May 2021

The combination of the wild flowers and a clear day made our stroll around the perimeter of the fortress particularly pleasant

Over the last month or so the country has began to relax it’s Covid rules meaning we can now visit places further afield from our municipality of Figueira da Foz. The fortress at Montemor-o-Velho has tempted us from afar as we passed it on our way to Coimbra to get our driving licences changed earlier in the year.

Therefore in the middle of May we finally visited the fortress that is reaped in history being one of the original sites that Fernando 1st captured from the Moors in the year 1064.

Unfortunately though, when we arrived there were signs up stating we could not enter inside the walls due to the annual pesticide weed kill spraying that had taken place the day before. Nethertheless, we enjoyed a slow walk around the impressive castle’s exterior walls and the picturesque hillside village that lies below. We even treated ourselves to a glass of wine in the town square at Cafe Argentino, enjoying the toing and froing of the town.

We look forward to visiting more places in the local vicinity over the next few months. There are many places nearby that we have not been able to travel too which is really exciting, just as an example this really important national monument is only 26km away from our house!!

Coja Calling

Seizing the opportunity of the more relaxed Covid rules in the Arganil district of we visited the mountain town Coja for an evening, a place we have unable to visit for months. The first thing we noticed was that everything was open including the inside of bars and cafes. The main street was thriving with local people enjoying a wine or a cold beer. Wow, wow, is this really happening, is this the future…..?

Crossing the old Coja bridge on a way to a riverside bar……we had to pinch ourselves to remind us that this was actually happening.
Coja is a very pretty river town with cobbled streets and a certain ‘zest for life’. Maybe this ambience was enhanced due to the prolonged lock down that has been recently lifted in this part of Portugal

With the district of Figueira da Foz still being classed as a high risk Covid area we still need to be patient to enjoy this sense of liberation. Fingers crossed that we will be free soon……..

Cars, Cats and Coimbra

31st March 2021

This month has been relatively busy and most of our activity can be bundled up into one or more of the categories named in the title of this blog.

Back in October we applied for our Portuguese driving licences, an act that has become more important since Brexit as our EU UK driving licences loose their validity for permanent living within the EU. The process itself was relatively easy to complete with a combination of online and paper applications and a trip to a private Doctor for general medical and psychometric tests. What was a little more frustrating was the time and the complete lack of progress reports to know where we were in the process. The conclusion of our application meant that we had to drive to Coimbra twice to complete our biometrics (a mugshot!) for our new EU Portuguese driving licences. In a world where you need a reason to be anywhere other than your nearest local supermarket we seized the opportunity for a couple of trips to Portugal’s third city. In fact on the second trip we treated ourselves to a take away ‘menu’ (grilled whole baby chicken for Sharon and Portuguese style pork for me) and sat at a park bench in the sun to devour our lunch.

Sharon on the banks of the Mondego river, Coimbra city is in the background

March was also the month for our car’s annual ‘inspection’ which is the equivalent to the MOT. Bearing in mind that our Opel Corsa (think Vauxhall Nova) is 31 years old the prospect of the roadworthy test has concerned me slightly. In preparation I replaced the two front tyres with a good used set I purchased in Cantenhede, a town just north of Figueira da Foz. Further to this I resprayed the drivers side with an aerosol to cover the scrapes that the previous owner had left me and replaced the windscreen wipers. With respect to the DIY paint job, the end result was pretty good and a much needed improvement. To my mild surprise it passed the test with flying colours so the old Opel lives on which we are both pleased about.

Our 1990 Opel Corsa A waits inline for it’s ‘inspection’

Keeping with the automotive theme the search for another motorhome continued and this involved another trip to Coimbra, our third in a month. A 1989 Hymer B Classic appeared for sale on the internet site OLX and the advert description was very favourable. From the photos the exterior and interior looked completely original and it was based on a 2.5 TD Fiat chassis with power steering which with motorhomes of this age is not always the case. The price was good too at €12500 so I started getting excited with prospect of owning a motorhoming icon. My initial enquiry went cold as it seemed that somebody from Viseu had beat me to the first viewing and they seemed like a serious buyer as they were travelling the long distance to Coimbra by coach. By mid morning though the seller telephoned me giving the excuse that the other person had failed to arrive and therefore we literally dropped everything and raced off to Coimbra. In the end though, the dream died as the vehicle was not exactly what I had imagined, there was no doubt that it was a good vehicle but it had been resprayed white and therefore it had lost a huge part of it’s originality as they were sold from the factory in a shade of beige (unfortunately the advert had showed an out of date photo!). There were also some patches of rotten wood in the floor which is an issue we have experienced before with ‘eurosuntor 1’, an issue that was only put right once the motorhome was returned to the dealer for a three week long repair. Even though my heart was yearning for this type of motorhome my head reminded me of all the risks of ownership of a 32 year old vehicle and therefore we passed up on the opportunity.

An example of a Hymer B Classic

Whilst I have been daydreaming about another motorhome Sharon has been concentrating on another much more practical project: catching the two street cats that were living in and around our house before we moved in. Blue the male is quite friendly in a food orientated way but Annetta is more skittish, this untrusting behaviour is maybe due to the fishing line that is wrapped around her neck and shoulders (hence her given name). Confident we could catch the cats after our five month attempt at winning their trust we booked a vet appointment for two sterilisation ops and of course for the vet to remove the fishing line once Anneta was under an anaesthetic. Overall it was a stressful few days as our gentle planned capture technique failed and then we had to rely on a much more brutal version implemented last minute by the builders who are working on our house (yes this refurb has been going on since early August, much to our frustration). Post ops, Annetta had to take a course of tablets which she refused to and then became very stressed and unhappy about been locked in our house so in the end we had to let them free back to their natural environment of the streets. Much to Sharon’s delight though on the evening of their release they returned to be fed and they have continued this pattern ever since and at times they spend most of the day in and around our house.

Blue and Annetta looking quite chilled out despite the trauma of their dislocation and subsequent operations. Finally Annetta is free of her fishing line.

One Year in Costa de Lavos

Febuaray 2021

12 months ago we were waking up with a slightly fuzzy head in Alcobaca. We had passed the night with our motorhome friends Rick and Mary with a take-away chicken and a box of red wine. It was Rick’s suggestion to pass by Costa de Lavos which was about 70 Kms to the north of us, on the coast. The drive there was quite eventful as we had decided to use the coastal roads as much as we could passing Nazare and Vieira de Leiria. It was leaving Vieira where we mistakenly did some off roading, using a sand track to connect us back with the Estrada de Atlantica. I have memories of looking in my rear view mirror and reading the expression on Rick’s face in the cab of the motorhome behind that said “where the hell is he going!?!”. Once on the main road and almost at our destination, we turned left off the N109 following a brown road sign towards Costa de Lavos. This short road cuts through a pine forest and then rounds a soft right hand bend where suddenly the view of the sea appears. We remember thinking, “this is nice”………

After over 4 years of roaming around freely, it was this road sign that prompted us to stop…….

………Roll on one year, I am writing this post seated at our kitchen table in an old fisherman’s house right in the historic part of Costa de Lavos. There are thuds, clangs and random conversation from the builders upstairs who are restoring the 1st floor of our house. We are in a world where you can’t go outside unless you have an ‘essential’ reason, and if you have a reason you have to wear a mask. We are also campervanless for the first time in many years, but in COVID times this motorised freedom is very much diluted and therefore we will wait until later in the year before purchasing ‘eurosuntor 2’. It has also been more than 18 months since we have seen our family and old friends, other than video calls and even the act of meeting and maintaining new friends is hindered by the restrictions placed on us. So much has changed, it seems.

The only traffic island in Costa de Lavos sports a replica Arte da Xavega fishing boat. We are really looking forward to the summer months when the real Xavega boats start their fishing season from the beach.

Blog Block

2th Jan 2021

This month it feels as I have very little to write about as we have been staying at home in line with the COVID-19 guidelines. This means our life is reduced to trips to the nearest supermarket only and dog walks. It is also mandatory to wear face masks in the street so even when we are out walking with Rita we are reminded of the pandemic. The worse aspect of this is not knowing how long the restrictions will last and we think that currently it is set to 15th February. The mood in the village is more sombre this time around and most people now know of a friend or neighbour that has been effected by the virus and everyone seems very keen to follow the rules, the place seems like a ghost town and often I can lap the whole village and not see a soul.

On a positive note we have our health, each other for company, a freezer full of food and a roof over our heads with all the modern day comforts and therefore in comparison to many people around the world we consider ourselves very lucky.

Covid continues to dominate life around the world.

Bye Twenty, Bring On Twenty One.

Covid Christmas morning, Costa de Lavos.

This selfie taken on Christmas day does a good job of summarizing the major events in our 2020. As the sea suggests the overall backstory to the year has been that we finally managed the move from the UK/motorhome to the west coast of Portugal and once all the trials and tribulations of the actual purchase were completed the second half of the year has been about accustomisation.

The first layer of adaptation is being in one place and in our experience the very act of motorhoming adds a repeating activity and novelty to spending our time and the challenge has been to try and forge a different life with some structure. This structure has appeared in the form of Marlies and Ben who offered us some opportunities with ongoing gardening projects which is a really valuable way to spend our time outside in the beautiful weather.

The second aspect is the actual location of our house and the very small community that we live in. Regarding the location, we have had to learn and experience the ambience of living so close to the sea and also understand the weather and climate. For sure the houses here are ravished by the strong winds and the sand but our biggest surprise has been the feeling of the high humidity in the winter time. The ‘sea mist’ in the air can make the mild winter temperatures feel a little damper at times, especially on the occasional days that the sun does not shine.

The topic of humidity leads me nicely onto the house, an old fisherman’s family house built on a sand dune which in the summertime remains suitably cool luckily but during the three months of winter has responded poorly to high humidity, and at times feels colder inside than out!!! Learning from our ever helpful and generous neighbours, a collection of elderly couples who were born in the village, an ongoing trial and error project within the house of ventilation, dehumidifiers and wood burning have all aided our knowledge of moisture removal. When in doubt we are led by them and their home grown weather instinct – if they have their windows open or their laundry on the line we follow suit!

Returning to the photo, you can’t help but notice the masks and surely everybody will remember 2020 as the year of the Covid virus. Overall we have been treated well in both the first and second waves remembering our time at Penamacor in April and May and of course getting to know the Costa de Lavos villagers better since September with the arrival of the second ‘stay at home’ lockdown that Portugal implemented, a phase we are still in to some degree. Upon reflection, the virus and the global lock down offered us space to review where we were, as earlier in the year we were quite confused of what we actually wanted. Having that extended time to stop and think made us realise that starting a life in Costa de Lavos felt challenging but the right option for us.

Looking to the future, I am really looking forward to 2021 and hopefully we can return to a more normal life where the swimming pools and sports clubs re-open allowing me to take up some old and new hobbies again. On this theme we also look forward to joining the many local community/social groups that have been forced to disband so that we can expand our circle of friends, activities and our knowledge of the central region of Portugal which will enrich more completely our new life. Most of all though we are waiting for the restrictions on travel to be relaxed so that we can see and visit family and friends once more.

On that note, we want to wish all of our family and friends the very best for 2021. We hope that it will bring health, happiness and peace. Here’s to 2021, the year where we can hopefully see each other again.

Raise a phial to 2021 – Happy New Year e boas festas!

The Virus Diary Part 4 – a month or more in the house

21st November 2020

We woke up to the news this morning that Portugal is extending it’s current COVID state of emergency until the 8th December, meaning in total we will be living life under restrictions for over a month. The Figueira da Foz region is subject to some of the strictish measures in the country meaning that curfews are in place from 11pm on weekdays and 1pm over the weekends. Yet again since we do not have a fixed place of work to go to or children to look after, the restrictions impact our lives minimally, thankfully.

The combination of the 1pm curfew and that all business establishments close at this early time means that Saturday and Sunday have become ‘cookathons’ at home. The highlight of these so far was the whole octopus that a neighbour gave us, this was promptly chopped up and fried in olive oil with garlic and chilli.

It is not every day we get an octopus passed through our front window!!!

The other aspect that has been affected is the motorhome search as we think we would be stretching the intention of ‘only travel out of the house for essential items’, therefore we are struggling to view anything that is not within the immediate area. So far we have viewed two, both coach builds from Karmann and Laika on Ford Transit cabs and we liked neither. Our first impressions of the Portuguese motorhome market are proving to be correct and if we want to spend only the amount that the sale of our Swift yielded then for sure the cab or drivetrain will be significantly older and therefore we are holding out for something a little special from high quality European motorhome builders such as Hymer, Laika, Euro Mobil, Hehn-Mobil, Weinsberg and Knaus amongst others.

Hymer B544s are definitely on our wish list, but even mid 90’s ones are just outside our budget. Motorhomes in Portugal are more expensive when compared to the UK.

Not wanting to write down all my often confused views on the pandemic it is right to say though that it is making seeing friends who live in Portugal and family who live in other countries more difficult and maybe impossible. As we near the Christmas period it seems more unlikely that we will be driving back to the UK meaning we are opening our minds to a Christmas here in our house in Costa de Lavos. The last two Christmas holidays we have spent in the motorhome so at least the possibility of celebrating the festive period within four brick walls will be novel as will be the rounds of virtual family communications that will be pioneered. Maybe I am looking on the darkside, we never know, could there could be another unexpected U-turn in the COVID story?

Masks are now mandatory in crowded public spaces in Portugal. Like everyone, we are looking forward to the old normality returning and hopefully there won’t be any needless control creep by the ‘powers’ that be.

A Swift Goodbye to ‘eurosuntor 1’

13th September 2020

I write this post with a sense of sad missing already, or ‘saudades’ in Portuguese, as for the first time in about 15 years or more I am campervanless. We were not really expecting our motorhome to sell as quickly as it did and it has left us with a feeling of mild emptiness.

Two weeks ago we finally got around to advertising the motorhome on both Portuguese and UK classified advert websites, the reason being is that we now want a left hand drive motorhome registered on Portuguese number plates meaning that the annual inspections/MOT for the vehicle can be carried out here in Portugal. Within a few hours of floating the adverts we started receiving several phone calls, one from a person in Birmingham UK who was to say the least very interested. Initially there was a brief stumbling block during this first contact as the caller thought that the van was in the UK still, even though the advert clearly stated it was not. Despite this, once the idea of flying out to Portugal to collect the van was talked through, the potential buyer left me a sizable deposit and then booked the next available flight to Porto airport! So in short, that is what proceeded to happen…..the buyer arrived a few days later in Figueira da Foz after catching a bus from Porto and once money and documents were exchanged we were not owners of our beloved ‘eurosuntor’ motorhome any longer.

The van on the day of sale. This will be our last photo of our beloved Swift Suntor 590RL under our ownership

To summarise our ownership we have covered 30,000 miles spread across 14 countries and it has been our home for the last 4.5 years. We have picked up our companion Rita the dog whilst travelling in it and it has been our shuttle bus during all those months of property searching. We have met many people whilst in the ‘eurosuntor’, many of who have sat in it due to it’s spacious (in motorhome terms!) rear lounge. It is a really good bus, one that we are really sad to see go and we wish the new owner many safe miles of travelling.

Now to the exciting part, the search for another motorhome, ‘eurosuntor 2’, has started already……………

From sun and beaches to…………
…………… driving in snow, the ‘eurosuntor 1’ bus has been with us through thick and thin. “Farewell old friend”.

Where has the time gone?

July through September 2020

Three months have passed really fast since we have moved into the house. Looking back, the first month was spent decorating the downstairs of the property and trying our hands at DIY. Since we choose to keep the matte white walls our repainting effort had more of a cleaning effect than a change to the eye. However, painting the wooden kitchen units a lighter colour was, in our opinion, a real ‘upgrade’ making the feel in the area much more airy. On top of this we also purchased a new oven, hob and fridge freezer. Wow, we now have more space where we can store some food, unlike the motorhome where the fridge filled up pretty quickly. Another big moment for us was when our furniture arrived from the UK meaning we could actually sleep over at night. I think we must have spent the best part of the first three weeks still going back to the motorhome at the end of each day but this soon stopped once the beds were in situ at the house. It is definitely worth shopping around for shipping, Sharon halved our initial quote and we ended up using Algarve Express whose service to us was excellent. Nothing arrived damaged and as far as we can tell all of our stuff was delivered! It has been in storage over 4 years.

Before: the original wood kitchen
After: our new ‘upcycled’ kitchen in action.

During the second month we kicked back a little and enjoyed the local towns, the beaches and of course the living space of the house, we must have had ten or more afternoon barbeques in the rear courtyard in the summer sunshine. During this month we focussed on aligning our Portuguese documentation and getting quotes on the building work that we were planning to complete. Sharon also spent some time gathering a collection of plants to pot around the outside space of the house.

It was quite tight for the Luton removal vans to get close to the rear of the house. Note : ‘Algarve Express’ contact details.
Some of Sharon’s garden centre purchases. The exciting challenge is to grow as many plants and vegetables as possible from the courtyard and associated outside spaces. We have to be creative and we are sure that YouTube will inspire us.

The third month, September, we have had the builders here working on the upstairs of the house and so far the majority of the roof has been replaced using traditional curved terracotta tiles. This work is set to continue for several months to come so we are getting used to the noise, dust and comings and goings of the builders.

A before picture of the gutted 1st floor.
A before picture of the original roof medley.
Work in progress. At this stage the all important roof insulation layers are being added before the tiles.
The main house roof 95% complete. We are now waiting for rain to test it out!!

There were of course a number of ‘speed bumps’ that we hit as we began to live in and use the house, these were to be expected as the house is old and has not been well maintained over the last few years. The majority of the issues have been from the water and gas systems that decided to give up in fashions of differing degrees. The first was the gas fired water heater which refused to ignite and upon removal we managed to flood the kitchen, an act which brought our elderly neighbour Dalia (79) into action as she helped sop up all the water with her trusted mop and bucket. I mention her mop and bucket because it reminded us of ‘Trigger’s broom’ as at some point all the parts have been replaced or repaired even though it was originally one of those cheap plastic ones that once broken you would normally throw away. This is something we love about Portuguese culture is that everything gets repaired or reused at least once before being thrown out and this is a trait that we want to exercise more – be more Portuguese when it comes to determining the life of a product, it is definitely not a throw away society. Saying this, it seems right that gas water heater was then repaired by a neighbour Luis with a part that cost €35 even though the appliance dates back to 1998 (the manufacture’s badge was still attached) and the metal body was subsequently taken off to be rubbed down and resprayed saving us at least €300 for a new replacement.

A sign of things to come? Doing more ‘yourself’ is going to be an exciting and more than likely frustrating learning curve for me.

The next hurdle to over come was the wood fired water tank which when in use leaked significantly. This time it was determined that we would need a new one as the main cylinder was rotten and could not be repaired. Luckily I managed to source one from a one man band tool shop in near by town Guia. This type of water heater is very popular in the village, they are known as Bailarinas (dancers?), as wood can be gathered in the pine forests that sit behind Costa. It is a normal thing here to trek off to the nearby forest with a hand saw and a homemade cart to gather wood and pine cones that have fallen to the ground. There really is loads of the natural resource on the floor and provides an inexpensive fuel if you have the time and inclination, which we do. This exchange between old and new Bailarinas gave opportunity to several other floodings as the cylinder holds 100 litres of water which due to various amateur errors on my behalf ended up on the floor yet again, multiple times.

This Bailarina’s dancing days were over…
…and was replaced by a more shiny younger model

Thinking we were through the worse, we woke up one morning and turned on a cold water tap which for some reason invited the inlet water pipe to the gas water heater to explode, once again flooding the kitchen. At least we have had many opportunities to clean the floor tiles! More worryingly, the next morning we woke up to a smell of gas, yet again in the kitchen, which we tracked back to the hob that I had installed………… As a safety precaution we now have the CO monitor from the motorhome analysing the air in the house as even though we do enjoy a long deep sleep we still appreciate actually waking up!!!!!!

To relax after DIYing, a stroll along the beach at Costa de Lavos works well.

A Portuguese Sausage

17th August 2020

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Regional Sausage

Since about March this year I have been searching the internet for second hand cars as it was one of my first priorities to resolve once we had a Portuguese address.  The second hand car market in Portugal is very different to the UK as 10 year old cars here still keep a good proportion of their value and seem really expensive compared to what you can buy in the UK.  Not wanting to spend €3000 to €5000 on something I know we could pick up for £1500 we therefore had two choices, buy something brand new with the knowledge that the price does not plummet once it has rolled out of the showroom or buy something much older for much less, a car that these days in the UK would actually be appreciating in value as a future classic.  This spectrum of cars are from the mid 80’s to early 90’s where in Portugal there are numerous still running around as daily drivers but sit in the sub €1000 bracket.  These are cars that are no longer seen on the roads in the UK as they are all in the scrap yards, moreover they are the cars of my youth hence I have an emotional attachment to them.  Opting for the more ‘exciting’ route of car ownership, I began the search for a 80/90s classic………………

Armed with a list of potential candidates comprising of anything European, preferably in diesel form and with enough space for the dog but also small enough to handle the sometimes tight Portuguese roads.   My favourites included Lancia as they have been withdrawn from the UK market for a good while now,  the Alfa 33 model also fitted the bill, Fiat Uno Turbo diesels, mark 1 Seat Ibizas, mark 3 Ford Escorts, Renault 9, 11, 5s, first edition Clios with the simple dashboards and brands Peugeot, Citroen and Opel picking off the substitute places.

Using predominantly the website OLX (think Gumtree) I had formed a shortlist but all the good cars were far away in the Lisbon and Porto regions or even further afield.  I managed to view and test drive a really nice 1988 mid blue four door Mk 1 Seat Ibiza in Lavos but decided against it as it was €1250 and only had a 900cc petrol engine with about 50bhp.

Determined still to buy something locally to take away the problem of how to collect it I spotted an advert for a 1990 Opel Corsa in 4 door 1.5 turbo diesel format.  The Corsa name really did not excite me too much, but once I clicked on the photos of the car I realised it was actually what we would call a Vauxhall Nova, a different animal entirely to a UK Corsa.  So that was to be it, we viewed the car in nearby Pombal using the motorhome as transport and then I roped in a Scottish friend called Derren who was living in Costa at the time to help me pick up the car on the first day after the house purchase completion.  The timing was perfect!!!

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At €650 the car is certainly well used but overall it seemed like good buy, especially as it had a diesel engine.  Upon some research I found out the Opel Corsa A as it is known everywhere else in Europe is truly an international car being designed by Opel in Germany, manufactured in a GM factory in Spain and uses an Isuzu diesel engine from Japan.  This actual car has another layer of internationalism as it was originally sold brand new in France and was privately imported to Portugal in 1994 meaning the owners handbook that is still in the glove box is in French.

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No electrics

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The 1.5 Turbo diesel is quite powerful for a small car.

Our first month or so of ownership has not been without some dramas though as in week two whilst searching for a car park space in an underground car park in Figueira da Foz a BMW managed to reverse straight into it.  More worryingly though was that on a weekend away to Cadaval to visit friends, a round trip of about 200kms, after the first 50kms the brakes failed and we had to be towed from Leiria city centre.  Upon investigation at my friend Manuel’s workshop it seemed that air was entering the brake system and after a brake service and system bleed hopefully that problem is now solved……..

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No damage was caused luckily

The Corsa had a bad day on the way to Cadaval

Overall though I love the car and it’s simplicity as nothing is electric or power assisted.  It is really economical and can be left without worry anywhere.  Long live our old Portuguese banger, aka ‘The Sausage’!