Lowveld and Highveld/Laeveld en Hoëveld

Lowveld and Highveld/Laeveld en Hoëveld

The rain is late this year and the veld and animals are struggling. Mopanie trees still retain a curled leaf here and there. River courses and watering holes are empty and dry. The veld has been trodden bare. In the late afternoons, clouds begin to gather, but remain only a promise. Most of the animals have moved on and the Klaserie carries a lonely, desolate air.

We visited my old school and family friends, Egmont and Maureen Furstenburg again on their Lowveld game farm close to the Kruger National Park where an elephant broke into the compound earlier that week in order to access the green inside. Where zebras snort through the day. Where a leopard comes sniffing in the late dusk. Where night birds call through the night. Where the cry of a hyena makes you sad and the howl of a jackal takes you back to your childhood on the farm. Where bush louries begin their scales doh-doh-doh-doh early in the mornings and swarms fly from tree to tree to warn everyone against danger. But it is the bush shrike that we hear first in the mornings with that mysterious long hollow call that has you wondering. One night we also heard the mighty roar of a lion. In the distance.

delicate perception
when first light breaks through
and the birds awake

The Africa rhythm lasts through the day. Morning coffee on a thatched veranda, sitting still to watch the birds bathe, watching the river course through binoculars for any movement, chatting and remembering old memories and acquaintances, riding around on the dirt roads in search of game. Becoming quiet when the sun sets behind the Drakensberg and the last melancholic sounds of day die away and Venus brightens, near the new moon. And then the great inevitability, sitting under the stars alongside a big fire and listening; and spinning yarns.

Lowveld starry night
tambotie fire aroma:
meets peace for the soul

a starry parade
on a gigantic scale:
bright galaxies

new moon tonight
hanging askew in an ink blue sky:
silver umbilical chord

Egmont is an expert on birds and trees, amongst others. We drink in every word when he identifies bird sounds, near and afar, or points them out. We hear all the bushveld bird names again: bontroklaksman, bruinkopvisvanger, waaistert vlieëvanger, blousysies… We stop below or next to trees. Knoppiesdoring, worsboom, maroela, huilboerboon, tambotie, appelblaar, witgatwortel…. and we stand amazed at the lovely and original common names.

A few days later we moved across to the Highveld. Philip and Louisa Stoop’s farm near Carolina. Where the heaven is wide open and the sky a faded blue. Where grasslands fade into the haziness.

oh yes! The Highveld
is like rarified blue poems
wind mills word for word

Goedeverwachting is a farm for people, friends, chats, chickens, cattle, birds, dogs, blesbuck and wise folk. We start the first chat session over coffee and rusks before sunrise and celebrate a golden 50 years of friendship. Re-read student newspapers of 50 years ago that Louisa has kept and we recall the dead, the living and the forgotten. Work through piles of photo albums. Refresh the memoires – with Louisa who never forgets a single detail. Mostly we laugh, but also talk about serious things. Every night we get to bed around midnight and sleep until the hadidas fly over. When day is still breaking.

hadida calls
travel far through wide spaces
heavenly writings

One morning we walked 8 km, to the big road and back, surrounded by wide plains.

The pantry groans with koeksisters, ginger biscuits, bokpootjies and Louisa’s winning rusks. Fresh bread is baked. We eat organic meat – slaughtered on the farm. Mika, the cross boerbull, and I start a relationship and I whisper to her eyes. In the mornings we are angry with her, because she has, once again, pulled up pot plants and the yard is strewn with the evidence. Then she rolls her eyes and we forgive her. Sara, the wise one, prepares krummelpap that tastes best with sour milk and brown sugar.

In the evenings I take photos of the highveld sun behind the bluegums. Also of the chickens that become restless and start looking for a roosting spot. I can’t stop watching the wild geese calling raucously as they fly to their nests. I listen to the hadidas and jackals – ancient sounds of Africa.

the sun seeks a resting place
in the seam of trees
avoiding the drought

behind the bluegums
the jackals hold a séance
howling invokes old ghosts

Lowveld and Highveld, so different. Bushveld and savanna. Mountains in the distance and rolling plains reaching for the horizon. Thickets and clearings. People and people.

Hoëveld

Die reën is vanjaar laat en die veld en diere kry swaar. Mopaniebome het hier en daar ‘n verdwaalde opgekrulde blaar. Rivierlope en watergate is droog en leeg. Veld uitgetrap. Laatmiddae stapel wolke op, maar dit bly beloftes. Die meeste diere het weggetrek en die Klaserie dra ‘n eensaamheid, ‘n verlatenheid, saam.

Ons kuier weer by my ou skool- en familievriende, Egmont en Maureen Furstenburg, op hulle Laeveldse wildsplaas digby die Kruger Nasionale Park waar ‘n olifant vroëer die week deur die heinings gebreek het agter groenigheid aan. Waar kwaggas deur die dag runnik. Waar ‘n luiperd laatskemer kom rondsnuif. Waar nagvoëls heelnag roep. Waar die huil van ‘n hiëna jou droewig maak en die tjank van ‘n jakkals jou terugvoer na jou kinderdae op die plaas. Waar die bosloeries al vroeg soggens begin toonlere dô-dô-dô-dô-dô en in swerms van boom tot boom vlieg om almal teen gevare te waarsku. Maar dit is ‘n spookvoël wat ons soggens eerste hoor met daardie misterieuse lang hol fluit wat jou laat wonder. Een nag hoor ons die magtige brul van ‘n leeu. Veraf.

brose belewing
wanneer eerste lig deurbreek
en die voëls ontwaak

Die Afrikaritme duur deur die dag. Oggendkoffie op ‘n grasdakstoep, stil sit om te sien hoe voëls kom bad, met ‘n verkyker die rivierloop dophou vir bewegings, gesels en ou memories en kennise oproep, met die stofpaaie rondry en wild soek. Stil word as die son agter die Drakensberge sak en die laaste daggeluide melankolies wegsterf en Venus helder word, naby die nuwemaan. En dan die groot onvermydelike, om saans onder die sterre by die groot vuur te sit en luister, en om slim stories te verkoop.

laeveldsterrenag
met reuk van tambotievuur:
sielsvrede ontmoet

sterre paradeer
op oorweldigende skaal:
helder galaksies

nuwe maan vanaand
wat skeef hang in nagblou lug:
‘n silwer naelstring

Egmont is ‘n kenner van voël- en boomkenner onder andere. Ons hang aan sy lippe soos hy elke ver en naby voëlklank herken en uitwys. Ons hoor weer al die bosveldvoëlname: bontroklaksman, bruinkopvisvanger, waaistert vlieëvanger, blousysies… Ons staan stil onder of langs bome. Knoppiesdoring, worsboom, maroela, huilboerboon, tambotie, appelblaar, witgatwortel…. en verwonder ons aan die mooi en oorspronklike volksname.

‘n Paar dae later skuif ons oor na die Hoëveld. Philip en Louisa Stoop se plaas naby Carolina. Dit is waar die hemel wyd is in die vaalblou lug. Waar grasvlaktes wegraak in ‘n wasigheid.

wragtag! die Hoëveld
is soos ylblou gedigte
wind pomp woord vir woord

Goedeverwachting is ‘n plaas vir mense, vriende, gesels, hoenders, beeste, voëls, honde, blesbokke en wyse mense. Ons begin soggens voor sonop al kuier met koffie en beskuit en vier ‘n 50-jarige goue vriendskap. Herlees studentekoerante van 50 jaar gelede wat Louisa gebêre het en herroep die dooies, lewendes en vergetelinge. Werk deur stapels foto-albums. Verfris die memories – met Louisa wat nooit enige detail vergeet nie. Ons lag meestal, maar bespreek ook ernstige sake. Elke nag klim ons kort voor middernag in die bed en slaap tot die hadidas verbyvlieg. Dan is die dag nog besig om te breek.

hadida geskreeu
trek ver deur wye ruimtes
hemelgeskrifte

Een oggend stap ons 8 km tot by die groot pad en terug, omring met wye vlaktes.

Die spens kreun van koeksisters, gemmerkoekies, bokppootjies en Louisa se trefferbeskuit. Vars brode word gebak. Ons eet organiese vleis – plaasgeslag. Ek en Mika, die basterboerboel, begin ‘n liefdesverhouding en ek fluister in haar oë. Soggens is ons kwaad vir haar, want dan het sy weer in die nag potplante uitgetrek en die plaaswerf lê bestrooi. Dan rol sy die oë en vergewe ons haar. Sara, die wyse, maak krummelpap wat op sy lekkerste met suurmelk en bruin suiker smaak.

Saans neem ek foto’s van die hoëveldson agter die bloekombome. Van die hoenders wat onrustig begin raak en slaapplek soek. Verkyk ek my aan die wildeganse wat skorrend nes toe vlieg. Luister na die hadidas en jakkalse – oer Afrikageluide.

die son soek rusplek
in borduursel van bome
sku vir die droogte

agter die bloekoms
hou die jakkalse séance
tjank ou geeste op

Laeveld en Hoëveld, so verskillend. Bosveld en savanna. Berge in die vertes en rollende vlaktes tot teen die einders. Ruigtes en ooptes. Ménse en ménse.

In the Klaserie:

Hilltops

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The wide open spaces between the indigenous trees of Egmont and Maureen’s Hilltops lodge

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A magnificant knoppiesdoring, like a monument, gives dappled shade in the hot summers. Acacia nigrescens

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The chairs are already out, the fire burning, and waiting for a long night under the stars. The boma roof is a master piece, designed by Egmont, an engineer.

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The open living room. As African as you can get.

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‘Our’ rondavel where we usually sleep

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An indigenous cactus is a focal point

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The feng shui, the spatial arrangement and flow of energy is perfect….

Textures of the Klaserie

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The combination of bone, horns, dry river bed, savanna and bush is another perfection with a spiritual presence.

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There is just this magic about an mighty African bush sunset

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The traditional potjie. Slow food at its best.

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A herd of about 300 buffaloes moving towards the water hole near the neigbour’s camp

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The interesting colour of the fever tree – Vachellia xanthophloea

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I grew up with the raasblaar, fluisterbos, or bushwillow, and an old favourite. The dry seeds make a noise in the wind. Combretum zeyheri

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The view towards the river with its huge green trees along the river banks

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No, it’s not me. It was an elephant!

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And another elephant scar. Elephants are over populated and they cause big damage to the area

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Drolpeer. Dombeya rotundifolia, the dikbas or “South African wild pear”. An old favourite as well.

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My father was an aloe expert and collector and he could identify almost any species immediately. He had, if I remember correctly, 148 of the South African species in his collection. I took this photo in remembrance of him, who would have turned 100 years old in two weeks’ time. Dis vir jou, Pa.

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A lucky charm on the dashboard of the Land Rover

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A typical winter scene in the Lowveld. But with this year’s drought it looks worse.

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Mopani trees and leaves

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Always a treat to be with  Maureen and Egmont with his vast knowledge of the veld, animals and birds

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Anuta in the woods

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Visiting the neighbours

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Tree trunk 1

T

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Tree trunk 2

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Aloe 1

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Aloe 2

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Aloe 3

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Drought

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A dry water hole

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Red sand

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A safe lookout point

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Raasblaar

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The dry river bed. Only elephant spoor to be seen.

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A strange photo. I don’t know what happened. But I like the eerie atmosphere.

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The kudu or impala lily. Always a shock to see this bright colour in an almost colourless landscape

Animals of the Klaserie

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The banded mongoose. Almost tame. They come to get their daily eggs.

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I almost missed this kudu.

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The hyenas come at dawn to wait and watch. The one in the front is almost tame and takes food gently from your hand.

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The korra, as we used to call the Grey hornbill, brings back many memories.

The people

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Egmont, friend since schooldays, still with the sharp naughty twinkle in his eyes. A walking encyclopedia

 

Goedeverwachting

Wide open skies

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We all know the Afrikaans poem In die Hoëveld by CM van den Heever. Here is an English translation by Nikita:  In the Highveld where it’s open and heaven’s wide up there Where herds of tall grass frisk about the veld Where you can breathe freely and believe in God Stands my little house which I’ve left for money And If I sit here in the tunnels of the mine, dreaming About the Highveld wind, wide and free Then I hear the sound of my tracks, saddle and bridle At dusk when riding to the livestock. On the Highveld, where it’s spacious, where you can see far off (The wispy blue brings a lump to your throat) Stands my little house, waiting for me about a year or ten Where the little deer play on the slate tombstones But if the tuberculosis gets worse and I hear the last wheeze I then wander to the Highveld wind And in the moonlight I seek all the most beautiful places Where I made clay oxen as a child.

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E

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Golden dawn

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Solitary road

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Like a silk painting

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The clouds are building up for a Highveld thunder storm

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With Louisa and dogs on a morning walk

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Another fragile silk painting with blesbuck

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There is something melancholic about an farm gate

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The sunsets are always spectacular due to all the African dust in the air

 

Animals

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I am the owner of this farm…

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And I keep an eye on all the happenings in the yard

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Philip has a couple of the indigenous Nooitgedaght horses. All descendants of the registered Moskou stallion. They are known for their good temperament and the Stoop children, Gideon, Louise and Philip junior, are all good horsemen.

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The curious blesbuck

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I became a dog whisperer…

The people

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We celebrated a golden friendship of 50 years. Louisa and I met each other as first year students in Pretoria and a loyal friendship followed. We still have almost daily contact with each other. She introduced Anuta to me as well. What a privilege to have friends like her and Flippie.

 

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Louisa was the secretary of the student newspaper while I was the art editor. She kept all the copies of the four years and I spent many hours working through them again. What an insight in the minds of students of the late 60’s and early 70’s. And to read all the drama, ballet and opera reviews I wrote then – when you think you have all the knowledge.

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Sara, the wise one. preparing pap.

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In a relaxing mood with afternoon tea, coffee and cookies

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Organic meat: short rib and home made farmer’s sausage and a wonderful pap tart

 

 

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My relationship with Matisse/My verhouding met Matisse

My relationship with Matisse/My verhouding met Matisse

Rol af vir Afrikaans en foto’s

My relationship with Matisse began in my childhood. The olive green set of the Afrikaans Kinderensiklopedie by Albertyn. I couldn’t get enough of him and Chagall, Picasso, and the other impressionists. I studied the works in detail and they are etched into my memory.

The first real encounter with Matisse was the little church, La Chapelle des Dominicains De Vence, which he designed. We were on a six month cycling trip in Europe and had planned to visit Vence and St Paul de Vence near Nice, specifically to visit the church. We were tattered and worn after months in the sun and cycling around 90km every day. Even across the French Alps. With tent, sleeping bag, mattress and ketel, et al.

I shall never forget walking into the chapel. The sun fell through the blue, turquoise and yellow glass windows onto the white marble floor, walls, baptism font and lectern. Sacred. All our exhaustion drained away.

He himself said:

Imaginez le soleil se déversant à travers le vitrail il lancera des reflets colorés sur le sol et les murs blancs, tout un orchestre de couleurs.
L’intensité d’une seule ligne noire peut équilibrer l’impact des vitraux de couleurs.
Dans la chapelle mon but principal était d’équilibrer une surface de lumière et de couleurs avec un mur plein, au dessin noir sur blanc.

Our next encounter was in the Hermitage museum in St Petersburg. Anna Skoblova was one of our tour guides when we cycled from there to Moscow, and also our guide at the hermitage. She was an expert on the Spanish School, but our interest was nog aligned. Too dark. Too large. Too heavy. To far removed. Too much Goya. And she kept on and on until I eventually told her that there were other works in the museum that I would like to see. The most important works on my wishlist were Rembrandt’s The Return of the Prodigal Son and The Dancers by Matisse. She said we should hurry, we were running late for another appointment. At the mercy of a Russian.

How do you run in the Hermitage, past halls with Rodin sculptures, Van Goghs, Vermeers, Rubens? And you can’t stop and look. We did, however, stop in front of the Rembrandt. The Dutch priest, Henri Nouwen, was so touched by the painting that he wrote his well-known book, The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming. He began his narration where he stood before the painting for hours. He wrote that it was clear from the painting that the most difficult conversation had to be with the son who remained at home. Ah, it opens up so many stories! The one who didn’t travel …

I digress. But then we began to run further, feverishly. Hall after hall filled with masters which we glimpsed from the corner of an eye. And there, at the end of one of the passages was a last hall, if I remember correctly. And there hung The Dancers. Those five dancing figures in powerful red, against a green landscape and deep blue sky. Primitive. Rhythmic. Liberating. Hedonistic. Larger than lifesize. One only ever sees it on postcards. Tears started flowing…

And so Matisse always remained at the back of my mind. Years later there was a large Matisse exhibition in Taipei. We travelled for hours by train, bus and taxi in sweltering island heat to get there. I have just remembered that when we got into the taxi, the battery was flat and we had to push start it, sweating and cursing. Anuta now remembers it as being around a bend. And now I remember she was wearing a cool, loose, blue dress… At the museum the queue was already around the block. And we slowly moved on in the tropical sun. Purchased the rather expensive admission tickets and when we entered the first hall, the viewers were standing 12 deep in front of each work, with chilli and garlic breath. In that choking heat. Sounded like a carnival. Matisse in town!

You know how I can get into a huff. Stormed the ticket office and demanded my money back. The frightened pancake face little girl immediately refunded our money … In the end, never got to see Matisse on an island. But, we bought handsful of poasters and cards which I framed and hung against the walls in our flat. All the cutout sea patterns. The dancers, sketches. All of them. Still in a box back home and I look through them now and then.

This morning we left Vendeuil in the lovely Oise Valley where we stayed over in a house where two rivers meet – on our last leg of the trip. The garden was full of crystals and buddha sculptures and an invitation to a séance lay on our bed.

But our greatest need this morning was to find petrol. Both tanks were empty. But it was too early and places weren’t open yet. We rode from village to village, later not even noticing the beauty, later in circles and I was damp with cold panicky sweat. But, wait, that’s another story.

With full tanks and more than an hour lost, we took the road further up in the well-watered Oise Valley. Old brick villages, creeks, canals, lakes, willow trees and every now and then I saw these Monet paintings appear. Later it was Van Gogh’s golden wheat fields – it was harvesting time. That was when this haiku came to me:

geel en blou ontmoet
vasgelym op horison
hemel op aarde

yellow and blue meet
glued at the horison
heaven on earth

We were still riding along, knowing that the trip was at an end, it was our last day in France for this season, last day on Silver and Blue and the day was so beautiful and good to us. We strolled through one of the American war cemeteries. Stopped at a column honouring Napoleon where he stood during the Battle of Montmirail in 1814.

And then there was the sign pointing towards the birthplace of Matisse. In a small town nearby. But, we aimed for the next big town, Le Cateau-Cambrésis, where there is a Matisse museum.

And weren’t we richly rewarded! A conclusion. Almost a circle. And then, again, that coincidence. Synchronicity. If we hadn’t been looking for petrol, we would have taken a different route  … there we stood before Henri Matisse and greeted him like an old acquaintance whom we have followed across many parts of the world.

Beautiful exhibition with bronze suclptures, sketches, glass, paintings, cutouts.

My verhouding met Matisse

My verhouding met Matisse het in my kinderjare begin. Die stel olyfgroen Afrikaanse Kinderensiklopedië van Albertyn. My verlees aan hom en Chagall, Picasso, en die ander impressioniste. Ek het die skilderye haarfyn bekyk en dit is in my ingebrand.

Die eerste regte ontmoeting met Matisse was die kerkie, La Chapelle des Dominicains De Vence, wat hy ontwerp het. Ons was op ‘n ses maande fietstoer in Europa en het beplan om Vence en St Paul de Vence naby Nice te besoek, juis vir die kerk. Ons was gehawend en voos na maande in die son en elke dag se om en by 90km se trap. Selfs oor die Alpe. Met tent, slaapsak, matras en ketel inkluis.

Daardie instap in die kapel sal ek nooit vergeet nie. Die son het deur die blou, turkoois en geel glasvensters op die wit marmervloere, mure, doopfont en kateder geval. Soos ‘n heiligheid. Al ons moegheid het weggeval.

Hy self het gesê:

Imaginez le soleil se déversant à travers le vitrail il lancera des reflets colorés sur le sol et les murs blancs, tout un orchestre de couleurs.
L’intensité d’une seule ligne noire peut équilibrer l’impact des vitraux de couleurs.
Dans la chapelle mon but principal était d’équilibrer une surface de lumière et de couleurs avec unmur plein, au dessin noir sur blanc.

 Ons latere kennismaking was in die Hermitage museum in St Petersburg. Anna Skoblova was een van ons fietsgidse toe ons van daar na Moskou getrap het, so ook ons gids by die Hermitage. Sy was ‘n kenner van die Spaanse Skool en ons het nie ‘n saak daarmee gehad nie. Te donker. Te groot. Te swaar. Te ver verwyderd. Te veel Goya. En sy hou net aan met praat en praat, tot ek later vir haar sê daar is ander werke in die museum wat ek ook graag sal wil sien. Op my wenslys was Rembrandt se Verlore Seunen dan Die Dansersvan Matisse die belangrikste. Toe sê sy ons moet gou maak, ons is al amper laat vir ‘n ander afspraak. Uitgelewer aan ‘n Rus.

Hoe hardloop jy in die Hermitage verby sale met Rodinbeelde, Van Goghs, Vermeers, Rubens? En jy kan nie stilstaan en kyk nie. Voor die monumentale Die terugkeer van die verlore seun kon ons darem stil word. Die Nederlandse priester, Henri Nouwen, was so aangegryp deur die skildery dat hy sy bekende boekie, The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming geskryf het. Hy begin sy verhaal waar hy ure voor die skildery staan. Hy skryf dat dit duidelik in die skildery is dat die moeilikste gesprek moes wees met die seun wat tuis gebly het. Oe, dit maak so baie stories oop! Die een wat nie gereis het nie…

Hoe dwaal ek nou af. Maar toe begin ons koorsagtig verder hardloop. Saal na saal vol meesters sien ons net so uit die hoeke van ons oë. En daar aan die einde van een van die gange is ‘n laaste saal, as ek reg onthou. En daar hang Die Dansers. Daardie vyf dansende figure in sterk rooi, teen ‘n groen landskap en ‘n diep blou lug. Primitief. Ritmies. Bevrydend. Hedonisties. Groter as lewensgroot. Mens ken dit mos net van poskaarte. En daar begin ek huil.

So het Matisse maar altyd in my agterkop gebly. Jare later is daar ‘n groot  Matisse-uitstalling in Taipei. Ons reis vir ure in swetende eilandhitte per trein, bus en taxi om tot daar te kom. En skielik onthou ek nou, toe ons in die taxi klim is die battery pap en moes ons die dit eers al swetend en skellend aan die gang stoot. Nog so om ‘n draai ook nog onthou Anuta nou. En onthou ek ook nou sy het haar haar koel en wye blou rok aangehad… By die museum staan die tou al om die blok. En ons skuif stadig aan in die tropiese son. Koop die nogal duur toegangskaartjies en toe ons binne die eerste saal kom, staan die mense12 diep voor elke skildery met rissie en knoffelasems. In daai verstikkende hitte. Klink toe soos ‘n karnaval. Matisse in Town!

Julle weet mos hoe kan ek my opruk. Bestorm die kaartjiekantoor en eis my geld terug. Die verskrikte pancakeface girlkie gee toe dadelik ons geld terug… Toe nooit vir Matisse op ‘n eiland gesien nie. Maar koop toe handevol posters en kaartjies wat ek toe raam en teen ons woonstel se mure hang. Al die uitgeknipte seepatrone. Die dansers. Sketse. Hulle almal. Nou nog in ‘n boks tuis en kyk so nou en dan daarna.

Vanoggend ry ons op die laaste been van ons reis van Vendeuil in die pragtige Oisevallei waar ons in ‘n huis bly waar twee riviere in die tuin bymekaar kom. Tuin vol kristalle en budhabeelde en op ons bed lê ‘n uitnodiging na ‘n séance.

Maar ons grootse behoefte vanoggend was om petrol te kry. Albei se tenks is leeg. Maar dis te vroeg en plekke is nog nie oop nie. Ons ry van dorpie na dorpie, sien die mooi later nie meer raak nie, en later in sirkels en die koue panieksweet slaan my uit. Maar dis ‘n ander storie.

Met vol tenks later en meer as ‘n uur verlore val ons in die pad verder op in die waterryke Oisevallei. Dit is ou baksteendorpies, kreke, kanale, mere, wilgerbome en nou en dan sien ek sulke Monetskilderye opslaan. Later is dit Van Gogh se goue koringlande en dit is juis nou oestyd. Dis toe díe haiko by my besoek:

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Ons ry nog so, wetende die reis is verby, dis ons laaste dag in Frankryk vir hierdie seisoen, laaste dag op Silwer en Blou en die dag is so mooi en goed vir ons. Ons gaan stap in een van die Amerikaanse oorlogsbegraafplase. Stop by ‘n Napoleonsuil waar hy in 1814 gestaan het met die Slag  van Montmirail.

En toe is daar die bordjie wat die geboortehuis van Matisse aandui. In ‘n dorpie daar naby. Maar ons mik toe na die volgende groot dorp, Le Cateau-Cambrésis, waar daar ‘n Matissemuseum is.

En is ons nie ryklik beloon nie. ‘n Aflsuiting. Amper ‘n sirkel. En weer daardie toeval. Sinkronisiteit. As ons nie na petrol gesoek het nie, het ons ‘n ander roete gevolg… Daar staan ons voor Henri Matisse, en groet hom soos ‘n ou bekende wat ons al oor baie wêrelddele gevolg het.

Pragtige uitstallings met bronsbeelde, sketse, glas, skilderye, uitknipsels.

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La Chapelle des Dominicains De Vence, Provence

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From the outside the La Chapelle des Dominicains De Vence appeared very ordinary.

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Inside is where the magic happens.

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The simplicity is stunning.

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Matisse also designed the altar, candle sticks, furniture, altar cloth, chandeliers, priest’s robes – everything in the chapel. The reflections on the white marble floor are stunning.

The Hermitage, St Petersburg

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Its collections, of which only a small number of items are on permanent display, comprise over three million items – including the largest collection of paintings in the world.

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“The frenzy of the pagan bacchanalia is embodied in the powerful, stunning accord of red, blue and green, uniting Man, Heaven and Earth. How rightly has Matisse captured the profound meaning of the dance, expressing man’s subconscious sense of involvement in the rhythms of nature and the cosmos! The five figures have firm outlines, while the deformation of those figures is an expression of their passionate arousal and the power of the all-consuming rhythm. The swift, joint movement fills the bodies with untamed life force and the red becomes a symbol of inner heat. The figures dance in the deep blue of the Cosmos and the green hill is charged with the energy of the dancers, sinking beneath their feet and then springing back. For all its expressiveness, Matisse’s “Dance” has no superfluous emotion, other than that required by the subject. The very organisation of the canvas ensures that. Instinct and consciousness are united into a harmonious whole, as we can feel in the balance between centrifugal and centripetal forces, and in the outlines of the figure on the left, strong and classical in proportion.” – Hermitage

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The scale of The Dancers was a big surprise. Imagine, walking into this room and there they are…

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For me personally, Rembrandt’s most emotive painting.

Our rented and furnished apartment in Hsinchu

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…with the brightly coloured Matisse prints against the wall

Le Cateau-Cambrésis

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This building in Le Cateau-Cambresis houses the Matisse museum.

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The museum doesn’t only house works by Matisse. Here Anuta is studying a magnificent Mark Chagall.

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Sculptured panels ranging from the realistic in the foreground to a freer style further along.

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A number of Matisse sculptures on display from realistic to impressionist

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Painted tiles

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Matisse sought to extract the essence with a few strokes. A room full of these paintings were on exhibition.

On the way to the Oise Valley

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Van Gogh landscapes all the way

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We passed many chateaux on that day.

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A lasting impression: avenues of trees, forests and wheat fields.

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A column for Napoleon erected where he stood during the Battle of Montmirail in 1814

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The Oise-Aisne US Cemetry between Soissons and Epernay in Champagne. More than 6000 soldiers are buried here. All these men died for the fatherland… 

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Our last airbnb in France in the Monet-like setting. Two rivers meet here. 

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We eventually found petrol in Saint Quentin after nerve-wracking hours of running low.

 

 

Songs of the Auvergne/Liedere van die Auvergne

Songs of the Auvergne/Liedere van die Auvergne

(Scroll down for Afrikaans and Photos)

This story begins in May 2012

After a few hectic days in Switzerland with Peter and Daniela during which we had to pack in so much (a visit to the Paul Klee Museum in Bern, designed by Renzo Piano, a rush to the Fondation Beyeler Museum in Basel, also designed by Piano, to see an exhibition of Gerhard Richter’s work, breakfast high up in the snow white Alps, forest visits, climbing towers, having Silver and Blue checked, repairing torn clothes …) we eventually left Hinterkappelen on the Wohlensee. The GPS was set to travel all the back roads which took us across so many landscapes. Through farmyards, little villages, and all the while with the Eiger and Jungfrau as backdrop. Great and even greater than one remembers them. But, it was still with a little relief that we crossed the French border and we could feel at home again with the familiar road signs, the slight disrepair, the imperfect roads and fields a little less manicured. And, of course, everything is cheaper here.

Suffering and struggling is part of a journey and it is those incidents which test you to the ends of your endurance that you remember and re-tell.

We never travel without duct tape. It came in rather handy when I hit a curb stone at about 40kmph and fell to one side and Silver went flying in another. My protective rain gear was torn to shreds. Thank you, duct tape. Thank you, gloves, boots and helmet. My clothes were now held together with duct tape and it looked rather bourgeois and I blended in with the rustic French.

And so it came that we turned from the route along the Rhone River on a sunny day with a smile on our faces and crossed the Haut Savoie, dry this time. But, alas, on the other side of the first mountain range the blackest, heaviest, cold clouds awaited us. And the wind pushed our visors up against our noses. There was no shelter on the narrow mountain road and we raced up and down the mountain until we ran into the lightning and thunder.

Steven Spielberg would make a wonderful gothic horror film of it. Two old people forging ahead on scooters on a narrow road, with mountain faces scraping past, waterfalls across the road, vertical precipices – and no place to stop or to shelter. Later we were drenched, our waterproof gloves and suits no longer waterproof, water dripping into our boots, our hearts level with the tar, and still no shelter or safe spot to stop. Too dangerous because visibility was only a few metres. After many kilometres and many turns and much fear, there was a lonely bus stop where we could shelter. We were wet to the bone and frozen stiff.

There we stood, miserable, and all we could do was watch and panic. When the worst was over, we continued. But, ugh, just try pulling on a cold, wet glove … Just over the first rise we ran into a terrible hailstorm that turned everything into a snow landscape. Can you imagine what hail sounds like on your helmet and rain suit? Fortunately a few cars crushed the hail stones. I imagined our slipping on those loose, slippery hailstones…

Soaked, we arrived in the lovely Puy En Velay at 7C and so frozen that I couldn’t even write my name in the register.

The next day:

We sat outside in brilliant weather, in front of a stone farmhouse in the Auvergne which was built in 1668, according to the date above the hearth, and where we were to sojourn for the week. It is situated in an ancient stone hamlet, Maury, in one of the country’s most beautiful regions here on the edge of the Central Massif. The collection of houses has belonged to the family of our friends Robert and Marie-Thérèse* from the start and it is still in the posession of the same family.

My head couldn’t get around the joys and sorrows of generations and generations here. The births and deaths, marriages, the celebrations, because these French have a knack of turning every occasion into a feast. Under these beams, on these stone floors, between these thick walls. We had the house to ourselves and Robert and Marie-Thérèse were in their own house next door. Built in the Napoleonic era. Neighbour Juliette’s big grey cat adopted us immediately and didn’t leave our side for a moment. Talked non-stop. Unfortunately in Occitan which we didn’t understand…

That day was 8 May and the commemoration of the end of the Second World War. Even in the smallest towns it is celebrated in grand style with bands and marches and large wreaths. Red, white and blue French flags flutter everywhere. That afternoon we visited Marie-Thérèse’s sister for champagne and cherry tart and she told us of how, when she was seven, the bells began to ring and they had to go to the square to celebrate the end of the war.

It was becoming a joke by now: every time a new president is elected in France, we are there – Giscard d’ Estaing, Mitterand, Chirac en now Hollande. Here was great excitement that Sarkozy was out, because he had created a scandal because he didn’t drink wine and had ordered sandwiches during a meal with George Bush. Then Marie-Thérèse would hold her head and say: Non, non, non, un Français ne le fait pas – a Frenchman doesn’t do that.

 But the sun always shines elsewhere. The Auvergne has always enthralled writers and composers. Sections of Divisadero by Michael Ondaatje, which I read again and again back home, is set here. It is something about the rolling green English landscape with oak trees and forests. But, it’s wilder – not so tame. A landscape that stirs the emotions.

Robert and Marie-Thérèse are walking encyclopaedias when it comes to French history, culture, traditions, food and wine, and more. Robert’s father wrote an authoritative French Wine Encyclopaedia which is considered to be the bible of wine. M-T cooks regional country food using her grandmother’s old, delapidated recipe book. Visiting a butcher, bakery or cheese and wine shop with them is an experience. Questions are asked about every product and the shopkeepers are so well-informed about everything they stock.

Occitan, an ancient Romance language, is still spoken by a few people in the region.  Canteloube made it known through the folk songs he noted down as the well-known Songs of the Auvergne of which the entrancing Baïlèro is the most familiar – Pastrè dè délaï l’aïo…Dio lou baïlèro lèrô, Lèrô lèrô lèrô lèrô baïlèro lô.

Every day we rode to a different destination and as the lovely, soft landscape floated past and the wind was in our hair (we remove the helmets on quiet country roads) I allowed the music just flow over me.

Yesterday we visited the beautiful chateau of Montal and the curator took us through the sad place, step by step. Dreadful history. But it’s interesting that the Mona Lisa and other paintings from the Louvre were stored in the diningroom during the Second World War.

We travelled along the Dordogne River for a day and visited Rocamadour. An important and impressive abbey complex that drips down a mountain face. It has been an inspiration for writers, poets and composers over the centuries. The famous Black Madonna can also be seen there (we have seen so many black madonnas in many different places…) A number of French kings and other luminaries have already undertaken pilgrimages to Rocamadour. One has to see it yourself to comprehend the scale of the huge complex.

We felt privileged to be surrounded by the refined civilisation, tradition, culture and lifestyle here in the Auvergne.

July 2018

Robert en Marie-Thérèse once more awaited us. Maury was still the same. We were accommodated in the same house. To sleep under those beams and commune with the spirits of those who were conceived, born and died there, was given us again.

We slipped into the rhythm of the ease and hospitality of the French and chatted until almost midnight every night. The weather was wonderful and then we sat outside and gazed at the ink blue night sky. Some of the family from Nantes and Lyon also arrived and it was lovely to see everyone again. During the day we walked in the gorges, to other villages and allowed the Auvergne to grow on us again. Meals were abundant and wines selected with care. Robert told us that in his parents’ home, there were sometimes up to 11 courses, in a very specific order. But every meal is preceded by aperatifs and Robert would come out of the house with dozens of bottles from which to choose. Our favourite became a gentiane which is distilled locally from this wild flower.

One day we rode to a neighbouring town to enjoy frogs’ legs, or so we thought. It turned out to be a whole extensive menu.

* We met Robert and Marie-Thérèse Geay in Russia in 1994 when we cycled together from St Petersburg to Moscow and immediately connected with this exceptional French couple. A few years later Robert cycled with us through Provence and the murderous Cervenne for six weeks. He is a man who knows his food and wine. He taught us to eat and drink regionally. Later M-T joined us in Orleans and we cycled the Loire Valley and Brittany as far as Brest. They have visited us in South Africa and we have visited them in Paris, where their base is. Robert is now 77 and still cycles long distances. He even cycled the Silk Route from Paris to Shanghai…

Ek gaan haal die storie in Mei 2012

Na ’n paar woeste dae in Switzerland by Peter en Daniella waarin ons so baie moes inpas (‘n besoek aan Die Paul Klee-museum in Bern wat deur Renzo Piano ontwerp is, ’n gejaag na die Fondation Beyeler-museum in Basel, ook deur Piano ontwerp, vir ‘n uitstalling van Gerhard Richter, ontbyt hoog op in die spierwit Alpe, woudbesoeke, torings uitklim, Silwer en Blou versien, klere lap . . .) is ons uiteindelik uit Hinterkappelen aan die Wohlensee weg. Die GPS is gestel om al die agterpaaie te ry wat ons deur soveel landskappe geneem het. Deur plasewerwe, klein dorpies, en die hele tyd die Eiger en die Jungfrau as agterdoek. Groter en nog groter as wat ’n mens dit onthou. Maar dit was tog met verligting toe ons oor die Franse grens ry en ons weer kon tuis voel met die bekende padtekens, die effense verval, die onperfekte paaie en die lewe en landerye nie so gemanikuur nie. En natuurlik is als goedkoper hier.

Swaarkry en sukkel is deel van ’n reis en dit is insidente waar jy tot jou uiterste getoets en beproef word wat jy onthou en oorvertel.

Ons reis nooit sonder duct tapenie. Dit het nogal handig te pas gekom toe ek so teen 40kmpu ’n randsteen tref en val dat ek doer trek en Silwer in ’n ander rigting. My oorpak in flarde geskuur en geskeur. Dankie, duct tape. Dankie, handskoene, stewels en helmet. My klere is nou oral gelap en dit lyk nogal bourgeois en ek smelt heel gemaklik in by die boerse Franse.

Maar so verlaat ons op ’n sonskyndag die roete al langs die Rhonerivier met liedere in ons harte oor die Haut Savoie wat ons tog één maal in baie reise droog sal deurkruis. Maar, o wee, anderkant die eerste bergreeks wag die swartste, swaarste, koue wolke ons in. En die wind druk van voor sodat jou neus later plat teen die skerm is. Daar is nêrens skuilplek op die smal bergpad nie en ons jaag die berg op en op tot ons die wolke en bliksemstrale en donderslae tref.

Steven Spielberg sou ’n wonderlike gotiese riller daarvan kon maak. Twee beurende oumense op skoeters op ’n nou pad, met bergwande wat rakelings verbyskuur, watervalle oor die pad, afgronde, en nêrens stilhou- of skuilplek nie. Ons is later deurdrenk, ons waterdigte handskoene en pakke nie meer waterdig nie, water drup by ons stewels in, ons moed plat teen die teerpad, en steeds nêrens ’n veilige stilhouplek nie. Te gevaarlik omdat die sig ’n paar meter is. Na vele kilometers en baie draaie en angs, is daar ’n verlate bushalte waar ons kon skuil. Ons is tot op die been nat en bevrore.
Daar staan ons bedremmeld en al wat jy kan doen is kyk en paniek. Toe die ergste verby is, is ons weer verder. Maar oe, steek jou hand in ’n koue, nat handskoen . . . Oor die eerste hoogte tref ons ’n verskriklike haelstorm wat alles in ‘n sneeulandskap verander. Kan jy jou inding hoe klink hael op jou helmet en reënpak? Gelukkig het  ’n paar motors die hael op die pad fyn gery. As ek net dink ons moes op daai los, gladde haelkorrels gly . . .

Druipnat het ons teen 7°C in die pragtige Puy-en-Velay aangekom en so bevrore dat ek nie eens my naam in die register kon skryf nie.

Die volgende dag:

Nou sit ons buite in skitterende weer voor ’n klipplaashuis in die Auvergne wat in 1668 gebou is volgens die datum op die vuurherd, waar ons vir die week tuis is. Dit staan in ’n oeroue klipdorpie, Maury, in een van die land se mooiste dele hier op die rand van die Central Massif. Die dorpie behoort aan ons vriende Robert en Marie-Thérèse se familie. Sedert die begin is dit steeds in dieselfde familie se besit.

My kop tol oor geslagte en geslagte se lief en leed wat hier afgespeel het. Die geboortes en sterftes, huwelike, die feeste, want hierdie Franse het ’n flair om alles in ’n fees om te tower. Onder hierdie balke, op hierdie klipvloere, tussen hierdie dik mure. Ons het die huis vir onsself, en Robert en Marie-Thérèse* se huis is langsaan. So in die Napoleontiese tyd gebou. Die buurvrou, Juliette, se groot grys kat het ons dadelik aangeneem en los ons nie vir ’n oomblik alleen nie. Gesels aanmekaar. Ongelukkig in Oksitaans, wat ons nie verstaan nie.

Vandag is 8 Mei en die herdenking van die einde van die Tweede Wêreldoorlog. Tot in die kleinste dorpies word dit luisterryk met orkeste en optogte en groot blomkranse gevier. Oral wapper die rooi, wit en blou Franse vlag. Vanmiddag by Marie-Thérèse se suster gaan champagne drink, met kersietert, en sy vertel sy was sewe toe die klokke begin lui het en hulle na die plein moes gaan om die einde van die oorlog te vier.

Dit raak nou al ’n grap. Ons is elke keer in Frankryk wanneer ’n nuwe president verkies word – Cisgard d’ Estaing, Mitterand, Chirac en nou Hollande, het ons almal beleef. Hier is groot opgewondenheid dat Sarkozy uit is, want hy het ’n skandaal veroorsaak omdat hy nie wyn drink nie en toebroodjies bestel het by ’n ete met George Bush. Dan hou Marie-Thérèse haar kop vas en sê net:

Non, non, non, un Français ne le fait pas – a Frenchman doesn’t do that.

Maar die son skyn altyd elders. Die Auvergne het nog altyd skrywers en komponiste aangegryp. Gedeeltes van Divisadero van Michael Ondaatje, wat ek tuis oor en oor lees, speel juis hier af. Dis iets van die rollende groen Engelse landskap met akkerbome en woude. Maar dis wilder en nie so tevrede nie. ’n Landskap wat ontroer.

Robert en Marie-Thérèse is wandelende ensiklopedieë as dit kom by Franse geskiedenis, kultuur, tradisies, kos en wyn, en wat nog. Robert se pa het ‘n gesaghebbende Franse Wynensiklopedie geskryf wat as die Wynbybel voorgehou word. Sy kook uit haar ouma se ou half verflenterde resepteboek landelike kos van die streek. Om saam met hulle slaghuis, bakkery, kaas- en wynwinkel toe te gaan is ’n ondervinding. Daar word oor elke produk uitgevra en die winkeliers is so ingelig oor alles wat hulle aanhou.

Oksitaans is ’n Romaanse oertaal van die streek en daar is nog mense wat dit praat. Dit is bekend gemaak deur Canteloube wat van die volkswysies opgeteken het as die bekende Songs of the Auvergnewaarvan die meesleurende Baïlèro die bekendste is – Pastrè dè délaï l’aïo…Dio lou baïlèro lèrô, Lèrô lèrô lèrô lèrô baïlèro lô.

Ons ry elke dag iewers heen en as die mooi en sagte landskap so verbygly met die wind in ons hare (ons haal die valhelms af op die stiller paaie) dan laat ek die musiek so oor my spoel.

Gister die mooi chateau van Montal besoek en het die kurator ons vir ure stap vir stap deur die hartseer plek geneem. Verskriklike geskiedenis. Maar interessant is dat die Mona Lisa en ander skilderye van die Louvre gedurende die Tweede Wêreldoorlog in die eetkamer geberg is.

Ons is ook vir ‘n dag al langs die Dordognerivier en ook by Rocamadour aangegaan. ‘n Belangrike en indrukwekkende kloosterkompleks wat teen ‘n berg afrank. Dit is deur die eeue ‘n inspirasie vir skrywers, digters en komponiste. Die beroemde Swart Madonna is ook daar te sien. Verskeie Franse konings en ander bekendes het al pelgrimsreise daarheen onderneem. ‘n Mens moet dit self sien om die afmetings van die groot kompleks te begryp.

Ons voel bevoorreg om hier in die Auvergne so omring te wees deur ’n fyn beskawing, tradisies, kultuur en leefwyses.

Julie 2018

Robert en Marie-Thérèse wag ons weer in. Maury is steeds dieselfde. Ons gaan weer in dieselfde huis tuis. Om weer onder daardie balke te slaap en snags met die geeste te gesels van hulle wat daar verwek, gebore en geserf het, is ons weer beskore.

Ons val weer in die ritme van die Franse se gemaklikheid en gulheid en gesels byna elke nag tot middernag. Die weer is heerlik en ons sit dan buite en verkyk ons aan die inkblou naglug. Van die familie van Nantes en Lyon daag ook op en dit is heerlik om almal weer te sien. Bedags gaan stap ons in die klowe, na ander dorpies en laat die Auvergne weer op ons groei. Die etes is oordadig en die wyne word met sorg gekies. Robert vertel dat in sy ouerhuis daar soms tot 11 gange was, in ‘n baie spesifieke volgorde. Maar elke ete word eers met ‘n aperatif voorafgegaan en kom Robert met dosyne bottels waaruit ons kan kies. Ons gunsteling raak ‘n gentiane wat ‘n plaaslik gestook word van die wilde veldblom.

Die een dag ry ons na ‘n naburige dorp om net te gaan paddaboudjies te eet, het ons gedink. Daar is dit toe ‘n heel uitgebreide spyskaart.

* Ons ontmoet Robert en Marie-Thérèse Geay in 1994 in Rusland waar ons saam van St Petersburg na Moskou fietstrap en kliek dadelik met hierdie uitsonderlike Franse. ‘n Paar jaar later trap Robert vir 6 weke saam met ons deur Provence en die moordende Cervene. Hy is ‘n man wat sy kos en wyn ken. Hy leer ons om regionaal te eet en te drink. Marie-Thérèse sluit later by ons aan in Orleans en ons trap die Loire en Bretagne, tot by Brest. Hulle kom kuier vir ons ons en ons kuier by hulle in Parys, waar hulle basis is. Robert is nou 77 en trap nog lang afstande. Hy het al die Syroete van Parys tot in Sjanghai getrap…

Crossing the Massif Central

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Our daily bread, with either a regional cheese or a thick slice of the most wonderful paté. It was so cold here, we could hardly eat.

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Sometimes we could see the snow covered mountains for a moment or two before mist or rain covered it again. It is our 3rd or 4th attempt to cross this region in dry weather! Once we tried it on bicycles, and it became so cold that we used plastic bags around our feet and hands.

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From the shelter of a bus stop. Soaking wet. Frozen stiff. And the heavens just opened. And then the hail came which made it too dangerous to ride any further. What a day, after starting in brilliant sunshine that morning.

Maury

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Maury, the small hamlet that belongs to Marie-Thérèse’s family.

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The building to the right is were the family’s daily bread was baked.

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Masonry detail of a bygone era

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Stone tiles characteristic of the region

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After twilight comes the sacred blue hour – l’heure bleue

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The house on the left is usually ours, originally built in 1668. The main house, centre, was built during the Napoleonic times. The court yard between the houses is where all the summer feasts are held – breakfast, lunch and supper.

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The datestone above the hearth – 16 years after Jan van Riebeeck started a refreshment station in the Cape of Good Hope!

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The family, always around a table

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A local baker bakes this huge wood oven bread for Robert. This is only half of the bread – the other half is traditionally put away in a drawer under the dining room table. The French just love their bread. Always present.

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Robert always delights in presenting aperitif hour.

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Another wonderful time with Robert and Marie-Thérèse. Good food and wine is their trademark.

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The family came from all wind directions for their summer holiday at their ancestral home.

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The previous time we saw Pierre he was a teenager. Now a fine father. How time flies…

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Duck breasts for the barberque!

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The aperitif table! Our favourite was Gentaine, locally made from a wild flower. We brought a bottle home.

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A traditional dish from Marie-Thérèse’s grand mother’s recipe book.

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The neighbour’s (M-T’s aunt) cat is always present.

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Another feast to remember

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Frogs’ legs in a restaurant in La Rouget. Robert did some research to find this restaurant where the best frog legs in the area were served. It is now strictly regulated in France. And the taste? Delicate. The texture is something between rabbit, chicken with a hint of fish.

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Just the entrée

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A cheese board is always present to conclude each meal.

Around Maury

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Lamativie is one kilometer from Maury. The nearest school and public offices are located here.

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Our dream house in Lamative. We saw it many years ago for the first time and started to dream about it… Standing empty for many decades. Owner doesn’t want to sell…

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To the northern side of Maury is the River Cere in a very deep gorge. This used to be the bridge house, now a guest house.

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Bridge, River Cere

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Robert leads us on a hike down the gorge to the Cere. Sometimes we had to use ropes…

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Pastures

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… and forests

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Along the Dordogne

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We visit villages, churches, castles in a dreamlike landscape.

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Every little village, town or city remembers its sons with fresh flowers. Always.

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Saint Cere

Saint Cere is a feast for the photographer’s eye. I took literally hundreds of photos, using my Canon 28-200 lense.

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Rocamadour

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Rocamadour. An important and impressive abbey complex that drips down a mountain face. It has been an inspiration for writers, poets and composers over the centuries. The famous Black Madonna can also be seen there (we have seen so many black madonnas in many different places…) A number of French kings and other luminaries have already undertaken pilgrimages to Rocamadour. One has to see it yourself to comprehend the scale of the huge complex.

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The staircase where pilgrims used to crawl on their knees to the top

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Châteaux de Montal

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Standing on the heights above the Dordogne Valley, this castle was built between 1519 and 1534 by Jeanne de Balsac, Lady of Montal. Never completely finished, this Renaissance masterpiece is distinguished by the exceptional wealth and quality of its sculptures, which stand comparison with those in royal palaces.

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The Mona Lisa was kept in this dining room during WW2!!!

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The monumental staircase

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Goodbye

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Ready to leave in 2012, down to Barcelona. We did camping those days. Tent, mattress, bulky sleeping bags, pots, pans, stove… And the mistake of travelling with short hair. Now we know why the German Harley D drivers have pony tails! We still miss the freedom of camping and all the lovely people you meet in a campsite. Nature lovers mostly.

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It is always sad to say good bye. Especially after a time of bonding with an extraordinary family.

 

Pyrenees: We did the Tour de France again!/Pireneë: Ons doen dit weer!

Pyrenees: We did the Tour de France again!/Pireneë: Ons doen dit weer!

 

Spiking the skyline for 430km along the Franco-Spanish border, the snow-dusted Pyrenees offer a glimpse of France’s wilder side. This serrated chain of peaks contains some of the country’s most pristine landscapes and rarest wildlife, including endangered species such as the griffon vulture, izard (a type of mountain goat) and brown bear. Since 1967, 457 sq km has been protected as the Parc National des Pyrénées, ensuring its valleys, tarns and mountain pastures are preserved for future generations. – The Lonely Planet

We just had to return to the French Pyrenees once more. To those heights and passes. To where the original mountain routes of the Tour de France lie. Where your head spins with the serpentines, and the thin air.

Six years ago we also travelled through Spain on Silver and Blue and we were to stay over in one of the national parks of the Pyrenees for a couple of days. They conquered our hearts and we stayed for three weeks. Later we moved over to the French Pyrenees. The northern slopes quite different from the southern ones. Bigger, more impressive, and more developed. The Spanish mountains were wilder and more densely with forest.

Our accommodation was a flat in a ski resort high up against the mountains with a view that made you feel insignificant. We did day trips from there to old familiar places, and discovered new ones. Some were adventurous and you had to steer your handlebars skilfully around the serpentines. Others refreshed your memory.

We especially wanted to return to the Col de Tourmalet (2115m) where the wind almost blew us off the mountainside six years ago. That day when we were so unnerved and had to shelter behind berms every now and then just to settle our nerves. When Lance’s name was still painted across the road.

This time the weather was good to us. Also did the Col de Aspin and other well-known highlights of the Tour de France.

Two things:

There are the wiry young men who pedal up the passes with ease, standing in the pedals and weaving from side to side, and then the older, weathered men and women (very much our seniors!) who also cycle those passes. It looks as if they and their bikes have melded together.

The other thing, we cycled the old Argus a few times, and cycled around 12 000km in Europe over the years. When we lived in Hout Bay, we cycled Chapmans Peak every afternoon in preparation for the Argus, and it’s a little hill by comparison.

The Col de Portet is a 15km climb from Saint-Lary-Soulan up to 2215m with a gradient of between 8.7 and 10.2 degrees. It’s horrific! It’s murder! When we finally reached the top, along came and old man and his wife, much older than we, who had just climbed it. No, they aren’t people. They’re machines.

But, what an amazing privilege to be in those high places. The thin, fresh air, the mountains moving three dimensionally behind each other in your field of vision and open new vistas, like a fold-out story book. The aromas of pines and wild flowers. Sometimes an eagle flanks you and nods its head in approval.

Pireneë: Ons doen dit weer!

Spiking the skyline for 430km along the Franco-Spanish border, the snow-dusted Pyrenees offer a glimpse of France’s wilder side. This serrated chain of peaks contains some of the country’s most pristine landscapes and rarest wildlife, including endangered species such as the griffon vulture, izard (a type of mountain goat) and brown bear. Since 1967, 457 sq km has been protected as the Parc National des Pyrénées, ensuring its valleys, tarns and mountain pastures are preserved for future generations. – The Lonely Planet

Ons moes net weer eenkeer terug na die Franse Pireneë. Na daardie hoogtes en passe. Na waar die Tour de France se oorspronklike bergroetes loop. Waar jou kop tol van die serpentinas, en die dun lug.

Ses jaar gelede reis ons ook met Silwer en Blou deur Spanje en sou ons net ‘n paar dae in een van die die Pireneë se nasionale parke deurbring. Dit oorweldig ons toe so en bly toe aan vir drie weke. Later skuif ons oor na die Franse Pireneë. Die noordelike hange heel anders as die suidelikes. Groter. Indrukwekkender, en meer ontwikkeld. Die Spaanse berge ruwer en woudryker.

Ons verblyf is ‘n ski-woonstelletjie hoog teen die berge met ‘n uitsig wat jou klein laat voel. Ons doen dagritte van daar na ou bekende plekke, en ontdek nuwes. Sommiges is avontuurlik en moet jy behendig die stange om die serpentinas stuur. Ander verfris jou geheue.

Ons wou veral terug na die Col de Tourmalet (2115m) waar ons ses jaar gelede byna deur die wind van daardie berge gewaai is. Die dag toe ons so ontsenu was en kort-kort agter walle skuiling vir ons en Silwer en Blou moes soek om tot verhaal te kom. Toe Lance se naam nog op die pad geskryf was.

Die weer was hierdie keer goed vir ons. Doen ook vir Col de Aspin en ander bekende Tour de France hoogtepunte.

Twee dinge:

Daar is die jong spykermannetjies (padterroriste hier in België genoem) wat die passe met groot gemak staande in die pedale uitrap met die fiets wat heen en weer skommel, maar dit is die ouer verweerde manne en vroue (veel ouer as ons!) wat daardie passe uittrap. Dit lyk asof hulle so in die fietse ingesmelt is.

En dan, ons het die ou Argus ‘n paar keer gedoen, en het oor die jare by die 12 000km in Europa getrap. Maar ons Suid-Afrikaners het geen idee van bergpasse trap nie. Toe ons in Houtbaai gewoon het, het ons Chapmans Peak elke middag gaan trap ter voorbereiding vir die Argus, en dit is ‘n heuweltjie in vergelyking.

Die Col de Portet is ‘n 15km klim vanaf Saint-Lary-Soulan tot by 2215m met ‘n gradiënt tussen 8.7 en 10.2 grade. Dit is verskriklik! Dit is moord! Toe ons uiteindelik bo kom, is daar ‘n ou omie en tannie, baie ouer as ons, wat dit pas uitgetrap het. Nee, dis nie mense nie. Dis masjiene.

Maar wat ‘n ongelooflike voorreg om so in die hoogtes te wees. Die dun vars lug, die berge wat aanmekaar driedimensioneel in jou gesigveld agter mekaar inskuif en nuwe vistas oopmaak, soos ‘n oopvou storieboek. Die geure van denne en veldblomme. Soms flank ‘n arend jou en knik sy kop in goedkeuring.

oorverdowende
kristalhelder bergstiltes
grrrts skeur die velcro

hoë bergstiltes
met die sederboomsuisings
net die rotse luister

suising deur denne
tenore van die gode
of windharpmusiek?

frank dennegeure
kom sit soos gom aan jou lyf
bittersoet harpuis

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We started this leg in the beautiful Saint Jean-Pied-du-Port. A well-known starting point for the peregrinos walking the Santiago de Compostela

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The bliss of early morning landscapes on Silver and Blue

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Cow to Blue: Looking for milk?

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Anuta on Blue against a mighty landscape

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The d’Osseau Valley

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Laruns. It was hot and we stopped to drink a lemonade and to get an internet connection. We paid the price…

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We are now in Tour de France country.

 

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We were running out of time and didn’t stop in the Catholic mecca of Lourdes.

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We saw it coming. Ominous. And then it hit us.

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A photo can’t describe the majesty and greatness of the mountains.

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Silver and Blue did Col d’ Aspin again! The previous time a bunch of Harley bikers laughed at us.

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The vistas are overwhelming.

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Then we remembered the steep road downhill…

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And you glide and glide and the world belongs to you.

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Our home for a couple of days is a ski apartment just to the right of the skil-lift station.

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With a view like this

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We did a quiet road on the Sunday, as there were hundreds and hundreds of cyclists doing the well-known routes. We went up and up…

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Our standard lunch: always a baguette and two tomatoes with a celery salad. Today the mainstay was a slice of pork braun.

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What a setting for a picnic!

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Higher and higher with a feeling of deja vu. The dam wall looks like a scene from a James Bond movie.

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There were many dams up the valley

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Even rhododendrons. One slope was completely covered in pink.

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Scene from a futuristic movie

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We couldn’t travel any further as the road was blocked by a rock slide.

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Water, rocks and cedar trees

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Parking at the dam wall

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Going down the steep road. One serpentina after the other…

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Passing old stone shelters…

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… and ancient cedar trees.

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The serpentinas are never-ending. Check the cyclist. A middle-aged guy.

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There is something about an old ‘padpredikant’. I prefer to take my reading from them, and not on the intrusive new ones.

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Small villages on the way down

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On a bright morning we did the Col de Portet. Pure murder for cyclists.

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The Col de Portet is 16 km with a murderous gradient of between 8.7% and 10.2% over 16 km

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A monument of the big Tour de France hero, Raymond Polidor

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The road through Soulan became a familiar face.

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A better view on our apartment – one of the buildings to the right in the distance.

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Different textures

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A view from our window into the Saint Lary-Soulan valley

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On an evening stroll

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The alpha cow leads the way.

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Up and up to the Col de Portet. Another Tour de France iconic climb.

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Snow tunnel

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Sadly we had turn around… The tarred road stops here and we didn’t want to do off-road again.

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You have to be careful. The cow dung could be slippery and dangerous.

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A very old couple did the pass up and down! Much older than us…

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Gliding down and down… Sometimes an eagle would glide with you.

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Today was the day to revisit the notorious Col de Tourmalet. Col d’Aspin is our first stop after an 11 km climb. There is a sign every kilometre supplying information about the distance, gradient and altitude.

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We took a short detour through this village.

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We stopped every now and then to enjoy the views and to be friendly.

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The monument for Eugene Christophe whose bicycle fork broke while doing the Col de Tourmalet in 1913. In those days cyclists had to do their own repairs. He walked the 10 km to Saint Marie de Campan to fix it himself at the forge. He didn’t win the Tour that year.

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Eugene Christophe is honoured everywhere: “Quite simply, I want to, I want to… the will is the only drug I know.”

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We are at 840 m. The summit is 2115m. A steep climb awaits…

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Ah! There is Mongi!

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Why are ski villages always ugly?

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We arrived at last at the icon of the Tour de France. Many cyclists posing for photos, or getting ready to continue.

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We saw this Spaniard, to the left, with his bicycle and a full load. How on earth did he manage!?

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I Googled him. http://www.biciclown.com – 208000 kilómetros en bicicleta por el mundo, atravesando más de 117 países desde el año 2001. It says, if my Spanish doesn’t fail me, that since 2001 he has cycled 208 000 km in 117 countries.

 

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Well, in our young days we did about 12 000 km in Europe over a couple of years. This photo was taken at Köln’s train station. We crossed the French Alps with this full load… Going down to Grenoble Anuta ‘used’ up a new set of brake blocks!

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This was taken in 2012 on a glorious morning , doing the Tour de France route from Luz-Saint-Sauveur. Luckily we didn’t know what was waiting for us…

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…the wind became stronger and stronger and at the summit we were nearly blown away. Anuta had to grab Blue and hold on for dear life. A frightening experience. Our nervous were shattered. I left Silver for a moment to run to take this photo.

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Six years later…. with mist rolling in.

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We found shelter against the mist and cold behind a wall – for our picnic.

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The steep road going down… Frightening.

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The weather was changing fast. Anuta looking down from Col d’Aspin on our way back home.

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We saw these intruiging signs painted on cycling routes everywhere…

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By this time we know the route so well. The trees along the way… I stopped how many time to take another picture of road and tree. Road and tree.

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A little medieval village in the valley

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Brother and sister herding the cows home…

 

Picos de Europe: Up Close/Teen jou neus

Picos de Europe: Up Close/Teen jou neus

(Rol af vir Afrikaans en foto’s)

Great. Greater. Greatest. Picos de Europe. That mountain range in the Asturias region of Spain. Hidden from tourists. So different from other mountains. They don’t have the vistas. You don’t admire them from afar. They are right up close all the time. About you. You become a part of the rocks, the peaks, the grey sandstone cliffs.

We had a little taste of the mountains in the peaceful Cistierna in Castilla y León, where we stayed over with Adrianar and her family in a lovely airbnb – a traditional art nouveau hotel/house in the main street. Also enjoyed the company of the mama of 82 in the family’s bar where she does duty. Enjoyed her potato omelet, which was the best we had tasted. The family had lived in Cuba and then literally won the lottery and returned to build the house in Spain. Antonio manages the bar and he is delightfully informed and stimulating company

The small town is on one of the approaches to the mountains. The weather was lovely and our hearts were singing as we rode. We passed through one small stone village after another. We stopped for coffee on one of the large lakes (we call them dams). Enjoyed the company of other guests. People are so relaxed when they travel, and I must say that Silver and Blue are always a point of interest. And then, when they hear that we are from Africa …

Further on the mountain gorges became narrower. We took a small turn-off outside the beautiful stone Oseja de Sajambre for a bench with a view for lunch. We had barely unpacked the food for lunch when threatening clouds suddenly rolled in along with thunder and lightning. We grabbed our food, ran, pulled on our rain gear and rode further.

The heavens opened. With buckets and buckets of water pouring over us, with lightning and thunder that made the earth shake, with the cliffs, gorges and the rushing river. There was no shelter or stopping place on the narrow road. It wound and twisted and we crossed the Sella River so many times, we knew its name by heart. Our shoulders almost brushed the sides of the gorge. But, it was wonderful experiencing the might and majesty of nature like that. I kept my visor open so that I could feel the water against my face.

As quickly as it started, the rain stopped. Typical of the European thunder storms.

One of the most beautiful days in our lives. The entry to the Picos de Europe. Rode for six hours to complete 130km. Stared in wonder. Stopped. Looked. Rode slowly.

By late afternoon we arrived at our accommodation where we would spend the coming few days. Very traditional, old, but sparkling clean with a large window with an exquisite view of the mountains. Every night we slept with the window wide open so that the cool air and sounds of the night could envelop us.

For the coming days the mountains kept us busy. On the first morning we took Silver and rode 6km to the cable car which takes you up to the heights. On our way, we stopped at every turn to look up, look further into the gorge.

At the parking area I offered the parking attendant a biscuit which he accepted shyly. Later that afternoon we rode further into the mountains. When we turned back I shut off the engine to glide the 15km downhill in silence. Opposite the same parking area, when I wanted to start poor old Silver’s engine again, the battery was flat. Oh, dear! Remembered the day a few years ago, also in Spain, when I had to push Blue for 9km up and down when we made the same mistake. Didn’t learn… Or perhaps already forgotten?

But, our cavalcade of happy angels took control again. The parking area was barely 20m from there and there stood the same young man. Were it a different nation, they wouldn’t even have wanted to hear us, but within two ticks my battery was charged and off we went. We passed there again the following day to say hello and offer him another biscuit which he accepted with a laugh. Cast your biscuit on the water…

The days were gorgeous and we made good use of them. Also took a rest in the afternoons.

On the morning of our departure we were awoken by intense lightning and thunder. We left in heavy rain and realised that we couldn’t follow our planned route through another part of the Picos. The Bay of Biscay was only 20km from there and that became the new route.

We experienced and saw everything through a haze of rain. Old towns, squares, bridges, fortresses, castles…

But, in spite of the change of route, we still had to cross another mountain range in the Valles Altos del Nansa y Saja y Alto Campoo. A frightening experience. Anuta had to ride ahead so that I could see when she got into trouble. No, that’s not true. Her GPS was the only one of the three that showed that route. Later all I could see was her red rear light through the grey of rain and mist. And, when the lightning struck all I saw was her hunkering down over her handlebars against the wind and rain. We didn’t know which side the mountainside fell away. Anuta said later that she was all too grateful when a car or truck came in the opposite direction so that she could see where the road was… The altitude of the pass was 1100m. Frozen and shivering, and then there was another pass, and after that the world suddenly opened up before us. We stripped off the wet and warm layers of clothing – it was that hot down in the valley next to the Ebro River.

Picos de Europe: Up Close/Teen jou neus

Groot. Groter. Grootste. Grootse. Picos de Europe. Daardie bergreeks in die Asturias van Spanje. Weggesteek vir toeriste. So anders as ander berge. Dit het nie die vistas nie. Jy bewonder dit nie van ver af nie. Dit is die hele tyd teen jou neus. Om jou. Jy word deel van die rotse, die pieke, die grys kalksteen berghange.

Ons het ‘n voorsmaak van die berge in die rustige Cistierna in Castilla y León, waar ons by Adrianar en haar familie in ‘n lieflike airbnb oorbly – ‘n tradisionele art nouveau hotel/huis in die hoofstraat. Kuier ook heerlik in die familie se kroeg en die mama van 82. Eet ook van Spaanse aartappeltert, wat die lekkerste is tot dusver. Die familie het in Kuba gewoon en wen toe ‘n lotery en kom bou die huis in Spanje. Antonio bestuur die kroeg en hy is heerlike ingeligte en stimulerende geselskap.

Die dorpie staan in die bek van die berge. Die weer is lieflik en ons ry met liedere in ons harte. Die een mooi klipdorpie na die ander gaan ons deur. Ons stop vir koffie aan die groot mere. Gesels lekker met die ander gaste. Mense is so ontspanne wanneer hulle reis, en ek moet sê, Silwer en Blou is altyd vir hulle ‘n aanknopingspunt. En wanneer die mense eers hoor ons is van Afrika…

Later word die bergskeure nouer. Ons neem ‘n klein afdraai buite die klipmooi Oseja de Sajambre vir ‘n ‘bench with a view’ vir middagete. Ons kos was pas uitgepak toe dreigende wolke skielik inrol met blitse en donderweer. Ons gryp die kos, hardloop, trek ons reënklere aan en ry verder.

Die hemele maak oop. Met emmers en emmers water wat oor ons uitgegooi word, met bliksemstrale en donderweer wat die aarde laat bewe, met kranse, klowe en die bruisende rivier. Daar is geen skuiling of stilhouplek op die nou pad nie. Dit kronkel en kronkel en ons kruis die Sellarivier hoeveelkeer, ons ken later die naam uit ons kop. Ons skouers skuur behoorlik aan weerskante van die kloof. Maar dit is heerlik, om die kragte en majesteit van die natuur só te kan ervaar. Ek hou my visor oop sodat ek die water teen my gesig kan voel.

Net so gou as wat die reën begin het hou dit weer op. Tipies van die Europese donderstorms.

Een van die mooiste dae in ons lewens. Die intog in die Picos de Europe. Ses ure aan 130km gery. Vergaap. Stop. Kyk. Stadig ry.

Teen laatmiddag daag ons op by ons verblyf waar ons vir die volgende paar dae gaan bly. Baie tradisioneel, oud, maar skitterskoon met ‘n groot venster met ‘n wonderskone uitsig op die berge. Ons slaap elke nag met die venster wawyd oop sodat die koel lug en naggeluide oor ons spoel.

Die volgende dae hou die berge ons besig. Die eerste oggend ry ons met Silwer die 6km na die kabeltrein wat jou die hoogtes inneem. Om elke hoek en draai hou ons stil vir die opkyk, verder die kloof inkyk.

By die parkeerplek bied ek die parkeerjonge ‘n koekie aan wat hy skamerig aanvaar. Later die middag is ons verder die berge in. Met die omdraai sluit ek die enjin af om die 15km in stilte bergaf te gly. Toe ek arme Silwer weer wil aansluit is die battery pap. Oe, genade! Dink toe aan die dag ‘n paar jaar gelede, ook in Spanje, toe ek Blou 9km ver in die berge moes stoot toe ons dieselfde gedoen het. Nooit geleer nie…. Of miskien al vergeet?

Maar ons kawalkade van vrolike engele gryp weer in. Die parkeerplek is skaars 20m daarvandaan en daar staan dieselfde jonge. Was dit ‘n ander nasie sou hulle ons nie eens wou hoor nie, maar een-twee-drie is my battery gelaai en daar gaan ons. Ons het hom die volgende dag weer gaan groet en weer ‘n koekie aangebied wat hy laggend aanvaar het. Werp jou koekie op die water…

Die dae is heerlik en ons benut hulle. Rus ook in die middae.

Die oggend van ons vertrek word ons wakker met erge blitse en donderweer. Ons vertrek in swaar reën en besef ons sal nie ons beplande roete deur ‘n ander gedeelte van die Picos kan neem nie. Die Baai van Biscay is net 20km met ‘n ompad ver en dit word ons nuwe roete.

Ons beleef en sien alles deur ‘n waas van reën. Ou dorpe, pleine, brûe, vestings, kastele…

Maar ons moet tog ‘n bergreeks oor in die Valles Altos del Nansa y Saja y Alto Campoo. ‘n Verskriklike ondervinding. Anuta moet voor ry sodat ek kan sien wanneer sy dalk in die moeilikheid beland. Nee, ek lieg. Haar GPS is die enigste van die drie wat daardie roete wys. Later is dit net haar rooi agterliggie wat ek voor my deur die grys waas van reën en mis sien. Of as die blitse slaan sien ek net hoe sy vooroor teen die wind en reën beur. Ons weet nie watter kant die afgronde is nie. Anuta vertel later sy was te dankbaar as ‘n kar of vragmotor van voor kom om die pad te sien… Die hoogte van die pas was 1100m. Verkluim en bibberend was daar ‘n tweede pas, en toe maak die wêreld skielik voor ons oop. En pluk ons die nat en warm klere van ons af, so warm is dit weer onder in die vallei by die Ebrorivier.

picos routes

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Our lovely host, Adrianar, in Cistierna

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And this Spanish petrol attendant fell in love…

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A dreamlike pastoral Sunday morning

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Neat little villages along the way (N625)

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Still masses of yellow broom with their strong perfume

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… and wild dog roses

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Only the beginning of the Picos. The landscape glowed in die full sun and took our breaths away. A moment later the clouds covered the sky and we lost the photo moment.

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Riding deeper along the valleys

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Oseja de Sajambre

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Our bench with a view, just before the thunderstorm hit us. We had to grab our lunch and run!

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Second try for lunch. Sommer on the lid of the luggage box.

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Unexpectedly, along our route, there was Canga de Onis, a bustling small city. We adored the little Seats.

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The winding roads and heights en route to our destination

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Naranjo de Bulnes -Picu Urriellu – (2650m), seen from Pozo de la Oración

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Our room with a view with the wide windows in Arena de Cabrales. From our bed the mountains were magnificent.

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The simple, but lovely little inn, where we stayed for a couple of days.

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You will find churches everywhere

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A fresh walk, surrounded by mountains.

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A closer view of Naranjo de Bulnes. We met a young couple who would climb this peak the following day using rock climbing equipment.

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Always surrounded by mountains…and little villages.

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It is still spring higher up on the slopes

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In one of the mountain villages with water everywhere.

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The tunnel that took the cable train to the top station

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The green lizards are eveywhere, and this one was very curious.

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What a movie set for our lunch. Roman bridge

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And the valleys just go on and on. We had to turn back when the weather changed.

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Many hikers use the trail up this valley to get to some of the villages.

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The road we took up one of the valleys.

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Another small stone village nestled in a valley

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Sometimes there are traffic jams…

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Overwhelmingly beautiful

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This friendly young parking attendant helped me charge my flat battery. Cast your biscuits on the water…

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Fast flowing rivers

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At home

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The thing about the Picos is that you are always up close.

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… and always near a river.

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Green. Turquoise. It doesn’t matter.

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Ancient shelters

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The majesty of clouds as well…

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Hole in the wall. Huge hole.

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The fast running rivers generate electricity

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A brisk morning walk

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Wonder whether I am authorised to be here?

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Unpretentious fusion of old and new

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In a traditional coffee bar in a remote village.

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Goat tracks

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We were fortunate to see some of the huge indigenous golden eagles

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Picnic next to a waterfall

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Serpentinas!

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I am beautiful…

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We woke up on our last morning with lightning and thunder and the heavy rain. And we had to go…

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Mist on the Deva River

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Our first glimpse ever of the Bay of Biscay.

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Rain. Rain. Rain.

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A little wet beggar at our coffee table.

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For the rest of the day it was glorious rain.

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The abandoned Mercaldal Palace

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The pass at the Valles Altos del Nansa y Saja y Alto Campoo which we had to pass in heavy rain at an altitude of 1100m.

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And then back on solid earth at the Ebro River

 

Moinha de Salgueiral: A river runs through it/’n Rivier deur ons harte

Moinha de Salgueiral: A river runs through it/’n Rivier deur ons harte

(Rol af vir Afrikaans en foto’s)

After a hard afternoon’s ride we reached the turn-off to Moinha de Salgueiral in the Montesinho National Park. An unassuming wooden sign with yellow lettering, a few kilometres beyond Vinhais. We knew that it was a house next to a river and that we would have to descend a few hundred metres by dirt road. The dirt road was a farm track with bends dropping sharply. Sometimes there were cement sections, sometimes with loose stones, sometimes just an over-used dirt track.

I got scared. When I brake, Silver’s wheels skid. My balance was in the balance and it felt as if I wasn’t in full control. There was that time in Romania when we rode a slippery 50km on a muddy road which became a river at times. We crossed the Furka and Grimsel Passes in heavy rain and thick mist where you didn’t know where the road ended. Or that day in Croatia in the pitch dark tunnel with deep tracks and I had to recover from the shock of it. But this was different. A different kind of scared.

I noticed that Anuta wasn’t behind me. Stopped. Couldn’t hear Blue’s engine. I knew that she had taken a fall… There wasn’t anywhere to stop and I managed to turn around. Manoeuvred back and forth and underestimated Silver’s power when I pulled off. I began to lose control over the loose stones and got such a fright that I pulled on the accelerator… The front wheel lifted and caught a stone here and there and I knew that today I would fall with the heavy load on top of me. And Anuta had already fallen…

At moments like that all kinds of scenes play before your eyes. All the worst kind.

I don’t know how I got everything under control. But I climbed the mountain over the loose stones. Around a bend stood Anuta, legs apart, firm on mother earth. She gripped the brakes. She was in one piece.

“I’m scared. I can’t go any further.” This from a woman who was almost blown off the Col de Tourmalet by a strong wind. Who has ridden the Transalpina’s muddy roads in cold and rain. Who stood and shivered in a bus shelter in the Grand Massif after a hail and thunder storm. To say this…

I don’t know how, but we made it to the house down below.

The most beautiful big old traditional stone house awaited us, next to a ruhsing river. And the hostes, Cecilia, Pedro’s mother, who quickly showed us everything. How the stove works. Our room called Rapidinha, which Cecilia translated as Quicky. The garden. The river. The old water mill. Up the mountainside to a braai area with a view across the valley. To a romantic bed on a rock, under tarpaulan… And then she was off.

We immediately decided to cancel our planning, routes and bookings. No, we didn’t want to see Santiago de Compostella’s cathedral. Nor Finistere or À Coruña. We didn’t want to be anywhere else on earth. Moinha de Salgueiral is the closest thing to a paradise on this earth.

For days we didn’t communicate with another soul, except a few unfathomable words and gestures with the gardener. An older man with one gammy arm. We enjoyed paradise swims in the big river pools. Listened to the rushing river, or the music of the thirteen wind chimes hanging in a row on the balcony. Watched the movement of leaves in the big trees. Or how expertly insects skated across the surface of the water. Slept in the afternoons. Sat on the balcony in the evenings and admired the glow of the full moon. Wrote. Dreamed. Meditated.

And then, one morning, we had to leave the paradise behind us. We panicked because through the night there was a thundering storm and rain. How would we climb the mountain in the rain? But, it cleared up just before departure. And, before we knew it, we were at the top.

Moinha de Salgueiral: ‘n Rivier deur ons harte

Na ‘n harde middag se ry kom ons by die afdraaipad na Moinha de Salgueiral in die Montesinho Nasionale Park. ‘n Beskeie houtbordjie met die geel woorde, ‘n paar kilometer anderkant Vinhais. Ons weet dit is ‘n huis langs ‘n rivier en dat ons ‘n paar honderd meter met ‘n grondpad moet afdaal. Die grondpad is ‘n tweespoor plaaspad wat met kronkels baie steil na onder sak. Soms met sementgedeeltes, soms met los klippe, soms net ‘n uitgetrapte grondpad.

Ek begin bang raak. Silwer se wiele gly as ek rem trek. My balans is in die gedrang en dit voel asof ek nie in volle beheer is nie. Ons het mos daardie keer in Romenië vir 50km ‘n glibberige modderpad gery wat soms ‘n rivier geword het. Ons is al in swaar reen en digte mis oor die Grimselpas en jy nie weet waar die pad eindig en die afgrond begin nie. Of daai dag in Kroasië in die pikdonker tonnel met diep vore en ek ek daarna van skok moes herstel. Maar hierdie was anders. ‘n Ander soort bang.

Ek kom agter Anuta is nie agter my nie. Hou stil. Hoor nie Blou se enjin nie. Ek weet sy het geval… Daar is nie stilhou plek nie en ek draai om. Manoeuver heen en weer en onderskat Silwer se krag met die wegtrek. Ek begin beheer oor die los klippe verloor en skrik so groot dat ek sommer die petrol verder ooptrek… Die voorwiel lig en vang net so hier en daar ‘n klip en ek weet vandag gaan ek val, met die swaar vrag op my. En Anuta het klaar geval…

Dit is in sulke oomblikke dat allerhande taferele voor jou afspeel. Alles in die ergste graad.

Ek weet nie hoe ek alles onder beheer gekry het nie. Maar ek is oor die los klippe berguit. Om ‘n draai staan Anuta wydsbeen, vas op moeder aarde. Sy klou aan die remme. Sy is heel.

“Ek is bang. Ek kan nie meer nie.” Dit vir ‘n vrou wat al amper met Blou deur ‘n stormwind van die Col de Tourmalet gewaai is. Wat al die Transalpina se modderpaaie in reënen koue gery het. Na ‘n hael- en donderstorm in die Grand Massiff in ‘n bushalte staan en bibber het. Om dit te sê.

Ek weet nie hoe nie, maar ons het dit tot onder by die huis gemaak.

Daar wag die mooiste ou groot tradisionele kliphuis op ons, langs ‘n bruisende rivier.. En die gasvrou Cecilia, Pedro se ma, wat ons gou alles wys. Hoe die stoof werk. Ons kamer met die naam: Rapidinha, wat Cecilia vertaal as Quicky. Die tuin. Die rivier. Die ou watermeul. Bergop na ‘n braaiplek met ‘n uitsig oor die vallei. Na ‘n romantiese slaapplek op ‘n rots, onder seile… Toe is sy vort.

Onmiddellik besluit ons, ons kanselleer ons beplanning, roetes en besprekings. Nee, ons wil nie Santiago de Compostella se katedraal sien nie. Ook nie Finistere of Á Coruna nie. Ons wil op geen ander plek op aarde wees nie. Moinha de Salgueiral is naaste aan ‘n paradys op hierdie aarde.

Vir dae praat ons met geen ander siel nie, behalwe ‘n paar onverstaanbare woorde en gebare met die tuinier. ‘n Ouerige omie met die een slap arm. Ons swem paradyslik in die groot poele. Luister na die ruising van die rivier, of die musiek van die dertien windklokke wat in ‘n ry op die balkon hang. Kyk na die roering van blare in die groot bome. Of hoe behendig waterhondjies oor water gly. Slaap in die middag. Sit saans buite op die balkon en kyk na die gloeiing van die volmaan. Skryf. Droom. Dink.

Op ‘n oggend vroeg moes ons die paradys verlaat. Ons paniek, want deur die nag is daar ‘n knallende donderstorm en reën. Hoe gaan ons in reën die berg uit? Maar dit klaar op net voordat ons moet vertrek. En toe ons ons kon kry is ons bo.

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The red dot in the north of Portugal is where we spent three wonderful days.

 

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It translates as the mill on the Salgueira River.

 

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A photo doesn’t do justice to the steepness and loose surface of the road down to the house.

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…which got worse before it got better.

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A part of the old mill hanging at the front door to welcome you

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A yoke and saddles used as decorations

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Atmospheric and well-equipped kitchen

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The house is full of surprises and artistic touches.

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The balcony overlooking the river

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There were thirteen wind chimes on the balcony.

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The mill, just a few metres from the house

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One of the many weirs constructed to divert water to the mill.

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The long water grasses bear the prettiest little white flowers which seem to float on the water.

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Paradise was never this good…

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A section of the canal feeding the mill

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Gerard tried to be artistic with his camera.

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This local and his wife spent an entire afternoon catching nothing…

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The grinding stones no longer driven by the water that still flows below them

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The old flour bins

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Another artistic attempt: wood and steel

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Finally, the hour of departure arrived. The rain had stopped and we were relieved.

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Surprisingly Anuta made it to the top…

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A last goodbye…

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A chestnut tree in full flower

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That notorious road photographed from the other side of the valley

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The rest of the morning took us through many villages ad small fortified towns in cool weather.

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The daily pão

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Threatening clouds above a typical, ugly village

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Gearing up for the rain

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There were a number of castles and fortifications along the way.

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Lunch at a well outside the locked cemetery in a strong wind and gulping down as the rain approached.

Detoxing along the Duoro/Duoro-genade

Detoxing along the Duoro/Duoro-genade

(Scroll down for Afrikaans and photos)

It ook us a few hours to get Porto out of our systems. The route along the Douro River’s deep valley also didn’t appeal to us at first. Just too developed, and also a sombreness. Normally rivers have a lightness, life, movement, and the flow takes you along with it. But, there was a kind of oilyness to the river…

Why did we react so strongly to Porto? Why did the place have such a profound effect on us? Was Porto the turningpoint of a jouney? Is Porto perhaps too honest for us?

We crossed bridges to travel on both sides of the river and climbed mountains to small villages to make ourselves feel better. Looked down on the dead river. Dead towns. We felt disengaged from a landscape with which we could not identify.The feeling of “what are we doing here?” persisted. But, we had to persevere, because the river was taking us in the direction of the Montesinho National Park in north eastern Portugal.

We looked for a bar for coffee with a view over the Douro, but they all faced the street. Later we found one with a patio without a view. It was hot and we were looking for shade. The best of the morning thus far was really good coffee for only €0.60. We also couldn’t work out where people buy food. The villages didn’t have supermercados.

Eventually the vineyards began. Little plots on terraces. The further we went, the more and higher they became.

To get to our next accommodation we had to swing ‘in-land’, away from the river. How lost we got when not one of our three GPS instruments could find the address. Up and down, back and forth. Eventually we split up and went in different directions into the hills. At last! There a sparkling clean flat on the ground floor of a house waited for us. In a small commuity with vineyards and fruit trees covering the rolling landscape. Resting with nothing to do was all we wanted to do for a couple of days. It had also become very hot and the flat was wonderfully cool.

Our hosts were a lovely family. The children had to interpret and bring their musical instruments to show us. The eldest son, Pedro, an engineer and busy with his Master’s, plays the saxophone in a symphony orchestra. The father of the house brought us carnations – a symbol of the carnation revolution of 25 April 1974. Pedro was very interested in our travels on Silver and Blue and then showed us his 1971 Vespa which he restored single-handedly, which we immediately called Pistachio. A cultivated family. Pedro also advised us to take route 108 up-stream.

Nearby, in a maize field, stood a very large ruin. No name. No history. The community must have derived their name from there – Vila Boa de Quirres. We wandered about and tried to work out what it must have been. The size and scale is incomprehensible, inexplicable. Building blocks of the building lay in the maize field.

We also made friends with the owners of a bar nearby who allowed us to e-mail and receive our messages on their wifi. So good of them.

Route 208 rewarded us handsomely and the Douro acquired a different meaning.

We set the GPS to route 108 and began the winding climb. And then the descent. Past old stone houses, roses and vineyards. And the higher we climbed, the steeper and narrower the cobbled road. Later we didn’t know whether we were still on the right road, but we continued climbing until, a little dizzy, we stopped to show a lady the address. We had stopped at the door of the accommodation! A spacious and clean flat that hung in the air and looked down on the valley with its vinyards, terraces, farm houses and communities.

We really wanted to sit outside on the balcony, but unfortunately there was a family beneath us with these fat kids that just screamed and fought continually, until I hung over the balcony and quietened them in front of the grandparents. Didn’t help for long.

It was quite a story to manoeuvre downhill on Silver and Blue the next morning. We had to apply all our skill against the stony downhills and sharp bends. In parts we crossed the path of the age-old Roman Route.

It was a beautiful morning and Porto had been washed out of our hair. Left behind. Things became magical. The light on the vineyards and river, reflections, the stone terracces, the old tows and an old manor house here and there. At one of the cellars in the Quinta de Tedo appelation (established in 1758!) we stopped to taste port. Three styles. A delicious tawny, one matured in oak and a rosé one that we didn’t like, but would make a delicious base for a cocktail with lime on crushed ice.

The route took us deeper into the valleys, higher and higher. Every now and then we stopped to plumb the magnitude. The terraces from top to bottom, the olive orchards in between. The winding river. A little late in the game, Portugal began to take on a new meaning for us.

We descended to a restaurant at Tau to have something to eat. We were quite taken aback when the platters were placed in front of us. Veal steaks the size of dinner plates. An entire bowl of baked potatoes, pork suasages, salad… We just couldn’t finish it all. And that for the price of a hamburger in South Africa.

We needed to hurry to reach our next destination and we took all kinds of highways, until we …

(to be continued)

Duoro-genade

Dit het ons ‘n paar ure geneem om Porto uit ons gestelle te kry. Die roete al langs die Dourorivier in ‘n diep vallei het ons ook eers nie aangestaan nie. Net te veel ontwikkeling, en ook ‘n somberheid. Gewoonlik het riviere ‘n ligtheid, lewe, beweging, en neem die vloei jou saam. Maar daar was so ‘n olierigheid met die rivier…

Hoekom reageer ons so heftig oor Porto? Hoekom het die plek so ‘n hewige uitwerking op ons? Is Porto die draaipunt van ‘n reis? Is Porto moontlik te eerlik vir ons?

Ons kruis brûe om aan die verskillende kante van die rivier te wees en ry berge uit na klein dorpies om ons beter te laat voel. Kyk af na die dooie rivier. Dooie dorpe. Ons voel losgemaak van ‘n landskap waarmee ons ons nie kan versoen nie. Die gevoel van ‘wat soek ons hier’ bly steeds. Maar ons moet deurdruk, want die rivier neem ons in die rigting van die Montesinho Nasionale Park in die noord-ooste van Portugal.

Ons soek ‘n kroeg vir koffie met ‘n uitsig op die Douro, maar die hulle kyk almal straat toe. Kry later een met ‘n patio sonder uitsig. Dit is warm en ons soek net skaduwee. Die beste van die oggend sover is baie goeie koffie vir slegs €0.60. Ons weet ook nie waar koop die mense kos nie. Die dorpies het nie supermercados nie.

Uiteindelik begin die wingerde. Klein lappies op terasse. Hoe verder ons ry hoe meer en hoër. Dit bly egter dig bevolk en die klein gemeenskappies vleg in mekaar.

Vir ons volgende verblyf moet ons ‘binneland’ toe swaai, weg van die rivier. Wat ‘n verdwaal toe nie een van ons drie gps-toestelle die adres kon kry nie. Op en af, heen en weer. Ons spat later in verskillende rigtings die heuwels in. Uiteindelik! En daar wag ‘n skitterskoon woonstel op die grondverdieping van ‘n huis, in ‘n klein gemeenskappie met wingerde en vrugtebome oor die rollende landskap. Rus en niksdoen is al wat ons vir ‘n paar dae wil doen. Dit raak ook baie warm en die woonstel is lekker koel.

Ons gashere is ‘n oulike familie. Die kinders moet tolk en hulle musiekinstrumente kom wys. Die oudste seun, Pedro, ‘n ingenieur en besig met sy M-graad, speel saksofoon in ‘n simfonie-orkes. Die pa bring vir ons angeliere – die rooi angelier ‘n simbool van die angelierrewolusie van 25 April 1974. Pedro stel baie belang in ons reise met Silwer en Blou en wys vir ons sy 1971 Vespa wat hy eiehandig gerestoureer het. Ons noem dit dadelik Pistachio. ‘n Fyn familie. Hy gee ons ook raad om roete 208 rivier op te volg.

Naby ons blyplek, in ‘n mielieland, staan ‘n baie groot ruïne. Geen naam. Geen geskiedenis. Die gemeenskap moet dalk sy naam daarvan kry – Vila Boa de Quirres. Ons dwaal rond en probeer uitwerk wat dit was. Die afmetings en skaal is onverstaanbaar, onverklaarbaar. In die mielieland lê stukke van die gebou.

Ons maak ook vriende met die mense van ‘n kroeg daar naby wat ons toelaat om epos en boodskappe op hulle wifi af te laai. So gaaf.

Roete 208 beloon ons mildelik en die Douro kry ‘n ander betekenis.

Ons stel die GPS op roete 108 en begin al kronkelend klim en klim. En daal en daal. Verby ou kliphuise, rose en wingerd. En hoe hoër ons klim, hoe steiler en nouer word die klippad. Later weet ons nie meer of ons nog op die regte pad is nie, maar ons klim tot ons later lighoofdig by ‘n tante stilhou om die adres te wys. Ons het reg voor ons blyplek stilgehou! ‘n Ruim en skoon woonstel wat in die lug hang en afkyk op die vallei met wingerde, terasse, plaashuise en gemeenskappies.

Ons wou graag buite sit, maar ongelukkig woon daar onder ons ‘n familie met sulke vet kinders wat aanmekaar skreeu en baklei, tot ek later oor die balkon hang en hulle voor die oupa en ouma stilmaak. Nie veel gehelp nie.

Die volgende oggend was dit omtrent ‘n storie om met Silwer en Blou neer te daal. Jy moes al jou vernuf uithaal teen die klip afdraendes en skerp draaie. Plek-plek is ons oor die Romeinse Roete wat eeue oud is.

Dit was ‘n lieflike oggend en Porto is van ons lywe gewas. Agtergelaat. Alles begin betowerend word. Die lig op die wingerde en rivier, weerkaatsings, die klipterasse, die ou dorpies en hier en daar ‘n ou herehuis. By een van die kelders in die Quinta de Tedo appelasie (in 1758 geregistreer!) stop ons om port te proe. Drie soorte. ‘n Heerlike tawny, ‘n verouderde een en ‘n pienke waarvan ons nie hou nie, maar wat ‘n heerlike basis vir ‘n mengeldrankie met lemmetjie op fyn ys kan wees .

Die roete neem ons dieper die valleie in, hoër en hoër. Ons stop kort-kort om die grootsheid en die wydheid te peil. Die terasse van onder tot bo, die olyfboorde tussen in. Die kronkelende rivier. Portugal begin te laat vir ons ‘n ander betekenis te kry.

Ons daal af na ‘n restourant by Tau om iets te eet. Ons skrik toe die bakke kos voor ons neergsit word. Veal so groot soos ‘n bord. ‘n Hele bak gebraaide artappels, varkworsies, slaai… Ons kon nie naastenby al die kos opeet nie. En dit vir die prys van ‘n hamburger in Suid-Afrika.

Ons begin haastig raak om by ons volgende bestemming te kom en neem allerhande snelroetes, tot ons….

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Along the Douro, as far as we travelled, it was just one development after another.

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Here and there a village has managed to provide a “beach”.

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Here were also signs of fires, but in small pockets.

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We began to see the first of the terracing.

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We crossed paths with this route a number of times. Mostly old Roman roads

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Strangely vines are planted all around the edges of small fields and then trained really tall.

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The unnamed, unsung ruin near our lodgings.

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Just had to take this pic of Gerard and the garden donkey – we were waiting outside the house for the owner to arrive to let us in.

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Dinner in the back yard

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The three musical children had to show us their instruments.

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For me? Dad in the background had done the picking.

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… and more, even for Gerard. The carnations are symbol of the 5 April 1972 revolution.

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The 1972 Vespa lovingly restored by eldest son, Pedro.

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The view from their home

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Picking up on route 108, on Pedro’s recommendation

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We passed many old, huge cellars along the way.

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The sad decay of many old towns along our route

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For me, this was the face of Portugal

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We saw a number of these large passenger boats going up and down the river.

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We sat here for an hour, just relaxing and having our lunch.

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A single photo cannot show the full extent of the famous terracing which reach to the top of the mountains. Impressive!

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We crossed the river back and forth a few times to get the views from both sides.

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View from the balcony of the next lodging. Very high and very steep.

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Our street

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Leaving the next morning to negotiate our way down a very, very steep road into the main village way below us

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A view along our way down

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A pretty mirador along the way

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A very fancy guesthouse in the middle of the terraces

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They need every row of vine to make all that wine.

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Just to remember the route…

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…can neglect be this beautiful?

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We guessed that Dona Antonia Adelaide de Ferreira must have been a wine producer…

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Often a terrace would offer just enough space for a single row of vines.

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The three port styles we tasted at Quinta do Tedo

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Taken outside the tasting room

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And further along…

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Here we counted in excess of sixty terraces running up the mountainside.

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This was the last bridge that we took across the Douro

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The landscape began to open up, but development remained dense.

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We were continually astonished at how fast the river runs.

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The station building opposite the restaurant where we had lunch along with many of the workers on a dam wall high above the river.

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Portugal: The Dark Side/Swart kant, donker kant

Portugal: The Dark Side/Swart kant, donker kant

(Rol af vir Afrikaans en foto’s)

We entered Portugal’s dark side gradually. At first on that Sunday morning we thought there had been just an ordinary wild fire here and there when we saw the burned out trees. Later an entire valley of pitch black stumps. The further and deeper se rode into the valleys and mountains, the destruction became greater and clearer. Then it dawned on us, this was last year’s fires.

The scale is frightening. It was all we saw for 80km that day. Rolling hills and mountains covered in burned tree trunks. Nothing re-sprouting, except the bluegums and a little grass. Villages were spared, but not farmhouses, cars and trucks.

 It became unbearably hot, because there was nothing to absorb the heat or to counter it. It should have been one of Portugal’s most beautiful regions met rivers, dams, forests, plantations and stone villages. And all you saw was the scorched earth. All you felt was the heat.

 Our next stop over was a little paradise on a small farm near Cernache do Bonjardim. Nick, an Englishman, has a little piece of land where guests can stay in the old stone house or in wonderful luxury tents. He has created a convivial spacious outside patio where guests gather like one big family and cook and watch soccer with the valley framed by burned trees.

 Our tent stood on a terrace and was very private. Everything on the little farm is bio, as they call it. Environmentally friendly. Excessively green with fruit trees and a vegetable garden for everyone’s use. A church bell higher up the valley played a delicate carillon every half hour which rolled down the valley. It forced one to stop and listen. One day I rushed up the hill, in the hot midday sun, to reach the church in time to record the lovely sounds. But, there stood trucks and a front-end loader loading large pieces of concrete right next to the church… And then I discovered that it wasn’t real bells, but rather a recording that is played over large speakers….

 From there we explored valleys that hadn’t been destroyed, other villages, and also spent an entire day under trees next to a river. There are also the schizt villages of which we visited a few. Ancient villages trailing down mountains, beautifully restored.

 We moved on to Pampillosa da Serra and stayed over in a renovated school which has been converted into spacious flats by the local municipality. But, what a paper and computer procedure to register! Took about 30 minutes to fill in and process everything in multiple copies. Bureaucracy in its purest form.

 This was 50km in a northerly direction and here, too, everything has been burned down. We began to feel despondent and tired. It must have been so beautiful, the deep dalleys, the mountains… And the heat started to get us down too. We discovered the town’s swimming hole where the local teenagers get together – the river flowing through the town – and cooled down there, moving from shady patch to shady patch.

 Every journey there comes a time that you begin to question. What am I doing here? What got into me?

 Then we moved on to Porto. Had to cross over a very high mountain range and ride through run-down villages and towns that must have been rather elegant once upon a time. After the crest we dropped down into the first green forests in days. Our eyes and spirits had to first adjust to the wonder and the beauty. We felt at home again. Dense, dark, damp forests and sharp bends. We switched off the engins and glided and swerved and slowly descended. Halfway we had coffee in one of the old stone villages and then the rain started to fall in earnest…

 The plains and the heat hit us on a Friday. Soul-destroying kilometres and soulless ugly towns that seem to have stopped developing in the 1970’s. About 50km from Porto, the traffic already started backing up and it felt as if you were travelling from Salt River to Belville along Voortrekker Road along with large trucks. It took us hours to reach the hostel. We arrived at 18h00, tired, sweaty and a little worked up. A friendly reception and Silver and Blue were locked away – just to discover that there was a problem with our reservation! The hostel was completely booked out, as well as the rest of Porto, because it was the weekend of the Sao Joao Festival when one million people descend on the city. We eventually found a room in another hostel for the night. The jovial Portuguese guy was very happy to welcome South Africans. But, it was all really a facade… The place was so dirty that I took a shower in my shoes and clothes. At least the bedding and towels were clean, but there weren’t even curtains in front of the window! All at an astronomical price.

 Later that evening we rode to the river front where the festivities had already begun with lots of noise. Traditionally they seem to eat only barbequed sardines, which was what we did. We wandered about until midnight, just to avoid going to sleep.

 For the life of us, we can’t understand why people are so crazy about Porto. It’s dirty, rusty, grimy, tired, and dilapidated. A real old salty harbour city. Something sombre about the atmosphere. Early the next morning we walked about a little and rode the steep cobbled streets through the awkward angled city with its one-way streets. No, we were definitely not going to stay for three full days. In any case, there wasn’t place for another two rats…

Portugal: Swartkant, donkerkant…

 Ons het stadig in Portugal se donkerkant, die swartkant, ingery. Eers het ons die Sondagoggend gedink daar was net ‘n gewone bosbrand hier en daar toe ons afgebrande bome sien. Later ‘n hele vallei pikwart stompe. Hoe verder en dieper ons daardie oggend in die valleie en berge ry, hoe groter en duideliker word die vernietiging. Toe dring dit tot ons deur, dit is verlede jaar se brande.

 Die afmetings is skrikwekkend. Dit is al wat ons op daardie dag vir 80km sien. Rollende heuwels en berge met gebrande boomstompe. Niks wat teruggroei nie, behalwe bloekombome en miskien bietjie gras. Dorpies is gespaar, maar nie plaashuise, motors en vragmotors nie.

 Dit word ook onuithoudbaar warm, want daar is niks om die hitte te absorbeer of te buffer nie. Dit moes een van Portugal se mooiste dele gewees het met riviere, damme, woude, plantasies en klipdorpies. Al wat jy sien is ‘n verskroeide aarde. Al wat jy voel is die hitte.

 Ons volgende staning is ‘n klein paradys op ‘n plasie naby Cernache do Bonjardim. In ‘n beskutte vallei staan Nick, ‘n Brit, se klein stukkie grond waar gaste in die ou kliphuis of in heerlike luukse tente kan tuisgaan. Hy het ‘n gesellige ruim kuierplek geskep waar die gaste soos een groot familie buite kuier, kos maak, sokker kyk, met die vallei wat geraam word met verbrande bome.

 Ons tent staan op ‘n terras en is baie privaat. Alles op sy plasie is bio, soos hulle dit noem. Omgewingsvriendelik. Oordadig groen met vrugtebome en ‘n groetetuin vir almal se gebruik. ‘n Kerklok hoër op in die vallei speel elke halfuur die mooiste en fynste klokkespel wat dan in die vallei afrol. Dit het ‘n mens dan laat stilstaan en gedwing om te luister. Die een dag drafstap ek die berg uit, in die warm middaguur, om tot by die kerkie te kom om die mooi klanke op te neem. Toe staan daar vragmotors en ‘n ‘n voorlaaier wat met groot geraas stukke beton reg langs die kerk oplaai… Toe moes ek ook sien dis nie regte klokke nie, maar opnames wat met groot luidsprekers uitgesaai word.

 Van daar verken ons valleie wat nie verwoes is nie, ander dorpies, en bring ook ‘n hele dag onder bome langs ‘n rivier deur. Daar is ook die klipdorpies (schizt villages) wat ons besoek. Oer-oue dorpies wat teen berge afrank en wat mooi gerestoureer is.

 Ons skuif na Pampillosa da Serra en bly in ‘n gerestoureerde skool wat in groot ruim en netjiese woonstelle deur die plaaslike munisipaliteit omskep is. Maar wat ‘n papier- en rekenaarprosedure om in te boek. Neem omtrent 30 minute om alles in te vul en veelvoudige te prosesseer. Burokrasie in sy hoogste vorm.

 Dit is weer 50km in ‘n noordelike rigting en ook hier is alles afgebrand. Ons begin moedeloos en moeg raak. Dit moes so mooi gewees het, die diep valleie, die berge… En die hitte wat ons begin onderkry. Ons ontdek die swemplek van die dorp se tieners – die rivier wat deur die dorp vloei en koel daar af en skuif van skadukol tot skadukol.

 Met elke reis kom daar ‘n stadium wat jy vrae begin vra. Wat soek ek hier? Wat het my besiel?

 Toe skuif ons aan Porto toe. Moes oor ‘n baie hoë bergreeks en deur vervalle ou dorpies ry wat eens op ‘n tyd baie elegant moes gewees het. Na die kruin sak ons af in die die eerste groen woude in dae. Ons oë en gemoed moes eers gewoond raak aan die wonder en die mooi. Ons voel weer tuis. Digte, donker, klam woude en skerp draaie. Ons sluit die enjins af en swaai en gly en swaai en gly stadig na onder. Halfpad drink ons koffie in een van die ou klipdorpies en toe sak die reënmet mening uit…

 Die vlaktes en hitte tref ons op ‘n Vrydag. Dodelike kilometers en siellose lelike dorpe wat in die 1970’s gaan stilstaan het. So 50km van Porto begin die verkeer al ophoop en voel dit asof jy saam met groot vragmotors in Voortrekkerweg van Soutrivier na Belville ry. Sonder taxi’s gelukkig. Dit neem ons ure om tot by die hotel te kom. Arriveer om 6nm en is moeg, vuil, natgesweet, en ‘n bietjie beduiweld. Vriendelike ontvangs en Silwer en Blou word opgesluit, net om uit te vind daar is ‘n probleem met ons bespreking! Die hotel is tjok en blok, so ook die res van Porto, want dit is die naweek van die Sao Joaofees (Heilige Johannesfees) en een miljoen mense sak dan toe op die stad. Ons kry na baie soek plek in ‘n hostel. Daar aangekom is die joviale Portugees bly om Suid-Afrikaners te ontvang. Maar dit was alles net ‘n fasade… Die plek was so vuil dat ek met skoene, en al my klere aan gestort het. Darem skoon beddegoed en handdoeke, maar nie eens gordyne voor die vensters nie! Alles teen ‘n astronomiese bedrag.

 Ons is later die aand in na die rivierfront waar die feesbedrywighede al met groot geraas begin het. Tradisioneel word daar omtrent net groot gebraaide sardiens geëet, wat ons toe ook doen. Dwaal rond tot middernag, net om nie te gaan slaap nie.

 Neewat, ons kan nie verstaan waarom mense so mal is oor Porto nie. Dit is vuil, verroes, smetterig, aangepak, moeg, en verwaarloos. ‘n Regte ou souterige, somber hawestad. Ons stap ook vroeg die volgende oggend ‘n bietjie rond en ry met Silwer deur die ongemaklike skuins stad met sy eenrigting- kieselsteenpaaie. Nee, ons gaan rêrig nie vir drie dae bly nie. Daar is in elke geval ook nie plek vir nóg twee rotte nie…

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The evidence of the huge fire of 2017 is everywhere.

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Farm houses couldn’t escape the fire.

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Silhouettes 

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Devestated landscape for up to 80 kilometers

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The villages escaped the fires, it seems.

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The scale of the fire seen is seen here.

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Misery in the early morning light.

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The only re-growth taking place is the gum trees.

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Nick’s place with the wonderful open kitchen for use by all visitors and the old stone house on the left.

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Our luxury bell tent with Egyptian cotton bedding et al

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We even had our own garden table and stools for early morning coffee.

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View across the valley in which the lovely carillon sounded every hour

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Freezing, but deliciously refreshing in the incredible heat

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We spent almost an entire day under these trees, next to the stream with its pools.

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Our next stay was in Pampilhosa and this statue guards over the town.

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The river runs through the town and the municipality has created a recreational area for inhabitants. Water not as cold as in the mountains, but still refreshing.

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Dinner at the local bar: sheep’s stomach stuffed with mint rice and mutton. This is the speciality dish of the region,

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They serve everything with olives and bred included. We bought a bottle of sangria to counter the heat.

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What must have been a lovely view before the fire…

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Old, elegant villages, mostly neglected or empty

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Wind and hydro energy installations to be seen all over the country

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It was actually a shock to find ourselves surrounded by green after many days in the fire-blackened areas.

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Sad to see such a lovely art nouveau building gradually disintegrating

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Schizt villages abound in this region

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Sometimes the roads through the villages present a challenge and switch backs often become three point turns.

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A beautifully maintained municipal picnic area for lunch: see our two pasteis de nata which became a regular for every day; cherries; cheese; tomatoes; and bread.

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This leaf floated gently down onto the table during lunch – a message that even summer doesn’t last for ever.

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Another schizt village with a resident cat

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Back into rain gear for the continuation of the day’s distance

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This would have been a beautiful pic without the rain!

Porto

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From Porto our journey began all along the river Douro

The Alentejo: Plains, fortresses and poetry/Vlaktes, vestings en verse

The Alentejo: Plains, fortresses and poetry/Vlaktes, vestings en verse

Portugal is light and shadow. Beautiful and ugly. Good and bad to us. It threw us back and forth and there were times that we wanted to cut the trip short and return to Spain. Fortunately we persevered and at last, much much later, we were richly rewarded when we entered this heavenly place with all its ravines and portals.

For the first week or two we were gripped by the countryside and history of the Alentejo region – which literally means the region beyond the Taag (Tejo). Often we covered long distances. Then it became insufferably hot and we packed away our warm clothing deep under everything else and thought we would never use it again. The next morning it was freezing again and we had to pull out everything again. By lunchtime we packed it all away again.

Our impressions are large, wide plains with short vines, olive and cork trees. Then, again, hilly. The villages were white and uninspiring and Silver and Blue shook badly on the stony roads. Here and there was an old fortress on a mountain or hill. But the distances were long and by now we are a little over-replete on churches and castles.

Our pattern also began to fall nicely into place. We stopped at around 11:00 for coffee at a bar. Then began to look out for a supermercado to buy something for lunch. Usually a bread roll – katkoppe (that was what we called them in Moçambique). Nice crust and slightly chewy. Then we alternated with cheese, liver spread or jambon. Always accompanied by two tomatoes and perhaps some cherries or other fruit. Then we looked for a picnic spot under a tree. Often we fell asleep right there. Right there, on the grass and stones. So safe. For day trips we travelled on Silver and covered distances of up to 120 km. In the evenings we had dinner in a little restaurant with the locals, or prepared our own food if there were kitchen facilities.

On our first day entering Portugal we rode 270km from Seville to the lovely Evora. We were fortunate to find a little house in the old part of the city. Narrow stone passages through which we had to navigate carefully. The house’s ceilings were bricked domes and the courtyard was a picture – a study in white with a grape vine.

The next morning we rode to Monzaraz. A fortress village with white buildings situated on a high hill, a distance of about 50km. We climbed onto the high fortress walls and viewed the lakes in the distance, had coffee, popped into a weaving shop and the proprietress picked up on the accent and told us of the many South Africans now settling in the area. We also rode across the kilometre long bridge just for the novelty and spotted a family of wild boar grazing.

Back in Evora we sat in an open air pub next to the remains of a so-called temple to Diana. Actually, that is incorrect, because it was built in the 1st Century AD in honour of emperor Augustus. A priest began to call it that in the 17th Century. Rather imposing and on a lovely square in the historical centre of the town.

The first match of the soccer world cup was to be played that evening and we combed the city looking for a place to watch the game with the locals. Portugal was playing the opening match in Russia, and we were rather disappointed that there wasn’t much spirit amongst the people. It looked as if the food was more important to them.

Op pad Castello Branco besoek ons ook die vesting, Marvão. Alreeds ‘n vesting van die pre-historiese tye. Die uitsig van daar het eindelose horisonne gebied oor die vlaktes met olyfbome bespikkel. Dit was hier in 884 wat ‘n edeleman, ‘n Sufi leier, deur die poorte gery het en kom skuiling soek het teen die Emir van Cordoba. Sy naam was Ibn Maruán, vandaar die naam Marvão. En daar staan Silwer en Blou reg voor die einste poort geparkeer. Ons stap in erge hitte al op die stadsmure om die vesting. Later op en af in die skuins strate tot ons voel ons gaan flou word van die hitte.

Dorpe en klein stadjies flits die volgende dae in die Alentejo by ons verby. Ons stop op die pleine, drink koffie, koop kos, kyk rond, en beweeg weer aan. Soms verdwaal ons, maar vind weer ons pad. Die intog by Castello Branco loop verkeerd. Die GPS neem ons op snelweë weg van die stad en ons ry in sirkels en sirkels. Die volgende oggend dieselfde, ons kom nie uit die stad uit nie. Al in die rondte op kringpaaie, tot ons later belsuit ons volg ons koppe…

Towns and small cities flashed by us in the following days in the Alentejo. We stopped on the squares, had coffee, bought food, look around and moved on. Sometimes we got lost, but found our way again. The approach to Castello Branco went wrong. The GPS took us on highways around the city and we rode in circles and more circles. The next morning we had the same experience. In circles on ring roads until we eventually decided to follow our heads in stead…

And so we landed on this narrow route which took us through one small, poor village after nother. In a nameless village we stopped at a bar for morning coffee. In that simple place, the walls were covered with poems written by the inhabitants. Something broke loose within me…

Die Alentejo: vlaktes, vestings en verse

Portugal is lig en skaduwee. Mooi en lelik. Goed en sleg vir ons. Dit het ons heen en weer gegooi en daar was tye wat ons die rit net wou kortknip en teruggaan Spanje toe. Gelukkig het ons deurgedruk en uiteindelik is ons ryklik beloon toe ons later, heel later, ‘n hemelagtigheid met al sy klowe en poorte ingaan.

Die eerste week of twee was ons vasgevang deur die platteland en geskiedenis van die Alentejostreek – wat letterlik beteken die gebied anderkant die Taag (Tejo). Baie keer het ons lang afstande gery. Dan word dit onuithoudbaar warm en pak ons die warm klere diep weg en dink ons gaan dit nooit weer gebruik nie. Die volgende oggend is dit weer snerpend en moet ons alles uitpluk. Teen die middaguur pak ons dit weer weg…

Ons indrukke is groot en wye vlaktes met stompieswingerd, olyf- en kurkbome. Dan weer heuwelagtig. Die dorpies is wit en oninspirerend en Silwer en Blou skud uitmekaar op die klippaaie. Hier en daar is ‘n ou vesting op ‘n berg of heuwel. Maar die afstande is ver en ons is al ‘n bietjie oorversadig vir kerke en kastele.

Ons ritme val ook mooi in plek. Ons stop so teen 11:00 vir koffie by ‘n kroeg. Begin daarna uitkyk vir ‘n Supermecado om iets vir middagete te koop. Gewoonlik ‘n broodrolletjie – katkoppe! So het ons altyd die Portugese pao in die Mozambiek genoem. Lekker harde kors en effens taai. Dan wissel ons dit af met kaas, ‘n lewersmeer, òf jambon – ham. Altyd met twee tamaties, en miskien kersies of ‘n vrug. Dan soek ons ‘n stilhouplek onder ‘n boom. Daar raak ons ons ook baie keer aan die slaap. So op die gras en klippe. So veilig. Vir dagritte ry ons net met Silwer en doen ons afstande van tot 120km. Saans gaan eet ons in ‘n restourantjie met die locals, of maak kos as daar kombuisfasiliteite is.

Die eerste dag in Portugal ry ons 270km van Seville na die baie mooi Evora. Ons is gelukkig om ‘n huisie in die ou gedeelte van die stad te kry. Nou klipgangetjies en ons moet baie goed en sekuur ons pad navigeer. Die koepelplafonne van die huisie is met klip gepak en die binnehof is ‘n prentjie – ‘n studie in wit met ‘n druiweprieël.

Die volgende oggend is ons na Monzaraz. ‘n Vesting met wit geboue op ‘n hoë kop, so 50km ver. Ons klim op die hoë vestingsmure en kyk na die mere in die vertes, drink koffie, loer by ‘n wewery in en die vrou tel ons aksent op en vertel van die baie Suid-Afrikaners wat hulle nou daar vestig. Ons gaan ry ook oor die kilometerlange brug daar naby vir die snaaksegeid en sien ‘n familie sku wildevarke wei.

Terug in Evora gaan sit ons in ‘n buitelugkroeg langs die oorblyfsels van sogenaamde tempel vir Diana. Eintlik is dit baie verkeerd, want dit is in die 1e eeu na Christus gebou ter ere van keiser Augustus. ‘n Priester het dit in die 17de eeu so begin noem. Nogal imposant en op ‘n mooi plein in die historiese kern van die dorp.

Die eerste wedstryd vir die sokker wêreldbeker word daardie aand gespeel en ons loop die stad plat om ‘n plek te soek waar ons dit kan kyk. Alle tafels is vol bespreek. Uiteindelik by ‘n restourant sitplek gekry. Portugal speel in die openingspel in Rusland, en ons is nogal teleurgesteld dat daar nie vreeslik gees onder die mense is nie. Lyk of die kos vir hulle belangriker is.

Op pad Castello Branco besoek ons ook die vesting, Marvão. Alreeds ‘n vesting van die pre-historiese tye. Die uitsig van daar het eindelose horisonne gebied oor die vlaktes met olyfbome bespikkel. Dit was hier in 884 wat ‘n edeleman, ‘n Sufi leier, deur die poorte gery het en kom skuiling soek het teen die Emir van Cordoba. Sy naam was Ibn Maruán, die stigter van Marvão. En daar staan Silwer en Blou reg voor die einste poort geparkeer. Ons stap in erge hitte al op die stadsmure om die vesting. Later op en af in die skuins strate tot ons voel ons gaan flou word van die hitte.

Dorpe en klein stadjies flits die volgende dae in die Alentejo by ons verby. Ons stop op die pleine, drink koffie, koop kos, kyk rond, en beweeg weer aan. Soms verdwaal ons, maar vind weer ons pad. Die intog by Castello Branco loop verkeerd. Die GPS neem ons op snelweë weg van die stad en ons ry in sirkels en sirkels. Die volgende oggend dieselfde, ons kom nie uit die stad uit nie. Al in die rondte op kringpaaie, tot ons later belsuit ons volg ons koppe…

So land ons op hierdie nou roete wat ons deur die een klein armoedige dorpie na die ander neem. In ‘n naamlose dorpie stop ons vir oggendkoffie by ‘n kroeg. In daardie eenvoudigheid hang die mure vol gedigte wat deur die inwoners geskryf is. ‘n Wal het in my losgebreek…

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How bizarre! An unattractive spot on a dam wall, miles of concrete and the first English in weeks. This was our welcome to Portugal.

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Arrival at Monzaraz – a fortress village

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Monzaraz lies in the lake district of Portugal

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All the buildings in the walled village are sparkling white.

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A spot of green to break the brightness of the sunlight on white walls

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Olive trees and the odd vineyard and cork trees as far as the eye can see

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A refreshingly different type of architecture

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Layers of whiteness

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The ceramic gutter spouts were a surprise.

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A different take on chimneys

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Locally woven products

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Weaving is no longer done here, but the loom adds to the ambience.

 

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Fine detail on a ceramic plate

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The so-called Diana’s Temple in Evora

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An choral concert in the cathedral