Ask Chuck

Location: Whitby, Ontario, Canada

Born in Malta but in Canada since age 5. Has written three books and presently does several columns about wine and food for various magazines.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

July 8th The Beach, The Girls Get Sick And A Night To Remember .

July 8th A Day At The Beach
Beaches have never been a priority of mine. Even when I used to collect my aquarium specimens (Salt Water) I used to only use the beach as a way of getting into the water from which I swam to the nearest reef.
However, 911 and airport security made my collecting my own salt water fish etc. a hassle so that stopped. You can't fit a prize specimen into a 100 ml container.
When the family and friends said that they wanted to go to the beach-----that did it to me. First of all the nearest beach was about an hour away meaning that I would have to drive into unknown territory once more----and you know how much I love driving.
We embarked on the trip in the morning and drove to Foz Do Arelho Beach not far from Obidos which was a very historic town with an amazing fort and castle. Driving on a Sunday was not bad but parking at the beach was a chore.
As one entered the beach area the road was beset by traffic. Eyes had to be kept sharp for meandering roadways, speedy drivers who were as impatient as their speeds, bathers crossing the road without a hint of a care for their lives and finally for the myriad of birds feeding on the leftovers of those who threw their remaining food into the garbage---though some landed on the road.
The elongated parking area was actually part of the road and stretched for a linear mile and a half until it ended at the beach which wrapped itself around the little town. The only thing one could do was to follow the road back down the parking area until some person decided to leave thus leaving a free parking space.
We lucked out for as we drove down the road we encountered a free space across from the beach and directly in the middle of the parking line.
The car was parked and off we went to the beach area which was to the right of the road. The beach stretched a number of miles and the surf was powerful. We actually stayed at two spots: one---one a  lagoon known as Obidos Lagoon noted for its therapeutic qualities where the water was warm, shallow but a bit ripe on the nose. We moved to another area right on the main beach where the breeze was much fresher and the water much rougher. I kicked myself for not bringing a bathing suit since I was not a "sun baker" and while the two girls blistered in the hot sun, I walked around just looking at the gorgeous old buildings of the town that was wrapped by the beach. Darlene did the same but took pictures when not under an umbrella she purchased.
Regardless how lovely a beach could be the most any person could take while sunbathing was a maximum of two hours. By the time I returned to the beach area and cooled off by dipping my feet in the rather cool Atlantic, the tribe was ready to go. It was getting late and we needed to stop for supper. We opted to go to our favourite spot not far from Lagoalva.
The ride back was pretty uneventful and the girls were glad to refresh themselves with a dip of the restaurant pool. They had a light supper and spent their time going in and out of the pool. I retired to the WFI area of the restaurant and began to work on my blog and articles.
Sickness Hits   
Taryn joined me to do some work on Face Book. Jess was at the pool. Shortly after Jess showed up complaining of a very upset stomach. Within minutes of her coming she was in the washroom very ill. The illness became worse and we had to leave for Lagoalva.
The next few hours were quite anxious as Jess continued to be very ill. When her stomach subsided a bit and when she appeared to be resting Taryn and I decided to go down and watch some television in the building's living area. By then it was about 9 PM and we watched a movie. Taryn and I would periodically check on her but she did not seem to be getting better and I was anxious since the next morning we had to leave for Lisbon. Darlene was kept appraised of the situation and rested in our room while we continued to watch the movie. I remember the movie and ironically it was "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire". Taryn remarked again how similar the surroundings of our building resembled those of Hogwartz Castle.
It was about 2 PM when  Taryn went to bed but since Jess was still not better and was still being sick I could not sleep. I did my best to keep Jess hydrated by telling her to take very small sips of the bottled water available. I tried to find ice so that she could suck on the cube but after searching through the building's area, I came up with nothing.
I could not help feeling the spookiness of this old building as I went into the dark areas---up and down old staircases as the myriad of pictures looked down at me as if wondering what I was up to. I was prepared at any minute to see some spirited figure in white. My imagination ran away with what I was thinking.
By 4 AM it seemed that Jess had settled down somewhat and finally decided to lie down.
As I was drifting off to sleep and was at the cusp of awake and dream state there was a knock at the door. It was Taryn--------"Dad, I think I have it now. I have a stomach ache!'.
It was 4:30 AM and I knew my sleep was over for the night.
End of Day 11                      

Thursday, July 19, 2012

July 7th: Day Ten: Quinta da Lagoalva

Hogwartz In Portugal
The history of Lagaolva (pronounced Lah-gwal-va) goes  back to the 18th Century where after a series of damns were put in for flood and irrigation purposes the crop/livestock production began. The large estate that stretched along the banks of the Tagus river became the largest and most important in the area. It was owned by a succession of Earls and Dukes and their descendents. The present owners,  the Campilho Family, have owned this estate since 1888.
The centre of the estate consisted of a group of palatial buildings set around a magnificent courtyard. Here were the offices, living quarters and working facilities of the family as well as the stables which housed champion Lucitano horses.
Inside the family home was reminiscent of Hogwartz Castle of Harry Potter fame. We were fortunate enough to be given the use of the home that was the abode of Isabel Juliana Campilho.
One of the many buildings on the location, it exuded history and class. On entering the eight foot high doors, one was greeted by the busts of Roman emperors. The floor made of large (and well polished) stone contributed to the echo of footsteps as we walked past the statues.Intrigue was everywhere with doorways heading in many directions.
Around the corner from the statues was an elevator that led to the first and second floors. The second floor was where the bedrooms where among other things. These rooms each had its own ensuite bath and was well decorated in period pieces. The cleanliness was impeccable.
One would think that these rooms were there for use as a hotel but this was not so. Guests who came to stay at Lagoalva were at the special invitation of the family and were considered friends. I felt doubly honoured.
The first floor could be reached via the elevator or through the older and very lovely staircase.
As one ascended up the staircase, one could view various older paintings of people and scenes. It indeed was like being at Hogwartz with its myriad of paintings. The only difference, the Lagoalva paintings did not move or come to life-----at least not while I was there.
The staircase culminated of a large and very attractive painting of who I would believe was Isabel Campilho. The painting was illuminated by a light at its base. She was Diogo Campilho's grandmother and looked every bit the strong and independent person that I woul have assumed her to be. To my right was the living quarters complete with television, dining lounge and breakfast room. To my left was more rooms that were for the private use of the family.
The television/sitting lounge area had many pictures of the family in earlier times. One that struck me was of a younger Isabel Juliana with her favourite horse. She was as beautiful as she was strong. It made me think of the phrase that "Beauty Survives". I would have loved to meet her and maybe someday I will. Beauty does survive well in the Campilho's household. Diogo's wife, Sophia, a practicing psychologist, was absolutely gorgeous as well as superbly intelligent. But----of course---who else would a Campilho be attracted to!!!! 
From the window of my bedroom I could see the courtyard with a Pagoda style sitting area in its middle. The plants that covered the skeleton structure of the Pagoda gave a distinct feeling of privacy when it was entered.
From the home we could easily access the winery, carriage area which housed  the best antique carriage collection I have ever seen, a tasting area for the wines and the stables. Those who admire horses would be in their element at these stables since they were ultra clean. The horses got immediate attention.
The indoor riding arena was quite spacious and was where Diogo trained for Dfressage and Jumping competitions. He gave both my daughter Taryn and her friend Jessica a lesson on one of his prized horses.
Living at Lagoalva was not without its dangers however as one of the animal husbandry assistants got the worse end of an encounter with one of the large bulls on the property. He was limping a bit but was otherwise okay.
Both Taryn and Jessica did well in their lesson and it seems that the rest of the Campilho family carries on the family tradition of riding. I saw Diogo's oldest son in full riding gear coming from the stable. The lad had the style and class exhibited by the rest of this very aristocratic and special family.
Diogo's passion ranges widely. This former "Bullfighter" ("There isn't a bone that I have not broken in my body doing this. When I turned twenty five I suddenly asked myself the question as to why was I doing all this and then quit!" He now is happy to tackle, "Master of Wine" courses, university courses, wine making, group associations, equestrian riding, horse jumping and having a family. Oh yes, he also manages the winery.
His latest venture is with a group of young winemakers from different wineries. Together they call themselves the "Young Winemakers".  
The group operates together yet make their own wines. Diogo's wine named "Hobby' reflects his winemaking and also the association of the group.                                    
 Lagoalva is indeed a masterpiece reflecting all that is wine: History, Geography, Culture, Science and People. Located about two kilometres from the town of Alpiarca, it gained a reputation in the 19th century for quality wine, olives, cork and fine horses. It is a fully functional farm stretcinglong the south bank of the Tagus River for 5000 hectares planted with vines; olive, cork and walnut trees; fields of grains, lima beans and corn. In addition to the Lucitanos, there are cows and sheep in the pastures.
Lagoalva, which means “white pond,” is named for the beautiful body of water on the property. The soil is primarily a sandy clay that supports a wide variety of  indigenous and international grape varieties. The white varieties include Alvarinho, Arinto, Fernão Pires, Verdelho, Chardonnay and Viognier; while Touriga Nacional, Touriga Francesa, Tinta Roriz, Alfrocheiro, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Tannat, Pinot Noir and Castelão represent the reds.
I personally tasted many of the wines at this winery and find them exceptional with good concentration and an elegance capability of challenging the best anywhere.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Day Eight/Nine: July 5th/6th: Back to Vila Vicosa and On To Lagoalva da Cima in Ribatejo

Back To Vila Vicosa 
Thursday July 5th was spent as a catch up day. I needed to use the Internet and the girls wanted to do some shopping. Our favourite place for both was Vila Vicosa. It was close and we could come and go without becoming snarled in traffic. I really did not like driving and was well aware of the problems of having an accident in Portugal so I drive defensively and even then had some close calls.
We arrived at Vicosa in mid morning and I set off to work at a café where there was a strong Internet signal. I knew that the girls would be safe and that I had no reason to worry about them so I went to work and had an Espresso by my side.
Darlene, Jessica and Taryn were gone about an hour to an hour and a half though they did come back intermittently to keep in touch.
When they came back permanently, we had lunch at the café and then left for Sao Miguel to pack our bags for the day to come. Packing is another thing that I do not like. I swore that on my next trip anywhere there would not be very much in the way of clothing and extraneous material.
The rest of the day we spent relaxing until the inevitable trip to the North.
End of Day 8
Heading To Lagoalva
We left for Ribatejo at approximately 9:30 AM.  Our trip to Lagoalva da Cima was rather uneventful. I had mastered the use of the toll boots and managed to pick up my ticket and subsequently pay may charge at the end of the route with no major problem. We arrived at our destination around the lunch hour and were greeted by Diogo Campilho who was the son of the owner.
Diogo was thirtyish, handsome, married with three children. He was a bundle of energy when I first met him and his status had not changed. He was the same bundle of energy but this time with more responsibilities. After welcoming us he advised us of possible schedules for side trips and of the breakfast/dinner times.
Diogo was always planning something and he could hardly wait to tell me about his latest venture which was the “Young Winemakers” which was a “Douro Boys” style association of young winemakers from various wineries each making his own wine but supporting each other also. This group included many of the well know winemakers from wineries in Portugal such as: Hobby Wine, Vadio and Conceito. I could hardly wait to hear more. Diogo also told me of his plans to get the   “Master of Wine” designation in which he had already applied   as he wanted to be the first in Portugal to get it. He also had plans to attend university to complete his Master’s Degree. This was in addition to all his parental responsibilities plus his work at Lagoalva. I wondered where did he have time to have three children.
I also met his wife who was the epitomy of loveliness and intelligence. She was a Psychologist and worked in Lisbon. Diogo’s children, Alfonso (3 years going on 16) and Elenore (younger in age but with a mind that was always working) , were much the same as he----good looking and energetic.  Another older son was not there at the time. We made plans to have dinner and then were on our way for lunch.   
Hotel Rural/Quinta Da Torre
Diogo also phoned and arranged a lunch at a hotel called Hotel Rural Quinta Da Torre owned by Carlota Almada Figueiredo. It was located not far from Lagoalva and in the same town of Alpiarca.
The hotel and Carlota were amazing as was Carlota’s “right hand’ employee Edgar. I have yet to meet one as congenial and professional as he!
The hotel consisted of two separate locations beside each other. The both had lavish gardens, a full sized swimming pool and unique rooms ---some being suites. The whole area was well groomed and so very clean. The back ground of green wherever we went gave a comfortable coolness to the air around us.
The hotel’s history goes back some 200 years---an inscription at the top of one of the hotel’s pools was dated 1764---when Carlota’s family settled on what was then a farm. In fact, many of the hotel rooms that were now luxurious quarters were once the rooms where farm workers stayed. Each room still had the permanent table like everyday fixtures used for kitchen duties.  
Each of the hotel sections had separate kitchen, dining and living facilities. People could visit, swim in the main pool, have lunch or dinner at their leisure.
Food here was good. It was freshly made and on the spot and covered a good range of dishes, snacks and drinks.
Lunch was interesting for the girls. In addition to all the accompaniments of olives and bread came an Octopus Salad. Jessica was the bravest as she took a small piece and ate it. We got her facial reaction on camera, Funny!
I ended up eating the delicious Octopus Salad in addition to my meal of “Steak with Veggies”.  Darlene, Jessica and Taryn had Pork Steak and Fries. We found the meal very filling and enjoyable.
We then came back to Lagoalva to unpack. Taryn and Jessica wanted to try out the pool and I wanted to relax so after a brief “housekeeping” discussion with Diogo, we left once again for the hotel.
End of Day Nine


Sunday, July 8, 2012

Day Six/Seven: July 3th/4th 2012:

Staying Put!
There were days that the body needed to rest and this was one of them. One thing however, there were a number of things going on. First of all was the arrival back from Bruxelles and then subsequent leaving again for Angola of our host, Alexandre Relvas. Alex was supposed to spend more time with us but unfortunately and understandably, his business demands were such that he only spent a couple of days at the farm/vineyard. The first of course was his leaving for three days at a sales meeting for his wines. The second was a planned business marketing venture to a very large wine consumer, Angola in Central Africa.
Angola used to be a Portuguese colony and now is independent but it still has many Portuguese traditions as well as a thirst for good wine.
I really could not blame him for having to go and I am sure he would have rather stayed and been the perfect host.
We went to see him to bid him farewell and also do an interview for the “Two In A vineyard” series. When we arrived he was still tied up at a meeting so we went to Evora for a quick lunch and drink. We returned to find him still at the meeting but were happy to learn that the meeting was almost done.
Alex came out and came over to finish off an interview regarding him and his winery. We did the interview and then he had to say adieu until we met again in Canada sometime in November.
We also did an interview with Nuno Franko who was his chief winemaker and viticulturist. Nuno suggested doing a wine tasting the following day which was the fourth. We were supposed to be heading to Esperoa. We made the plans and while I was quite interested, the two girls decided not to attend.
The rest of the day went quietly and we were soon ready to retire.
Quinta do Esperoa   
It was good to see David Baverstock, one of the most familiar names in the wine world------at least in the Australian, Canadian, Portuguese and American wine world. An unassuming gentleman, he came down to the winery/restaurant portion of the huge (and I mean huge: 500 hectares of vineyards to start) estate that known throughout Portugal and many parts of the globe.
David greeted us in his usual pleasant manner----his voice sounding very calming and refined . Even though I knew that he was Australian (he has lived in Portugal with his wife for years) it was still strange to hear the Aussie accent.
David was a bit pressed for time as he had a late morning business meeting in Lisbon which was about some two hours away but he never once did he indicate that he was in a hurry and never did we feel hurried or unwelcome. On top of all this a Brazilian contingent of businessmen were coming to Esperoa for a tour. They were behind in schedule and of course this added to his stress I am sure. We had met the group briefly just a few minutes before he came over to meet us.
We decided to join the group for the tour thus giving David a break. This way we did not have to be given a separate tour. It was a good thing ---tell you later why!
David gave us the usual winery tour showing us his main fermentation and aging areas plus a very special area meant for the fermentation and aging of the old vines for his private stock.
Esperao was a unique addition tour repertoire of sites to visit.  It was more than a winery due to its magnificent location and beauteous background.
The winery itself is made up of several locational buildings---the main one being the “adega” or winery which also housed a superb multi star type restaurant and one of the most stupendous scenic areas in Portugal. If the modern spacious winery was not enough then the lake behind the restaurant offered such a fine view while visitors enjoyed it eating their lunch or dinner plus having a drink of the highly reputable Esperao wine.
Now for the surprise, we attended the tour that David gave the business people, In between exhibits I got to talking to the fellow that was obviously the head of the group from Brazil. We talked about San Paulo and he even invited me down. The real surprise came when he mentioned to me that he was the brother of the owner of Esperao. If that was not enough he also asked me if I knew of Quinta do Crasto. Oh! Did I!!? I mentioned that it was one of my favourite Portuguese wines and that it was in the Douro and I had stayed there when the hotel building was not yet ready but enough to get a great night’s sleep. I also mentioned to him that there was an amazing infinity swimming pool at the edge of the 1200 metre high hill that the winery was built on. Quinto do Crasto made some fine Port as well as still wine.Miguel, the owner, also loved splashing his way down the Douro River and of course I had several rides in Miguel’s boat. Anyhow, his brother also owned Quinta do Crasto and that floored me. I couldn’t get over the fact that the winery was in his hands.
After the fury had passed regarding Esperao and Crasto, we decided to go out and look at stores in another small down. We advised that we had the intent of coming back to Esperao for lunch. I also found some Internet signals in the main square.
There was not much to buy with the exception of paid parking space. While sitting on one of the benches in the main square, I sent some face book messages and then clean up when lunch time was approaching. 
We went back to Esperao and ordered dinner. Darlene and Taryn had a cheese dish with “fries” Jessica, Darlene and I had the veal steak with fries (Jessica and Darlene) and rice (me) with many types of added entrees such as olives, bread, special types of Pates made from olives, sausage, tomatoes and pork. Also included was a fine selection of olive oils. The tasting started with the basic olive oil and went on to the one with the most character. They were delicious. There was also the special olive bread made at the winery.
The main meal finally came and my meat was so delicious that I ordered a bottle of the Esperao Red Reserve to go with it.
We gleefully finished our meal and asked for the bill. It turned out that David had “treated” us to the lunch. Astounding!
We then went back to Sao Miguel and dropped off Taryn and Jessica.     
Wine Tasting At Sao Miguel (Logo Wines)
Darlene and I then went to Logo Wines to taste several of the Sao Miguel Reserve wines. We tasted the 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010 (barrel)
The 2004, 2007 and 2009 were the most pleasing with the young 2009 offering the greatest fruit and depth. The 2004 was the most surprising with the best of the bunch for aging prospects. It was delicious.
The 2006 was a great commercial wine that suited most tastes but it was now on its way down while the 2005 was a fine wine which reached its peak and was now starting to decline. The 2007 showed why it was a top wine for a number of years as it showed ripe forward fruit and good tannins but it too was beginning to decline. The 2010 was young and still being blended. So far both Nuno and I thought that it showed too much oak and may need some further work to calm down the oak. Nuno said that he would need to mix some  stainless steel fermented/aged red to bring about the wine  to an acceptable level.
After the tasting Nuno gave us some wines to try i.e. a basic Rose, a Touriga Nacional Rose and a white made from a great blend of Viognier and Alverhino.  We then parted ways as we had one more day to go and then we would be off to Lagoalva de Cima in Ribetejo. We then went back to Sao Miguel.
End of Day Seven     

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Day Five: July 2nd 2012: Portugal's Past Leads To A Delicious Meal

The ride to the medieval village of Monsaraz was reasonably mundane. The two  lane, road wound its way through the sun burnt fields of yellow and brown. The village appeared high on a hill bearing proudly its presence. The road started to climb and climb.
We reached the summit ( or almost the summit) where we parked our Peujeux wagon and took in the view. What a view it was! Below us as the Alentejian Plain complete with waterways ----a mixture of colours: blue, brown, yellow, green and red. Nature was the artist and the human hand could not have done any better. Pictures were taken and our attention was then turned to the village wall behind us.
Like most of its kind, it was a walled city complete with all the amenities of life. The one thing was that the streets were so narrow that I made sure to park the vehicle outside the gate and we walked in. Walking was not such a problem as the walled village was small and all of it was easily accessible.  
Once inside we found a piece of living history since the preservation of the ancient place was so complete. The “eye” would fall on beautifully formed door-ways, walls lined dazzling displays of floral colour of red and pink from various bushes, old balconies from the 17th and 18th centuries, cobbled streets, Gothic portals and towers and of course the ever present wall that lined the village were there---much as they were so many hundreds of years ago. All this was against a backdrop of dazzling “whitewash white”. 
The village itself looked over the Alentejian plain and every so often as we walked, we would get a glimpse of the land below. Steps leading up to the top of the ramparts led to an even more spectacular view from a height of about fifty feet above the level of the village floor.
Quiet was the rule and the walls, village houses and streets seemed to absorb the sounds of everyday life thus making the silence more profound. The silence would be broken once in awhile by the muffled sound of a vehicle or the resonating sounds of footsteps on the cobble stones.
There were small curio shops and some artsy types to keep collectors happy but generally speaking the whole village was as it seemed to have been many years in the past.
One place that I came to enjoy was a restaurant near the main gate called “Xerez”. Located just to the right as one came in, the restaurant offered a number of local dishes one of which the “Bacalhau Xerez” I particularly enjoyed. It consisted of well cooked codfish, potatoes, vegetables and possibly flour. All I can say is that it was delicious and only wished that the others enjoyed their food as much as I did. Not to say that they didn’t but as far as I was concerned a sandwich did not measure up to a fine , fine fish meal.
We ended our visit by meeting a very gregarious Canadian who came to live in Portugal with his family. He was from Vancouver and had actually not been to Vila Vicosa where he and they were going next.
For us it was back to the farm and an end to a fun day.
End of Day Five                   

Day Four: July 1st 2012: Journey Into Portugal's Past Using Its Present

The Fun Of Working Vacations!  
Taking a working vacation is not what it is cut up to be. There are too many conflicts concerning where one member of the family wants to go versus another’s. Usually the conflict is between me and my family. When they want up; I want down and when I want up they want down. That means much wasted time for any true blogging items and/or filming but there is a God throws me a couple of bones from time to time. Here is an account of what happened.   
Vila Vicosa, July 1st  
Some thirty five kilometers from Redondo was Vila Vicosa, a lovely and beautifully spaced city that came complete with clean streets lined with citrus trees of orange and lime. One could take in the summer atmosphere, shop or frequent one of the pleasant cafes and at the same time treat him/herself to a ripe orange.   
The seemingly amplified bird sounds are quite noticeable when sitting at a café and enjoying a coffee or meal. The sweet sound of Canary Finches melodically entertains the guests and adds so much to the experience.
Vicosa Castle
From the main square can be seen the castle fortress high on the hill above the town. It was normal in days of old to have the fortress on high ground as both a preventative measure and a defense should the village, town be attacked.
Residents who lived outside the city would seek safety inside the fortress which was surrounded by a moat (a deep water channel) that separated the fortress from the rest of the land area. Thus it was inaccessible since the steep walls that met the deep water gave no possibility for enemies to climb. The only connection to the land was a “Drawbridge” which was lowered to allow people in or out and then drawn up when a protective emergency took place.
The large and quite grandiose fort is now a museum which features some very fine historical relics and also so  a collection of animal displays featuring, a large display of “horned” animal species such as the Cape Fear Buffalo from Africa, many Gazelles and Impalas, hunting birds, members of the cat family, American Bison and so on. It was obvious that these were remnants of days when hunting for trophies was the norm and people expressed how important they were as to the exotic trips they could take and killing to satisfy their egos. I couldn’t help feeling as to how far we have come. Now most hunt with a camera and leave the animals to future generations. I couldn’t also help thinking that now we must educate those who poach for a living so they do not complete the eradication of many species.
The fortress museum also included a hunting rifle collection used to kill many of the now residents of the exhibit. It also featured some very ancient whaling harpoon guns and very old sailing logs. I had to remind myself that Portugal was a maritime power in the past so this was definitely in keeping with tradition.
The best feature of the building was at the top, on the bastions high above the fort and the rest of the town. 
The panoramic view of the entire area was breath taking. One could see the town and other small villages that patterned themselves as if they were embroidery. The blue sky, yellow brown/somewhat parched land and trees with green canopies were in contrast with the red tiled clay roofs and whiter than white buildings found  throughout the community.
By the way, the fortress was very interesting but not uncommon because Portugal in the past consisted of many city states each with their fort and community. It was brought together by a number of “heroes”. They united the people and the country which at that time was under domination of the Moors. The Christians fought hard and slowly took back the land and their Portuguese country began to take shape.  
Time To Relax
Taryn, Jessica, Darlene and I came out of Vilcosa Fortress much better informed but thirsty and hungry. All that climbing and moving around affected our appetites. So, we went down to the main square and selected a café where I had a coffee “Americano” which basically was a lighter style but large Espresso.   
The “late lunch” snack that we ordered was delicious and very reasonably priced.  Darlene did not finish her “Burger” which I consumed with glee!
By the time we finished our food and drink, it was time to go back to our spot at Herdade Sao Miguel.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Day Two/Three: Groceries and Evora

Getting Familiar/Trip To Evora
Alentejo can be described as a large region of small towns, farms, wineries and  and fabulous scenery. One can look out over hills encrusted with grape vines, cork and olive trees interspaced with small but vibrant historical towns and villages.
The closest town to us was Redondo . These towns had one thing in common and that is that there was no rhyme or reason for the pattern of streets which confused drivers such as I even with a GPS. The voice would say “go right” but which right as there were sometimes three possible choices and of course if you did not get it right---“Recalibrating” was the response.
The first day that we were here was spent mainly getting our bearings and spending some time taking in the atmosphere. We went to the grocery store and purchased some supplies at the “Supermarket” which was in Redondo. It carried most of our needs. We basically did not do anything.
Alex had to leave for Bruxelles early in the morning and had woken up early in the morning, worked his horse and gave some last minute instructions to his workers. He then was off to catch a flight armed only with a light bag. I remember me saying to myself, I must start traveling much more lightly. It would make my trips far easier.  
Soon we (I) was alone. Yet it was not hard to be alone since most of my time whether with or without someone is “alone”. Some go through life in the midst of a crowd and be part of it while others like me may be with a group but still feel/think  “alone”!
Our initial plans were to go to Evora but the most were suffering the attacks of “Jetlag” and by the time all got up it was time to plan the next day’s trip.
Trip To Evora
With Alex gone and us by ourselves we took up some of Alex’s suggestions and went to the historic town of Evora.
Evora is an ancient place first settled by a prehistoric people that used it as a lookout and reference point. It later came under Roman domination and though the name was changed by various leaders such as Julius Caesar, the name of Evora withstood the test of time and is still------Evora.
Evora occupied a special place in the ancient world and many of Rome’s famous writers such as Pliny referred to it. The Romans settled the area and built temples and aqua ducts. It was an important strategic city on the way to Rome as well as important for silver and wheat. There were others who conquered and governed the area. The Visigoths and the Moors each left their mark on the city and region but none had the effect of the Romans.
The Portuguese era began after the Moors left. The area had been under Moorish control for four hundred years but the only thing that was left of major historical significance was what the Romans and Portuguese founded within the city itself. Evora was made a World Heritage Site in 1986. 
The City
Evora was a fortress city with the inhabitants living within tall walls----some over one hundred feet high. This was the norm for people living in those days for the threat of invasion forced many to live within the confines and security of armed walls.
A person could enter the city via one of several gateways. Confusion could easily reign supreme with the maize like structure of the city streets which seem to crisscross in every direction.
Each street was filled with various curio shops, pharmacies, shoe stores, clothing shops and a myriad of street cafes. Touring the city was easy as all one had to do was park in one of the large parking lots and either walk via a self given tour or take a shuttle bus to the main square called Praca do Giraldo.
This square was once the main market place used by the Moors in the 12th Century was named for Giraldo the Fearless who via many surprise attacks took back the city in the name of Christianity and Portugal. He was made Governor of Evora in appreciation.  During the 16th century one of Portugal’s kings lived in Evora for 30 years. Another famous Portuguese lived here. Famous explorer Vasco Da Gama lived here and his house could be found by tourists but no one was allowed to enter.  
Evora had a plethora of historic Architectures, monuments, items and  hidden treasures. The whole fortress city could be seen by taking that self guided tour but also had special guided walks and shuttle busses that will do the same job for those who were not fussy on the walk.
Some of the most sought after spots were: The Aqua Ducts built by the Portuguese in the 16th century;  the Roman Temple from the first century AD; the 12th century Cathedral of Santa Maria de Evora plus its museum for fine historic relics, the “Chapel of Bones” which was founded by in the 17th Century and other items such as Public Gardens were people went to relax amidst floral beauty. One thing that one had to remember about Evora, when people were walking, they literally were walking on history for many of the buildings and hotels are built over Roman ruins and even the Cathedral is built on the remains of a Muslim Mosque. As a matter of fact it seems that whenever some major construction occurs, some Roman relics in the form of floor tiles or baths such as the one found inside the Town Hall that was found when there was some building repair.
We toured the site for awhile then decided to go back home. The rest of the evening we spent having supper an d drinking some delicious Herdade Sao Miguel wine.
End of Day Three    



Sunday, July 1, 2012

Day One: Driving Through Portugal

Arrival In Lisbon
The landing in Portella International Airport, Lisbon was relatively soft and smooth. However, day that had started well began to deteriorate right at the baggage terminal where the luggage ramps were stuck----hence no luggage.
I was concerned that my friend Ana Sofia de Oliveira who was waiting in the arrivals section would think that we had not come so I left Darlene, Taryn and her friend Jessica to collect the luggage while I went to the arrivals gate.
Ana Sofia was there waiting for us and almost as soon as I came over to see her, out came Darlene and gang.
We headed out to the motor vehicle rental (Eurocar) and got in yet another line up which took us some time to get through. Ana then showed me where to pick up the vehicle which was a 2012 Peugot Wagon. Nice but complicated!
Having obtained key after signing a myriad of documents, we picked up the car.
Keep in mind that I had requested an automatic thinking it would be similar to what I was used to.
The Car  
The Peugot was a marvel of technology. My first hurdle was to start the car. I was not used to the key.  My next was to put the car in Drive. The D, D 3, D2 and D1 were replaced by A6, A3 with the Reverse and Neutral .
Then I had to try to get into the gear which was more like driving a Standard than Automatic. I was driving in Lisbon before I had a chance to really figure the vehicle out and of course it had to be on a “Roundabout” which is the European way of switching intersections in what seems to be a round driveway.
Fortunately the GPS kicked in and off we were to Alentejo and the winery we were going to visit for several days, Herdade Sao Miquel.
The First Mistake
We were happily on our way and went across the Tagus Bridge, which overlooked the wide Tagus River, when we came to a toll booth area. It seemed deserted and I was told that some men would be there-------a person there to advise. The thing was totally deserted, so I assumed it was not open for business so I went on.
Second Mistake   
 The GPS was quite accurate but I was getting tired. After all I had been up since 4:30 AM that morning. My eyes were very tired and I entered what seemed to be another compound. Looking for a gate keeper,  I did not see the pole barrier coming my way. Slamming on the brakes I managed to stop in time from doing damage to both pole and car but not enough for me to knock the pole a bit. There was no damage to either car or pole but it should me out of my sleepy state. After a brief but intese respite with the station officer, I completed an accident report and showed credentials while the others waited. When I got in the vehicle I was instantly awake. Soon we were off again in search of the elusive Herdade Sao Miguel and our destination.
Driving in Portugal
Driving is not my favourite pastime at the best of times. Portugal has been a challenge to my best calms. Driving in Portugal was comparable to an Indie 500 with speed limits. Who observed the speed limits---- probably no one. I could understand  driving fast on a highway (average speed I clocked was about 140-150 kls/hr.)  but down narrow streets adjacent to other streets-----that seemed a bit too much but it happened.
I was coming off a dirt road and stopped to see if some traffic was oncoming. None.  I made the turn and there was a driver lambasting me cutting him off. Where he came from, I do not know but all I can say he past me and left me in his dirt tracks.
Roundabouts were another thing not familiar to those from North America. I still have not figured out what their protocol was and probably will never do so.
My whole conviction was to try to survive this portion of my trip until I returned the vehicle safe and sound to the agent.
Herdade Soa Miguel Al Last 
GPS’S also could be so very annoying. First there was that voice giving you orders. Then there was the repetition of said orders. If you miss a point the famous “Recalibrating” was sounded. Basically it was the GPS calling you a “Dud”.  It took several trips around town before we could get a fix but in the end a simple question to a stranger got us there.  I asked if there was a winery using the term “Adega” for winery.
The man, one of the locals, who was sitting on the steps of one of the white buildings that decorated the town or Rondon, directed me to the side corner of the building to where the road continued on.
We followed and came to a large sprawling building that looked like a winery. Suddenly I saw the name “Logo Wine” and thus knew we were home. We drove to the ultra modern looking main building and were welcomed by Alex Relvas Jr. son of the owner of Herdade Sao Miguel and its subsidiaries.  
Alex gave us a quick tour which showed an ultra modern facility with top of the line fermentation and storage tanks as well as the finest barrels available. The facility was ultra clean and white lab jackets were worn.
Then we followed Alex to the Estate house which was in the vineyard property. It was as I remembered it some two years ago. It was a large well constructed house that was probably over a century old.
The House    
Standing proudly at the top of the vineyard hill and surrounded by vineyards and a large pond that Alex called a lake,  the house was large with multiple bedrooms ----many with their own two and there piece bathrooms.  In addition to the bedrooms was a very large kitchen complete with walk in fireplace that was
obviously used as a cooking area. It was humungous.
The kitchen also had a modern microwave, stoves and two fridges which suggested many guests sometime visit the house and probably during vintage when many of the workers would stay over to get an early start in the morning. A large kitchen dining area with a large table also suggested a large number of hungry persons.
The house also had a formal dining area and a sitting/reading room complete with fireplace.
The one thing that truly made my life a bit harder was that while the setting was unique as a farm setting with an atmosphere conducive to writing, there was no wireless service and thus no way I could click into the Internet. This made my job of transmitting very difficult.   
Alex’s Horses
Alexandre’s  “pride and joy” was his horses. He  built up his stable which was basically kept in immaculate condition. His training ring and “hotwalker” which was a machine that automatically walked horses and keeps them moving thus exercising them, were filled with a material similar to white beach sand. These training areas are kept moist to lessen wind loss and also for being “easy” on the horses hooves.
Alex’s main focus was an Irish Sport Horse that looked and acted sensational. He was/is a European Champion Jumper that competed at a height of 1.42 metres (around four to five feet). Other horses at the stable were a lovely looking 70/30 percent thoroughbred/warm blood plus some other trainees.  On the farm are also some sheep and other husbandry.
Highlight of coming back and forth to the winery/ranch/farm is being met by Alex’s roving pack of dogs. All five animals plus one pup are there to greet you with wagging tails and sad eyes when you arrive. Super friendly and lots of fun, they grow on you. The pup that I called either “Rascal or Scamp” was so cute and had a personality to match. You couldn’t help but fall in love with the rascal who endeared everyone with his antics.
The girls (Jessica/Taryn) were told by Alex that they could ride some of the horses and upon his return from a business trip he would arrange to be there so they could do so.
Dinner Time  
It being our first night at the “farm” Alex decided to treat us to dinner. We drove into Rondon which was the nearest large town and went to a restaurant called "Banno". Alex chose a magnificent “Bull’s Tail” entry which turned out so absolutely delicious and tender. It was the tail of the bull cooked slowly over eight hours. Now I know what “slow cooking’ is all about. Prior to the meal we were served a slew of hors d’oeuvres ranging from local olives to meat slices to cheese and red onion salad with garlic. MMMMMM!
With it we had one of Alex’s superb wines-----a Touriga Nacional from Herdade Sao Miguel. The wine exemplified all that is good about the great wines of Alentejo and Portugal. It also showed the remarkable of Touriga Nacional as not only a great Port grape but also a super dry table wine. With ripe forward fruit and soft tannins, this wine was a perfect match for the Bulls Tail and the main Pork Steak that the girls had. It was a great night.
We then traveled back to the house. Talked awhile and then went to bed. Alex had an early morning trip to Bruxelles and retired a bit earlier than I.
I went through the mishaps and enjoyments of the day and thought about the whole adventure. However, this was only the beginning. Tomorrow was another day.
End of Day One.