Just back from wonderful Portugal and have started the no-doubt week-long traul through the washing. I am convinced that we are actually doing the washing of the whole boat (sorry, ship) and they will sneak in the flat when we've done it and send it back to its original owners.
Anyway, Portugal is wonderful and the river life and people are so much nicer than in Lisbon. It's very relaxing just staring at the countryside go by, and having smiling servants provide you with wonderful meals and historical tid-bits. Fabulous. Particular highlights for me included the different birdlife - we saw a hoopoe (well, I saw it, and Lord H didn't, but as we're married and therefore we two are one, it counts), zillions of white storks, a golden eagle, a bevy of red kites, buzzards, countless sparrows, the odd tit (as it were) including one with a black-and-white striped head, black redstarts and - the crowning glory - a blue rock thrush. Which is a fabulous bird and a wonderful shade of blue. I also had a wonderful time on the helicopter flight - please give me more helicopter flights - it was the most exciting thing of the whole holiday! I want to own a helicopter now, or at least have regular rides in one. It was amazing. Lord H had stolen the sick bag from the plane just in case, but I never even thought of it once.
Also fell in love with Salamanca (our brief incursion into Spain) - it's an gripping city with a spectacular past and the mellowest yellow stonework in the history of building. I'd love to go back. The Art Nouveau and Art Deco Museum was excellent too - my favourits were the Art Deco jugs coloured just like a long-tailed tit (pink, white and grey), although the exhibit of creepily lifelike dolls wasn't one where you'd want to be trapped at night ... especially with the dolls with more than one face ...
In fact I'd love to go back to the River Douro in its entirety. I was quite weepy when we had to leave on Saturday. Oh, and I've learnt a new skill. The talented Jose (head waiter) gave us all napkin folding lessons on the last afternoon. I'm surprisingly skilled at making a tuxedo, Lord H is Master of the Boot, and Vanessa (hello, Vanessa!) was pretty good at the snail. Can't wait for those long winter evenings, and I swear if today's teenagers were given napkin-folding lessons, they'd be a lot calmer and stop killing each other. You can't be cross with a napkin, you know.
And we have a Toilet Mystery: why was it that at no point during the week did the loo paper on the ship get any less? Lord H's theory is that all our loo paper holders were attached to some hidden Master Loo Roll Provider in the bowels (sorry ...) of the ship and were therefore constantly restocked to previous levels without the need for changing them. It's a possibility at least - the Portuguese are an imaginative lot, you know.
We were also rather surprised by the lovely Monica's (our wonderful guide) references to the Portuguese griffin. That had us flicking through our World Bird Guide for sure. If the Portuguese Mountains do indeed hold a cross between an eagle and a lion, then Lord H and I will be first in the queue for the climbing gear. However, a swift glance through a local bird guide at the end of the week told us that "grifo" is the Portuguese word for vulture, so a simple mistranslation cleared that one up. Rather a shame really ...
Meanwhile, back to today: Lord H and I have visited Pulborough Brooks and I have at last seen a spoonbill - hurrah!!! Big result for me, for sure. We also saw a shelduck family, a woodpecker feeding its young and a family of bluetits, where the elder two were teaching the youngsters how to fly: this is a twig and here's how you get there. Well, they have to learn somehow, you know.
So, this week I have two haikus - lucky you!
Clouds bank over sky
and my hand touches blue air:
we skim the Douro.
Pink and white and grey,
the Art Deco jugs shimmer:
long-tailed tits transformed.
1. River holidays
2. Different birds