Porto and Lisbon
24 August 2018 | Mazagon, Spain
We arrived in Porto on August 10, my birthday, and it was a very nice place to celebrate. We had dinner the next night at a sidewalk seafood restaurant (one of many) in Afurada de Baixo, the fishing village adjacent to the Marina Douro. All the restaurants have charcoal grills set up on the sidewalks, where they cook sardines, squid, octopus, sausage, steak, chicken, and a variety of other fish. The streets swirl with fragrant smoke, which I'm sure permeates the residents clothing hanging to dry from the balconies. No question, though, the grilled food is delicious. We were to eat in one of those Afurada restaurants (a different one each time) twice more before leaving Porto.
The Marina Douro where we found moorage when we arrived, has a few interesting features. The buildings of the marina have a highly unusual beam structure across the front, and we finally came to realize that the structural beams spell out "Marina Douro" in highly stylized lettering. Obviously someone spent a great deal of money on architects. There does seem to be a lot of attention to art and architecture in Portugal, and it is an attention that I think we sometimes lack in the United States. Despite the expense of the unusual buildings, the marina is quite understaffed and they neither answer their phone nor respond on the designated VHF radio channel. Perhaps this is simply an artifact of the high season in Portugal, but it's sometimes a bit distressing. On the other hand, one of the perks of being a visitor is that the moorage fee includes an 8 am delivery of more fresh bread than you can possibly eat. We had some for breakfast, made sandwiches with it for lunch and sliced some of the rest to have with cheese before dinner. (We were to find even better bread - crustier, part whole-wheat - delivered to the boat every morning at 8 - at the marina near Lisbon.)
Just upriver from the marina is a huge bridge, spanning the gap from cliffs on each side. Public transportation from the Marina to downtown Porto is chancy. Despite it only being 2-3 miles, we were told the bus would take about an hour and a half. An alternative was to cross the river from a dock near the marina, using a small passenger ferry, and then catch "the tram" into town. The tram looks like a San Francisco cable car and doesn't carry a lot of people. If full, it will just glide right by your stop, leaving you to wonder whether the next one (20 minutes or so hence) would also be full. Mostly, yes. So we tried riding bikes downtown (some bike paths, but mostly narrow, crowded streets) and we tried walking (somewhat exhausting in the heat, but often faster than the gridlocked traffic we were passing). One time we rode an electric "Tuk-tuk" sort of taxi from downtown to the foot ferry, and that was probably the most enjoyable. We also tried Uber, which was less of a hassle than most other methods. The number of convoluted turns they took to find the fastest route was nothing short of amazing.
The marina was offering "special deals" for tours of wineries (Port wine is the big deal in Porto). But in the end we decided we didn't really want to devote hours of time to the drinking of sweet wine that is generally not to our taste. So we spent time exploring the city instead.
I made a special bike trip to Matosinhos on my own. Between the mouth of the Douro River (where we were berthed) and the Port of Leixoes, is an expanse of beach and rocky seashore, several miles long. There is a nice bike path for the entire distance, so this was definitely the way to go. It was intermittently foggy, but despite that, there were lots of people heading to the beach with their bags, umbrellas and beach toys. They staked out their spot on the beach and waited for the sun to come.
My main goal in the Matosinhos trip was to find the places my parents had visited on their honeymoon in 1938. I have a number of photos, and I wanted to find out if anything was still recognizable. They bought passage on a freighter from Galveston which stopped at Leixoes (then and now the port for Porto) as well as Marseilles and Genoa (where they ultimately disembarked). During the two days the freighter was in the harbor at Leixoes, my parents went ashore with two friends and explored, finally reaching as far as downtown Porto. From their written description, I gather they took the tram back, down the river from the city center, and then along the beach and rocky shore described above. I wonder whether it was the very same tram cars we now saw so overloaded with tourists.
The photos I have from 1938 are mostly of the Matosinhos area, adjacent to Leixoes. I visited a purported local history museum, which turned out to be an art museum. The person at the museum (who really didn't speak English -- we struggled together with me in Spanish and him in Portuguese) suggested that I ought to go to the city archives at the City Hall. (Unfortunately the archives were closed at that time.) He did, however, look at my photos. He told me the ladies washing their clothes in a stream were likely at the mouth of the Leços River. It no longer exists: they have turned it into a container port and cruise ship port. He wasn't able to help with any of the others. But a museum docent in downtown Porto had looked at the pictures and told me the names of the likely streets to look for in Matosinhos. I did find those streets, and I definitely found houses built with the same distinctive finishing and styles as could be seen in two of the 1938 photos. (Yay for that!) I also found a huge Norfolk Island Pine, saved in the middle of a traffic circle, which was perhaps the same tree that so fascinated my parents in 1938.
What they commented about the most in their 1938 letters was the grinding poverty they observed (they were fairly impoverished students themselves, so it must really have been excruciating poverty they saw.) I can state definitively that Portugal has come a long way. These appear to be mostly middle-class people, doing well in service industries connected to the cruise port and container port in Matosinhos. At the museum I visited, they gave me a brochure detailing the 12 different museums that now exist in this little town - Roman artifacts, convents, schools, firefighters, religious, nautical, mineral. It will have to be another visit when I come to see all of them.
One afternoon, as we waited for the foot ferry crossing the River Douro back to the marina, we noticed a group of German-speaking people who were also waiting. I particularly noticed one woman, and what made me notice her was my thought that she looked like a cellist, and in particular like a cellist friend of mine. After we got on the ferry, we began talking to the group, and I gave the woman (Elke) our boat card. She looked at my email address and asked if I was a cellist. It turned out she is also a cellist, as were 3-4 other people in her extended family. Her son was a cellist/lawyer practicing law in London. They were all (about 12 of them) in Porto to celebrate the birthday of Elke's sister. We invited anyone interested to come and see our boat, and they in turn invited us to join them for a planned family dinner at one of the Afurada restaurants. What an amazing experience! I hope we are able to stay in touch.
Midway through our stay in Porto, our friends Mark and Fern arrived from Portland. They bravely faced off against jet lag, and led us in an energetic walking tour of downtown Porto. We saw the train station, which is famous for its interior azulejos. Azulejos are a blue-and-white tile style, originating apparently with the Moors, who occupied part or all of Spain and Portugal for about 700 years. Grand works of art are completed using the azulejos, and the level of artistry in the train station is indeed impressive. Portrayed are warriors, kings, religious processions and ordinary people. The azulejos continue on up to the ceiling, which must be 40 feet overhead. It even appears that the dimensions and proportions of things are adjusted so that they can appear in normal proportions to viewers many feet below.
We walked on from there through tourist-engorged streets. We saw an organ grinder who had a chicken instead of a monkey, and who ground out renaissance keyboard tunes using a folded stream of punch cards. Many artists offer bracelets, portraits, cork purses, ceramic roosters and a vast variety of other creations.
Some of the sites we had wanted to see were not open, it being a church holiday (Feast of the Assumption). Craig and I finally decided to return to the boat (via the aforementioned tuk-tuk) while Mark and Fern continued on with the walking tour.
When it was time to leave Porto and head south to Lisbon, we set out on an overnight passage, with promised winds from astern at 15-20 knots. Should have been good conditions for a quick passage. What we didn't count on were the big swells (6-8 feet) on our stern quarter, which made for a fairly rough passage. When the wind dropped overnight, the swells continued on, increasing the amount of rolling. There was not a lot of eating that happened in that 24 hour time period, although on the plus side no one got physically sick.
We were very glad to arrive the next morning at Oeiras Marina a few miles west of Lisbon, where we pretty much collapsed in exhaustion for the entire day. It was hot, hot, hot, and we could not summon the energy to get to the on-site swimming pool.
I must admit that with so many stops in Europe, I've had little time to research each place before we get there. It's more a question of whether the distances between ports are manageable, what the weather's going to be, and what are the port facilities.
Fern, on the other hand, has done her research. She and Mark led us the next day on a walking tour of some of Lisbon. We took an Uber to one of the highest scenic points and then walked downhill from there. Lisbon is an amazing city, with an incredible mix of new and old. So many of the older buildings are covered with azulejos. 99% of the roofs, new and old, are red terra cotta tile. There are beautiful, creative graffiti (and a bit of ugly graffiti) on many of the stucco walls. I remember two in particular: a poem written on a corner wall. It begins: "Ser Poeta é ser mais alto é ser maior; Do que os homens! Morder como quem beija!" I'm a complete beginner in Portuguese although I do speak some Spanish. With the help of WordReference, I take this to be an approximate translation "To be a poet is to be higher and better than other people. Hurt those whom you kiss." (It goes on for many more stanzas) Please, if anyone out there speaks Portuguese, give me a better translation! I don't much like this one.
[Note added later] See Liza's comment in the margin. The translation she offers: "To be a poet is to be taller and bigger than men. It is to bite as if you were kissing, to be a beggar but give alms as if you were king of the realm" Published posthumously. The writer Florabela Estanca took her own life aged 26 and died in Matosinhos.
A second instance of graffiti which particularly caught our attention was done in brilliant reds and oranges, and included Homer Simpson, Mr. Burns, Buzz Lightyear, Captain America, the red M&M, Kung-Fu Panda reading Mao's little red book, the Empire soldiers from Star Wars, Donald Duck, and others who would doubtless be recognized by people younger than me. The whole thing is done in the character of a protest march with flags and slogans I don't recognize.
At the Igreja e Convento da Graça the noon bell was ringing. Instead of being hid invisibly inside a high bell tower, it was only 3 storeys up, swinging 270 degrees back and forth for all to see. Inside they had a clay-figure re-creation of the Corpus Christi procession of 1717. More than 1500 clay figures took part in the diorama of the procession, representing craftsman guilds, religious orders, civic groups, royalty and church hierarchy. If you look closely, each figure has a different expression on his or her face. I found it to be quite compelling.
Mosteiro de Sao Vicente de Fora is part archaeology, part religious museum and part exhibit of cloister architecture and azulejo scenes. Craig learned from a local guide there that soldiers were quartered in the cloisters at the beginning of the twentieth century. Some of the soldiers thought that the figures depicted in the azulejos were staring at them, so they systematically gouged out the eyes, and in some cases the entire faces of many of the important figures.
Finally we visited the Castelo da São Jorge with another gorgeous lookout over the city, an extensive archaeological museum and various old buildings. The heat pretty much got to me at that point, and Craig and I found our way back to the boat via Uber, while Fern and Mark continued on.
We always enjoy meeting the other sailors in a harbor. From time to time we have encountered an older boat with young people aboard, living the sailing life despite lack of money and a distinct state of unpreparedness, always with tremendous enthusiasm. In Oeiras Marina we met the two young couples aboard Zirconium, an older boat with some maintenance issues. They are all from Venezuela, but have been living in Ireland. Jorge, the owner of the boat, learned to sail as an employee of a charter boat company in Ireland. His girlfriend took a navigation course there. The other couple have no sailing experience at all. So here they are in Portugal, encountering one problem after another. Their sails are saggy or failed, and sail tape is their best friend. Their cutlass bearing was coming adrift, and Jorge was free diving under the boat trying to fix it. Craig was able to offer some advice and the loan of some equipment which may have helped solve the problem. They have grand plans to sail into the Mediterranean, then cross the Atlantic and head maybe to Hawaii. There's no doubt that Jorge is a clever fellow and well able to concoct work-arounds, but a certain amount of money is required to repair and maintain a boat in a seaworthy condition and it's not clear where that's going to come from. We wish them all the best.
The time has come for us to leave Lisbon. We have dates down the road and Mark and Fern have travel plans after they leave us. We've laid out a few hops down the coast of Portugal and then Spain which should have us in Gibraltar by August 28. So this morning we set off through the fog, all of us looking and listening with all available eyes and ears plus the radar and the AIS system. Predictions are for calm seas and little wind, so I'm even willing to write this blog out in the open sea. It's possible I won't last too long, because even the small amount of motion may test my stomach...
Since finishing the above, we've moved on, through the southern Algarve coast of Portugal and into Spain. We're currently at the port of Mazagon, near Huelva. We've been covering a lot of distance, stopping overnight in a couple of different towns that have turned out to be overwhelming and expensive tourist destinations. Vilamouro is known for its five golf courses, and English is heard everywhere. Mazagon is full of Spanish tourists, including large groups of teenagers walking down the sidewalk, eyes on cell phone.
Today we'll head for Cadiz, the oldest continuously occupied city of Europe, now in its fourth millenium.
Best wishes to all!
Craig & Barbara Johnston