Don´t come to my house !

1. August 2017

When I go to my garage I pass this door.

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Could it be that the people living inside are shy?

Or are they just afraid of a burglary?

The message is in my mind: “Go away” “Don´t touch anything” “If you try we will see when something has been moved”, and then what?

I often wonder about this door. I know a bit about those who live inside because it is in my condominium. This apartment is beneath mine.

Yesterday I was contemplating about how crazy this is.

The police came the other day looking for a person  they thought was living in this apartment. No one was at home so I went downstairs to talk to the nice police men. I have no idea why they are looking for the girl. I don´t know her and could not help them at all. This morning I saw the couple, if they are a couple, leave. I know they are in the apartment during the night. One day when they came home, late in the evening,  the man backed at my car while trying to put his in a parking spot. My car is damaged. Next time I saw the man I approached him. No, he had not hit my car, he told me.

I can´t do anything about this, because it is his word against mine and I was stupid enough not take a photo.

Putting up a defensive wall like the one in the photo speaks louder than many words.

I have never seen anything like it, but of course I have not seen everything !

I live in a condominium and sometimes it is quite interesting, being the bloody foreigner among the natives. Most of the people in the village are wonderful and really nice to me. Some of my neighbours are also nice and the ones opposite me are wonderful and helped me when I needed it.

Every  Tuesday and every Friday this happens:

There is a wash day. On Tuesdays it is ordinary clothes and on Fridays its bedclothes and pyjamas. The sun is shining and the laundry gets out. There is a law in the land. No laundry beneath your balcony!

I have been around Portugal, from north to south, and never seen anything like this except in Penela. How can you be so selfish and rude? Oh, yes, it is the bloody foreigner that wants to have her beautiful view not polluted by laundry. If the laundry was really beautiful and interesting it might be another matter, but this one has not changed for 6 years. For six years, can you imagine?

Now I have this wonderful glass wall around my balcony. The windows need to be cleaned. I wonder, if the neighbours upstairs have any idea that every Friday they wash my upper windows? Their laundry, their bedclothes, take care of that and those windows are even cleaner than the ones I clean.

How nice is that !

Being the foreigner in a condominium can be interesting, but, if you rock the boat, be prepared, there will be opposition and all hell will brake loose.

Hulda Björnsdóttir

 

 

My first days in Portugal

31.july 2017

Yesterday I told you how it was when I arrived in my new homeland and the snake told me to go away from my rented house. Leave us alone, he said. This is our house, and he swayed his tail and head, enjoying the sun and threatening to kill me!

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As you can see there are 2 houses connected. One is white and tiny, the other one is ugly and in fact just ruins.

The rented one is the white part. The big one is the ruins. Then you can see the road which is just for one car and the square in front of the house is also tiny. Everything in Podents, then, was tiny.  The snake came from the ruins and he was not the first one. More followed and I lived in fear of them from January until May, when my wonderful apartment was ready.

My apartment is in Penela, a wonderful big one and nothing like what I was offered at the beginning but that is a story for another day.

In this tiny village Podents is a supermarket.

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A nice elderly couple ran the market and you could buy some simple things there, like toilet paper and some cheese, you know, this and that every household can  not live without. On the photo above you see the white door beneath the balcony. That’s the market. The couple live upstairs and one day I was invited there. I had cut my finger and was bleeding heavily. The husband took me upstairs and put some bandage on it and also showed me the beautiful apartment. This couple took me under their protecting wings while I suffered in the snake house.

In my rented house, the snake house, there was no telephone. No heating. The house was freezing and the wind blew through a big hole in the bathroom. It never crossed my mind, thank god, that during the big hole in the bathroom I could have been invaded my snakes, not just one, many of them. That did not happen and while living there I did not realise the real danger I was in! Imagine me being killed by snakes in a rented house having  just arrived from China and waiting to find my future home. That would have been something and at least you would not be reading this now.

I arrived on Saturday. On Monday morning there was a knock on my door. The day before I had gone to the Supermarket and bought toilet paper and cheese. Was it the little lady at the door? No, it was not. Outside was a tall man, a really tall one, who told me he was there to take me to Penela.  Who was he? I had no idea. He explained that my landlord was his friend and my real estate agent was his son. Those 2 had decided the lady needed help and it was a good idea to use the time while the son was in Spain to show me Penela and help with some practicalities, like fiscal number, phone, bank account and these things you need where you live.

We went to the camera and I got a fiscal number which was step number one. After having a fiscal number all roads were clear. We bought a phone and I put some money in it. Since there were no busses from Podentes to Penela I needed transport. The owner of one of the coffee shops took care of that. When I needed to go home I would go to the coffee shop and when I needed to leave Podentes I called and they came and picked me up.

Well, calling from Podentes was not quite simple. The problem was SIGNAL or rather lack of it!

I had to leave the snake house, walk up the road, pass the supermarket and somewhere in the middle it was sometimes possible to get a signal. Not always, but sometimes. Several times I went into the supermarket and they helped by letting me use their ordinary phone.

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The spot just above the tiny roundabout was the one to use for the wonderful phone.

When in Penela I needed to eat something and found a restaurant. Not too expensive and the food most of the time eatable. Just Portuguese food and there I learned not to like the overcooked totally dead vegetables. Potatoes, a lot of them, with everything. The rice, Oh my, I cant tell you how my heart bled when I saw the rise. I just came from China where we have rice all the time. A properly cooked fluffy white beautiful rice, not this disgusting slimy horrible thing.  I love Chinese food and this was a culture shock. I can tell you that.

When the man was showing me around, on Monday, he told me there were Chinese shops in Penela so I would be able to buy everything I wanted, Chinese. Wonderful, I would be able to get my Chinese tea from there. Right, there are Chinese shops everywhere in Portugal but nothing  Chinese in them. They have loads of all kinds of stuff made in China, Portuguese stuff,  but nothing Chinese.  There are even Chinese restaurants here  and you can get chips there. A blasphemy. There is one Chinese restaurant in Coimbra that makes proper food or rather there WAS. They all adjust. Although in Figueira Da Foz there is one quite good and they have wonderful proper Chinese cousin, not adjusted. Not yet.

After taking me sight seeing the tall man drove me home and my life began. I had a mobile phone but no computer. There was no way for me to connect with my friends in China and let them know I was ok. I had to do something and the solution was around the corner. I just had to find it.

More to come

Hulda Björnsdóttir

 

 

 

The trip from China to Portugal

30.july 2017

More than six years ago I mowed to Portugal from China. I did not want to but I had to. My beautiful house in China, my car and everything had to go. The government did not want me, they just wanted my money and I could not get permanent residence and live in my house and use my car. No problem buying the house and all I needed. Selling the house was another story. Everything was  done to make it difficult for me. Of course I was a foreigner. I love my Chinese friends and my wonderful students. My neighbours were amazing and the fellow teachers did everything to make my life as wonderful as possible. It was just the government that was the hindrance.

I chose Portugal for my final destination because it got high recommendation as a country for retirement. I did a lot of research and found the big city in central Portugal, Penela.  and there I was going to live. On the internet it is not the same as in real life. It does not have 6.500 people living there. O no. In Penela there are about 500 people but rest lives in the municipal .

What is a municipal? It is the village Penela and several other small places i.e. a town or district that has local government.  The district has a population of about 6.500 people not the village.

Little did I know when I came here.

I found on the internet a small house in Penela. I did not want to rent a big apartment because there would be a lot of cleaning. I hate cleaning. It is so useless and the dirt always comes again. One of the tasks you do again and again but never see the final results. No, I was not going to spend my time cleaning a 5 rooms apartment. I found this house with one bedroom, kitchen and a living room. Looked good. I asked my real estate agent if the house would be a good idea and he told me YES.

I needed an address to send a few boxes to. Because I could not send anything out of China, since I was not a resident, I gave everything, or almost everything, but there were few very personal things I wanted to keep and those needed a home in Portugal.

I was told the rent was 600 Euros per month, a very good price! Little did I know. I accepted and began sending my parcels through China post. 2 parcels at a time. So far so good.

The flight and stop over and everything took 48 hours. I left Fuzhou and arrived in Lisboa 48 hours later. Lacking sleep and tired to death with my 3 suitcases I found a taxi that was willing to drive me to Penela. I paid the fare in advance.

He was nice. We chatted and he told me few things about the culture in my new homeland. Really nice man. We did not get lost. Had a good description from the real estate agent and after a bit more than 2 hours drive we arrived in Penela. Well, we had the address of the estate manager. No one there. Everything closed. We called. He was in Spain. When would he be back? After 5 days, more or less. My god. I was there. Did not have a home and the person who was going to take care of everything was in another country. He was a Britt! Well, the man told us to wait. He would call the owner.  We waited, me and the taxi driver.  If it had not been for the taxi driver I might have lost it and screamed at someone but he was calm and told me everything would be ok. I needed a place to sleep. I was collapsing.   We tried to find a hotel in the village. Managed to find one but could not drive to the entrance. Decided to wait for another call.

Eventually a man came driving a truck that could be from the last century. He spoke to as and this was the landlord. Obviously he just woke up from his afternoon nap and had a biscuit before picking up the lady. His teeth were really full of biscuits !

I took a deep breath, something was happening and I would be in a bed very soon.

The man told us to follow him. We did. I said to the taxi driver that this looked quite far away from Penela, when we had been driving for 8 minutes. I will not be able to walk to the centre. No, you wont, my driver agreed. After 15 minutes walk we finally arrived. This was not in Penela. I could not walk to the village and there are no busses. Seriously, This looked BAD, really BAD.

The owner told us to wait. The house had not been cleaned and now he needed someone to clean. 2 ladies came. We, me and the driver, stood there in the terrible heat. I was numb. The owner showed us his vine cellar. He turned out to be a big vine maker and the fabric was beneath the apartment. Huge equipment there. I am not a vine fan. Don’t ever drink and have no interest at all in red and white and whatever. My driver was interested. The owner gave us 2 bottles, one white and one read. Did I want it ? NO but since I can sometimes be polite, I accepted.

Before the ladies came to clean my driver put my heavy suitcases into the house.

I was invited to have a look at the house, before my suitcases got inside so I went to the gate and opened it.

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Dear God. There, in trap number 4, was a huge snake!

I froze. I looked at the owner and said with a hiccup : THERE IS A SNAKE !

He looked at me and said: Don’t worry!

How could I not worry? There was a snake waiting for me, telling me to go away from his property.

Oh, its nothing said the owner again. They come from the other building.

The other building? That building is connected to the one I was going to live in.

I almost died.

I was terrified, had not slept 48 hours and the good forsaken snake moved closer to me.

The owner took a stick and put it inside the curly snake, throwing it away. There you see, he said, no problem, it´s gone!

After a while the cleaning was over. I could go inside, the driver said good by and I went to sleep. What a reception I got.

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Hulda Björnsdóttir

Icelandic design

29th of July 2017

A friend of mine is an Icelandic designer.

She is different and her clothes like nothing else.

I love this wonderful design and every winter I wear her amazing clothes, but today I want to share with you some of them.

She lives in Akranes in Iceland and has her workshop there.

When I first met her she had a shop in Reykjavík and that was where I bought my first outfit. I had come for a visit from China and Iceland was horrible cold. I needed something warm, something that could protect my bones from freezing to death.  This was more than 10 years ago. Every year I add something and my collection is now quite amazing.

During the years the design has changed but she is truthful to her inheritance and the touch is similar.

Akranes is a small place but worth visiting when you travel to Iceland.

Here above she is outside her new workshop in Akranes  enjoying the beautiful weather. This is a playful design and I hope one day she will have an exhibition where her playful mood shows.

Even though the summer is not hot and sometimes it rains and the wind tries to capture you, the Icelandic nature is beautiful and that is where my friend Gerður picks up her ideas. If you visit her Facebook site https://www.facebook.com/gagadesign/  you can see more and even contact her while on your way north.

Iceland does not have a big population but I can tell you that the art is blooming there. There are singers, painters, designers, musicians and you just name it. Sport is also blooming in the country and many famous Icelandic football players  have been working for example in UK, Belgium and France. The conditions in Iceland are not the best in the world to practise football but the swimming pools are amazing.

Swimming outside, under the blue sky, with the snow flakes falling like stars is an experience you would probably not have anywhere else in the world. You get out of the pool and it is freezing. You run into the hot pot and enjoy talking to your friends or just absorbing the beauty, the winter’s beauty.

The summer nights are bright and no night. 24 hours of daylight. Can you imagine that? Some complain about the bright nights but you get used to it and there is always the possibility to put something over your eyes or even have black curtains.

The winters are dark. The spring is my favourite time in the country. Everything is waking up and the tiny sprouts that have survived the winter are peeking up from the soil. They smile at you and there is a promise of beautiful flowers, soon.

This is the atmosphere where my wonderful friend Gerður picks up her ideas when designing. No wonder she has so many admirers all around the world.

I hope you will visit her Facebook site and you can contact her there if you like.

Hulda Björnsdóttir

 

 

 

The story behind the orchids

27. July 2017

When I came to Portugal more than 6 years ago, my neighbour gave me 6 orchids. She was thinning hers out and gave me cuttings.

Never in my life had I taken care of orchids or put orchids seedlings in a pot. I was told what soil to use and someone gave me some tiny pots for the huge orchids. There they were, poor things, one cold winter in my balcony. To make the story short. They all died.

Not one survived.  I threw the pots away and named the ones I saw everywhere, the ugly ones. I was jealous. Of course. The ugly ones looked ugly and nothing special for most of the year but then one day the flowers came out and every garden in my neighbourhood was full of them.

I was never going to try this again. There was some Portuguese magic between the ugly ones and the people, that I did not understand. My friends mother had some amazingly beautiful orchids and I talked to them every time I came for a visit. How did she do it? They seemed to be blooming most of the year.

One day when I was taking my walk, a man in a house not far from me, was in his garden and I stopped to talk to him and admire his beautiful ugly ones. He had just planted some in new pots and gave me one. I took it home and killed it few weeks later. It was not my intention. I was going to take really good care of it. I just did not know how.

I tried some inside ones. They are different. Everything went the same way, they died.

Two years ago I got really sick and needed to stay home and could not travel around the country as I had done before. I was bored and needed to figure out something to do. Something challenging, more challenging than my illness. Guess what! The ugly ones, they were the best challenge I could come up with.

My friends mother gave me one in a pot. She, the orchid, gave me beautiful flowers and now I was sure I would be able to keep her alive. Oh no! One day all the leaves had gone. Was she dead? I would not let go. I nourished her, talked to her and told her stories. Then came the winter and I just left her alone.

My balcony was really cold and the wind blew heavily. Almost during the whole year. The apartment was cold. There is no insulation in houses here and I was paying a lot for heating during the winter. There had to be a solution. Yes. I could put up a glass wall or rather glass windows and doors around the balcony. That would solve the heating problem and even safe me money when looking to the future, the gas bill would be less.

Since the wall would come next October I began to experiment with the ugly ones again. The one my friends mother gave me had not passed away. She came around with happy leaves. I was not hopeless after all. Then I invested in 3 outdoor ones. They were on promotion and not that expensive. I asked the family, my friends who run the flower shop, how to take care of them and they sold me bigger pots and soil and I did everything right this time.

October came and I had broken my shoulder in September, but the men came with the wonderful glass doors and sliding windows for my balcony and I was happy. This winter I have been warm. I spent less on gas and the big surprise is that I am becoming an orchid specialist.

The ugly ones have become the beautiful ones. The one that I managed not to kill 4 years ago, an inside orchid, gave me flowers and opened the first one on the 23rd of May this year and is still blooming.  You can see her outside the kitchen window.

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There are 2 others, inside ones, that will bloom next year, I think, and some others have given my amazingly beautiful flowers all the time. I told Philip that I would treat myself with one orchid per month. That was 6 months ago. I am not going to buy anymore. I have got different colours and different shapes. The outdoor ones will bloom in September, I hope, and there are wonderful colours in waiting there also.

Now they are just in a green group protecting each other.

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The culture here in Portugal is to share the orchids. When you need to thin them you give your friends and neighbours one.

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One day I will be able to share mine. At the moment I am learning to keep them alive. I sing for them, talk to them, read for them and take care of them. They need love and nourishment just like we, the people.

Hulda Björnsdóttir

 

 

 

Fires in Portugal

27th July 2017

In my wonderful tiny country, which is just like a small slice of Spain, there is a huge summer problem.

The fires rip along the country.

I wake up in the morning and look over the neighbourhood from my balcony. There should be clear sky and birds singing, but not this morning.

Everything was dark. The smell of burning wood filled my senses.  There has been drought this year. Very little rain and the farmers are worried. The crops, what will happen to the crops? If the farmers don´t get their crop they have no income. What is it that makes every summer like a hellhole with burning fires everywhere.

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This year is worse. I have been here 6 years and every one of them we have had terrible fires, but not as many deaths as now.

This photo is from yesterday afternoon.

The fires are about 80 km away from my home but the smoke is here and the smell, the horrible smell.

Why is this like that every year? Why does the government not do something about it? What can be done?

Those questions pop up every year. Now there is a committee, 12 people, trying to figure out something. They will talk until death, but will something wise come out of it? I’m not sure. I hope so, but I am, truth to tell, not optimistic.

This morning I was watching the news and the names of 64 people, that lost their lives just in one day some weeks ago, were read. Family of 4, family of 2, a firefighter and many more. What a tragedy and all because we have trees that somehow catch fire during this time of the year.

I was driving home from Coimbra and saw cigarettes flying from cars ahead of me. How can people be so stupid? Don´t they think about anything but them selves? This makes me furious and the cars had a P number so they were likely people living here. No one should do this, its common sense.

It is not just in Portugal. It is in south Italy and southern France also. The drought is killing everything and those who don´t respect the nature, sometimes, light the fires just by pure ignorance.

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This is how it looked from my balcony early this morning, clouds of fire all around. Massive and no crack in it. The smell horrible even inside my apartment.

I hope someone will come up with a solution, not soon but NOW.

Good help those who have lost their homes these last 24 hours. It brakes my heart to see grown men crying on TV and looking at the shell which few hours earlier was their home.

Hulda Björnsdóttir

 

 

 

 

The Portuguese wedding part 4

I said some days ago that I would tell you about the naked tree next to the entrance of the building where we had the lunch.

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So here is the tree, but not naked anymore. Now it has some beautiful cards on it.

What are these cards for? I had no idea. I did look and saw names of famous composers, which made sense to me because I knew this would be the concert of the year. I assumed, without looking that there were names of some famous arias beneath the composers name.

Little did I know!

In the afternoon there was a lunch. It was supposed to be inside. When people begun to move inside I did as well.

There were several tables and no names at each plate.

How would I figure out where to sit? I knew a bit about the people I would be sitting with but did not see them anywhere.

Oh, this was so humiliating. There must be a simple explanation, I thought. I just had to figure it out.

I headed out, trying to find the bride. She would know. I found her and she explained everything.

The cards, on the naked tree, did not have names of arias on them. They had names of people!

The composer was the name of table and the arias were the names of the people who had been but together and should enjoy each others company during the lunch!

My table was Vivaldi and wonderful people kept me company during the lunch. People I had not meet before but took me under their wing and made sure I did not get lost.

We had interesting conversations and I learned a lot. I always learn when I talk to the Portuguese. They are willing to share and they are all immensely friendly. I cant count my blessings enough to have all those new friends in my life and hear their stories and get to know about their lives.

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The concert of the year was really a concert of the year.

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My beautiful friend, the bride, is a great soprano singer and she sung for us after lunch.  Ave Maria and several arias. What a performance.

One of my new friends  played the piano like a true maestro.

I sometimes complain about not getting enough art to nourish my soul here in Portugal.

This day was a heart warming day in every sense. My beautiful friends got married. Now the future is bright and the happiness waiting for them. I look forward to continue to be part of their life. I am luckier than most. Having friends is precious and worth nourishing. I will never forget this wonderful day. It is one more memory that I will keep in my heart forever.

Hulda Björnsdóttir