Local Heart, Global Soul

June 10, 2012

“Just” a Plank of Wood, Right? …Wrong!

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

Now this is probably the moment that you start thinking… “Wood is wood right? , Why is Kiwidutch getting all starry eyed and obsessive about blocks of tree?

There are billions of trees on the planet, so … um, … sorry Kiwi … but … …so what?”

Good questions all of them… in fact any artisans of wood amongst you might even be forgiven for the thought crossing your mind… “hey there are even more  interesting woods out there too you know!

Maybe this is a good time therefore to show you a plank… yes, (sigh, you can stop laughing now) I am serious …. a plank.

But as usual, since you are well aware that I like quirky things in life, this naturally, isn’t your usual run-of-the-(saw) mill plank…. in fact they had to first cut it up just to get it into the saw mill machinery.  Here, in a simple, single plank I can only hope that your heart skips a beat and that you go “wow, that’s an amazing huge piece of wood, and how even more amazing is the tree it came from?

In the age when tall masted sailing ships built from wood were the latest thing in modern technology, it’s little wonder that early settlers and entrepreneurs in the lumber industry looked at these oversized trees with eyes that saw perfect shipbuilding material rather than as ecological wonders of the plant kingdom that were hundreds and thousands of years old.

They also lived in an age where pioneers  “took dominion” over territories as they extended empire and that often came with a mentality of entitlement of ownership of the people and resources contained therein. In New Zealand “dominion” over the Maori thankfully didn’t really take place at all, but when it came to land, it seems that the only law  that mattered after the sale was signed, was that of “supply and demand”.

I see this “plank” as a majestic testimony to a beautiful tree that was destined to outgrow and outlive many of it’s diminutive forest neighbours,  the result of a seed and sapling that over 300 years later stood as a giant in the Northland bush.

Yes, I am in awe…  is it really possible not to be?

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

December 13, 2010

Tourist Joints and a Fortress Lunch…

Filed under: PORTUGAL — kiwidutch @ 1:00 am
Tags: , , , , , ,

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

Family Kiwidutch have been busy exploring the Fort that stands inside the northern Portuguese town of Valença. Inside the historic Fort walls is what might almost be called a “sub-town” since it is separated from, but still within Valença.

Of course parts of it cater to tourists, but other parts, local houses and businesses are just like in any suburb of any town.

It would be easy to forget that if ever the great doors and entranceways to the outside world were slammed shut,  you would be barricaded for better or worse  instantly within the thick walls. It’s both a weird and magical idea when you think about it.

Our walking has given us an appetite so we are keen to stop for a bite to eat.

Our family face a culinary obstacle at this point in our lives…  it’s a familiar one for many parents of small(er) children. If this was just Himself and I, then the options are simple, steer clear of the tourist joints, ask around to see where the locals eat and hopefully find a little family run local business and discover some local culinary gems.

At the other end of the scale are people who go abroad and spend their entire dining experience in International Fast Food chains… only because the familiar burger and fries in the photos are well within their comfort zone. But for us, who (a) despise these chains and (b) love getting to grips with the excellence of  different local cuisines and taste experiences, this option is truly the option of last resort.

The obstacle is that our kids are not yet discerning culinary giants, they have very simple tastes and a limited palette which we are steadily working on extending but which is far from our final goal.

Therefore middle ground is to try and find a local place that serves both local and kid friendly food. This usually ends up in practice being a place that caters for tourists and well to be blunt, these place can often have what  I call a ” passing through” attitude.

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

So many tourist places serve exceptionally mediocre food and don’t care because the tourist is passing this way today, in all likelihood will never come back, their word of mouth doesn’t matter so much as their friends live far away and so these establishments grin, take their money tuck it into the till and wave goodbye as the tourists file en masse back to the tour bus/mini van/rental car.

These places do food to please the masses, it’s guaranteed to be fairly quick, recognisable and it fits into the schedule of an hour for lunch and then off to the next place. It’s a quick turn-around of tables for the eatery too.. win win. No?

Well not for us it isn’t. In fact these are probably the single biggest reasons I would never be found on an organised tour, (actually tours and cruises are so not our style for many reasons), give us instead: at least ten words of a foreign language, a place far away from the crowds and let us take our chances with the highlights and pitfalls of going solo any day.

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

The problem of adding kids into the equation is simply that compromise is an inevitable fact until they are capable of mastering what I call “joined-up-food“. Fortunately this place, whilst clearly catering for tourists at least offers half decent fare, friendly staff and is better than many establishments of it’s type.

I forgot to get the exact names of the dishes we ate, but they were more “tourist” fare than real Portuguese and  I had the Portuguese version of a Tuna sandwich, the kids wanted the perennial kid favourite of toasted sandwiches and that Himself had a  paella style main dish.

Additionally, Himself and I shared a single  appetizer and an entrée between us…

It’s baking hot and the shade umbrellas are massively appreciated.

I have no clue what this appetizer of oblong balls are called but contained bacalhau (salt cod) and was the best we have had anywhere so far this trip… seriously good.

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

The fish entrée was good in an “ok’ kind of way, very edible but nothing mega special. That’s probably how I would sum up most of the meal… simple, sufficient, … nice.

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

I wouldn’t mind to have the tuna sandwich again, but with 20/20 vision would skip the entrée and ask for a double portion of the appetizer as it was definitely the best thing on the menu.

Himself enjoyed his paella without raving about it and well, for a tourist outfit they actually did better than I expected.

There is a cafe element to the restaurant too so naturally I was drawn to photograph the selection of sweeter options , but today we were too full and too hot to indulge.

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

Note to self: looks divine….gotta search for a recipe in my Portuguese cookbooks for these…

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

plus old favourites, naturally…

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

December 10, 2010

Valença: Beauty, Big Gal Style…

Filed under: PORTUGAL — kiwidutch @ 1:00 am
Tags: , , , , , ,

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

Driving back towards where we are camping we pass close to the northern Portuguese town of Valença.

This Roman town stands right on the edge of the river that borders it with Spain and there has been friction aplenty between the two over the past millennia.

Because of this, a fort was constructed and it’s a truly impressive feat of engineering.

In fact it’s so big and so impressive that photos that I have taken whilst exploring it cannot hope to do it justice… you are simply too up-close to see all of it in it complete magnificence.

Hopefully the size of the cars in some of the photos and the sentry posts on top of the walls will give you a small idea of just how massive these walls are…

We spent the best part of an entire day looking around the Fort, the whole family had a most excellent time and agreed it to be one of the high points of the trip.

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

So clearly there is plenty to see. In order to show you better:  I  bought a local postcard that shows an aerial view.

In this postcard you can see the scale of the place, the star-shaped battlements, embankments, the amazing depth and breadth of the walls, the two distinct parts of the town inside the Fort, separated by walls so thick that effectively you walk though tunnels between them.

First I want to explore the outer area of the fort… Wow, wow, wow, it’s impressive. Especially when you think that none of this was excavated with  modern technology, no diggers or earth movers here.

No computer generated  graphics to guide them either AND the whole lot stands on a very lumpy hill… so I am mega-impressed by how amazingly symmetrical it all is, no wobbly lines or bits that they misaligned during construction.

Given that flying overhead to check it out from above was also not an option at the time of building, the geometry is even more breathtaking.

Wikipedia provides some interesting facts:

Valença origins date back from Roman times. The two existent roman roads are the proof (the Via IV of Antonine Itinerary XIX, of military use, and the designated per loca marítimaItinerary XX -, of commercial use).

Also inside the fortified walls a Roman milestone marks the XLII mile of the road connecting Braga to Tui.. This stronghold was populated by order of King Sancho I during the 12th century.

It was called Contrasta which means “village opposed to another”, Tui (Spain) in this case. King Afonso III changed its name to Valença in the 13th century. Its historical importance is mainly due to military constraints.

It had a decisive role for the defense and integrity of Portugal from the neighbouring Spain.

Today the town is peacefully invaded by the Spanish that visits it with commercial and touristic purposes, the Portuguese still use the fortress.

So, Thank-You Wiki…  Now let’s look around…

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

It reminds me a little of an eagles nest, rocky outcrop, large protective nest, little clutch of precious eggs (buildings) inside… or the large skirts of a Victorian lady, big enough for children to take refuge beneath.

So, now that we can see just how small and puny we are against this massive  and imposing structure, let’s venture  inside…

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

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