Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Jam Jar Moments in Portugal

The best thing about holidays is holding the moment when you know that it doesn't get much better than this. Every one of your senses is so perfectly attuned to the sights, sounds, smells, touches and tastes encapsulated in that instant that you want somehow to capture them in a jam jar. Then, in a dark dusk in chilly January, you could gently unscrew the lid and release the sound of distant wavelets edging tentatively back before joining together and crashing forwards on to the shell-sparkled beach. Or the scent of dry heat and sun cream or the taste of olive-oily and garlicked prawns. Or the tug of the damp sand as it drags your feet millimetres beneath its surface. It can't be done, of course but one day...maybe one day...

On my bucket list which consumed the blackboard wall of our downstairs loo through our very bleak winter, two sets of initials caused a number of enquiries from visitors - PDF and VDL. Both of these are special places for us and are located on the coast of Portugal. The first, Parque de Floresta is the 'half the year home' of Ebabe and Wheezy and this was our third visit to our lovely friends. The second, Val do Lobo has been a sneaky break for me for quite a few years thanks to the generosity of Lady H. From the hilarious and probably unrepeatable moments of the first two girls' tennis trips, to a fun but rather stressful family holiday to a perfect stress-busting week a couple of years ago - just Lady H and me. We have been the fortunate recipients of wonderful hospitality in Portugal and this two-centre jaunt - my first since last July - was to be no exception. 
In recent dark times, one of my sunny thoughts has been the view from the balcony at PDF, eating Special K Yoghurty and drinking freshly squeezed orange juice whilst looking across the golf course watching hapless players hack their way out of the bunker or skilful players drop the ball effortlessly into the hole. The usual fare of activity at PDF includes a lot of exercise - tennis, cycling and so on. We were stood down from the cycling on health grounds but no trip would be complete without a few sets of tennis. Day one and Maza and Caza made short work of the Bryan Brothers' incarnation of Bertie and Wheezy. But revenge was had on day two and included the traditional Bryan Brothers chest bump celebration. 

Ingrina prawns had to be done. Definitely a perfect jam jar moment. The other restaurant I wanted to go to was Agua na Boca in Salema. The last time we went there I picked up a postcard from the restaurant which has been my bookmark for at least the last four years. We showed the proprietor my bookmark which had brought us back all these years later and he shrugged "Postcard man went bust - never bought anymore." Not the romantic end to the story I had anticipated but the food was as delicious as I remembered and the company sublime.

Then all too soon it was off to Val Do Lobo but never fear, more treats awaited us. The second part of our holiday was with Little Norm and Lady H and Basil and Sybil of Low Graythwaite Hall (the finest b&b in the Lake District - http://www.lowgraythwaitehall.co.uk/.) Clearly there would never be a dull moment but there was a chance for me to slip off for some early morning tennis with Nuno, the Portuguese tennis coach, and some running with Little Norm. Multiple celebrations for the latter with his birthday (cue purchase of utterly tasteful t-shirt which was much admired), Father's Day and the H's wedding anniversary in quick succession. 

Lady H - always the most elegant and sober of my friends - morphed into a Bucks-Fizz-at-breakfast, pink-sangria-at-lunch and rose-at -dinner girl! Who are you and where is my friend? It's a long way from the early tennis holidays when we had to convince her that sangria was non-alcoholic fruit cup! Also some scandalously haphazard use of the factor 30 caused her to be temporarily renamed Apache Warhorse - you'll have work that one out. There was also the incident of her crashing through the insect screen between the house and the terrace. I awoke the next morning expecting to see a Lady H-shaped hole in the screen (think Tom and Jerry) but disappointingly that didn't happen and my beloved who had also morphed - this time into diy supremo - re-attached the screen with very little fuss and no long term damage. 

No trip to VDL would be complete without a visit to Maria's on the beach - scene of some of the most entertaining Portugal holiday moments including dancing with the Umpa Lumpas, the 'oh that's my favourite' saxophone player and other comedy moments. It used to have some of the most disgusting loos in the area which was surprising given how much they charged for the food but now it is super-smart but still the best view for beach dining. So a week of pancakes and pina coladas (and other cocktails), red wine, white wine, pink wine, non-alcohol beer for the grumpy golfer from Graythwaite and so much chat and laughter before we all returned to Blighty and the real world. But the jam jar is replenished and perhaps there may be another trip to Portugal this summer...?

A massive thank you to our hosts, Ebabe and Wheezy and Lady H and Little Norm - special times...

Postscript: In case you wondered, we left number 3 at home alone for the first time. He was fine and the house only looked as though we had had a dinner party in every room and half washed up so quite a result really. He did, however, have a few problems with the wildlife. Andy the painter (busy painting my office yellow - looks fab!) found a dead newt behind the skirting board, number 3 found a lot of maggots on a chicken in the oven which he had forgotten we had cooked for him before we went - you don't need any more information than that it will make your stomach turn! And finally, he texted us: "Two peacocks on the the dining table in the conservatory - scared the c**p our of me!" Strange but true. They were still hanging round the place when we got back! 

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