The journey, lights and fate

Despite our average age easily exceeding 60, and being in one of the richest architecturally and artistic cities I have ever visited, the switching on and off of lights has played a strong role in this short break.

Unable to find the method of extinguishing his own bedside light my companion for the last two nights has flicked off the room master switch, stumbling ‘o heck, o heck’ on his way back to bed and again whenever nature calls during the night.

Amazed at the sort of mind that manages to make something so simple so complicated we then discussed other items that fall into the same category – toilet flushes, taps and so forth

However earlier in the day we positively triumphed in the light department – in an underground car park. Such an ingenious place! Lights above each space – green for empty, red for occupied and blue for disabled (unoccupied) – so one can see at a glance where free spots are……

But not when some fool comes along and pretends they’re a car, and this: becomes this:

We found we could each be three cars simultaneously! Who needs guided tours of the castle when you can have this much fun in an underground car park?

Next time, as has been suggested by a close and slightly cheeky relative, we’ll voice the reversing sensors too.

The fun continued at the Fado restaurant. Women sing of lost love, disappointment and longing, the whole audience is carried along with the depth of emotion, the tragedy and happily joins in clapping along as some glimmer of hope is discerned in this abyss of despair. No one is immune. Well almost no one. …..

Planning to visit the grander sights of the town today we instead turned left, ignored the palatial buildings, and caught the ferry to Cacilhas to marvel at the Cristo Rei. Based on Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro it stands on a cliff on the bank of the RiverTagus overlooking Lisboa. The pedestals (four) are 82m high and support the 28m high figure of Christ. See https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christ_the_King_(Almada)

It is impressive:

As are views from the top:

But the journey was the best part of the day. Having seen the Portuguese navy’s last built wooden ship (built in 1843 and used til 1963, reminiscent of The Victory, but much lower key and far cheaper to tour), and a submarine, we once again eschewed public transport and walked along abandoned wharfs, took a free lift up a cliff face and walked through what the guide describes as a ‘dilapidated’ residential area to the top. Interesting.

Interesting graffiti:

Buildings:

And machinery:

Great food:

But a little chilly by the river, in the shadow of the cliff, so we thought we’d warm up with a coffee – a madrogali I think it was. Hey! We’re good with language. No need to ask for details. My companion’s tight lipped expression, and wearing of coat, says it all. Iced coffee – more ice cubes than coffee- and lemon! No doubt highly refreshing at the height of summer.

And so, once again, out for dinner, hoping we find it warming and filling.

But before that – the answer to the mystery of the missing light switch discovered by yours truly. No fancy pants touching the base, talking to the lamp (!!), trying every possible combination of lights switches in the room or any of the other alternatives we’ve considered and tried.

It’s this:

That’s all folks! Sweet dreams!

Chefs, Castles and Cobbles

Dehydrated olive sand not quite your bag? Well rest assured there are many more choices of wonderful seafood in the foodie heaven that is the mercado do ribeiro in downtown Lisboa. Such is its prestige that the top chefs of the country apparently vie for a stall here.

For an ordinary elderly Shropshire couple it was a great people watching and gastronomic experience:

Even the journey there – on foot – downhill which should have made us think more about the issues of return after a bottle of ‘green wine’ was fun: posh hairdressers, wine bar with a ceiling of bottles- and ‘Boris scooters’ .

I think even I could work out how to stop and go these beauties. Whether I could stay upright is another issue.

And anyway they are banned from the area we walked to today (too hilly).

Bucketloads of wine and coffee and sugar consumption off the scale last night dictated a walk along the front. One thing Lisboa has in Abundance is graffiti. Some of it impressive – this 3D wolf for example :

And some more today:

Including the comic book representation of the history of Lisboa. Outside a toilet.

Also art in many other forms:

Stone walrus. Amusing. But I found the nativity intriguing:

Look closely. It’s all in there.

Made by this chap:

Whilst this one was creating his own art:

The Portuguese tile art told some intriguing stories:

Fish listening to (I think) the messiah.

A woman having her second breast removed with a hot knife and put on some kind of bbq.

But still the church retains its pomp. This line of ?bishop’s mitres in the cathedral for example:

And all around, wonderful faces, sounds and smells:

Joe from the States.

Lunch and it’s maker.

Doors.

Buskers:

Lovely faces:

And a fabulous sunset:

And now: to din.

Drug screening and disability. Life after practice.

A year on from New Zealand, and four from resigning from my practice, too indolent to make the journey to Hawaii, and too nesh* to stay in England, we’ve taken the plunge – a city break to Lisboa. Yes. I’ve been brushing up on my Portuguese which I last learnt for a month’s trip to Brazil in 1987 – so possibly slightly rusty – and now know how to say ‘the man has a dog’ and ‘the woman reads a book’. Possibly even the man has a woman and the dog reads a book. Who knows? I may never have chance to try those phrases over the next two days. What I do know though is that it is exactly the same situation as when I arrived in Bruxelles (1980, for the historians amongst you), having studied French for five years at one of the top girls’ schools in the country – I cannot order two cups of coffee. Except in Bruxelles it was as I arrived on the station as I ’emigrated’ there – boat train to Oostende and train to Bruxelles – and so was also alone and therefore couldn’t order one coffee. I cried.

Now I have a bionic ear (bone anchored hearing aid, BAHA) I apparently have a hidden disability, although it’s difficult to imagine anything less hidden as I now have a large press-stud on my head which a huge hearing aid clips onto. The disability qualifies me for a special lanyard which allows a short cut through security, early access to the plane and possibly other benefits. (Yet to be discovered)

All good although one is also holed up with other less able people – wheelchairs, confusion, babies in buggies etc. …. so it takes some time to get through Security particularly as problems scanning me meant an overly intimate screening which I won’t be in a hurry to repeat.

My other half meanwhile sailed through and departed rapidly leaving me thinking dark thoughts. Except he hadn’t.

Maybe he looked too ‘normal’ to be going through the special assistance channel – it was a skewed population don’t forget . He was stopped for a drug search. Reminiscent of the cocaine spotting police in Peru airports we’ve seen recently (on tv I hasten to add) she checked his toothpaste and plastic bag with a detective cotton bud.

As the test was negative we reached our destination of Lisboa, proudly eschewed the taxi pimps and made straight for the metro (Kbp having tackled the two coffee in a foreign language issue by dint of the old ‘say it loud, say it slow, say it in English’ approach – will it work after Brexit?), proud that we’d read our guide, brought the old tickets provided by a friend and confidently programmed our desired transport ticket type (reading the Portuguese, fat finger syndrome resulting in us pressing the wrong button on the screen) and congratulated ourselves as we headed towards the gates.

Why are taps, lights and underground barriers so complex these days? We followed the instructions, in all their permutations, helped by passers by who took pity on this poor old tourist couple, one of whom has a large press-stud in her head.

We failed.

So enthusiastic had we been that we managed not to put anything on the travel cards so had to go to the ticket window. Same process. Loud. Slow. English. Works every time (but is embarrassing).

Metro is clean efficient and well signposted.

And as we finally emerged into daylight – sunshine- our senses were assaulted by sounds, smells, colours and patterns. Sounds of two beautiful buskers playing first Mozart then ‘the first nowell’ on violins. Smells of Pasteis de Nata (custard tarts, one is never enough says Sofia who welcomed us to the hotel) and of roasting chestnuts.

Patterns of cobbles. And tiles. And wonderful buildings.

And so to the hotel: Alecrim ao Chiado, also known as ‘Once Upon A House’, which is quirky, elegant, perfectly positioned, immensely friendly and very reasonably priced. Here are some sneak previews, we’re off to the night market to choose dinner. Back tomorrow !

Entrance hall

View from window

Bedroom.

I think this will do very nicely!

*a northern word. I think I would translate it along the lines of ‘overly sensitive to the cold’

Avocets and snores, and more…

Undeterred we continued our quest for birds, spurred on by the tractor driver from near ‘Riber’ ,as we are now calling it, who gave  detailed instructions to access inland lakes we left home by 7 (ish) the following morning. He regretted the fact we had not been there the week before when the shore was ‘covered’ with ‘thousands’ of birds. ‘They just went’ he said.

Winding routes through wooded sandy lanes, past manicured ‘Husets’, past delapidated farms  and rather frightening institutionalised buildings which unwillingly brought thoughts of concealed abuse with them- who would know? – and of course gorgeous picnic sites and fascinating churches we finally   found an area full of wildlife – hares, kestrels, peregrine falcons, brent geese, tufted ducks,a  black stilt, shelduck, tufted ducks, indeterminate terns, sparrowhawks, curlews, lapwings, swans, oysterctachers – and eight avocets.

Image result for avocets image denmark waddensea

Image result for avocets image denmark waddensea

Never before have I knowingly identified an avocet. Now,  whilst N and R at times    dozed in the sun in the car, at times joined us, we spent a full hour watchiing these elegant, beautiful,  inimitable birds with their pied plumage and upturned beaks doing what avocets do – being, poddling, flying, feeding – and I’ll never, I swear, mistake them again.

SO worth it yet by lunchtime we felt tired and so adjourned for a siesta. Reasonable – we’d walked a bit the day before. It was hot.

Knowing that we’d missed the Sort Sol, ‘Black Sun’*, where thousands of starlings in a murmuration swirl around the sky for around an hour at dusk, we neverthless visited the vantage point for seeing them that evening…. not a starling in site but some wonderful wildlife – and great pics by R.

Home for more well earned rest. But the man in the pizza outlet next door to the  Airbnb, Ahmed,   the man with the beautiful smile and big wave every time we walked past – he walked to  Ribe from Afghanistan two years ago. And we thought we were tired.

  • March/April and August-October

Mando Island by tractor…

So how would you pronouce ‘Ribe’? To rhyme with   that wonderful Southern French town ‘Antibes’ I would have thought. It’s obvious. But KBP our distinguished elder insists on pronouncing it to rhyme with ‘river’ : ‘Riber,’ effectively, and spouted this to anyone who would listen – which was a surprisingly large number of people.

In other news, the unseasonable weather was wonderfully hot, but had sadly led to the sudden onward flight of the many sea birds that frequent the coast, rather thwarting our attempt at some serious ornithology, the raison d’être of the original invitation. But no matter – warned of the damage of floods and rip tides, the mortal risk to life and limb of those who unknowingly cross the causeway to Mando in their own vehicles, we took the tractor…prepared against the elements…

across a causeway that looked as though it hadn’t seen water for weeks! Never mind. The two tractor companies appear to be in some kind of pact which perpetuates the myth of the risks – yet also allowed us to take things slowly and watch the intertidal area from a good height thus allowing observation of many sea bird species, and in particular the oyster catchers sitting on their nests.

Who knew about the interspecies variation of the oystercatcher beaks – be they stabbers or prisers, or indeed worm eaters – which apparently evidences ‘resource polymorphism’, a term better explained by this fascinating link..….

Mando Island has an area of around 7.6 km sq and a population of around 50.  We, Shropshire people, thought Ribe was quiet but this was something else.   And so after the picnic lunch on the sand dunes we  bird and nest spotted, KBP with his eagle eyes pointing out nests I couldn’t see even when he gesticulated wildly towards them, so great is the camouflage.

OK so it looks pretty obvious now but….

This nest had three eggs, most had one. Each time we spotted one we were buzzed by an angry parent. Those bills, whether chisel shaped or otherwise, can look quite alarming….

We watched terns, unable to identify which of the many possible species  were there, as it seems the differences are   very slight, viz:

Common Terns were heavier and had higher values of bill + head length, wing breadth and wing area. Although Arctic Terns were smaller than Common Terns in most measurements, they had significantly longer outer wings (wing length as normally measured by ringers). Differences between the species in total wing length (wing tip to body) and in wing loading (body weight/wing area) were not significant. These differences, especially the longer outer wing and lighter weight of the Arctic Tern, can be related qualitatively to the flight characteristics and habitat preferences of each species.

Thus it seems you have to kill a large number of terns, measure bill size, wingspan, tail length etc and then you can determine whether the beautiful aerobatics emanate from a common, or arctic ( or Roseate or Little or…. or…..)

So we played in the water,  watched seabirds on nests slung on the ropes between groynes, dunlin skittering about the shore and oyster catchers buzzing us – and two huge exuberant hares…..

I must be getting older as I’m definitely getting wiser. That’s not true. N is getting wiser. Leaving K to go directly back to the tractor we went looking for a dog  and came across, at the last minute prior to departure, an ice cream shop. We risked a degree of wrath, selecting not just an ice, but one which required discussion about flavours, toppings etc etc. Far too hot to take one to K    said I – it will be melted.  Not at all, said N. He would rather have  a melted thought of an ice cream than none at all. And they have pistachio. R agreed fervently.

They were right. We were extremely last minute. Storm clouds were gathering. The proferring of a semi-liquid greenish sample in a s mall cardboard pot seemed to disperse all concerns in a flash. Wise old birds…….

And to the Wadden Sea…..

The butt of the trip was to experience the great bird  (and other) life that is the eco system of the Wadden Sea,  ‘an intertidal zone in the southeastern part of the North Sea. It lies between the coast of northwestern continental Europe and the range of low-lying Frisian Islands, forming a shallow body of water with tidal flats and wetlands.’   The area is huge, and flat, and quiet, and windswept, and fertile – and just absolutely gorgeous.  An award winning vistor centre has been reopened recently and is a fascinating introduction to the various plants and animals that live here, much improved for me by the many interactive displays, which appeal to me with my gnat-like attention span.

Thus this aesthetically appealing  introductory display of stylised binoculars and wooden wader models….

is enhanced by the fact that the binoculars really work…

and further enhanced by the fact that the birds then transform into life like appearances with appropriate colours and movement! ( And a label in case you were in any doubt.)

And so around the building, learning of how internal bird organs rearrange themselves in preparation for migration, how many lugworms a curlew has to eat in order to feed for migration ( including another intercative game where I failed the curlew and he died 😦   ),  flatfish in a touching pool, wonderful films of migration and the appearance of the Sea in colder times when the flat are covered by thousands of migrating birds – and a chance to make your own sweet music with birdsong, via a mixer desk, an irresistible challenge to our douty leader….

Something for everyone. Not cheap but we spent several hours there and learnt a huge amount whilst keeping ourselves entertained.

Meanwhile nearby at a picnic area a simple post bears testimony to the serious floods affecting the area over the years:

The top marker registers the flood of 1634 when a storm flood of 13 feet above the normal high tide level breached the dikes already damaged by ice floes and killed tens of thousands of people, many migrant and unrecorded labourers, and over 50000 livestock. Those figures are hard to imagine – and the clean up process with flooded homesteads, no fuel or food, and dikes persistently flooded is unimaginable.

But, of course, we out this to the back of our mind with perfect end to perfect day: a bbq by the river with ne’er a midge in sight.

A tense hour or so with the eternal questions of whether the charcoal would light, whether the food would cook, where the smoke was blowing. It’s a mans world.

The most entertaining part was R bravely asking the supermarket assistant if they sold halloumi. As she didn’t recognise this he went on to explain that the cheese ‘squeaked’ when eaten.

We ended up with paneer and mozzarella.

And did justice to our slowly reducing alcohol stocks.

For the record: tantrums zero.

From Copenhagen to Ribe May 23

Our douty ‘leader’ left early to collect the hired car from the airport leaving us to ensure bikes were safely returned to a hub and we were packed ready to leave the moment he returned.

(Whoops. Not quite kbp but a good approximation.)

We were so prompt we had time to indulge in a little shopping. Ikea Copenhagen style was a labyrinth of must have relatively cheap decorative household items. Such is the faith held in my ability with language that R seemed initially reassured that an unusual exit from the first floor was a disabled exit.

I then noticed the pole. And retranslated the notice which I now thought read ‘for the young and those who feel young’. I felt too terrified of getting stuck and incurring the wrath of our leader, but our young investigated the exit: pole, ladder, slide!

We made it in time.

But allow me to show this intriguing poster too (seen on a theatre boat in Nymand Harbour): Quite a sequence of events there, all compressed into one sweet two hour slot! The jitterbug would, I imagine, be the dance.

Incredible drive over a 14 km bridge to Jutland. Impossible to do it credit by photo: particularly as I am the one non driver and therefore (voluntarily) confined to the back seat. But it is impressive.

And so to our new air bnb in Ribe, oldest town in ScandinaviaA delightful spot, on the Main Street but tucked away with river frontage. Everything supplied.

The main entertainment, for me, other than interacting with the family of course, has been watching a Bot lawn mower sadly working his way around the garden opposite (over the water) repeatedly running up and down one strip, never quite falling into the river. I even found myself waving at it, and rejoiced when today I found a mate for him.

This one appears to be having a dirty protest, sitting in a pool of long grass….

But back to Ribe – an ancient time with Viking origins. Rather like York but clean, not too crowded, lived in by regular citizens, and quiet as free from traffic for the most part.

The cost of alcohol, I suspect, keeps the evenings quiet with most people seeming to get their pleasures from the belgian waffle and ice cream shop –  where they even make and roll their own…… ice cream cones. Friday night saw a queue out of the door.

(This is the shop, still emitting the wonderful Smell of waffles but sadly closed when we arrived there on our last night.)

The town was a major seaport for many years and still has a quay with sea going boats, the sluice protecting the damn also containing locking facilities.  It’s very beautiful, particularly at night.

The prince and the really tiny mermaid

One of the highlights of our whole day in Copenhagen was booking a set of four push bikes, each individually named, and collecting them from a bike rack close to the apartment, all organised and paid for via an app. Each bike was named. Kbp was assigned Slytherin, R a 044, me a 59 whilst N opted for a Willie. The bikes unlocked via a Bluetooth connection on my phone and at the end of the 24 hour hire period (for £12.75) we left them locked but unsecured at a ‘hub’ less than 200m from the apartment.

The vivid orange grated at first, but it also acts as a sort of ‘here be tourists sign’ which gave us a degree of grace as we apparently flouted the danish cycling customs!

Copenhagen is a beautiful accessible city, with its colourful housing on the dockside:wonderful clean and free public toilets throughout. How about this for an old style door catch? And there was an attendant too in this subterranean convenience.

Its extremely tiny mermaid, sitting not in the middle of the harbour as I thought, but right on the edge. I had imagined an enormous statue centre field, something along the lines of the Statue of Liberty ….. but no.

What’s particularly intriguing is that she has legs too. Weird mermaid.

The botanic gardens are huge, free and lovely. The palm house in reps to, and a gallery around, the dome.

Some sample pics:

and attached to the palm house were

‘working green houses’ and cacti and succulent houses. Who knew that bananas grow like this?

Also – ideas for our new rockery – maybe using old grave stones WILL Work?

A perfect afternoon celebrated by kbp managing to keep cool (no worries, man) as two young men peered over at him whilst he ahem used the cubicle, and then, obviously under the influence of something, possibly a blunt (New word to me, look it up) bought on Pusher Street, accused Rob of stealing his cigarettes. It was a tense moment when we ‘engaged’ in convo, possibly exacerbating the situation, and clear imagined images of multiple stab wounds sprang to my over fevered imagination.

No matter. The young man reminded us gravely that we ‘are in Denmark. This is no place to have fun’.

Shame cos we did….. bikes to this bar in the dock:

Then working our way through the alcohol stocks… and playing cards.

Oh and the prince? We came across a small wooden motor yacht in the harbour. It had a red carpet and a police boat circling aimlessly about it, and a handful of people waiting languorously on the docks. It housed the crown prince on his 50th birthday. Can you imagine?

Rome or Moscow?

The fountain was inspiring. The triangular building intriguing: it’s a recycling plant that houses a playground and in winter also functions as a ski slope.

‘Hey man, that’s cool, no worries…..’

Having hit the big birthday (and having had the forethought to have two thoughtful children enough years ago) I find myself the lucky recipient of …. a trip to Denmark! Signalled as it was by these:

– very convincing 70s style flight tickets complete with bar codes etc – I’ve long been looking forward to the week.

The rest of the family shared my excitement:

…..for the most part……

Say no more.

But also notice how snazzy easyJet has gone with its film flam mezze with hummus and olives. Whatever next? Well our great surprise that the UK seems to be the ONLY European country without a sensible siesta period. Copenhagen was as quiet as anything when we arrived. Few cars on streets. Shops closed for the lunch period. How civilised. Almost like a bank holiday. Why can’t we Brits do anything like this?

And in the evening – a long procession of runners,

At times they were 15-20 deep so it was with much amusement we watched kbp sidestepping gaily to reach the other side. We laughed again as others did the same:

No mean feat. Well done!

The run was 10 k repeated in five cities around Denmark in honour of the Crown Prince’s birthday. Bands were out in support:

This one looked like something from Disney or Legoland. Boy were they good!

And so wandering round as you do, admiring the tradition demonstrated by the ads,

Impressed by the ingenuity that allows an ‘air hockey pitch’ like this:

we came across the free town of Christiana….. where, walking along the aptly named Pusherstreet, we saw massive blocks of cannabis on sale. Like huge!!! And ready rolled reefers.

We even found the pushers of the day:

Essentially this is a self supporting bohemian commune with its own rules existing in converted barracks in the centre of Copenhagen. Responses to this are, as you can imagine, varied with some locals outraged and others generally supportive.

We did find a lot of people ‘walking very slowly with vacant eyes’ as kbp put it, in the environs. All tables come with a lighter and large ashtray….

As we left, someone bumped into kbp spilling his drink over him: hey man, no worries, it’s cool responded kbp. Passive smoking at its best!

And so to our lovely apartment (air bnb)…. central, clean,……

and well stocked ….

Well my good friend, excellent running partner and cosmopolitan lady, Jan, warned me of alcohol prices in Copenhagen. £10 for a small beer, her husband, used to London prices, advised. Not far off Brian : £12.35 for this:

by the way: it wasn’t the Latin /Nordic fusion which caused the siesta. It was a bank holiday on the PROPER Whit Sunday, 7 weeks after Easter. Stupid us.

And back to Blighty.

Anticipating further itch and scratchiness following the previous night’s attack by the

Giant mosquito

I thoughtfully prepared my side of the bunk with the hallowed pot of Manuka honey/almond cream so effective on previous occasions, knowing I could apply this in the dark without disturbing my doughty companion. It wasn’t immediately effective so I praised the fact that we hadn’t changed the sheets, and proceeded to sandpaper my ankles lavishly with the remaining grit and sand on the bed. To no avail. I drew blood and continued ‘le frottage’ for some considerable time eventually falling into a fretful sleep, only to awake a very few hours later, before six, to rush to ablute. *

The view from close to the van was worth the early wakening.

And so to Auckland.

We’ve seen a lot of this flag. We don’t know what it is.

We heard there is a rugby competition going on. We looked at the driver.

It’s the Tonga flag.

Farewell van. You’ve been good to us.

Wilderness was expecting us back:

And gave us a lift to the airport. The driver was an Australian who decided two weeks ago to move to NZ, got the job on Monday, started yesterday (Thursday). Got us to the airport by google maps on iPhone. No immigration process for her – she just ticked that she intended to stay permanently on her entrance card. …..I wish….

Good to see one of the shops Keith was discussing earlier in the trip featured on the concourse:

How can we afford this (trip, not purchases from Shop), I ask myself. Partly by using the pension lump sum, and partly through savings. Maybe our general approach to spending has helped. I think we were the only ones with Home made butties in the airport!

So I splashed out on these: will they work? Homeopathic. Hmmmm. The lady in the shop (who knows she’ll never see me again) assures me they will.

And one final take home picture for New Zealand, a country I’ve loved like no other, and in many ways more than my own: the motto seems almost redundant here.

Kindness comes as standard. Will miss this country/these people so much.

*imagine my surprise this morning to discuss I had liberally applied (Keith’s **) hairgel.

** not