Carnival celebrations in Caldas da Rainha

Carnival in Caldas usually kicks off on Thursday night with a party for the elderly in the big expo-hall near the roundabout of fuel station Galp and Staples Office Center. On Friday the city centre comes alive during a colourful parade of primary school children. Hundreds of bees, princesses and pirates wind their way through the streets of this medieval town at the Portuguese Silver Coast.

Saturday night it’s the turn of all sorts of ghosts, Arabian princesses, clowns and, this year, a lot of Trump look-a-likes, to come out of their warm houses and walk to the square where religion, justice and political power are fraternelly represented. Around half past ten the nighlty parade starts, followed by a ball in the ancient park.

For weeks inhabitants of Caldas, people from surrounding villages and association members have been working on trailers for the parade. Luckily they are scheduled to run three times during the Carnival celebrations.  Once on Saturday night, followed by Sunday and Tuesday afternoon at three o’clock. .Enough opportunity to show off their creations and perform in front of the gathered crowds!

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Besides the parades,  there are two balls in the park, starting at 23.00 hours on Saturday and Monday night.

So, if you missed it this year. Do come next year!

Carnival parades

Hundreds of colourful performers make their way down from the tiny railwaystation, across the main avenue, Avenida 1 de Maio, to the square where the city mayor waits patiently on the staircase of the Town Hall. A wide range of topics comes by: Trump’s politics, protests against medical care and references to the historical thermal character are leading this year.

Where to stay?

Rural, Dutch owned,  Bed and Breakfasts  (some of them with glamping facilities) near Caldas da Rainha:

Quinta Verde in Salir de Matos

Quinta Japonesa in Carvalhal Benfeito

Quinta da Montanha in Casal do Frade

Quinta da Laranja in Almofala

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Hotels in Lisbon

“Do you know a nice place to stay in Lisbon?” I’m  frequently asked. As a matter of fact, I do.

View Lisbon

Depending on what purpose I am in Lisbon, I choose to stay in the old city centre or in the new and trendy Expo-area, also called Parque das Nações, the area where in 1998 the World Fair took place. Since then this spot is loved for its modern arquitecture and leisure qualities.

Lissabon Parque das Naçoes

When I have tickets for a concert in the Pavilhão Atlântico hall, an early flight or in case I need to pick up friends from the airport, the Expo-area is quite convenient to spend the night. Within ten metrominutes I go from metro- and Railway station Oriente/Parque das Nações to Lisbon Airport and by car I only need to follow the Avenida do Berlim to the end to arrive at Terminal 1. I can highly recommend Tryp Oriente in this area. Rooms facing the Tejo tend to be more expensive, but I know a good alternative: a room facing the railwaystation, the third floor up! At night you overview the beautiful new railwaystation and from your window it’s easy to make a lovely picture.

Lissabon Gare do Oriente

In this Expo-area you not only find a huge concert hall, but also lots of restaurants, a side-walk near the Tagus river, a huge aquarium and a bright shopping mall, called Vasco da Gama.

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Turtles in Oceanário

If you are in the mood for historic sideseeing or you want to be near Lisbon’s Bairro Alto I advice three other hotels. A couple of years ago I organized a long-weekend-trip for twenty Dutch colleagues and we spent three comfortable nights at Hotel Turim Suisso Atlântico. Although it can be a little bit noisy due to the famous yellow tram – that brings you from Restauradores to the Miradouro in Bairro Alto – and the lively nightlife in the neighbourhood, we slept well.

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Hotel Suiço (Suisso) Atlântico is right next to the famous yellow tram at Restauradores. Unfortunately, due to vandalism every now and then the tram has to be repainted.

Another hotel, or better, apart-hotel, in down town Lisbon is Hotel Vip Executive Éden Restauradores. In this redecorated theatre you find apart hotel rooms. Each room has a small kitchenette, so for a family or a small group of friends it’s a good central place to stay. The rooms need refurbishing, but the plus is, undoubtably, the swimming pool at the roof. At night you can sit here overlooking the city, seeing Castelo São Jorge at the hill opposite, and during warm days you plunge into the water for some refreshment.

In Rua Garret you can sit next to Fernando Pessoa.
In Rua Garret you can sit next to Fernando Pessoa

And last but not least, I can recommend Hotel Borges. Located near the statue of Fernando Lisboa this old hotel is the closest to Bairro Alto and in Chiado, the shopping area with more exclusive brands.

View from a window at Hotel Borges
View from a window at Hotel Borges

Due to Lisbons’ excellent public transport system you can easily reach the hotels I mentioned. Spend 6 euros to buy a Lisbon Viva Card and you will be able to travel 24 hours in metro, bus and yellow tram. To give you an idea of fares: if you buy a single ticket for the famous yellow tram up the hill at Restauradores you spend over 3 euros. So you have a lot to win buying the Lisbon Viva Card for public transport.

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Metronetwork Lisbon

To travel to Hotel Tryp Oriente in Parque das Nações you take the red line to Oriente. Lisbon Hotel Suisso Atlântico and Hotel Vip Executive Éden are on walking distance from metrostation Restauradores and Hotel Borges is on top of metrostation Chiado. Nice detail: Hotel Borges is in Rua Garret. So start reading Night Train to Lisbon ( Pascal Mercier) or watch the movie before you go and you will give your trip to Lisbon a whole new dimension!

Rossio, railwaystation at night
Rossio, Railway station is not far from Hotel VIP Executive Éden, Hotel Suisso Atlântico and Hotel Borges

Hotels mentioned:

Hotel Tryp Oriente in Parque das Nações, two metrostops away from airport
Hotel Turim Suiço (Suisso) Atlântico in city centre, at Restauradores square
Hotel VIP Executive Éden  in city centre, at Restauradores square
Hotel Borges also in city centre, real close to Bairro Alto

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Leonard Cohen in Pavilhão Atlântico (nowadays MEO ARENA) – Lisbon

Other useful links:

Concerts in Meo Arena (Pavilhão Atlântico) in Parque das Nações

Tourist information Lisbon

Public transport – Viva Card Lisbon

Forget Port, start drinking Ginja!

About an hour by car north of Lisbon you find one of Portugal’s pearls: Óbidos. An old town surrounded by castle walls. And within: many romantic white houses with yellow, blue and red coloured stripes.


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Of course, nowadays many tourist invade pittoresque Óbidos in summer and during festivals.

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Don’t worry: keep away from the main street and you will find medieval calm streets full of beautiful views.

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If you are an adventurer you can climb the stairs to the high castle wall. Be careful though, there is no fence protecting you from falling down. Strangely enough having no fence has proved to be the best protection ever. I have never heard of a tourist falling down. People stay close to the wall out of fair. I do not recommend walking the entire wall, it’s a long walk. Just go up when you enter Óbidos through the main entrance. From there you have a splendid view over the roofs and the entire city. An excellent place for a photoshoot!

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Till 1834 Foreign princesses who married Portuguese crown princes received Óbidos as a wedding gift. Not bad, don’t you think?

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Today the Castle of Óbidos is turned into a Pousada, a chic hotel, as there are many on historic places in Portugal. You can dine royally in the restaurant overlooking the patio or the hinterland.

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In Óbidos you will not only find houses covered with bougainvilleas, blue-white tiled churches and many souvenir shops, but also a divine nectar: Ginja. For 1 euro you buy a small chocolate cup filled with Ginja. Ginja is a wild sour cherry picked in june. Good brandy, this special cherry and herbs make a divine liqueur. A small bottle of Ginja costs between 11 and 18 euros, because there are not that many sour cherries and producing good brandy is quite a job . In Óbidos good Ginja is sold everywhere. Farmers in the neighbourhoud produce Ginja, as well. I know where a top-Ginja is sold, but I am going to keep it secret as long as I can. So drive to Óbidos, explore the medieval town, make lots of pictures and enjoy Ginja!

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Festivals in Óbidos:
March: Festival Internacional de Chocolate or Óbidos Tourism
Easter: Semana Santa
Summer: Internacional Festival de Piano
End of July/beginning of August: Mercado Medieval/ Medieval Fair
Christmas: Óbidos Vila Natal

Hotels in Óbidos:
Pousada do Castelo
Estalagem do Convento
Josefa d’Óbidos (not far from the bus stop which brings you in an hour from Campo Grande metro/bustation in Lisbon to Óbidos)
Boutique Hotel Casal da Eira Branca

Bed and Breakfast in the country- on a driving distance- run by a Dutch couple
Quinta da Montanha

Ginja:
Oppidum
Vila das Rainhas
Mariquinhas
For a very nice local, estate bottled Ginja: mail to fadodistante@gmail.com

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Travelling to Obidos:
By car: high way north A-8 to Leiria, you pass Loures, Torres Vedras, Bombarral and  leave the high way at Saída 15 Obidos.

By bus in an hour : Rodotejo “Rápida Verde”: in  Lisbon metrostation Campo Grande; busstop is near highest building – in Óbidos the busstop is in the street in front of Hotel Albergaria Josefa d’Óbidos, not far from the main city entrance. One-way-ticket around 8 euro. Seniors ( 65+) get a discount. Luggage for free (even big size).

By train: don’t! Station is in the middle of nowhere,  located too far from Óbidos’ main entrance, which is high up the hill.

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Contact the author for copyright or more information: fadodistante@gmail.com

Olives again next year?

“My father used to have a lot of work in the first months of the year”, João said. Meanwhile he is busy with a saw in his hands. It’s the end of February and it’s time to cut back the ancient olive trees.

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Our harvest has failed tremendously. Not one olive was saved from the new trees, planted in 2008. March 2014 was a cold, wet month and the olive flea didn’t help. It’s a shame! The old olive trees we have are mostly for fun nowadays. Such an ancient tree is lovely. But if you want to harvest olives, then you need to cut them back properly. And that’s a real métier.

João learned the métier from his late father. In the first months of the year (January to March) his father used to be busy cutting back the olive trees at many farms, ‘quintas’ as we call them in Portuguese. Nowadays the olive business is almost inexistent at the Portuguese Silvercoast ( Costa de Prata). Most farmers transferred to pears and apples. We are lucky that João, a fit seventy-two-year-old, likes hanging in our old olive trees to cut them back and prepare them for the future. Other villagers were scared to ruin the trees, because you really have to know which particular twig needs cutting back. “Doing it well is an art”, we hear everywhere.

In the meantime the old trees kept growing and nowadays they block the view I know so well from my youth, when we could see miles away from the porch. Besides, we would love to see olives grow on the trees from the era of my grandparents. While João remembers good old days he keeps sawing twigs and branches from the tree. Rapidly, the view I remember so well pops up: from our mountain ridge we can see the mountains of Serra do Candeeiro.
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As João descends from one of the trees he says “Within two years you are going to enjoy a nice full tree, with a lot of olives!”. I hope he is right… But even if we will not harvest olives in the future, we have the magnificent view back!

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Last year our harvest didn’t fail. We incised the olives and put them in a bucket full of water and salt. Thereafter, we put rosemary, garlic and bay leaf into the bucket. If you refresh the water and salt regularly, you can keep them for a long while. We enjoyed our pickled olives till mid-summer!

The ‘yellow house’

I tell so enthusiastically about the ‘yellow house’ at our Portuguese family farm that people keep asking me “do you have any pictures?”.

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The yellow house is where we lodge family and friends when they come over to visit us at our quinta near Óbidos and Caldas da Rainha. In Portugal a big farm is called ‘quinta’. Nowadays every foreigner who buys a cottage calls his home a ‘quinta’. But originally ‘quinta’s’ where huge estates with sometimes a chapel of their own.

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Óbidos and Caldas da Rainha are two relatively well know towns at the Portuguese Silvercoast. Geographically located some 80 km above Lisbon. In the Silvercoast area beaches are sandy silver, the towns ancient and the atmosphere ‘mundane’. In summer it stays relatively cool. Temperature seldom exceed 30 degrees. Frequently mornings start with damp air from the sea, leaving the valleys covered in mist. Around eleven the sun breaks through, lighting up the landscape. In the evening a woollen vest is often needed to keep you warm. The advantage: since temperature decrease till around 20 degrees most nights you sleep comfortably without sweating because of excessive heat.
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José da Visitação Costa Gonçalves verkleindUntil 1995 normal life was located around the yellow house. I still remember the grey pigeon my grandfather kept for years. His cage used to hang outside for decades. My grandfather and his pigeon spent hours cooing at each other.
Although the family owns a big house with a lot of rooms,  daily life is spent at the small two-room house where meals are served, familytwists take off and the wine, bottled at the estate, is served in considerable amounts.
Electricity and tap water were kept far away. The electricity company even asked permission to hang the electricity cables at the main house so that they needed to put a post in front of the house. Other houses in the village were connected, but my grandfather kept all modernities far from the farm. Why become dependent on city water supplies and electricity, my grandparents thought. Candles and petroleum lamps lit the dark nights and the few wells with water from the mountains always provided enough  (drinking) water. The farm stayed self-sufficient till 1995 when the last permanent inhabitant, my grandfather José da Visitação, died.

After 1995 wind and rain ravage the small house during fifteen years. All family attention is put in restoring the big house. The small house is almost turned into a ruin when in 2010 my father thought the house was a great place for wine barrels. ‘Not another barn’, complained the family. Works were in progress and opposition was fierce. We only managed to convince my father when the divisions were already built.

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That’s why nowadays in the bedroom of the small house the doors to the garden are that big that a small tractor can come in. And the bedroom is large, too large, in comparison to the living area ( kitchen/room). But nevertheless, it’s a nice house, with a lovely terrace overlooking the vineyard. The best place to stay when there is only the two of us!

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The ancient family ‘quinta’. On the terrace of the yellow house you can overlook the vinyard.
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Nowadays, the old well is the place to spend a hot afternoon in summer.

Note: the ‘yellow house’ is not for rent. It is the place where relatives and close friends are accomodated when they visit us. So I am terribly sorry. But I can recommend  vividly some nice Bed and Breakfast in the neighbourhood in case you are interested in exploring the Silver Coast area.

Contact the writer of this blog, Esa Caldas, on ‘fadodistante@gmail.com’