Journeys of Aardvarc
Sun 5 Aug 2012 19:00
41:11.16N 08:42.31W

So, continuing where we left off, more or less, The Monumental Temple of the Sacred Heart of Jesus was a splendid sight, as seen in the last blog, but for a Euro more, you can ascend the 178 steps to the top of the dome.  Stairway to heaven it is not.  We defy you to find a narrower spiral staircase. If you can’t multitask, give this one a miss – you have to be stepping and turning at high revs, with the wall about 3mm away from your face all the way.  A welcome concession to modernity is the traffic light system whose purpose is to ensure one-way traffic only, and prevent any incidents of stair rage.  The views are well worth it though (see yesterday).


We forgot to mention that Vianna do Costelo is situated on the River Lethe – known to the Romans as the River of Forgetfulness.  So it still works.  The bridge shown in the photo was designed by Gustav Eiffel. He was obviously  trying out a lying-down version of the tower first.


We found an internet café on the riverfront, and an unhealthy, spiritually sterile silence descended on the three of us – sad in one way, but the fact is that some quiet time now and again, actually enhances the pleasance of the otherwise intimate 24/7, living-in-each-other’s pockets lifestyle.


A mission to find a restaurant recommended by the marina lady was rewarded by a starter that included dates wrapped in bacon followed by a wholesome feijoada casserole of fish and beans.  In the best traditions of national dishes, it has its origins in peasant food.  I’m sure that had nothing to do with why they recommended it to us.


Off next day to Povoa, only this time we made the mistake of wanting the bridge opened during lunch hour.  They did it in the end, but it didn’t seem such a grand exit.


The weather was wonderful and we had the most perfect few hours sailing anyone could ever wish for.  The gentle rhythmicity of the large Atlantic swell, a new experience for me, seemed both majestic and calming.  It was the tiniest bit scary navigating between a wind turbine stuck out on its own, and a massive orange sea serpent used for generating wave power, but we made it OK, and in keeping with the culture of the scariest horror films, we never actually got to see the monster at all. 


The Povoa marina was very poorly sheltered, giving rise to unacceptable winds in the mooring areas. Their negligence caused the pontoon to blow towards the boat, impacting on an area of the bow which the manufacturers (also negligent) had failed to protect adequately.  The substantial stainless steel plate they provided to guard against such an event was placed a full 30 cm above the position required.


We retired to the yacht clubhouse to consider our position.  Three free drinks was hardly adequate compensation, especially since they were also handed out indiscriminately to all yachtspeople, impactees and non-impactees alike.  Hardly fair.


They managed to avoid the wrath of our legal teams by laying on for us an exhibition of advanced gin and tonic making, using a blend of 9 secret ingredients frozen into the ice cubes.  Served up with some delicious smoked salmon canapés, and at only 9 euros each, they were an excellent prelude to a memorable seafood casserole.


Peas, parsley and fresh red peppers together with prawns and large hunks of tender monkfish provided the perfect base for a cream and butter sauce.  The recipe had been in the chef’s family for some 40 years we were told, and it was seriously delicious. Two portions between three and we still couldn’t finish it.  No need to have served chips and rice with it though, although both were nice.  The wine didn’t really go very far and we had to have a second bottle. Fortunately for the marina, such a memorable meal, with beautiful views of the sunset, put their silliness into perspective, and we decided to take the matter no further.


We went into Povoa the next day, and although pleasant, it was unremarkable, so we left, taking all necessary precautions as we left the treacherous moorings.


Next came Leixos, about 10km out of Porto and my final stop.  Again, wonderful sailing weather providing an experience of equal quality to the previous day.  I enjoyed it immensely and began to feel a full part of the crew as I winched a bit here and there.  A real shame that this would be my last leg on this trip, although it has reminded me of all the enjoyable aspects of sailing and left me wanting more.


Next morning, we had hardly crossed the road out of the marina at Leixos when we came across a sight that reminded me of my first memory of Portugal during my first foreign holiday ever, in 1975.  Up a sidestreet were three restaurants with barbecues busy in the cobbled road, turning out sardinhas assadas by the plateload – and soles and chicken and everything.  Salad and bread - food at its very simplest (OK, enhanced somewhat by top quality jamon with melon and some excellent fresh crab pate).  Less was truly more.  We watched as what looked like someone’s granddad did his best peeling potatoes with a totally inappropriate large knife.  Looking at the potato ‘peelings’, we think we discovered the secret of the local potato soup!


We walked on to the metro station, close to where a huge tall ship, the Sagres, was berthed, and joined the crowds looking around it. Its size was quite remarkable and the starched white uniforms of its crew made it almost surreal.


Whilst battling with the ticket machines on the Metro platform, a saintly young lady came to our aid, and told us of all the must-do sights in Porto.  Navigation being second nature to we sailors, we soon had a tourist map marked up with all the waypoints and began working our way around them.  We hope you visit Porto, but when you do, be aware that it is very hilly!  We hope you enjoy picking your way up and down the narrow stone staircases that are their streets, as much as we did.  It reminded me a little of the Old City in Jerusalem, but without all the disputes.  The riverfront was delightful – full of places where you could sit for hours.  All in all a stunningly beautiful place full of interest that merits several days exploring.  We will be back!


That’s my stint as guest columnist over for now. I do hope you’ve enjoyed reading it, as I hand over the reins to the next visitor.


Neil Lee Competent, I hope.