Snapshots of Portugal

Thurs 1st June – Eugene’s Birthday

Woke at 5am well before the alarm so headed off leisurely to Gatwick. Ended up snoozing in the long stay car park till mobile went off. My elder sister, for a chat and concerned that I was there so early.

By this time, this zone – C – had closed so there were no buses and I hauled the suitcase into zone D. Not far at all, but my supposedly comfy flat black canvas shoes dug into just one bone on one foot. Unbelievable pain for such a short walk and from canvas shoes, so the first thing I did when Monarch (lovely and helpful, btw) let me check in my case (a little on the early side) was to go and buy some more comfortable shoes. (Totally forgot I had packed my Skechers and what an ugly godsend they proved to be!)

Spent vast amounts in duty-free, but there was no sign at all of Douglas Murray’s book which I had planned as my holiday reading.  WHSmith didn’t even have it logged online either. Most odd and I’d complain if I was his publisher. Ended up buying The Secret History of the World (a doorstop which I didn’t read at all.)

Good flight, fast professional service; charming bloke kindly stopped eating peanuts as the smell was making me nauseous. So far, all pleasing.

Lisbon arrivals smelt like sewage. Not so good. Collected case and headed off to buy local SIM for my motoG at the station – all within the airport area. Another helpful, pleasant young man. Unfortunately, O2 had locked the phone so no chance of using a local SIM – so he gave me my money back.

And then it was downstairs to the Metro  to buy a Viva Viagem(?) re-usable tube ticket. I had no change and no-one I asked could change my euros, so I headed for the ticket office. Easy enough but the guy behind me was practically standing on top of me. Then he had the cheek to warn me about leaving my bag open (which I had done to take my money out and was about to close).

Got through and could barely understand which line to take. Anything connecting was up (and up and up) several flights of stairs and lengths of connecting corridors. If I had realised quite how many stairs there were, I’d have taken a taxi as lugging the heavy case almost yanked my arms off.

The lines were the colours – but in Portuguese – so if you didn’t know Azul was blue and that the image of the fish was a clue, you’d have been well stumped on first arriving. Well I was because I’d arrived along with gazillions of others going home or out or whatever.

There was a heaving wall of flesh all heading for the first (of many) stairs so I stood back and let them pass. Think I cracked a joke as is my wont and a young guy (French) (his girlfriend was with him) offered to carry my suitcase up the stairs. He probably balked at carrying up the next two lots though to give him his due he wouldn’t have known where I was going.

Staggered up myself and got on the right line (red) – with a change at S Sebastiao for the blue line to my hotel. Max about 20 mins – plus those ruddy stairs.

Space-invading bloke was on the platform and came to chat to me again – and warn me of pickpockets. Actually making me more wary of him! And he could have helped cart the blooming case!

Anyway, I got to Terreiro do Paco and the hotel was about 5 minutes away. Very easy to find although typically I went the long way thanks to absolutely dire Portuguese directions. If you learn anything at all from this, never ask a Portuguese, well anything. They try to be helpful but actually end up costing you time and/or money.

Meant I arrived at Turim in a less than jolly mood, not helped by the receptionists staring at me rather than greeting me. (The suitcase MUST have been a clue!)

One looked like she was weighing me up and I had a strong desire to shout at her to check me in so I could go and freshen up but didn’t. She did thaw out a bit later but if I am honest, they were not the world’s most efficient staff.

I had hired a car while in England to drive to meet R in Praia da Luz and had the impression it was near the Turim. It wasn’t.

The woman who had stared at me for several uncomfortable minutes actually became helpful. Told me I’d need to order a taxi to get there as it was up several steep cobblestoned hills. So a taxi was ordered and an alarm call booked as I had to pick up the car at 8am. it was a 3 hour drive to Praia da Luz.

Not much to eat at Turim, which had a tiny café/bar area and not much else,  so I headed out and after three false starts found a café with lots of French families so reckoned that’d be acceptable to eat. Expensive (tourist prices like almost everywhere) as it turned out and, like all except three meals I had in Portugal, rather bland and tasteless.

Only wanted a glass of wine but they supplied half bottles. Duas Quintas. Rather pleasant though more than I would have liked with an early morning. Charming waiters and the ambience was good, I guess. But way overpriced for a tepid meal.

Must have headed back for long shower and bed.

Friday 2nd June 10:10am

Still shaking like a leaf. Gut still churning.

Woke at 5am, pre-alarm, then took the taxi to the car rental at Rato. (Funny, just typing this is bringing back the extreme panic that suddenly descended on me back then.)

Arrived way too early for the rental company so had coffee and a bun in a local café. So far, I was extremely relaxed. I had driven on the continent many times in the past – and in a left-hand drive too. After coffee, I wandered up to the office, paid the fees and a 100 euro deposit (wasn’t too happy about that) then got in the car.

First hint of unrest: 4 doors. Big security issue for me. Left-hand drive and manual but all the words on the car screen were in Portuguese which distracted focus. But I got in and had barely gone half a mile when I went the wrong way seeing a no entry in the bit I was supposed to take.

Stopped the car. Right in front of some cops.

The cops were charming and helpful (one drove the car back to the rental company) but I had a serious anxiety attack. There wasn’t any crying or puking or anything like that and I could talk quite calmly, but told the cop I couldn’t drive it even to return it to the rental company. Obviously he had to ask for my licence and paperwork, as I expected. And also to ask if I had drunk anything. Last night, I replied.

Anyway, he turned the car round and asked one of his colleague to drive it to the rental company, which I attempted a joke about now I could drink. He laughed and said yes, you can have lots or something like that.

He and his colleague who drove the car back were very sweet and helpful, realising I was not local and had literally just driven out of the rental parking lot. We think Brit drivers are impatient and bad but that lot are hellish. Even when you are walking they honk and beep and are horribly impatient.

Anyway, I walked round and round and round. Yep in circles. Tried not to puke but it really had affected me that badly. No way would I have been able to drive around 3 hours to Praia da Luz.

Actually, even walking was hazardous despite wearing flat shoes. They kept slipping on the cobblestones and the roads really were either a very steep climb up or gingerly walking down. It was much the same pattern for the rest of the week too.

Rang and left message for R. Felt bad about cancelling at such short notice.

Got to Rossio and had a beer sitting outside. Wasn’t that concerned about not seeing Praia da Luz as the McCanns had been relegated in my mind once the media attention had moved on. Did regret not meeting up with R but now had to re-jig my plans.

PM

Massive bloated stomach probably due to stress and heat and poor food choices but I looked for most of the 8 days like the Michelin man. Not a happy me.

Bought way too much jewellery – probably wrong state of mind to be spending so much money but actually I made excellent choices by accident. Also bought three cardis despite the sudden soaring heat. Then back to the hotel for an omelette and huge glass of orange and tonic.

Watched Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn on BBC World. Not the balls up so far achieved by her and Corbyn was on the backfoot a few times despite the usual partisan BBC audience.

Saturday 3rd June

Slept in till 07:30am – got about seven and a half hours kip. Not too bad. Bloated tum considerably reduced but still at sixes and sevens in my head.

Ticket office in Terreiro do Paco extremely unhelpful as I didn’t have the right money, nor could I understand the automated ticket machine. Begged (yep) for help from a young couple. He was going to pay for my ticket but I said no – gratefully – and managed to get change and the right re-charged Viagem to ‘Zoo’.

Young Portuguese are delightful. Helpful, chatty, charming – a credit to their country. The older ones are more suspicious and blinkered. It’s not just language because a lot of the younger ones do not necessarily speak English. (And my Portuguese never progressed beyond Hola! and obrigado.)

Anyway, Zoo. Short for the Jardim Zoologico. That’s where the bus station is, and where, I was told, there were regular buses to Fatima.

Had to wait for an hour, but at least it helped me get my bearings and breath back. Zoo was not an appetising station though the gardens may well have been beautiful. There was a grim air around, like a particularly manky council estate and, to be honest, I did worry about pickpockets and being mugged. Unnecessarily, as it happens, as people mostly kept to themselves.

Arrived in Fatima in just over an hour. The return bus was booked for 4pm so that gave me plenty of time to explore and pray.

The sun was bright but it was really cold. And guess who didn’t bring one of the three cardis she bought earlier! Had to buy another here as it really was that chilly.

Aside

Not sure why three different shop assistants thought I was medium when their ‘S’ is large and loose on me – then and now – and that’s with the bloated stomach too!

A cardi, a shoestring strap top and a pair of lacy knickers. All are S and all are more like loose 10s on me – then and now – so still feeling very miffed that these shop assistants thought I was at least a size or two bigger than I am.  I admit the bloat was very very bad but still the clothes were on the loose side (and looser now that I am back in Blighty). And, with all the best will in the world, most of the females there in Lisbon had hefty thighs and butts so not sure what they were comparing me to.

(You can tell I am still miffed, can’t you!?!)

Meanwhile, the ticket to Fatima had to be paid in cash and my spending money was fast disappearing. The tour to Evora tomorrow was at least paid by credit card but Portugal is not that cheap. Luckily, I don’t get that hungry these days. A double benefit of not eating is not needing the loos. Probably another reason for being so bloated.

Despite the astonishing heat, the Portuguese are not smelly people. The airport arrivals smelt horrible but my nose hasn’t been otherwise assaulted by pongs. Unfortunately, the food equally has been so far lacking in sensory pleasure too. All that fresh food and much of it boiled to buggery and tasteless. Pity.

By day three (ie today), I had given up all pretence of carting my nice handbag and wearing pretty shoes. It was the large grey Kipling bag and my black Skechers for the rest of the trip. The latter are seriously ugly walking shoes but exceptionally comfortable.

Despite the many miles I walked each day, in the blazing sun, my feet never got sore nor did they smell. Most impressed. The Kipling had bits taken out each day but still felt heavier. (Got back home to discover massive dried bruise on my left shoulder. The right side has only a small bruise and not this odd dried patch, which I am regularly oiling to heal again.

Re skin: I did put on a hat for some of the time, and started the morning off with sunblock, but never topped it up and decided I wasn’t going to get neurotic about my melasma. In fact, I think the sea breeze may even have peeled it a little. Not sure. My limbs certainly were horribly dry and flaky on the flight back despite applying body lotion every day. Definitely could not live in a hot country. I’d turn into a prune within a week!

Actually, even with the Skechers, the Lisbon/Portuguese cobbles are hellish on posture though lugging the hefty Kipling all day probably didn’t help. Caught sight of my reflection in a shop window looking hunch-backed and walking gingerly. Oh great! Talk about ego-crushing!!!

Hadn’t realised the bus tickets were numbered (20 euros return) and had plonked myself down on the nearest empty seat. Luckily I twigged before anyone blew a gasket, and sat in my correct place…. next to a young female dressed head to toe in black. Including a black hat and sunglasses. Actually she did have a slight whiff. Unwashed hair whiff.

Arrived in Fatima after about an hour and forty minutes and the first thing that I wrote in my journal was ‘whoever said Fatima would be hot because it was in a valley was lying’. The ‘lying’ bit was in capitals, it was that cold. Yet incredibly bright and sunny.

It was the tourist agency who sold me the ticket to Evora who said it – and really ought to know better. But that was the other thing about the Portuguese. The kindest way to describe it is ‘inaccurate’. So a one and half hour boat ride, for example for pushing forty minutes, if that. Another directed me up umpteen horrendous steep hills and round the sodding houses to a part of Lisbon that was about ten minutes from my hotel! And these weren’t isolated incidents. Their capacity to multitask – badly – would have tested the patience of Job.

Anyway, here I was at Fatima with its strange mix, this day, of hot sun and really cold wind. So cold that I hugged my bag to keep warm (prior to buying that fourth cardigan, having forgotten to bring one of the ones I had recently purchased!).

Fatima is vast. Huge cathedral and centre and lots of white paved space in a massive plaza in front of the basilica, presumably for the hordes of pilgrims. But the first sensation was definitely of scale ie huge. Then as I turned into the area leading to the basilica, a Disney-ish set of massive rosary beads hanging high above one of the buildings. In fact, the eye sees them well before the basilica. Off-putting, to be honest.

I didn’t expect a mystical experience given the amount of people there – though it was actually a relatively quiet day tourist and pilgrim-wise. There was lots of noise. A Mass being said. Various singing prayer groups with many sitting on the steps of the basilica catching the sun.

For me, there just wasn’t really a sense of sanctity, and even the few people heading to the cathedral on their knees (on a special marble path) didn’t give off holy vibes. More like when I used to do daily chanting and had to get 108+ mantra said. I’d end up rushing through them because it was getting a tad boring rather than saying half a dozen with consciousness.

Then, as I grumpily made my way up to the basilica, walking right in the middle of the central plaza, I felt that rare but familiar lifting and lightness in my gut, this time a little humorous. And, as before, it disappeared within seconds but enough for me to class it as a flicker of mystical connection. That I was being guided and guarded. Even odder, I felt my darling Ma’s presence.

In those instances, my eyes invariably spontaneously water, as if the energy is flowing through and out of me – not from misery or unhappiness. Quite the reverse. A lovely feeling. Not that it stopped me being grumpy about the noise or the mass of humanity. Or the odd combination of very chill wind and very hot sun.

Prayed for family, friends, those who are sick and those who need help. Plus of course all the personal needs, wants and desires. Then I headed off to buy a cardi before I totally froze.

Somehow managed to walk over four miles in the wrong direction kiboshing any chance of a lingering lunch so headed back to the bus station and had a coffee and local ‘biscuits’. Bought a large bag of them.

Went into the bus station and, on a  whim, asked if I could catch an earlier bus. Before I could finish, the really (and, believe me, extremely unusually) smiley girl said ‘3pm?’ Oh joy. Instead of freezing and getting bored for a further hour, I could catch an earlier bus back to Lisbon.

Her smile widened still further when I gave her my large bag of almond biscuits as a thank you. For smiling and being helpful. Truly, apart from the cops, officials had been rather dour and a tad intransigent. This, folks, was a MIRACLE ?

Wondering how I will survive Evora tomorrow. Up at 7-ish for 8-ish pick up.

On bus back, sitting next to me was a suited young woman, reading PowerPoint slides about derivatives.

Snoozed for most of the trip back but did notice the scenery looked a lot better than the journey out. Not sure how as it surely must have been the same motorway? Even at the metro, I got my ticket without (a) breaking sweat and (b) asking for help. Another miracle ?

Exiting Terreiro do Paco, I nearly broke my ankle trying to avoid an idiot bloke standing on a step and blocking my vision. Thankfully, the Skechers (yet another miracle!) caught the worst of it – plus shouting ‘bloody hell!’ I guess that made the prat move so others exiting wouldn’t have the same missed step.

Now sitting in a touristy restaurant in Pl do Comercio having salad, garlic bread and sangria. Did I mention the portions are huge? Think Yank-sized. Well, almost. Certainly way too much for me.

Pondered Fatima and the messages while glugging sangria. Why Russia and not Islam? Papal problems I could understand and even the inconsistencies in the Catholic Church. But not a mention at all of what I still feel may be the biggest threat to Christianity and Catholicism.

From what I have read of Lucy’s third prophecy, it seems to based on End Times. And who could doubt we are living in some phase of End Times these days?

Then, meal finished, and refreshed, I headed off for another long walk.

Stopped at a crowded outside café, bordered with stalls cooking and preparing foods and drinks. Had a Mojito and listened to the (awful) music. Wandered past the Time Out market. Loved the look and feel of it but way too many people there for personal space peace of mind.

Chill wind again. Strange weather here. Blazingly hot sunshine and chilly winds.

Festia Lisboa tonight in the Pl do Comercio. So near to my hotel that I’ll wrap up well and come out again.

Did recce for Belem and suddenly had another mystical flip – and most oddly in such a materialistic place as the Time Out market too. Or was it on the Belem recce with the Jesus statue overlooking the coast road? Ended up heading to Belem at least three times in eight days, such was the draw.

My notes are a bit confusing re times and sequence and I can’t recall them exactly now so shall type them as I scribbled them despite them probably not being in the right order.

Lasted about 15 minutes at the Festia Lisboa despite the offer of a cardboard box seat – by cops who I had stood next to. Had joked that I would be unlikely to be pickpocketed if I stood near them. The first cop didn’t understand me but the other did and translated for his companions. Made them chuckle.

Had got a cup of coffee while waiting and thought 50c seemed cheap. Got it in such a teeny tiny cup that I joked ‘spot the coffee’. The charming young man took it from me and said to his companion to fill it up, adding that those tiny shots are how they drink coffee in Portugal (I had noticed). Very sweet of him. Like I said, the young Portuguese are quite delightful.

Had planned to have a bevy in the hotel but practically every hotel with a bar and TV was jampacked with people watching football. In the Turim alone, the noise was staggering as they roared and shouted as they watched. So, prior to the Festia, I wandered off again via Maria Catita – which had been recommended as a good restaurant (more anon about this place).

Bought some Portuguese souvenirs. The young man holding the fort for his mother, gave me a freebie cock keyring ‘as a gift’. (This was all pre-festival.) Re the circa five quid freebie: we had been chatting about this and that. Maybe a friendly face (mine) after a long day as it was past 7pm – maybe even later as the Festia Lisboa was not due to start till 10pm.

Still pre-festival (see what I mean about my notes being out of sequence!) I had a long hot shower to massage my aching shoulders and back (from the Belem recce). Was horribly bloated and looked about three sizes bigger. Very depressing since I had hardly eaten or drunk normally let alone to excess!

Turned on TV to the latest Islamic attack – and let’s not kid ourselves, it is Islamic-inspired. The usual apologists counter-balanced by the false-flag conspiracy nuts didn’t waste any time in flooding social media with their theories. Actually, I do feel our government is allowing them too much freedom to create chaos – freeing jihadis and suchlike but whether that would count as a false flag, who knows? But actors? No British government would be quite so jaundiced. Would they?

Sunday 4th June Evora

Forgot the palaver trying to book tours. The ones I wanted to go on weren’t on any of my free days and there were problems with paying by credit card. It involved paying the non-refundable deposit to the agency and then paying the tour on the day. Talk about making life like their cobbled hills!

In the end, I only booked one. This one to Evora.

Slept 2 or 3 hours and was up at 6am for an 8am pickup. Daniel was prompt. Our group was small. Yvette and Ulrike, two tall, pretty, very slim blonde tour guides, who were presumably doing market research for Tui. I think one was Dutch the other from Belgium. The other two were Americans John and Suzanne.

The distance to Evora was just about right, though D’s driving (hands off the wheel, talking on mobile and driving FAST) unnerved me. A lot.

Evora was very pretty but, if I am honest, not exactly a must-see. The ruins of a Diana temple, a church full of bones, olive oil tasting (there was wine tasting but not till later and 2 of the party wanted to return to Lisbon).

We had lunch in D’s regular restaurant, and he made up for the poxy driving by getting me a coriander and garlic omelette – which actually tasted of both too. Most enjoyable company too. We then had an hour or so to kill on our own.

I seem to have wandered off taking photos of narrow streets then having coffee in a fancy restaurant. Then it was back in the bus to Lisbon – and a long snooze too for most of it. Ah well. Better than getting panicky about someone else’s driving.

Was dropped off last, around 6pm and went for a walk to get life back into my legs. A quick traipse up the cobbled hills with a plan to ‘do’ the castle tomorrow, re-Belem.

Exhausted. Only snacks at hotel so ate delicious veggie meal at café off the plaza, about 5 minutes around the corner. Way too much to eat. Did I mention they give you huge portions? Lovely, friendly ladies. Did get a strange feeling that it might have been a same-sex haunt but was way too tired to care.

Slept soundly for hours.

Monday 5th June

Seem to have taken umpteen photos but clueless on details. Not in mood to write either. At least the ‘morning’ mirror has made me, as usual, look normal as opposed to squat and fat each evening.

10:30 Ibo Café

Decided to be a bit leisurely about walking the 5 miles (apprx) to Belem, and this café caught my eye. It’s clean, spacious, had good food, free wifi, takes credit cards (not everywhere here does)  and overlooks the seafront.

But jumping the gun.

I had left the hotel planning to visit St Jorges Castle before Belem. Argh! It looked pretty innocuous setting off but the steep gradients caused serious vertigo or rather me struggling to stay upright.

Got up to almost the top with lots of French and Japanese tourists taking photos of some historical building overlooking the sea. Not the castle though. Didn’t realise, as it was not signposted, that the Castle was on the other side of the road – up yet more of a gradient – and hidden behind yet more narrow lanes and pretty little houses.

Aside

Seems odd to be typing up these notes for what was an enjoyable holiday. Today is the so-called ‘Day of Rage’ called by the now apparently Marxist Labour party to overthrow a democratically elected party – admittedly with a very low majority (hung) thanks to incredibly stupid decisions by Theresa May – who quite rightly is a dead woman walking.  Now she seems to want to make any criticism of Islam a crime. Hopefully, that is fake news. But who can tell these days when idiots on all sides seem to be in charge.

It is also far hotter than it was in Portugal and follows on from the tragedy at Grenfell and a subsequent racist incident near a Muslim Welfare Centre. Brexit talks have finally started and there is a lot of resentment around.

But, back to Portugal Snapshots.

The thought of climbing yet more vertiginous steps over unfriendly cobbles of very narrow paths put me totally off so I headed gingerly back down – actually walking more like a very ancient old bat fearful of loss of control of her limbs. Without the benefit of a cane either.

Immensely cheered by sight of an Indian woman in a sari (a shopkeeper). Made me think of my own darling Ma.

Then it was, happily, back on flat ground. Could finally breath out. And onwards to Belem.

The pitstop at Ibo was because I thought not eating or drinking might be contributing to the massive bloatedness each evening. Not sure a litre of Sangria was advisable though.

More wittering notes about smiling at total strangers with Dad’s big grin and the stuff they ask me …or tell me. Really enjoying being chilled but must get to Belem. The minute cup of coffee barely feeds my little toe with caffeine but no time for more.

Didn’t finish Sangria either.

14:40 Turim

Finally got to Belem. Must have been more like six miles.

A decent flat walk through an interesting (ie scenic touristy – took lots of photos which I will post together on my FB business page once these notes have been typed up: www.facebook.com/EuphroseneLabonArtAndBooks/ ) route but for once the sun was out in full blast. So, despite the sea breeze, it was more draining than a usual six mile walk for me.

It did feel a little like being divinely guided though as I kept stopping to check the statue of Jesus was in sight. It was.

The Tower is closed on Mondays but I hadn’t intended to go inside, content to enjoy the view and take some photos. Also planned to walk back but got talked into taking a tuk-tuk as had reserved a place at that restaurant for dinner (and yes, that didn’t come off so I could have wandered back leisurely).

My notes say “waiting …waiting… waiting for that orange and tonic. Anyone would think they are growing the blooming oranges. And the bar is empty except for me begging for attention.” Actually, they were quite nice but hopelessly inefficient due to getting constantly distracted.

Another wander around. On the plus side, my hotel was near so many tourist attractions and decent shops which stayed open late so no chance of getting bored. The credit card got a bit hammered though.

18:50

Had coffee and pastry in a café across the road then had a truly vile dinner in a restaurant near the oik one (see below). Lovely waiters. Ghastly meal. Came back to hotel and had a Cosmopolitan to clean my palate.

The next two pages (of an admittedly small notebook) are one long whine about the crapola Portuguese service.  Seems the blonde bimbo who was monopolising the barman was a marketing manager or similar for the hotel chain.

I told him to tell her that surely customers wanting to spend money come before her bending his ear. Poor guy. Getting it in the ear from her – and now me!

And he looked like a scolded puppy so it was me who ended up feeling bad!

Was invited to have my drink with Amit an Indian guy staying at the hotel. He brought up Brexit and Germany – and said he guessed I’d be against and that Germany was good for us.

I did politely (well kind of) ask him why he thought that when we’d won two world wars only to give in to German rule but when the talk moved to Islamic India, it was time to call it a night.

Tuesday 6th June

Sitting in café on a vertiginous hill by St Jorges Castle. Cheerful ‘Angolan’ (?) waiter. Noticed it belonged to the Maria Catita chain – which I had understood was an original Portuguese restaurant – not part of some local chain! Makes me wonder why the hotel recommended it – and which I passed on to the American couple too!

(Not sure if I mentioned how I had arrived 5 minutes early for my reserved place and some oik wouldn’t let me wait – FIVE minutes! Told him to stuff it and went elsewhere to eat. At least there was plenty of choice near my hotel. Unfortunately, I ended up choosing nice waiters and horrid meal. Sigh.)

Anyway, here I am in this café, having wandered off for a walk north of the city centre and then being talked into taking a tuk-tuk to the castle (second or third time of trying to find it). What a rip off! (Most tourist things – meals, taxis etc are all overpriced.)

I had started off by walking to St Apolonia(?) to the docks, ostensibly to take a cruise but had gone in the wrong direction – at least a mile or two out. Finally found the right place and had gone off the idea, as it was dull, windy and wet (it did get very, very hot later).

Back to the overpriced tuk-tuk to St Jorges, only to find he planned to drop me off where I had reached the other day using Shank’s Pony!

Was not at all in the mood to be pissed around with so made him walk me to the castle and not just point at some hidden spot. To give him his due, he did, though I think he was a bit surprised that I was so cross. Seems a car was blocking the path so he could not drive up the hill. Rather defeated the purpose of paying him to take me to the outside of the castle – not down the hill from the castle.

Anyway, there was a massive queue and there was absolutely no way I could take a photo without going inside and by this time I was fed up being ripped off with their prices, hence wandering aimlessly then ending up in the café. (Or this café, since I think I was still in it.)

Really want to go home. Should not have booked 7/8 days. Five would have been more than sufficient.

Aside

On last day (with camera packed away) I finally saw the castle from a plaza a little north of my hotel.

On boat waiting for 3pm trip

While in the café, I planned to take the Metro to Belem – except it didn’t quite go to plan. I had topped up my Viagem and asked a nearby café assistant if it was the right entrance. She said yes so I tapped my card and went it. Realised it was NOT and came out. Went to what I then thought was the right entrance but it wouldn’t let me in.

Queued at ticket office to get help. I had kept the receipt so it was obvious I hadn’t gone anywhere. She added a journey to my Viagem and told to take whatever the tram number was – not the tube after all – except I hadn’t a clue where and ended up queuing for her again after wandering around like a halfwit.

Upstairs. Outside. Not INSIDE. And across the road. And not the number she gave. And they stick a 7 in front of the tram numbers but only tell you the last two numbers. And it was really boiling hot.

Finally got on and got moving to Belem – but got off about a mile or so before the main touristy bit. As I was also on the wrong side of the road, I planned to walk that lovely scenic coastal path with the Jesus statue looking over me. Except I had ANOTHER panic attack trying to climb the bridge over the main road. I couldn’t even leg it across as the tram area was fenced off, so I carried on in the right direction but the wrong side of the road till I came to what I think was the Presidential Palace or something like that. An army barracks before it and a pleasant mini park before that.

Only took a couple of photos of Jeronimos Monastery then spotted a tunnel for crossing the road. That’ll do me. And it gave me a breather from the baking sun. Still horrendously wobbly on my legs climbing the stairs back out though.

The wobbly legs and height dizziness seem to have been a regular feature of the entire trip.  Legs back to normal here in the UK, but just typing these notes is bringing it all back.

Anyway, Belem Tower.

I had read that there is a statue of Our Lady of Good Success (her feast day is my birth date) in the tower – facing outward so you cannot see it from outside – so I joined a massive queue to get in. By this time, not only was the sun still baking hot, but we were all buffeted by strong-ish winds. Strong enough for me to take off my earrings and sunglasses. Removing my sun hat was a given.

Even with a chatty American girl and her mother to pass the time with, I soon got bored waiting. Even more so as being buffeted by winds while on this (to me) not particularly secure wooden jetty was not my idea of fun.

And I realised that seeing the statue of Our Lady would involve climbing multiple narrow steps. Fat chance with my wobbly legs and repetitive dizziness.

So I ended up on this boat. A promised hour and half trip which ended up being a meagre forty minutes. If that. And cost me 20 euros. More of the daylight robbery of tourists  to put it kindly.

I must admit, as the boat was mostly empty, it felt calm and relaxing – and enjoyable. Sipped a glass of wine, watching the Lisbon coastline, pondering what to do tomorrow. Probably try this route again as it’s flat and easier to walk – and find! And there are loads of very nice eateries along the coast road too. May even get round to doing some sketching.

Stopped for late lunch at Brown’s Bistro in the city centre – one of the many outside tabled areas in the side streets, flanked by shops and boutique hotels. More wandering around then headed back to Turim planning to eat in. Except, yet again, the chef was off.

I guess I can understand why, given the vast amount of restaurants and cafes all close by. That said, it is still annoying as you get a different perspective of what’s available from their website.

Went out again. Bought knickers. Annoyed that a great lump of an assistant thought I was medium. I had picked up small based on looking at the knicks and actually knowing my body shape. Sure enough, when I tried them on later – and on my bloated butt – they were on the large size.

It’s not ego about the size per se as I have often bought Chinese clothes which are notoriously tiny. Meaning I end up buying something marked XXXXL! God alone knows what someone who is XXXXL buys!

Wandered around yet more and found a shop selling crystals and sem-precious stones. Run by a Peruvian married couple. Oddly, she lives here and he lives in the States. She made me some earrings and a bracelet from the stones I picked out. Not that expensive – for a change.

Then back to the hotel and more unappetising news on the telly, via meal pitstop at a Portguese Indian café and another truly horrible meal. Nice people. Large portions, again. But horrible and unfinished.

Wednesday 7th June

09:18am

Still in room, still pondering what to do today. Okay, definitely doing Jeronimos via the Time Out market. May do Castle tomorrow pre-airport.

12:30

In heaven. Well, almost. A coast-side restaurant called Nos Oceanos, in sight of the Jesus statue. A little noisy as it’s under the Ponte 25 de Abril suspension bridge (the one that looks a little like the Golden Gate bridge) but still feeling calm and sheltered and sunny.

Sangria, wifi and a very rich meal. (Yes, I ate fish a lot as it is Portugal, and they don’t appear to do vegetarian here. Not even decent salads. Have given up fish though on returning as it might have been making my melasma worse. Metals or some such.)

This particular restaurant has tables in the marina, above a fish pond. Could stay here all day actually. Food utterly delicious. Did take two antihistamines to be on the safe side though as started sneezing. Need blood to chill before eating more.

Shy looking waiter with specs comes over to chat. He lived in England for twenty years. Even got done for speeding in Sussex! Apparently talked his way out of a ticket and fine. More than I achieved with my various speeding offences! (Way back when! Am tediously careful and slow these days.)

He broached Brexit. Another one! There was me trying to avoid politics and yet another brings it up. I tell him my optimistic views, (Won’t repeat here as even someone deaf, dumb and blind should know them by now.)

We only disagreed re the cultural vibe. But you know if you have to go deep into the local countryside to ‘find’ a cultural vibe, then it is being eroded. That remains my view.

This meal was incredibly good value, being delicious, same price as crap meals previously not enjoyed, and a wonderful ambience.

Unfortunately, his directions to Estrela left much to be desired.

But back a few hours.

In my usual bonkers way, I had decided to take the road parallel to the beautiful scenic coast route. Awful. Ugly, Dangerous. A three foot wide pavement suddenly narrowing to nothing with heavy traffic thundering past and barely anywhere safe to cross the road. And the sun was blazing down mercilessly.

Managed to get to Jeronimos without being flattened or burnt to a crisp and well within an hour and a half. Not bad considering a lot of that time was spent struggling to cross the road – and on only one cup of coffee that morning. In fact it was almost two and a half hours before I drank some water. Not something to be proud of but I just didn’t feel thirsty. Just very, very hot.

Crowds of tourists at Jeronimos so I didn’t go in. I never like visiting these places when there are too many people around as I like to get ‘vibes’ which you never get with hordes around – especially the excitable holidaying kind.

I have to admit the walk from Jeronimos to Belem then to my lunch pitstop was not so pleasurable. The sun was horrendously fierce and I was walking with it full on. No wonder the restaurant felt like a touch of heaven after that serious roasting! I did take a few photos but didn’t feel like stopping.

After lunch it was then on to Estrela Basilica (and the crap directions).

The waiter said I would not need to take the bridge to cross the road but I couldn’t find anywhere safe to make it over, so had to brave a bridge with its gappy vertical steps. Believe me, it took enormous courage (for me) to even step on the first one.

What actually happened is I had to ask a passing young Portuguese (who had just come down) to help me up one side (which he did!) then I walked slowly, very, very slowly across the bridge and then waited for someone else (another man) who helped me down the other by standing in front of me (meaning I saw just him not the gaps in the steps).

I would have asked a woman if any had crossed at the same time.  I would have asked a child, for that matter!

Oh boy. No sooner had I got my wobbly legs back then the horrendously steep hill towards Estrela nearly did for them altogether. And, if possible, the sun was even hotter.

Did I say I was bonkers? Yep. Punishingly steep hill and punishingly hot weather but still I kept going! even with several pitstops I was drenched and severely puffed out too.

Found the basilica but didn’t fancy having to barge past the guides touting for business so then headed for ‘Chiado’. Had stopped for a cooling drink and when popped into a little shop in the same complex. The friendly Portuguese assistant said I must visit ‘Chiado’.

It might have been wiser looking at the map rather than taking this kindly but utterly horrendous directing on trust. (Turn right, then turn left up that hill.)

The directions I was given by this woman and then a succession of others took me up the steepest, narrowest paths, Then back down those vertical paths on slippy-slidey cobbles – and all under a baking sun – with no railing to grab onto.

The only thing that surprises me is how I didn’t come back many sizes lighter – from fright and sunstroke!

Anyway, after climbing umpteen of these vertical paths then descending even more of the same, and getting nowhere fast, I decided to head for the sea and not ask anyone again for directions – and came to the Chiado (via a coffee and delicious pastry pitstop).

This looks rather familiar, I thought. I even went into one jewellers and it was only when she said she recognised me that it clicked. I had come in from the northern side and in a complete circle in and around the houses – literally.

God alone knows how many blooming miles I had walked – and for something that was a pitstop from my hotel!

If I ever go back to Portugal (highly remote, it must be said), I will never take any tours or tuk-tuks or ask directions. Underestimating on the one hand and exaggerating on the other. Either way I was out of pocket and out of puff.

10pm in the hotel bar – me grumpy as no-one is around at all to serve but I did get an omelette with coriander and garlic in a café bar in the plaza. Smiley Barman back. He was on his break.

They actually are very sweet people but just distracted easily – plus bloody awful at giving directions. The only reason I minded less about those was for the exercise – and I sure as hell got a lot of that!

I offer to buy him (Smiley Barman) a drink which he accepts. I think he didn’t charge me for mine so I am less grumpy. We chat till a Frenchwoman breaks her wine glass and he goes off to clean it up.

As I check my emails, a thin, wrinkled Aussie guy comes over to introduce himself. Can he sit down, he asks. Sure. He did say his name and shook my hand, but I didn’t make a note of it.

Anyway, he says he had planned this trip with a friend but the friend’s wife put the block on him (the friend) going so he is here on his own. Despite having had a couple of drinks and a hugely tiring day, I feel suspicious. I get the distinct impression he expects me to buy him a drink. He has a kind of leech-y look.

Smiley Barman is hovering, concerned. Wrinkled Aussie asks something but I stand up and say perhaps Smiley Barman can help. Then head off to bed.

Thursday 8th June

Slept for hours.

This morning tried yet again to get on a hop on hop off bus with zero success. Long queues and longer wait for next bus. Easier and quicker to walk – even on those appalling steep cobbled hills.

Am now back in the Turim drinking freshly squeezed lemon and tonic. Yum. Have tipped the girls six euros. Haven’t seen the other barman as his rota had changed. Had last meal in the plaza overlooking the sea. A lettuce and onion salad and fizzy water.

It’s ten to two and I am waiting for my taxi, checking again it is coming as the previous booking had not been booked despite me seeing one of the male receptionists write it down. So a little tense. Taxi arrives early. Twenty euros for a forty minute trip. I have a feeling he ripped me off but not in mood for a fight, but he had a rosary hanging from his mirror so I hope his conscience plagues him.

Am clearly way too early to check in even my suitcase, and there are hordes of people in massive queues but, miraculously, I am sent to a new queue. I am first in line and I checked in with minimal waiting.

In through security – and a frisk and check. My metal fountain pen is deemed a threat it seems. But I am so happy to be going home that I am quite relaxed even with the physical frisk.

Departures in Lisbon is considerably more attractive than Arrivals. Spend way too much money.

The airport wifi is hopeless so I turn off the mobile and wander round more of the shops. What a lot of tattooed humans! Have strong feeling that I will not be travelling abroad for a while.

Had seat to myself on return journey and Monarch staff were again helpful and professional. Ate some rubbish food though and spent more money.

Then it was the quickest exit from Gatwick that I can recall. Case not quite waiting but prompt-ish. Bus turning up as I exited the airport and then into my car and home – with only a slight frisson re that earlier driving experience in Lisbon.

PS Heck of a lot of pages written so haven’t proofed it pre-posting. Will correct typos or other stuff later. Photos will be in an album in my Facebook business page. Link: www.facebook.com/EuphroseneLabonArtAndBooks

Snapshots of East Midlands

Unplanned Driving Holiday (Unfinished & Not Yet Corrected)

Driving many many thousands of miles in my 27 year IT sales career, and, since the car crash in 2002, long distance driving has not been a favourite task, so God knows why I decided to take a driving holiday in the UK this year.

The general idea was to head for a  specific location and then book hotels en route, wherever it took my fancy. A bit risky in July, the beginning of the holiday period. Plus the endless rain up to then made it doubly risky – and a very short break away. But, yay! It was sunny for the entire five days – sunny enough for bare limbs and no cardi for each entire day. Now that really is something!

Monday 4th July  O/N at The George of Stamford – Stamford

The recycling bin would not have lasted another fortnight so the kick-off depended on the bin men emptying it first….12:30 and I was off. Sun up and traffic flow good though it still took me two hours to get to the A1. With a meeting planned near Nottingham, I had booked one hotel nearby for the night of the 5th.  With heavy traffic and slow driving, I planned to drive leisurely and find a hotel en route. Except traffic wasn’t heavy and the first hotel that caught my eye was indeed fully booked. That meant heading further North, avoiding Peterborough. (I used to work there in the 90s and current press is less than flattering.)

Still, even driving relatively slowly, I got into Stamford quite early – and was instantly charmed. Even more so that I could park for free on the main road while looking for a hotel. If push came to shove I’d stay in a room over a pub (plenty of those available) but I wanted to treat myself to 4 star plus.

The first place I looked in was too ‘pubby’, so I asked a cheery-cheeked lady outside her shop for recommendations – ‘something clean’. ‘Oh they are all very clean, dear’ she replied. She had such a lovely, open, welcoming face that I decided I would find somewhere here – and I did.  The George of Stamford – a coaching inn – and I got upgraded too.

Prior to supper, I had a swift look around – plenty of historic buildings, a much cared-for town, with me racking my brain to see if I remembered anything at all from my history lessons – and bought a cardi and some necessaries from Boots.  Bought just in time as shops close at 17:30. Relatively small population, but with a lot of rather resentful Eastern Europeans (both in the restaurant and hanging around the town. Presumably post-Brexit though I have found few to be overly helpful at the best of times. The charming lass who upgraded me was English.

The upgraded room had both a shower and a roll-top bath and good quality toiletries. The room looked out over one of the main road but was surprisingly quiet. Just hot. Very hot. Past 9pm and still sunny and sweaty. Thank God for the Dyson fan. Less pleased with the very faint lights, making reading or writing virtually impossible. Oh and awful mirrors (a theme with all the hotels I stayed at). I must have spent at least half an hour bending and preening to see if I really did look like a fat dwarf and if my inside leg measurement (c 32”) had suddenly shrunk.

Had a bath and changed for supper in The Garden Room (lots of greenery and mirrors). Despite it being almost empty, it was still a challenge getting a drink and my meal. And not just from the Eastern European waitresses. The callow youth tried to be friendly but didn’t really have his head screwed on properly. Eventually got a glass of (expensive) red wine in a huge glass and what appeared to be two sips in it. Still, the place was pretty enough to make up for the slackness of service and I was back in my room at just past 9pm – listening to hard rock on Vintage TV. And hot, despite the Dyson. Was a little too zonked to go exploring so decided on an early start instead.

Tuesday 5th July O/N at Allington Manor – Allington

Had breakfast (at George of Stamford), paid up and went for a wander. Mediaeval buildings on practically every corner, the almost twee River Welland, just the ambience pleased and relaxed really rather than being memorably historic, but all so beautifully cared for. Might suit a couple on a romantic getaway. Or someone who loves drawing buildings. Not me, sadly, even though I had planned to ‘drive and sketch’. In the end, I decided it would be easier to draw from photographs taken instead. Then off I drove – in the direction of Newark.

Recces

Did a recce of SAA, spotting a recycling place on the same industrial estate so offloaded a huge piece of cardboard that had been cluttering my car boot for months. You have no idea how thrilled that made me! Heh! It’s the little things!!! Also did Allington recce but couldn’t spot the Manor so headed for Grantham and decided to worry about finding it later.

(Actually, my scribbled notes make it difficult to understand where and when I went to both Grantham and Newark. Am guessing 5th as I was going in another direction thereafter.)

So, Grantham …

Very shabby though people were very friendly. I was en route to somewhere but couldn’t pass up seeing the birthplace of Maggie T. For some reason I thought there was a statue of her and, usually the best place to ask, I popped into a local estate agent. As I said, they were very friendly but, unfortunately, rather clueless. Luckily, I hadn’t walked (meter only had a few minutes on it so it was easier to drive). The statue that I was sent to was of Isaac Newton. Same at the jewellers, she had no idea at all, though I did treat myself to some gold earrings being sold at half price.

I was about to drive out of town and not bother, but decided to ask at one last place – a furniture store. The old-ish female assistant also had absolutely no idea but the young couple she was serving did. There isn’t a statue. Apparently they are still arguing about it.

As I was now parked in the opposite direction to where it was, I did a U-ey and there it was, less than a mile the other end – on the corner – bang opposite a Roman Catholic church to Our Lady. And there is a small plaque on the upper part as the Roberts lived ‘over the shop’. The sun was out, there weren’t any parking restrictions, so I left the car on the kerb and grabbed a couple of photos. .. then took the long way round (by accident) to Newark and the National Civil War Museum.

Newark & National Civil War Museum

Presumably by accident rather than design, all the parts of the East Midlands I visited were exceptionally ‘white’. As there were Chinese and Indian restaurants, I guess there must have been non-whites around. But there certainly were a lot of Eastern Europeans.

Now in Newark but cannot recall where I parked. It wasn’t near the museum, and must have been paid for to give me time to eat and view. Ah yes, I remember: Newark Castle (long stay by the railway of the same name). On the map, there appear to be two Newark Castles within a mile or so of each other. I saw the less imposing ruins. Was supposedly near the Civil War Museum but the museum had moved.

After the shabbiness of Grantham, it was good to be parked and walking through a pleasing part of the town – a historic one at that – with a fine range of eateries and shops though I didn’t actually end up eating there. Did a quick spot of shopping and then headed to the top of the town where it (the museum) was now located. Lunch then ended up being a piece of cake and half a cup of coffee in their café. Poor choice really when there were so many decent places I could have stopped at. I had some vague idea of finding a decent eatery nearer the museum but they were a bit thin on the ground and I couldn’t be pfaffed walking back and forth.

Interest in the English Civil War was not planned and it hadn’t really registered that this was civil war country until I saw a sign for the Civil War Museum during the earlier recce but, at the museum, I bought Patrick Little’s book and planned to up my knowledge. Unfortunately, the  timetable of 10 minute films didn’t include the ones I would have preferred seeing but I had the auditorium to myself which is always a plus! Kept thinking of Brexit and the potential for civil war if not for social media and Olympic whining instead. Oh and going on protest marches that achieve absolutely nothing. Still, they are better than actually killing others for thinking differently.

After an hour or so, I headed back to my car, taking a photo of the Castle ruins which I later deleted thinking it was from another excursion! (Note to self: do NOT delete anything! File it/them in extraneous or similar. Typically, it wasn’t even in the recycle bin either.)

Back to Allington

By now, I was a little hot and weary, and it was almost time for the shops to close, so I headed back to Allington, which involved going the wrong way and not being able to find it easily – till I saw it and then wondered how I could have missed it since the village is not exactly large! I did try and ring Leo, but the line was really poor so rather than shout at him down the line, I said I’d see him later.

Allington exudes an other-worldly feel, but not sure how really historical it is. It was very quiet and rural with what looked like just one shop cum post office. Quite a lot of houses though.

There was a old codgers’ tea party when I arrived so there was no room to park my car. I asked a friendly older lady who lived opposite if it would be alright to park on the roadside. You never know whether it is going to bug a nutty local so best to make sure. Thankfully, she was charming and said it was fine, mentioning the tea party, and then she went off with a group of her friends, presumably for a walk.

Very friendly welcome from Leo who took over running the Manor from his father (I think). In through a hefty wooden front door and straight onto a seating area with two fireplaces and lots of very dark wood. Cosy – but probably better in winter. Was taken to my room by a young girl working there – but she forgot to leave the key. A guy with a hat was coming out of room nearby and I was a little concerned about leaving the door unlocked but Allington Manor is more like a olde worlde private house providing board and lodging to regulars (as some were I discovered later) so I went off to get the key as if I was another.

My room is huge with massive windows overlooking a quiet road and a field. It has a rolltop bath with two floorstanding candle holders, as well as a shower unit. The mirror is free-standing – another of those that make you look squat and fat. And no, I am not squat and fat! I normally like to leave curtains open but, despite the quietness of the village (plus the adjacent field), it felt a little exposed, especially with the bath in between two (of three) of the windows. But I left abluting till later and decided I needed a post lunch (that cake and coffee at the Museum) glass of wine.

I had asked Leo for the wine when I picked up the key and it was waiting for me on the very sunny terrace when I came down. Now that is service!

The idea was to have a quick drink and then wander around the village – except I got chatting to the man in the hat. Or rather, for a change, he started the conversation. Stephen. A regular, it seems, recently divorced, and there I found myself wondering if he was some kind of Walter Mitty. Seems he has a big place he is doing up in the Fens – meaning not far. Yet he comes to stay here and often. He definitely sounded lonely but why pick a relatively isolated village? He was a trained barrister and a businessman with a few hundred staff and several PAs and knew everyone or so it seemed. And the ex works for Mumsnet. Still he was friendly and I didn’t have anything planned (apart from wandering through the village) so I chatted with him as well.

He showed polite interest in my art wanting to see examples but we had no luck logging on so chatted some more, he on his second bottle of wine and me still slowly sipping my wine followed by a black coffee.

When I booked the place, it hadn’t registered that the Manor was really an upmarket B&B. so it was fortunate that the local pub had decent food, so I was told. S decided that I would go with him, to meet his friend, who he said worked for PayPal. This friend seemed to have made some impact as he mentioned him a lot. As I was hungry, we wandered over when pubs normally open. Except it wasn’t open. So we had a little stroll around – with me not wearing the right shoes – black wedge sandals. S said he thought I wanted to go for a walk. I replied I did but wearing the right shoes. Still he seemed friendly so I didn’t mind.

We headed back to the pub – The Welby Arms –  which, by now, was not only open but had a relatively huge queue of people of various ages all waiting to be served. Unsurprising really given it was the only local eatery.

S said he’d treat me but when I ordered my food he told the barmaid not to include his (to mine) which made it sound like he didn’t want to though what he meant was he didn’t want me to pay for his. It all came out wrongly, but since I didn’t know him and didn’t expect it, I paid for myself and he didn’t argue so maybe he never meant it anyway. Anyway, the food was quite tasty and reasonably-priced and I think I ended up eating it before his arrived. When I had finished we moved back to our original places in the front and his friend arrived.

No, he didn’t work for PayPal. Something else which sounded similar but totally unrelated. A charming Geordie. He and S chatted and then, when S got up to go to the bar, I asked how they knew each other. Staying at the same hotel (B&B). Another of the regulars. I said something about S being unusual and very forthcoming with his life and stuff. Mike (? – didn’t make a note of his name and cannot recall it) said he just let him talk. We must have looked in cahoots or something as S was not best pleased and snarled at me at something I said (which I cannot now recall but I think it was just me teasing him which he took badly). Anyway, rather than spoil the moment with explanations or whathaveyou, I said I’d leave them to chat and went back to the hotel.

Had a long soak in the bath and watched something inconsequential on the box while catching up with reading till I got sleepy.

Allington Manor is clean, comfy, well-serviced but probably best for romantic getaways or for those who like relatively isolated villages with not a lot to do within walking distance. I have to admit I would have preferred to eat there rather than in the pub, but it served my needs well enough for one night. I did ask if I could stay another night but it would have been a different room, so Leo found me a room at The Manners Arms a few miles up the road. S had told me that Belvoir Castle was worth a visit and apparently this was the nearest place to stay.

The plan was to go to SAA then come back and do some more exploring around Knipton.

Wednesday 6th July  O/N at The Manners Arms – Knipton

Second night of minimal sleep.  Even worse last night as I have been wide awake since just after 3am and am now fed up of hanging around the breakfast room. Only an hour to go. (Referring to night at Allington Manor)

And I can hear someone rattling around so head towards the sounds only to be scared witless by a dog barking. Try a couple more times then decide it’s safer to wait at my table. When Leo comes out, I explain that for some reason I barely slept and was getting fidgetty in the room hence coming downstairs. He brings out coffee and, despite me being a little earlier than their stated breakfast times, makes me two poached eggs. I did ask about S and he too didn’t know whether he was on the level with his stories.

Paid the bill and left shortly afterwards, only seeing another regular (who had been outside on the terrace with us), who looked up Lincoln on his iphone. Yep, was up and off so early, and the ‘course’ wasn’t due to start for hours, so I decided to do a whistle-stop tour to Lincoln Cathedral.

Lincoln Cathedral

Actually, it was so whistle-stop, I only caught a glimpse of Lincoln Cathedral from the roadside as I was a bit concerned I’d get stuck in traffic and then be late. Except I was still too early, so went off for a coffee served by unsmiling Eastern Europeans on the trading estate. Managed to spill a little on my new T-shirt so had a hurried change in the car. Not a good sign as there is a little OCD in me re clothes.

SAA

Regrettably, I was bored rigid at SAA and felt like a youngster amongst the others (despite probably being around the same age or not much younger) – coach trip art groups – and stayed for about an hour or so after spending less than planned on art materials. Headed back to find The Manners Arms – which Leo had kindly reserved for me for Wednesday night – and got lost round various back roads. Still, I had plenty of time and it was gloriously sunny. A very nice lady directed me to what I thought was Belvoir Castle.  S said it was small ( it isn’t) but this was so small, it was smaller than bijou!

St James Church not Belvoir

As it was locked up and I had parked on a hill in a minute street, I hurriedly took a couple of photos, which now seem to have disappeared along with the ones of Newark Castle, and so I cannot be absolutely sure but think it was St James Church, Woolsthorpe by Belvoir. A Victorian church. Very pretty but clearly not Belvoir Castle.

Hungry and hot, I headed for The Manners Arms to another very friendly greeting and just in time for a late but extremely delicious lunch. Planned to have a snooze but instead thought I’d walk to Belvoir Castle – the real thing. About two miles, so easy-peasy for me.

Belvoir Castle

What I hadn’t taken into consideration was it was (a) uphill all the way and (b) I hadn’t checked the opening hours and (c) I was desperate for a pee about 15 minutes into my walk. And it was closed when I finally got there.

I arrived at a large but empty car park which was the first sign it was closed but still went up to check opening times. Couldn’t see anything. And there were trees everywhere so I saw absolutely nothing of the castle – just a wonderful panorama opposite it. Still needing a pee and feeling disappointed that I couldn’t even take a photo of the invisible castle, I headed back to The Manners Arms, looking for a bit of greenery en route where I could relieve myself without being spotted by passing traffic. I think I managed it without trespassing or being discovered. Just.

But boy was I shattered. On top of that, my BMs (No, I also have no idea what this is short for. Bloating? Blood Pressure? Histamine levels? ) had gone to pot and I thought it best to eat figs and pumpkin seeds instead of another meal. Didn’t even have a glass of wine either, sticking to hot drinks to up my ‘healthy’ fluid intake.

This was another bedroom with big windows – overlooking the gardens and car park – meaning for modesty those curtains too had to be closed. I wonder if that’s why I had trouble sleeping everywhere? Not the nicest of rooms with an odd lot of furniture (the cupboard had a shelf in the middle so only a midget could hang his or her clothes in it) but the shower worked and it seemed clean. Yet another of those horrid freestanding mirrors that fattified me. But I did sleep heavily for the hours I did manage. Surprising really, given it was a popular pub/restaurant.

Had to order breakfast the night before (I was given a form to fill in when I checked in) and went for eggs benedict.

Thursday 7th July O/N at Arundel House Hotel – Cambridge

I was first down for breakfast but soon joined by two other overnight guests. They seemed to know each other, presumably from being in the bar together the evening before. Was a little relieved I had stayed in my room as neither appealed as companions. The eggs benedict arrived promptly but I was raring to go and do more exploring. Thankfully, the figs did the trick (and have guessed what BMs meant now!!!)  and I was off. Meaning I was off in the car *afterwards*!

Slight humorous aside: when I went to check out, the woman (who served me breakfast) was on the ‘phone – so I made a gesture that I was taking the case to the car. She was off the phone and carrying my bag before I could blink – although it was genuinely not my intention to get her attention. As it happens, they were wonderfully friendly and welcoming and I was just trying to maximise my time. She looked like she thought I was going to make off without paying. Except I had given my credit card details the night before. Ah well.

Not being in the mood to head home, I took a different route out of Knipton (to the one I had taken), almost retracing my steps from the previous evening’s walk, and there it was – Belvoir Castle – in all its uninvisible splendour. Not hidden by trees at all. And not bijou either. Got out to take a couple of photos as reference for drawing later then headed towards Cambridge. Or not yet.

Kings Lynn

Having now got into an ‘away’ mentality, I didn’t want to go home and even felt like a gypsy taking to the road and pitching up wherever I fancied, as night fell. Or in my case, wherever I found a decent hotel.

As I had decided to skim the east coast, I headed in that direction, and then decided to spend the night in King’s Lynn. The sun was out, the sky was blue and the outer road into King’s Lynn was attractive enough for me to think it was a good choice. I could almost see the sun shimmering on the sea and had some crazy idea it would be all olde worlde and good for chilling out in – till I drove through the town. Not sure why, but I couldn’t get out fast enough. Yet it was not too shabby and had enough history to appeal. Odd, really. I’d been so psyched up to stay overnight there too.

Getting out though seemed also less straight-forward to driving in and the sights comprised small industrial estates and some pleasant houses. Not sure what happened to the seafront as I headed in its signposted direction but spotted nothing. Can still recall either a slight panic or sense of urgency trying to find the exit. Yep, all very odd. Perhaps it was the groups of not particularly attractive people hanging around the roads as I drove in?

Not entirely sure now why I stopped at an Asda on my way out. Loo break? Drink break? Ah yes, it was to buy a pair of black peddle pushers as my dress was a little too short and it’s not always good to get male attention. They might think mutton. Actually, the looks I got were flattering but best not to push my luck.

Sandringham

Finally out of King’s Lynn I decided to take the scenic route to Cambridge. The distances weren’t that great but I wasn’t quite sure when or where I’d suddenly get the urge to detour or have a meal. Like Sandringham – which hadn’t figured in my inner map at all.

Unfortunately, when I looked at the map later, I could have fitted in Walsingham, which I would like to have re-visited. I hadn’t realised it was off the Cromer road – which was actually the original intention ie skimming the coast. In fact, I didn’t see the sea at all except briefly on the way into King’s Lynn. Or Walsingham. Next time. The traffic had started to build up and most of the road was single carriageway or looked like it was so I made a split second decision to head towards Ely en route for Cambridge.

Meanwhile, Sandringham. All neatly mowed edges, everything clean and CBeebies’ green and blue and pristine. Aside: has Her Majesty ever seen any rough parts of Britain, I wonder?

I had every intention of stopping for a coffee if not lunch but the coach parties put me off. Plus I still hadn’t hauled on the peddle pushers. Those I ended up pulling on outside Her Majesty’s front gates! Not, I hasten to add, as a gesture of disrespect, but it was the first place I could pull up to take a photo and it was cool under the trees. That said, my rear end may well be logged on a security camera somewhere as I finished pulling them up outside the car.

Downham Market

For some reason, working at BCSL popped into my head. Vague recall of doing some training for them here and around King’s Lynn. Perhaps those travelling exhibitions they attended?

One thing jumped out while up here – lack of housebuilding. Unlike here in West Sussex where houses appear to be covering every bit of green field, and spaces either side of main roads also indicated housebuilding, up here there was almost none that was visible and I certainly did look. Someone mentioned that it was true, because there was little money in it for the developers. Poor Southerners! Hefty house prices and scant space!

The signs for Downham Market sounded attractive so I thought I’d grab some lunch there. I parked and walked up into the town, only to find it had a rather depressed vibe. No nice eateries or shops, and various people around and about exuding misery, so I bought a Ribena in a café and headed back to my car and the exit. Perhaps Ely for a pitstop?

Ely

Actually, Ely Cathedral was more spotted fleetingly from the road than venturing into the centre. Not sure why I didn’t stop and at least grab a coffee but my driving feet preferred a sunny meander in the car – perhaps with the promise of more exploring once I got into Cambridge. Perhaps it was also because the road into Cambridge, despite being an A road was more like a B road, with no overtaking and being stuck behind Katie’s Thai food van for miles and miles – and it was going considerably slower than me. Tension. First signs in four days.

But I did slow down to mentally store an image of the Cathedral.

Cambridge

Arrived in an overcast Cambridge utterly clueless where to nest for the night, hotels in quiet villages or towns nearby clearly not practical as I wanted to walk from the hotel into the city centre – and I wanted free parking. Then, in less than a minute of having that thought, I spotted the Arundel House Hotel overlooking the River Cam. It looked a little like a town house but I thought I’d check anyway.

Parked the car beside the river and was just about to go in and ask if they had a room when brain re-engaged and I realised I had parked illegally. Eeek. Moved the car into their car park and headed for reception. Yay – a single room was available – and the hotel was much larger than it looked from the main road and had a mass of different foreign visitors, like a mini Babel. It also had a restaurant within and bar – good to know if I couldn’t face going out again. Also a lot of friendly business men attending a conference. Clearly a very popular venue – or at least it was this day.

The room was clean but minute and it was on the the fire escape ‘path’ which I found rather disconcerting. It meant another night with the curtains partially closed to stop anyone potentially peeking in. It was also boiling hot but I did not want to open the window – yep, because of  the fire escape.

Had a freshen up and then headed out, in a now very hot and sunny day, to the city centre (after being wrongly directed first). Boots and M&S – the latter a less than enjoyable experience. What is it with too many Eastern Europeans treating dark-skinned people like rubbish? Asked her to please pay attention while serving me and not start and continue a conversation with another woman as if I did not exist. But it left a bad taste.

Once out, I had this overwhelming urge for rice – and since my last meal had been two poached eggs at 8am – anything would do. And it was anything. Meaning a bit grim. £5 for something supposedly Chinese but cooked and served by Eastern Europeans. (Yes, they even run a Chinese eatery in Cambridge!) Reminded me of having a Chinese meal in Krakow. Quite disgusting. Ditto this. Left most of it. Worth a fiver to put me off rice for another few months, I thought. On the plus side, they were not rude.

Cambridge was (is?) chocabloc with young people, students, foreign in the main. Many seemed monied. A happy holiday vibe. It helped that it was still incredibly sunny and people were seated outside eating and drinking, and there was a busy market in the square almost opposite the university, adding to the general air of being ‘abroad’. After wandering round the square and  some side roads rather too many times, I then chose to have a very expensive glass of red wine at Cambridge Wine Merchants instead. Felt utterly flaked out.

Either due to sitting down properly or the glass of wine, I started to get second wind so decided to freshen up back at the hotel and then come back out for supper at Thanh Binh – a Vietnamese restaurant on Magdalene Street. Clearly I still had a need for rice! That said, I probably pushed my luck taking chances on some food, as got bad rash on neck.

Walking back afterwards, I kept thinking it would have been better here as a couple. There is something rather romantic about Cambridge. Perhaps it was the energy of promise from all those students, or just the River Cam on a hot summer’s evening?

Friday 8th July Restless And Ready For Home

An overcast departure from Cambridge at around 08:30. Yes, early! Sleeping in a single bed, in a small, hot room was not conducive to a good night’s rest, plus the room was on the fire escape path so I felt uncomfortable leaving the curtains open let alone the window. However, within minutes of heading south, the weather perked up again.

The general plan was to take B roads as far as possible, or non-busy A roads, rather than ending up on the M25 with its stop-start traffic – and I did manage it for a short while, round Royston, through Letchworth (attractive), Hitchin (not attractive), until I found myself about to drive in a circle when I got to Potters Bar. I had rather hoped to drive through Borehamwood – and see how much it had changed – but the signs petered out and, by now, feeling intensely sleepy, I gave up and got on the M25.

And yes, it was horribly stop-start – and, as well as feeling sleepy, I was hungry and needed the loo. The first exit and I’m off, I told myself. It wouldn’t be too far so the mounting traffic would be less of a problem

M&S Egham

And the first exit was Egham. I pulled up at the M&S garage and bought a lot of food to eat both for ‘lunch’ and to load the fridge. I was totally focused on trying to load it all neatly into the car, so never noticed that – presumably my rear end – had got the attention of an incredibly attractive and sexy man. As I moved away from the passenger seat (having loaded the car), I looked up and he walked past, head turned to me, almost wistfully, eyebrow raised, a smile. It could have meant anything but was definitely a Good Feeling. He held my gaze long enough to feel that the view from the front hadn’t put him off. That said, even if it was my style to pick up unknown men, which it isn’t, I felt a little concerned that I might be too old for him (had sunglasses on), so drove off.

Aside, men do find white capri pants attractive. Perhaps it’s that summer holiday vibe they give off?

Had brief pitstop to eat something in a park just outside Sunningdale, then continued home.

Slow Puncture

Somewhere on the road to Potters Bar, not sure where exactly, but the car seemed to veer a bit. At the time, I put it down to being so tired. Meant to check the tyres once I got home but, by the time I had uploaded the car, I just slumped in the bath and forgot. Mel, a neighbour, emailed the next day to tell me I had a flat tyre.

Vegetarian No More

RP_fish_ac Somehow  I am ashamed to admit that I shouldn’t really be calling myself vegetarian anymore. Health reasons… but, back in 1989, I only started by giving up meat. For spiritual reasons, linked to food density and metaphysics cf Pythagoras.

To me all life is sentient, so killing only animals never really figured in my reasoning.

I well remember the day before cutting out all meat that I went to an expensive restaurant near where I lived and had steak tartare for lunch. It was so heavy and rich, I fell asleep – in the middle of the afternoon! Haven’t knowingly touched meat since. Unless you count those Polish ‘vegetarian’ dishes swimming in revolting animal fats which I unwittingly tasted (and spat out).

But I wasn’t a vegetarian as fish was still on the menu. More specifically, shellfish and smoked salmon. That pescatarian period lasted for about 4 years or so until I developed a very serious allergy. Over that time I had at least 3 allergic reactions resulting in serious difficulty breathing and finally gave up fish when I landed up in Santa Monica ER with full blown anaphylaxis. Yeah, you’d have thought I had a death wish!!!

And so from c 1993 till 2003, I was religiously vegetarian – though never vegan. Even gave up alcohol and coffee for a number of years.

Then in 2002 I had a serious car crash and my left hand was very badly injured. My little finger and ring finger were so badly broken and the bones on the back of my hand were so crushed I had two general anaesthetics – one week apart.

It was recommended I ate oily fish to aid healing but it still took several weeks before I took the step back to eating fish again. Clearly not shellfish though because of the since confirmed allergy. I did however stop and revert to a vegetarian diet once it looked like no further progress could or would be made with the fingers. (I still have adhesions in that hand.)

Anyway, now it’s 2009 and my normally smooth unmarked back is covered in large dark brown splodges. But it wasn’t just that. My scalp was burning and reduced me to tears from the pain. I could almost live with oily gunk on my head every night but it was the seeming endlessness of it which made me go to the GP who immediately referred me to a dermatologist.

After several visits (to the dermatologist – and another story in itself), it transpired I had a ‘serious allergy’ to tomatoes – which as you probably know includes aubergines, chillis, peppers and potatoes. Also included were soy products. Now for a veggie, that leaves next to bugger-all you have left!

Within a couple of weeks of giving up all those food stuffs, all splodges went and my back reverted to its normal niceness. Phew! Palpable relief. (The itchy scalp thankfully stopped after giving up cheese.)

Then, circa 2013 (not entirely sure exactly when TBH but at least two full years if not longer), I started to get hives on one side of my stomach and on one shoulder. I didn’t bother going back to the dermatologist, just got a repeat prescription for anti-histamines and Eumovate and did my own elimination diet.

And, oh misery, no rice, no green veg, even carrots and peas caused reactions. Eating became so stressful and my social life died as it was so difficult finding anything to eat.

Who knows what the issue could be: histamine levels, lousy enzyme digestives, leaky gut, liver not healing properly or just plain stress? It all meant I had to start eating fish again – albeit not every week.

Then I had a fright a while back with low white blood cell count so had to take collagen.So I am now in a position where I am a vegetarian by desire alone. I still think of myself as a veggie but clearly am not – hence this confession.

That said, unless a doctor orders it, it is unlikely I’ll be eating meat, let alone another steak tartare!   .