Sintra – A Lovely Palace and a Yellow Monster

We’ve checked the weather and it looks like it isn’t going to rain. We walk down to Rossio Station to take the train to Sintra. We’re amazed to see the long queue of people, even at the ticket machines. We soon understand why – the system is quite complicated because of the Via Viagem travel card.

Rossio Station

Rossio Station with its neo-Manueline façade built in 1886 with its interesting intertwined horseshoe portals

If all these people are going to Sintra, I think, it’s going to be very busy. However, we easily get a seat, the windows are clean (unlike the train to Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris!) and it is a comfortable 40 minutes to our destination. As soon as we get out of the train, it feels like we’re in a different part of the world.

Sintra Station

Sintra Station

The charm that is often lacking in Lisbon abounds in Sintra. It’s cooler and we are surrounded by what looks like a tropical forest. We stop for coffee and a cake at a little café opposite a house covered in bougainvillea. I order a cappuccino for the first and last time. Jean Michel wants a bigger cake than the pastel de nata that I choose. It turns out to contain ham …

House with bougainvillea opposite our tea shop

House with bougainvillea opposite our tea shop

To quote the Unesco World Heritage Site: “In the 19th century Sintra became the first centre of European Romantic architecture. Ferdinand II turned a ruined monastery into a castle where this new sensitivity was displayed in the use of Gothic, Egyptian, Moorish and Renaissance elements and in the creation of a park blending local and exotic species of trees. Other fine dwellings, built along the same lines in the surrounding serra , created a unique combination of parks and gardens which influenced the development of landscape architecture throughout Europe.”

An unusual building near the train station in Sintra

A very romantic-looking building near the train station in Sintra

We start walking up the hill towards the castle. The promenade is quite delightful, with forest on both sides and modern sculptures and views of the palace and town along the way.

Our first view of the castle

Our first view of the castle

The white royal palace with its two tall chimneys looms into sight. It was probably constructed on the site of the Moorish Alcazar and its buildings result from two main periods (15th and 16th centuries). We buy a double ticket to the palace and nearby Pema Castle for 22 euro each and begin our visit.

Sintra National Palace

Sintra National Palace

The first thing I see are what look like leather Henri II chairs and a table, similar to those in Blois castle. We go from one room to the next, admiring the beautiful azulejos tiles of which there is a different set in each room, the unusual ceilings and intricately carved furniture, harmoniously blending Gothic, Moorish and Renaissance elements.

Henri II table with azulejos in the background

Henri II table and chairs with azulejos in the background

Lovely little patios lead off the main rooms and there are views in every direction.

A typical patio in the palace

A typical patio in the palace

My favourite is the breathtaking Heraldry Room, built in 1515 to 1518, with its magnificent coffered domed ceiling. It reminds me of the beautiful rococco libraries along the Danube, such as Melk and Wiblingen Abbeys, except that the scenes on the walls are blue and white tiles.

The Heraldry Room with its beautiful blue and white azulejos

The Heraldry Room with its beautiful blue and white azulejos

I also love the Galley Room whose painted ceiling depicts various sailing ships representing the great discoveries.

The ceiling of the Galley Room

The ceiling of the Galley Room

By the time we finish it’s 1.30 and time for lunch. We wander off into the very touristy old town, with its steep little streets and I eventually see a sign saying Miradouro (panorama) providing an excellent view of the palace and surrounding countryside, including the steeple in the second photo.

View from the Miradouro

View from the Miradouro da Villa restaurant

There is also a little restaurant called Miradouro da Villa that still has a free table on the minute terrace. We are soon esconced on our high stools and can watch other people coming to “ooh” and “aah” over the view and take selfies.

A little cherub on the road up to the restaurant

A little cherub on the road up to the restaurant

We order pork spare ribs, rice and salad and a ½ bottle of local red wine. There are no half-bottles left so the waiter suggests wine by the glass, although he warns us to drink it slowly so it won’t go to our head! One glass doesn’t seem to do much harm and although it has no nose it is a dark red and full bodied.

My favourite azulejos in Sintra National Palace

My favourite azulejos in Sintra National Palace

At 28.40 euros for both of us, including olives and coffee, the restaurant with its beautiful view and quiet surroundings is an excellent choice.

Now we’re ready for the next part of our visit – Pena Palace, the most visited monument in Portugal. We take a return ticket for the local hop on, hop off bus which stops at the train station and in front of the tourist office in Sintra (tickets on board) (5 euros each). For the entire 15-minute ride to the palace, up a steep winding road, it pelts with rain! Just as we reach the bus stop, the rain stops. Good timing indeed.

The forest road up to Pena Castle

The forest road up to Pena Castle

We have the choice of either walking for 15 minutes up a pleasant path to the palace or taking a 3 euro bus. We walk of course.

The path up to the castle

The path up to the castle

By now, the palace is more visible. It looks like a pink and yellow Walt Disney castle and I think it is ghastly. Built in the 19th century, it is considered to be a work of pure Romanticism, designed by the Portuguese architect Possidónio da Silva.

Mist at the top of the castle

Mist at the top of the castle

Inside, however, are the richly decorated church, two-storey cloister and refectory of the monastery built by King Manuel 1 and donated to the order of Saint Jerome following a visit by King John II in 1493, accompanied by his wife Queen Leonor, who made a pilgrimage to a chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Pena built, it seems, after an apparition of the Virgin Mary.

The cloisters of the original monastery over which Pena castle was built

The cloisters of the original monastery over which Pena castle was built

For centuries, Pena was a small, quite place of meditation, housing a maximum of eighteen monks. I wonder what they would say if they could see the Disney castle and swarms of tourists today!

Both the monks and royal family certainly enjoyed a wonderful view

Both the monks and royal family certainly enjoyed a wonderful view

Lightning first damaged the monastery in the 18th century but the famous earthquake of 1755 reduced it to ruins. The marble and alabaster chapel, however, remained relatively unscathed.

The "family room" with its Islamic arches

The “family room” with its Islamic and Renaissance features

It was left to rack and ruin until 1838 when the young prince Ferdinand who was a bit of a nature lover acquired the old monastery and much of the surrounding land. He turned it into a palace to be used as a summer residence for the Portuguese royal family. The work was entrusted to a German mining engineer, Wilhelm Ludwig von Eschwege, which is why it is reminiscent of some of the castles along the Rhine.

One of the beautiful vaulted ceilings inside the castle

One of the beautiful vaulted ceilings inside the castle

The King suggested that vaulted arches and mediaeval and Islamic elements be included and Queen Maria looked after a lot of the decoration and symbolism.

Monserrat Castle

Monserrat Castle

We decide not to visit the nearby Palace of Montserrate designed for Sir Francis Cook by the distinguished British architect, James Knowles Jr, an example of mid-19th-century eclecticism, combining neo-Gothicism with substantial elements derived from the architecture of India. Two palaces are enough in one day.

The art work inside Rossio Station

The art work inside Rossio Station

Instead, we walk down a fairly steep path to pick up the hop on hop off bus at the second last stop as we think there might be quite a few people waiting at the main entrance at this time of the day, but we needn’t have worried. There is plenty of room. We arrive at the station just as our train is about to pull out. Back at Rossio Station, we have time to enjoy the artwork on the walls.

How to Get to Sintra: Trip Advisor has excellent advice. Click here.
To use the Via Viagem card: See the metrolisboa website
Posted in Architecture, Art, Flowers & gardens, Portugal, Restaurants | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Five Unforgettable Places I Have Visited

When we discovered Jeronimos Monastery in Lisbon recently, I added it to the list of places that have left an indelible mark on me because they were totally unexpected and totally overwhelming. At the same time, I was asked to participate in the  Top Destinations to Go challenge by Anda from Travel Notes and Beyond. Choosing just five places was a hard task so Jean Michel and I pooled our favourites, which include both man-made and natural wonders.

The Sagrada Familia in Barcelona

The interior of Gaudi’s Basilica of the Holy Family is absolutely dazzling, breathtaking, overwhelming. There are no words to describe it and no photo to do it justice. It is the most amazing well of light imaginable. The brightly coloured stained glass windows that would be gaudy anywhere else are quite superb.


Gaudi was only 31 when he began working on the cathedral in 1883. It evolved considerably during his lifetime, becoming more and more audacious. Sadly, he was run over by a tram at the age of 73 and nearly all the plans destroyed by fire during the Civil War in 1936.

The pillars, which split into two halfway up to remove the need for flying buttresses, represent trees in a forest with leaves at the top. The pillars themselves have a special spiral design with fluting that increases in number as it gets higher and take us soaring up to the highest point, 45 metres above the ground. An unforgettable moment.

Plitvice Falls in Croatia

And to think that I nearly missed Plitvice Lakes National Park as a result of eating tainted prawns in Dubrovnik!


Never had I seen colours like those in the Plitvice Lakes. Each view was more marvellous than the one before!

At 10 am, before the floods of tourists arrive, the upper path is simply an hour of magic to remember forever.

Tasman National Park in Australia

Our trip to Tasmania was somewhat disappointing, due to cold rainy weather. But the sun came out at last and we set off for Port Arthur. On the way, we followed a sign saying Blow Hole, Devil’s Kitchen and Tasman Arch.

Tasman's Arch

Tasman Arch

And what we saw was mind-blowing.

These natural formations along the rugged coastline about an hour and a half south of Hobart are dramatic and grandiose, leaving a impression of immensity that you will never forget.

Rila Monastery in Bulgaria

The initial impression of Rila Monastery built halfway up a mountain and surrounded by forest is quite fabulous.

View of Rila Monastery as you walk in

View of Rila Monastery as you walk in

Founded in the 10th century by the hermit St John of Rila, it was destroyed by fire in the 19th century and rebuilt between 1834 and 1862. Although characteristic of the Bulgarian Renaissance (18th-19th centuries), which symbolises the awareness of a Slavic cultural identity following centuries of occupation, it is quite unique.

The monastery museum contains the most fabulous carved cross I’ve ever seen produced painstakingly by a monk called Rafail, with 104 religious scenes and 650 miniature figures and 12 years in the making. It was hardly surprising that Rafail lost his sight in the process. Just one more reason to remember Rila.

The S-Bend in Austria

Cycling along the Danube from its source in Donau-Eschingen to Budapest was a magical experience in itself. One areas stands out in particular, the Wachau world heritage site in Austria between Linz in Austria and Passau in Germany and the S-Bend in particular.

The S-bend in the Wachau in Austria

The S-bend in the Wachau in Austria

The single most remarkable moment of the trip was the view of the S-bend from Schlogen blick.

We had spent the day cycling along tranquil car-free paths, going back and forth across the Danube on a series of little ferries, and now we could see our day’s journey spread out in majesty before us. A truly unforgettable moment.

So tell me, if you were asked to name your five most unforgettable places, what would you choose?

And if you’re a blogger, why don’t you join the To Destinations to Go challenge (and the chance to win an iPhone 6)? Click here for more information.

Posted in Architecture, Art, Australia, Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Eastern Europe, Germany, Sightseeing | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

A Marvellous Monastery in Belem, Lisbon

What I love most about travelling is coming across something that is totally unexpected, totally overwhelming and totally unforgettable. It can be the Rheinfalls in Germany, the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Tasman’s Arch in Tasmania, the Cathedral in Reims, Plitvice lakes or the S-bend in Austria. Today, it happened in Lisbon with the Jerónimos Monastery.

First view of the Jeronimos Monastery in Belem

First view of the Jeronimos Monastery in Belem

After a good night’s sleep, we leave the apartment around 10 am, take the 758 bus to its terminus then the 714 to Belem. When we get out the bus at 11.30 am, it is pouring with rain. We put our rain jackets on, open our umbrellas and walk towards the Monastery.

Sun comes out on the Monastery

Sun comes out on the Monastery but there are crowds of people

There are so many tour groups and individual tourists under the porch leading to the church that we abandon ship and decide to go and see Belem Tower first. Maybe at 12.30 pm, all the tour groups will be gone.


Empadas at Casa da Cha de Belem

On the way, we stop off at Casa da Cha de Belem and have two empadas, one with spinach and fresh cheese and the other with cod, washed down with freshly squeezed orange juice to keep us going until a late lunch.

Belem Tower from a distance

Belem Tower from a distance

As Belem Tower comes into sight in the distance, we cross a footbridge over the tram lines and walk down to the Tagus and the Tower, one of Portugal’s greatest icons.

Belem Tower seen from one side

Belem Tower seen from one side

Built in the early 16th century, it is an excellent example of the Portuguese Manueline style, which is sumptuous late Gothic incorporating maritime elements and representations of the discoveries brought back by Vasco da Gama and Pedro Alvares Cabral, mainly financed by the proceeds of the lucrative spice trade with Africa and India. Surprisingly, the tower, built on a small island in the Tagus, was not destroyed by the famous earthquake of 1755.

The Monument of Discoveries

Padrão dos Descobrimentos – The Monument of Discoveries

We walk back along the shore towards another, much later construction, called the Monument of Discoveries (Padrão dos Descobrimentos) built in 1960 for the 500th anniversary of the death of Henry the Navigator.

An Aussie in Portugal

An Aussie in Portugal

In front is a giant marble wind rose. A world map in the centre charts Portuguese explorations showing the most important dates in the Portuguese maritime history with ships marking the locations where Portuguese explorers first set foot on land.

Panoramic view of the Jeronimos Monastery from the park opposite

Panoramic view of the Jeronimos Monastery from the park opposite

By now it’s nearly 1 pm so we’re hoping all the groups have hopped back on their buses. I take a photo of the monastery from the Praça do Imperio gardens.

The fountain in Parque

The fountain in Praça do Imperio gardens

Just as we leave, Jean Michel looks back and says, “It’s a pity you missed the fountain.” So I go back and take a second photo.

The intricate gold altar on the right as you go into the church

The intricate gold altar on the right as you go into the church

We arrive back at the entrance to the monastery and there is not even a queue! We think that due to the heavy rain this morning, the groups probably rescheduled their visits with everyone arriving at once.

The monastery was built by King Manuel I at the beginning of the 1500s on the site of a hermitage founded by Prince Henry the Navigator, where Vasco da Gama and his crew spent their last night in Portugal in prayer before leaving for India.

The columns inside the church at Jeronimos Monastery

The columns inside the church at Jeronimos Monastery

When we step in side, I am immediately reminded of the soaring columns of Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia. The vaulting is quite extraordinary and the octagonal pillars are covered with intricate sculptures.

Vasco da Gama's tomb

Vasco da Gama’s tomb

Vasco da Gama’s tomb is just inside the entrance, opposite that of the poet Luis de Camões, author of the epic The Lusiads recounting the exploits of Da Gama and his compatriots.

Cloisters at Jeronimos Monastery

Cloisters at Jeronimos Monastery

As we leave the church, Jean Michel says that his guide book says the cloisters of the monastery are worth visiting. We pay our 10 euros each, walk up a flight of stairs and turn to the right.

Beautiful lacework on the arcades

Beautiful lacework on the arcades

And there it is! The most magnificent cloisters I have ever seen.

Just one of the beautiful columns

Just one of the beautiful columns

First, they are two storied, which is most unusual. Second, the columns intricately sculpted, each with a different motif – coils of rope, sea monsters, coral and other birds and beasts all evocative of the great Portuguese sea discoveries.

The dome of the church seen from the cloisters

The dome of the church seen from the cloisters

The monastery was founded by the Order of Saint Jerome (Hieronymites) whose spiritual job was to give guidance to sailors and pray for the king’s soul.

We see a door on the right and walk in. It looks like a smaller church, with more vaulting and a gallery at one end.

The refectory with its blue and yellow azulejos

The refectory with its blue and yellow azulejos

On the opposite end, I come to the refectory. These monks did not dine on bread and olives, I’m sure. Around the walls are magnificent azulejos scenes.

Close-up of one of the wall scenes

Close-up of one of the wall scenes

Jean Michel remarks that the fireplace at one end would not have heated the room very much in winter! I imagine the monks with their own private braseros.

We follow a staircase up the gallery. It resembles the one we saw at Fontevraud l’Abbaye but what we find when we come out is certainly very different!

So many details!

So many details!

We wander around in amazement, looking at every arch and every pillar. The details are amazing. I can’t take enough photos but none of them do justice to the splendour before our eyes and I only have my iPhone with me. We stupidly forgot our Lumix in Blois!

The capitals, unfortunately, have become worn with time

The capitals, unfortunately, have become worn with time

I’m not surprised to learn that it is a World Heritage Sight. The magic of Jeronimos Monastery will remain with me forever.

Posted in Architecture, Portugal | Tagged , , , | 9 Comments

Lisbon in the Rain and More Great Panoramas

Late night partying in the entrance next to ours

Late night partying in the entrance next to ours

After virtually no sleep during our first night in Lisbon due to a barking dog, jets constantly flying overhead, merry makers under our window, the arrival of the rubbish truck at 1.30 pm with much clashing and clanging and shouting, leg cramps from being squashed into a plane for a couple of hours and a smaller-than-usual bed, I wake up to rain and hammering at 9 am.

It’s an intermittent fast day but there is no coffee or tea (I discover the coffee supply three days later!) and the closest café is 10 minutes in the rain. Hardly a great start to the day. Where is yesterday’s sun?

Pasteleria 1800 at Rato

Pasteleria 1800 at Rato

The rain finally relents and set off for the supermarket, stopping for coffee at Pastelaria 1800 on the way. They also sell Lisbon’s famous pastel flans that everyone tells me are a must, but that will have to wait for tomorrow.

The inside of Pasteleria 1800 founded in

The inside of Pasteleria 1800 founded in 1887

On the way, we pass several beautifully tiled entrances and many tiled façades.

There are many lovely tiled entrances in Lisbon

One of the many beautifully tiled entrances in Lisbon

When the sun finally comes through the clouds after lunch we set off immediately, taking the n° 758 bus down to the Tagus using our Zapping transport card, glad to be inside while it pelts with rain again. It all looks rather sad and dismal.

Walking along the Tagus from one bus stop to another

Walking along the Tagus from one bus stop to another in the rain

Our initial destination is the cathedral halfway up one of Lisbon’s seven hills. The most popular way of reaching it is on the N°28 tram. They are all full, with people leaning out the windows taking photos. We’ll try another day, making sure we get on at the terminus so we’ll have a seat.

The famous n° 28 tram full of people hanging out the windows

The famous n° 28 tram full of people hanging out the windows

The cathedral itself is something of a disappointment – very sombre inside and uninviting. Not nearly as rich as Sao Roque’s with its incredibly rich chapels full of gold sculptures.

The cathedral, difficult to photograph, especially with all the overhead tram lines

The cathedral, difficult to photograph, especially with all the overhead tram lines

After the cathedral we turn right and start walking up the hill to the Alfama quarter. Despite the intermittent rain, it is more attractive than anything we’ve seen so far in Lisbon and there are more stunning views.

A miradouro in Alfama

A miradouro in Alfama

A little garden covered with azulejos reminds me of the ceramics in the Cloister of Santa Clara in Naples, though on a much smaller scale. One mural depicts Paços da Ribera (Royal Ribera Palace) before the massive earthquake of 1755 that destroyed much of Lisbon’s historical buildings. It was rebuilt and remodelled shortly afterwards and is now called Praça do Comércio.

View of Saint Vincent Monastero and the Pantheon from Santa Luzia

View of Saint Vincent Monastero and the Pantheon from Santa Luzia

Shortly afterwards we come to another large square, Santa Luzia, with more amazing views of the Tagus and the rooftops of Lisbon.

The best view of the castle from the viewing area opposite Igresia Graça

The best view of the castle from the viewing area opposite Igreja Graça

In the distance we can see an enormous church so decide to continue our upward climb to Igreja Graça which offers another incredible view, probably the best to be had of the castle of Saint George that we haven’t been to yet. The inside of the 16th century church itself, refurbished many times, is nothing special.

Allotments on the way down from Igreja Graça

Allotments on the way down from Igreja Graça

The rain is falling steadily again so we decide to walk down the hill to the closest metro, Martim Moniz. On the way, we go past a series of alotments and a myriad of tiny shops, in various states of delapidation, each selling a different type of product. We reach a main street and a sign saying “shopping centre” so we follow it underground and discover a labyrinth of Chinese and Indian shops selling everything you can possibly imagine.

Inside the metro at

Inside the metro at Martim Moniz

The metro looks much the same as any other metro in the world though we’ve read that there are art displays. The trains take a long time to come and, at 4.30 pm, are not very crowded. We already have our Zapping Transport Card* which makes things easier.

Rato metro station

Rato metro station

When we emerge at Rato station, just next to Pasteleria 1800, the sun is out again – but not for long. We arrive home to a loud television above us  but the dog doesn’t start barking for another hour or so. I sleep on the sofa for a while and feel much better afterwards. I’m hoping it will rain most of the night – to drown out the other noise and leave room for the sun tomorrow!

*Zapping Transport Card: a little complicated but good explanation on Unless you take public transport more than 5 times a day, it’s the best solution and means you don’t have to worry about buying tickets.
Posted in Architecture, Portugal, Sightseeing | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Friday’s French in Portugal

fire_signMy first contact with Portuguese was during my honours year of university in Australia when I studied and fell in love with Romance Linguistics, which is the story of how Latin turned into Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Romanian. It was like a jigsaw puzzle – and I had always liked jigsaws.

I found it absolutely fascinating to learn that flos, the word for flower in Latin should have become fleur in French, fiore in Italian, flor in Spanish and Portuguese and floare in Romania. Castellum turned into château, castello, castillo, castelo and castel. Not only that, but the changes are systematic: fl in Latin nearly always gives fl in French, fi in Italian, fl in Spanish and Portuguese. And ditto for ca which remains the same in all the languages except French where it becomes ch.

I have since studied French, Italian and Spanish in greater detail and still get a kick out of the systematic changes you can see: blanc, bianco, blanco for white ; pluie, pioggia, lluvia for rain, and so on. But this is my first real contact with Portuguese.

The first thing I noticed is that the “l” has disappeared from definite articles : o, a, os, as and not il, la et les.

N often becomes m : jardim, im, bem (bien), bom.

Otherwise it often seems a mixture of Spanish and Italian when it’s written – but not when it’s spoken.

I’m kicking myself for not having at least learnt some basics with the help of my Portugueuse cleaner before I left!

I’ve now mastered obrigada (thank you) which is like saying (I’m) obliged. As a result, Jean Michel has to say obrigado.

I downloaded an app on my iPhone (not lost or stolen yet) to help with pronunciation. We weren’t sure how to say azulejos (those beautiful ceramic tiles they have everywhere). It sounds like a-zu-lie-si (with s being pronunced like the s in Asia). I can tell you, it’s going to take me a lot longer than a week to master that one!

I also learnt something very interesting about the days of the week. Unlike the other Romance languages, Portugueuse has a totally different system. Sabado (Saturday) and domingo (Sunday) correspond to most of the others but Monday to Friday are a different kettle of fish: segunda-feira, terça-feira, quarta-feira, quinta-feira and sexta-feira meaning second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth feast day.

There are a couple of explanations, one being that they were called according to the fair (feira) that used to take place on that day many moons ago. A feira is a set of tents pitched in the street where you can buy vegetables, fruits, and other foods.

Another explanation is that, because of the pagan origin of the original names of the days of the week, Martinho de Dume, a sixth-century bishop of Braga, in what is Portugal today, changed them to correspond to the full observance of an Easter week.

Domingo (Sunday) has its origin in the Latin expression for the Day of the Lord, sabado was named for the Hebrew word Shabbat while the other days come from the Latin terms for “second/third/fourth/fifth/sixth day on which one shouldn’t work” (in observance of Easter week).

Whatever the explanation it’s a bit confusing when reading a bus timetable!

Posted in French language, Portugal | Tagged , | 5 Comments

First Impressions of Lisbon

When we arrived in Lisbon at 4 pm, it was 26°C, a welcome change from Paris. We walked from our home exchange on the western tip of Barrio Alto down to the Tagus and back to get a feel of the city. Here are my first impressions. Very dilapidated. Many outdoor cafés. Some stunning views. Tiles (azulejos) everywhere. Very strong light. A steep climb back home!

I love these half shutters and tiles

I love these half shutters and tiles

One of many outdoor cafés - there were three or four in this park alone

One of many outdoor cafés – there were three or four in this park alone

I love the sudden views you come across

Fountain on the left, view of the Tagus in the background and bougainvillea on the right

The contrast between sun and shade was striking

The contrast between sun and shade is striking and the view of the city grandiose

The bougainvillea is everywhere and reminds me of North Queensland where it blooms in winter

The bougainvillea is everywhere and reminds me of North Queensland where it blooms in winter

This stunning view of the castle was just after the bougainvillea

This sweeping view of the castle was just after the bougainvillea

There are two fountains in this very large square but only one is working

There are two fountains in this very large square but only one was working when we visited

Commerce Square fronting onto the Tagus River

Commerce Square fronting onto the Tagus River

Posted in Architecture, Portugal | Tagged | 19 Comments

One broken and two stolen iphones

Am I jinxed? Is it because I love my iPhone too much? Is this a subtle message from the Cosmos? Beware, this could talk a long time to tell. You might need a glass of wine.

The Renovated Pigeon House photographed before I dropped the iPhone

The Renovated Pigeon House photographed before I dropped the iPhone


One beautiful twilight evening in May, as we were strolling around our neighbourhood in Blois, I wanted to take a photo of a renovated pigeon house but the gate was spoiling the view so I slipped my black iPhone 4S behind the bars. And it dropped. Just like that. And smashed. On the gravel below.

Jean Michel had to climb the gate because no one was home. Not a point in my favour.

Since it is insured against breakage I phoned the insurance company, SRP. I was informed that during the repairs (which could take a couple of weeks), I could have an iPhone on loan as it was part of my insurance.

The replacement iPhone

The replacement iPhone, provided by Orange, was scheduled to arrive next day by Chronopost. Efficient, huh? Well, it didn’t every reach me. It took several days of phoning various people to be told I had to go to the police station to report it as being stolen. The Chronopost website said it had been delivered and signed for. Reporting the theft was not an easy task as I had to argue with the police officer who said I needed the IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identity) to lodge a complaint.

I didn’t have the IMEI because it wasn’t my Iphone. A more intelligent police officer (that wasn’t hard!) then agreed to register the complaint without the IMEI. I phoned Orange in front of the police officer but I was told it would take two weeks to have the number sent to me by post.

The insurance company

In the meantime, I had to send two documents to the insurance company three times – by email, by uploading them to their website and by snail mail – before they finally registered my request to have the broken glass cover repaired.

But time was running out. The case of the stolen iPhone had not been solved so I couldn’t have a second substitute iPhone while the broken one was being repaired and we were going away on holidays. So I bought a new IPhone, this time a 5 because Jean Michel said he’d take the 4S when it was repaired.

The hot pink iPhone

When I ordered the iPhone 5 over the phone, I hadn’t done my homework properly and got talked into a hot pink 5C whose camera isn’t as good as the 5S but which is considerably cheaper. When it arrived at the Orange shop in Blois (I was not taking any more chances with the post), I went bananas. When I saw it, I knew that I did not want a hot pink iPHone and the only cases I could buy were Micky Mouse and company. A second point against me, maybe even three or four.

I sent it back by Colissimo, paying extra to have it totally insured in case this one disappeared too, then I phoned Orange to order another one once the return had been cleared (this alone required quite a bit of insistence).

The gold iPhone

The next bit is embarrassing and cost me at least ten points. Feeling fragile and jaded by now, I lost it when I ordered the next one and chose a gold 5S. How stupid can you get? If you want to attract an iPhone thief, buy a gold phone. Almost as soon as I got off the phone, I regretted my purchase. It took me an hour to decide to phone back. I was told that there was no problem – the order had not been sent so I could have a black one instead. Relief.

However, I had been told a lie because I received an SMS saying that my gold iPhone order was being processed. No amount of patience or yelling at Orange made any difference. The only way to have a black one was to refuse the gold one when it arrived at the depot, wait for the return to be cleared (2 weeks), order a black one then wait for it to be delivered. We were about to go on our German cycling holiday by then. I was losing more points by the minute.

My Kenzo cover except that the sides of my iPhone are white.

My Kenzo cover except that the sides of my iPhone are white.

In the end, I decided I would take the gold one which, incidentally turned out to be a sort of burnished colour that doesn’t look even remotely gold, and order the chic-looking black Kenzo case with roses on it that I had been coveting for some time.

The smashed iPhone is sent for repairs

When I was in the car (as a passenger) on the way to Germany, I received a phone call from Orange concerning the gold/black iPhone mess. We don’t want you to have a phone you don’t want, said the lady (???). I explained that I had decided to make do with the gold one and was more interested in having SRP looking after the broken one now (I had still not been told where to sent it). She said she’d make sure I received the instructions for having it repaired as soon as possible.

On 21st July, immediately after we got back from our holiday, I sent off the broken iPhone to the address I had received by email. I would just like to add that there is no way of talking to SRP because you consistenly get a message saying to ring back later.

About a week later, I received a no-reply email from SRP telling me to wipe all my data off the iPhone and giving instructions to do so remotely, which I did.

No news of the smashed iPhone

I did not hear back from them during the month of August but since most places shut down completely anyway, I didn’t think that it was worth pursuing. I scheduled the follow-up for 3rd September since I thought the staff would need a couple of days to tell their co-workers about their summer holidays before they would deal with call.

Then, out of the blue, on 2nd September, about 6 pm, I received a phone call from a man who told me that he had bought an iPhone with a broken case via for 150 euro but couldn’t use it because it was blocked. A message gave him my number to ring (this is due to Apple’s tracking system).

The smashed iPhone turns up in someone else’s hands

I was completely taken aback. How could someone else have my iPhone, which was supposed to be being repaired by the insurance company? I explained my story and said I’d ring him back after I’d spoken to the insurance company but that I certainly wouldn’t want to pay him 150 euro for my own phone. He reassured me that he would simply give it back to me.

Next day, after many phone calls, I finally managed to declare that my iPhone had been stolen some time between when I sent it by Colissimo and the man’s phone call. I checked the Colissimo website and saw that the last time it had been seen was at the distribution centre in Val d’Oise which meant that SRP had never received it.

I phoned Colissimo and was told that it would take a maximum of 21 days to complete their inquiry and get back to me. That’s when I discovered that I had omitted to ask for extra insurance and would be reimbursed a total of 4 euros if, indeed, they were responsible for the disappearance of my iPhone. I am no longer covered by SPB for that iPhone because the insurance was transferred to my new iPhone as soon as I activated it.

Back to the police station

So  I decided to go and report the theft to the police immediately. The odious police officer from the time before recognised me and my lot fell to the least intelligent police woman on duty who took a full hour to lodge my complaint because she found the story so complicated. She was not aided by the fact that she held multiple conversations with any colleague who came in sight and there were a lot of them because there was a complete change of staff while I was there.

The police station from the outside - I didn't know how they'd react to a photo inside!

The police station from the outside – I didn’t know how they’d react to a photo inside!

Before I read and signed the complaint despite the multiple spelling errors, I phoned the man with iPhone back but I was only able to leave a voice message.

The new iPhone owner calls back

He rang me back later and I tried to get the story right. He explained that he works in IT and had the cover replaced by a friend but it cost him 110 euro (not that he was asking for any money, he said, that was his own problem and would teach him not to buy over the internet). He said, though, that he could have the broken cover put back on (you’d wonder how that would be possible considering the fact that the front was completely smashed).

I told him I’d ring him again after talking to Jean Michel to work out when we could go and collect it and he said he could organise things directly with JM. He even gave me his name.

The sad demise of the smashed iPhone

But Jean Michel does not want us to pursue the matter. He says he doesn’t want an iPhone that has been messed around with. Which I can understand. So I think I’ll just have to write it off as a complete loss. But I still love my iPhone 5S!

P.S. Just discovered that 220 euros have been deducted from my account for the stolen replacement iPhone. Now I have to look after that as well!

Posted in French customs, Lifestyle, Paris | Tagged , | 8 Comments

Friday’s French – littoral, cotière & rivage

In last week’s Friday’s French, I talked about côte meaning coast (among other things). A reader said he thought that littoral meant coast so I thought I should do a second post!

Le littoral espagnol sur la Côte basque

Le littoral espagnol sur la Côte basque

I checked out my trusty Larousse which tells me that le littoral is a sinuous area where the sea or a lake comes into contact with land. Then it goes on to say that it has a wider meaning than either rivage or côte which concern the area directly or indirectly affected by the action of the sea.

It also gives a second meaning i.e. littoral is used when speaking of all the côtes of a country, region, ocean or sea.

OK, so, in practical terms, what exactly does that mean? Examples of use are probably the best indication.

The first that comes to mind is conservation du littoral which means coastal conservation.

Here are some other examples:

Sur le littoral, une maison sur deux est une résidence secondaire. – One house out of two along the coast is a second home.

Avec ses milliers de kilomètres de littoral, la France offre une extraordinaire diversité. – With its thousands of kilometers of coastline, France offers extraordinary diversity.

Les Sauveteurs en Mer contribuent à diminuer le nombre des accidents sur le littoral français. – Lifesavers help to reduce the number of accidents along the coast of France.

Côte, often in the plural, could also be used in all these examples:

Une maison sur deux sur la côte est une résidence secondaire.

Avec ses milliers de kilomètres de côtes, la France offre une extraordinaire diversité.

Les Sauveteurs de Mer contribuent à diminuer le nombre des accidents sur les côtes françaises.

But the register is different. Littoral is more appropriate in a written context.

So when wouldn’t you use littoral? You wouldn’t say Je vais passer mes vacances sur le littoral or Il faut beau sur le littoral or J’adore le littoral. You would need to use côte in all these examples.

Côtier, the adjective from côte, is used in contexts such as bâteau côtier (coaster), région côtière (coastal region), ville côtière (coastal town) and pêche cotière (inshore fishing).

And what about rivage, which I mentioned earlier?

This is closer to our word “shore”, namely, that part of the land subjected to the action of waves and tides. It can be used for both the sea and lakes. Apart from names of camping grounds, restaurants and hotels (Beau Rivage), it’s practically never used. An example would be la baleine a échoué sur le rivage – the whale was beached on the shore.

So, in general, you can just use côte and côtière unless your context is specific.

And while I’m on the subject, when the French are talking about the Atlantic Ocean, they use the word “océan” and if they are talking about the Mediterranean, they use “mer”. whereas in Australia, we tend to use “sea” all the time. Tous les matins je cours ou je joue au tennis et après je me baigne dans l’océan – Every morning I go for a run or play tennis and afterwards, I swim in the sea. We would NOT say “I swim in the ocean” now, would we?

Posted in French language | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Weekly Blogger Round-Up: Best travel apps for Europe – 5 things not to like about France – Sibiu in Romania

This week’s blogger round-up brings us three completely different subjects. We start with favourite Europe travel apps by Marie-Eve from Europe Trip Tips, a girl after my own heart, because she, too, is addicted to her iPhone! Next, Janine Marsh from The Good Life France shares 5 things she doesn’t like about France and I’d be very interested to hear your own list. To finish up, Anda from Travel Notes and Beyond takes us to Sibiu in Romania – the more I learn bout her country of origin, the more I want to go there! Enjoy!

My Favourite Europe Travel Apps

by Marie-Eve from Europe Trip Tips is a something Canadian, full-time travel blogger, amateur photographer, translator and copywriter living as an expat in France who’s been to over 17 European countries and keeps adding new ones every other week.

apps_eurotriptipsAnytime someone asks me “What’s the one thing you wouldn’t travel without?”, my answer inevitably is “My iPhone” — what I commonly refer to as my other half (and yes, I am married to an actual human being). Saying that I am obsessed with my phone isn’t an understatement, and I am seriously considering a surgical operation in order to permanently attach it to my hand. I barely ever read guidebooks anymore — not because I don’t enjoy them, but because frankly, I cannot be bothered to go out and buy them when I can get the same insightful information for one third of the price and one tenth of the weight at the tips of my fingers. Considering travellers can book hotels, purchase flights, look up restaurants, take and edit photographs and plan an itinerary with their phone, it’s hardly surprising that I wouldn’t travel without mine. Read more

5 Things I Don’t Like About France

By Janine Marsh from The Good Life France, an independent on-line magazine about France and all things French, covering all aspects of daily life including healthcare, finance, utilities, education, property and a whole lot more

things-i-dont-like-about-francePeople say I’m always going on about how wonderful France is. They say “there must be something you don’t like” and there is. Nowhere is perfect. But first, let me just emphasise, I love France and having a home here, I can never understand those people who moan constantly about living somewhere they chose to live. Of course if they have bad luck I sympathise, and that does happen. But, most people I meet who are unhappy and moan would be so much happier if they could make more of an effort to integrate, learn to speak the language and accept that nothing is perfect – not even in France.

So here are 5 things I don’t like about France (but they are just little moans)… Read more

Transylvanian Trails; The Historic Centre of Sibiu

by Anda from Travel Notes & Beyond, the Opinionated Travelogue of a Photo Maniac, is a Romanian-born citizen of Southern California who has never missed the opportunity to travel

sibiuIt took me a long time after emigrating from Romania to become interested in exploring the land of my birth. Being born there, Romania wasn’t at the top of my list of European countries to visit. But I have to confess that every time I came across other people’s posts about my country of origin I felt a little jealous and ashamed. So here I am, trying to undo my betrayal.

A couple of months ago we took a road trip to Sibiu. Also known as Hermannstadt (in German) the city was the center of Romania’s German minority since medieval times. But the Transylvanian German population started decreasing after World War II and the process continued during the Communist Era. Read more

Posted in Eastern Europe, France, Life in France, Travelling | Tagged , | 6 Comments

La Rentrée

After the August exodus comes La Rentrée, that untranslatable nationwide “back-to”: back-to-school, back-to-work, back-to-wearing-shoes-every-day, back-to-setting-the-alarm, back-to-the-metro, and all the other disagreeable things about everyday life.

1st September in the Palais Royal - a few stragglers who are not part of La Rentrée

1st September in the Palais Royal – a few stragglers who are not part of La Rentrée

For those who have stayed in Paris it means queuing at the market, leaving the car in the garage and being packed like sardines in the metro.

For families with children it means the added expense of buying school supplies and paying for extracurricular activities. There may be no uniforms except in select private schools but kids still shoot up 5 cm during the holidays and their feet are always growing.

I remember the first time Jean Michel experienced his own rentrée des classes (back-to-school) when his 16-year old twin sons come to live with us full-time. Mine were 21 and 24 by then so were looking after themselves.

Tension kept mounting as he saw how much time, energy and money were involved. I told him to be patient until the October break after which everything would go back to a normal pace. And it did!

We are having our last rentrée in Paris. No more children to worry about – my son Leonardo is living and working in Berlin maybe on his way to San Francisco, my daughter Black Cat is in New York, having finally got her dream job, and the twins are 25. The future doctor is married and has applied to be an intern in psychiatry in Brest on the western tip of Brittany, and the greenie, having completed a degree in geography, is living in a community near Nantes on the eastern tip of Brittany.

Jean Michel has only 17 more working days until retirement although the move is scheduled for the end of October. After a very slow month workwise, I have just received a rush job for tomorrow (of course) so I shall stop this post right here and wish you une bonne rentrée!

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Posted in Lifestyle, Paris | Tagged | 4 Comments