There is no ‘bucket list’ - Lynne and I are both well, thank you – but we have arrived at a point in our lives where we have the time, the money and the good health to indulge in a passion for travel. We know how lucky and privileged we are to be able to do this, and we know it won’t last for ever, but while it does…..

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Cha Am and the Thai 'Way of Beach': Part 15 of Thailand and Laos

This a new post though it describes the events of the 21st to 23rd of November 2015.
It will be moved to the 'right place' in a few days' time.
We reached Cha Am mid-afternoon. Unlike Phuket and other well-known Thai resorts, Cha Am is not aimed at the Western market; it is first and foremost a Thai resort within day-tripping distance of Bangkok – a sort of Thai Brighton.

Cha Am on the map of Thailand

On arrival we found our hotel was still under construction, bringing to mind not Brighton but 1970s Spain. The pleasant swimming pool and two storey accommodation blocks around it were finished, but some areas were still being paved and reception resembled a furniture store.
Still working on the paving, Cha Am

Three teenage girls appeared to be in charge and they offered us a choice of rooms. We selected one on the first floor (or second floor for American readers) with a balcony over the pavers rather than a door opening onto their workplace. Two of them quickly volunteered to carry our suitcases upstairs in return for a few baht.

Once settled in we strolled up to the small, appropriately decorated, seaside square.

Seaside square, Cha Am
From here we looked out over the beach, a thin strand covered with a forest of umbrellas, beach chairs and tables stretching away in both directions. On a busy Saturday the Bangkok day trippers were making the most of their weekend.

Cha Am beach
The design of the blue phone box visible in the picture of the square appears to be based on Sir Giles Gilbert Scott’s red phone box (and, no, I will not call it ‘iconic’) but the makers allowed for Thailand’s very different climate by omitting the glass. Public phone boxes are largely obsolete in Thailand as everywhere else, but this one now doubles a Wi-Fi hot spot.
Glassless phone box and Wi-Fi hotspot, Cha Am
 Back at the hotel I had a swim in the pool while Lynne looked on and wondered why people do such things, then we wandered down the main drag to locate a cold beer – not for pleasure, of course, hydration is so important in a hot climate.

The main beach side road, Cha Am
There were a few other Europeans around, some couples, but also a contingent of middle-aged men wandering the streets with a predatory look in their eye. Most were alone, but some were accompanied by much younger Thai women. ‘Sex tourists’, we said to ourselves, which may be a slur on a few, but is undoubtedly true of the majority. Men exuding sleaze are not a great advertisement for western civilization.

For dinner we picked a clean, bright looking establishment mainly on the basis that it offered a preliminary gin and tonic. The clientele turned out to be almost entirely (respectable) Europeans and the chef/patron was a Swede who had been running this restaurant for a dozen or more years in partnership with his Thai wife and latterly with the help of their adult son. As a cook he maintained his Scandinavian bias - Lynne's dinner being the Nordic staple of pork and potatoes - though his menu included many Thai-style dishes, including my fried pork. He was certainly not afraid to throw chillies around, but I felt he had not quite mastered the subtlety of Thai spicing.

After dinner we walked back to the square, starting on the beach but discovering that after dark small biting creatures made this a bad plan. There was a music event so we stopped to listen for a while.


In the morning we asked at reception where breakfast was and they put us on the back of a motorcycle rickshaw and drove us down the road to another hotel.

We did little for the next hour or two, idly exploring the main streets and buying some more plasters for my scraped toes. Thais being small people like the Lao, the plasters were smaller than I wanted, but being considerably wealthier they sold them by the packet rather than individually.

After coffee we ventured on to the beach, which was quieter on the Sunday, and selected some vacant seats. Very soon the woman in charge came over and charged us 50 baht (£1) each for the use of chairs and shade, which seemed reasonable. A few minutes later we realised she was waving at us with a bottle of Chang in her hand. That seemed a good idea and for a small fee she brought over two chilled bottles and a plastic ice-bucket to put them in. Two beers are universally available throughout Thailand. Sangha (lion), a well-made flavoursome brew is slightly more expensive than Chang (elephant) and comes in smaller bottles. Chang is cold and fizzy, lightweight and with little flavour although a fairly hefty 5% abv. It is just the sort of beer I would avoid at home, but in Thailand in the midday heat, a cold Chang does a very particular job and does it better than I would have thought possible.

A bottle of Chang, Cha Am beach
Various food vendors wandered by. At lunchtime we bought deep fried squid, prawns and soft shell crabs with chilli dipping sauce from one vendor and pineapple and water melon from another. Lunch, plus a couple more beers cost us under £5.

Lunch on the beach, Cha Am
Out on the water there were plenty of jet skis, one of them pulling a banana boat which deposited its riders into the water at appropriate intervals. I went for a swim - it is hardly a blue flag beach, but the guide book claimed it is not a serious health hazard. The water was blood temperature with gentle waves, so I floated around pleasantly, while keeping an eye out for the jet skis which charge onto the beach at regular intervals. A head bobbing about in the water is hardly visible to the drivers so I felt a little more vulnerable than I would really like.
Looking out for those jet skis, Cha Am
The Gulf of Thailand, like the Indian Ocean in Sri Lanka, has no tide to speak of and the narrow strip of beach remained the same width all day. We find this disconcerting; early experiences of beach and sea for both of us were beside the Bristol Channel, where the 15m tidal range is the world’s second highest (the highest is 16.3m in the Bay of Fundy between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia) and we expect the sea to disappear into the distance every 12 hours or so.

As far into the seas as some will go, even in the warm waters of Cha Am
We filled the afternoon with beach activities and in the evening, having enjoyed our breakfast, we walked down to the same restaurant for dinner. Both Lynne's sweet and sour pork and my shrimps in chilli paste with green beans, peppers and coconut were excellent. As it was our last evening we finished with the un-Thai indulgence of a dessert - and very nice it was too.
Un-Thai indulgences, Cha Am

The following day passed in a similarly restful and relaxing way.

Passing the day in a relaxed and restful manner, Cha Am
'See you tomorrow,' said our friendly beer and shade provider as we left. We told her we were going home. 'Oh, no,' she said throwing her arms round Lynne and giving her a heartfelt hug.

In the early evening a man came to drive us to Bangkok airport. Part of me was hoping he would not turn up, it might have been inconvenient, but we could happily have spent longer in Thailand - which was also how we had felt about Laos.

The journey from Cha Am to Staffordshire was uneventful, which is how such journeys should be, though one minor event was worthy of remark. At midnight, as we rolled down the runway in Bangkok the outside temperature was 30 degrees. Over a dozen hours later we were about to leave Frankfurt for the final leg to Birmingham. Boarded and awaiting departure we were told there would be twenty minutes delay while they called in the de-icing crew. Why do I continue to live in the wrong climate?

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

The Boxes of Carvoeiro: Algarve 9

Not an unspoiled fishing village - there are none left in the Algarve - but a small town whose geography has helped it retain some of its character and charm
Junction boxes are everywhere but Portuguese towns seem to have an inordinate number of them. Drab grey, they are magnets for graffiti and fly posting....

Boxes in Lagoa - drab as you like
... but not in Carvoeiro.

Fish, what would you expect? Boxes of Carvoeiro
The painting was the idea of Phil Francis a British resident of Carvoeiro for almost three decades. With the support of the local authority, he extracted permission from Energias de Portugal who own the boxes, teamed up with Helder José, a German/Portuguese professional graffiti artist and set to work at the end of last year.

A touch of the Jackson Pollocks: Boxes of Carvoiero
And they have been busy. I photographed 55 boxes in a hour's walk up and down the main streets and I doubt I got them all. Because of the way the paintings are juxtaposed it took me a while to spot the themes, but they are there. There is local architecture...

Local architecture: Boxes of Carvoeiro
...sometimes with a cat.

Local architecture with cats: Boxes of Carvoeiro

Traditional Algarve chimneys are well represented...

Traditional Algarve Chimney: Boxes of Carvoeiro
as are azulejo tiles.

Painted tiles: Boxes of Carvoeiro
and there is a series of local views, like this one of the beach.

Carvoeiro Beach: Boxes of Carvoeiro
Local characters also feature, like Tia Olympia (Aunty Olympia)...

Tia Olympia: Boxes of Carvoeiro
and João Peludo (Hairy John).

João Peludo: Boxes of Carvoeiro
There is a series on local fauna....
Frog: Carvoeiro Boxes

....while other paintings relate to where they are, like this alembic outside a booze shop.

Alembic outside a booze shop: Boxes of Carvoeiro

I particularly like this one as the theme continues up the wall above and links across to the
advertisement at the side...

Carvoeiro Boxes
....and finally (for a touch of controversy) I wonder if the placing of a Virgin Mother and a stork on adjacent boxes was entirely accidental.

No comment; Boxes of Carvoeiro
There are more, but that is a representative selection. I am indebted to Alyson and Dave Sheldrake's Algarve Blog for some of the information in thas post.

Other Algarve posts

Thursday, 29 September 2016



This year's Algarve trip had a new twist. No sooner had we arrived in the Algarve than we set about leaving.

After picking up our hire car we drove north across the coastal plain and its clutter of tourist developments to São Brás and continued into the hills behind. Winding up and down past cork oaks, many newly stripped, eucalyptus and old gnarled olive trees we saw few signs of human habitation but passed several of the ruined windmills that pepper the Algarve. They probably never ground corn, this is not arable land, but maybe once crushed olives.
Freshly stripped cork oaks
 Barranco do Velha and Ameixal look important on the map, but there is little to either of them. Dogueno, the first village in the Alentejo, is even smaller but we stopped there for coffee at a tiny café frequented by those elderly local men who like to start drinking early.
After Dogueno the countryside changed. Much of Alentejo, is a plain dedicated to the production of wheat though in September only the stubble remains. Herds of cattle milled about in the harvested fields.
At Castro Verde we picked up the new IP2 which sped us to Beja where we stopped for lunch.
Our Journey through southern Portugal
 North of Beja, vineyards started to appear. Alentejo is a major wine producer - much of the wine drunk in the Algarve comes from here - and the road signs were a wine list of familiar names, Vidiguera, Moura, Reguengos and finally the old walled city of Evora, our home for the next two nights.
We found our hotel in one of Evora's tiny medieval alleys...
Hotel Santa Clara, Évora
It took me two attempts to get round that right angle bend - in a Fiat Panda!
 ... checked in and made the short walk to the Praça de Geraldo, the city's main square named for Geraldo sem Pavor (Gerald the Fearless) who took the city from the Moors in 1166. It was a good spot for David sem Cerveja (David the Beerless) to slough off that soubriquet and slake the thirst of a long, hot day's travelling.
No longer beerless, Praça de Geraldo, Évora
 Whilst rehydrating, we watched gangs of 18 or 19 year-olds with painted faces being led round the square by slightly older youths wearing academic gowns. Later, when we went out to eat, the painted ones were on their knees in the square ‘worshipping’ their elders. Évora's university was founded in 1559 making it Portugal’s second oldest, though it closed in 1779 during the oppression of the Jesuits and in its current incarnation dates only from 1973. University initiation rituals are common in Portugal and there is a perennial worry that they might descend into bullying. This looked good natured enough to me.
We ate well in Évora, so our two dinners there have earned their own post (coming next).
Évora is a UNESCO world heritage site and a city of great antiquity. Its Celtic beginnings are lost on the mists of time but the Romans arrived in 57BC and turned it into a major city. The Vizigoths filled the power vacuum after the Romans but then Évora  was in decline until taken by the Moors in 715AD. The 450 years of Moorish rule, which saw the city prosper and develop much of its present character, ended in 1166 during the Reconquista.  Évora continued to prosper, becoming a favoured royal city and centre of the humanities. Another decline started with the closure of the university in 1779 and in 1808 the city was sacked by the French during the Peninsular War. After a difficult 19th century Évora has returned to prosperity, its fortunes based on agriculture and tourism as the city exploits its rich architectural and artistic history.
Around the Praça de Geraldo, Évora
 We started back in the Praça de Geraldo which is lined with elegant buildings. Structures of all ages sit shoulder to shoulder within the largely intact city walls and even the most recent blend harmoniously. The medieval street plan has been largely respected, making Évora a pleasure to walk round, and a nightmare for drivers. There is a good ring road and ample free parking outside the walls, which we took advantage of.
The medieval streets of Évora
 The 16th century church of Sto Antão is at the end of the praça.

Sto Antão, Praça de Geraldo, Évora
A long thin barn of a church, its multiple side chapels are filled with baroque altars, but the high altar is the most baroque of all. Admirers call the decoration ‘complex’, I might call it ‘fussy’. 'It requires a lot of dusting,' Lynne observed. She is a keen, some might say fanatical, remover of dust, but I had to agree, and it looked as though the altars had not seen a cloth for years - the problems of dusting ornate carvings at height are almost insurmountable.

High altar, Sto Antão, Évora
We walked north-east from the square up the inappropriately named Rua Nova.  According to our tourist map parts of the Aguaduto da Prata  that once brought water to the thirsty citizens can be found here. We looked in vain, before realised that the arches in the buildings were once part of the aqueduct, though later doorways had been cut through them. Gravity dictates that aqueducts become lower as they approach the point of delivery, but the floors behind the arches were below street level, so maybe the low arches were also the result of ground levels rising over the centuries.

The arches of the aqueduct, Rua Nova, Évora
Rua Nova ends in the Praça de Sertorio a small square dominated by the 19th century town hall. Our map claimed the square also contained the city's 2nd century Roman baths, but where were they? A poster advertising a recent exhibition hung on the town hall wall, but there was no other clue.

 Town Hall, Praça de Sertorio, Évora
Inside we found office doors, waiting people and an unmanned reception desk. The remains of the baths, later reading informed us, can be viewed through a glass wall in the town hall, though there is, apparently, little to see.

We followed the line of the aqueduct from the square. Beyond the Roman stonework at the corner there was little to see, but a couple of turns through the narrow streets brought us to some higher arches….

The aqueduct is higher, Aguaduto da Prata, Évora
…which were higher again in the next road with dwellings built into them. It is fascinating how structures, like our hotel with its medieval façade, marble reception area and small but comfortable modern rooms, have been continually adapted, sometimes over centuries, to meet the demands of later living.

Dwellings in the Aguaduto da Prata, Évora
 Evora's walls are largely intact except where the demands of modern traffic have punched holes through them. We made our way to one of these holes and over the ring road to look at the aqueduct crossing the wall. We had assumed this was a Roman aqueduct – so many are - but it appears to have been built round a pre-existing wall.
The aqueduct crosses the city wall, Evora
In fact the aqueduct was constructed between 1531 and 1537, designed by Francisco de Arruda, who was also responsible for Lisbon's Torre de Belem (which features elsewhere in this blog). Beyond the walls it crosses a couple of hundred metres of open ground to the Forte de Santo Antonio before swinging left towards its water source.
The Aguaduto da Prata heads off to the Forte de Sto Antonio, Évora
 Walking back into town we came to the so-called Temple of Diana. It is a Roman temple, but was dedicated to the Emperor Augustus and there is not a whole lot left. Since the Romans, Évora has been Moorish and then Portuguese (and sacked by the French). Muslims and Christians alike have been zealous destroyers of remnants of earlier idolatrous religions, so it is surprising anything has survived.
Roman Temple, Évora
It was now eleven o'clock, time to seek out coffee and pasteis de nata, the custard tarts that make morning coffee in Portugal just that little bit special.

That task easily and pleasantly accomplished, we returned to the cathedral, which sits just behind the temple. The Cathedral of the Virgin Mary, a 14th century enlargement of  an earlier building is the largest Gothic cathedral in Portugal. Medieval cities are cramped and major buildings lack the space to express themselves externally, but inside its size is obvious and there is much to see. We bought our tickets, being given a 'senior's’ discount without asking. That hurt a little.
The Cathedral of the Virgin Mary, Évora
First we followed wide stairs, then a spiral staircase to the roof which gave us fine views over the city and the surrounding countryside...

Looking over the roofs of Évora to the Alentejo countryside
…the cloister...
The cloister, Évora cathedral
... the roman temple...
The Roman temple, Évora
...the aqueduct where it crosses the Forte de Santo Antonio….
The aquaduct makes its way to and across the Forte de Sto Antonio, Évora
....and the cathedral's Lantern Tower.
Lantern Tower, Évora cathedral
The bottom of the spiral stairs gives access to the high choir - several Portuguese cathedrals have the choir and the organ in a balcony at the eastern end of the nave. Lynne sat in one of the wooden choir seats with the usual heavily carved back. Most of the carvings are hunting scenes, behind her is a boar hunt, while to her right a man hunts hares with a dog.

Lynne in the high choir, Évora cathedral
The carvers were not without humour. Above one seat hares have caught the hunter and are turning him on a spit.

Hares roasting a hunter, high choir, Évora cathedral

There is also a good view down the nave of the church, another long thin hall with a fussy baroque altar.

Évora cathedral

Outside we had a walk round the cloister…

Cloister, Évora cathedral
…pausing at the tomb of Bishop D Pedro who built the cloisters between 1317 and 1340.

Tomb of Bishop D Pedro, Évora cathedral
The cathedral’s school of music was of great renown and the choir boys’ boarding house is now the cathedral museum. Zealous guardians rigorously enforce the no photography rule so you will have to take my word for it that the chapel displays a piece of the ‘true cross’ and a set of reliquaries containing body parts of saints major (St Thomas Aquinas) and minor. Upstairs the corridors and the schoolboys' cells are filled with religious art and artefacts, some beautiful, some curious (a model of the Virgin Mary which opens out into a triptych with scenes from her life) and others kept just because they are old. A display of reliquaries so old nobody can remember whose skin, skull or finger lies inside was rather sad.

After a long visit it was time to head for the Praça de Geraldo, a cold beer and a toasted sandwich. We took a leisurely break beneath a shady umbrella fanned by a slight but pleasantly cooling breeze.

Our main destination for the afternoon was the church of S Francisco and its famous oddity, but on the way we passed the tiny Largo de Graça. The 16th Igreja de Graça is somewhat off the wall.
Igreja de Graça (Church of Grace), Évora
The ‘robust Atlas-style figures… placed around the four corners… [represent] the four rivers’ ( The locals call them, with justified irony, ‘the children of Grace’. The church was not open (have they something to hide?)

The Children of Grace, Igreja de Graça, Évora

The larger Largo S Francisco is a short step away. The church of S Francisco looked so clean and burnished I would have thought it was new had I not read that building started in 1475.
Church of S Francisco, Évora
There is no fee for entering the church, but there was for the exhibition and bone chapel so we paid up, but went to see the church first.
The main altar sits at the end of a canyon of a building, though the row of shallow side chapels each has a grander baroque altar than the main one.
Side chapels, S Francisco, Évora
 One of the side chapels was deeper and off it was the meeting room of the non-clerical society of S Francisco. The woodwork is impressive but the gap between table and bench looks a little large, so that whether it was your papers or your lunch you were attending to, it would be just too far away for comfort.

Meeting room of the society of S Francisco, Church of S Francisco, Évora
 Upstairs is an exhibition of nativity scenes, the collection of a local retired military man. We had not planned to see it, but as we had paid and it was there we thought we might walk through.
It turned out to be an amusing exhibition with artefacts of varying degrees of sophistication, and none. It is fascinating the way the nativity is so often rendered in the vernacular of the artist, whether they come from Papua New Guinea, Southern Africa or Europe. I particularly liked this modern Portuguese version, executed with tongue firmly in cheek. We all know the wise men brought, gold, frankincense and myrrh, but what about the shepherds? Well, had they been Portuguese they would undoubtedly have brought olive oil, cheese and honey as these men have.
Olive oil, cheese and honey from the shepherds - and Joseph has a good grip on his bottle of wine
Nativity exhibition, S Francisco, Évora
 The exhibition is in two parts connected by a walk across the roof with a view into the pleasant Largo de S Francisco.
Largo S Francisco, Évora
We visited S Francisco mainly for the bone chapel. It may not be unique, Faro even has two, but it was the first we ever saw (when we visited Évora in 1985) and is, as far as I know, the biggest and best. Sometime in the 16th century it became fashionable to empty monastic cemeteries and use the contents to decorate a chapel.
Bone chapel, S Francisco, Évora
 The bones do not come from a disaster or massacre, they are the remains of ordinary monks set on the walls to remind us that such is our bodily future, so we had better look after the future of our souls. If I was dug up and my bleached tibia used as an interior design feature, I think I would be quietly chuffed.

Bone chapel, S Francisco, Évora
 That finished our sightseeing in Évora. There is more to this small city, an excellent museum we have not seen, a venerable university to walk round, the palace of the counts of Basto and much more, but our time was up. Évora packs such a huge amount inside its medieval walls that maybe we will return.
We had an excellent dinner – see next post (soon).


Évora may be ancient, but the Alentejo has been inhabited far longer than humans have been city dwellers. Next morning we drove six or seven kilometres along the N114 to where the little road to the village of Guadalupe and the Neolithic sites of Almendres were well signed.

Guadalupe was larger than we had expected with rows of gleaming white modern bungalows stretching out from the centre. How the inhabitants make their livings this deep in the countryside in an age of mechanised agriculture is a mystery.

At Guadalupe the tarmac ran out and we completed the last few kilometres on a dirt road, enveloped in our own personal dust cloud.

We stopped in a pull-off where a sign pointed down a path to the Menhir dos Almendres. The design of the 3.5m tall menhir would have been familiar to Obelix, though it predates that fictional menhir delivery man by several millennia. A crook is allegedly carved into the upper portion, but we could not make it out.

The Menhir dos Almendres
The Almendres Cromlech is a further kilometre along the road. A group of 95 standing stones, some with rudimentary carvings, it is the biggest megalithic monument in the Iberian Peninsula.

Lost for many years, it was only rediscovered in 1966 when most of the standing stones were recumbent. They were re-erected after careful research.

Looking up from the bottom of the site through the double circle Alemendres II
Set on gently sloping ground the double circle of stones at the top (Almendres I) dates from 6,000BC. From here there is a clear view eastwards to the Alentejo plain from which our ascent had hardly been noticeable. A lower elongated double circle and central stones (Almendres II and III) were added later, though missing stones make the patterns difficult to see from the ground.

At the midwinter solstice the menhir and cromlech are aligned with the first rays of the sun. Like all such sites there are many theories but nobody knows their purpose.

Almedres Cromlech, looking east through the upper circle to the distant Alentejo plain 

Awed by antiquity we left Almendres for the three hour drive south to Carvoeiro on the Algarve coast.