Tag Archives: Vila Nova de Gaia

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.

Portugal, Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia

Porto Douro Postcard

We were beginning to wonder if had been a good decision to stop over in Porto, we had been to the city twice before a few years ago so we were only really going to do the same things again and after breakfast we stepped out and started to do exactly the same things again.

It was rather cloudy and there was a mist off the river, everyone was wearing jumpers and top coats and I confess that I was a little chilly in shorts and polo shirt as we walked to the centre again following more or less the same route as the day before.

Our route took us to a busy square in the shadow of the Torre de Clorigos, the tallest tower in Porto and  likely to remain that way for some time because there is apparently a building regulation that prevents anything in the city being built higher.

Porto Portugal

This is rather like the city of Budapest where no building is permitted to exceed ninety-six metres which may seem a rather random number but is due to the fact that this number has symbolic status in the country because it was in 896 that Magyars first came to the area and the Hungarian Kingdom was begun.  Also like St Louis in the USA where no building can be built higher than the Gateway Arch.

In the shadow of the Tower were two rather interesting shops, the first was the ‘Fantastic World of the Portuguese Sardine’ where visitors can buy a can of fish in a tin which is gaily decorated with their birth year.

They looked good, I took a picture but didn’t buy one because they were about five times more expensive than in a simple tin in a supermarket back home and for something that is only going to end up in the recycling bin anyway.

Sardine Cans Portugal

Next to the Sardine emporium was a small café which sold only two things, port wine and fish croquettes which turns out to be a specialty of Porto and on account of that priced accordingly.

The historical centre of Porto is a declared UNESCO World Heritage Site and we were now approaching one of the six bridges across the River Douro, the Ponte Dom Luis I, which is an iron bridge, designed by a student of Gustav Eiffel and built on two levels. From the top elevation pedestrians wander dangerously along the tram tracks scattering periodically when one approached from either side.  There were unbeatable views of the river, the old town and Vila Nova de Gaia, a sister city to Porto on the other side of the river.

On the other side of the river we took a cable car from the top of the bridge and then walked through narrow streets of near derelict houses where some families were hopelessly hanging onto impractical occupation that must surely end soon and down to the riverbank that had good views back across the other side of Porto.  We were now in the city of Vila Nova de Gaia, which is where the city’s famous port lodges all have their cellars and sit side by side next to the river.

Rabello Boats Porto

On the water were flotillas of Rabelos, which are traditional sailing boats that used to transport the wine in barrels from the vineyards up river and now redundant these little boats are left here bobbing up and down in the water simply for the benefit of the tourists.

Our cable car ticket included entry to a port lodge and a glass of port and determined to take advantage of anything that is free we made our way to the lodge.

We sat and tried a white aperitif port and then not wanting to wait half an hour for the English tour joined a party of Portuguese for the twenty minute walk through the barrels of ruby and tawny port and the cellars full of bottles special reservé and vintage wines.

We learned that under European Union guidelines, only the product from Portugal may be labeled as Port and it is produced from grapes grown and processed exclusively in the Douro region. The Douro Valley was defined and established as a protected region or appellation in 1756, making it the third oldest defined and protected wine region in the world after Tokaji in Hungary and Chianti in Italy.

Porto Port Wine

The wine received its name Port in the latter half of the seventeenth century from the city of Porto where the product was brought to market or for export to other countries in Europe.  Actually there are no port lodges in Porto but an after dinner Vila Nova de Gaia just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

This was all very interesting stuff but what we really wanted was to get to the tasting and we weren’t disappointed when at the end of the tour we were given three generous glasses of port in the hope that we might buy some more from the shop.

I call this picture ‘A study in Denial’!

Port Wine Lodge Optimism

And so we made our way back across the river, stopped for a while at Praça de Ribiera and then climbed the steep hills back towards our guest house stopping frequently along the way to sometimes observe the architecture, sometimes to admire the washing lines but always looking for a picture opportunity.

Porto Street Sign RibieraPorto Washing Line

Eventually we stopped in a small palm fringed square filled with sunshine and a garden of remembrance and I was interested in the statue of a soldier and a roll call honouring Portuguese war dead in the First World War.

I didn’t know that Portugal fought in the First World War but is seems that they came into action in Africa where they were in conflict with countries that were at that time part of the German Empire.  I had learnt something new today.

Portugal World War 1 Memorial

Later we returned to last night’s restaurant but it was closed (there was a pattern starting to emerge here) so we found an alternative which although not as good was quite acceptable and we reviewed our two days in Porto.

On reflection we agreed that although we had enjoyed it we had perhaps squandered two days because in that time we could perhaps have gone somewhere different.  Aveiro perhaps?

A shame that we were thinking like this because next we were off to another place where we had been before – Vila do Conde.

Portugal River Douro

European Capital of Culture 2001 – Porto

Ribiera Porto

When we went to bed the sky was clear but at some time during the night the clouds must have rolled in because when we woke the sky was heavy with mist and weather prospects looked desperate.

We hoped that it might improve during breakfast but we had to admit that this was most unlikely especially as the clouds thickened and the rain began to fall even more steadily.  Postponed from day one we were planning to visit the beaches today but it seemed pointless to wander aimlessly from damp town to damp town getting thoroughly wet and feeling miserable so we agreed instead to change our plans and return to Porto where at least there would be churches and museums where it would be dry inside and if the worst came to the very worst probably a shopping centre or a covered market and we could look at shoes and sparkly things.

Porto Ribiera District

After checking out we drove a couple of stops down the metro line and found an empty car park and left the car all alone without any sort of automobile company while we waited for the tram to arrive.  The driving rain slowed to a drizzle but it stayed with us for the entire journey into Porto first through farms with irregular shaped fields, no doubt the result of years of complicated inheritances, then wild meadows, pine-woods and copses of eucalyptus trees on a journey frequently punctuated with stops at every village en route.

Nearer to the city the farms shrunk to smallholdings and on the urban outskirts further still to allotments and gardens but everywhere there was an abundance of fruit and vegetables.

Porto Port Wine

The tram arrived in Trindade and we could see outside in the street that it was still raining and people were hurrying by sheltered under umbrellas so we stayed underground and changed lines for a couple of stops to San Bento.  It only took a few minutes but when we emerged from the subterranean metro system it was a whole lot brighter and there was only the odd spit of rain.  We visited the train station, which today was being used for its more traditional function and then we walked towards the direction of the river down the Rua de Flores.

Here there were small shops and traditional bars and cafés side by side with derelict and decrepit buildings with rotting timbers, rusting balconies, cracked tiled facades trying in vain to disguise years of neglect and so many washing lines that laundry could almost be a national pastime.  The road channels were grubby and the buildings were grimy but it wasn’t without a certain charm and the defiant message from the residents seemed to be “Come and visit us if you like, we know it’s untidy but this is the way we like it!”

This lady seemed especially pleased to welcome us to her city…

As we walked to the end of the street there were spreading patches of blue in the sky and things were beginning to brighten up.  We were heading for the City’s covered market but when we arrived there it had clearly been closed and unused for some time and on the map we located its modern replacement but it was back in the direction that we had walked so we abandoned the idea of visiting it.

Miraculously the sun was out now, which was good news for Micky because it meant that we didn’t have to take the church visit option (Micky doesn’t like churches) as we passed underneath Igrija de São Fransisco, one of the few medieval buildings in Porto, ignored a multi-lingual beggar and continued on to the Douro.

Not only was the sun out now but it was hot and as we walked along the side of the river shutters were being thrown back in the apartments and more washing was beginning to appear on the balconies.  This change in the weather cheered us up no end and on the Ribeira near to the Ponte Dom Luis we selected a restaurant with outside tables for a drink and a convenient place for an application of sun lotion.  Now it was really hot and the waiter was encouraged enough by this to begin fussily laying the outside tables for lunch and brought out table cloths, plates, cutlery and menus and then began to look for customers.

He should have looked up because just out to sea the sky was blackening with alarming speed and it was obvious that we were in for a drenching.  Sure enough the cloud rolled in like a fleet of water bowsers and the heavens opened.  He had to clear the tables a lot quicker than he had laid them and without the attention to detail either and soon the rain was bouncing off the pavement like shrapnel.  The patio umbrellas proved little protection against this Atlantic squall as the rain drove in sideways and soon we were forced to take shelter inside.

It passed by however and as quickly as it had started it stopped again and the blue sky advancing from the west chased the clouds away inland and within only a matter of minutes the sun was shining, the pavements were steaming and the washing was coming back out again.  That was a close shave because rain could well have meant an afternoon around the shops but at the bridge we were able to take the fair weather option and we crossed once more over to Vila Nova de Gaia.

Entrance Tickets – Torre Dos Clérigios, Porto

Torre Dos Clérigios, Porto

After lunch we walked along the quayside and wondered what was going on over the river on the other side where there appeared to be some sort of noisy festival and then we walked back into the city through shaded streets and made for the Torre Dos Clérigios, which is a church with the highest tower in Portugal at seventy-six metres high and two hundred and twenty-five steps.

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Entrance Tickets – Graham’s Port Wine Lodge, Porto

022 Christine had picked up a flyer advertising Graham’s and despite the fact that it was the furthest one away and the least sensible one to visit we don’t generally let Christine make many decisions  and we didn’t want to disappoint her so that was the one we decided upon.

To get there we had to walk all along the south bank of the river Douro and then negotiate a busy main road without a pavement that climbed and twisted away from the river and all the way we had to be wary of speeding traffic driving wildly around dangerous blind bends.

It was hot and we were glad to reach the lodge, find the entrance, pay the reasonable €3 admission and enjoy a nice chilled white sherry.

 

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Entrance Tickets – Six Bridges of Porto

Five Bridges of Porto

The ticket said five bridges but it turned out that there were six!

The boat left at midday and just went up and down the river to visit thebridges of Porto that cross the Douro.  Furthest west is the road bridge Ponte Do Friexo and then following the river towards the Atlantic Ocean the railway bridge Ponte San Joao and then Eiffel’s own iron bridge the Ponte Do Maria Pia, which was undergoing renovation and repair, the concrete and unremarkable Ponte Do Infante, the marvellous Ponte Dom Luis I and finally close to the mouth of the river the bridge that carries the city’s modern ring road, the Ponte Da Arrabida.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Signs

All of the port lodges have a museum and guided tour and we choose the first that we came to, which happened to be the Cálem port lodge that had a visit to the museum, a guided tour, port tasting, and all for only €3 each, which was exceptionally good value for money.

Under European Union guidelines, only the product from Portugal may be labelled as Port and it is produced from grapes grown and processed in the Douro region. The wine produced is fortified with the addition of a Brandy in order to stop the fermentation, leaving residual sugar in the wine, and to boost the alcohol content. The wine is then aged in barrels and stored in caves, or cellars, before being bottled.

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Portugal, Port Wine

All of the port lodges have a museum and guided tour and we choose the first that we came to, which happened to be the Cálem port lodge that had a visit to the museum, a guided tour, port tasting, and all for only €3 each, which was exceptionally good value for money.

Read the full story…

Portugal, Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia

In the morning there was another very sharp frost but the good news was that this meant another blue sky and an impressive sunrise over the River Ave.  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 woollies and fleeces and looked thoroughly cold and 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.

Read the full story…

Portugal, Port Wine and a Francesinha

Port Wine

Once over the bridge we started collecting the port lodge invitations that were being handed out like confetti and for no particular reason other than there was a free drink in it we decided to visit another.  Christine had picked up a flyer advertising Grahams and despite the fact that it was the furthest one away and the least sensible to visit that was the one we decided upon.

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