No doubt about it, the house sit I undertook in Manhuncelos, Potugal is one of my most memorable but sadly one that will not be repeated as the homeowners have now moved. Manhuncelos is roughly 60km east of Porto and it did take more than a little effort to get there from my previous sit in central Portugal.
My journey started from Portela da Cerdeira where I was driven, by the home owner, to the bus stop at Moita da Serra, Tábua, 30 minutes away. From there it involved a bus to Coimbra (35 minutes), a bus to Porto (1 hour 25mins), and then a train from Porto to Marco de Canaveses (56mins). Unfortunately part of the train line was closed so I had to switch to a bus for the last leg of the journey just to make it all the more interesting.
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On arrival at Marco de Canaveses it had been arranged that a local taxi driver would take me on the last leg of the journey, a 10 minute drive up hill. Of course, the taxi driver didn’t speak any English but had been told to expect a call from an English lady who was to be taken to the Café in the village. On this particular sit the homeowners had to leave before I could get there so the keys for the house had been left with the Café owner.
Of course, you know what they say about the best laid plans, on arrival at the train station when I phoned the taxi driver we had a completely unintelligible conversation which left me wondering what on earth I was going to do. Thankfully, a short while later, one of the home owners phoned me to see if I had managed to connect with the taxi driver and he was able to phone him to sort it out and assured me that Costa, the taxi driver, was on his way.
The next part of the procedure was also an interesting test of my ability to follow instructions. On being dropped off at the Café, where no one spoke English, I was to collect the keys and then walk up the hill, past the house with the statue of Christ in the garden, look for a heavy metal gate, proceed down a narrow entrance and let myself in through the second door.
Once inside the house, where I was to be spending the following week, it took my eyes a while to adjust to the darkness. After coming in from bright sunshine the place seemed very dark and gloomy but I found a light switch and surveyed my surroundings. Now, at this point I should say that house sitters always ask for photos of the inside of the home so that we know roughly what to expect, but on this occasion I had only seen photos of an empty house as the young couple where just settling in when the sit was arranged.
The photos I had been sent, taken when the house was empty.
So, I found myself standing in a very large kitchen/dining area with a spiral staircase in one corner. My first thought was, did I remember seeing those stairs in the photos and even if I did, how was I going to get my case up the stairs? Now, I always travel with a carry on bag only so it’s not large but still, I was a little concerned for my safety. Later I discovered that trying to navigate the staircase with the kittens following me everywhere made it even more treacherous but I then remembered that there was an outside flight of stair that made things easier.
My next challenge was to find a sitting room. I could see a bed in the room that was off the dining area but that seemed to be everything on the lower level. Then I recalled that the owner had said they had put their bed in the room with the fire because it was the warmest. You find, quite often, in Portugal that there will be a winter bedroom because it does get very cold at night and the houses are not built to cope with the cold, they are built to stay cool in summer. Very few houses have heating, some may have air conditioning units that give heat but they are not the most efficient form of heating. Insulation is not common either so that, along with tiled floors, and usually no curtains, makes for a very cold house in the winter.
This particular house had really thick stone walls and was the lower part of a building that never got the sun through any of the windows so it proved to be a bit of a challenge to stay warm. Thankfully I always take a hot water bottle with me plus a wool wrap, thick socks, fleece pyjamas and a very warm sweater. Throughout this particular sit I did have to light the fire every evening and snuggle up with the kittens in what I named the ‘cave room’. It wasn’t actually a cave but it felt like one, having no windows and a low ceiling.
Later, having located my bedroom and explored the upstairs of the house I assessed the practicalities of daily living in such a unique and quirky home. I knew in advance that there was no hot water in the kitchen, no toaster, grill, microwave, or dish washer. The homeowner had said that she kept a pot of water simmering on the stove for washing dishes however, on investigation, I did discover a kettle in one of the cupboards although it later became apparent that it could only be used when the oven wasn’t on (or it tripped the electricity).
There was hot water in the bathroom upstairs but not a lot of it! In Portugal, and several other countries I have visited, the water is heated, with electricity, in a tank attached to the wall, or maybe in an outhouse. The water that comes from these tanks it incredibly hot but naturally enough the amount available depends on the size of the tank. In this particular bathroom the bath was massive and the tank was small so not the best of combinations, a bath consisted of roughly 4 inches of water.
And now, a few questions for you, the reader.
I am interested to know, if you are, or are considering becoming, a house sitter would you take on this type of sit? What types of sits would attract you the most? What would be a step too far for you?
That finishes the introduction to the the house. In Wet, Wet, Wet, Washing, Weeding and Walking -Manhuncelos House Sit (Part 2) I will tell you more about how the week went, about the cats, the 2 hour walk to the shops and what this photo is all about.
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