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.