Oh what a glorious time of the year this is! Spring. Our citrus and fruit trees are blossoming. Pesky flies. Buzz. Buzz. Non-stop buzz. Pollen. A-a-aaa-tishooo! Oh, and lots more birds than usual are singing in our garden. Tweety-tweet cheep-cheep. It is also much warmer now. Our property is south-facing, so there are some areas in our garden where it feels like you’re sitting in a pizza oven. Okay, pizza-nating here, but we’ve just been at a pizzeria with our dear friends. Pizza was hot, piri-piri hot, so there. Anyway, you get it, we have a hot garden. Zzzztt.

When it’s hot, you hydrate. There we were, sitting in our pizza oven, enjoying some cool refreshments and minding our own business when a relentless bzzzz-bzzzz-bzzzz flying object thought it was a good idea to swim in a glass of beer. So it was too hot for you too, eh Mack Fly? It fell through the foam, so we could not see it unless someone takes a sip, but wait, lo and behold, there it was, crawling back out. It flapped its wings and flew into our winter garden, why there, Mack, why, then fell down on its back and started spinning like crazy. Was it drunk?? Was this the last dance before nirvana? Then it stopped. Sleeping? Comatose? Dead? Whatever, one less buzz-buzz to swat. To our amazement, fifteen minutes later it “woke up” and flew away! You go Mack! Whoop-whoop! Yeah, some of us are entertained by such nonsense. Buzzhaha-haha-buzz.

This morning we had a bit of a drama. Winter garden. Breakfast. BANG! What the dot-dot was that? A little bird had crashed into a large window. Poor little thing kami-zanged right there, fell down, had a poop, then just sat there motionless for a couple of seconds. Then it tipped over, bum in air and head buried in the grass. Was it dead? No Schatzi, it would’ve fallen over if it was dead. But it has fallen over! Nooo, it’s still on its feet. Should we do something? Should we be worried? Yes, we were now very worried. We asked doctor goggle, yes, spelling mistake intended, but found too many conflicting information. As always. So instead of, as per goggles, putting it immediately in an organic cardboard box (uhm…where do you find such a thing?), or call the wildlife veterinarians (more goggling), we opted for the wait and see. Wait two minutes then see what happens. It was still standing. A good sign, yes? We did not want to disturb it either as it might have stressed it out more. A while later he lifted his head. We now knew it was a male blackcap bird. He sat there for another ten minutes before flying into the forest. Will it survive? Sincerely hope so! Oh, and there’s a large bush about two metres away from where he landed. This bush is filled with birds, like a bird sky-rise appartment building. Did he belong to any of them? Hmmmm…

Eurasian Backcap (Sylvia atricapilla)

Food and Fire

Phew! What a week! Busy. Busy. Busy. Today we planned to have a slow and relaxing day. Eat breakfast. Dawdle. Take a shower. Dawdle. Dally. Go out for lunch. Dawdle. Dally. Dilly-Dally. That’s it. Day over. But noooooo. Our village had other plans. 

We were on our first dawdle when the doorbell rings. The police. Oh holy number two, what have we done?! The one still in pyjamas opens the door. Bom dia. He smiles and Bom dia’s back. He smiled. We’re good. He says something then realizes that lady with uncombed frizzy hair does not understand (lady sort of understood but was too busy spitting on hand to comb down frizz), so he switches to perfect English. This is a fire drill. We should evacuate our property and go down to the lavanderia, the village communal laundry. When? Right now, Senhora. 

The lavanderia is not far from our house, but it still took us almost ten minutes to get there. The pyjamas. The hair. The Senhor of the house. 

Our village is very proud of the fact that we have had no forest fires, especially last year, when it seemed like the whole of Portugal was burning. Here they are very vigilant and exercises like today are done regularly. Everyone helps where they can. We even had a visit from a very important minister. After his speech, he came to chat to us, also to explain what he’d just said because he saw a neighbour trying to translate for us. The press was also there, so let’s wait and see if we appear in the newspapers, hee-hee. 

When the drill was over, one of the villagers invited us over to his place to have lunch with his family. Obrigada! It was still an hour away, so we went home and undawdled. At one o’clock we were there. On the dot. Eye roll. We took one of our homemade orange jams as a thank-you-for-having-us gift, and some leberwurst. Our host could speak some German, so he explained to everyone what it was. We in turn were offered to nibble on delicious roasted pumpkin seeds while waiting for the meat to braai (grill, bbq). There were at least thirty family members from all ages there, all very warm and friendly. What an amazing time we had. We ate, we drank, we talked. We met the architect who designed our house, also the one who built it, and heard a few titbits about the original owner. And yep, all are related to one another. We love this village! By the way, the leberwurst was a hit.

A few hours later, after lots of slurp-slurp uhm…wine, meat on soft rolls, juicy orange cake for dessert, we toddled home with such joy in our hearts, oh, and a big bag of oranges. What a wonderful day!

The Alcobaca Monastery – tragic love and the fat check myth

This will be a short one, as the blah-blah will not do any justice to all these wonderful photos taken of an amazing UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the seven wonders of Portugal. Afonso, the first king of Portugal, established the monastery almost nine hundred years ago and gifted it to the Cistercian Monks as a thank you for defeating the Moors in Santarem. The monastery and the church were the very first Gothic structures built in Portugal. The church is still the largest Cistercian Gothic Church in Europe.

Walking through this imposing structure can be quite jaw-dropping. The pillars, the arches, the domes, the windows, the rooms. Oh, and the kitchen. The monks did not have a dining room, so had their meals here. There’s a ginormous chimney in the middle of the room, like geez, what were they cooking there, and a very large basin is on the other side. The basin is more like a pond. At first we thought that it was for washing feet or for something else that we won’t tell, yep, imagination running wild, but nooo, it’s just a basin. They’d channeled water directly from the river into it. So not only did they have an abundance of fresh water, but plop-plop, fresh fishies! There’s also a funny story, myth, or whatever about this kitchen. Apparently there was only one way in, through a narrow door. Narrow, as if you-don’t-fit-then-you-starve kinda narrow. It has since been closed off, so no thoroughfare, but you can still stand in the opening. Did that! Would definitely have starved to death. Bums and boobies. Whoops!

Below are some photos of the altar depicting the Death of Saint Bernard, Gargoyles, intricate carvings and a renaissance water basin which is also mentioned in the Internet as “fountain where monks washed their hands before meals”.

The most famous tombs are that of King Pedro I and his mistress Ines de Castro. Pedro, the only surviving son of King Afonso IV, had an arranged marriage to Constanza, a Spanish royal. She was married before but it was annulled after only two years because her then husband, Alfonso XI of Castile, wanted to marry someone else. It has to be said that this first marriage was on paper only because she was still a minor when the powers that be married her off. The marriage was never consummated. Her second marriage was more a “revenge alliance” between her father and King Afonso IV. Her and Pedro were married by proxy and it took quite a while before she was able to travel to Portugal. Politics. Kidnapping. Man ego. Constanza arrived in Portugal with her lady-in-waiting, Ines. Ines, the daughter of an affair between her father and his mistress, descended from very influential Spanish and Portuguese noble families and was also related to Constanza. It was not long before Pedro fell in love with Ines. This affair lasted for many years and caused quite a scandal. After Constanza’s early death due to complications after childbirth, Pedro asked, expected, wanted, Ines to now become his wife. His father refused and tried to match him with other eligible partners. Pedro was having nothing of that. He wanted Ines. End of story. They were already living together, with their children. Afonso IV feared for the future of the monarchy, so took matters into his own hands. About nine years after Constanza’s death, Ines was murdered. Pedro raged and went into battle against his father. He lost, but not long thereafter his father died, so he ascended to the throne. Now that he was King, he exhumed the body of Ines and declared her as the Queen of Portugal. Apparently he dressed her up in finery and jewels and placed her on a throne. He then forced everyone in the royal court to kiss her hand. Apparently. He had two tombs made, one for Ines and one for himself. They are facing one other so that they will see each other on the Day of Resurrection. Constanza is buried in Coimbra,

Constanza and Pedro had four children, two of them died not long after birth and their only surviving son later became King Fernando I. Ines and Pedro also had four children, one of whom died after birth.

Just thinking. Romeo and Juliet was written two centuries later. Okay, it’s not exactly the same, but did Shakespeare know about Pedro and Ines? And…a personal opinion…the story of Constanza is more intriguing. Watch this space!

Amazing sculptures and artwork!

Look at the beautiful azulejos, typical Portuguese blue tiles.

The town, Alcobaca, is very vibrant and oozes history.

Street art in Alcobaca.

The name of the town derives from the Alcoa and Baca rivers.

Even the birds are in love in Alcobaca. Kiss-me-baby!


What a difference two trips can make. The first leg to Portugal was supposed to be close to nine hours until our first stopover in France. Ha! We opted avoid the toll roads, so though it was a very interesting drive through the countryside, especially in France, it was way too long. Lots of farming chugga-chugga’s. The second time we hit those toll roads. There. Are. Many. La France ka-ching ka-ching. We did not save much on kilometres but wanted to get there fast. We did. 

We were about three hours into our journey, the first one, just having crossed the border from Germany into France when the mobile phone rings. Boo-shoe Madame or something like that. Madame was snoozing and that is what she heard. Boo-shoe. In a very heavy French accent the owner of our overnight stay tells us, in his version of English, that they must cancel our stay because one of them had just tested positive for covid. 

Uhm, okay, sooo?? 
So, Madame, you cannot stay with us. 
Wait, what? Where are we going to stay then?
We book you in hotel in city so and so. 
We do not want city, definitely not that city, that’s why we chose you. 
His accent got heavier and his sighs louder, and madame was getting nauseous. Mobile and moving car, big problem. 
Oh alright. Whatever. Send the details. Bye, and thank you.
Ow Riv-waa, good-bye.

Madame did not like.

He sent a message a minute later. We were cancelled. Nothing to do, he’d booked us in city so and so. How nice of him. A cheap hotel in a big city. On top of that we now had to drive an extra unplanned hour. Oh well, what’s one more hour if you still have two thousand more to go. Felt like kicking something with that boo-shoe, but whatever.

It was quite difficult finding the hotel underground parking, so we parked illegally on some blue line, but again, whatever. Madame ran into the hotel to ask, but…

Who are you, we do not ev your booking! 

No, no, NON! We called your hotel a few hours earlier to confirm.

Geez, like it was fun being in the middle of nowhere with limited mobile reception and those buzzards circling overhead while we were wetting the grass. All this stress and still we called the hotel. They said every-zing izz alright. Now nuzzing was alright! Where’s that boo-shoe…After clack-clacking on his computer for what seemed like forever, we got the last and only room available, yeah okay, but where do we park. 

Just go around ze corner. 

Oh, thank you, sounds easy, merci (clasping hands as if in prayer).

Should’ve saved the merci because the around ze corner was a very narrow lane and the bays inside the garage were not made for modern cars. Okay, BIG modern cars, but oh, look, there’s a biggish bay, so quick, park there. Lots of French toot-tooting because of driving in the wrong direction. Toot to ze hand. We were in. 

The covid cancelled room had two large twin beds. We know how small the beds in most countries are, that’s why we mostly prefer twins. What we now had was one modest bed with not even enough space to the wall on the sides for a big bum to turn in. As if that wasn’t enough, the toilet was the lowest we’ve ever come across, with not even a single handle or bar thingy to hold onto. Plonk! Gravity and lots of ouch. Oh, okay, so the toilet paper holder is supposed to hit the head then. Might as well also start practicing those squats while at it. 

Very low toilet in French hotel
Very low toilet in French hotel

We were tired, hungry and the telephone conversation we could hear from the neighbouring room didn’t bother us at all. Thin walls are not as bad as low toilets. Whatshisname next door was chatting to his partner, wife or girlfriend. It was a very l’amour kind of chat. Click, end of call. Then we heard him l’amouring again, but this time with a woman in his room. Ooh-la-la! Time to play. Let’s just leave it at that hee-hee. The French women we met here looked like a million dollars. Them ladies carried chic to another level, even in this cheap hotel. One elderly lady sat there with such a beautifully made-up face, sipping her coffee, that someone scrambled in her handbag for her lipstick. Red them lips. 

The other French thing that is so amazing is the language and the accent. It’s like when they shout at you and all you hear is a love declaration. That’s why Madame loves it when beard-man throws out those French words. Shyoo are so crayzzeee. Shmoe-shmor-mmm

We slept well. The breakfast buffet was lifeless and meagre, with no black tea, only one of those machine thingies, so one of us had a milk coffee and the other one settled for hot chocolate. It was a hot and brown concoction because le chocolat had left the room. We were in France, but those long fresh crispy baguettes and fluffy croissants decided to stay in Paris. What we had were ice cold boiled eggs. Tap. Tap. Crack. Oh. Oops. What, they’re not boiled yet? Aah, look, there’s a big boiling pot (swear it wasn’t there before) next to the eggs. We plopped two in and waited. It took too long, so we left. Someone else might like blue boiled eggs. We were happy and ready for the next leg to Spain. 

This time was much, much better. No calls. No stress. No surprises. Okay, one or two. Nice ones. The hairy one had booked us into a hotel in the countryside of France not far from that city so and so. As we drove through the imposing gate and crunched over a gravel path, we could not stop ooh-ing and aah-ing. What was this please? Ample parking and a distinguished gentleman waiting to welcome us. He took us up to our room. Whoa! This place oozed history. We were spending the night in a medieval castle. Ooh-la-la-le Chateau.

We walked around the property that is surrounded by a forest, got followed by a dog that did not seem to bark, and eyed by two horses wondering what we were up to.

Later that evening we had a scrumptious meal cooked especially for us by the owner. Oh, and local wine. We sat in a huge dining room, with a table fit to seat at least twenty.

They explained some of the history of the chateau and allowed us to take some photos of the inside. It is after all, also their private home. We slept well, ate well, and ooh yes, there were croissants for breakfast.

Vive la France!