Portugal in Springtime

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It’s springtime and I have returned to Portugal for a few days. As always my main reason for being here is to spend time with my daughter, her boyfriend and his family, but it is always good to do a little bit of sightseeing and sample some of the local cultures.

The last time I was here the oranges were just starting to ripen, but this time I was very happy to find that not only that there was plenty of oranges still on the trees but the trees were starting to flower in preparation for the new season. It was a beautiful sight and the smell of oranges in the air was an added bonus.

Ponte de Lima

This was my first time visiting this town but it definitely will not be my last. It is a very pretty place with a lovely old world charm about it and lots of narrow side streets to explore. We had a lovely 3-course lunch of homemade vegetable soup, Pato a Gula (a duck pastry roll) with a variety of vegetables and a traditional rice dish, followed by a (rather large) serving of mango mousse. After such a large lunch we needed to walk it all off and where better to do that than along the river.

Walking along the river we could hear the very loud sound of large quantities of frogs croaking and we did manage to see a few of them hopping through the grass and into the edge of the river.

Gerês

The Gerês is full of incredible beauty and seeing it on a warm spring day is an experience not to be missed. We had lunch in Gerês at a waterfront restaurant on the edge of the River Caldo. This is where I experienced my first Francesinha, a dish that you have to try if you visit this region. However, it is not for vegetarians as it has 5 or 6 different types of meat in between 2 slices of white bread with a fried egg and a good sized helping of melted cheese on top served with a special sauce. 

Driving through the mountains there were many waterfalls and picnic sites to stop off and enjoy the views. We only stopped to get up close to the wild Garrano ponies which were taking a break at the side of the road. There was one little foal in the herd hiding behind some of the older ponies.

One pony decided to use the car as a scratching post before we left.

From here we continued on through the mountains across into Spain then back into Portugal near Soajo.

Soajo

The first time I saw this I thought this was a burial site and that these were tombs. It turns out that they are in fact used for storing grain. The idea is to keep the grain up off the ground and away from vermin.

We finished off the day with a traditional family dinner at a little restaurant but I don’t remember where. I was the only person who didn’t speak much Portuguese but that didn’t seem to make a difference. It was made very clear to me that I needed to eat lots and of course, drink lots too. I had the famous traditional Portuguese Bacalhau and it seemed like every time I looked away from my wine someone topped it up. Before dinner and again after dinner we were treated to a Rap Battle, Portuguese style. I would love to have understood the words because everyone kept bursting into fits of laughter.

This trip was short and sweet but my long term goal is to move here. In the meantime, I am working on a new career to help me achieve this. I have recently been certified as a Teacher of English as a second language. I am now teaching online via Skype. You can find me on facebook https://www.facebook.com/Learn-English-Online-LEO-424330374566284/?view_public_for=424330374566284 

Portugal-Part Two

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Whenever I tell anyone that I have been to Portugal they immediately presume that I have been to one of the many tourist hot spots in the Southern half of the country. It seems that very few people (in Ireland anyway) know anything about what the Northern half of the country has to offer. For me beauty spots like this one near Soajo which is within the boundaries of the Peneda-Gerês National Park has a lot to offer. There is a very old world charm here with picturesque villages dotted throughout the park. Below is a photo of one of the native cows waiting for the farmer who was following a short distance behind. Something I noticed about him and most other people I met was that they all had an umbrella with them which was immediately put up the second there was even just a single drop of rain. As an Irish person living in a high rainfall area and someone who does not even own an umbrella I found this rather amusing.

The Peneda-Gerês National Park has more to offer than cows and goats. Over the last few years there has been the reintroduction of both the Iberian Wolf and the Iberian Lynx. Some of these animals may have come here from the Spanish side of the park where they also have a reintroduction program. I didn’t have the chance to see either of these wonderful species this time but I now know someone who can guide me in the right direction next time.

If you are interested in wildlife or hiking I highly recommend you use an experienced guide. I was very short on time but I did get to see some wild Garrano ponies. In this case my daughter was my guide. She knows the mountains where they were and she knows horses. Thanks to her knowledge we found them pretty quickly.

These ponies roam wild in the mountains of Northern Portugal but they are also a popular breed as both a working pony and a riding pony.

Above is a 3 year old Garrano pony which has been broken and is being trained as a riding pony. He had his first outing to a local fun jumping competition while I was there.

These dogs are a mixed breed but are part  Cão de Castro Laboreiro which is a breed of dog which was used to protect livestock from wolves and other predators in the mountains. These two were meant to be given the job of looking after the goats but they decided that they preferred to stay home and play with the other dogs and horses.

 

This blog started out as a way of me discovering what other countries have to offer while I am not in a position to visit them. It has been fun but I feel that I have come to and end with it so this will be my last post for a while.

Thank you for joining me on this journey and hopefully I will be back again in the future.

Portugal – Part One

200Having arrived in Portugal (Porto) I was picked up at the airport by my daughter and immediately immersed into her daily life. First stop was her boyfriend’s family home in (Moure, Vila Verde) to bring some of the horses in for the night and feed all of the animals (5 horses, 7 dogs, 1 cat and 3 pigs) and of course to meet his family for the first time. They are lovely people and immediately welcomed me into their hearts and home.Very few people speak English in this region so I have been learning Portuguese online. I thought that I would be able to have a short conversation but the Portuguese that I have been learning is Brazilian Portuguese and a lot of the words are different and it seems that the pronunciation is very different. However by the end of the week I was able to have a short conversation.

This is a busy time of year here with lots of harvesting of different produce going on. Farming is very old world here in that everyone helps out with the harvest and most farming is still done by hand. When you see the landscape here it is easy to see why they still use old style methods. Fields are small and the area is all mountains so large machinery just isn’t practical.

It is so nice to be able to pick fresh fruit straight from the tree. Unfortunately I was just a little late for the figs and a little early for the oranges however I was there for the chestnut picking. It seems that dogs and horses like chestnuts too. Whenever I was picking them the dogs and one of the stallions would be there stealing all the best ones away from me. 252

Horses play a very important part of people’s lives in Portugal and especially so for my daughter. Portuguese horses are like the other animals and the people there in that they are very calm and relaxed. I never thought I would see the day where a stallion would follow me around like a puppy or that they could be taken to a show mixing with others stallions and not cause a drama.

My main reason for visiting Portugal was to spend some time with my daughter and to meet her boyfriend’s parents. Most of the food that I cooked was food that she missed but I did get to taste some traditional Portuguese dishes. Arroz de Pato is a duck rice with incredible flavour. Another dish that is extremely tasty but does not look particularly appealing is a local dish called Papas de Sarrabulho or sometimes just called Papas. Don’t confuse it with the more common Papas dish which is actually a porridge as this Papas is pork stewed with bread in pig’s blood. There was another dish that I tried with roast cubed potatoes and a variety of meats including blood sausage and tripe but I can’t remember what it is called.

Join me next time for Portuguese wildlife.

Portugal and Cod Migas

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The first time I went to Portugal it was a bit of a culture shock for me. Normally when I go to another country I do a little bit of research but my daughter lives there and even though I wasn’t actually staying with her I did take a few things for granted. She was working during the day and so I had to entertain myself some of the time.

My first mistake was assuming that the majority of locals spoke English. Maybe this is the case further South where they have a large influx of English speaking visitors but not so much in the North. I stayed in Braga and luckily the staff at the hotel where I stayed all spoke enough English for me to get by.

I just loved the architecture in Braga. I spent a lot of time just walking around admiring the beautiful buildings. P1100277

While I was walking around the streets on the pavements some of which were wide enough for a car to drive on I heard a noise behind me and yes you guessed it, it was a car. Over the next few days I discovered that when it comes to driving in Portugal just about anything can happen smiley-163510_1280. The Portugese people are certainly very friendly and I was surprised at how many people came up to me to try to talk to me too, but all I could say was “I don’t speak Portuguese”. As a result of this I now speak enough Portuguese to hold a limited conversation.

Another mistake was to assume that the weather would be good. I know it was the middle of winter but I just didn’t expect the weather to be as bad as the Irish or English weather (I was living in England at the time). It rained almost the whole time I was there. But that was just bad luck more than anything else and can happen in many places.

There is so much more to Portugal than I got to see last time and I’m heading back there in October. This time will be much different as my daughter is now in a position to spend more time with me showing me the delights of the area. She lives out in the countryside near the mountains and has had some wonderful wildlife experiences. Once when she was out on one of her horses she had an what she thinks may have been a Griffon Vulture fly along beside her as she cantered along a trail. She often sees Raptors of different sorts. Something that I really want to see is an Iberian Wolf. I thought that I would have to go the the Peneda-Gerês National Park in order to try and see one but one has been seen in her local area during the winter.

This part of Portugal is steeped in tradition. Festivals and Cultural Traditions are very common. One of these traditions is the Blessing of animals which usually happens the first weekend in June. People travel great distances into the mountains to have their animals blessed. 13406776_636725686490973_4885802538477051211_n

When it comes to food we tend to associate Portugal with fish and in particular either Sardines or Bacalhau (Salt Cod). There is a lot more to Portuguese food than fish. Pork and Chicken rank very high on menus too. Using all parts of the meat from the nose to tail is extremely common and is while it may be a bit off putting for some people it is a good use of resources. My early childhood years (back in the late 60’s early 70’s) this kind of food was common in Ireland too and it is now coming back into fashion in many countries. Portugese Sardines are very different to the Sardines you get in tins here in Ireland. What we are used to here is tiny little fish with bones and insides that also get eaten. Portuguese Sardines are large enough that one fish is sufficient for each person. Salt Cod is everywhere in Portugal but impossible to get here so when I decided to cook a Cod dish I had to make do with fresh Cod. As always there was several different recipes for me to choose from. Some of the recipes used Salt Cod and others used desalted Cod. I made a few mistakes in that I used fresh bread instead of stale bread and probably should have broken it up even smaller and I used all the liquid instead of adding a little at a time. As a result it had a bit more liquid than it should have had and the eggs sank instead of sitting on top smiley-163510_1280.

Cod Migas Ingredients

Serves 2

250g of Fresh Cod

1 litre of water

1 tablespoon of olive oil

6 cloves of garlic crushed and chopped

Fresh Coriander to taste chopped

Half a stale Vienna Bread Loaf (or other similar bread) torn into small pieces

2 eggs

Method

Place the fish in a saucepan with the water and bring to the boil. Remove from water and flake. Keep the water to one side to add back in later. Sauté the garlic and coriander then add the flaked fish and the bread. Cook for 2 minutes stirring constantly. Gradually add in the reserved water (I added a fish stock cube but it is not actually necessary). Let the bread soak up the water but be careful not to add too much liquid. You can see in the photo above that I added too much. When you have enough liquid added you can then add the eggs. Replace the lid and let cook on a low heat for about 10 minutes or until the eggs are cooked. Keep a close eye in case you need to add a little more liquid as you don’t want the bread to dry out or stick to the bottom. Serve and enjoy.

Joine me next time for Latvia night.