Category Archives: Uncategorized

Sicily – Papyrus

Apparently the only place it grows in Europe,  Who knows?

Portugal – Final Days

The final full day of our vacation and to be honest a little holiday fatigue was beginning to creep in but Setúbal is a big city, one of the largest in Portugal, so with time running out we needed to get back out on the streets.

The city is one of great contrasts, it is a major industrial city and the fourth largest port in Portugal, it has a thriving fishing quarter and fish processing industry, a thriving modern city centre, an adjacent old town that is not doing so well and a fortress.  We had a busy schedule ahead so we started with the fortress.

Best to get this one out of the way first I thought because it involved a walk out of town of about two miles or so which wouldn’t ordinarily be a problem but also involved a very steep hill, which can sometimes lead to a lot of complaining and feigned deafness.

I took this picture of an information board…

The Fort of São Filipe de Setúbal was once an important link in a fortified  ring of fortresses and castles defending the town and the Sado estuary from pirates and military attacks.  Today it is no longer required for its original purpose of course and is now a luxury Pousada hotel.  There isn’t a lot to see but we were able to walk along the battlements, enjoy the view across the city and to stop for a while for a first drink of the day before the much easier walk back into the city.

This brought us into what is loosely described as the old town, a small area of neglect and decay, abandoned properties, graffiti and destined either to fall down in time  or be gentrified sooner.  Who knows?  Anyway, we spent  an enjoyable thirty minutes or so prying into people’s houses, admiring their washing lines and the cooking aromas before we conveniently found ourselves at a small square with a local bar selling cheap wine and bits of tapas like food.  We liked it there.  The traditional always beats the modern in our opinion.

The old town spilled out directly into what you might say is the city centre and square and I  liked it, a large public area with bars and restaurants and streets leaking off into the shadows flanked by shops, a mix of old and new, traditional and modern, rather nice I thought.  We saw the resident beggar and just like every other day that I passed by I gave her another euro; she may well be a millionaire, I don’t know, but it made me feel vaguely charitable and philanthropic for a second or two.

We retreated to the apartment now for lunch, Kim rested and I walked to the train station to purchase tickets for our return to Lisbon the next day.  Job done in no time, I was an expert at it now.

Mid afternoon and we walked out again, through the city centre and out the other side to the Monastery of Jesus.  It is one of the first buildings in the Manueline style, the Portuguese version of late Gothic.  I could tell you about it but my blogging pal Jo has made a better job of it than I ever could…

You can read the post here…

I liked the church, it had some interesting features but I much preferred the small museum next door (free entry for seniors) which had some interesting artefacts and the story of the most famous man of Setúbal Manuel Maria Barbosa l’Hedois du Bocage who is celebrated all across the City.

Bocage was a poet of the romantic movement of the late eighteenth century, a bit of a lad as it turns out, a sort of Portuguese Lord Byron and he lived a similar life and suffered a similar end – an early death as a result of over-indulgence.

I haven’t read his work of course but apparently it is a bit racy and maybe because of the sheer rudeness of some of his verse Bocage is still a genuinely popular figure today in Setúbal. The subversiveness of his poems has meant that for much of the last two hundred years they have not been (officially) available in Portugal and his erotic (mucky) poetry was only first published anonymously towards the end of the nineteenth century.

The museum told his story and included this painting which tried to explain what influenced him.  Apparently the original painting was so rude that it had to be touched up (if that is an appropriate phrase)  before it was considered suitable for public display.

Later for our final meal we dined in traditional restaurant close to the dock and I was talked into buying a large piece of fish.  It was delicious but I always worry about fresh fish and how much it is going to cost but I needn’t have concerned myself because it turned out to be well within budget.

The next day we took the train to Lisbon and the flight home to UK. I was glad to be home but already looking forward to my next time in Portugal.

Portugal – Ferry Ride to the Beaches of Troia

We were really enjoying our time in Setúbal and after breakfast and a bit of food shopping in the market hall we set off to the ferry terminal to catch the boat across to the Tróia peninsular on the south side of the River Sado estuary.

At the terminal a young man approached us and offered us a ride across the water in his motor boat and a slightly cheaper rate than the ferry so always with an eye to a bargain we gladly accepted.  The ferry fare is only applied going out so he assured us that we could return later on the ferry for free and we trusted him on this point.

The Sado estuary is home to a pod of dolphins and as we left the harbour he said that he had a good idea where they were this morning so plotted a course to find them across the two miles of water.  We stared at the surface for most of the journey but nothing disturbed the flat calm and as the destination got closer we gave up hope but just as we did a dorsal fin broke the surface and then another and then another and a small group of dolphins accompanied the boat for a few yards before peeling off and swimming back out to sea.  It is always nice to see dolphins.

Troia is really a giant sand dune with a golf course, a nature reserve and a modern concrete town with a ferry terminal.  On land we walked along a short boulevard next to the marina lined with bars and Cafés all on the lookout for business but we hurried by without making eye contact.

Actually, one of the nice things about Portugal is that unlike in other European countries such as France, Italy Spain and Greece the waiters are not at all pushy and mostly it is quite possible to saunter along a street of restaurants and examine the menu cards without being continually pestered to sit down.

One time in Naples we suffered the indignity of being thrown out of a restaurant by a pushy waiter.  The place advertised bargain price beer and wine and as we examined the menu the waiter gathered us up like a shepherd and insisted that we go inside.  He showed us to a table and provided us with menus.  We told him that we only wanted a drink and this tipped him over the edge.  His eyes began to swivel, his arms began to flay and he lost all sense of volume control.  This is not a bar it is a restaurant, he yelled, withdrew the menus, dragged us out of our seats, pushed us towards the door and slammed it shut behind us with a resounding crash that almost took it off its hinges.  

I looked back, the staff were sniggering, they thought it was amusing so I gave them a sarcastic smile and a tossed them a dismissive wave to tell them that so did I.

At the end of the boulevard there was a man selling dolphin watching boat tours and he did turn out to be a bit pushy as he tried to sell us tickets at €40 each.  He had zero chance of that of course and I told him that we had just seen some dolphins on the boat ride over so we didn’t need to out again.  He persisted by telling us that he would tell us all about the dolphins and I was close to telling him that I needed to know about dolphins then I would look them up on Google.

The Troia peninsula is the starting point of Portugal’s longest beach (the longest stretch of uninterrupted sand in Europe) that extends for forty miles south to the town of Sines. Troia itself has twelve miles of beach so we bypassed the beach closest to the town which seemed rather busy (there were at least twenty people on it) and continued down to the second which was practically deserted and prepared for a swim.

As with the previous day there were not many people in the sea and we were about to find out why.  It was bloody freezing.  What I call a testicle tester, a groin groaner, a finger wrinkler.    Earlier in the year we had been swimming in the North Sea in the UK and it wasn’t as cold as this.  We toughed it out for ten minutes (ok, I exaggerate, five minutes, maybe less) then retreated back to the sand to warm  up in the sunshine.

We didn’t stay long, we are not very good at sitting around on beaches so took a pleasant stroll through the dunes back to the town in search of a bar.  I found Troia a curious place, desperately disappointing even, just featureless high rise hotels, a soulless giant casino  and a swanky marina.  So boring that it managed to get my top spot just ahead of Vaduz in Liechtenstein and Klagenfurt in Austria.  Not our sort of place at all. 

Eventually we came across a bar, had a drink and a light lunch and then made our way back to the ferry terminal for the free ride back to Setúbal where we made directly for the market to buy some fish because tonight we were dining in the apartment.


A to Z of Postcards – M is for Montreuil Sur Mer in France

Montreuil was once an important strategic town on the English Channel but by the nineteenth century after the sea had withdrawn over ten miles away which meant getting a boat in the water was becoming increasingly difficult it had become a sleepy medieval town of no real importance except for passengers on the coaching road from Calais to Paris.

The weather was accommodating and we enjoyed good views across the surrounding countryside.  Our stroll returned us to the centre of the classic French market town and we walked through its attractive streets with its lively fountains and vibrant floral displays, its  shops, restaurants and cafés  and we finished back in the town square right next to a convenient bar where we had a drink before moving on.

Read the full post Here…

East Anglia and Dad’s Army

On the drive home we visited the town of Thetford.  Mum wanted to visit the Dad’s Army Museum.  She remembered that it was one of my Dad’s favourites.  It is a small place run by volunteers but well worth a stop over.  I have posted about it before so wan’t trouble you with it again.

Click on an image to scroll through the Gallery…

In a BBC poll in 2003 of best ever sitcoms Dad’s Army came fourth,  In no particular order are my own personal top 5…

Dad’s Army

The Likely Lads/Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads

One Foot in The Grave

Rising Damp

The Detectorists

Any suggestions anyone?


East Anglia – Adventure in the English Arctic

I wouldn’t have thought this possible but on the third day the bad weather took an even further turn for the worst.  I was the first up and opening the curtains was greeted with a carpet of gleaming snow and flakes falling like Autumn leaves.  If I was so minded I could have built a snowman.  I wasn’t.  Prospects were bleak.

But one good thing about English weather is that it is surprisingly changeable and by late morning the snow had gone, the temperature had risen by half a degree or so and to avoid so to cabin fever after we had cooked up a breakfast we wrapped up, closed up and went for a drive to nearby Oulton Broad.

Even though we were in Suffolk, Oulton Broad is generally included in the geographical feature  known as the Norfolk Broads.  No one is really quite sure about the origins of the Norfolk Broads but a recent theory is that they are the result of flooding following medieval peat cutting.  They are quite shallow I understand.  They are a designated National Park of the UK and the smallest at only 0ne hundred and twenty square miles, just behind the New Forest at two hundred and twenty five.

The largest National Park in England is the Lake District at almost a thousand square miles and the largest in the World at three hundred and seventy five square miles is Northeast Greenland National Park.  You couldn’t visit that in a single day for certain.

I imagine that Oulton Broad is a very fine place when the sun shines but sadly today it didn’t and although thankfully the rain and sleet stayed away it was bitterly cold.  The best thing about the visit today was the chance to see a real Banksy portrait which appeared one day in 2021 after a nocturnal visit by the artist.

After Oulton Broad we drove to nearby Lowestoft.

I didn’t find Lowestoft that thrilling I have to confess, it looked much like Grimsby to me where I live, a run-down sort of a place urgently in need of some investment and a make-over but there was one interesting place to visit while we here – Ness Point, the most easterly place in the British Isles.

For such a significant place I would have expected it to be something special, a bit like Four Corners in the USA but sadly not a bit of it.  There is no visitor centre, no souvenir shop and it is difficult to find located as it is on the edge of an industrial estate and close to a sewage treatment works and a massive wind turbine called Goliath (it was once the biggest in England). 

There is only a circular direction marker known as Euroscope, marking locations in other countries and how far away they are.   I felt like an explorer about to set sail.

I rather liked the sculpture but we didn’t stop for cake and moved on instead to nearby Southwold.  Southwold is ridiculously picturesque and quintessentially English, a town of Tudor houses and thatched roofs, so English that it is high on the list of filming locations for English film and television.

The fictional Southwold Estate, seat of Earls of Southwold, is the country estate of the family of Lady Marjorie Bellamy in the drama Upstairs, Downstairs and the town and its vicinity has been used as the setting for numerous films and television programmes including Iris about the life of Iris Murdoch starring Dame Judy Dench,  Drowning by Numbers by Peter Greenaway, Kavanagh QC starring John Thaw, East of Ipswich by Michael Palin, Little Britain with Matt Lucas and David Walliam, a 1969 version of David Copperfield and the BBC children’s series Grandpa in My Pocket.

There were no film or TV celebrities around today, way too cold for filming I imagine and on a bitterly cold day there isn’t much else to say about Southwold except that George Orwell once lived there.

We drove now to the Suffolk town of Framlingham which is a fine town with a small market place and charming streets with coloured houses, is the home town of the overrated Ed Sheeran and has an impressive medieval castle with imposing walls and towers which was once the home of the Dukes of Norfolk who were forever scheming and stirring up rebellious trouble in Tudor England.

This must once have been a very fine castle.

It is good but not the best, it reminded me of Richmond in Yorkshire, there are no internal buildings left, all long since demolished but there is an impressive stone wall and 360° walk around the top of the castle walls and defences from which there are fine views of the town and the surrounding countryside.

It was so cold that my travelling companions refused to leave the car so I had thirty minutes or so to myself.  I was especially keen to visit Framlingham because this was where the TV comedy drama  series “Detectorists” was filmed and I was happy to find the house where one of the principal characters, Lance, lived.

With little prospect of any weather improvement we returned directly to the Caravan Park, opened a bottle of wine, prepared an evening meal, turned the heating up to full and settled in for the evening.  Tomorrow we would be leaving and we hoped for better weather in Bury St Edmunds and Thetford.

Sunday Sunsets – Mellieha Bay in Malta

Quite possibly one of the most spectacular sunsets that I have ever seen…

The sky literally in fluid layers with  colours that changed like a twist of a kaleidoscope,   The blue of the day giving way to the purple of the evening but stubbornly separated by a ribbon of cream.  This was the view from our hotel balcony, it was free but I would gladly have paid for it.

Bratislava to Vienna Without a Passport

What a good idea it would have been to take a passport!

Some time ago we visited Bratislava, the capital city of Slovakia and on one day we planned a visit to nearby Vienna by train.

Shortly out of Bratislava two men in black military uniforms wandered through the train requesting documents.  I naturally assumed that they were checking tickets so was surprised when they showed no interest in these whatsoever and demanded travel documents instead.

See The Full Story Here…

A to Z of Windows – W is for Washington

Before driving into Yorkshire we stopped briefly at Washington Old Hall, another National Trust property and the ancestral home (allegedly) of George Washington of American Independence and First president of the USA fame.

It has to be said that the link is quite tenuous because George’s ancestors left Washington Old Hall almost a hundred years before he was born and he himself apparently confessed had little interest in genealogy or his English heritage.

I have said before that I always like to see how far a place name has travelled and not unsurprisingly there are a lot of Washingtons in the USA and thirty States have a place named after the town in Tyne and Wear or, more likely of course, the first President of the USA.

Restricting the statistics to cities, towns and villages, in the USA there are thirty-six called Washington, thirty-four called Franklin (after Benjamin Franklin), twenty-six called Clinton (after DeWitt Clinton, Governor of New York 1825-28), twenty-one called Arlington (no explanation) and, this might surprise some people, twenty-one called Lebanon, apparently because (don’t quote me on this) Lebanon is a Biblical reference, and as Christian missionaries first settled across the US they named their new towns after names that inspired them.  There were also a significant number of immigrants from Labanon entering USA in the late nineteenth century.

We spent a very pleasant hour or so at Washington Old Hall and as we finished with a cup of tea and a slice of cake in the café I did some final reckoning up and was happy to find that we had fully recovered the cost of National Trust membership and we had a full year ahead of us to make a tidy profit.


A to Z of Windows – V is for Valletta

I spotted these two ladies in an upper floor window of their apartment in Valletta.  They were dangling a basket on a rope down to the street.  I was intrigued about exactly what they might be doing and then a delivery van arrived.  They lowered the basket down to him, he took some money from the bottom and replaced it with a loaf of bread which they hauled back up.  A process that saves going up and down the stairs.

Read The Full Story Here…