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. The beach was deserted and instead of people we were outnumbered by the seagulls that stood at the edge of the water but paid little attention to us as we walked along the sand. I doubt that they would be afraid of us because each was the size of a Jack Russell terrier and had no reason to fear us.
I was intrigued by the way they all faced the same way and were all looking directly at the sun. I found out later that the explanation for this is that on a cold day like this gulls will rotate to always face the sun to reduce their body temperature by cutting down the sun-exposed surface area and by orienting the white parts, the most reflective, to direct sunlight to minimise how much heat they gain from the sun.
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.
The reason that fishing is such a major economic activity in Portugal is because the Portuguese people eat more fish per head than any other people in Europe. In recognition of this Portugal has been granted an ‘Exclusive Economic Zone’, which is a sea area in the Atlantic Ocean over which the Portuguese have special rights in respect of exploration and use of marine resources. For the record it is the third largest Exclusive Economic Zone of the European Union, after France and the United Kingdom and the eleventh largest in the world.
Nobody took any notice of us as we walked around the boats, through the fishing equipment and past the sheds and we walked back along the beach where local women were watching over the washing that was strung out to dry in the stiff breeze. Then we passed through the narrow streets and past the family houses that were desperately short of creature comforts and went back to the car.
We drove south again to one last beach at Angeiras but even though Portugal has one hundred and ninety-three blue flag beaches (the seventh most blue flags in Europe), the closer we got to the city of Porto the more litter was evident on the sand. Never mind, I was sure that they would clear it away before the summer season in a few months time.
There was a collection of school children in the middle of the town who were wearing colourful hats, banging drums and presenting a real traffic hazard but we didn’t have time to find out what it was all about because it was now time to return 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 in the tank of his Citroen Berlingo.
In the duty free shop representatives from the port lodges were offering free samples and giving advice on purchases. I did my best to appear knowledgeable about the subject and after I had had a few glasses felt obliged to buy a bottle to take home. The sales assistant almost persuaded me to go for a special reservé but that was too expensive but so as not to appear mean I selected a ten year vintage and not the cheaper bottle of ruby.
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 amplifies the enjoyment. Beaches in January are an experience to be savoured but most of all the city of Porto was a real joy with many hidden treasures that I simply had not expected. We especially liked the colourful houses, the port lodges, the river and lunch on the Ribeira. Northern Portugal and Porto is a place that we will definitely return to soon.