So this time I have more of a personal blog post. The above picture is the moment I managed to capture a wedding proposal. But unlike most of the other photos I take, this was a self portrait. Yup, that is right. That is me down on one knee (spolier alert) with my now fiancée. So thats right, Ana said yes.
Well actually Ana being Ana, did keep me in suspense for a moment or two, before saying yes! Even at such a time, she was tempted to mess with me, which is just one of the reasons I love her. If you are friends with me or Ana on social media, then you may have read some of the other comments she said, as I was not about to keep them to myself. They were too good not to post and shock. But I wont lower the tone here by repeating them. And for the sharp of eye out there, then you may also notice that Ana is holding a lunchbox. Just a little inside joke between the 2 of us!
It has been a busy time since we both met, with lots going on and never enough time for ourselves. And this was a long overdue trip to visit Ana's family in Portugal. We do try and go over as often as we can manage, but this time it was a slighlty longer trip that we had planned - and if I was going to propose, I wanted to do it in Portugal.
Most of our life events so far are of course here in England - so I wanted Ana to be able to share something big with her family and friends, so being close by and without the news needing to be told over FaceTime makes for a welcome change. If it was not for this I would have asked a long time before now. In all honesty, holding on has been one of the hardest things I have done. It was such an easy question to ask. And the current thinking is that we will get married in Portugal. One of the locations put forward is even hidden in the photo collection here. Let's see if we can make it happen.
We even arranged to get a few days away together on our own, for the first time in years, and since our son Jude was born. Jude stayed with his grandparents, and had a great time. With me and Ana heading off to explore a bit more of the country and Ana introducing me to more of her culture as we did so.
It was only 4 nights away, and they were an eventful 4 days to say the least. We had also put this trip off over the course of the past few years a few times, as life and work and general adulting just kept getting in the way. But finally we were doing it! And it felt good and worth the wait.
This post is going up in August, but the trip was in May. I have, of course, been busy editing other peoples photos, and I thought it's finally time I edit a few of my own before time really gets away from me. And it is lovely, to re-live some of these moments as I do so.
We caught the train from Porto to Lisbon, where we planned to get a hire car. But this went wrong almost immediately, as we found ourselves without the relevant documentation. So we were stuck! All the plans of getting a rare and short, and what should have been a simple four days away looked to be in tatters. This is what lack of sleep will do to a parent.
With Jude in good hands, and also our dogs back home in England having the time of their lives, we were free for a short while of such responsibilities! Free yes - but now stuck! The whole plan looked to have been derailed at the very start! How could we let this happen! And seemingly there was little we could do about it. Miles away from Ana's family, it looked like we might have to abandon our bookings and head back to Porto, and with my personal macinations taking a bit of a knock to say the least. And of course, I could not even share this worry with Ana as she had no idea of what I was planning.
But I was optimistic - we would seek to make the most of it, and not head home, but instead make a contingency plan and still get some much needed time together even if I had to once again put my plan on hold.
So while we debated what to do, and when it looked like we had ran out of ideas, a friend of the family came to our rescue. Ana's brother Duarte had arranged for one of his best friends, who lived just outside of the capital near Mafra, to lend us a car! We could not believe our good luck. So after the initial panic, and a short delay, we were off - this time with an Uber to the rescue taking us out of Lisbon and over to Mafra.
What a lovely thing to happen, and for someone to be so kind and to show such generosity was a real turning point and changed on what was a frustrating situation into one of those moments you do not quickly forget.
To add to everything Jose and Ana, who lent us the car, were due to have a baby any day, so to show such kindness, when they must have had other more pressing matters on their mind, made what they did even nicer still. So we thanked them in the best way we could, by taking some family photos for them, baby bump and all (you can see a few by clicking on and through a few shots on the above photo) before heading off as fast as we could to Evora, where our Airbnb host Carla was waiting.
We arrived about 6 hours late and a couple of hundred Euros lighter, which considering everything was not half bad. And despite the delay we were still greated with one of the warmest welcomes you could possibly imagine.
We were late, hungry and stressed. And the next day was Ana's birthday, and the only day of the trip that I might possibly find the time to pop the question, or so I summised judging by our already crammed and now changed itinerary. Would it ever happen? I did not want to rush it and spoil anything and I would rather have waited! But I had already waited so long!
We had already missed out on three of our planned site seeing visits, in Cascais, Sintra and Cable da Roca due to our delay, and I felt we might have to mostly bypass Evora as well just to get us back on track somewhat. Things were not going to plan - But this is the whole point of a plan. You make that plan so it is easy to change it if needed. A plan is not a ridgid thing. I had met new people, and we had seen Mafra with it's stunning monestry overlooking a small but perfectly formed town square, and eaten good food and drank even better coffee while we waited, so it was not all bad.
On the evening of our arrival in the Alentejo region, Carla gave us a quick history lesson on the city of Evora, and a handy little map. So the following morning we actually managed to get up early and see some of the sites including the Capela dos Ossos or the Temple of Bones. And without Carla we would surely have missed out on this, as we would have had precious little time, and might not have known where to start. This was a great little visit for Ana as it brought back fond memories of a spur of the moment family outing to the same area, back when she was young, with this being one of the reasons she wanted to make a stop here so she could share it with me.
Finally our mini break away actually felling like a break. And I imagine without the quick thinking of Ana's brother and his friends Jose and Ana's help with the car, not to mention our host Carla's calming and engaging presence when we arrived at our first stop, this story might have been very different indeed.
After a whistle stop early morning tour of Evora, we needed to make the 3 hour drive to Porto Covo. It was Ana's 34th birthday and we did not want to let the day pass us by with leaving it too late.
Another nice touch from our host was a message to Ana on the morning of her birthday, with a poem by local poet Florbela Espanca, who Ana had mentioned she liked, the evening before and whom our host had reported had decendents who still lived in the local area. I thought this was just an incredibly thoughtful touch, and these kind gestures have made me want to plan another trip to Evora, just so we can get to know our host better.
We arrived in good time to Porto Covo on the 16th, and was met by our new hosts, who showed us around our lovely accommodation that included a pool and was, off in the distance, surrounded by wind turbines. I feel these lend a certain ambiance to a scene. In fact I just love how they look even though I am fully aware not many others share this view point. We also got left a gift of some homemade jam, which especally pleased me as I did not know the fruit it was made with - Nesperas I later learnt, not to mention that it was very tasty indeed.
So Porto Covo is where we got engaged and a lovely place it was. In the southwest of the Alentego region on the Vicentine Coast. I even noted the longitude and Latitude of the spot. Because... why not! With a Latitude of 37.8496 and a Longitude of -8.7943 being the coordinates for anyone interested.
We were lucky enough that evening, after a busy and eventful day, to still have a good bit of time as we made our way out for a short coastal walk, while Ana answered birthday calls wishing her well, that threatened to interrupt my flow as I tried to surreptitiously find a spot and set up my camera in order to capture the moment whilst all the time, acting relaxed and vying with the light which was fading fast. And I think I did a rather fine job if I do say so myself, even though I was juggling with a mix of ideas that included using a drone, an action camera or my main DSLR, which were all along with me for the ride.
It was not planned out this way but it was hard not to notice that the place name of where we were staying was a mixture between Porto and Coventry. A strange coincidence one might think?
It was a lovely little coastal town, and we both felt very at home. We explored a little of the town in the short time we were there, and found a lovely restaurant to have some very fresh and tasty local sea food in, with one of the best tasting fish dishes I had ever had, not to mention an octopus salad. We chatted with some friendly locals and it finally felt like a holiday. Porto Covo is a place we need to visit again, and we need to make sure we have a lot more time on hand to make the most of it when we do so.
Ana made me very happy by saying yes. And I am glad we manged to get our plans back on track so I could ask. We at least have a nice tale to tell after our short but eventful trip.
Ana is not one for jewelery, and was never into the ideals behind the engagement ring. So this left me with a little work to do in order to set the scene. So I came up with a novel idea of having a close friend of mine, Hannah of Paperwork, create a one off piece of art for me.
Hannah's work needs to be seen - she turns paper back into wood and then turns this wood into art. It is simply amazing. So I asked her to turn a collection of paper items into a ring for me. These items included photos, Judes birth certificate, a new personal note from me to Ana, numerous letters and notes we had sent each other over our time together, as well as the train ticket from our very first date and other such items. Who knew I was such a romantic!
I knew the ring would be a little bigger than a regular engagement ring - but it was not intended to be worn and only meant for the purpose of me asking Ana to marry me, and could then maybe go into a frame and be art in our home. And Hannah did a sublime job. Ana realised that it was her art straight away and hopefully it meant all the more knowing that it was a personal one off commision by a talented artist and close friend. Even though I am fully aware the idea behind this ring might perplex more than a few people out there. But being a bit differnt never did bother me much.
The rest of the trip was great. We visited Sagres in the Algarve, and on our last full day away traveled to Setubal, where our amazing hosts Nate and Joana looked after us.
We booked a paddle boarding experience with Nate whose hawaiian centric Mana Kai SUP and diving school is one that I can highly recommend, a larger than life friendly personality, Nate instantly made us both feel at home in some very comfy surroundings. And as a little engagement gift he took us on a personal tour of the area on our way to do some stand up paddling, which ended up being mainly sit down paddling, due to the rare erratic choppy nature of the water that day in the bay and me not wanting to loose my glasses. I did not think that one through!
It was a perfect way to spend our last day away together. We saw some parts of the area that we would just not have seen if it was not for the local knowledge of Nate, as we swung by a local soap drama being filmed, passed the ex-mayer of the towns new abode - which just so happened to be a cave in a local hillside. Not to mention the isolated lagoon now part of a national park in Portugal, where we were to go paddleboarding.
That evening we even tried some local food with both Nate and his wife Joana joining us. I got to try a dish that Ana had been urging me to give it a go for a while. So when Nate mentioned the local Picanha was especally good, it was a done deal.
We both had a wondeful time, and left feeling like we made 2 new friends, and with another place on our return and recomendation list.
On getting back to Porto it was now time to spend our remaining few weeks with Ana's family, and we arrived in time to celebrate her nephew Kikito's birthday.
Ana and her nephew, who is also her Godson, both share the same birthday, with this being one of the reasons we set off on our little trip early on in our stay, so we could be around for the weekend party. Which obviously now carried a certain extra celebratory tone. It was not my plan to upstage the boy I promise.
So the rest of our trip was all about family and was all the more amazing for it. Jude had the time of his life and was the happiest I have ever seen him. There is a very special feeling in Portugal and I feel very at home here. So much so that we started talking of moving or at the very least spending much more time there. Although my soul approves of this idea, I am not sure my waste line will thank me as there is good food everywhere and even better drink. But with family this welcoming, loving and suportive, it will be hard to stay away.
It really was nearly a perfect break away. With only Liverpool FC letting the side down by failing with an unlucky attempt on the champions league final. Better luck next year. If not the champions league it will be the league at the very least.