Of course, she might change her mind when the twins are born. And presumably she earns enough to pay someone to look after her bundle of double trouble. Another very fortunate person! 

It is, of course, entirely her decision, but there's a part of me that wonders why she is bothering to have the twins at all since she clearly does not plan on staying at home with them. Maybe they are a fashion accessory!

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Figueira in the rain.

Today we have rain. No doubt the sunny days could not be expected to last at this time of year. Nonetheless, I strolled out this morning early. This was how I discovered the rain. It was not obvious until I was out of the hotel door. At which point I had to go back in for my raincoat. 65 stairs! I could, of course, have taken the lift but exercise is partly the purpose of the morning stroll. 

Towns like Figueira are strangely quiet on Sunday mornings in the rain. In the UK, with Sunday trading, we notice very little difference between Sunday and the other days of the week nowadays. Actually, that is not strictly true. Sunday shopping is more of a leisure activity, a family pursuit. Shopping during the rest of the week is more mundane and less sociable. But it is rare to find the kind of quiet that you encounter in small towns in mainland Europe. Especially seaside resorts out of season. 

I strolled around in the intermittent drizzle. In between times the clouds tried to clear and the sun tried to emerge. With very little success. But at least the rain is warmer here than in the north west of England. As I wandered I admired the sometimes odd buildings. This green one has a curiously flowery top, to what purpose I have no idea. Purely decorative? I can see no obvious practical use. 

Eventually my wanderings brought me back to the sea front. Quite probably all roads here lead to the seafront in the end. Looking at it from the other side of the road, I could see that our hotel is the one I have commented on in previous years, the one shaped like a cruise ship. I suppose such a design is appropriate for a sea front hotel. Where else could you build one without it looking marooned and out of place? 

Inside it is also decorated with models of different kinds of boats. A nautical place, obviously. 

At lunchtime we explored a new place - new to us at any rate. Volta e Meia it calls itself. Tuesday to Friday it offers a menu do dia: soup, main course, drink and coffee for €7.00. Today being Sunday that was not possible. Still, for just under €10 each we had onion soup - a blended soup not French style onion soup - and "ovos rotos", which like our friend Colin they could not translate adequately into English but put in Spanish in the English menu as "huevos rotos". This turned out to be egg (fried and definitely not broken, unless you count breaking the shell) and chips with some prawns thrown in. Not a very fancy Sunday lunch but good enough, with a glass of wine and a coffee thrown in. 

The place was decorated with those posable artists drawing model figures pinned to the wall, strange spidery lamps and some interesting chalk drawings on the wall. 

Possibly worth another visit to see if they can do something more complicated than egg and chips.. 

The weather forecast is rather better for tomorrow.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

In Figueira.

Day one in Figueira da Foz. Technically, I suppose, it should be day two but since a good part of yesterday was spent travelling this is the first whole day here. So, day one it is. Not having running gear with me (travelling hand luggage only restricts what you can carry), instead I got up and went for a walk along the sea front and back along the boardwalks on the immense beach, taking pictures of palms being blown around by the fierce wind. Windy it might be but cold it is not. 

The beautiful stripy beach huts are all closed up for the winter season. One has a notice on the door declaring it to be the "biblioteca da praia", the beach library! What a splendid idea!   

At home they have snow. People have been posting photos on Facebook. We got away just in time, it seems. That white stuff is very pretty to look at but extremely impractical. 

Sometime after midday we walked out and examined the market hall with its huge variety of fruit and fish for sale. The upper floor still seems to need some developing but the ground floor appears to be thriving. We bought Portugal mugs for our cups of tea. Our hotel room is equipped with a kettle but the only cups provided are nasty expanded polystyrene things. So now we have more picturesque things to drink from. 

Our wanderings took us to the Núcleo Sporting where, even though we are not members, we got the members' discount menu do dia: soup and "mista de peixe", a plate of various fried fish with baked potatoes and salad. With wine, water and coffee, it all came to €22.40. Another bargain lunch! 

Later in the day I walked out to the light house, going past the notice at the start of the causeway, warning me about the danger of "overtopping" in the dangerous "sweel". I presume this meant that waves might come over the top if their was a big swell! Good grief! This Portugal where they pride themselves in being good at English. We expect better! 

On my way back to the hotel I found what might be the eponymous fig tree. Figueira da Foz means the fig tree at the mouth of the river. And there it was, just near the old fortifications and what I assume was the original lighthouse (the one I walked to is at the end of an artificial sea wall enclosing and extending the harbour): a fig tree, rather devoid of leaves and a bit straggly but still recognisably a fig tree. There you go!

Friday, 20 November 2015

Off to Portugal.

Having got up at the crack of dawn - well, 6:00am, which is the crack of dawn for us - we were on the road this morning by 6:30, en route for Stansted. Our son had offered to drive us there to catch our plane to Portugal. What a very kind person he is. We were very glad we were not travelling in the other direction along the motorway as the traffic was already beginning to get congested, even at that early hour. No doubt he had a slower drive back after dropping us off. 

And so we sat around for a while at the airport until the time came to board the plane, a rather hot and stuffy plane. We dozed for most of the journey to Oporto. There we were met by another kind person, someone whose name I should have remembered from last year when he also picked up and drove us to Figueira da Foz. 

For the duration of the car journey I proved to myself that my Portuguese is atrocious. I can read it well enough but understanding spoken Portuguese, especially at normal speaking speed, is clearly something I need to work at. And as for speaking it!!! Well, it tends to come out with all the little words, the prepositions and conjunctions, in Italian. French and Spanish do not interfere. I have obviously been speaking those two languages for long enough for the sections of the brain where they reside to be sufficiently well insulated for them not to mess with the Portuguese. But Italian is a more recent acquisition and pops up when I need a word in Portuguese. 

Someone should do a study on this aspect of foreign language learning. When I used to teach adults Spanish in evening classes, far too many years ago now, people who swore they had never been any good at French at school found their French vocabulary banks reactivated by trying to learn Spanish. Curious! 

Anyway, I somehow managed to talk about the weather (the easy bit), local versus central government, the advisability or otherwise of Scotland going independent and regional attitudes in general, as well as explaining that Ireland proper is not part of the UK although Northern Ireland is. Quite exhausting! 

And now here we are in Figueira da Foz, with a room overlooking the amazing beach. In the wardrobe we found several items of clothing and a fancy box of Portuguese sweets left behind by the precious occupant. Someone had not checked the drawers carefully enough before departing. I wonder if they realised where they had left the present intended for someone or other. 

We took ourselves out for a late lunch at a place we know called La Caçarola. The first time we went there I was convinced it was called La Caracola, which I assumed meant some mind of shell. In fact it is called The Saucepan, a much more appropriate name for an eating establishment. We sensibly ignored the platter of stuff that was put on our table while we perused the menu: humous, cream cheeses, croquettes - all stuff you find added to your bill at the end of the meal if you are unwise enough to think it is a freebie. For the grand total of €23:30 (about £17) - that's altogether, not each - we had a bowl of soup and a plate of small fried sole with Russian salad, washed down with half a bottle of white wine. Not bad for a first day. 

And the sun has been shining nicely. Fingers crossed that this continues all week!

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Travel adventures.

We set off on our travels today. Bus to Oldham, tram to Manchester Piccadilly, train to London Euston and eventually tube to our son's house. Tomorrow we get up and the crack of dawn and catch a plane to Portugal, hoping that the security measures are not too onerous, bearing in mind everyone's state of mega-alert at the moment. 

 Our train had barely left Manchester when a young man came along to the train manager's booth, situated just opposite our seats, which is how I came to eavesdrop on the conversation. The young man, who looked little more than 17 or 18, told the train manager that he had just realised that he had left his backpack on a seat on the station forecourt, just outside the entrance to our platform. Her reaction was priceless: she looked at him and calmly asked if he watched the news. No, he replied, sounding rather puzzled. 

She did not say that his bag might have been taken away and destroyed, which might very well have happened. Instead she phoned someone at Manchester Piccadilly and explained the situation. The young man described the rucksack, its contents, even the green can of pop in there with his laptop! Wonder of wonders, they found his bag, right where he said he had left it. It's a good job the station was relatively quiet this morning. 

The train manager talked options with him: he could collect the bag from Manchester on his return or, if his ticket was flexible enough, she could arrange for it to be put in the next train. His ticket was OK and so she fixed it so that he could get off this train at Stockport, wait for twenty minutes and then hop onto the next train to Euston where his backpack would be waiting for him in the train "shop". 

What a very lucky, and rather foolish, young man. How do you manage to leave a backpack with a laptop inside it on a seat on a station forecourt? Having said that, I did once leave a handbag at the bottom of an escalator on the Paris underground. I was not much older than the young man today. And I was as lucky as he was. When I went back down the escalator my bag was sitting there waiting for me! Sometimes things work out right! 

These are the experiences that make us learn not to be quite so carefree. 

By the way, when did buffet cars become shops? The "shop" was also close to our seats. Looking at it, I noticed that it sold newspapers and magazines as well as sweets and drinks. So perhaps it is more of a shop, after all. Next thing you know, it will be possible to buy the ingredients you need for your evening meal on the train home at the end of a busy day. Forget about working on the commuter train, do the weekly shop on the train as well!

Monday, 16 November 2015

Everything is relative!

On Friday, feeling virtuous, I went and did some major cleaning at my daughter's house. These are the kind of things retired mother's do when their daughters are in their first term as newly qualified primary teachers and seem to be working their socks off every hour in the day. 

Some hours later I stood at a bus stop. She was still finishing off at school so there was no chance of a lift. According to the timetable there was a suitable bus at 24 minutes past the hour. At around 10 minutes past the hour a bus arrived. This was the one that should have been at 4 minutes past. It only went as far as the estate just up the road. No good to me. At around 20 minutes past the hour, another one showed up. Also going to the estate up the road. It should have arrived at 14 minutes past. Also no good to me. An unkind thought struck me: why is that estate so well provided for? 

Eventually, at almost 30 minutes past the hour yet another bus hove into view. This was going beyond the estate up the road. According to the timetable, assuming that it was in fact the 24 minutes pas bus, it should have gone all the way to Oldham, passing through Delph village. Just what I needed. However, it was only going as far as Uppermill, a place I could walk from, although I was not inclined to do so as it was going dark and cold. 

Mumbling and muttering and grumbling about unannounced changes to the bus service, I got on anyway. The change of timetable led me to a change of plan: a stop off at the local Tesco store to run round and pick up this and that in time to catch the next bus. My bus after the supermarket, you will be relieved to hear, arrived on time and was going where I expected it to go! 

Later in the evening, I saw the news about all that was going on in Paris and realised that my moans and complaints were extremely minor. How does a bit of a transport problem compare with those events? 

Since then, I have watched the news coverage and read the comments on social media. The usual suspects have told us that this is what Islam is all about and that we should stop all the migrants coming into Europe. What kind of world do these tweeters and twitterers live in? The arguments about bombing or not bombing rage on and on. What kind of world do the pro-major-retaliation politicians want us to live in? And poor old Jeremy Corbyn, having been criticised already for not bowing deeply enough on Remembrance Sunday, has now been accused of not having sad enough eyes when talking about the Paris atrocities. The world is mad! 

So, finally, here is a link to a short article about a leaflet being put out to small French children to help them understand what went on last Friday!