The Wonders of Travel

This week I have been in Portugal.  I opted for the´sudden immersion´ approach to the City.  It is some while since I have travelled in a foreign city alone and so I was quite relieved to have adequately navigated the mysteries of the Lisbon Metro, successfully coping with the ticketing system and the map and emerging into the light for the first time at the Cais do Sodré on the banks of the River Tagus in the middle of the city.

It is exciting after the impersonal , non-nationality specific aura of airport and international hotel to ‘Arrive’.  To feel, for the first time, the light and the atmosphere of a different place.  I love the assault on the senses which comes from such an approach.  Here was bright light and the smell of the River and the Atlantic.  A busker was playing classical guitar in the square and, in the market, there was every conceivable type of fruit and vegetable.  Hams, wrapped in muslin, hung from long rails. Fish gazed, glassy-eyed from beds of ice.  The smell of spices was intoxicating!

Hams hang from long rails

I wandered, without direction, up narrow cobbled streets dodging trams and Tuk-tuk and gazing up at tall terraces of buildings in a multitude of colours.  But what struck me most was the ceramics.  Many buildings were clad, at least in part, in beautifully decorated tiles.

Colourful buildings, trams and Tuk Tuk make it feel different.

This is the Portuguese way of protecting their buildings from the elements: Azulejo cover almost every flat surface and the impact is incredible!

Many buildings are clad in tiles to protect them from the elements.



Later I walked along the river to the National Tile Museum to learn more.  The museum is housed in an ancient monastery and I had difficulty focussing on one thing because there is so much to see.  The architecture of the building is old and beautiful, the tiles range from sixteenth century to very contemporary and the tea room served some of the best Pastel de Nata (custard tarts) I was able to find!  The second floor is given over to one enormous mural of Lisbon, part of the museum is given over to an explanation of the making of Portuguese Azulejo through the ages, and in the cloisters, a group of children were decorating their own tiles under the watchful eye of a curator.

This museum is less well frequented than others in the city because it is not so easy to get to but I made it my fist port of call and I was so glad that I had – it is a treasure!



Happy Holidays!

I have been walking in Portugal for the past week.  The sun was warm, the sky was blue and my mood lifted daily as the cares of the world

I have fallen in love with the Algarve.

fell off me one by one.  Well they would, wouldn’t they, in scenery such as this!


Whilst I was there I tried to find some local ceramics to buy but was frankly disappointed by the rather sad touristy things on offer.

I did, however, find one or two bits of interest.  The fishermen of the Algarve still catch octopus in ceramic pots which are rather beautiful, especially once they have become encrusted with barnacles

Octopus pots piled up on the quay.

Apparently the octopus like the cool, dark interior of the pots and take up residence, only to be hoiked out of the water after a couple of days before they can take evasive action.  I am rather attached to octopus – they have always struck me as intriguing and with good intelligence.  However, as the fisherman I was discussing this with pointed out, they can’t be as clever as all that as they fall for the same trick repeatedly!


The other thing that caught my eye was  the interior of a bread oven.  Over the past winter I have actually felt inclined to stick my head into an oven from time to time; it has not been an easy winter!

The roof of the bread oven.

However, when I finally decided to do so what I found was really rather lovely: The roof of the oven had been domed by using simple terra cotta bricks and tiles.  If it had not been for the discomfort of the angle to which I had to contort myself in order to photograph it I could have lain in this oven gazing upwards for some time!


So now it is back to work.  I have one more week of holiday from teaching during which I have a huge list of things to do in the studio.  This list includes preparations for the Open Studios, making additional work for Klaylondon and preparing for a visit to the Design Factory for a mentoring session.  I also want to start trying out some of the treasures

The colours on these cliffs hold the promise of vessels yet to come!

that I have brought back from the amazing cliffs of the Algarve:  I can hardly wait to be back in the studio on Monday morning.