Category Archives: Childhood

Travels in Portugal, A Tourist Train and A Siesta in Odeceixa

Odeceixa Train

The accommodation in Odeceixa was in a wonderful position overlooking the Atlantic Ocean but it was two and half miles from the village and unless you like spending all day on the beach it was lacking in sightseeing opportunities.  Neither of us like spending a full day at the beach.

Getting to the village was relatively straightforward but parking at the beach was at a premium so I was reluctant to give up my spot for a couple of hours just in case it wasn’t there when I returned.

We could have walked I suppose but it wasn’t an attractive walk and it was along a narrow main road.  The easiest alternative way to get to the village and back was on a shuttle service on one of those pretend tourist trains which I dislike so much but as it was the only option to taking the car and risking the parking space I had to accept that this was the only sensible thing to do.  It was only a short ride and at only €1.50 return fare exceptionally good value.

Odexeixa Street 01

As the day got progressively hotter the time was approaching the afternoon siesta and we arrived to curiously deserted streets as though someone had declared a national emergency and everyone had left town in a hurry.  Across the narrow lanes abandoned laundry remained hanging on overloaded balcony rails, starched and bleached by the sun, occasionally a loose shutter kissed a window frame and a whispering pigeon looked for a shaded spot to spend the afternoon.  A bed sheet had lost its peg on a washing line and was dragging lethargically in the dust so I rescued it.

As we walked into the village it was so quiet that I could hear the paint lifting and splitting on the wooden doors, the gentle creaking of rusty shutter hinges, the squeaking complaints of rattan as sleeping residents shifted a little in their balcony chairs momentarily disturbed by the the faint crack of seed pods in the flower planters.

The concept of an  drowsy afternoon siesta is not something that I am unfamiliar of course with but I think that I can say that I have never before seen it so rigidly observed; not in Spain, France or even Greece but here in Odeceixa and across the whole of the Alentejo the entire place completely closed down for the afternoon.

Even the local statues were taking a rest.

Odeceixa Statues 01

The empty streets were decorated with lazy bunting as it seems there had been a festival the weekend previously which didn’t really surprise me because we have a habit of turning up in a place when the party is over or will be taking place shortly after we leave. Odeceixa was no exception to this rule.

Odeceixa Bunting

There was a steep climb to the top of the village which took us through empty streets, a sleeping cat in the middle of the road who was clearly confident that there was no danger, the church (closed) and the cemetery (locked gates) until we reached the top and the village windmill, which is no longer required for its original purpose but is retained now as a sort of heritage museum piece.  It was closed of course.  There were wonderful sweeping views from the top looking east to the farms and fields and west to the crawling river and the sea beyond.

Odeceixa Windmill

We returned to the bottom of the village through more empty streets until we reached the main square where the shops were closed but restaurants and bars were still optimistically on the look-out for customers.  In a side street we found a little place to our liking and sat for a while with a beer and enjoyed a light lunch.

Two hours in the sleepy village was just about the right amount of time, especially during a siesta and we took the scheduled return ride on the pretend train back to the beach.

We swam for a while and while Kim lay on the sand and dried off in the sun I impatiently walked the entire length of the beach in both directions. Twice. I am not one for long spells on the beach these days.  Later we sat on the balcony for a couple of hours then packed our bags ready for departure the morning before dining again in the seafood restaurant.  We would be leaving the coast tomorrow so naturally in a fish restaurant adjacent to the Atlantic Ocean we both ate fish again tonight.

Not a lot of walking today, only three and a half miles.

Odeceixa Roof

Travels in Portugal, The Trouble With Social Media

Benagil-beach-and-Benagil-caves-as-seen-from-a-boat

We returned now to the coast with a plan to visit the beach at Benagil, quite close to Carvoeiro and try and find a sea cave that has recently become a popular tourist attraction.

As we set off we had no way of knowing just how popular and it turned out that finding it was not actually that difficult because it soon became clear that every other visitor to the Algarve had chosen the same day to do this.  Parking the car was impossible, getting onto the beach was a nightmare and the whole place was horribly over-commercialised with people pushing and shoving to book a place on an over-priced boat tour.

The Benagil cave is a wonderful natural wonder that has been destroyed by tourism. It is in many guide books as one of the top ten things to see in the Algarve. The problem with visiting somewhere that is very popular is that it is very popular. Even relatively recently this place was a secret known only to local fishermen and villagers, now it is an Instagram bucket-list destination.

Beautiful places have always been fashionable with visitors of course, but the rise of social media means that even the most hidden of hidden gems doesn’t remain so for long. And while in a bygone age visitors would flock to wonderful attractions simply to admire them, now these delights are merely the backdrop to the irritating selfie feeding thousands of social media pages as once secret places are discovered, revealed and overrun.

It is an issue that I struggle with, beautiful places shouldn’t be exclusive but people who visit in their thousands should surely pay more respect and try not to turn it into a Disney World experience.

This is the Benagil cave but we didn’t get to see inside…

Benagil Cave

… and the sad fact it would be most unlikely to see it like this because inside would be swarming with visitors off of the boats lining up to get close and get the selfie.

The Irish artist Patrick Swift lived for a while in Carvoeiro and in 1965 wrote an early travel guide to the Algarve.  He refers to Benagil only once and describes the place as remote and medieval with no roads in or out of the village, he makes no mention of the cave.  He makes it sound really nice.  Just like Norman Lewis in Catalonia at the same time he would be in for a shock if he saw it again today.  There is an ALDI supermarket close by now!

My blogging pal Gunta on her site ‘Movin Ondrew attention to this problem in a recent post – ‘Tourist Madnesswhich is well worth a read.

At Benagil it is not just the place itself that is spoilt but here the local economy has been irreversibly changed and there is no going back – there are no fishing boats anymore because the fishermen have all abandoned the hard life of the sea, discarded their pots and nets and earn their living these days taking boat loads of people to visit the caves.  Tourists are easier to catch than tuna.  Guaranteed income.  Soft hands instead of callouses.  Regular hours instead of the night shift.

It was a shame not to visit the cave but there were plenty more along the coast which haven’t yet attracted the attention of the Instagrammers but I fear that it is only a matter of time.

So we returned to our accommodation in Carvoeiro where we spent what was left of the afternoon in the garden and around the swimming pool. This was our final night on the south Atlantic coast of the Algarve as tomorrow we were heading west so we did some souvenir shopping (pottery ladybird garden ornaments) and after a final walk to the beach, empty now except for a few hardy stragglers as the sun faded away and then choose a restaurant for evening meal. I had a salad and a cataplana, a sort of fish casserole and Kim had prawns followed by chicken kebab. We had walked seven miles today.

Not the Benagil cave but one close by…

Carvoeiro Rocks

Other Cave Stories:

Drogarati Cave and Blue Lagoon, Kephalonia

Altimira Caves, Spain

Blue Lagoon, Capri

Krakow, Wieliczka Salt Mine

Lanzarote – Cueva de los Verde

Cave Houses of Guadix

Llechwedd Slate Caverns, Wales

Cuevas El Aguila in The Gredos Mountains

 

Entrance Tickets – The Royal Palace in Warsaw

Warsaw Royal Castle

At the ticket office the clerk explained that the whole of the castle was not open today but by way of compensation entrance was free.  This seemed like a good deal, no money changed hands and only half a museum for Kim!

Read the Full Story…

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Yorkshire – Flamborough Head and A Face in the Cliff

I Spy At The Seaside

I have mentioned before that when I was a boy I used to collect I-Spy books which were small paperback volumes that were popular in the 1950s and 1960s.  Each book covered a subject such as I-SPY Cars, I-SPY on the Pavement, I-SPY on a Train Journey, and so on and so on.

The object was to be vigilant and spot objects such as animals, trees, policemen, fire engines, sea shells etc. etc.  and they were recorded in the relevant book, and this gained points.  More points were available for the more difficult spots.  Once you had spotted everything and the book was complete, it could be sent to Big Chief I-SPY for a feather and an order of merit.

Why do I mention this here you ask?  Well, I-Spy books may well have been a bit of trivial pastime but I actually think that they were useful in developing an enquiring mind and even now I am always looking to I-Spy something interesting or different.

I spotted this at Flamborough Head – the face of a lady in the white chalk cliffs.  Can you see her?

Flamborough Head Face

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Yorkshire, A Return Visit to Bridlington and an Apology

Bridlingtonn Harbour

This post is going to be about a retraction and an apology and a very large slice of Humble Pie!

I first visited the East Coast seaside town of Bridlington in October 2015 and I didn’t enjoy it one single bit and ever since I have been rather harsh and scathing about the place. It wasn’t an especially nice day with no sunshine and  at the harbour the tide was fully out leaving it a horrible muddy mess with boats stranded on the clay and silt. Three children pestering to visit the beach front amusements didn’t help either so we had a very poor portion of fish and chips and an overpriced ice cream and then promptly left and moved on to nearby Filey which as I recall was a lot better.

I vowed that I would never ever return to Bridlington and ever since I have shared my unflattering reviews about the town and warned friends about going there – even those just thinking about going there.

Now I was in nearby Skipsea Sands and looking for something to do for the morning before inevitable beach time in the afternoon and I suggested to Kim that we take a ride to nearby Bridlington so that she could see for herself just what a dirty, ugly place it is.  Based on what I had said about the place she thought that I was crazy but agreed anyway.  It took about thirty minutes to drive there and then another thirty to find a car park with spaces available and I wondered why so many people would visit this place which from memory was somewhere to be avoided at all costs.

Bridlington Ganzee

Anyway, we parked up and walked to the harbour and I was shocked to discover a really charming waterside, the tide was in and the boats were lolling in the water, children were crabbing and people were strolling around the walls in the sunshine. Kim wondered if I had ever been to Bridlington before as it certainly didn’t match my unfavourable review of the place. It helped that the sun was shining, the tide was fully in and the children are older now and weren’t too bothered about visiting the funfair.

So we spent an enjoyable hour around the harbour, had an ice cream (still expensive but I was ready for it this time), watched the boats coming and going, rows of unsuccessful fishermen optimistically casting their lines and people avoiding the seagulls plotting attacks and looking to thieve fish and chips from unwary seafront diners and then we moved on.

The Old Town is about a mile away inland and I didn’t even go there on my last visit so we went there now. Free Parking! Where can you find Free Parking these days? Answer – Bridlington Old Town and by now I was feeling so guilty about what I had said previously.

Historical Bridlington

The historical centre of Bridlington is absolutely wonderful.

A cobbled street of rapid decay locked into a bygone age, the shop windows are grubby, the displays are many decades out of date, the window frames are flaking and pock-marked, no wonder then that they choose this location for filming the remake of the comedy series ‘Dad’s Army’ in 2014. Being a huge ‘Dad’s Army’ fan I was really happy about wandering along this special street and made a note to watch the film when I was back at home. And I did!

Bridlington Dad's Army

At the end of the High Street in the historical centre we found ourselves at Bridlington Priory soaring high into the blue sky and my burden of guilt got a whole lot heavier. What a wonderful place this was with a patient guide that helped the children with a hunt for difficult to spot mouse carvings, a prize even though they didn’t find them all themselves and a free cup of tea for Kim and me and lemonade for the girls.

In the days of its medieval glory, Bridlington Priory was one of the great monastic houses of England. Its wealth and possessions made it a key monastery in the North, one of the largest and richest of the Augustinian order.

The Priory is just a church now and a fraction of its previous size courtesy of the insistence of Henry VIII that it should be demolished in 1537 to remove the potential Catholic pilgrimage site of Saint John of Bridlington. St John enjoyed a reputation for great holiness and for miraculous powers and was the last English saint to be canonised before the English Reformation and Henry didn’t like that.

Saint John of Bridlington 1

We eventually left Bridlington and made our way to nearby Flamborough Head which, where it happens, is where the final scenes of the ‘Dad’s Army’ film were set. The fictional Home Guard platoon is based in the South of England and Flamborough Head provided a good alternative because it has the only ridge of chalk cliffs in the north of England. We spent an hour or so there down on the beach and climbing the cliffs before leaving and returning to the holiday park.

As I started this post I finish it with an apology to Bridlington, it is a fine place and I was completely wrong in my first assessment four years previously.

Flamborough Head

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Thursday Doors – Vic-Sur-Aisne in Northern France

Vic-Sur-Aines France Picardy

Vic-Sur-Aisne turned out to be a rather interesting town. During the First-World-War it was almost permanently on the front line with fighting never far away. It sits equidistance between the major battle sites of the Somme to the north and Verdun to the east. What made it important was that it was a major railway interchange where troops would be transferred back and forth to the battle lines in between front line duty and periods of rest or to be hospitalised.

This meant that it came under regular enemy fire and even today the older buildings in the town show pock-marked battle scars where shells and bullets had picked away at the stones and the bricks.

You can read more about my visit to Vic-Sur-Aisne by clicking here.

Vic Sur Aisne Door

Thursday Doors is a weekly feature allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favourite door photos from around the world. Feel free to join in the fun by creating your own Thursday Doors post each week and then sharing your link in the comments’ on Norm’s site, anytime between Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American Eastern Time).

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Yorkshire, The Cornfield at Skipsea Sands

Skipsea Cornfield 01

After a hard day on the beach at Skipsea Sands we liked to end the day with a walk through the cornfield and along the cliff tops…

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