Random Musings,  Travel

Magpie Pickings

I was reading the in-flight magazine the other day and came across an interview with TV Masterchef’s John Torode. I was on my way home from a walking holiday with friends in Portugal. Portugal Milfontes

Relax! I am not going to bore you with my holiday snaps.

John was talking about his new book, among other things. But one thing he said really struck a cord. That was how we are like magpies when we go on holiday. He has a point. There are the obvious souvenirs of course. For a start, Port (when in Portugal) and a bottle of  Vinho Verde somehow found their way into my bag before my plane left the tarmac. Oops, how did that happen..

Holiday Souvenirs

I think back to being back in Milfontes. I couldn’t resist a purchase from a lovely independent shop which sold natural clothing. I never even knew you could make fabric from milk and soybean fibre. Ok, so it set me back more than your average high street shop would have, but provided I follow the very careful washing instructions it will hopefully be with me for years to come. I better keep that away from the washing machine then.

Portugal is also a big user and exporter of natural cork. What I didn’t know was the cork is harvested from the bark of the Cork Oak Tree. They take the bark and here is the clever bit. Leave it alone ten years and the tree will have grown some more. If you do get the chance to walk in the countryside in Portugal you will see trees with the year of the last harvest sprayed on the trunk. That’s them! Reassured it doesn’t harm them, I think of it as the tree that seems to keep on giving.

And the Portuguese sure know how to get creative with the stuff. One market stall holder told me how his Mum crochets with it. I saw the end product – a cork stole/collar. I did get a “you’ve been had” look or two when I mentioned it to friends but just Google “yarn made from cork”.  Honestly, it’s true. That also explains the other questionable which is how they make bags, purses etc which feel more like imitation cloth than cork. Yes, they turn it into a roll of fabric. So I confess. I have something of that, and some brand new knowledge, in my case too.

Creative Shopping Bags

Eco BagsOh, talking of shopping, I nearly forgot! As I unpacked my bag at home I remembered the cloth bags we were given to bring home some of our magpie gatherings. I love these eco-bags. In fact I was proud to walk around Milfontes and Faro sporting the bag almost as much as what was in them. Another memory crept in.

My Dad used to make extra strong cloth bags for our weekly shop. We didn’t have a car and would walk from the supermarket, as a family, with the shopping in bags distributed between us. My Dad, like a pack horse, was carrying the weight of a small human I am sure. And when a bag came to the end of it’s life, he used to take an old curtain and knock up a new bag on my Mum’s industrial sewing machine. Not borne out of cost or care for the environment. Simply because they were stronger. I used to crawl with embarrassment if we met anyone I knew while my Dad was loaded down with a, slightly shiny, pink chintz bag – or three. Now I say “let’s hear it for the cloth bag

Food Memories

Or perhaps it’s the way the Portuguese approach food. Olives and bread at the start of each meal is not uncommon. Yet I have come to accept that cheese and bread can, and should, be eaten before your main meal too. With sardine pate in wee foil tins which take me back to my childhood. Do you remember Shippams paste? Filed away in the back of my memory somewhere and instantly brought back in one blissful, hungry mouthful.

I am a bit conventional when it comes to dining out. Starter, main, pud – any or all – but always in that order. I lost count of the number of occasions a sweet treat was eaten ahead of supper. After that anything goes. Pick a dish, any dish, ask for half, eat it all or share it out. No need to explain. It’s how it happens. One table. Random food. Tuck in.

I confess I love bringing home recipes, and what made them extra special, from our travels. If I think of any holiday there is a food which instantly takes me back there. Paella takes me to Ayo’s in Nerja. A really good Moussaka with tomotoes, olives, red onion and feta and I am right back in Lefkas. Pork Belly and I am in a vineyard garden on the edge of Franschhoek, eating Sunday lunch. Philly steak sandwich, Quesadillas or a Jack Daniels and coke and I am in San Diego. Fried potatoes with breakfast and I am in Boston. A crusty baton stuffed with cheese, meat and every salad including potato salad and I am in Ireland. Carrot Baklava and I am in Tanzania thinking about the lovely Bernadetta. Admittedly, not all are your typical national dish.

But then these are my memories, remember? My Magpie gatherings. I could go on but I won’t. Because I am starving and I am trying really hard not to think about the tiger prawns eaten with a glass (or three) of Vinho Verde in a wooden shack overlooking the mighty Atlantic.

Yet the magpie concept goes much further, doesn’t it?

I think about all the other things I have collected on this trip alone. A memory card of photos on my phone and camera. Images which admittedly will exist even more vividly in my head for as long as I am able to recall them. But when I can’t remember anymore I will have a cyber vault full of pictures to look at.

And there are heaps of other things this magpie brought home from her walking trip too, of course – and not all so shiny. I found the walking tough. Tougher, for me, than the Sahara. It’s ok I will spare you the details of my throbbing big toe and blisters on blisters. Nope, not even a hint. But as the pain is already subsiding, the good memories are floating back to the top where they belong. Stunning scenery! That is just too tame a description. Storks nesting every few metres. Warmth and blue skies. Red rooftops. Coastal flowers of the colours you only see in books. All seen alongside the good company of friends. Friends who suggest we stay away from water for a while as we have eaten so much seafood. 😀

And so, some Portuguese sand is coming home too. My boots will be giving sand up for a good while yet I think. Better make a note to apologise to Susan.  I hastily borrowed her case after I became the nominated carrier of the gin and walking poles on the outbound flight. I reckon Susan will be getting some sand, whether she wants it or not.

On reflection

Thanks to the in-flight magazine and Mr T for getting me thinking about this trip in another way entirely. Not just about the souvenirs and the dirty washing you fetch home, but the less tangible magpie collectibles that keep on giving. Long after the credit card has been paid off and the photos filed away.

What’s that? You want a holiday photo? Oh. Go on then. You twisted my arm….

She Wordsmiths..



One Comment

  • Joel

    I think a walking holiday in Portugal would be my sort of holiday. The only city in Portugal that I have had a chance to visit was Lisbon. I had an overnight stop there while on a cruise and really would love to go back.

    I also like the idea of thinking about everything we collect along the way as magpie pickings. I watch the magpies collecting things all around my yard and it does remind me of some of my early trips where I would do the same from souvenir shop to souvenir shop.