Wednesday 29 April 2015

A Super Nice Day!

   The sun was shining all day and we were in the low 20's by noon. That's more like it!

   Fitness class this morning - I am still waiting to join officially but the numbers are dropping so I have been going regardless and no one has challenged me yet! Then book club this afternoon. Our book was "The Squawking Chicken" which met with mixed reviews but there was a great turnout so obviously many were interested in hearing other's comments.

   Finally downloaded my Easter pictures so, here they are:

The Easter Tree

James and Natalie collecting some eggs.

Judy's awesome layered salad!

Sunday 26 April 2015

First Day on the Courts

   Still a bit on the chilly side but I did get over to the tennis courts and hit for a while with Stuart, Soo and Chan. The courts were quite busy and I had a chance to catch up with everyone. We are all devastated by Frank Perity's death over the winter from brain cancer. It was quite a shock to us all since we played with him just last Fall.

   Not much else to tell today - I had hoped to watch the final of the Barcelona Open on TV this afternoon but it was pre-empted. I just read instead.

Saturday 25 April 2015

Getting Better

   Not so miserable today - we at least had some sun! I sat outside for a few minutes but the wind was still quite strong and cool.

   Things are beginning to appear in the garden, lots of daffodils and a few hyacinths. But the crocuses I planted with the grandkids in the fall have yet to show their faces. Did they put them in upside down?  Lots of tulips are on their way and should be open by next week if we get some warmer temperatures, and the Forsythia by the back door is in bloom.  

   Not much on the agenda this weekend except for the RSCDS dance and AGM tonight. I shopped, did laundry and reviewed the dances for tonight but won't have any dinner (bar a few snacks and a drink) before I go out. There's always lots of food at the break.

   Tennis starts next week - can't wait! I am playing indoors with Hendrina and her friends on Tuesday so will get a chance to see if I can still hit the ball after a winter of idleness. However, so far the weather has not been conducive for outdoor games. Here's a warmer picture to cheer us up!

The birds on Fisherman's Island near Olhao, Portugal where we stopped for lunch. They were after the fish scraps the fisherman were dumping in the sea. Fun times! We had a great seafood meal.

Thursday 23 April 2015

Miserable Weather

    After some truly lovely Spring weather earlier this month, it has turned nasty to end April. Lots of rain, some hail, and cold winds plus this morning there was frost on the rooftops and only zero when I got up. We haven't seen the sun all week and I have had the fire on in the evenings. Back to winter coats and gloves!

   Out for lunch (Greek chicken wrap and fries) with the Probus ladies today after a stint in the coffee shop at the Senior's Centre. This is my second lunch out this week as I was at the RWTO lunch on Tuesday. This one was much cheaper - only $12, and I have enough leftovers for supper! Tuesday's was salad, roast beef (very nice but no horseradish) and a chocolate covered cheese cake to die for! I didn't need any supper that night.

   On Tuesday we had Terry Fallis as our speaker. He's the author of many humorous books, the last one being "No Relation" which we read at my book club earlier this year. He was very amusing and kept us in stitches for an hour.

   Got my tax return completed yesterday despite several gaffs and redoings. Although I was required to pay two instalments of tax during the year I still owe them some more money which will clean me out for this month. Luckily my pension arrives before the cheque will be cashed! Converting my RRSP to a RRIF (which I was required to do because of my age)  is what put up my income but, hopefully, I will have it all straightened out before next year's return has to be completed.

   Babysat the grandkids on Saturday (what fun) and also got to see the last episode of "Downton Abbey" which I missed while I was in Portugal. It wasn't the cliffhanger I was expecting but quite a satisfying season ender. Looking forward to the next (and last) season next January. Right now I am into the second season of "Outlander", the series based on Dianne Gabaldon's books, which I love. Rather violent but very intense!

Sunday 19 April 2015

A Weekend at Home

   I have the fire on tonight as it is decidedly chilly. The temperature didn't get up past 12C today. Stefano is on TV frying wedges of breaded avocados in oil - looks scrumptious but a bit finicky. I love avocados but usually eat them in salads or mashed for a dip.

   A busy weekend, especially as I can now get SN1 (the tennis channel) on TV. I have been watching the tournament in Monte Carlo between shopping and chores. I was out at Markham last night to babysit the grandkids and got to see the last episode of Downton Abbey, which I missed while on vacation.

   This afternoon was the last demo practice until September. We learned or reviewed a couple of new dances. There is one more demo in June but no details yet. Too cool to work in the garden - a strong wind and not much sun. There is supposed to be rain tonight. Now Stefano is making an avocado salad with bacon! That might be one to try.

Monday 13 April 2015

Wall-to-wall Sunshine

     We have just experienced the first truly spring-like weekend (out without a jacket yesterday) and finally things are beginning to grow. Today started off at 10C and was up to 19C by lunch time. Now it is raining and giving the garden a good soak so there should be even more new growth by tomorrow.

   I started raking the lawns yesterday but gave up after half-an-hour to bask in the sun with a cold drink. Today I was busy out and about (invited to play bridge this afternoon) but if the weather holds, I will get the rake out again tomorrow. Then it's on to fertilizing and overseeding the lawns.

    One last picture of my Portugal trip:

Spotted outside a bar in Albufeira. Not a sentiment I particularly endorse but I have to admit to indulging while on holiday!

Friday 10 April 2015

Seville Spain

A bit warmer today, 10C but very windy. The garden is very soggy after an overnight thunderstorm, so no chance on getting a headstart on gardening. The only bit of colour in my garden is some pansies (from the Garden Centre) at my front door and a few small blue hyacinths in the sunnier part of the back garden.

   One more set of photos to share - they are of Seville, a city in the south of Spain we visited briefly. It has quite a Moorish influence and I really liked what I saw of it and would like to go back for a more thorough exploration. Despite an early start, it was mid-morning before we arrived in Seville and started with a bus tour of the city. Many of the buildings we passed had been built for the 1929 World Fair and belonged to different countries - quite fascinating!

Plaza de Espana
    Our first stop was at Plaza de Espana which was originally part of the royal palace but is now a public park. Then we started a walking tour with a local guide and learned some history of the city. We ended at the Cathedral which is truly magnificent with many valuable treasures. It also contains the tomb of Christopher Columbus, although he was in fact Italian, not Spanish. I climbed the tower for a great view of the city before returning to the bus. On the way back I stopped at a tapas bar to sample some of the local delicacies.

View from the tower of the Cathedral.
    One day really wasn't enough to see this beautiful city but we had to keep moving. Another long bus ride to Algecira and then dinner in the hotel. Best part was Crème Caramel for dessert.

Christopher Columbus' tomb in the cathedral.

Where we had lunch.

One of the Spanish provinces portrayed in the plaza.

Thursday 9 April 2015

Visit to Tangiers

   Another cold, rainy day, temp. only reached 6C this afternoon. I was out early to work the coffee bar at the Senior's Centre, then stayed there for bridge with Ron, Diane and Maria. I had terrible hands and the only one I played, we went down one. So not a successful afternoon. Swam 16 lengths at the pool and had a long soak in the hot tub as I am quite achy - probably due to the damp weather.

    While in Portugal we had a side trip to Spain and from there got a ferry to Tangiers in Morocco. We had spent the night in Algecira which is a half-hour drive from the port of Tarifa where the ferry departs. It had been raining torrentially that morning and we were all pretty well soaked when we boarded the ferry. The rain stopped once we were in Tangiers but it was still quite cool, especially in our damp clothes! 

Entrance to the Kasbah inside the city walls.
Interior of hotel where we stopped for coffee.
    Tangiers is very hilly so we were glad of the bus tour of the city, both the affluent and seedy sections. We stopped at the beach and some of us had rides on camels (not me, I was still too wet, plus I rode a camel in Egypt). Then we started a walking tour of the Kasbah,  an array of winding, narrow streets, followed by a traditional lunch, complete with traditional musicians and a belly dancer. Then more walking to the medina which is an open air market - it had started to rain again so we did this lickety split! 

Some interesting doors in the Kasbah.

Notice the jerry-rigged wiring!
   The street vendors were particularly persistent and annoying, especially if you showed the least interest in their wares - they would not take "No" for an answer.! I guess this is a lean time of year for them. The ferry ride back was much more pleasant as the sun was setting and we had a good view of the sunset. Back in time for dinner at the hotel and some dry clothes!

Wednesday 8 April 2015

Chilly Weekend

    Easter Sunday saw a light covering of snow as the grandkids plucked candy eggs from the "Easter Tree" at my front walk. They were in fine form for our Easter lunch of roast lamb but the other family didn't make it as Lucy the dog was sick and had to pay a visit to the vet. They phoned in their apologies but we had already dived into the meal and there wasn't much in the way of leftovers. That said, I got two more meals out of the lamb leg and am going to make a Shepherd's Pie tonight with the last of the meat and some new vegetables.

    Today is still very chilly with rain and freezing rain forecast. In fact it will be a few miserable days but, thankfully, the temperature is going to rise into the low 'teens by the weekend.

   I calculated all my expenses for my Longstay in Portugal and it came out to just about the same as I have been paying for my 8 - 10 day trips with U of T Alumni. I probably did as much sight-seeing but interspersed with rest days which really suited me better than rushing around to a different place every day.

     One of my favourite excursions was a tour of Historic Algarve. We were on the road by 8:30 and visited four different towns. First stop was an old castle in Silves, then we climbed the mountains to Monchique at about 900 metres, where we had a lunch of Chicken Piri-Piri (a local speciality) after admiring the view. Next stop was Lagos on the coast - a quite attractive harbour and holiday spot where I saw a model of the ship Bartolemew Diaz, a 15th century Portuguese navigator, sailed around the Cape of Good Hope - it was tiny compared to the sailing vessels of today!

    Our last stop of the day was at Cape St. Vincent which is the most south-westerly point of Europe - a very windy spot with craggy cliffs and crashing waves. Then there was the long ride back to Albufeira, getting in around 7:30 after a very full, busy day. It was one of the better tours I had and only cost 17 Euro - a bargain because it is still off season.
Silves Castle - thought to have been founded in the 10th century.
One of the early kings of Portugal. His statue is outside the walls of the castle.
Lagos harbour
Me at Cape St. Vincent - looking rather windblown!


Saturday 4 April 2015

Easter Weekend

   Rather chilly today but the sun was shining so it was quite bearable. I was out early (8:15) today to try to beat the shopping crowds but the second store I hit was quite a zoo. I think it was because yesterday was the Good Friday holiday and tomorrow the stores will be closed as well. But I had everything purchased by 10:30 so am all set for the family arriving tomorrow for lunch.

   Another trip I took in Portugal was to Lisbon and Sintra. The palace at Sintra was the summer spot for the royal family for many years and is quite beautiful. A special treat there is to have a small sip of cherry brandy in a chocolate cup which you eat afterwards. I had two!

    We also stopped off at Capo de Roca which is the most westerly point in Europe and was an extremely cold and windy spot. On the way back to Lisbon we visited another holidaying town, Cascais, where people were swimming in the ocean! It was a shallow beach so I guess the water had warmed up a bit. That night in Lisbon we went out for a meal of Cataplana which is a fish speciality. It had lobster, shrimp (with the heads on), clams and other fishy delights which we shared. Its name derives from the dish in which it is cooked.

The Royal Palace at Sintra. It was used by the royal family until the late 19th century and there are many fascinating anecdotes about its occupants.

The beacon at Capo de Roca, the most westerly point in Europe.

A quaint little shop on the narrow, winding streets of Sintra.

Flowers in bloom in Cascais. This was a warm day in early March.

I am stuffing the chocolate Easter eggs as I wait for the photos to load and have been nibbling shamelessly! Supper will be hard to stomach so I will wait until later (much later). I plan to cook some brussell sprouts with bacon - a favourite treat of mine - to have with fish and quinoa. from yesterday.

Friday 3 April 2015

Albufeira, the Algarve, Portugal

  I mentioned Albufeira in my last post so here are some photos around and about the town. It is a short drive from Faro, the regional capital and local airport. It is quite a small town built on a hill so there is much climbing up and down. It was originally a fishing village and there are still many of the old fisherman's cottages. Many names in the area have "al" in them, denoting the Moorish influence.
The beach is surrounded by these sandstone cliffs. Luckily there is an escalator to return you to the upper town.
The narrow streets in the old town are mostly pedestrian and hold many interesting shops and restaurants
An interesting formation in the middle of the beach.
Huge breakers make for excellent surfing but not at this time of year!

Wednesday 1 April 2015

Finally Spring!

   A beautiful day today - I managed an hour in the garden, tidying up and then just sitting basking in the sun. It felt so warm on my face, I could almost believe I was back in Portugal! Some Spring flowering bulbs are beginning to push up but it will be some time until they are in flower.

Inside "The Angry Friar"

    One of my favourite tours while based in Albufeira was to Gibralter where I dined in true Brit fashion at the "Angry Friar". I had a sumptuous feast of Steak and Ale Pie with loads of "chips". I also shopped at Marks and Spencers for some traditional English goodies - battered fish and Rhubarb Crumble. Luckily we were heading back to Albufeira that day so I had it for dinner.

   We also visited St. Michael's Caves which has a magnificent display of stalactites and stalagmites. This is where the Barbary Apes hang out but they were in small numbers as the day was wet and windy. The grotto was quite spectacular with colourful displays. Gibralter itself is a quaint little town with windy pedestrian streets which we explored in the afternoon. 
This is a cross-section of a very large stalagmite showing the layers that formed over billions of years.