Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Portuguese lessons

I've told you hardly anything about our time in Portugal, nothing about the time we spent in the Beira, a mainly rural region of mountains, terraced hillsides, garden-covered valleys, and sparkling rivers. We stayed at a wonderful small self-catering resort, Quinta Moenda , a former watermill where both wheat and olives were processed. Here is a glimpse at the source of power, the Rio Alvôco, which contributes to the rich aural backdrop we enjoyed while relaxing (a melange of sheep bells, villagers' greetings, birdsong, rushing water, and the occasional farm dog barking).And here's a medieval bridge that crosses the same river, about a kilometre away, once you've passed through the small village of Alvôco das Várzeas.
But first, we'd walk along the ancient cobbled road, past beautiful stonework, well-tended vegetable gardens, and, everywhere, grapevines. We'd pass the villagers who would walk each morning from their homes clustered together in the village (not wasting any of the arable valley bottom) to work their fields, and we'd call out Bom dias (good day) or, after noon, Boa tarde (good afternoon, often abbreviated to Bo'tar). One day, I called out Bo'tar to two women working together and chatting, and one of them laughed and corrected me -- it wasn't yet 11:30, never mind afternoon. I got the gist, laughed, and modified my greeting to Bom dias, but she carried on in Portuguese, clearly wanting to chat, until I managed my "no falo Portuguese" (I don't speak Portuguese). She nodded her understanding, but then marvellously, through a mixture of gesture and simple words, she suggested that even though she and I couldn't speak the same language, we could communicate in many ways.
The next day, then, we passed at just a squeak past noon, so I called out Bo'tar, and she went to correct me again, but her friend stopped her, pointing at her watch, and we all laughed. I'd learned another phrase, Estoy bel, I think, (the "estoy" pronounced "shtoy"), and tried it out, and they agreed the sun made for a beautiful day. Then this very-determined-to-communicate woman pointed away and said "Etranger, on-zhay" then pointed at her watch, and said "Portugal" and then the Portuguese for noon (which, unfortunately, I can't remember). And she was so pleased that I caught on right away that she was speaking of the time zone difference that separates Portugal from many of its European neighbours. We both went on our way very pleased with our improvised Esperanto. Seeing Paul's penchant for a bit of orange (his shoes, above), you might guess that he loved the colour of this building, glowing in the late-afternoon sun.Walking through the village, we'd squeeze through narrow streets, passing stairways festooned with plants and walls festooned with drying clothes.

Outside the village, we could walk through the verdant country along roads rarely shared, passing beautiful ruins like this,

or this,
or again, this,
We weren't brave enough to step inside this probable shepherd's shelter, especially since the opening was about two feet above the road level so some scrambling would have been required. But we did admire the stonework. Here's another one.
And everywhere, beautiful wildflowers. I was especially impressed to see so much Lavendula stoechas, or what we call Spanish lavender and buy at the nursery as a bit exotic, just growing roadside.

So much more I could show you, and a few more things I probably will over the next few weeks. A week in this beautiful rural area was a perfect complement to our busy urban days in Paris, and we would happily return to Portugal. What about you? Have you ever been? Would you like to go?


  1. No, I've never been to Portugal, but one of my favourite spy novels, Horse Under Water by Len Deighton, is set there, albeit in the early sixties. I re-read it often, because it has the Michael Caine character from Ipcress File in it and has a lot of humorous touches. As for going there, it sounds lovely, but I don't think it's in the cards for us - only two more years to go, so little vacation time and so many places to visit!! Patricia

  2. Oh, that looks so pleasant and peaceful. Spain and Portugal are also on our travel list, probably after Italy.

  3. Although it does look lovely, until the Euro calms down, anywhere in Europe is now a no no. I am becoming increasingly happy to stay in Britain, It is an amazingly beautiful country, I think too many of us take for granted.

  4. Patricia: I've never read Deighton's novel, but I very much enjoyed Robert Wilson's A Small Death in Lisbon which spans the decades from WWII through to the present. I'd like to sympathize with you having too many places to vacation for your two years, but, well, all those vacations . . .
    Pseu: We have similar itineraries!
    Alison: Despite what I just said to Pseu, I do think we're all wise to look around and see how much we can enjoy closer to home, given the fuel situation. I still hope to see more of Europe before I'm done traveling (having squandered my youth on child-rearing ;-)!), but like you, I could also be happy in my own beautiful surroundings.
    I have to say, though, that Portugal is stunningly inexpensive, at least in the rural areas.

  5. Thanks for the book recommendation - I've looked it up and it sounds interesting. My degree is in Contemporary European Studies and German, so I'm very interested in WWII , the Cold War, anything like that.

    Now me, I'm squandering my middle age on child-rearing! ;0) Patricia

  6. It all looks so beautiful, that to me it almost seems unreal that this is an actual place and not just pictures. I've never been to Portugal, but my father sailed there once - is that good enough?

  7. Patricia: With that background, you'll really find Wilson's book interesting! (and, since our children will be caring lovingly for us in our old age, not to mention sending cheques home regularly -- ha! -- there's no squander involved at all)
    Cybill: It is a beautiful place -- and yes, a sailing father, one degree of separation, that surely counts as well ;-)


I'd love to hear your response to my post. Agree, disagree, even go off on a tangent, I love to know you're out there, readers. Let's chat, shall we? I apologize, though, for the temporary necessity of the Word Verification -- spam comments have been tiresomely numerous lately, and I'm hoping to break that pattern.

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