Sintra – The Tourist Capital of Portugal


Up till now, our journey has been delightfully free of crowds – but that changes drastically when we arrive in Sintra.

There are bus loads of tourists everywhere! And the sizes of the tiny streets are just not up to this kind of congestion. In an attempt to deal with the onslaught, the city fathers have made almost all the streets of Sintra one way – and driving thru the maze of city streets packed with cars, tourists, and the occasional local is daunting.

Victor does a wonderful job of it however, and we manage not to get divorced en-route. I can’t say that we escaped without a bit of yelling at each other – including my finally screaming – JUST PARK THERE!

Our resting place is a legal, albeit heading the wrong way space, quite close in fact to the National Palace of Sintra, our destination. Victor’s hip (not the artificial one) has been bothering him this trip – and I’m sensitive to the fact that walking up and down hills isn’t comfortable for him. So I’m thrilled we found a parking spot that won’t require miles of hiking, and more than will to pay the price for it – if we can find a parking meter!

We search right and left for something that explains how to pay for parking, and finally decide that maybe it’s not required. Strange, but I’m willing to believe anything some mornings.

Fortunately, our walk to the castle takes us right by a meter – and they don’t need your space ID – they need your license #. Whew! We took a picture of the back of the car early on, thinking we might need this number – and are prepared. 5 Euros later – we’ve paid for our parking spot. What a relief.

Parking paid for, we walk to the main square – predictably packed with tourists. I’m both starving and dying for a toilet stop, so we pick the nearest restaurant (expensive, very pretty, and not very good) and empty one end and fill the other. Rest stop over, we are ready to visit the Palace.

We’ve been warned that the crowds here can translate into insane waits to get in, and poor visiting conditions, but luck is with us. We’ve managed to catch a break between tour groups and bus loads, and sneak in with no hitches, and no crowds.

The Palace is a stunner. Built by the Kings of Portugal after visiting the Alhambra in Spain, it has moorish influence, and has seen countless renovations. There’s a free audio tour, and senior pricing. We’re happy.

The highlight of the tour, for me in any case, was being in the room where Columbus was given his commission to find a path to India, and where Vasco Da Gama returned to announce to King Manual I that he had found the Cape of Good Hope and sailed to India and back. Wow – history happened right here…

I’m glad we came to Sintra, but I total understand why some folks have given us conflicted reports. The mobs are daunting, and we are not even in high season. I can not imagine what this place will be like in just a few weeks. But for now I’ve seen it – done it – Don’t have to come back.

Our plan for the rest of the day is to navigate our way into Lisbon (Lisboa for those in the know – like the Portuguese) and park the car. Tomorrow we are going to return the car and be done with it. And I for one will say good riddance. Cars are nice to have, but getting lost isn’t any fun, and we’ve had our parking challenges. So all in all, I shall be happy to return it to Europcar.

And for once, our plan actually works. Our directions to the AirBnB are easy to follow, and while it’s on the slope of a hill (Not good for Victor’s hip issues), it’s quite lovely.

Occupying two floors, we walk in to a hall, dodge around a staircase to squeeze past the bathroom to another hall and the bedroom. Our bedroom has a massive window overlooking the garden below and from there out to distant buildings and eventually the ocean. There’s even an orange tree to admire. Down stairs is the kitchen (kinda old and crummy – but all we really wanted it has – a fridge and a clothes Washer (heaven..)). The main room has a dining table (perfect for Victor to use with his computer), and a comfy sofa. Outside of sliding glass doors that take up the entire width of the apartment (about 12 feet – max) is a tiny garden with a paved floor and several plants. It’s sunny, and the birds are having a blast. It’s perfect.

For dinner we go to the near by Journalist Club, one of the top restaurants in Lisboa, and certainly interesting if not overwhelming. After dinner it’s a short walk down hill back to our tiny palace. It’s late (of course) and it’s bed time. I’m out like a light. Give me a good bed and an open window – I’m a happy camper.

Signing off to get a good nights rest – finally – The Soup Lady

Averio – the Venice of Portugal


Well – not quite. But they do try! There are definitely Canals – and what look like Gondolas if Gondolas were much larger, had much brighter paint jobs, and the Gondoliers wore T-Shirts.

But leaving the comparison to Venice aside – I kinda liked Averio. It’s very touristy = and the side walks are rather hard to navigate between the undulating terrain and the mobs of people, but the canals are definitely pretty. I liked the jovial atmosphere and particularly liked the buskers (we saw a group of actors doing a pirate imitation that got the kids really excited, and one of the best living statues I’ve ever seen – it was a woman with a baby carriage dressed as a Victorian lady – and very cool).

We stayed in a lovely hotel – The Averio Palace, located right on the ‘Grand’ Canal. We ate an over-the-top dinner that while not overwhelming, was at least a better value than the one we tried in Porto, and we managed to even tour the old convent/museum. Altogether it was a nice over-night.

It was getting to Averio that proved complicated! I’m not sure what it is about our two – count’m two GPS systems – but neither is being all that easy to use.

Our first GPS system is my cell phone – and the issue with using it is two fold. First off – it costs Data Plan, and I don’t have unlimited Data here in Europe. So I have to use the trick my daughter taught me – you turn on Data, download the directions, and immediately turn off the data. This works great – unless you make a wrong turn. Then of course you are in big trouble. There’s no re-routing ability – and by the time you turn back on your data and request your destination again – you are seriously lost.

How lost became very obvious when we spent an hour driving back roads (one lane, unpaved) thru what looked to be endless forest in search of the former and quite famous convent in Arouca.

We did manage to find it eventually – but not without a great deal of yelling at each other – and the phone!

Our 2nd GPS is a Garmin. And in theory should be better than the phone since it is constantly hooked into the GPS system, no data plan needed.

The issue with the Garmin is that often it just can’t find a place. Case in point – that convent. Which is why we were using my phone in the first place.

But never mind our GPS issues – we did manage to leave Porto with little problem. I must admit that I loved our Air BnB booking – it was a one bedroom apartment on the 2nd floor of a condo building. There was an elevator – our one and only elevator in Portugal as it turns out – a tiny kitchen area, a nice sized living room, a bathroom that required my husband to sit sideways on the toilet to have room for his knees – and a perfect location.

It definitely provide that old real estate maxim – The 3 most important things in buy real estate? Location, location, location!

After a lovely breakfast at our local coffee house (only 4 days – and they greeted us as old friends) we headed south. Our first stop was the castle at Santa Maria de Feira. It is really a castle – exactly like one would expect from the Middle Ages – complete with curving stone stair cases, a great room, and a long involved history. My husband loved it. Our 2nd stop was the afore mentioned convent – which was not only almost impossible to find – was a bit of a disaster as far a visit went.

We arrived in Arouca, and after finding parking (always daunting in these tiny towns) we opted for an extremely locals only dining experience. Mom in the Kitchen, Dad acting as waiter -and when folks arrived who spoke only English – the 20 some Son showing up to help out! He had to check with Mom to find out what was on the menu – we had a choice of steak or veal stew – a local speciality. And I must say – both were delicious. We shared a bottle of wine, and throughly enjoyed ourselves. A good thing given what happened at the convent.

After lunch, we walked to the convent ticket office – where a sign clearly stated – opens at 14:00 (that’s 2:00 PM). No worries, we’ll wander for 5 minutes and be back. We wander, get back – and get told that the ‘tour’ won’t start till 2:30 PM. What is the point of opening at 2:00 if the only way to see the convent (by tour guide) is only happening at 2:30? But never mind – we wait the 30 minutes – to be told, there’s a group coming, they are short staff – and could we please wait till 3:00? Sigh – I drove for almost 2 hours to get here – I’ll wait. So, we wait. Only to discover when the group finally arrives that it is huge – 2 full bus loads. That’s it. I’m not touring a convent with 60 folks who speak only Portuguese. So we tell the gal running the ticket booth – forget it – we’re leaving.

She takes pity on us – and says – I’ll open the doors – tour by yourselves. So she does, we do – and we admire the outstanding work done in the choir stalls for the nuns, the huge kitchen, and the fabulously over the top altar pieces that make up the wealth of this former convent.

From there it’s back on winding roads to Averio, a quick walk around the canals, dinner and bed.

Tomorrow we are going to Coimbra – home of the largest university in Portugal.

But for now – it’s enough.

Signing off to get some much needed shut-eye – The Soup Lady

Porto Vs Malta – a Tale of two Cities


It’s hard not to compare Porto and Malta. To start with – I just spent 4 days in Malta, and now I’ve been in Porto for three days – so they are clearly placed in direct comparison.

Secondly, they are actually quite similar in many ways – and very very different in others.

Language of course is the first major difference. In Malta everyone spoke English – it’s the 2nd official language after Maltese – and all the signs, menus, and shop keepers are more than happy to use English. Porto is of course in Portugal, and Portuguese is the first, and for many of the folks we’ve met, the only language. For the first day, my husband was feeling very disoriented, but by day 3 we’ve gotten used to using sign language and are finding it very easy to get around.

Porto is a much larger city than Valetta in Malta, in fact – it is more populated than the entire island of Malta – so there is a great deal more hustle and bustle. And a lot more of everything – more restaurants, more ice cream shops, more cars, more buses, more of almost everything. But there is also less. I haven’t seen a hobby shop, or a store for buying lace or trimmings. There must be shops for hobbies, but in all our walking, we’ve yet to see one here in Porto. However, we have seen hardware stores, linen stories, lots of clothing stores, shoe stores – and grocery stores. Not to mention wine and port shops. There are also more touristy things, albeit crammed into a small area of the city. This is where Malta and Porto share a bit. Valetta was a tourist heaven – everything in Valetta revolved around making the tourists happy. That is the same in the part of Porto closest to the Douro River. If you are looking for souvenirs – you don’t have to look far once you’ve walked past the train station. Packed in from there down to the Douro are restaurants with lively Terraces, stores selling stuff only a tourist would want, and in the spaces not occupied by these, the occasional church.

Architecture is also somewhat similar. No, Porto doesn’t have the crazy glassed in balconies that were so common in Valetta, but they are both walled cities, they both have narrow winding streets – and here’s the strongest shared strength – pedestrian only sections.

I love these sections – you can walk down the center of the street in both Valetta and Porto and not fear for your life. It’s fantastic. Why don’t more cities try this wonderful approach. I realize it’s hard to get supplies in of course – and while I never saw them stocking the stores in Malta, we did spot that happening here in Porto. The traffic jams were of gigantic proportions – cars and truck everywhere as drivers grabbed boxes out of the backs and ran to deliver their orders before the streets were closed to traffic. And the Portuguese have the coolest way of controlling access to these ‘blocked’ streets. There are posts controlled by phone that block the roads. Drivers apparently either use an app on their phones, or call to some central number – and a minute later – down goes the post. Pretty cool, eh?

Both Valetta and Porto also are filled with churches and religious iconography. In Malta the churches are generally gothic or pre-gothic, dating back to the times of the Knights. Here in Porto, the churches are covered in glorious tile work. Either plainly coloured, or patterned, or my personal favourite – huge graphics of religious images. These glint and gleam in the sun, contrasting sharply with the occasional graffitied wall painting.

The inside’s of the churches of Malta, with the stark exception of the Co-Cathedral which is decorated from stem to stern, are fairly plain. But in Porto, over the top is the way to go. The altars, with few exceptions, had staircases leading upwards towards either the crucified Christ, a version of Mary, or sometimes the patron saint of the church. Once we saw a Church were the top of the staircase was empty. I asked – and it was explained that the ‘insides’ varied according to the season. At Easter time, it was the host, at Christmas, the Christ Child – etc.

I also asked about the staircase motif. I’ve been in dozens and dozens of Catholic Churches, and never seen this before. Apparently it’s a Portuguese thing – they had their own version of Catholicism- and is designed to help the faithful find their mental way up to G-d.

Food options in both Valletta and Porto abound, and since this is the start of the season of eating outside – there were terrace options everywhere. In Malta, which is a bit warmer than Porto, huge umbrellas are used to define your terrace from the terrace of your neighbor. And curiously – the terrace didn’t adjoin your restaurant. Instead, you occupied the center of the walking street – with space for pedestrians on the left and right. In Porto, the terraces are much more likely to be adjoining – absolutely the case when the street was open to traffic, but often true even on the walking sections.

Side note – in Coimbra – our next to next stop, I also spotted the use of these huge umbrellas in the center of walking paths to delineate the Terrace area of a restaurant. A ‘Terrace’ that disappeared when the umbrellas were folded and put away. It’s pretty cool.

Pastries in both cities were of course delicious – and if I don’t stop trying all the delicious options, I won’t fit into my uniform. The ice cream in Malta was better – I’m a fan of the Italian style ice creams. I tasted some in Porto – but they didn’t measure up in my opinion – neither in looks nor flavour. But hey – they were cheaper.

We naturally ate well in both cities. Maybe a bit better in Malta, we had meals supplied by locals that were delicious, and did consistently well when we branched out on our own. In Porto we ran into some losers (bummer), but also some pretty decent winners. As noted in an earlier blog, I absolutely adored the roasted chicken – and the Port Houses serve lovely wine.

So – a tale of two cities – both of which you should put on your must visit list.

Signing off to travel to other cities in Portugal….

The Soup Lady

Porto – Surprisingly Wonderful


I think I’ve fallen in love with a new city. Porto is amazingly beautiful. It’s not just the stunning architecture either – nor the fact that we’ve been blessed with lovely weather. Nope – my love affair with Porto is based on what always works great for me – the food!

Oh my but we’ve eaten well here. And not just fancy either, although the Bib Gourmet Restaurant – Dop was right up there. Our first night was a holiday night – and most things were closed, but not Pedro dos Frangos. It’s clearly a local joint – my kind of place. There are dozens of chickens roasting on an open flame in the window – and a long counter with a very mixed crowd relaxing while they enjoy a quick glass of wine with their roast chicken.

We join the throng, and delight in moist juicy chicken – fresh off the grill. Upstairs is more seating, but the food is mostly the same – just basic grilled chicken with French fries. Simple, delicious – and cheap.

For breakfast there is an unending selection of coffee bars – some offering seating, others more simple – but all prepared to make you a lovely cup of Cafe aux Lait – or what ever they term it here. Cafe aux Lait definitely gets me what I want – and I’m happy.

The pastry selection is also outstanding – croissants of course, in a multitude of variety – plain, chocolate, almonds, creme – you name it, they have it. There are also Portugal specialities – a cake with a Carmel flavoured top, and of course Pasteis de Nata – a traditional tart with a rich egg custard nestled in a crisp pastry. Oh did that go down swimmingly this morning. Yum.

For Lunch we feasted on a traditional Portuguese Sausage, French Fries (yes again), Pimentoes de Patron (a delight we remember from Spain), and the absolutely totally Porto only invention – Francesinha.

We decide that this is Porto’s answer to Poutine. Francesinha is a sandwich made with thick slices of white bread, wet-cured ham, fresh sausage, steak – and topped with melted cheese. Poured over this is what we in Quebec would recognize as BBQ sauce, but which the Portuguese describe as a thick tomato and beer sauce. Rich, delicious, and of course soul satisfying – this is comfort food at a new level.

And then there is the Port. We’ve only done two Port tastings – but you don’t need to go to a Port House to taste the named drink of Porto. There are hundreds of Port shops around the city – and many offer guided tastings. But old fashioned as we are – we do the more traditional thing of visiting the Port houses.

Our first port of call is Calum. It’s one of the biggest and most commercial of the Port Houses – specializing in the low end ports, but also offering some of the more interesting options. Our 14.5 Euro tour includes a 7D movie (they spray water on you) that quickly describes the basics of port wine production, an interactive gallery, a tour of the storage facilities with the huge oak vats that tower above us, and of course a two port tasting. I don’t particularly care for either port (a white and a tawny), but I did find the tour of mild interest. I definitely hope for something better at our next stop.

And oh boy – does Graham deliver. Getting to the Port House is a hike – and I’m guessing this fact alone makes it harder for random people to just pop in. Plus they offer a selection of fine Port tastings – and allow you to share a single tasting among several people. This is of course a much better way of doing things – we watched in wonder as one woman downed glass after glass at Calum. For sure she wasn’t walking home. But at Graham, the focus is clearly on the tasting, not on copious consumption.

They offer (for more $$ of course) food to go with the port, and we opt for a cheese tray. Eating the cheese and crackers dilutes the impact of the sweet wine, making it easier to keep our focus and taste the distinctions between the varieties. We try 4 Vintage Ports (5 when our host adds a Colheita), and 4 Tawny Ports. I don’t care for the Tawny Ports – but the Vintage Ports are wonderful. The 5 Vintage Ports are all made from wine from a single harvest and include a Warre’s 1980 and a Dow’s 1985. These are our favourites, but then our host trots out the Colheita from 1972. It was only bottled last year – it’s been stored for 36 years in the cellars of Grahams – and it is lovely. It’s a tawny port – so lighter in color than the Vintage Ports – and it’s been filtered, so it will age extremely slowly in the bottle.

It turns out that one of the tricky things about Port is the aging. You must age the Port for at least two years in oak before you can bottle it. If you bottle it unfiltered – it will continue to age in the bottle – those are the Vintage Ports. Like the Vintage Ports, the Colheita is also from a single harvest, but it has been allowed to age in oak barrels, supervised by the Port makers. So – we bought a 1972 Colheita that was only bottled in 2017. We also bought a Dow’s from 1985. Both were outstandingly delicious.

We are warned to drink the Vintage Port within 3 days of opening the bottle (unless you pump out all the air – or have a way to cap the wine with Nitrogen). LBV’s and Tawny Ports don’t have this problem, and the Colheita, which has been filtered, will also hold its own once opened. It’s just the Vintage Ports that are unfiltered that should be opened on a special occasion, and then drunk promptly.

As a special treat – not that it cost them much – they handed me a small glass of my personal favourite, an LBV (late bottled vintage) from 2012. Much simpler than the vintage ports we’d been enjoying – I loved it anyway.

Well plied with Port, and feeling quite ok with the world, we walked back to our lodging – up hill all the way naturally.

This is a wonderful city…

Signing off to figure out what dinner will hold for us… The Soup Lady

Malta to the Max


It’s day 3 of our stay on this lovely island – and I’m beginning to appreciate why folks retire here. It is another lovely day – the sun is warm, the sky is blue, and the folks are friendly. What more does one need?

Well – if you are into Regency re-enacting – the answer is a day in the country.

Our plans for today are to do a bit of visiting – although our horse drawn carriages are not up to quite so long a trip. We must take transport from the future – a Bus. Well, actually – two buses. There are a lot of us, and we need space for our hats and canes!

Our ‘outing’ is to the homes of two family members of some of the organizers – at the first stop we enjoy a stroll in their olive grove, and do a bit of olive oil tastings. We also stroll down to a small local chapel, and the more energetic of us even visit the remains of the last donkey driven well on Malta.

We then change homes to a larger estate that has a swimming pool (no skinny dipping – sorry), a lovely flower garden, a commanding view of the ocean, and sufficient room for dancing. I’m guessing at least 2 acres of grounds in total, all of it beautifully maintained.

We stroll, we dance, we eat, and we chat. All things that Regency folks would have found endlessly amusing.

Eventually we must return to Valletta (it’s already 8:00 PM) – and regretfully end our Regency Weekend.

We retire to our rooms – and change clothes. There is of course the rest of this evening and all the next day to enjoy ourselves in Malta.

Dinner is at a lovely restaurant built into the walls of the old city, and featuring it’s own museum. Our group is a buzz with the excitement of the weekend, and we stay late chatting.

The next morning our plans include shopping for lace and trimming for more Regency gowns – and Malta offers some wonderful shops for this purpose. I buy meter upon meter of lovely trim, enough to make several more dresses. Now all I need is the material!

After shopping, we head over to the Armoury of the Knights of Malta – a highlight for my husband and Peter. I’m less impressed – if you’ve seen one helmet – you’ve seen too many.

We walk down to the walls that plummet down to the Grand Harbour to admire the set-up for tonight’s FireWork Finale. There’s a huge floating performance stage with enough electronics on it to cause a significant shock if it should hit the water. We watch crews position fire work barges out on the water – this should be a pretty decent fireworks display.

We’ve made reservations at the roof top restaurant that we enjoyed our first evening – they have a commanding view of the Grand Harbour – and should be a perfect place for watching the fireworks.

And they definitely deliver. There is an outdoor terrace – but folks have reserved tables there – and we can’t block their view. Instead we are told to climb a spiral staircase to another terrace – and discover the view is even better.

The fireworks start late – everything starts late here – but is well worth the wait. They are outstanding. Because they can – they use the entire length of the harbour – well over 2 km long – and the fireworks fill the space. They are coordinated to music – which we can hear rising almost dream like from below us. It’s an incredible experience – one I shall long remember.

This is our fourth night staying up after midnight, and I’m beginning to feel the strain. Since my normal bed time is around 9:30 – ok, I’ll push it to 10:00 – you can imagine that I’m beginning to feel a bit like butter spread too thin on toast. And tomorrow we must say good-bye to Malta and travel onwards.

My feet hurt, my back is saying – stop, and my mind agrees.

Enough is enough.

Signing off to get a well deserved nights rest – even if it starts at 2:00 AM – The Soup Lady

Malta – It isn’t just about meeting Royality


Not that meeting royality isn’t fun of course. It is – but life needs more than that – and Malta definitely delivers.

The Royality that we meet are two Marquis – but I’m getting ahead of my story.

Last night was a late night – and tonight promises to be late as well, but before we can go to the ball – our hosts have planned a day of Regency adventure. Well – not really adventure of course – but fun Regency style for sure.

We are all dressed in our ‘day’ outfits – so while not ball gowns – we do look pretty fancy. Our day starts with breakfast – and I must say we create quite the stir at the breakfast area. The staff quickly realizes that we must all be together – and seats us near each other. Handy for comparing outfits for sure.

After Breakfast, we stroll arm in arm over to the Gardens, where we pose for pictures (there are a lot of Japanese who are going to leave Malta very happy), and admire the view, the flowers and each other. It’s a lovely way to spend an hour. We then gather for a group painting (amazing how quickly those square devices make instant paintings these days), then stroll down the streets of Valletta to the Casa Rocco Piccolo. Our tour will be very special – the Marquis and Marchioness de Piro will be our tour guides.

Our group is split in half – 10 of us go with the Marquis, 10 with his wife. We’re lucky to be in the group with the Marquis – particularly because in our group is Tony – also a Marquis in Malta! And of course he and the Marquis de Piro are friends, and trade lively banter through out our tour. I’m dying to ask the Marquis what his children said when he announced – 20 years ago now – that he was opening their home to tourists – but I guess the question was rather mute. His older son runs the company that runs the tours!

The house itself is lovely of course – and packed with odds and ends of a life well lived. They have inherited collections upon collections from their family members – and all of them are carefully kept in the house. There was a folding chapel – for use when you didn’t want to dedicate an entire room to your chapel, there were 3 shoes from various popes – given to the family as thank-you presents. The Marquis explains that being given a shoe said you were close to the Pope, a gift that has since fallen into disrepute – not surprisingly. I think it’s weird.

There were a few outstanding paintings, but most of the collections were books – particularly books on Maltese arts and crafts like lace making. In another room were paintings of famous family members, including one aunt who was considered fairly wild and carefree – in 1920.

In our Regency clothes, we suit the house well – and both the Marquis and Marchioness observe that we are probably some of their best dressed visitors.

We leave for a glorious multi-course luncheon, and then retire to our hotel. I for one am definitely napping before we must dress for the ball. Tonight is going to be a very late night.

The highlights of the ball – aside from it’s location in a Church Museum in Medina – is the horse drawn carriage ride thru the walled city, the glorious desserts provided (I’m very fond of the Nipples of Venus that were served), and of course the dancing. The Dance hall has much better acoustics then our practice space, and a lot more room. I dance and dance till my feet hurt – what a wonderful way to spend the evening.

Tomorrow will be more Regency Fun – but tonight was memorable.

Signing off to tuck her very tired feet into her warm cozy bed – The Soup Lady

Malta – Who knew they do Regency here?


Let’s be even more specific – who knew that Napoleon had been to Malta? I mean Malta is all about the Knights of Malta – wealthy beyond measure, guardians of the pilgrims to the Holy Land, heroes of the Crusades. But Napoleon – in Malta?

Well – he was definitely here. There seems to be some debate about just how long he was here ( I was told 3 days, and just passed a sign that said 7 days) – but there is little question that he came, he said ‘give up’, and the Knights simply said – ‘Ok’. No guns were fired, the French simply occupied Malta and that was that. It only lasted about two years however – and then it went back into British control – which continued until Maltese Independence in 1964.

But that’s .hardly the point. The point is that we are here in Malta as Regency re-enactors. Our goal is to have fun, and show off our best Regency dresses, suits and uniforms of course.

I’m staying in the very fancy Phoenicia Hotel, just at the main entrance to old town Valletta. The hotel is very nice – and fairly expensive. But we have a lovely room and a large bathroom that features Grohe faucets. I must say I like the size and the towel warming rack – but I’m not a fan of the shower. They have taken a tub, removed the faucet part that fills the tub, and added a dual function shower. So there’s a wand and a standard shower head, no tub filling faucet. It’s ok, but not like the EB Hotel. And the water pressure is definitely lacking. I’ve been told that there is precious little fresh water on Malta – perhaps that explains the wimpy shower.

Our Weekend activities are to include a wine tasting lecture, a promenade thru town, a Garden visit, a tour of a Regency period home, a private tour of a local monastery, a dance workshop, a ball, and an afternoon tea dance. Sounds like fun to me! And of course all of this is to be done in period clothes.

Packing to come here was a nightmare, as I’m sure you can imagine. I need at least 2 dresses for Saturday (one for the ball, one for the day time activities), plus a day dress for Friday and a different day dress for Sunday. I need shoes, fans, gloves, head decor, my re-enacting glasses, and for cold weather wear – a Spenser and a shawl. Men, particularly men in uniform, have it so much easier. Which is why Victor is opting to come as a civilian – that way he can change clothes 4 times as well!

Our goal is get all of our re-enacting clothes into one big suitcase – using our carry-on suitcases for non-re-enacting clothes. And surprise, surprise – we actually manage to do this. Victor’s jackets, pants, vests and shirts take up most of the room, I use stuff bags to hold my rolled up gowns. I’ll just put them in the bathroom with the shower on hot and full blast to steam the wrinkles out.

And my plan totally works. I manage to get 4 dresses, 3 head ornaments, 1 black turban style hat, my dancing shoes, 4 reticules (small bags a lady carried to hold necessities during Regency times), and 4 pairs of white gloves into 3 stuff bags. And we manage to get those stuff bags into the one suitcase!

My dress on Friday is rather simple. A plain blue dress with my brand new and very beautiful green and gold Spenser (a short jacket with long sleeves) over it. I’m warm and comfortable, and I look good. Perfect. The wine tasting and lecture was interestingly done – but I can’t say that the wine blew me away. Malta is too dry and too warm year round to allow for really good grapes to grow here. And the winery we visited insisted on using only grapes grown on Malta for their wines. I’ll pass. And their ‘cellar’ is up a spiral staircase. That is definitely odd.

After the wine tasting, we have ‘free’ time – which I choose to spend visiting the Co-Cathedral of St. John – headquarters of the Knights of Malta. And it is wonderful. My senior price includes an audio guide – and I patiently listen to every thing it has to say. The Church is magnificent – but the highlight is the Chapel of the Novices – where hang the art work of one of those novices – the famous artist Caravaggio. After killing a man in a dual in Italy, Caravaggio fled to Malta and became a Knight of St. John. While a novice, he painted two massive paintings, both of which now hang in the Chapel. He was later expelled from the order – apparently he killed another man in a dual – he had a very bad temper – but the order kept the paintings.

And they are stunners. Gloriously beautiful and well worth the price of admission to the Church. I loved them – and spent almost 20 minutes admiring them. He was such a master of light and dark, of the theatre of painting. Sigh.

But I must return to the Regency world – so I leave the church and head back to the hotel.

Later in the day we have a dance practice that doesn’t go that well. It’s in the under-Croft of another church in Valletta, and it’s hard floor, hard walls, and arches make it impossible to hear the caller. She tried to use a sound system, but the feedback was very annoying. But we solider on, and do almost 30 short dances – just enough of each one to gain at least a tiny bit of motor memory.

I’m surprised that she doesn’t think to demonstrate the dance before calling it. We’re mostly experienced dancers – and watching folks do the dance one is just about to do is often enough to enable us to do the dance for ourselves. After two very terrible teaching efforts – she realizes that with this many people (we’re easily over 60) speaking so many different languages (I counted Italian, French, Russian, Maltese, Accented English (British/American/Canadian), and Spanish for sure), showing is faster than talking. So she smartly switches to demonstration mode, and the teaching goes much faster.

Unlike our practice sessions at home, we are learning a lot of dances – and then ‘dancing’ them for a fairly short time before starting the next one. I thought it was great fun – Victor found the feedback pretty annoying.

There’s a break in the middle for some much needed lemonade and biscuits, then back to the grind stone to learn the last dances before we head out for dinner.

The Weekend Price is all included (except breakfast), so as a group of around 60 we walk to our dinner restaurant. It’s on the top floor of an old old building, well located overlooking the Grand Harbour of Valletta.

Like traditional hotels everywhere – there’s an elevator – sort of. But it’s slow and small. And there are 60 of us. I quickly do the math and decide that walking up 5 floors is going to be a lot faster than waiting for that elevator. And so it proves. I arrive in time to grab a table – outside but away from the wind – and Victor and I are quickly jointed by the Canadian Contingent – Sebastian and Elena, Peter and Miyoko. Several other dancers join us – and we make a jolly, if a bit cold, party! Bottles of wine later, we retire to our separate dwellings in Valletta, tired but happy. Tomorrow is going to be a very full, very busy day.

Signing off to prepare for a day of dancing, sight-seeing, and Regency fun – The Soup Lady

Knysna is perfect! (What a relief!)


We wake in Mossel Bay to a perfect day. Cool and crisp, the sun is shining, the sky is blue – and the ocean is blue. And completely empty of whales.

This is getting a bit tough to take. Where are those whales? Folks who live and work around this area are constantly talking about seeing the whales – so the lack of whale is getting me a bit down. But I shall soldier on – the ocean has plenty of fish, and whales. Some are bound to turn up, Right?

We opt for the grocery store breakfast – bread and a bit of coffee. I’m not willing to pay $20 each for a buffet breakfast of more food than I could possibly eat. Makes no sense to me.

After our quick, and not very satisfying breakfast, we head over to the Dias Museum. It’s right next to the hotel – and houses something very special. A touch over 500 years ago, Bartolomeu Dias and 32 crew members sailed a Caravel from Lisbon to Africa on a voyage of discovery. 6 months after leaving Europe, while searching for fresh water, he made land literally 100 feet from where I slept last night. 500 years later, it was decided to build an exact replica of his ship, and sail it with a crew of 17 from Lisbon to Mossel Bay. After the 3 month voyage, the ship was towed by hand power up from the beach and into the museum. Once safely inside, the rear wall of the museum was constructed.

On the outside, the boat is an exact copy, right to the steering mechanism (no wheel – they used a rod tiller). And by today’s standards – it is small. In fact it is so small that it is hard to imagine 17 people working and sleeping and eating on board – let alone the original crew of 33! Inside some modifications had to be made – partly to make her sea-worthy by today’s standards – and partly to make her livable by today’s standards! They added a kitchen, 3 toilets, and bunk bed! The original crew slept on the decks, cooked on the decks, and well – I guess – did you know what on the decks. The cargo hold was filled with ballast to keep the boat steady in the water.

Definitely worth seeing! I was so impressed by the tiny size, and extremely durable construction. Naturally, when they made land, they did it in period clothing – so they have samples of that in the museum as well.

The rest of the Dias Museum complex is kinda silly – a shell museum, the original watering hole, and the Post Tree. Apparently, again 500 years ago, someone hung a message on the tree, and another captain from another boat months later retrieved the message. Hence the name, and the proper post box underneath for visitors to continue the tradition.

Have been there – seen the Museum, we motor on past beaches, houses, townships and informal settlements (their name for clusters of corrugated metal shacks that house folks not really ‘legal’ in South Africa. Our next stop is Knysna (don’t pronounce the K), and we are even going to stay 2 nights.

I’m really looking forward to this – my poor body isn’t built for one night stands – I need to get used to a bed before I can get a good night’s rest.

The drive into Knysna is actually ok – the town had a huge fire in June, so we were a bit worried – but apparently the damage was done to areas around the town, not the actually town. We stop into a hotel to ask directions – and are told that the Conrad Pezula is on the Eastern Headland.

Means nothing to me of course – but I follow the directions and find my self leaving Knysna and heading along the Knysna Lagoon towards the ocean. It turns out that Knysna occupies the far side of a lagoon – part of which is deep enough for proper boats, and the entrance to the lagoon is protected by two Headlands – East and West. These huge out-croppings of rock kept the harbour safe – but they are perilously close to each other. And directly facing South. The British navy named it one of the 3 most dangerous harbours in the world.

And justifiably it turns out. The waves outside the harbour mouth are huge – and if you attempt to enter as the tide is going in – you will be rushed in like no tomorrow. And if you are fool enough to try to bring in a sail boat when the tide is going out. Well – you aren’t going to make it.

In the days before motor – this must have be a entrance to challenge the brave and foolish. Even with the help of a motor – it’s not easy to navigate – you must still time your run in with the tides and waves.

Needless to say – all this nature makes for a spectacular setting for the Conrad Pezula. It’s perched high up on the Head – and the views to both the South and North are stunning. The hotel isn’t slum housing either. We drive up to the huge Portico entrance and are greeted by 3 bellman. One to take the luggage, One to take the car away (the only option is valet parking), and one to escort us in to registration. We are welcomed, offered our choice of refreshments – and assigned our room.

To get to our room, we must ride in a golf cart down and around to our 4-plex – 2 suites up, 2 suites down. Our suite is on the upper right, and features an entrance hall, a bar set-up with coffee machine, tea, etc, and then our room itself with it’s fireplace, sofa, bed and glass window wall open to the stunning view. And then of course there’s the bathroom – walk in glass shower, a toilet room, a double soaking tub, and two sinks. It’s a wow. I’m particularly impressed with the walk in closet (oh, I do like a walk in closet) – all wood, all black, and the doors are barn door style opening. Very very nice.

We love our lunch overlooking the pool, and opt to spend the afternoon relaxing in our room. We have dinner reservations at JJ’s Grill back in Knysna, so eventually we have to climb back up to the main lodge (we could have called for a golf cart – but that seemed overkill – it was only one stair case). Dinner is interesting – with a menu that features things like Ostrich, Kudu, and Crocodile. Victor opts for the Crocodile – looks a bit like chicken – I enjoy a nicely cooked T-Bone steak. The trim is different from what we do in Canada – more fat is left on during the cooking – resulting in a richer mouth feel, if also producing a lot of ‘steak’ you can’t eat.

Back to our palace with a view for bed – but first – can you please lite the fireplace? Of course – we’ll be right there. And they do! It’s lovely going to bed to a roaring fire. We will sleep well.

Signing off for yet another day – The Soup Lady

Day 2 in SA Wine Country – Only 1 Winery – Thank Goodness


We wake to our alarm, and go down stairs for breakfast. While not quite as wonderful as the breakfast at the Cape Heritage, it’s a delightful spread of various cheeses, cereals, fresh fruit (I love fruit), 4 different kinds of breads, and hot items such as scrambled eggs, bacon and potatoes. I order a Latte (wonderful), and even score a newspaper to read. Nice start to the day.

We head out to Spier, one of the massively huge wineries in the area. Spier offers family friendly entertainment along with the wine tasting – there is a ‘Bird of Prey’ exhibit, a large area for picnics, and even Segway Tours of the vineyard. But we are here for the tasting. We are seated at a table, and asked which of the options on offer we would prefer – the standard tasting, the chocolate and wine tasting, or the prestige tasting. Victor reminds them that we’d pre-ordered our selections – and this upgrades us to the ‘knows something about wine’ category. A shift in staff happens – and our new ‘server’ is far more knowledgable about what Spier has to offer. It turns out that she started in the Cellars 3 years ago and has been steadily promoted to a role as one of the ‘top’ tasters.

She certainly knows her wines – and gives us an excellent taste tour though what the vineyard has to offer. The challenge comes when we try to buy some of the wines. They can’t figure out how to ship to the US. Seriously? You are one of the largest producers in the area, and you have no US distribution? How odd is that.

Well – never mind – your competitors have it figured out – we’ll buy wine from them.

After the tasting, we head over to the ‘Slow Market’. I’d seen the signs – it’s held at a winery near by on Saturday from 10-3 – and I think it sounds interesting. And I was right. Unlike the market we went to a few nights ago – this market is huge. There are vendors both inside and outside, and they are selling ready to eat food, soaps, African handicrafts, their personal art (paintings mostly, but there are a pair of brothers doing wire bead work that I love), flowers, vegetables, hand painted this and that – basically it’s a giant assortment of vendors, all selling things that they made.

We love it. We wander thru the entire market, checking prices and admiring this, that and the other before we decide on a freshly made waffle for lunch, along with strawberries picked that day by a local farmer. I surrender to the need to buy something by picking out beaded flowers made by the two brothers mentioned above, and Victor buys some wooden bowls to give as gifts.

After lunch, we head back into Stellenbosch to check out an antique store we spotted (it’s closed by the time we get there), and to visit two of the non-wine related highlights of Stellenbosch, the Village Museum and the Botanical Gardens.

At the Village Museum, the movie isn’t working, but the visits to the 4 older homes (one from 1750’s, two dating from around 1812, and the last from 1850. All 4 homes have interpreters dressed appropriately who give you the standard intro when you walk in. If you ask them questions, they actually know quite a bit about the homes, but the onus is on the visitor to be inquisitive.

We are particularly impressed with the knowledge of the gal in the first 1812 house, and actually leave her a bit extra as a tip.

The Botanical Gardens is a relatively compact area in town that has been a public garden for over 200 years. It is tied to the University – and there are students doing homework or just lounging on most of the larger green portions. The gardens has 4 large greenhouses, a giant Fern garden, a rose garden, several pond areas, and lots of paths winding here and there. It’s quite a lovely spot to spend some time. We are particularly intrigued by a large flowering plant that apparently grows in the shade. But of course – we can’t bring anything home with us like that – we must admire but not buy!

Eventually we head back to our hotel, change for dinner and again wander the streets searching for just the right spot to have dinner. We opt for a hotel restaurant that has set up tables on the sidewalk, making for a lovely outdoor eating area. I love my braised pork belly – a nice change from Lamb chops.

After dinner, it’s back to the Oude Werf for bed.

Tomorrow is another day, another winery… Signing off – The Soup Lady

Exploring the Khayelitsha Township near Cape Town with Maurice Podbrey (Part II)


For the past 8 years or so, Maurice Podbrey has made it his mission to help a Youth Football Club in the Khayelitsha Township flourish – and an uphill battle it has been. But to attempt to explain what he’s been doing – and why it is so interesting, I think I have to start with a quick description of South Africa today, at least as far as I could see.

Officially – Apartheid ended 22 years ago – but undoing it has been much harder than I think most of us in North American can begin to appreciate.

I was lucky enough to find a wonderfully well written article on Apartheid (written in 2014). I highly recommend you read it – but I will summarize it below.

If you’d like to see the original piece – here’s the Link. Please read it – it’s quite interesting.

Here is my quick summary – The author makes several important points – He starts with a quote from Edgar Pieterse, director of the African Centre for Cities at the University of Cape Town. Edgar says: “The social engineering of apartheid came down to a very successful model of spatial engineering,” The author continues: “Tracing his fingers over a map of the city in his office, he explains how both natural landscape features and manmade infrastructure were employed as physical barriers to keep the different racial communities as isolated as possible.”

“Cape Town was conceived with a white-only centre, surrounded by contained settlements for the black and coloured labour forces to the east, each hemmed in by highways and rail lines, rivers and valleys, and separated from the affluent white suburbs by protective buffer zones of scrubland,”

Driving around Cape Town today – in fact driving anywhere in the area – one can see exactly what Edgar is talking about. It’s easy to spot the shanty towns (no electricity) and the black townships (bit nicer but still shanty houses – have electricity). And if one looks carefully – one sees how the highways, huge zones of scrubland, and other natural features hem in these areas. Folks who live in these areas have a very strong sense of community – but they can’t easily move away. It’s a giant move, or stay put. That’s the only choice.

And it’s a hard one even for us to make in Canada – if you chat up new grand-parents – they are torn between living their lives where they are, or moving closer to the grand kids. Hard choice. Now make that choice harder by not having enough money for a car – and putting the pieces of your life an hour away by bus (if the bus comes), or 2 hours away by foot. Keeping your family close, if unemployed is somehow more appealing.

In any case – life in the townships is tough. There are few jobs – well, I’m being generous – there are no jobs for young adults. No A&Ws, no Dad’s factory, no where to work. If you want to earn some money, you can try to start your own ‘business’ – selling stuff you pickup to passing cars, gathering wood from the near by scrubland, maybe helping people park their cars, but the pickings are slim. And you are miles and miles away from the places where any kind of normal job could be found. To visit the township where Maurice’s football club is located was a 45 minute drive from Cape Town. And there are 1.5 million people living in just that one ‘Township’ If even just 10% are young men from 16-22, that’s 150,000 of them. The numbers are simply staggering.

Back to Maurice. His football club isn’t trying to address all the problems – but it does specifically target some issues in one tiny area of the ‘Khayelitsha Township’. Kids who belong to the Pauline Podbrey Club get a hot meal after school – and are encouraged to do their homework either before or after practice. The teams (and there are at least 8 – organized by type of game, girls or boys, and age) have team colours and team outfits – paid for by Maurice’s fundraising. In fact Maurice’s fund raising has basically paid for everything – from the white board to the plastic chairs, to the kitchen set-up used to cook the hot meals.

When we went to visit – we were introduced to several of the ladies who work in the Club – the bookkeeper, a lady who works with handicapped kids of all ages, and one of the team managers. Some of the kids also came to talk to us – they told us about their ambitions – one wants to play professional soccer, or if he can’t do that – something with Math. The other young man isn’t on any team – he’s new to this township, having just moved here from the Eastern Cape, but he’s good friends with kids in the club, and is thinking about joining. Two young ladies, about 10 years old, were also there. They play Net Ball – a version of Basket Ball that is popular here. They demonstrated their techniques, as well as told us a bit about their lives. If you’d like to make a donation – and trust me – even a dollar would be well spent there – click here for the link to the Pauline Podbrey Foundation.

After we said goodbye to the Club space, we visited the new park that has been built near by the Club. It is a year old, and a lovely space indeed. There is a garden area with plants and flowers (the only growing things besides kids we’ve seen here in the Township), a playground, a soccer pitch, and a net ball court. Quite a remarkable difference from the rest of the township. We also drive by the shopping area – you can buy almost anything you’d want there – although it’s likely to be displayed on the ground, or hanging from the fence that surrounds the space. There are traditional looking, albeit poorly stocked, shops, but most of the shopping is done from individual sellers who spread their wears on the ground around the shopping space.

South Africa is a glorious country – magnificent beaches, towering mountains, wide open spaces. Surely there is enough room and enough resources to go around. There must be a solution – although it is of course not one a casual visitor can easily imagine.

I did dream up one idea – although I am willing to describe it, I can’t see how it could happen. There is a lot of undeveloped land in the District 6 area, hard by several of Cape Town’s now integrated Universities and Colleges. My idea is to build dormitories and Apartment houses on this land. The dormitories would be occupied by students – roughly 1/3 white, 1/3 black, 1/3 coloured. The idea being that living together would help them understand their similarities. Then here’s the interesting part. The Apartments would be rented only to graduating students who had lived in the dormitories – roughly on the 1/3, 1/3, 1/3 basis. And the rent received from the students would be kept on account for them. After 5 years – they would have to leave the Apartments to leave room for new students, but they would get back the rent they had paid in, perhaps matched by the government. This would give them seed money to get better jobs, a better home, to start a business.

Anyway – on to our travels.

After leaving the Township, we head back along the water to catch a lovely light lunch at one of the small towns on the beach. After lunch, Maurice drives us up to the base of the cable car that goes up Table Mountain. We’d hope to catch the thing – but it wasn’t running – too much wind. But never mind, even from the base the view is amazing.

Tonight Victor and I have decided to do something really really different – we’re going to a show at Gate 69.

The Cape Heritage Hotel where we are now staying is in a busy bustling part of Cape Town – very different from the deserted landscape just past the Water Front. And right across the street is the Gate 69 Club. I saw a brochure for the place – and it is obviously a Drag Queen Supper Club. And I figure – why not?

Getting reservations is actually part of the fun. They are officially sold out for tonight, but I decide to visit the box office for myself. I run into all three of the owners – all busy getting ready for the night – but very willing to find a space to squeeze in two guests from Canada. ‘Cathy’, the main hostess runs out quickly – only partly dressed – to welcome me – and tells me that she’s (he’s) only been here in Cape Town for 2 years – but loves every minute. I’m guessing that foreign visitors haven’t quite figured out how much fun this kind of thing can be – and we are being treated as honoured guests!

There is only room for about 80 guests – all seated at tables in front of a stage. The theatre space is all red velvet and gold curtains, the welcoming bar area is done in purple plush – and they have camped it to the max! Cathy Pacific – our 6’4″ hostess for the evening is decked out on the red carpet – greeting guests as they arrive with big hugs and a smile. She’s lovely – if a bit muscular for my taste! We are escorted in to the bar area, and share a glass of wine before climbing the stairs to the theatre proper.

Dinner is a complete surprise. I’m not sure what I was expecting – but not a fabulous multi-tiered platter – somewhat reminiscent of a British High Tea service. There are two kinds of olives, several different types of toasted breads, a liver spread, a hummus spread, two different kinds of ‘sandwiches’, chicken Satay, a tiny plate of cold vegetables, fresh bread served while we eat – and a wonderful hot soup with decidedly unique citrus notes. It’s yummy – and more than we can eat! We save the cheese plate and the fresh strawberries for later – and admire our ‘waitress’. Like Cathy – she’s enormous – and dressed to fly in a tight fitting airline hostess outfit. These ‘girls’ would never make it onto a plane – with their headdresses we’re talking over 7 feet – easy.

The show starts with the three owners welcoming us to their ‘place’. I had met ‘Cathy’ earlier in the day – and she has consistently refered to my husband and I as our ‘Canadian’ guests – too funny that. And then the show is on the road.

The premise is that the three airline hostesses have recently been demoted – something about using the toggle to eject the door and inflate the slide so they could make it on time to a performance in Cape Town. So they are doomed to ‘domestic’ and begin by mourning their loss of ‘duty-free’ benefits. The show is a brilliant combination of patter – and songs often set to recognizable tunes with words re-written to suit the venue. My three top favourites were a send off of ‘Be Our Guest’ that included the line – we’re not French you know.., a version of Rolling Down the River (Proud Mary) that laid them in the aisles – and of course the absolutely perfect ending song – Mein Herr. Yes – done sitting (sometimes) in chairs.

We laughed, we groaned, and we admired! After the show they served Tequila ice cream as a good-bye treat, and while other’s stayed to continue to soak up the bar, we headed across the street and to bed. Tomorrow will be a Big, Big, Day!

Signing off to get her beauty rest – The Soup Lady