Saturday, November 11, 2006

Piri-piri brownies

1. Make chocolate brownie mix. If you don't have a tried and tested recipe of your own, pinch somebody elses. I used this one from the BBC.

2. Add as much chilli as you dare. I used a mix of piri-piri powder (lethal stuff) and crushed dried piri-piri peppers.

3. Bake

4. Eat

5. Burn


We spent a few days in Lisbon last week. As Portugal's rail network is (a) sparse, and not very useful (we would have had to get a bus and three trains) and (b) not that cheap, we decided to get the bus. This involved a half hour trip to Chaves, followed by a change and an approximately eight hour journey to Lisbon via Vila Real, Regua, Viseu, Coimbra and Fatima. It was nice to see some more of the country, we learned that not all of Portugal is as mountainous as the area we're in, but there are some very beautiful parts, especially the river Mondego near Coimbra. It's just a shame the bus driver was a bit crazy and by the time we reached Viseu (notable for the windiness of its roads) I was green in the face and desperate to stop, fortunately we got a 45 minute lunch break there which provided ample recovery, and the journey thereafter wasn't so bad.

We reached Lisbon at about 4:30pm and took the train to Cascais (seaside resort where dgym's mum was staying with some friends). We found ourselves a residencial, met up with everybody, and soon were reunited with our long lost love, curry.

The next day we took the train (about 45 minutes) into Lisbon to take a look around. Lisbon is very steep in places, and paved with small white bricks which can be very slippery in the wrong shoes (e.g. cycling shoes with metal cleats in the bottom), and probably gets its fair share of injuries on a rainy day. Fortunately it wasn't raining. Unfortunately, Lisbon was filled with noisy beered-up green Scots (although there was considerable debate as to whether they were Scottish or Irish) due to a Celtic football match happening nearby, so we did what any sensible English person does when confronted with his football-obsessed fellow countrymen abroad - felt a bit ashamed and embarrassed, tried to tell ourselves they were Irish and therefore from another country, and even if they are Scottish that's kind of another country, and tried to steer clear of the rowdy green masses. Not a Portuguese fan in sight...

We went up to the castle, which cost 5euro even to get into the grounds, but was worth it - it's pretty high up, and the views over the city and out to sea are just stunning.

Pictures of Lisbon

The next day, Thursday, we stayed in Cascais and went for a walk along the beach.

Friday we got on the bus and travelled back to Valpacos - this time the driver was better, and the bus went up the motorway to Porto so most of the journey (distance-wise) was smooth and painless. However, the roads are smaller and bendier in the north east, whichever way you go, so it wasn't quite so pleasant towards the end.

Fishy Advice
This is a warning to anybody who is considering eating Portuguese fresh sardines: They don't take the insides out. This is important information, as it may kind of put a damper on your eating experience to get a mouthful of the wrong stuff.

PS. We ate pig guts yesterday.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

By popular request

We've been staying in Valpacos for a couple of weeks now, having mostly got used to the idea that people were so willing to help two wet, smelly foreign strangers and welcome us into their lives. Strange isn't the right word for it, it's sad that such things might be considered strange - but it is very much at odds with what we are used to.

We are living with Manuela, her father, and a Ukrainian girl who speaks good Portuguese. We still don't understand much of what is said, but are learning to pick out words, and are coming to the conclusion that most conversations are about food. Everybody cooks for everybody in the house - huge pots of soup (including a fantastic Ukrainian red soup), stews, roasted castanhas (chestnuts)... We have been working our way through a selection of delicious sausages which hang over the fireplace, some made with bread and some with honey. Unfortunately, we have provided suitable representation for English cuisine by cooking such delights as a bland, tasteless stew that I don't think anybody really liked, and a bolognese that nobody complained about but ultimately ended up in the dog's bowl.

We did make an apple crumble, and as many of you will know, Dgym is an expert in the field of crumbly goodness. We couldn't find cooking apples, only sweet eating ones, so it wasn't really fruity enough. A couple of plums helped, but it could have been a lot better. It is quite possible that they are trying to keep us from cooking by getting up early to make lunch. In the UK I think we rely a lot more upon exotic and/or pre-prepared ingredients, rather than knowing how to work with the basics. We would welcome any suggestions as to how we can make a favourable culinary impression upon people who seem to be able to whip up the most delicious meal from a few basic ingredients. (We're good at washing up though)

At the moment, we're not quite sure where we want to end up living, but we think it's probably not here. Here is lovely in many ways, but too far from our friends and families, and too far from any decent cycling - and one thing we have learned this year is that cycle touring is great fun and we want to do lots more of it. Portugal would be great cycling if the drivers weren't psycho, and Spain would be even better cycling if they actually served food there. At the moment we're thinking France (lovely mountains, great cycling, quite convenient for exploring the continent by bike) or Scotland (low population density, very beautiful, the exact opposite of convenient for exploring the continent by bike but still lots of good cycling, and a good deal more convenient for getting back to Southern England). Both have nice houses we can afford, and both are close enough.

We will probably leave here in January, and then start focusing on finding somewhere we do want to live.