Sunday, 28 February 2016

Dolly on the frontier of Portugal & Spain

As our visit to the west of Portugal was successful, discovering places of interest we decided to do the same in the east. We drove along the coast of the Algarve and then journeyed up the east side of Portugal along the Guadiana River. A stunning area. The river rises in the Spanish province of Albacete, the total length is 830km. It's basin covers an area of 65,000 km. 10,000km are in Portugal. The river becomes navigable for the final 48km stretch between Pomerao and Vila Real de Santo Antonio, where its width varies between 100m and 500m and has an average depth of 5m. The landscape is beautiful.

Our first stop was in the Portuguese hamlet of Alcoutim. In October 2013 the first international zip wire to cross boarders was opened. It takes people over the river Guadiana from San Lucar on the Spanish side to Alcoutim on the Portuguese side of the river. If travelling from Portugal you first ride the ferry over and then zip wire back. It looks to be great fun but unfortunately the wire wasn't open whilst we were there. Apparently it's  over 720 meters in length,and travels at...or I should say you would travel at between 70 and 80 kilometers per hour. I will return to gain a zip wire experience. Despite the disappointment with the zip wire, we still had a lovely two days visiting the local castles, parks and of course taking the ferry over to Spain for lunch and back in time for an evening meal.

Back in history these sites were more about protecting and defending boarders rather than fun. Castles stand proudly on either side as reminders of past battles and no doubt blood shed. It was quite surreal at times, the old with the new. We became a little fascinated with the goat who lived at the property, which backed onto the area where we parked. Campers and tourists one side of the fence and a very elderly woman and her goat happily planting and grazing the other side. They clearly had a harmonious routine, the goat with his bell who seemed to spend the whole day eating and the elderly woman who put the goat out first thing, did her planting, disappeared into her house, no doubt doing all her other chores. She'd come back in the evening in a fresh change of clothes, perhaps dressed for dinner, and take to goat in for the night. The writer in me just wanted to know more about her life. 

Our second stop was an old mining town, Mina De Sao Domingos. Seem to have a thing for those mines. It area was however well developed for the use of motor homes, the Aires site was surrounded by a barragem, which had been developed as a park for locals, as well as tourists. The local canoeing club appeared to make great use of the area. The town had local shops, cafe's, hotel and restaurants and of course a museum, generally very pleasant. With it's150 years of history the museum is well worth a visit.

From there we went onto the town of Mertola, situated in the Alentejo, on the river Guadiana and within the national park area. This is a thriving town quite large, The Castle stands as a monument to the past. Looking down into the town and river one can imagine how it would have been possible to see invaders coming from miles away. I was more fascinated with the way in which the castle has been modified to accommodate tourists and visitors. Marble paths, steps and walkways have been constructed, they look very well crafted but all I could think of was the health and safety. If they are damp, or wet they could be very slippery. Few hand rails in place but mostly not, lovely to look at. But be careful if it' raining. Apart rom Mertola having a castle with worrying steps it also has a lovely indoor market and some amazing street art and shops. I really liked the town.

I really enjoyed this trip. Much more history along this route than I imagined, Roman ruins, Castles and beautiful landscape.

Our first stop Alcoutim  really enjoyed this place will be going back for the zip wire.

The view from Alcoutim to San Lucar

The view from San Lucar to Alcoutim

This is our view of the barragem. Our second stop at Mina de Sao Domingos

This is the view from the castle at Mertola

And the steps that I became very concerned about

Told you I was obsessed with the marble.

      See you for our next trip out in Dolly. I've a feeling it could be the east again for a fishing trip 

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Dolly visited Lousal, an old mining town.

During our last trip in Dolly we took a detour from the the west coast went slightly inland to visit Lousal, which is located 50 kilometres from the Atlantic coast. The old sulpha mine forms part of the Iberian Pyrite Belt and is one of the most important mining regions of Europe.

The mine was operational between 1900 to 1988 being worked primarily for the extraction of Pyrite, an iron sulphide. The mining work went down from the surface 500 metres (known as shaft no 1.) The deposit of the mine was discovered in 1882 by Antonio Manuel. I guess some sort of deal took place because the mines and the area actually belong SAPEC Group, they are the last owners. Now I have this lovely leaflet that tells me all about the technical stuff. When I spoke to our guide I thought he said the company was from Belgium but when I looked it up on line it came up with asteroid  mining... I don't have anything like that on my leaflet... so moving on.

Skimming over loads of technical jargon... and I've never claimed to be an expert at history and now I must tell you, that chemistry is also questionable. However lets have a go at the geology of Lousal. Apparently the mine is divided into two horizons of sulphides.  Pyrite, the iron sulphide that is mainly predominant is accompanied by Chalcopyrite, galena, sphalerite, pyrothite, marcasite, bourmonite, tetrahedrite, cobaltite, safforite and native gold.
Believe me when I say it was so much more interesting to see all the quartz in its differing shapes and colour and seeing the history of this old working mine than it is to describe it. So in layman terms they extract from the land for  sulphuric acid, sulphur and produce FERTILISER. NOW hold onto that thought.

 End result Fertiliser.

When at the height of production the mining village prospered as did the SAPAC company. In the 1930's the village was more advanced that any where in Portugal and maybe parts of Europe, with electricity. The village population in the 1950's was 2,500 inhabitants with 1,100 miners. The mining area was organised in such away that t's self-sufficiency could be ensured, with urban space being provided with all main services, amenities and equipment to form a community. HOWEVER, when I visited the village it is now down to approximately 400 inhabitants mainly made up of older people. After the mine close in 1988 younger people had to move away to find work and the prosperity of the village just declined.

Approximately 5 years ago a regeneration programme started, which incorporates a museum tours of the mines and a science centre. They have a hotel and a restaurant, which was only open lunch time (maybe because it is winter) To be honest it was bit of a ghost town. One side of the town where they now have space for visitors to park there campers (Dolly was happy) had two coffee shops a bar and the smallest supermarket I've ever seen, which was tagged onto the coffee shop... the size of a pantry. On the other side of the town was a church a hairdressers and a larger supermarket...but not that large. It is a worth while place to visit if you are interested in mining, geology, and history. The people were lovely and they opened the mines and museums just for us, for twenty euros we had a grand tour which lasted approximately two hours. I really hope the village comes back to life through tourism and the museum.

Personal thoughts: I came away sad at the destruction of the land and all to produce Fertiliser, which is put on the land for nourishment. Big business for some a loss of livelihood for many others. We have seen it only too well in England over the years. The rise and fall of towns through industry and commerce. I'm sure it isn't as black and white as I make it seem, but I did find it very thought provoking. Especially when I saw the lakes of acid water that had been formed. One is still particularly unstable, apparently until very recently nothing had been done about the water flowing into the rivers, streams and water systems. I asked if the government had done anything to make the company accountable and apparently not. The company are now however working together with the councils and governing bodies to improve this situation.

Think I'd like to go back one day to see the progress.

 By the end of our over night stay we had met a few people, maybe 12, in the cafe and bar... gave the supermarket a miss. If your in a motor home make sure you have some provisions with you just in case. It is a beautiful area for walks and there is another town not too far away with restaurants. 

This is the most stable of the lakes  has a Ph of 5.

This lake is very unstable Ph is only 2. 

What a way to spend our 40th Anniversary and the restaurant was closed, we dined in Dolly with tins of cassoulet and a bottle of wine. 

See how advanced the equipment was back in the 30s/50s

My husband has never been a dog lover, they make him nervous. He always says packs of dogs can be unpredictable. Personally I think that's true of people. I had to take this photo because there were actually four dogs that followed him around, they wanted to be his friend... Ah well the town is rather empty.


Friday, 22 January 2016

Dolly loves cork... She tempting me to buy a new bag.

During our drive from Porto Covo on the west coast, the country side just opened up. Portugal is more than just beaches and beautiful coast line. Wondering what I could share with you, it dawned on me as we drove through an area with pockets of cork oak trees, here and there. It had to be the cork industry. Portugal are the world leaders in cork. It always amuses me the way the tree stands there with the bottom part of the bark removed, as if someone has taken off its trousers. Its branches and upper half left with the jacket on... my imaginations running wild again.

True to form and because of my limited knowledge I had a look at good old Wikipedia and was pleasantly surprised. Realising that I actually knew quite a lot already, see how we can doubt ourselves, at times and without cause. However they did help me out with facts and figure, for instance I didn't know that there are about 2,200,000 hectares of cork forest worldwide; 34% in Portugal and 27% in Spain. Annual production is about 200,000 tons; 49.6% from Portugal, 30.5% from Spain, 5.8% from Morocco 4.9% from Algeria, 3.5% from Tunisia, 3.1% Italy, and 2.6% from France.

The trees have 25 years of growth before they are harvested, this is carried out by the cutting and stripping of the bark/cork from the trunk. This occurs every nine years and you will often see trees marked with a number, painted on the trunk. I was told this indicates the years since the previous harvest. It makes sense, if you have a forest of trees, how else would you remember which was which. Apparently the first two harvests generally produce a lower quality cork. So it's quite a long time before you can boast of a good quality, I guess. The trees live for about 300 years, so defiantly a business to be past down the family line. Can you imagine planting a tree and never seeing the fruits of you labour, I'm not that patient.
The good thing about the cork industry is that its considered environmentally friendly and sustainable, the tree isn't cut down to obtain cork it's only the bark thats removed. The tree continues to live and grow and we all know the benefits of forests on the environment. Way to go Portugal... you have something right.

 Apparently the wine stopper made from cork is the most environmentally friendly in comparison to the alternatives. So when people try to convince you otherwise, you have the facts .
Wikipedia explained that ("Analysis of the life cycle of Cork, Aluminum and Plastic Wine Closures"), was developed by PricewaterhouseCoopers, according to ISO 14040.Results concluded that, concerning the emission of greenhouse gases, each plastic stopper released 10 times more CO2, whilst an aluminium stopper releases 26 times more CO2 than does a cork stopper.

Myself I'm not that interested in bottle stoppers but I do love some of the cork products that we find here in Portugal. I've seen some amazing craft work using cork.  I'm now on the look for a handbag that catches my eye and ticks all the boxes with regards to its practicality, I even seen stylish shoes but not sure about that.

Once the cork is harvested it is stacked  to dry in readiness for the next process and ultimately the end result.

These products were seen in a local shop. I must say I've seen an awful lot better.
 I shall continue my search for my idea handbag.

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Dolly's first day on the west coast of Portugal.

Dolly is our perfect travelling companion these days, as we have a habit of going off without plans.

We once arrived in Denver Colorado USA, with our baggage and a car booked, that was it. We climbed into the car and then decided to go to Canada, we had a fantastic seven week trip. On another occasion we drove to the Channel Tunnel, boarded the shuttle, came out the other side and got the map out. On that occasion we ended up spending 2 months in France and a further 3 months in Spain. In those days we would just throw a tent into the back of the car and sleep under canvas, that was before arthritis moved in. The tent had to go, but the bug never left. After 10 years of being grown up we found Dolly, a great compromise and we love her.

True to form we set off towards Sagres, lots of history there and a castle/fort, but I'd promised this trip was not going to be focused on history. It was to be about the natural beauty that surrounds us. We had a great afternoon and evening. Maybe it's because we've visit the area many times but for some reason I didn't take one photo. 

However I made up for it when we reached Porto Covo. I just love this time of year when your able to visit an area, without the crowds of holiday makers who take over during the summer. Of course tourism is a very important part of the Portuguese economy so we wouldn't want that to diminish in anyway, however selfishly I love the beauty and tranquility without too many people around. 

Just take a little look at what I'm talking about, I get transported in my mind to a time when life was simple and unspoilt by the modern world. Call me a dreamer if you will, but it is so much more relaxing than hustle and bustle.

Can you imagine your holiday with empty beaches, shopping without crowds. Just a quite cafe to drink coffee or large glass of wine... if you prefer and your kindle in your bag at the ready. Choose your read for the day and just unwind... my idea of heaven. 

At the end of the day have another large glass of your preferred tipple and watch the sun go down, what could be better.

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Dolly had thoughts about Medieval Portugal.

There I was calmly sitting with Dolly, telling her about the Medieval festival we were off to on the 1st January. Explaining that she wouldn't be coming with us, as the streets were too narrow and parking would be a nightmare, wasn't an easy task. She's itching to get out and about again.
However I said I'd tell her all about it and find out more about the history of Portugal. I'm no historian and I don't claim to be a wiz at research, but how hard can it be I thought.

To me the Algarve has always seemed like a very large holiday resort with its golden beeches, tourist areas, bars, clubs and restaurants. Thats without mentioning the retired folk from all over Europe who have made there homes here.  Every year in August the town of Silves puts on a Medieval festival and for New Year the town of Paderne have their festival. For those of you that have been reading the blog you may remember that was the area where I found the amazing model of the Presepio.

About 10 years ago we visited the area of Sintra and Mafra, it was there that I first felt a sense of the counties history, with the palaces and amazing buildings. Having said that, I soon got back into life on the Algarve and didn't think much about it, until now.

Walking around the cobbled streets, looking at the various displays and stools that'd been set up, it wasn't hard to let the imagination run free. I tried to block out the modern from my mind and imagine how things might have been back then. Then remembered that the great Lisbon earthquake of 1755, which took the lives of approximately 60,000 people would have also destroyed what infrastructure they had and many of the buildings. I was once told that the earthquake had reached as far down as the Algarve coast, so I guess there wasn't much left... or was there. A few days ago I was told by a friend who had visited, some 20 years ago, the ruins on a Roman bath house, which was found buried on someones farm land, in the Alentejo region, I'd never really thought about the Romans being here.

I Know the more recent history and that on 25th April 1974  a military led coup overthrew the regime of the Estado Novo, which also led to the withdrawal of Portugal from the African colonies and East Timor. The 25th April is now known as Freedom Day and celebrates the independence from a dictatorship. The Carnation Revolution obtained the name because almost no shots were fired during the uprising and when the people took to the streets celebrating the end of the dictatorship and war in the colonies, carnations were placed into the muzzles of rifles and on the uniforms of the army.

The earthquake and the carnation revolution being the extent of my knowledge, regarding the history of Portugal I began looking on the internet. I wanted a site that could give me some easy to understand history and I found: A Short History of Portugal by Tim Lambert.

I'm sure he wouldn't mind if I paraphrase a little. 


People have lived in Portugal since the ice age approx 30,000 BC.  As you might imagine they were hunters and fisherman and gathering what they could find off the land, wore leather clothes and made there own tools. It was 5,000 BC before farming was introduced to Portugal, they continued to use stone tools as Bronze wasn't introduced until approximately 2,000 BC
 Celtic tribes entered Portugal from the north. around 700 BC, thats when iron was introduced.

 By 800 BC the Phoenicia, an ancient civilisation, which lay along the mediterranean coast had began trading, wanting Portuguese tin for making bronze. The independent city states of Phoenicia are now known as Syria, Lebanon, northern Isreal. The Greeks also began trading around 600 BC. 

The Romans invaded the Iberian Peninsula around 210BC and conquered the south but the Celtic tribe (Lusitania) held onto the central part of the country. Led by the ruler Viriatus they rebelled again Roman rule in 193 BC. They fought for decades and were defeated in139 BC when Viriatus was captured. In Time there was full integration into the Roman ways. Wheat, olives and wine were exported from Portugal to Rome. 
However by the middle of the 3rd century AD the Roman Empire was in decline. In the 5th century Roman rule in Portugal collapsed. In 409 Germanic peoples invaded the Iberian peninsula. A race called the Suevi invaded Portugal. However in the 6th century another race called the Visigoths ruled Spain and they attacked the Suevi. By 585 the Visigoths had conquered the Suevi.
The Germanic invaders became the new upper class. They were landowners and warriors who despised trade. Under their rule trade was dominated by the Jews.

As I said I'm no historian and unless I set about plagiarising another mans work in full, I'm afraid I will be here for a very long time sorting out dates times and places. By the middle ages we get into all sorts of interesting stuff. Reading through Tim Lamberts, Short History of Portugal I've become quite fascinated.   
It is so difficult to just take snippets out of the text when there is so much that links to the next point of interest. I do believe I'm getting hooked on history. It's like a grand soap opera, looking into peoples lives. The thought that we are creating history every day gives me goosebumps. I wonder what legacy we'll leave behind?

As an Author I like to write about peoples lives, how they rise to the challenges of life's dramas. Trying to look at the historic facts of Portugal made me realise how much work goes into research, when looking for historic facts for novels. I found my little research into Portuguese history quite time consuming but a lot of fun. 

I suggest for those of you who are interested in the history of Portugal, take a look it's really is fascinating. For those of you who just like to use your imagination Ive posted photos of my medieval day in Paderne.

Next week we're off to the west coast with Dolly, in search of another adventure.


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