Friday, March 29, 2013

When mobile phones let you down.

A day trip to Lisbon with our Dutch neighbours Ferrie and Ingrid was planned.  Ferrie had to go to the Dutch Embassy to sort out his passport, while Peter and I wanted to go to the super Chinese supermarket we know in the downtown area of Lisbon.

In a city where people queue for tins of sardines, we wanted to buy noodles, sweet chili sauce and shrimp paste (not items normally found in your average Portuguese supermarket, where flour tortillas are considered risky).


A coffee break on the drive into Lisbon (just 2.5 hours away) we realised that Ferrie had left his phone at home!  Not to worry, Ingrid had her phone with her.   The plan was to part company at the Embassy, for Peter and I to take a walk from one side of town to another, stopping for much needed Sargres (beer) on the way and for us all to meet up in the downtown district once our Dutch friends had driven over and called us.

An hour passed and Peter and I were starting our first beer, a second hour passed, I’d looked at shoe shops, drank another beer, Peter took some photos.  Three hours passed, it cannot be taken that long in the Embassy, it’s the Dutch Embassy not the Portuguese one – surely efficiency is built in? 

Peter called Ingrid – phone straight to Dutch voicemail. 

OK no worries, they are still inside the Embassy, a problem maybe?

Half an hour later, we phoned again.  Straight to voicemail!  We debated our options, head back to the Embassy to look for them (a hour away on foot) or Peter’s idea to walk up and down the main drag of Lisbon on the look-out for them.  After all we’d said meet downtown – except Lisbon’s a city, a big place compared to Pera and finding someone, even a very tall Dutchman and his shorter wife, was not going to be easy!

I think a mild panic started to form in Peter’s mind… ‘how do we get home?’ he asked.  ‘Erm, the train’ I said, my city survival skills coming into the forefront (!) (I’m a Londoner after all!!!!). 

We decided to cut our losses, to head for the Chinese supermarket, buy what we could easily carry then head onto the train station to get the train home. …it started to rain, our jackets were still in the car with Ferrie and Ingrid.  I needed to pee, I was hungry, Peter was frustrated…maybe a day out in Lisbon was not a good idea.  

Taking our frustrations out on each other we finally decided to stop for lunch to call a truce and have a very large glass of wine. 

Just as we’d given our order we had a phone call….Ingrid.  Her phone had run out of battery.  The spare battery they’d bought in a shop and spent an hour charging in the car had not worked, the second battery they’d bought and spent an hour charging in the car worked…..they were on their way downtown.
Fraught, flustered, hungry and in need of  glass of wine they finally met us 4 hours late in the restaurant.   


Mobile phones had let us down, like everyone these days we had no back up plan - no motherly, 'if we get split up, wait at the entrance for me to find you'.

Now there are worse places to be stranded, Botswana for example!  The irony is, it only took ten mins in the Dutch Embassy, we should have just waited!

Mobile phones let us down again just this week.  

Peter and I had a very minor car accident.  Going round a corner we slid off the road and our front wheel got stuck in a ditch.  In the middle of now where, with no mobile phone reception, we were a bit stranded.  In the first 10 mins about 4 cars passed us and tried to help, but no luck, we needed a tow.    So I started walking back up the hill towards home, surely at the top of the hill I’d get phone reception and we’d be ‘saved’.   1km passed, ‘this hill seems to go on forever’ I thought.  2kms passed, ‘do I turn back and tell Peter where I am, or do I carry on?’ 3kms passed, ‘why are there no cars passing me’, 4kms and finally someone passed me, I flagged them down and they took me the final 2kms home.  With a land line in my hand I spoke to friends and neighbours who rallied round and drove to Peter, picked me up to take me to the car and towed us out.   Car not badly damaged, Peter’s pride not even dented at coming off the road!  
Turns out Peter’s mobile phone often plays up and cannot find reception.  All you have to do is turn it off and on again for it to work!  GRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR.  

Friday, March 15, 2013

In a roundabout way

This is not a new subject for those Central Portugal bloggers, but it’s my version and I’ve been meaning to show off this very special (‘special’) part of Castanheira de Pera for quite a while now.

A friend, Emma, has already written one of the best blogs about our town on her blog, Emma's House in Portugal – read it here.

Rightful Castanheirense (those born in Castanheira de Pera) were a very proud bunch.  In their lifetime they have seen the town change from flourishing to slightly sad (like Brighton about 30 years ago before it got good again – you know what I mean).   Castanheria de Pera is a town built on wool, from socks to traditional hats the town was once full of mills powered by the Pera stream.  Sadly, a walk along the stream at the back of town shows the decline of this industry, abandoned mills almost litter you pathway.  The whole industry replaced by cheaper imports.

But despite this sad decline, Castinheria de Pera is not so different from so many Portuguese towns, because no matter where you are, how small the village, how depleted the population, there seems to be a pressing need to decorate the village roudabouts.

Not for the Portuguese the sad little mini roundabout where no one quite realises the rules still apply (Jersey folk using the mini roundabout at the top of Beaumont you know who you are).  The Portuguese like to stamp their roundabouts and stamp them with art.

In Castinheira town centre we are treated to a whole host of roundabout art, from the sublime to the simply ridiculous.  Most of the art tells the story of the town, its past success as an epicentre for woollen mills. 
From the water mill to the needle to the large loom lifted from one of the abandoned factories and placed as a reminder of times gone by on the roundabout.





Some of the art is just mental…..(not strictly on a roundabout, but too good to pass up).

Bilbao has the Jeff Koons dog


We have the Astroturf fox (although I think it’s a mouse)


Do other countries decorate their roundabouts with such style I wonder?  I don’t recall any in the UK, but I may well be wrong.  Surely the French would use every opportunity to express their cultural identity, but I cannot recall ever having commented on it when in France.    Maybe Portugal has found its niche here, this is their expression of cultural and regional identity and frankly, long may the slightly bonkers roundabout art continue!

To take a look at some more images of excellent, tragic an inspired roundabout art, follow the links a reader has posted on the end of Emma’s blog.