There is no ‘bucket list’ - Lynne and I are both well, thank you – but we have arrived at a point in our lives where we have the time, the money and the good health to indulge in a passion for travel. We know how lucky and privileged we are to be able to do this, and we know it won’t last for ever, but while it does…..

Saturday, 20 October 2012

The Algarve (4): Random Delights

Two years ago, after our seventeenth trip to the Algarve, I posted The Algarve: Depredations and Delights about the changes we had seen since our first visit in 1982. Last year there were two posts, Eating the Algarve (to which I have just added a couple of updates) and Drinking the Algarve, looking at two of the region’s greatest pleasures. This year I was struggling for an idea.  After three days of sunshine – a new and unnerving experience for someone who spent the summer in England – my brain had slipped into holiday mode and a plan seemed further away than ever. One evening I was sitting in the garden after dinner dunking the last of my bread into the last of my wine – I realise not everybody does this, but it beats dunking biscuits in coffee – when I realised where I was going wrong. Unlike our other travels, the Algarve trips have no plan. We try to find somewhere new each year, but generally we drop in on old favourites as and when the mood takes us.

So this post has no plan, it is about random delights. I have selected five, none of them food and drink, which I found quite demanding. Maybe there will be five more next year.

Random Delight No 1 -   Praia da Albandeira

Neither of us are great beach goers, but as we stay in the seaside town of Carvoeiro it would be perverse not to visit a beach occasionally. Of the many little rocky coves along this part of the coast the Praia da Albandeira is our favourite.

Driving east from Carvoeiro you eventually free yourself from the sprawling tourist developments. The countryside, though, is hardly wild; large white villas stand in their own grounds surrounded by coastal scrublands, pine trees and figs.

Take the right turn beside the Caramujeira Winery. I am unsure if it is still functioning – I have never seen, never mind tasted, its products - but when I took this photograph I definitely heard pumps. The pool pump in the villa behind me was certainly running, but I thought there was a gentle throbbing from the winery as well.

The Caramujeira Winery, near Carvoeiro

From here a single track road leads to the coast.
The single track road to Praia da Albandeira
You may pass a small herd of goats and an elderly goatherd sitting in the shade.
Goats grazing on 'pasture' that only goats could graze
near Carvoeiro
After a couple of kilometres the road runs out of surface and arrives at a rough car park where wooden steps take you down past a small restaurant/snack bar to the beach itself.

Lynne on Praia da Albandeira

Praia d’Albandeira is not quite as empty as these pictures suggest, but it is never crowded - not in October anyway - as it takes a little effort to get there. Although Lynne says it shelves too steeply, I think it is a good place to swim.

Stop looking at it and get in there, you wimp
The water is clean and clear and it is sandy underfoot. In October the ocean is surprisingly warm and there are usually a few Atlantic breakers to play with, though not on this day.

That's better

Random Delight No 2  Our Garden

I stumbled across No 1, Vilas do Mar  (now on the Home and Away Website) in 2005 in the on-line version of Dalton’s Weekly. We have spent a week or two there every autumn since. I am not sure that I realised when I first booked it that it is the only one of the 10 two bedroom apartments in the block with its own private garden. The garden is one reason we keep returning.

The hedge is a riot of colour with a pinkish mimosa, a deep blue convolvulus and a bright orange flower I have been unable to identify.

Mimosa, Convolvulus and that orange flower
Hedge, No 1, Vilas do Mar, Carvoeiro
There is a sunny corner for morning coffee and a shady area for lunch when the sun is higher and hotter.

Convolvulus Tricolor

To Lynne’s right is a barbecue which we have never used but perhaps ought to, while behind her the pretty white flowers that look like blossom on the small tree are actually a plumbago shrub growing through it.

A sunny spot for morning coffee

The satellite dish is hardly scenic, but without it there would be no Merlin or Downton Abbey, which might be a shame.

Vilas do Mar, Carvoeiro
No garden looks at its best in the rain. Fortunately rain is a rare occurrence – but not entirely unknown.

2006 was not our best year in Carvoeiro

Random Delight No 3     Our Landlords, Malcolm & Tessa

The garden is maintained by Malcolm and Tessa, our landlords, whose occasional judicious interventions are leavened with a measure of benign neglect.

Malcolm and Tessa divide their lives between Carvoeiro and Essex (nobody’s perfect) and our visits did not coincide until 2008. Since then we have met up for dinner at least once, more often twice, each year. They are always good company, possess an insider’s knowledge of the strengths and weaknesses of Carvoeiro’s many restaurants and have introduced us to live fado as well as first recommending Praia d’Albandeira.

Lynne with Tessa, Malcolm and a plateful of goat
A Vela, Carvoeiro
My friend and former colleague Brian retired in 2007, the year before me, despite being several months younger (I’m not bitter). During the course of a long and bibulous afternoon in September he recalled saying that he hoped his retirement would provide him with ‘ten good years’ before the onset of the inevitable decline. He was pleased enough with the first five years, but shocked by the thought that now only five remained. At the time I suggested he should aim for a rolling ten years; every day he gets up feeling well, the ten years starts anew.

Fado singer

On reflection perhaps we should take a good look at Malcolm. He plays tennis, swims in the sea, enjoys the fresh air, sunshine and all the good food and drink the Algarve has to offer and could give us both a good twenty years. Tessa is, of course, much younger. We should both raise a glass to Tessa and Malcolm, a delight and an inspiration.

Random Delight No 4      Flamingos

If you had asked me ten years ago if it was possible to see flamingos in Europe I would have said ‘no’, then I might have thought of the Camargue.

It was the (now long retired) Brian who told us about the Salgados flamingos in 2006.

Leaving the N-125 at Pêra and driving through the village you reach a roundabout on the minor road connecting the resorts of Albufeira and Armacão de Pêra. A small unsigned exit takes you into the sort of coastal scrub that used to be plentiful but has now largely disappeared beneath tourist developments. For a while the road points alarmingly at the gleaming white tower blocks of Armacão and it is better to lower your gaze to the nearby scrub punctuated with straggling fig trees and young olives grafted onto gnarled and venerable stumps. The road turns past a neglected looking vineyard and the remains of three long-disused windmills and then the tarmac stops. The left hand dirt road runs past the Salgados lagoon, a small track giving access to the water’s edge.

The depth of the lagoon depends on water management upstream, in 2008 it was completely dry and no water meant no flamingos. Since then, though, it has been full and this year we counted more than a hundred.

Walking across the dried up lagoon, 2008

The birds are not particularly cooperative, always preferring the far side of the lagoon. Normally they just mill around with their heads in the water, but occasionally three or four of them will line up and march purposefully forward their heads swinging from side to side in unison like a military vacuum cleaner unit.
Flamingos, Salgados lagoon 2012

The Salgados flamingos are largely white. The more usual pink colour comes from their food, and pink food is clearly not abundant here. However, when they stretch their wings the edges show black chevrons and the undersides are distinctly rosy.

Sometimes a small group take to the air. They are extraordinarily ungainly, their wings are too narrow and stick out at right angles, their bodies seem too small, their spindly legs and necks ludicrously long.
There are many more waders that I am unable to identify, plenty of seagulls, several egrets and occasionally a few white storks, strutting around on the whispy grass.

White stork, Salgados lagoon, 2008
At the end of the dirt road a board walk crosses the dunes to the long sweep of Praia Grande. It provides a good view of the lagoon as well as the forbidding bulk of Armacão de Pêra.

The Salgados lagoon from the boardwalk to Praia Grande

 Developers currently have plans to turn the whole Salgados area into a luxury hotel and golf course. The local council have agreed, but the national government has put the plan on hold pending a full ecological survey. The Algarve has many luxury hotels and golf courses and few wetland bird sanctuaries. If you would like to help preserve this one, please click on this link and sign the petition organised by Avaaz and supported by the RSPB and the equivalent Portuguese organisation. 

The forbidding bulk or Armacão de Pêra
Random Delight No 5      Azulejos

The production of Azulejos, tin-glazed ceramic tiles, has been going on in Portugal for five centuries.

You can find old ones inside and outside churches, as in this rather fine depiction of St Lawrence with the griddle on which he was martyred on the wall of the church of São Laurenço near Almançil.

St Lawrence with his gridle
You can find modern ones at the entrance to tourist developments, here in Monte Dourade, Carvoeiro….

The entrance to Monte Dourade, Carvoeiro

 …as municipal art commemorating notable citizens…..
A notable citizen, whose name I have unfortunately forgotten

….or just stuck on the walls of people’s houses.
Azulejos on the wall of a house in Monchique

The more you look for azulejos the easier they are to find. They are used for villa names and street numbers, and in Carvoeiro for street names.

Street name, Carvoeiro

We live in the Rua Cerro dos Pios – the small hill of birdsong – and it is aptly named. Pios means specifically the chirping of sparrows or the hoots and screeches of owls. Blackcaps sing lustily in our hedge while in the evenings it is usually possible to spot a little owl or two sitting on the telephone wires at the end of the street. (By little owl I mean athene noctua, the little owl, not merely an undersized owl).

Many things have changed in the thirty years we have been visiting the Algarve, but the popularity of azulejos is not one of them. You know you are in the Algarve when the sky is blue, the houses are white, the pavements have small rectangular cobbles and the walls have azulejos.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Commemorating the Dead: Tsunami, Earthquake and War

Following on from the (surprisingly?) popular Favourite Gravestones post, I am progressing from  memorials for one person or family, to memorials for lots of people.

This is not about the major memorials - every country has its cenotaph or eternal flame (those in Moscow and Sarajevo feature in this blog) - but about the smaller memorials we have come across by accident, or gone to some lengths to seek out.

Boxing Day Tsunami Memorial, Tharamgambadi (Tranquebar) Tamil Nadu, India

On the 20th of February 2009 we drove from Pondicherry, down the coast of Tamil Nadu to Tranquebar.

The Danish admiral Ove Gjede had been there before us (in 1620) and he built Fort Dansborg.

Fort Dansborg from the balcony of The Bungalow on the Beach
Tranquebar, Tamil Nadu
Tranquebar remained in Danish hands until 1845 when it was sold to the British along with all the other Danish possessions in India (hands up those who knew there were any).

In the afternoon we strolled  through the small town...

Tranquebar, Tamil Nadu
...and came across this obelisk.

Tsunami Memorial, Tranquebar, Tamil Nadu
At first we did not realise what it was. There is much writing around the base, gold against the black stone, but Tamil is one of the many languages we do not speak - and it is written in one of the many alphabets we cannot read. It appeared to be a list of names, some 250 we estimated, such as you might see on a war memorial, but we could think of no war that could have wreaked such devastation on this small town. Then we noticed the one thing we could read. It was a date, 26/12/2004, the date of the Boxing Day Tsunami.  Of course we should have realised straight away, but somehow it had not entered our heads.

Our hotel, The Bungalow on the Beach, had once been the residence of the Governor of Danish India. Many years later, and after two years of extensive restoration it opened as a hotel on Christmas Day 2004, which was not an auspicious day to open a hotel on that particular beach.

The Bungalow on the Beach
Tranquebar, Tamil Nadu
Hotels can be repaired, and it opened again three months later. It is important to remember those whose lives could not be so easily put back together after the events of Sunday the 26th of December 2004.

The Spitak Earthquake Kachkar, Vanadzor, Armenia

On December the 7th 1988 a major earthquake struck northern Armenia, then part of the Soviet Union. Its epicentre was near the small town of Spitak. Between 25 and 50 000 people died in Spitak and the larger cities on either side, Leninakan (now called Gyumri) and Kirovakan (now Vanadzor).

The break up of the Soviet Union had a dire effect on both the Armenian economy and the earthquake rebuilding programme. When we visited in 2003 it was still easy to find earthquake damage in Gyumri.

Earthquake damaged church, Gyumri
Kachkars (literally 'Cross Stones') are rectangular stones carved with crosses and other floral and decorative motifs. Carving kachkars is a peculiarly Armenian craft and they have been doing it since the 9th century, at least. Every church and monastery has its collection of medieval kachkars and Armenian independence has now brought about a resurgence in the craft.

It seems appropriate that the victims of the earthquake should be commemorated by a kachkar. This simple, understated but very effective memorial sits in the churchyard in Vanadzor where many of the victims are buried.

Earthquake Memorial Kachkar
Vanadzor Church

38th (Welsh Division) Memorial, Mametz Wood, France

Tsunamis and earthquakes are beyond human control. Wars are not. We should be able to avoid them, but apparently that is beyond the wit of humankind. Perhaps one disincentive to starting new wars is to remember the horror of those that have gone before.

No war killed more British and Commonwealth servicemen than the First World War. It is hardly surprising that there are memorials the whole length of the Western front. The major memorials on the British sector, The Menin Gate in Ypres, the soaring Canadian Memorial at Vimy Ridge and the huge Anglo-French Memorial on the Somme at Thiepval are well known. Less well known, and a little harder to find, is the memorial to the Welsh Division at Mametz Wood.

The Memorial can be reached by driving a couple of kilometres down a single track road off the Mametz-Contalmaison road, hardly a major highway itself.  It stands beside a small quarry where the metalled road gives out.

38th (Welsh Division) Memorial, Mametz Wood
Between in the 7th and 12th of July 1917, as a part of the Battle of the Somme, the Welsh Division attacked across the open ground in front of the dragon and took the wood beyond against fierce opposition. The division lost 5000 men killed or wounded. The 14th Battalion started with almost 700 men and finished with 276, others fared little better.

38th (Welsh Division) Memorial, Mametz Wood
There has been a memorial in Mametz church since the 1920s, but this memorial, the work of Welsh sculptor David Petersen, was erected only in the late 1980s at the request of the last surviving veterans.

Beside the narrow road poppies grow among the brassicas.

Poppies, Mametz Wood