Ile de Re

I must start with an apology, I’m getting a strong sense of Deja-vu with this post. I’m pretty sure I’ve written about Ile deRe before, but on a quick scan back through old posts couldn’t find one. It’s possibly on my old blog? If it does turn up it would be interesting to see if I’ve written the same things and used the same photos? A pretty high chance I think.

Why today? Well quite often on sunny days, and today had been very sunny, I’m struck by the similarities between  it, and “my” island.

We have the same sort of small white cottages, though ours were built to house slate miners. There aren’t miners anymore but you can find  fishermen (yes it is always men), here. We even have oyster beds, Ile de Re is famous for oysters.  But lobsters, crab and langoustines are dominate here.

Both islands have lots of lovely summer flowers.

And both  are on the Atlantic coast, connected to the mainland  by a bridge.

Our trip to Ile de Re was quite a while ago, 2013 and it was our first trip abroad with DogS. And because of that, also the first time we crossed the channel using Le Shuttle.

First impressions weren’t great. We couldn’t even see the island as we drove onto the bridge . There was a fog worthy of an Edinburgh haar*

Luckily the weather improved, most days were nice and sunny.   We had a lovely time exploring, eating seafood, shopping in the market, even the odd drink.

Oh and cycling. Well sort of I had a tricycle.

And though she wasn’t keen at first, DogS came to love the box. Specially when  I picked up speed, and she could enjoy the wind through her fur.

She made friends too

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DogS is the very hairy one on the right

but was less keen on “Les Chats”.

We were based in St Martin de Re which is the capital, and that’s where the differences start. There’s a fabulous local shop here,  but not the kind of designer boutiques you find in Ile de Re. None of our three villages could be called the “capital”.

And we don’t have donkeys, and certainly no donkeys in stripy pyjamas.

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this one is “au naturel” but traditionally they wear stripy PJs to protect their legs from salt and beasties when they work in the marshes

There’s no point in my giving names of bars or restaurants that we liked, seven years on so much may have changed. Even without Covid-19.

One recommendation, we visited in June and our accommodation was almost 50%  cheaper  than it would have been in the peak months (mostlyAugust when Parisians visit). And it was still a nice buzzy place in the slightly off season. It would be interesting to visit in the off season, but I imagine a very different experience.

Oh and a warning, it was the place I took this photograph.  While it was easy to eat out, visit the shops and even some of the monuments, many of the beaches were off limits for dogs

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So on  a lovely sunny day at home it’s been  nice to remember another pretty island and a happy holiday.

Until tomorrow

Marina xx

*Haar – a sea fog common on Scotland’s east coast, usually in Spring.

Feeling slightly sad at seeing my former favourite Sonia Rykiel top. Repurposed last year when it became too holey to wear or repair.

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Salamanca

I’d intended documenting my walk today, but the weather was against me. It’s really wet and windy, more Autumn than Spring. So I’ve decided to focus on another city from our October trip.

Salamanca in Spain’s Castilla y Leon region. We treated ourselves in this city and stayed at the plush Hospes Palacio de San Esteban , converted from part of a Dominican convent and right in the old heart of the city.

outof windowThis is the view from our room, into the cloister. Opposite is still a religious building.

We all had comfy beds, 

and treats too but we ate ours up before I could take picture of them.  DogS was made very welcome and we were allowed to leave her in the room while we enjoyed our dinner.

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We had an afternoon and one full day to explore. For our afternoon we just wandered around getting a feel for the city. Next day we headed out for breakfast , where DogS made a friend.

meeting a daxieHe was a lovely wire haired dachshund.

We  gave her a good walk along the river Tormes, where we met another dachshund! A smooth, black and tan one this time*.  We’d decided that we wanted to visit the Casa Lis a gorgeous Art Nouveau, or Modernista as it’s known in Spain,  building housing the museum of Art Nouveau and Art Deco. So once DogS was happily tired we took her back to the hotel where she could enjoy her luxury bed.

Now, when I was choosing my photos for this post I was convinced that there must be some I’d not loaded from my camera, or accidentally deleted. I mean I don’t have any of the Plaza Mayor**, one of the main sights of Salamanca. But there’s a good reason why I have none of the Casa Lis collections, photography isn’t allowed inside. You’re encouraged to just look at and enjoy the exhibits.  To be in the moment with them.

There’s a cafe inside but we didn’t want to leave DogS alone for too long.   We collected her from the hotel and looked around for a nice place for lunch. 

Then it was time for more exploring. We spent a long time looking for the stone frog on the facade of the university , before we realised we were looking at the wrong building! MrS eventually spotted it with a little help from the guidebook 

exterior universityWe had time for one more visit and decided on the old Cathedral. So we followed the map and walked round and round looking for the way in.  No luck, we could only find the entrance to the “New” Cathedral***.  I can’t remember how we found out the truth, it’s a “Russian doll” type set up. The old Cathedral is inside the new one.  And we’d only had a glass of wine with our lunch. We had planned on taking turns on going in, while the other stayed outside with DogS. I went in first, it was about fifteen minutes before last entry. But then it took a while to find the old Romanesque parts. And I didn’t want to be scurrying through not looking at anything else. By the time I reached the old parts I realised that there wouldn’t be time for me to get out, again,  find MrS,  and for him to buy a ticket and visit. So I stayed until closing time, and it was one place where I did take lots of  photos. 

We only touched the surface of a lovely city and would like to go back some day.

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Until tomorrow,

Marina xx

*DogS has a “fur-cousin” Lemmy who is a mini longhaired dachshund – there’s picture of him here.

**It’s beautiful, with cafes and shops at street level and balconies above. Like many Spanish plazas it was once the site of bullfights. When we visited, the centre of it was full of stalls  being prepared for a fair or exhibition,  but it didn’t open while we were there. 

***the “New” one is pretty old too 

 

Gardens

I’m not much of a gardener but love visiting and being in gardens. My mother filled her small terraced garden with blooms

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and my sister has inherited Mum’s green fingers and has a lovely garden,

but I’m usually having too much fun to take photos which do it justice.

I’m lucky to have two beautiful open gardens right on the doorstep and another just a short drive away.

 

We can’t visit them at the moment but will be back before too long.

I’ve enjoyed the cool of beautiful gardens in hot places, like these in the Philippines

 

and the Jardin Botanico  and Parque del Drago in Tenerife.

 

And then there’s the formal  French splendour of Villandry in the Loire valley.

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“I be a bit worried ’bout what he’s planning”

Or this at the Casa de Mateus  in Portugal.

 

This French garden at Varengeville- sur Mer in Normandy was less formal.

As were these glorious borders at Dyffryn gardens in South Wales

 

But there then there are places that have it all…..

Dumfries House in Ayrshire, possibly my favourite garden ever*.  All my favourite flowers, delphiniums, cornflowers, poppies, lavender, it was absolutely gorgeous. The house is beautiful too, it’s a great day out.  But the joy of visiting gardens is that DogS can come too**. That’s why we chose Villandry as our Loire chateau.

Like many others we’ve been spending quite a lot of lockdown time in the garden. But it’s still very much a work in progress.  And of course at the mercy of bambi and the  bunnies.

Until tomorrow,

Marina xx

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Bringing the garden indoors***

 

*to visit.

**all the gardens mentioned in the UK or mainland Europe were dog friendly at the time of visiting

***that’s from last year, the sweet peas are at least a month away from flowering

Beaches

I love going to the beach. It’s top of my list of places to go once we can make non essential journeys. We live beside the sea

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and it’s beautiful, but we don’t have a typical sandy beach.

We don’t have to drive very far to find one, just the other side of our nearest town. Simply out of bounds for us for now.

But it will be our first trip, because if there’s “someone” who likes a beach more than me, then it’s DogS.

Particularly if there’s a tennis ball around, the scruffier the better.

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this was not a welcome sign

Although  I’m not a sunbather my favourite travel destinations are beside the sea.

sunset looking east

 

Home

and away,

wild and urban.

On a hot sunny beach you’ll find me under an umbrella with a book, not stretched out soaking up the rays. I like paddling though, and swimming when it’s warm enough. I learned to swim in the sea (the Bristol Channel) and love the feeling of the waves.  I’m not so hardy these days and prefer warmer seas so don’t get a dip as often. I’m not a particular thrill seeker and hate the term “bucket list” but I’d love to try waterskiing.

I like a seaside cafe

or sometimes, something grander.

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I try to leave only

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but pick up the occasional

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and can get quite obsessive about clearing up

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One of my favourite films was set not too far away.  Here I am acting out one of the scenes.

 

 

I’m looking forward to feeling the sand between my toes again.

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Until tomorrow

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Scents

Thinking about the town that smelled of chocolate has made me remember other scents. Childhood day trips to my favourite beaches on the Gower, holding my breath as we drove past the stinks of Llandarcy. No point really.  I got a bumper dose of the stench once I gave up and breathed again.  Nearer to home, the sight of dead trees promised the stink of rotten eggs when we passed the smokeless fuel plant. And then there was the  burnt carrot whiff of Cardiff that I learned was beer brewing.   “It’s Brains you want” as they used to say.  Summer brought molten tar, always a threat my clothes.

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home was also scented with flowers

 

Childhood wasn’t all bad smells of course, there was delicious baking, cut grass, the  central heating – newly extended to our bedrooms, Dad’s big white hankies which smelled of leather and coins, the fresh crisp plastic of a new term’s pencil case.

And when we reached the seaside on those trips, it smelled of adventure.

And still does.

It was in the 1970s that I first discovered perfume. Aqua Manda in its chunky brown bottle, Charlie, L’Aimant. Then there was the huge (as it seemed to me then) bottle of Chanel No5, I bought on my first trip abroad.  A present for my big Sis. I fretted it contravened duty allowances (I was too young to have an allocation) so persuaded a teacher to put it in her luggage.

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not this one, this is still sealed.

Travel brought new and exciting scents. Kerosene and charred meat, jasmine, grilled fish and the sea, even cigar smoke which I hated at home.

 

And new and exciting perfume stores.  Sephora, Marionnaud, Guerlain, and most recently Perfumeria Bengas in San Sebastian. Even though at that last one I bought this

 

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rather than this.

I couldn’t blow most of my holiday money on a bottle of perfume, even if it did look and smell wonderful.

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And I have quite a collection anyway.

A scent can transport…

lighting one of these

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can take me back here

 

Clearing a house, I couldn’t throw these away, but more for the bottles  than their scents.

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Not because the scents were bad.  But apart from the “Ma Griffe” they didn’t remind me of the person they’d belonged to.  Maybe they’d been kept for the memories they held?

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Look inside and  you might find

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I  pick them up at the perfume counter.

Get them sprayed with a scent I’m not going to buy.

The  scent my Mum wore.

That one must be quite old.

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And with the scent gone it’s just a piece of card.

Until tomorrow

 

Marina xx

Towns that smell of chocolate*

To be honest I think I’ve only ever been to the one, although both Edinburgh, my home of nearly thirty years, and Carlisle, smell of biscuits.**

The chocolatey town? Oloron Ste Marie  in the south of France, where we visited the Lindt factory. Actually that’s a bit misleading, I don’t think you can take factory tours. What you can do is visit the FACTORY SHOP.

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chocolate similar to that available

A bit of a disclaimer, that bar of chocolate was not bought in Oloron. I mean really what were  you expecting? That I’d saved a bar of chocolate for over six months? I think I do quite well giving it up for the six weeks of Lent.

And I wrote about what happened to my virtuous plans of avoidance yesterday.

The pretty bag on the other hand is genuine. You can buy Lindor boules in a huge variety of flavours. More than shown in that link. Arrayed as a massive Pick’n’Mix. And then there were the boxes of chocolates, bars of all sizes, bags of rejected misshapes, and end of line flavours that didn’t fly.  I really was quite good, several boxes of chocolates and most of the pick and mix came home with us. And a fair quantity of that made its way to others as a gift. But I did enjoy a “lucky dip” into the misshapes as we travelled about.

There’s a lot more to Oloron than chocolate. It’s a pretty place to wander around with its two mountain rivers or “gaves” which merge to form the “Gave d’Oloron”.

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this is the Gave d’Aspe

And the church of Sainte Marie d’Oloron is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and well worth a visit when that’s possible.

 

It’s also one of the few places where traditional French berets are made. We found them in this beautiful traditional shop, Souviron Palas.

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I decided against a beret but we found some good Christmas presents there.

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The weather wasn’t so great on the day of our visit to Oloron-Ste-Marie,  but we did enjoy some Autumn sunshine while we were in the area. And glimpses of the Pyrenees.

 

A demain

Marina xx

*It really did

**Edinburgh’s Sighthill district is home to Burton’s biscuits and the smell of shortbread often fills the air. In Carlisle the scent is  Carr’s water biscuits

 

Stopping for lunch

These days I start thinking about lunch pretty much right after breakfast, certainly no later than mid morning.

Who am I trying to kid?  This is normal , not lockdown behaviour for me.

I have to be very, very busy or ill,  not to have at least part of my mind on my next meal.

That’s today’s lunch by the way, cheesy beans on toast. Nothing fancy but quite delicious.

Anyway, lunch at home might be important, but lunch on the road?       Well…….

On our October trip, yes that again,  I planned our pitstops around nice breaks for lunch. And the chance of a bit of sightseeing. We were doing far too many miles to rely solely on the delights of the motorway service station*  And  they are rarely dog friendly**

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“Dunno why. I has luvverly table manners”

So,  on the road in October. Our first stop was  The Fleece Inn in Lancashire. Not only a pub and place to stay, it was also a shop and community hub. I hope it’s surviving the lockdown.

The book has been great way to find off motorway stops but it’s not infallible. We once drove miles along twisty car filled roads in Surrey to find a place that was dog friendly only on its very small terrace. Luckily it was a sunny day.

On the way  to Saumur we stopped off in Angers, to view the Tapestry and eat crepes in a cone. And in a damp Pamplona,  with MrS feeling a bit ill back at the hotel, I trudged around trying to find somewhere I could get a waiter to serve a crazy lady outside***

Street scene in Angers, my lunch in Pamplona.

On our return through France, away from the motorways we found a couple of towns that would have been fun to explore.

We made a planned stop in Rodez as it was convenient for our route between Albi and Le Puy . It looked interesting with a fine church and a fancy new museum****. But we just stopped for a quick lunch in a tiny cafe and filed it away for “future visit”.

We stopped a bit longer in Laon, unplanned this time. It  happened along conveniently at lunchtime. It was a bit like Le Puy, though not so far off the beaten track. Obviously hugely important in the past,  a stop for pilgrims along  the Camino.  As so many of our stops had been, though mostly by chance.

Its fine Cathedral was visible for miles, high above the otherwise flat countryside.

The empty streets were being prepared for Christmas and there seemed to be a municipal rollercoaster. This turned out to be a funicular, which like too many of the shops, had been closed for a few years.  Our first choice restaurant wasn’t dog friendly, not common in France, but we didn’t go hungry.

Rainbow drops and our robust lunch

It had a melancholy air.

Wandering about, eating lunch in a cafe, being among people.

Life enriching things.

Missing things.

Things I hope will return.

Until tomorrow

Marina xx

 

*there are some really good ones, check out the Westmorland group

**Cairn Lodge on the M74 is an exception, there is an indoor dog friendly eating area. Best if you are travelling with someone as you can’t take them into the food service area.

***we found very few places where DogS was allowed inside in Spain, so it was tricky alone on a wet day.

****where we parked, it seemed secure and I’m quite paranoid about parking when we have a fully laden car.

Le Puy en Velay

I’m back with the armchair travel. In Le Puy. A stop on our return through France in October.

And at first I wasn’t sure whether I did like it.

Actually it was strange and beautiful on first sight.  Approaching from the hills we could see its stripy cathedral, and  weird volcanic toadstools, those topped with churches and statues instead of pixies. Then as we spiralled down towards the town,  it looked a bit sad, and more than a little rough around the edges.

It didn’t help that I missed the entrance to the hotel parking on my  first two, was it three? passes.  But it is best that I’m driving in these circumstances. I’m much less law-abiding than MrS, and happy to simply stop in the street.  And MrS, has far better language skills. So off he went to the hotel and got directions. And in fairness  he was told that no-one ever found their way into the carpark without help.

So we set off for a little explore, and gradually my opinion and spirits improved.

Le Puy sits not quite in the centre*of France, but feels as if it is. It’s roughly equidistant from Clermont Ferrand and Lyon, just under two hours by road from either. And it isn’t on a major motorway route. Because of all that volcanic activity the approach roads are  scenic but not the easiest drive. And like many provincial towns in France its economy is a bit depressed. It used to make money from tanning and lacemaking. There’s no tanning any more, but you can buy and watch lace being made by hand in the traditional ways.

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It’s gorgeous but sadly not as fashionable as it once was.

Le Puy is known for its green lentils, but less so for another green  “foodstuff” – Verveine. Nope I hadn’t heard of it either but it was everywhere. It used to be made in a beautiful distillery** in the centre of the town. It’s still distilled locally but out of the centre.

 

It did seem to be a popular digestif, and not only in the more touristy restaurants.

We ate well in Le Puy;  dinner at the traditional and historic Tournayre,  lunch at a friendly bistro near the cathedral, and dinner again at Brasserie 912  which had great  vegetarian options. And yes, that is a lentil burger.

 

And of course, we visited that amazing stripy cathedral  the top of the town.

So yes, I did like Le Puy.

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“I liked it too”

A demain

Marina xx

 

 

 

*that’s a service area with a fantastic view, this was taken in February on a different trip. P1010856

**I haven’t many photos from Le Puy although I ‘m sure I took lots. You can find out more about Verveine here.

A good cocktail

Carefully mixed and preferably served in a classic Martini glass, a good cocktail is my favourite indulgence.

Although gin is my spirit of choice for a simple mixed drink it’s not an ingredient in my favourite cocktail, the Manhattan. Three parts whisky and one sweet vermouth, mix over ice,  strain and serve with a cocktail cherry. Delicious.  And best mixed by a white shirted bartender in a glamorous bar.  I’ve not enjoyed that for a while and it’s likely to be longer until I do.

Of course I could make one at home, I have all the ingredients

IMG_0635 But it’s just not the same. The environment, the atmosphere, the accoutrements all add up to the experience.

And don’t get me started on these, a sorry disappointment

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And despite Fleabag giving credibility to  “gin in a tin” I still prefer to take a miniature and separate can of tonic for my picnic G&T.

There are exceptions to the home made rule, this mixed by Profski was superb*

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perfect ambience

I quite like ones served up in coupes too

Best for espresso martinis or salt rimmed Margaritas. Although I think the right hand ones are sweeter vodka based raspberry martinis.

I’ve had pangs of disappointment when an otherwise perfectly tasty drink comes in a sturdily unspillable tumbler.

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“S’pose it might be tasteee, not as good as a nice puddle tho”

But quite enjoyed a pudding/cocktail combination like this frozen Margarita

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Bacolod City, Phillipines

I’ve never drunk a classic in the bar of its birth, no Bellini’s at Harry’s nor Singapore Slings at the Long bar. I did open the door and peer into the dark panelled bar of the (pre refurb) Coliseum in Kuala Lumpur, but it wasn’t appropriate for me on my own, even if I’d opted for a Gunner rather then a Gimlet.

But actually one of my favourite memories of a cocktail defies my rules.

A Manhattan, served in an enormous globe glass, from room service at the Le Concorde in Quebec City. MrS was at a fancy dinner with colleagues somewhere way below on the Grande Allee. And I settled back with my burger (which was very good),  cocktail,  and a Harry Potter movie**.      Bliss.          Sometimes rules are made to be broken.

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the view from my room, apologies for picture quality, I managed to boot up my old iPad but had to take a photo of the photo!

 

 

 

A demain

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*I can’t remember what it was, perhaps a testament to  Profski’s mixology skills

**Not sure which one, it was 2007 so might have been Order of the Phoenix, though Goblet of Fire more appropriate.

 

Taking time to explore

Once upon a time we took a trip to Europe.  MrS, DogS and me.

Well it seems like a long time ago. Even at the time we felt it might be  a kind of a “last hurrah”.  We didn’t know how easy a trip like that would be after Brexit. To be able to pack up the car and drive down through England, into the tunnel and on through France,  and Spain, to Portugal.

And back again, but following a different route.

our outward journey

Where we  had an (almost) week long stay in Guimaraes. “Aqui Nasceu Portugal”*

We didn’t have the best weather so couldn’t make the most of the terrace in Casa Porta Nova but we made full use of the rest of the lovely townhouse.

the views up and down the street

I read in a guide somewhere that you could see all the sights of Guimaraes on a day out from  Porto. Well maybe you can,  but it wouldn’t be nearly so much fun.  We visited most of the museums, climbed to the top of Penha, rode the cable car back down, shopped, and extended our portfolio of TV property improvement shows.

MrS even baked bread using his sourdough starter that we’d taken along too.

And we ate.  Perhaps the most famous Portuguese delicacy is the Pasteis de Nata and we certainly ate plenty of those. But they’re not the only pastry available, one particularly rainy day we comforted ourselves with these sweet and savoury delights.

And less traditional choices were also available.

At the  Ducal Palace. we almost by passed the temporary exhibition. After all the Inquisition isn’t  the most appealing of subjects. We entered through a door unlocked for ticket holders and closed firmly behind us. Once inside it wasn’t a cheery exhibition and featured possibly the most gruesome set of artefacts I’ve ever seen.   But I spent most of my time reading the boards which gave an unflinching description of the way religious doctrine was used to scapegoat a minority, for what were largely economic reasons. So long ago but so familiar.

The exhibition is over now,  and of course the whole museum is currently closed.  But if you get a chance, sometime when we can travel again, Guimaraes is well worth a few days of your time. Meanwhile I hope that washing is still hung from balconies, Pasteis de Nata are baked, and our host Anthony remains safe and well.

 

Until tomorrow

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*Portugal was born here