I am always up for a quick break after Christmas and on 11th January 2009 I visited Northern Portugal…
When we left Stansted Airport on a six-thirty Ryanair flight to Porto there was a hard frost on the ground and the temperature was minus 3º centigrade and when we arrived less than two hours later in Porto there was a hard frost on the ground and the temperature was also minus 3º centigrade.
It is unusual to get frosts on the west coast of Portugal and this had clearly taken people by surprise and at the airport there were shivering staff on duty to make sure we avoided the untreated icy patches on the short walk to passport control.
Once through we were met by a lady from the car hire company who explained how cold it had been and why this necessitated the wearing of several layers of clothes, a scarf, a hat and a pair of woolly gloves. I have to concede that it was a bit chilly but I have to say that she seemed to me to be exaggerating the effect. Later we were told that on the day before that it had actually snowed and this was the first time that anyone here could remember such a weather event.
After picking up the car we put our watches forward one hour, as you do when you visit mainland Europe and we set off for our hotel at the nearby town of Vila do Conde.
After checking in we left the town and drove to the sea front and were delighted to find an empty golden beach and a big Atlantic Ocean with huge waves crashing in over the rocks that fringed the edge of the water like steadfast guards on eternal sentry duty. It must have been a very cold night because the damp sand was still frozen and it broke with the snap of a chocolate dime bar as we walked across the long roaming silver lines which marked the tide line right down to the rocks and the salty spray.
It was beginning to warm up and according to a street sign at a chemist shop the temperature was approaching double figures so as it was about midday we looked for somewhere to stop for a drink and choose a bar with outside tables and selected one in the sunshine at the edge of the pavement. This seemed to perplex the young girl at work behind the bar and she apologised as she chipped the ice of the table and wiped it down as she explained that she hadn’t really expected anyone to sit outside this early.
After the sun had warmed us through we left Vila do Conde and drove north to the neighbouring city of Póvoa de Varzim and then carried on along the coast road adjacent to the wide beaches and arrived in the village of Apúlia where we thought we might look for somewhere for lunch.
We found just what we were looking for and came across a café bar on the seafront with tables on a terrace in a sheltered spot and in the full glare of what was by now a very warm sun.
With low expectations we ordered food from the menu at about €5 a plate and were surprised to be served with a quite splendid excellent value for money lunch, which together with beers and a glass of wine came to less than €15, including the tip.
It was really very warm now and although the locals were still wrapped up I was down to my shirt sleeves as we sat and lapped up the January sun.
Later the sun began to dip and we wondered if we might be fortunate enough to see a sunset and we were not disappointed because as the sun went down over the Atlantic horizon it filled the sky with a vivid red. It seemed late for a January sunset at nearly half past six but we didn’t question the fact and we gleefully took pictures and enjoyed the moment.
We booked a table for eight-thirty and then went to the room to try the wine and after a couple of glasses we went to the dining room and although we had booked they seemed a little surprised to see us. After an excellent meal in a restaurant overlooking the river and the illuminated Convent we were tired at the end of a day that had started very early and so we went to bed and hoped that the weather would hold out for at least another day.
“A large drop of sun lingered on the horizon and then dripped over and was gone, and the sky was brilliant over the spot where it had gone, and a torn cloud, like a bloody rag, hung over the spot of its going. And dusk crept over the sky from the eastern horizon, and darkness crept over the land from the east.” John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath