CERCAL in the ALENTEJO.

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Seniors on the march again, or as Sue M in Long Beach suggested- the blog should really be called T.O.F.T. Two Old Farts Tripping. We said a fond farewell to the Sardine Festival and headed in a hire car down the coast to a small village called Cercal. We spent our last HOT night in Lisbon drinking sangria high above the Rio Tejo.

 

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We have never hired or driven a car in Europe before, and it was a big mistake. Automatic cars for some reason are not common in Portugal, so we were delivered a manual ( shades of Chris Lilley- my name is Daniel and I drive a manual ) which I stalled on the steep ascent in The Bica, trying to avoid a pole barrier which magically vanished into the ground as we approached, but I didn’t know that. We couldn’t work the GPS – think washing machine doors which confused us no end, traffic on the wrong side of the road and obscure road rules, and me stalling the car. It has been a long time since I drove a manual.

The poor Panama Hat had to drive out of Lisbon with no GPS and google maps which did not seem to recognise 1 way streets. We managed to get beeped and honked at a lot.!

Hours later after wrong turns, stalled crossing of tolls, toll cards that did not work, and travelling in the wrong direction with confusing GPS which weirdly started working half way down the Alentejo. We were still getting beeped and honked. I broke a much loved Moroccan necklace and the panama his glasses due to the panic at every toll booth where we did not know what to do, and cars were banked up behind us. At one tollbooth we were trying to put in money when all we had to do was take a ticket!

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Finally hours later, and suffering from panic, delusions and hysteria we arrived at what we thought was a cute picturesque town of Cercal. The GPS decided to give us a circuitous route into the village via impossibly narrow lanes and shot us right past the address into a park. You have arrived..you have arrived. When we left we discovered a very easy route in and out of the village without the GPS.

Cercal was drenched in the Portuguese sun, it was an inferno.. Many of the locals looked seriously inbred and were openly hostile to strangers- lots of unemployed men hanging listlessly around the unappealing cafes. We could hear the twang of duelling banjos.
“You’re not from around here…!”
The funeral parlour one of the few businesses open and was doing a roaring trade.

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The traditional Airbnb was a beautifully renovated by an obviously hipster couple, it was polished cement everywhere and not one bloody fan for the heat. He proudly informed me on the phone the there was no TV and no WIFI… Ahhhhh no wifi. No-one spoke English, German or Spanish, we had no WIFI and a GPS that did not work. Hmmmm. Most young people here learn English in school but we were left with the dropouts who had never made the second language class and were spending their days lounging around the Cercal cafe scene dribbling on their banjos.

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We passed cork trees and huge stork nests on the electricity pylons and set off to find Porto Covo. However our fight with the GPS was far from over. We ended up an hour inland at Ourique which appeared to be as weird as Cercal. No-one knew where the Tourismo was, as they stared gormlessly at us through the hazy heat.

We drove home miffed that we had not found the beach, and parked the car outside the house in a narrow laneway.. At midnight there was a loud thunderous banging on our door- and there was an enraged Rosina Gonzales screaming at us in Portuguese, because her truck could not pass our car.. I ran out in my nightie looking amazing and The Panama looked stunning in his undies as we moved the car with a torrent of Portuguese abuse. Surprisingly we went back to sleep.

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The next day I took control of the car and did not stall, and drove to Porto Covo a very pretty town, and old fishing village now a tourist destination. It was just 30 minutes away and it was huge contrast to Cercal. Friendly people who were able to speak to tourists.

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Meanwhile the TOFTS were feeling the stress of driving, so we cancelled our other car hires, left Cercal early and caught the train for Porto. Not sure how other senior Australians cope with driving in Europe, but were confused and highly stressed. There are different rules which no-one seems to obey,,,and no-one obeys the speed limits.

So now it is Porto and the Festival of St John where young and old spend the night banging each other on the head with plastic mallets!

The Swallows Return to Lisboa. Not So S.O.F.T.

Returning to Portugal with The Panama Hat, so not a S.O.F.T. BLOG.


Finally after a lifetime of flying cattle class, I got to fly Business from Straya to Barcelona, and enjoyed every minute -especially the bed, Wooo Hooo. A stopover in Ho Chi Minh City was underwhelming except for the whizzo manicure and pedicure. The Little Saigon Boutique Hotel where we stayed was so little, and hidden( and a bit of a dump, the boutique part was missing) in a courtyard that the taxi driver could not find it. Round and round we cruised in District 1, thankfully on a pre-paid voucher realising that we did not have 1 word of Vietnamese and that Dong Nyguyen did not have 1 word of English.

Then on to Doha via a longer flight path to avoid the hostile Arab states. The business lounge needed camels it was so huge, finding the bathrooms was challenging. The indignity of economy on TAP Portugal was unsettling after the luxury of Qatar, but finally we reached Beautiful Lisboa.


Our AIRBNB  is in The Bica – an area considered to be tradionally Portuguese.The cute and unique apartment is ancient and according to the owner the tiles inside are 300 years old, this could be a Portuguese exageration.  There was an funicular/elevador/ tram that grappled the steep ascent running outside the house, and those hills of Lisboa are steep and plentiful. However the cuteness soon evaporated.

Saint Anthony’s Festival had been celebrated the week before, but the Sardine Festival was still in full swing, apparently just below our window! All night long, baby! We started to feel apprehensive when we saw the monstrous sound system and then it was Brazilian music, all night long baby, while guzzling caipirinjas.


It was melatonin, sleeping pills and pillow over the head. The crowds kept growing and the music got louder, June is partaaay month in Portugal. We wouldn’t have minded so much if it had been outside another house, not the one we were staying in. I blame Magellen.


There we were,sleep deprived, jet lagged and the oldest at the party. At one stage we got up and boogied much to the astonishment of the now very drunk dot coms.( one is even checking his phone in the photo) Mind you I needed intensive medical care and medication after showing the Portuguese how to be cool, and the heat was intense. The next night was worse, but I managed to score the last hotel room in Lisboa away from party central which cost more than the Airbnb but was worth it to get some much needed sleep.

It was a case of mad dogs and tourists out in the midday sun, Lisbon was HOT. We rode the famous tram 28 up the incredibly steep hills and wandered through the Alfama, the old Arab quarter beneath St  John’s  castle. We discovered a gluten free bakery for The Panama Hat and gluten free beer, such a discovery! We felt we were on our own Age of Discovery. We walked to the Miradours at night which were full of tatooed youngns smoking weed- it has been decriminalised here, such a sensible decision.


The Bica area was once the working class slums of Lisboa, and has now become ‘trendified’ the older original residents poke their heads out over window sills and half doors in dazed confusion. We are noticing our age and dazed confusion, as we huff and puff  our way up and down the windy lanes and steep passage ways. Then to add insult to injury we were instantly given a Seniors Discount at the Marine Museum – no proof required, and the tram driver made other commuters give up their seats for us. Ahhhh..How Rude! So we ran home to have our nana nap and a cry. Later that evening we found a laundromat and spent over an hour trying to open the washing machine door, that was also rude! It was all on cctv and must have been entertainment for the staff the next day.


The Marine Museum,although not my choice was fascinating and illustated the power of Portugal in former times, they were amazing sailors and intrepid explorers. Henry the Na igator was the man and spices were the catalyst. Their boat building skills were incredible and it was such a powerful nation.

Then we heard about the terrible forest fires out of Lisbon, such a tragedy and so many lives lost. The weather gets hotter by the day; it is very intense. I am being very brave and hiring a car to drive down to the Alentejo coast, I am terrified about navigating the tiny narrow alleys on the wrong side of the road for a Strayan just to get on a freeway.
We spent our last day in Lisboa shopping. Yes the Panama went on a shopping bender, usually it is me. Then we stumbled in the heat to a hidden canteen with spectacular views over the River Tagus; called the Nun’s Canteen or Cantina das Freiras. Nuns as dining ladies dishing up a 3 course meal for 8 Euros, a bit short on charm but great value!

Fruchocs and Fritz on the Fleurieu.

Back in dear old Adelaide, South Australia, which is famous for its Menz  Fruchocs, Woodies Lemonade,  Fritz (not Devon) and copious amounts of Polish Sausage, all of which, for some reason are not available in NSW. The Fruchocs are particularly addictive, or it is childhood memories which keeps me munching ..dried peach and apricot smothered in creamy milk chocolate. I bought quite a few packets, none of which survived the trip.  All of this on the Fleurieu Peninsula named after  French explorer on Baudin’s ship which encountered the British ships in ‘Encounter Bay’ in the very early 1800’s.

 

This was a sudden and unexpected trip, and there were very few flights from Canberra to Adelaide in the day, and so we flew out of Sydney. This of course involved the tedious drive up to the Big Smoke in sweltering heat. We ate at the Coogee Pavilion which was all so hip and cool – lots of smashed avocado eating hipsters.

Arriving in Adelaide to a cool change, we headed straight down to Port Elliot, the seaside retreat for ‘Adelaidians’, on the Fleurieu Peninsula.  The Hipsters have moved in here as well, and this is no longer the cute sleepy seaside village of my childhood summer holidays. There was an assortment of  vegan cafes, organic whole food restaurants, good coffee and small boutiques.  And the Real Estate….. oooffff! So expensive.

 

We found as with most seaside destinations, there is a huge influx of visitors during the school summer holidays. This was also the Australia Day weekend…(good on ya, Straya Day!) The last hoorah before school starts again, and it was crowded, much worse than Batemans Bay. Parking was impossible and we had to park in town to get to the beach of beautiful Horseshoe Bay.

Port Elliot was supposed to be the location of the capital City of South Australia. The Murray River ended at Goolwa and goods and produce, from farming communities further up the river were then railed through to Port Elliot. Alas after one too many shipwrecks the harbour was deemed unsafe and the capital was moved to its present position, and the safer harbour at Port Adelaide. The train line is now used to shuttle tourists on the Cockle Train between Victor Harbor and Goolwa on the hour with a very annoying whistles and beeping- talk about Thomas the Tank Engine on steroids!

 

As a child we used to stay in the now demolished Cliff House which was the Governors’ residence, and what a fine old building it was, complete with old ballrooms, carriages and spooky cellars. It was a magical old fashioned experience with marble washstands and washbasins –even a potty. The bedrooms had brass beds and were festooned with beautiful floral friezes. The dining room was a delight with its stiff white linen tablecloths, polished wood and silver and crystal and hand written menus. Of course we had to ‘dress’ for dinner which we summoned to with a gong. After all this we would round off the night with a singalong around the piano, charades and a brisk walk around the headlands!! Wild living in the fifties and sixties- eat your heart out, Hipsters.

Sadly, this residence was demolished in the 70’s and in its place they built ugly, gruesome units. The National Trust would not allow them to knock anything down as significant as this today. So Port Elliot has fabulous memories for me , even though I nearly got washed out to sea in the dangerous surf on the treacherous boulders on the headland and was regularly thrown off the jetty by groups of local lads, eaten alive by mossies most nights, and dumped in the huge surf at Boomer Beach. We were tough then!

The Port Elliot Hotel which had superb reviews on the Old Trippy was packed to the rafters and we only just got a table in the bar. I recommended the King George Whiting as the fish to eat when in South Australia.

Four weeks later we are back again to finalise the family business which called me there in the first place, this time via Mount Barker and Handorf. Although Handorf is a tourist hotspot of the early German settlers in South Australia,  it is not without its charm and lots of German sausage and beesting cakes. The new freeway makes for easy access into Adelaide Hills. Then, we were  back down to Port Elliot, this time staying at the unique and very comfortable Middleton Beach Huts and onwards to Adelaide. The pleasant drive through the backblocks of the Adelaide Hills presented views of stunning ghost gums and fertile farming land, until we got to Strathalbyn which is still a slightly strange town. A good place for a weird murder.

‘March Madness’ had hit dear old Adelaide, and it was buzzing ..no longer the ‘Land of the Living Dead! I can remember as a younger version of myself when all I wanted to do was to get out of the place and overseas. Now overseas has come to Adelaide. The Clipsal race had just finished, the Festival of Arts was in progress as was the Adelaide Fringe which has become enormous and of course WOMAD or WOMADelaide, the Festival of World Music.

Adelaide has had a reputation of being snobby and cliquey, but we found everyone to be very friendly and welcoming. People smiled in the streets- we are used to being glared at by some at home. Some bogans are great glarers. The street café scene was exploding all over the place and of course there were crowds of people everywhere and so many interesting arty types, wearing incredible ensembles. So many new eateries and little alleys opened up to be amazing little scenes. It was very similar to the Melbourne alleyways. Of course it was a great feeling to meet up with so many old friends, and I do think ‘Adelaidians’ are unique and different, and friendly. Makes me feel like moving back, and then I remember those horrendous hot summers and the freezing winters!

As usual the food and wine in this part of the world is always fabulous. We mostly ate in The Garden of Unearthly Delights which is open for business during the Fringe Festival and raged to the early hours-but the prices were a bit over the top. Fritz did not eat any fritz ..so sad. However he did get a copy of the FRITZ Magazine ..a slice of South Australia! It has pride of place on his coffee table.

Finally I got to see The Leonard Cohen Tribute Show that I missed in Sydney which was great entertainment. Everyone in the audience was over 65 and The Panama Hat and I were the only ones dancing. However the next night we all went to see Blanc de Blanc, and I was bit unsure of what we were in for.  Every show in the Fringe is billed as amazingly sensational, when often a lot of them are embarrassingly terrible. Blanc de Blanc came with excellent reviews – a mixture of cabaret, burlesque, theatre and acrobatics ..hmmm? it was perhaps one of the slickest, entertaining and clever show I had seen ..and it was all about champagne ..How appropriate.

The Millennials went off to Womad and reported back that it was wonderful, and full of old hippies who did not know the 60’s were over!! We should have gone-the fact that there was no seating did not appeal to me,( how did all the old hippies cope, they must be on their pensions by now) and it was expensive for musicians who were unknown to me.. Next time!

March Madness in Adelaide was truly a wonderful experience.

A Tequila Sunrise at the Hotel California!

Baha California is hot, and where we are, in Los Cabos it is HOT! Stepping off the plane from balmy San Francisco I was blasted by the humid heat of this peninsula in Mexico. It is supposedly the low season because of the intense heat, and the start of the hurricane season. This area was devastated by a hurricane a few years back. However this has not deterred the tourists who flock here, for a taste of ‘safe’ Mexico.

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The Airbnb is a bit isolated but is delightfully decorated in that bright Mexican style that I like so much. The taxi drivers are milking the tourists for al they are worth and the taxi into town is worth more than my dinner, and it is only 5 minutes down the road., but a 30 minute walk in the heat.Not sure if there is Uber, but the taxi drivers in Portugal were bashing the Uber drivers, and they were too scared to drive. Wouldn’t be at all surprised to hear that here, as the taxi’s are not metered and an absolute ripoff. It is a bit of a ‘taxi’ cartel. As a protest I have been catching the local buses which is a bit scary around the bends and there are no bus stops, you just do your thing on the busy highway.

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Ventured in to San Jose de Cabos on the bus, and was hassled from one end of the street to the other. I had forgotten about the Mexican hustle..everyone was my best friend, as they tried to pull me into their shop selling identical items as each other, invariably made in China. Young men and not so young, were all asking me where my husband was, would I like to meet them for a drink! REALLY offended, by this, but probably more annoyed. The Portuguese were so polite by comparison. But I did succumb to a blue Mexican opal and silver necklace.

The corridor or El Coridor connects the two towns and runs for miles. It is dusty, dry and festooned in rubble. Some of this is from the devastating hurricane and some is just slums and rubbish. Massive decadent hotels and huge gated complexes also dot the landscape, blending into the sand like ancient walled cities, in stark contrast to the devastation around them. Then over a hill the brilliant blue sea sparkles and the rocky outcrops of The Arco or Arch fall into the sea.

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With the arrival of daughter number one we ventured out to the Marina for margaritas. This is where all the party action is… A bit like an American Kuta Beach. Then onto a stunning meal at Mi Casa which is probably the first really fabulous Mexican meal for me. A beautiful old  open aired palapa decorated as an old hacienda. Muted wall frescoes , rush roof and dazzling multi- coloured furniture and brilliant purple and white bougainvillea  And of course the wandering mariachis.

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An evening dinner cruise on the CaboRey was crowded and pushy. The open bar was serving premixed cocktails which tasted awful and flat beer. We wished we had taken the Pirate Boat instead., which also looked crowded and pushy, but far more fun. The view of the coast and The Arco was spectacular as the sun set. The food was very average as you would expect. Earlier in the day we had some fantastic Lava Bowls with seafood at Los Guacamayas and what is so wonderful here is that all the food is safe to eat- the salads, the fruit and the ice, which certainly was not the case in mainland Mexico.image

 

 

Sunday brunch was spent at Flora’s Organic Table in San Jose de Cabo. We drove down strange bumpy dusty dirt tracks in the middle of nowhere, it was a barren desert full of old cacti..then the mirage appeared, the oasis of the organic farm.. amazing greenness in a desert, and it so tres trendy..The food was superb and all grown locally, they do not use pesticides or genetically modified seeds.  It was also incredibly hot but they managed to keep everyone cool by spraying water from overhead pipes. Apparently the area is becoming a bit of a foodie hot spot.

Then I was determined to see the Hotel California in Todos Santos, which is not the real Hotel California, which apparently never existed,( sorry boys and girls ) but just a tourist highlight. I had to have my Tequila Sunrise at the Hotel California.such a lovely place! By this time we ready to pass out with heat exhaustion so we headed to the nearest beach, but were unprepared for the dangerous seas which bashed against shore, and the scary undertow. We had to sit on the edge and watch, so we headed back to the comfort of our airbnb and pool,

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Then sadly the big solo adventure drew to a close. It has been a fabulous 4 months of mainly senior solo travel, which has been challenging at times and sometimes lonely, but probably more satisfying than travelling with others or a partner. It is only you, and your choice of activities, so there is no-one to consider or compromise with. I was able to visit the museums, galleries and shops of my choice.

The question is..’ Where to next’?

A CAPPUCCINO in MENDOCINO.

Arrived in San Fran after a circuitous route from Dublin, via Frankfurt on Lufthanza. Up at 3.00 in the morning and going back in time which had me slightly jet-lagged- helped by the free Henkell Trocken and some melatonin. My first stint in Premium Economy and never again will I fly cattle class! I got a fantastic deal online from an Adelaide internet travel site, called Round About Travel, and that included Premium Economy on both legs of my return journey. Great value, even though I was apprehensive buying tickets online.

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As we drove out of San Fran in a hybrid car, which while using half the amount of fuel, and was not an easy car to drive, the Golden Gate Bridge was blanketed in fog in the middle of summer. Once we got to Sausalito the sun came out. It is a Girl’s Road Trip with my gorgeous  older daughter, who is soon to be a bride,at the Wedding of the Year! Naturally the first stop on the way to Mendocino was the Fashion Outlet in Petaluma. After travelling frugally through Portugal I am now lightening my wallet at a rapid rate.

 

Stopped for lunch where the Russian River meets the ocean at River’s End Restaurant, with a stunning view over the sea, and run by delightful gay men who just love my Moroccan jewellery. In has been the start of a pattern of being chatted up by aging gay alternative types who ” just love the fabulous jewellery thing happening here!” One guy in the shop next door to our hotel who was wearing 2 fabulous necklaces himself, in his own ‘Advanced Style’ and was somewhat miffed by my necklace. Bitch!

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The town was very busy with the Mendocino Music Festival which was a bonus for us and added a diverse and interesting element to the town. We sat on the headland as the sun set, listening to the music for free! Every person seemed to be an artist, jeweller, potter or sculptor, and I have never seen so many good jewellery shops in one place. Even the markets had an abundant array of good quality arts and crafts- no trash and treasure here.

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Mendocino is wonderful. Described by Gen Y’s and Millennials as a village full of old hippies, it is an alternative arty town on a peninsula with great ocean views. The town is all my American children’s book fantasy rolled into one, a mixture of Anne of Green Gables and Pollyanna. White picketed fences surrounding picture book wooden homes. The gardens were in full bloom and decorated with BERNIE  posters and flags, as you would expect. This was not middle America! Although our lovely old Victorian Hotel was next door to DICKS, which can best be described as Bogan Central Bar for rednecks and trailer trash and country and western music. We dared each other to go in., and ask for a cocktail.

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The shopping was incredible and I do think we improved the Mendocino economy- how will my suitcase pass the flight checkin weight? I have always found American fashion very conservative and a touch beige, but not in this town. Total strangers are commenting on my clothing and jewellery, in fact today a lady said. ” Your clothes are amazing. You would fit right into Mendocino.” I do feel very comfortable here.

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After a tip from an aging hippy, we met at a craft market we headed off to the town of Caspar for their monthly community breakfast, right behind the Quaker Church. The town was dying until hippies moved here in the 70’s and they took over the old school house to make a community centre. Every month they have a community breakfast cooked and served by volunteers, all healthy alternative food. There were about 80 people at breakfast and the profit is ploughed back into maintaining and improving the community centre. Lots of grey haired ponytails, but I am sorry to say not one man bun! The conversation kept hinting at the use of marijuana, which is legal here. Apparently my arthritis would allow me to purchase some.

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Phoebe organised dinner at a restaurant called Wild Fish on Saturday, which was delightful- all of the fish we ate was WILD and not farmed. David Suzuki would have loved it, as he is so against farmed fish. Although I find Americans just do not get coffee, and serve this tasteless percolated stew. The good coffee shops in San Fran and New York are owned and operated by Australians.

We drove to Fort Bragg after our encounter with the hippies of Caspar. We wanted to see Glass Beach which was an amazing beach covered in sand washed smooth glass. Apparently it was a popular craft activity in the 70’s ( possibly for hippies) to make your own mosaic lampshade out of the glass-               ( we saw one in a museum) and all the glass has now gone. Although everyone still fossicks on the beach.

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Mendocino was as cute as American apple  pie, but it was also covered in a blanket of sea mist every morning, and the beaches are  festooned in remnants of logging which gives the sand a dirty, polluted look. Nothing like the pristine beaches of NSW

We were up early the next morning for the very long drive back to San Fran for Feebs to get to work.  Now it is the last week of my big adventure in Baja California.

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MacCallum House which is associated with the Malcolm clan.

May the Road Rise to Meet You.

 

 

imageA feeling of greyness pervades the soul. Grey stone walls, grey slate roofs, grey weather and sometimes grey houses. Many of the houses are identical, identical rows or groups, and all of this is mixed with a few odd colourful numbers. Brilliant green fields dotted with sheep, and more grey stone walls. I feel a trifle unnerved by the ‘sameness’, and clannish mentality and the religious conservatism that lurks beneath the surface. The locals in the small country towns are born and bred and have no desire to go anywhere. They surround themselves with their very large extended families, and that is how they like it. While they are friendly and welcoming and often cheekily amusing, there is still something strange about it all. This is all the more apparent in the villages in the south.

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Galway is a happening town with an Arts Festival in full swing. The 2 events I wanted to see- Imelda May and a Saramego play ( Jose Saramego is a Portuguese author) were on,after I left. Then it rained.I am sorry I came here after Portugal bewitched me, as I think I would have been more enthralled if I had  ventured here first. I have just found it to be very ‘ho hum’, and double the price of Portugal. There, every village had a castle. However I have had some excellent gourmet meals and healthier food choices, although the standard fare is very much deep fried, and bread and mashed potato with everything.

The ancient dolmens, megalithic tombs in the Burren,were fascinating, as I had seen them near Evora in Portugal, along with all the other standing stones. I did a day tour and the bus became stuck down the narrow hedged roads when another car or bus came the other way. It was a Mexican stand-off until our bus backed up.

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The Cliffs of Moher were just cliffs, and wet and cold cliffs. The village of Ennis was cute but not stunning. I feel disappointed by my response to the place. Grey ruined castles emerge every now and then and merge into the greyness.

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My final destination was Killarney, where it was wet, grey and raining. I was unable to get a seat in a restaurant on Saturday night as a solo person, it was discrimination, as they would rather fill a table with 4 than 1. I ended up in a ‘divey’ pub where everything was deep fried, including the drinks- at 6 euros a glass of wine.Finally managed to get into some Irish music in another pub with Seamus, Patrick and Cormac , all of them O’Briens!. They love Australians in their drunken style.It reminded me of my youth in the British Hotel in Adelaide, dodging the dart board in crowded pub which did not sell ‘ poofter’ drinks! It was beer or beer.

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Muckyross Castle in Killarney was disappointing compared to the palaces of the Iberian Peninsula or even Hearst Castle in California. Lots of rules about not touching the wood anywhere, no photos and keep in the confines of the tour! It was in stages of renovation and quite messy, worn and shabby.The rugged landscape of the Gap of Dunloe a spectacular mountain pass – a former glacial valley,was remote and wildy mystical. While Ross Castle was imposing set in the lake landscape. However I saw all of this through a grey mist.

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Then I was on the train to Dublin. Dublin was cool and very hip. It was also unbelievably crowded with hordes of Italian, Spanish and French kids coming here for ‘English!’ lessons during the summer holidays. This astounds me as I can barely understand a lot of the Irish, and they do not understand me. All public messages, train signs and information are in Gaelic which adds more to the confusion. I listened to what I thought was a long bit of train information in Gaelic to turn around and discover a Korean man talking on his phone. It is a very multicultural city. The hordes of visiting students leapt to their feet as soon as I entered the train, which was like a sauna in the unexpected heat wave of 28 degrees, and although pleased to get a seat, I was also concerned that I must look like a poor old doddering lady!

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Dublin was also full of musicians, pubs,museums, cafes, great shopping and NO toilets. There were guards on every facility in town, as a tourist I have often just popped into the nearest cafe and used the ‘ conveniences’, but not here. This was partly due to the huge amount of homeless people on the streets and just the sheer people pressure. So I had to buy a drink, which made me want to spend a penny 5 minutes later. One continuous cycle.

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The Dublin Archeological Museum was fabulous, and I could come back to just to spend more time there. I love ancient Irish men’s buns and bog men.Then it was on to the Malahide Castle and the seaside own of Howth. It was Ireland’s heatwave, 28 degrees and the beaches were packed with sunbathers even though there were not a lot of swimming in the cold icy Atlantic.

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The fairies had fun with me..my vegemite never re-appeared,my suitcase broke, I lost my iphone and ipad chargers and plug adapters, and I was given Darren O’ Murphys washing at the laundromat…the girl just stared at me with indifference when I showed her it was not my washing. It was a bit of ‘ tell someone who cares.’ Eventually my washing was retrieved and I was off to San Fran with flowers in my hair.

THE LEAVING of PORTUGAL.

How sad..such an amazing and beautiful country.

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I finally was legally able to claim my first senior’s discount on the train from Braga to Lisbon, and they wouldn’t accept my drivers licence as proof, because it expired on my birthday, unbeknown to me, and I obviously look so young! Then I have Elgas sending me texts about my gas bottle rental and debt collectors , and the NRMA wants to know why I haven’t paid my road assistance dues! I just hope they send the debt collector around.

I eventually got my 50 % discount by using my passport, it was a 20€ saving. Wooo Hooo.

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I am starting to feel a bit nervous about the passport and visas. You may all laugh but I seriously did not think Ireland was part of the EU, and therefore assumed I was safe going there after my 90 days in an EU Country. I take comfort that it is not part of the Schengen Treaty which restricts Australians’ visas, to just 90 days. I hope I will not be kicked out. Then my visa to America runs out on the day I leave the US, so I hope they do not get weird about that as welL. On top of that there is the Elgas man lurking in the background and the NRMA man, and now the fairies in Ireland are annoying me.

Lisbon airport was a chaotic bunfight, on the Sunday. Maybe it was because of school holidays, or maybe it was because of the soccer. There were armed police everywhere and all the world was on the move. Aer Lingus had no signage and it was hit and miss to find them on the second floor, with one queue and hundreds of customers. Then we all wondered through the cavernous airport , again with no signage until we came to customs which was jam-packed on a sweltering day. It took me an hour to get through customs which was really unpleasant. There were a lot of Brazilians who were about to miss their flights who were going totally ballistic, but no-one cared. I thought I would miss mine, but there were 20 of us who held the plane up by about 15 minutes. Always stressful. This trippy photo is symbolic of Lisbon Airport when I left- who has a stair behind their statues?

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Arrived at my hotel in Dublin 1 hour before the tour left. An unfortunate start to the tour when the tour leader went insanely bezerk when I insisted on my right to a seat on my own as I had paid the single supplement, ( double what others pay) and did not want to sit next to Bruce or Beryl from Brisbane, or in this case Louise and Chuck Junior, as it is full of middle Americans. It may have been Irish dramatics, I am not sure. She screamed ‘ You can get another tour leader and ran off crying.’ She them walked back in 5 minutes later as if nothing had happened. Needless to say I stood my ground, and after a phone call to head office she is sullenly under control. Not sure what it was all about , but there were plenty of spare seats. Unfortunately it has really put me off the country, and he sooner the tour is over the better. It is also grey and wet.

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We arrived in Belfast on the eve of July 12 th and the start of the Marching Season, which is also creating some tension. I left the tour the next day and branched out on my own- got a refund from head office in Sydney. I couldn’t continue with the tour leader, who was out to get me. It was a Bank Holiday and The Orange Men were marching. It very aggressive and confrontational, with very loud drums and fifes all being led by a drummer on ‘acid’. The pictures do not portray the sound which was very intimidating. It would be scary to be a Catholic and have them marching down your street. I found it most unpleasant and full of male aggression. The weather is freezing and grey, and everyone on the Bank Holiday looked inbred, barking mad,crazy or drunk. It was weird.

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Spent a whole day frantically reorganising my schedule and trying to get accommodation which was not easy in July, then it took another day to get a bus from Belfast to Dublin, then a second bus from Dublin to Galway. The Fairies have been really playing up, and I have been losing and findings things all the time. Galway is lovely and there is an Arts Festival in full swing and a lot of amazing folks in town. Musicians everywhere, market stalls buskers and alternative arty types sipping chai. Cirque de Soleil is also in residence.  A completely different world and energy to Belfast.

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