The Haunted House

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Holiday to Portugal

Last night we got back from a short holiday break in the Algarve, Portugal. Amanda booked this trip a while ago as we got it for a really good price. This is the first holiday we have done where we went self catering. The apartment was split into a separate bedroom, kitchen and lounge area and provided everything we needed for the week. We only cooked for breakfast and lunch and tried some of the local restaurants in the evenings.

We was a little concerned that the weather would be bad, as the week before we got to Portugal the weather reports said it was raining. But luckily all the rain moved over to the UK whilst we was away and the temperature was around the 25 degrees mark, so it was very warm each day.

For the first couple of days we just relaxed by the pool and walked around the local area. On the Tuesday we were booked onto a tour called the 'Best of the West', which takes you to different towns. The first town we went too was called Silvres. This is a town that used to be occupied by the Muslims until the Christians drove them out. This was a very long time ago, but I forget the dates. The architecture around the city is a mix of Portuguese and Muslim mosaic.

We started off the walk at the covered market, and the tour guide took us through the streets. The town is set against a large hill so walking through the town got quite steep.

We walked past an old church and up to the castle at the top of the hill. We had to pay an extra charge to go into the castle ground but this had a really good view from the top. Unfortunately a lot of the castle is being refurbished, so there was a lot of building works going on.

After walking around the castle we had about an hour left to explore some of the town without the guide, so we wandered around the streets.

After a while we found a little cafe and ordered some glasses of fresh orange. Portugal is well known for their oranges, everywhere you go you see orange trees. They were very sweet too.

We had to meet back at the coach around lunch time, and by this point it was started to get very hot. The temperature display on the coach read 30 degrees outside.

The picture above shows the view form the top of the castle. The visibility was excellent that day so you could see for miles.

The statue above sits outside the castle. I think his name was prince harry (not the current prince) and he was involved in the expulsion of the muslim colony that occupied the area thousands of years ago.

Portugal is a very colourful place. Most of the buildings are painted in very vibrant colours. Which makes for good photos. Once we all met back at the coach we drove to Lagos. After a look around we went to a restaurant for lunch. Lots of different meals on offer. I went for Monk fish and Amanda had Hake.

After we had finished lunch the tour went on to a nice looking church / museum which looked very impressive. Unfortunately we weren't allowed to take photos inside as it might damage the artwork. Once we had finished here the coach went down to the coast. The scenery here was stunning. We could have looked out into the ocean for hours.

When we got back to the hotel in the evening we were knackered, so we watched TV for an hour and then went out for dinner. The next trip we did was on the Thursday. We booked the river cruise. This takes you down a river that separates Spain and Portugal. The boat trip was pleasant enough, although the rep failed to tell us that this was a trip most popular with pensioners. Not that this was a problem, but Me and Amanda must have been the youngest on the boat by about 30 - 40 years :-)

Halfway though the trip we stopped at a village where we had a tour around and then went for lunch. This lunch was included as part of the trip price and included unlimited red wine ;-) Naturally everyone got completed pissed on wine, and the people that owned the restaurant picked up instruments (accordions, drums and shakers) and danced around singing songs like 'Roll out the barrels'. A lot of the old girls got quite into this and started dancing around with wine jugs on their heads. This was a very surreal experience.

We got talking to an old couple next to us on the table. It turns out they live about 15 miles away from us near Mansfield. The guy was an ex Navy officer and said how much he would liked to have driven the boat that we travelled up in. This prompted Amanda to go and have a word with the tour guide, and she arranged for him to drive the boat all the way back to the dock where the coach was parked.

This made his day and he had a great time driving the boat. Luckily he had not had anything to drink during the meal except 1 glass of beer :-) This was Amanda's good deed for the day.

We got back to the dock in one piece, although I'm sure the boat got a little to far to the Spanish side of the river. At one point we were so close I was sure the Spanish authorities would board the boat to ask for passports.

On the Friday we had another trip booked. This time it was a Jeep Safari around the countryside. We have done lots of Jeep Safari's before in other countries, but this was by far the best one we have done. The Jeep was open topped, so when we were off road we was allowed to stand up. But the thing that made this trip better than others is that the driver really took it off road on some very rough terrain and not just up dusty paths like other safari's.

We shared our jeep with 3 other dutch tourists who were all very nice. Once we had been bombing around the country side for an hour or so we stopped off at a farm house where the owners make wicker baskets. This was interesting to watch and the good thing is, they didn't try and do a hard sell to us. If you wanted to buy something you could. If not, then you wasn't hassled at all.

Once we had finished here we went around some more hilly and bumpy terrain. We went up into the mountains and to the highest post for the eastern part of the Algarve. The views were amazing and it was very hot.

At around 1pm we stopped off for lunch which also included lots of wine, and then drove off to a local distillery to try some of the local fire water. This was a spirit called Madrona, and is made out of figs. This is probably one of the strongest spirits I have ever had. There were 2 varieties. One with honey added and one without.

Amanda tried one shot and didn't like it, so I had her other glass. So ended up drinking 3 shots of this stuff. This made the rest of the safari an interesting prospect :-)

We were driven down to a river where we nearly got very wet as the drive put his foot down. There were some parts of the river that at this time of the year are almost dried out, so we got to stop in the middle of the river and get out for a little walk around.

This was an excellent day out where we got to see some good scenery and experience some real bumpy off road driving. It's very rare to see a land rover in the UK that actually has mud on it. The vehicles we were in for the trip were only 5 years old, but looked like they had been given a thorough bashing around.

We were knackered when we got back to the hotel. Standing up in the jeep and holding on for dear life was quite tiring. But we got ready and then went out for dinner. On the Saturday we were being picked up for the airport at 4.15pm, so we didn't do much on the Saturday except sun bath, pack, and go for lunch and then sit in the bar waiting for the coach to pick us up.

The flight left at about 8pm and we were back home by 12. It was good to fly at sensible times, unlike when we went to Greece and flew back in the middle of the night. All in all a good holiday and a much welcomed break. I've started a new project at work, so I'm refreshed and ready for the madness to begin on that tomorrow.

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Friday, May 04, 2007

More Album Reviews..

Had some nice positive album reviews come through this week. Firstly for Mechanical by Creature with 4 out of 5:

"We had already a review on this release, but thanks to a double-mailing I too come into the pleasure to consume this first full-length release by this British solo project. Behind CREATURE stands Stephen Haunts, who’s also responsible for the label Hauntedhouserecords. With a look on the cover I expected at first an effort woven into the Powernoise genre, so I was a bit surprised to enter an almost instrumental Dark Electronica/Ambient album, which obviously tries to explore some cinematic attitudes. The musically fundament is based on dark Synth basses, piano sounds and wide-ranging Synth layers sounds. Some diverse percussive elements are joining this relatively dark sounding scenario, while real vocals are only featured on two tracks “Daisy Cutter” and “Nox”. The tracks which manage to provide rather complex structures with a constant melodic content like the title track, “Wish” or the already mentioned “Daisy Cutter” get my vote for being the best worked-out pieces here. CREATURE’s music isn’t designed to wrestle against the nowadays popular club sound virus, it rather needs to get heard under a pair of headphones for example. It’s an entertaining, filmic, although not sci-fi infiltrated kind of music, which also works well as a sedating background sound."

Marc Tater for Chain D.L.K Magazine

"This is a new band signed on a new label, both from England. The style of Creature can be easily defined as a mix of low trip hop influences and ambient soundscapes. It’s all a bit in the style of soundtrack music, which comes over you like a warm summer breeze. The serene atmosphere is a real pleasure and especially when becoming more refined like on the great “Hotel”-track. “Mechanical” is easy, entertaining music released in a style that already has many similar productions. "

Side Line Magazine

And we have also had a review for Happy Welly's album Irritable Vowel Syndrome:

"Well, I’ve included this release under the genre “Experimental”, because I really don’t know where the musically combination between Electronica sound design and Slapstick up to Nonsense would fit in. Be sure, this release is the strangest thing you’ve ever heard! HAPPY WELLY is leaded by the UK-based musician Mat Howlett who likes to present his humorous kind of Electronica music. This output manages hard to sound like never-ever heard before - be it an instrument, a melody or be it a strange vocal a-cappella performance (...which Mat often likes to use as an instrument...), it all got mixed to a climax only designed to poke fun on musically structures, genres or behavior. If it sounds awful and trashy enough - it may fits into the musically world of HAPPY WELLY. “Song” titles like “Back Pack Sock Rat”, “Snortacus” or “Pablo Dubios And His Smiling Tits” will prove you nicely that life has more to offer than bitter and gray seriousness – while I’ve at least found with the track “Gripping Stripes” a constant political-associated message. My favorite track for sure, maybe besides the pretty decadent tune “Paint Your Wogan”, on which Mat acts like a single entertainer and the “music” sounds like played with “my first Bontempi” keyboard. It’s a fun release at all – but somehow unique in its kind."

Marc Tater for Chain D.L.K Magazine

Not bad all in all. It's good to know people are liking the music we are releasing :-)