Monday, 29 September 2014

To Porto and back again!

A view from the restaurant area of the university. Pampas
grass grows absolutely everywhere, but I found out that
it is an invasive weed there, but unfortunately one that the
road crews like for verges.
I had a lovely time in Porto, the Portuguese that I met were not like I imagined at all. I guess I expected them to be a little like the Spanish, but that is a bit like expecting the French to be like the Germans, just because they share borders. The Portuguese that I met were all lovely gentle folks and yet they still managed to convey passion. One professor retorted to the suggestion, they should team up with Mediterranean academics for a regional coalition, was that as a nation they had far more in common with northern Europe, especially Britain, which took some of us by surprise, but I can see what they mean.
Porto has many houses with tiled fronts that I found unusual
A view of Braga, north east of Porto where I was staying
I had no complaints about the hotel, the staff were lovely and, as I mentioned last week, even though I left my phone on the table at breakfast time they returned it with no problems and had even tried to use the phone to alert those who knew me. The bed was a tad hard for me though and so I folded up the quilt and laid on that, then nicked the quilt off the other twin bed for one more layer and a top by folding it in half. I was rather amused and surprised to see when I got back to my room at night that the cleaner had made up my bed the same way. I really appreciated that. Unfortunately on the last day they must have had a change of shifts and the new cleaner tucked both quilts in as in a regular bed and I had to untuck them and fold them up again. The only other quibble I have is that they change the towels every day, even if you follow the instructions for helping hotels be greener by re-using towels. In the instructions it says that towels left on the bath and the floor will be washed, but if we want to help the hotel be kinder to the environment then hang the towels on the rails, which I duly did every morning and yet every evening the towel was replaced by yet another clean one. Made me wonder why on earth they put up those kinds of notices then.
St Martins of Tibäes monastery
I love doorways. 
Of course there was lots of conferencey things and people spouting forth on various topics to do with landscape architecture or people in landscapes. As someone new to the field it was quite interesting. At least it is not usually a very technical field and relies a lot on aesthetics, so there were lots of pretty pictures too from different countries. I learnt that South Korea had botanical gardens, as you maybe would expect, but they also had a children's garden for the education of little ones long before it became fashionable here, although it is now closed. I learnt about Swedish mothers being exhorted to think of their children's minds as a place of cultivation. I also saw some very clever folks coming up with some really interesting ideas, but who really need to learn to consult more with those they are designing for. I also met a lot of folks who are at Sheffield University where I graduated from many, many moons ago. So all in all, a very pleasant time was had.
Cloisters with tiles depicting the life of
St. Benedict. Some tiles are missing though
The courtyard view from the cloisters
There was also the usual trips to go on and this time I made sure I was booked on one. I thought it would be really helpful to try and see the landscape in the way a landscape architect would and in that way it did. I chose to go on the gardens tour rather than the tour that included wine tasting. Considering I cannot really drink much and only red wine not white, it seemed a little pointless. For the garden tour we went to Braga, about 50km north east of Porto. The first was a trip around a monastery, the Monastery of Saint Martin of Tibäes . The monastery was taken off the monks back in the 1800s during the liberal period, due to the fact that the monks were too well off and the land was redistributed to pay off debts of the state - at least I think that is what we were told. The buildings weren't well looked after and fell into disrepair and now back in the states's hands who are undertaking major conservation work. Interestingly enough the conservation work is being done whilst the monastery is open to the public, so that people can see the work in progress. It was shut though to most people on the day we went, due to work being done to host nine heads of state for some talkshop event. Only pre-booked tours were allowed.
A walled garden best viewed from high up for the guests
at the monastery
Part of the 40 hectares of walled gardens
On the tour we got to see the room where the leaders would be sitting, called the Chapter House, and told it was the same room that the Benedictine monks would decide on the future of the organisation for the following three years. They had responsibility for all of Portugal and Brazilian Benedictine congregations at one time. There were tile mosaics of Joseph's life in Egypt to inspire the leaders of the monastic order to rule wisely, a very apt backdrop to the talkshop I thought. I took the opportunity to pray in that room for wisdom and a leading of the Holy Spirit for those leaders who will be meeting there, a great privilege and a wonderful sense of timing at the opportunity. We also got to look around the gardens of course, not quite all 40 hectares of walled garden, but a good proportion of it. It was an amazing place with hidden corners and walls within walls. There were sudden surprise views and much evidence of it being both a place of prayer and a place of work that characterised the monastic order. There were vineyards of course and patches of maize, orchards of oranges and lemons and many other trees, especially sweet chestnut. Certainly worth the visit.
A moss covered object by a
reservoir of water
A place of pilgrimage "Bom Jesus do
Monte" You are supposed to climb
those steps not walk down
Our next stop was to a place of pilgrimage, where a steep set of steps were supposed to lead to the New Jerusalem. The stations of the cross were outlined in tableau form in small chapels that you could only glimpse in, and depictions of ladies representing the five virtues, lined the steps up the hill, or was it nine virtues? Hmmm! There were a few of them anyway and charity was the highest virtue that equates to love - I remember that much. We walked down the pilgrim way, as do most folks these days. The only ones we saw going up were runners!!!!! Rather them than me. We had a rather nice lunch at the top before wending our way down the steps at a leisurely pace. Apparently the formal gardens in Portugal are suffering due to a disease that is affecting the small box hedges that edge the ornamental plants.
I guess this is supposed to represent
the tomb

I loved the mosaic pathways
So a after a good long walk to finish off my stay in Portugal, the following morning, all too early, I set back off to Latvia. As I got into the airport I met two ladies who were also heading for Latvia and taking the same route as me, much to our surprise, when we got on the plane we found we were sitting next to each other. As we travelled we chatted a little, but they had work to do and so out came the computer, so I caught up a bit with some of my work too. Part way into the flight they leaned across and asked me how to word a sentence in a proposal they were trying to write for some money for a project. I enquired a little more so I could help with the context and it was at this point I realised they were asking for money for a project that I was trying to do. That set us talking about how I could be involved, which was really exciting. I had to write my CV and send it off to them, which was rather scary, but with a little help of my computer files with various bits of information I put one together. In the airport. They also asked me about the technical term "stakeholder." They thought it meant an owner of a piece of land in the area of a project or initiative, but actually the term is far wider than that. As I explained, it is everyone with a "stake" in the area, whether that is by living there, owning land, the authorities, or you name it they are a stakeholder, even the researcher of the project really is a stakeholder. What I said was necessary was to define who the stakeholders are and why they are included or excluded from whatever process under investigation. I am not sure they have much experience of research in public participation, well neither have I, not the practical side of it since becoming "qualified," but I do know where to get the information they need. Watch this space and if you are the praying type, please do!
The ladies of virtue! The statues of course, no disrespect to
my friend wending her way down.
Ian's been busy replanting raspberries today
We had a long stay in Gatwick, but at least I had company. I was a little frustrated that I was so close to my son and his family, but couldn't visit. Because my trip was paid for by a grant, I couldn't take a stop over to visit, even if that meant not costing any extra. Very irritating, but without another source of funding I can't really do much else. The thought crossed my mind that I could do crowd source funding, some people have used that successfully to fund research, but as I prayed about it, I didn't feel that now was the time. We still have money and I just have to trust that it will see us through. Anyway back to the trip, it was rather nice to arrive and see Ian's face again. I even bought him a little present by way of compensation for not being there on his birthday, we don't really do presents these days, but I did buy a packet of chocolate digestives and a packet of shortbread. I know how to treat him.
Sunflowers suspended to dry, high in the eaves of the

I was busy working when this suddenly appeared outside
the window. Gave me quite a shock it did. Fortunately
I think they were just cleaning out the guttering, since
there seemed to be a lot of flying debris.
Back home now and we are back in the routine. Sometimes I stay home and get work done, either on my course or processing food and sometimes I take a trip out to the land. Poor little Aggie (Agnese our baby alpaca remember), as soon as she sees me her ears go back and she has this funny pained expression on her face, not surprised really and yes I did clean her foot again, which she is not happy about. She won't be happy with me tomorrow either as I have to help with injections. Her front feet are now much better, but one of her back feet does not look too good. Bit by bit we are getting there and it is at the worst time of the year for mites, so we feel we are winning, especially since the alpaca's condition are improving all the time. Herkules, especially is putting on weight now and his fleece is starting to grow back. We might go for one more oil treatment regime, as his skin is just beginning to look a little crusty again, but it won't need to be as long as previous treatments. He's another alpaca who groans when they see me.


  1. Interesting how God arranges meetings with people. Who knows what the outcome of the'casual' conversation will be. A very interesting read of your time in Portugal.

    1. Amazing indeed Mavis. Glad you enjoyed the read

  2. A profitable time all round for your trip to P!

  3. I have never been to Portugal but do know someone from Blackburn who lives there now and has asked me to visit. It does look tempting. Such a lucky meeting on the plane too.

    1. Well with an invitation like that, I would be seriously tempted. It is a lovely place and the people nice.


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