My, my – where has the time gone? I could say that we missed our summer blog due to the heat – you know those 40°C days where the only time to get anything done is after 6pm! And although wavelengths were radiating at high speed, it was our desire to have a pivotal milestone to share with you. And now I think we have it.
The Albergue Estrada Romano is holding her place quite regally I must say at No. 167 on the Camino de Santiago. Her crown is beaming with beautiful tile and her external walls are graced in ocher and stone. Light is now beaming through azure blue windows and doors. Ceiling rays radiate through the red transoms.
If feels as if we have just completed the toughest Camino of our lives these past five months. There were days when Geof and I felt that we could not go on – labour shortages, suppliers not returning our calls, quotes that appeared excessive due to our citizenship in Canada. At times, it felt that we had hit the “wall” as identified in endurance sports. The finish line appeared like a mirage that we couldn’t quite make; yet we had come too far to turn around.
Okay – “the thing” that has been the benchmark of our renovation is finally happening – our albergue roof is going on! It has been months since the steel girders went up. We have been waiting and waiting for the rain to stop and then it was the matter of finding a team of carpenters who would take on Geof’s testament to Gustave Eiffel of the Paris tower notoriety. Oporto has a number of constructions made by Eiffel, including a beautiful bridge. From the moment we began planning the renovation, we knew our visits to Oporto and the bridge would play a role.
On Friday, we had three teams working. In typical Portuguese fashion, we had the team of carpenters, who are under contract for a fixed price build, soliciting the support from our two work teams – who are paid by the day. Frankly, we were so relieved to see our roof go on, we simply laughed at the ingenuity! It was particularly exciting to hear their eight voices shouting at each other to “get with the program” – in a joyful, kind of exhilarating manner. I think for all of us involved in this project, this was a seminal moment.
So – the floors are all finished in both houses ready to be tiled, the walls are all repointed -inside and out and once the roof is on, we can finish the cement walls with stucco. I think our windows and doors contractor never thought we would get to this point – so he may be a bit behind the eight ball in getting these ready for us. Well, that hill is for another day.
Today is a day of thanks – thanks to our wonderful family who have supported us during the darker days of this process. My dad, Denis George, made his Camino from the Beautiful Boot to Santiago’s Pilgrim Rock at 92 this spring. He walked down our Camino path and then we took him by car to Santiago. He walked onto the plaza outside the Cathedral and stood on the same rock where we have stood – in the pouring rain! (We all were crying!) My sisters Hilary and Amanda, along with Amanda’s partner, Ian made the journey here to lend their love and inspiration when all they could actually “see” were ideas in action.
Our children, Graham, Reid, Mary Ellen, Terralynn, Simon and Sam have been amazing in cheering us on. I mean, let’s face it, they think we are nuts – but they have gotten past this and and all are making their way over. My brother, Andrew has made all of the travel arrangements, tirelessly changing flights on last minute notice. There are Geof’s siblings, in particular Pam and Steve who have Facebooked their way through the ups and downs. Our friend Sarah MacLaren came when there was nothing to offer but a cold bedroom in our little cottage. And then there are the incredible people in Canada whose ingenuity have made the financing of this project possible – Jane Arsenault and Carl Boswick. Our Portuguese friends Eleanor, Donald, Trisha, Manual, Liberia, and Vitor have walked the property at each stage of its unfolding – listening to our joys and our woes., And of course there is Carlos, our contractor and the workmen who have stood by us throughout this journey – even when they had to wait a month to get paid. (In this modern era of electronic transfers, how can it take a month to clear a cheque????)
And then there is our thanks to you who are reading our updates and cheering us on. OBLIGADO!!!
Blogs…they were invented for quick updates on issues that matter to the people writing and reading them. Yet why does it take me months to update our Beautiful Boot web-site. I think in our case, it’s that “one thing” we wanted finished before we went back into the world to say “well this is what we have been up to!”.
The “one thing” holding me back has been the steel girder roof, sitting on top of our renovated Albergue for close to six months. It has been waiting for a team of skilled carpenters who would not be scared off by Geof’s architectural masterpiece – oh – and the weather. The locals have touted the five months of dominant rain as the worst winter in 50 years. Of course, this would be the winter when our house’s stone walls and newly cemented floors laid exposed to the world. They say that a slow cure for cement is the best – well – we must have some humdinger construction.
So here we are on May 28th 2013 and the weather and crew have found themselves intricately entwined in the
massive puzzle that will bring the Albergue to her final external form. Then there will be the windows and doors –that have been waiting for the roof – you know- the chicken and egg of construction.
As a tribute to the two year passage of time in construction, that has felt like molasses on so many days, we felt we were ready to
simply show you what have been up to -even without the final roof!
Well it has been some time since we have found our way back to our web site to update our friends and followers. There is so much progress to share! When we last posted, we were just getting our renovation of the stone farmhouse underway. We had left our Beautiful Boot in May 2012 in midst of gutting her interior in preparation for the new construction. On our return in September 2012, we came face to face with the first lesson of foreign development – absentee landlords do not inspire steady work! We realized that our presence is what makes the work go on. The good news was that the first floor had been completely gutted, turning the livestock pens and feeding troughs into the open space where our albergue kitchen will be built.
With our arrival, our construction team went into full action! The old interior walls were removed, revealing a breathtaking second floor which would house our walkers at night. It was now time to plan where our pension room, bunk beds and washrooms would go. It struck us that we would soon loose the magnificence of her open space as new walls would go back up, and with them, the loss of her welcoming openness. The view in this picture is of the southern wall where the toilets, showers, and sinks will be installed for our guests. The wooden structure on the left is the opening for the staircase that will bring guests up from the reception area and then up to the loft where seven single beds will await our guests.
The walls started to go up – one brick at a time. Carlos, our intrepid contractor can be seen here building the wall that will divide the private pension room that will offer those walkers seeking more privacy a quiet reprieve with their own bathroom and shower. From this view we can see the north wall. The door on the left is the main entrance to the second floor and the sleeping area of the albergue. The stairs are on the left and we can see one of the windows that showcases the beauty of the lower pastures in the foreground and the Spanish mountains in the background. Widow seats allow quests to ponder the beautiful views from each of the seven windows on the second floor, including those that can be found in each of the male and female bathrooms.
It was time to figure out where we would lay out the bunk-beds. Our scientific approach had Geof lying down in each of the planned areas to determine the size and nature of each bed’s location. We were challenged by the somewhat conflicting objectives of maximizing the sleeping accommodation while creating a warm and friendly environment. The window on the left looks over the lower pasture, while the one on the right looks out onto the Camino and the cafe area. The longer we stood in the space, the greater our desire came to draw our quests into a welcoming shelter. We came to the conclusion that a fireplace in the corner between the two windows would create the type of warm and cozy environment that would draw wet and cold walkers to the albergue on those nights when the rainy season dominated the walking experience.
While we waited for the steel trusses of the albergue’s roof to be constructed, it was time to start on the “tower” – our code name for the new house in which we will live. It fondly was named for the fact that our house stands a floor higher that its sister farmhouse! The Albergue’s dining room is located in the area to the left of the concrete wall. It sits on the ground level, beside the kitchen and is accessible from both the front (Camino side) and the back where the main entrance to the sleeping area on the second floor is located. Our new little home will sit perched with its first floor acting as the ceiling of the dining room. The Camino winds it way in the background – a handy wave away from our open cafe in front of the stone farmhouse.
Progress over October, November and December held no bounds. Even through the deluge of the rainy season, our committed team worked through ongoing showers running between their old trusty cement maker and our sweetly evolving abode. Before too long we were able to see our vision unfold before our very eyes.
Meanwhile, our steel trusses for the Albergue were being assembled at a factory 5 km away. Geof, Carlos, Paulo (our architect) and our steel men had been diligently designing the Eiffel of Cerdal! Inspired by the Eiffel bridge in Porto as well as the tower by the same name in Paris, Geof was committed to designing a roof that would not only stand the test of time, but would also capture the imagination of our guests as they entered the second floor. It was with incredible excitement that we made our way to the factory floor when we got the call that our roof was ready for view!
The mastery of the design was obvious as we studied the angles and the bolting of the beams. There was no question that our walkers would be protected from weather of any kind while sleeping under these trusses!
Within a couple of weeks, our steel structure had been chemically treated, disassembled, transported to our site and reassembled on top of the Albergue ready for its wooden supports and roofing tiles.
So as to maintain the construction pace of both of our structures, our work team worked hard to give the Tower its own roof and walls. Risking his physical well being, Carlos climbed onto roof of the Tower to portray the internal design of the Albergue’s second floor.
Now back in Canada (January 2013) we were able to see the layout, enabling us to rethink some of the internal wall structures. Seizing the rare opportunity of experiencing the design from above, we are now rethinking our original ideas in order to open up the beauty of the space. In our world, walls can go up and they can come down. Stay tuned to find out where our thinking has taken us!
We learned early on we did not have the physical strength to be carting around 100 kilo granite rocks. So Carlos and company entered our lives. Over the summer we asked Carlos if he was willing to help us restore the interior of the old farmhouse. It would be a tough job since we could not get any heavy machinery into the house so all the gutting and removal of rock, concrete and interior walls and floors would have to be done by hand. So with an enthusiasm that would melt your heart Carlos began to swing his sledgehammer and the walls came tumbling down.
It was a dirty job in the Portuguese summer heat. We had already cleaned and re-pointed the interior stone walls using about 40 bags of cement.
We also had to remove the old stone oven used for baking bread and smoking meat from the old kitchen. Needless to say the stone walls were charred with decades of soot. A number of none to healthy solutions were tried until we decided the blackened walls held a patina and story of older ways.The old oven was moved by hand into the lower section to be rebuilt in the new hostel eating area. The worst part was the oven was supported by a mountain of stones underneath to support its weight.
As the walls came down the space opened up to reveal huge other worldly design ideas which we quickly shut down after working long and hard with our architect Paulo. But there was a strong temptations to leave the whole space open seeing all the beautiful stone work uninterrupted.
The walls were still true but Carlos needed to fill in some gaping wholes. He describes it as trying to solve a puzzle in stone. Below where he is working is the stone foundation for the the stone oven he has removed. It will be going out the lower door one stone at a time.
Lesley and I returned to the Beautiful Boot in late February full of enthusiasm after a short dance with winter in Nova Scotia. Damn it felt good to be back. Our first job was to start back at clearing the farm terraces that we began last fall while we waited for final approval on our farmhouse restoration and hostel design.
In the beginning our tool of choice was the simple little hand clipper. After wearing through the palm of my first pair of leather gloves we upgraded to more serious tree branch pruners. But after being continuously attacked by the brambles drawing blood and being quite painful, we decided to get serious about the task at hand.
The “Machine” sort of looks like your domestic whipper snipper except it is over powered and has this nasty steel blade. You do not want to be working with this beast without safety gear and a lot of concentration. I took a short lesson from our friend Manuel before being unleashed on bramble and brush. With the right motion I was taking out small trees and mulching them up in seconds. The greatest fear is unseen rocks that split up and fire about like bullets. I took one in the shin early on. It was so painful I was afraid to look. I didn’t see any blood coming through my pant leg so I continued on. Later I had a look and it looked like a golf ball had been placed under the skin of my shin. I now notice the locals often wear shin guards and Manuel told me how he damaged his eye. My clearing technique has improved immensely knowing the price to be paid.
We really had no idea what lay hidden under all the brush so we simply put our heads down for the first month and began clearing. Our instincts said to explore the terraces which were completely over grown by a ten foot wall of tangled growth . After our first go we were rewarded by uncovering an old orchard planted like an avenue. We are not sure what kind of fruit trees they are because they had been so badly strangled by the brush there was little or no leaves. We will let them be for a year and hopefully, after a hard prune, new growth will appear so we can identify them. We mulched up all the cutting by doing three passes with the “machine”. It was hugely satisfying and encouraging to discover this beautiful little orchard terraces.
Onto the next terrace. On the official land survey this is unchartered land. Half of the farm appears as a green blotch. The surveyors told us they could not get through the brush to do their GPS marks. So with trusty “machine” in hand we went at it. Cleared the bramble and removed about forty gnarly trees with a 24 inch buck saw. AND after three days hard work there it was. “Lesley’s Park”. It is about half the size of a football pitch with mulched ground cover that is so thick it feels like a bed mattress when you walk on it! We bagged up all the pine cones to offer around to our neighbors. In Portugal they are a major ingredient in the winter fireplace. The majority of trees in the park are oak with a couple of dozen stately pines. Now, at the end of a long day, I put a couple of cold beers in my back pocket and wander through the park celebrating the late afternoon sunlight as it washes the park in its burnished gold.
These kind of discoveries are a huge part of our experience at the Beautiful Boot. The Portuguese farmers are quite ingenious when it comes to using available resources. We moved our enthusiasm for clearing brush to the lower sections of the farm. The terraces there are lined with three meter high granite post to support the grape vines. I mistakenly tried to adjust the angle of one and as I was walking away it went over with a whump that shook the ground. Yes they are dangerous.
The third terrace up is the same thing except it is still a wall of brush. It is truly hard to describe it in size and density. This picture shows an exploratory path we cleared on the third terrace. On the bottom right is the irrigation trench which needs to be cleared with a pitch fork and then raked out as the water flows through. Tried clearing with the “machine” and ended up covered in mud. We think we are slowly getting the hang of clearing the farm but no sooner have we cleared that it all begins to grow back. The Minho region of Portugal is noted for being lush so we need to learn to work with this green gift.
Hi everyone who is sharing this ride of a lifetime with us. Geof has just returned from three months of unbelievable transformational work on our land. I was there for two out of the three months. From the end of February to the May 31st, we uncovered four terraces, each of which is massive. From a wall of bramble and trees, Geof with his harnessed whipper snipper and me with my handy clippers and saw were able to discover an orchard on the first terrace, a park on the second, a winding treed terrace on the third, a forest on the fourth and the cleared land on the top. Each one began as a mystery and ended up as a
wonderful surprise of beauty. Imagine – each of these terraces below are above one another and wrap themselves around the curve of the land that curls back into yet another set of pastures. Our walkabout at 6pm each evening became longer and longer as we had more beauty to “survey”.
The sign post at the corner of the Beautiful Boot farm.
The Camino de Santiago as it approaches the farmhouse.
The front of the farmhouse after I pruned the vines. The livestock were kept in the lower level to provide heat to the living quarters above. The sloping roof on the left is storage for grains and maize.
It is also where the outhouse is.
The gate is too keep the livestock in the lower section.
The farmhouse was originally all stuccoed and painted white. Ocher and aqua blue fresco paintings surrounded the windows.
The back of the house presented a lot of challenges but what is there not to like about a verandah facing west with a stone bridge a stone stairs leading to it.
The Camino as it leads away from the farmhouse. It was my first attempt at clearing the water courses on either side of the Camino.
Part of the stone wall surrounding the farm. Planted with grape vines.
Upper pastures bordered by vines supported on granite post.
Gate off off the Camino leading into upper pasture.
One of the three lower pastures once used for growing maize.
More vines surrounding the lower pastures with a couple of chestnut trees.
Looking back into a little pasture tucked into our forest.
Our neighbors use the Beautiful Boot pastures to graze their sheep. No wonder they are so green and fertile.