A Travellerspoint blog

Portugal

..... and possibly our most unnerving travel experience thus far.

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With out budget taking a hammering on account of too much socialising, Glenn (the Minister for Finance and Built Environment ie. budgets and accommodation) suggested to Bec (the Minster for Tourism, Sustainability and Health ie sightseeing, food and mingfoot) that to rescue the budget we need to essentially live somewhere for free for two weeks. So Bec set about researching some work exchange programs with the idea of working on a farm in exchange for our food and accommodation. Good in theory........

After registering our interest on a few websites, we were approached by a woman in Portugal who ran an 'animal rescue charity' on her property. We'd pay 20 euro per night for all meals and accommodation and in return we'd look after some animals and some orange trees. Great, we thought. Nothing like a few weeks of wholesome work to cleanse the soul (and the liver). So we flew from Dublin to Lisbon and took two buses to the middle of nowhere, arriving by taxi to the property at about eight o'clock at night.

On arriving we were enthusiastically greeted by an AmeroEnglish couple of about our age who looked as though they'd not been in normal company for quite some time (they'd arrived three days before us). We met the British owner of the property, a British couple running the property and the Portuguese neighbour from down the road who spoke no English. There was a roast on the table and loads of wine.

The next morning we woke up to find very little food in the house and our new AmeroEnglish friends took us on a tour of the 'animal rescue charity'. We're not sure that the animals had been brought into a better situation. BellaDog was locked in a cage the size of a small car and was up to her ankles in her own faeces. Likewise Jack the horse, whose grumpy personality meant he was largely ignored. Darling JennyDonkey looked like she was about to have twins, but was most likely badly malnourished and riddled with worms. The Forgotten Seven horses in the back paddock were poorly shod and left to fend for themselves with not a scrap of food. Cash was clearly scarce and the animals not provided with their basic food or health needs. Most likely, the owner of the property went into it with good intentions but lacked the know-how, funds or motivation to be fair to the 'rescued' animals. An internet search of the owners name turns up pages exposing involvement in horse fraud in the UK.

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Bec and Jack the Ass

The weather was abnormally cold and the house was freezing. Our days were spent in the orange orchard tidying up the trees and trying to gather firewood without an axe or a chainsaw ('We have no axe and you need a license to use a chainsaw in Portugal'). The owner was driving around on the spare space-saver tire on her car 'because there are no tires in Portugal' and we often ran out of gas for showers 'because there's a problem with gas bottles in Portugal'. The people running the place had no respect for each other, their volunteers or the culture in which they'd chosen to live (as evidenced by their backstabbing of each other, the theft of money and dishonest acquisition of money, and the zero intention they had of learning the Portuguese language. The Portuguese neighbour calls the owner 'la gorda' which she believes means 'the beautiful' but actually translates to 'the fat woman'). The final straw for us came one night in a display of drunken volatility with the inference of knives. The next morning we packed our bags and did a runner with the help of our AmeroEnglish friends who did a runner the next day. We'd paid 200 euros upfront for ten days and left after four. We like to think our money was used to buy food and health care for the animals but we suspect it became part of the wine and frozen french fry budget.

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Portuguese orange grove

As a result of a negative review by our AmeroEnglish friends, we believe this listing has been removed from the exchange program website. In case it hasn't, please excuse these few key words. Animal charity/Portugal/Helpex/Viana. We hope to make this google-able so as to prevent other people ending up in our situation. Contact us through this website if you think you might end up at this place and we'll give you further details.

And so we ended up spending two nights in a lovely Portuguese town called Beja before heading to Seville in Spain.

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Beja

Posted by TDL 04:17 Archived in Portugal Comments (0)

Ireland

Guinness and good times.

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And so an impromptu trip to Dublin was born from a seemingly harmless messenger conversation:
Bec: Yes, we seem to be sleeping a lot and wasting heaps of time here in London
Soph: Well, you could always come to Dublin..... Rail and sail deals are cheap.
(Pause while Bec looks up Railsail deals to Dublin)
Bec: 27 QUID!!! IT'LL ONLY COST US 27 QUID TO GET TO DUBLIN?!?!!? Deal. See you on the weekend.

And so Glenn and Troy and Bec took the train from Euston Station to Holyhead port, and then the ferry from Holyhead to Dublin where we were met by Soph and Jimi, whose hospitality lived up to its legendary status as usual. At the top of the to-do list was a visit to the Guinness Brewery and the mandatory pint of black stuff, or course, high above the Dublin streetscape.

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Soph and Jimi getting amongst a few Guinnesses

The next few days flew by in a haze of late nights and hot toddies. We borrowed Soph and Jimi's car, Glenn reverted to driving-on-the-left mode, and we took a road trip around Northern Ireland to check out the Giant's Causeway at Antrim and checked out the Causeway Coastal route. In spite of being positively freezing, it was still stunning. We also checked out the very interesting and very old NewGrange monument.

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Giants Causeway rock formations

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Some stunning Irish coastal scenery

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The very old Newgrange

The Irish weather was typically rubbish, so we planned to set off for the warmer climes of Portugal........

Posted by TDL 11:50 Archived in Ireland Comments (3)

London

Oh lovely, familiar, comfortable London!!

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Getting back to London has been like a huge set of goal posts we've been aiming at for the last six months. We've lost count of how many of our sentences have started with 'When we get to London.......' and so when we arrived again at Heathrow airport it had rather the same comfort factor as slipping into an old pair of PJs and watching re-runs of Seinfeld. We know the transport system, we know how much things cost and, most importantly, we have FRIENDS in London. The friends thing was particularly important to Bec who hasn't had friends for six months. Similarly important to Bec was getting to Brick Lane for a curry.

Staying for free with Glenn's brother (thanks Troy) allowed us to redirect the 'accommodation' part of our daily budget to the 'socializing' part and we didn't waste much time getting amongst it. It was excellent to catch up with Troy, Ros, Zhar and Asher and Leonie, especially given it was Christmas and all and how busy everyone was.

Christmas Day was a quiet, three-person family affair complete with roast lamb, trifle,modified Trivial Pursuit and enough mulled wine to fill a washing machine. New Years Eve was much the same. Tempting as it was to stand outside in -2 degree breezes with two million other people and watch the fireworks, we decided to forgo the queues for the loos and the tube carriages full of vomit in favour of a quiet one at home.

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Christmas Day 2008 (and some dodgy Aussie shirts)

We checked out our old London stomping grounds. Tooting Bec has become rather posh. All the little bakeries are now quite flash and even Chicken Cottage has automatic doors. Canning Town has tidied up its act with not a single burnt out car or trench coat-wearing dealer at the end of the subway tunnel and the old pub/house at Surrey Quays was so unrecognisably renovated it's hard to believe it used to be a hangout for Polish air hostesses and subject to burning newspapers through the mailbox.

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Tooting Bec tube station

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The old Surrey Quays pub, now posh!!

We took a weekend trip up to Derby and caught up with our mate Gav who we'd met in Thailand a few years ago. Gav took us round to the family car dealership, the local tourist attractions (Little John's grave, the pottery factory) and round to his mum's place for a cuppa. Good food, great company and an educational on absurd British nightclub dance practices (google 'Oops upside the head dance') if you're curious.

The lack of sun in London lent itself to doing a whole lot of nothing and after tripping around to such places as Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Club, the Imperial War Museum and the Brick Lane markets and curry mile (mmmmm curry), we decided it was about time to move on.

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The BBC media room, Wimbledon Tennis Centre

There's nothing quite like an impromptu trip, so we booked a 27 pound rail and sail deal and headed to Ireland........

Posted by TDL 08:04 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (0)

Miami

Vices and otherwise..........

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View Florida on TDL's travel map.

We can't say that we were too sad to leave Iowa, and justifiably so given that the temperature on the way to the airport was -13 Celsius and predicted to be lower. We landed in Tampa, Florida, to balmy temperatures and stayed a night in a hostel that defied all building codes before catching an Amtrak train down to Miami the following day.

Miami is a city of beautiful buildings, beautiful people and beautiful cars and hence we were completely out of our league given our wardrobe/backpack of wash-and-wear, 100% unnatural fibres. What to do? Go on a cruise to the Bahamas, that's what.

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Art deco in Miami

Now, we're not very cruise-ship type people but after thorough investigation it appeared that it was cheaper to live on a cruise ship for four nights that it was to live on the mainland USA so we got ourselves a cheap internet deal and soon found ourselves buying a helmet full of beer on the Norwegian Sky as it set sail from the port of Miami destined for the Bahamas. It took us a night to find our sea legs, but the following day we were partaking in the buffet with the best of them. After introductions all round, it seemed that the cruise ship clientele was mostly from Florida. So much so, in fact, that it seemed impossible that there was anyone left in Florida. We spent a day in port at Freeport and Nassau and on the island of Great Stirrup Cay. In spite of the weather being warmer than Iowa, it still wasn't warm enough for Bec's Iowan bikini to get a work out. Glenn went swimming as a matter of principle.

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Our cruise ship

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Great Stirrup Cay Airstrip

After four days of eating a drinking ourselves silly with half of Florida, we docked again in Miami and took ourselves off on a tour of the Florida Everglades. We took a run-of-the-mill airboat tour, complete with toilet paper ear plugs to reduce the ungodly racket, around the national park and watched a rather peculiar display of crocodilemanship.

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Airboats in the Everglades

After a blissfully warm week in Florida, London called................

Posted by TDL 13:08 Archived in USA Comments (0)

The Last of Iowa

Bridges, beanies and broken backsides!!

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Winter has well and truly arrived in Iowa. Finally. We were getting a little worried that we might not see any decent winter weather before we left. It turns out our fears were unfounded.

The weather went from fall to winter virtually overnight. Twice we dragged ourselves out of our warm beds to go and play in the snow and throw sticks at the frozen streams. Our snowmen were of better quality than any we'd ever built before and the parks and pine trees are really beautiful covered in proper, thick snow.

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Snowmen in Iowa

Living in sub-zero temperatures (Bec regularly walked to work in -13 degree Celsius temperatures) actually requires a lot of effort. Glenn had to scrape the ice from the windscreen of the car every day and only after the snow plow had been through could he actually go anywhere. Our hotel maintenance man had to shovel and salt the footpaths everyday and was often on the roof of the hotel in the snow trying to keep the gutters clear of ice.

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Glenn scraping the ice off the car

Not only is living in sub-zero temperatures a lot of effort, it also comes with its own set of dangers. When the snow melts and refreezes again it becomes ice which is, of course, very slippery. Cars slide off the road everywhere and Bec witnessed two low-impact car collisions in an hour from her hotel window one particularly slippery morning before she went to work. Possibly she should have taken this a sign of things to come and stayed at home. Rather, she headed off to work only to do a very 'old lady' thing and slip and fall over on the ice in the middle of the road, the result of which was two sprained wrists and a broken tailbone (not to mention the mental trauma associated with the non-xray diagnosis of said broken backside). The following few weeks were fairly uncomfortable for Bec.

Despite the weather we've still managed to get out and about. We did a quick trip around the Bridges of Madison County and took ourselves to see some icehockey. Ice hockey is EXCELLENT!!!! It's fast, furious and completely violent. We got front row seats behind the plexiglass next to a family with two small children whose cheering repertoire alternated equally between 'LOSERS!!!' and 'You suck ref!!'. Good, wholesome family fun and much better than the football.

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Ice hockey carnage

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A Bridge of Madison County

We can't really say that we were sad to leave Iowa (not the least because the temperature in the taxi on the way to the airport was -11 Celsius). It's lovely during summer and fall, but we're just not tough enough to live there full-time.

Bring on the Bahamas!!!!!

Posted by TDL 09:54 Archived in USA Comments (0)

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