On This Day – Trouble With Time in Portugal

On 12th January 2009 I was enjoying a second day in Portugal.

Before I go on, do you notice something curious about the Header picture?  I’ll tell you at the end.

In the morning there was another very sharp frost. The hotel room was warm but the public areas were chilly, inadequate electric heaters were working to full capacity and the staff in the breakfast room were wrapped in heavy coats and looked thoroughly miserable.

The man at reception lamented that it might be all right for us but for him it was painful to be so cold. I think he must have thought that we had come from the North Pole or something.

Today we visited the City of Porto. You can read about that here because I am skipping over the details in this post.

During the day as we walked around something had been puzzling me because all of the clocks in the city were wrong.  Every single one of them seemed to be an hour behind and even here at the station the displays said four when our watches said five. I thought that this was strange so asked an official who confirmed that it was indeed four and smiled when I showed him my watch and suggested that it was five.

It simply hadn’t occurred to me that it was perhaps my watch that was telling the wrong time.

It turns out that Portugal uses the same time as the United Kingdom and that we had been an hour ahead of ourselves for the last two days and this explained why it was still light at half past six last night, why they were surprised when we turned up for dinner an hour early, this was why the breakfast room was empty earlier today and why it was so cold when we left the hotel this morning.

Normally travelling to Europe involves adding an hour on but not so Portugal because along with Ireland and Iceland, Portugal is the only other European country that shares Western European Time with the United Kingdom.

Looking at a map of European time zones this looks odd but there is an explanation. France, The Low Countries and Spain should sensibly be in the western zone but during World-War-Two the Nazi occupiers changed France, Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg to Central European time for the convenience of Adolf Hitler in Berlin. For the sake of consistency Nazi sympathiser Franco changed Spain at the same time but anti-German Salazar of Portugal stayed as they were.

Spain is in the same time zone as countries as far east as Hungary and Poland, Galicia in the north is as far west as the far west coast of Ireland and does not see daylight in the Winter until almost mid morning and regularly campaigns for Spain to return to the more sensible western time zone.  In Spain only the  Canary Islands are in the Western European time zone.

Our horological error gave us an unexpected extra hour and we were glad of that because it had been a busy two days and when we got back to the hotel this gave us time for a rest before going down to dinner in the hotel dining room at the correct time.

The following day, now that we were back in real time and had adjusted ourselves accordingly we went down for breakfast today at a more reasonable hour and having given the place time to warm up this morning it was a much more pleasurable experience.

Actually it was warmer anyway because there was no frost today and although the sky was blue again it felt as though the weather was going to change. When we checked out the man on the reception said that he was glad about that but he still complained that the weather was colder than normal.

What a whinger he was because it was quite warm enough for us to cast off our jumpers and our hats and scarves and we decided to make the most of the unexpectedly good weather by taking a trip down the coast in a southerly direction towards Porto before driving to the airport for the early afternoon flight home.

Just south of Santa Clara was the beach of Azuraia where we parked the car and walked over the golden sand that had been washed clean by the high tide and went down to the waters edge. There was a good clear view back to Vila do Conde and the fort that we hadn’t had time to visit. After we had scrambled over rock pools and walked as close as we dare to the breaking surf without getting wet we walked back along the beach and past a beach bar that was just about opening up and back in the car we continued our slow aimless journey down the coast.

Next we stopped at Mindelo, which was much the same as Azuraia so we did the same things but didn’t stay for very long and continued on to the fishing village of Vila Cha.

Like everywhere else Vila Cha was quiet this morning so we parked the car and walked along the beach to the fishing boats and the fishermen’s sheds where local people were working repairing fishing nets and carefully stacking crusty lobster pots into neat piles.

We drove south again to one last beach at Angeiras and then to the airport. On the way we filled the car with fuel and I got worked up for the first time in two days when a man in front was taking a ridiculous amount of time just to put a few litres of petrol in the tank of his Citroen Berlingo one drip at a time.

This visit to Portugal had been absolutely wonderful. When we left I had no idea what to expect and this is what had made it so special. There is something about the pleasure of the unexpected that increases the enjoyment.

When we arrived back in England I remembered not to alter my watch.

So, back to that header picture where all of the hands are set to the same time.

The reason for this is that clocks and watches advertised for sale are almost always set at ten minutes past ten for two reasons.  Firstly advertisers think that this is the most aesthetically pleasing position and easy on the eye and secondly this position cradles the maker or the brand and makes it stand out boldly.

23 responses to “On This Day – Trouble With Time in Portugal

  1. Digital watches have no such standardized setting . . . they’re all over the place.

    One thing I screwed up during the last few cruises was the time difference between cameras. The phone adjusted to ship time, the camera with GPS adjusted to the time from the GPS, and my Nikon was set at my home time (I never adjust camera time because I can calculate based on known locations relative to my home time). It made sorting the photos by time stamps very difficult.

    Anyway, impressive they accommodated your shifted schedule. I suppose you’ll now always do that.


    • I had real trouble with a mobile phone in March 2017 when I went to Poland. Arrive Friday + 1 hour, Saturday daylight saving hours + 1 more hour, return Monday should be -1 hour but phone couldn’t deal with it and subtracted 2 and refused to budge. It didn’t return to normal (automatic) until October and the next time change.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. We had the same error in Canada when we’re touring the country. We almost run out of fuel! Great post! I’ve been to Lisbon and I love it! I would love to go back and explore the country more!


  3. That’s a really interesting tale about time zones, especially the bit about Hitler, Franco and Salazar.


    • France should be in western time zone but remains irked by the decision of the International Meridian Conference of 1884 in Washington to adopt the London Meridian as prime in preference to the Paris Meridian. Just another lingering irritation between England and France.


  4. Live and learn, Andrew! Sorry I was a spoiler yesterday 🙂 🙂


  5. Ha, yes we could see where the time theme was heading! Porto, the Douro Valley and its beautiful wines, have been on our wish list for years, but for some reason we still haven’t made it there. Every time I read posts like yours it just makes me feel like I’ve missed out by not going there!


  6. I’m pleased you enjoyed the trip, despite the wringer and the time issues. When in France I never changed my watch but did the sums in my head – so I guess I would have had the problem as you in Portugal 🙂


  7. Most interesting about the time zones! Oh, and I love what I have seen of Portugal


  8. Interesting information about both the reason for the time differences (or in this case not) and the clock settings. We’ve only visited Portugal twice and loved both visits and I would love to visit the Douro region. It seems a friendly country and much better plumbing (and wine) than Greece.


  9. Lots of interesting time facts to learn there!


  10. I’d noticed that all of the clocks on top reflected the same time, Andrew, and I was amused by your ‘extra’ hour. It reminded me of the old trick of setting my watch 5-10 minutes ahead to help assure that I made it to my appointments on time. That was back in the days when I had lots of them. 🙂 My favorite photo was the rocky beach. –Curt


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