We have bid farewell, for the time being, to Spain and to leisurely cruising. We are now passage-making down the coast of Portugal. The dramatic changes to the coastline mean there are few sheltered anchorages, and greater distances between marinas. The deep sheltered Rias of Galicia, with their mountainous backdrops, have been replaced by long stretches of sand dunes with low hills behind. For us that means longer passages between marinas, avoiding those that are outrageously expensive.
We departed Baiona on early Thursday morning while Lily and Katie were still asleep. Although it was a hot day, we had the northerly wind behind us, which proved a little chilly. We motored for a couple of hours, but once the wind was sufficiently strong, we threw the sails out and bolted along at over 6 knots. Twelve hours later we arrived in Leixoes, the container port a couple of miles north of Porto.
The little marina is tucked in behind the massive container terminal and next to the oil refinery. We are in sight (and hearing) of immense ships, flying the flags of Antigua, Madeira, and other far-flung places. I like it here. I like the industry, the constant coming and going of these leviathans, carrying their cargo to and from who knows where. I’m fascinated by what might be inside the containers, although given the events at Tillbury Dock in the past 24 hours, the containers have taken on a somewhat more sinister aspect.
From Leixoes, it is a walk and a Metro ride to Porto, one of the most beautiful cities I have ever visited. The girls and I explored the city on Friday and Julian joined us on Saturday, but we have only scratched the surface. I would like a month to explore all the narrow streets, museums, churches, forts and port warehouses.
On our first day, the girls and I began our explorations with a picnic on the Avenida dos Aliados, one of the many places around the city with chairs and tables permanently installed. The splendor of the Avenida was breathtaking, the wide open expanse of it, the majestic buildings at either end.
From there we strolled to the central train station, on a tip regarding its impressive interior. Inside the station, the walls have been tiled (as is the style on facades throughout the city) with the history of Portugal. The girls were a bit too frisky that first day for me to take much of it in, but when we returned on Saturday with Julian, I had time to read and figure out the meaning of the murals.
The view from outside the train station was awe-inspiring. In every direction there was another jaw-dropping scene, and it was hard to know where to look.
The Cathedral was a short walk away, on top of a hill, and when we walked inside, there was a wedding taking place. Lily and Katie have never been to a wedding, so we sat quietly at the back (as did many other tourists and visitors) and watched the proceedings. The girls were enchanted (as was I). The cathedral itself is very beautiful, but to witness a typical Catholic wedding, with a beautiful bride and groom, and all the well-dressed wedding guests was an added treat. Even better, four sopranos, accompanied by a flautist and violinist, filled the air with the most beautiful music. When a lone soprano sang Schubert’s Ave Maria unaccompanied, I all but swooned. As the bride and groom walked down the aisle, the groom spotted Katie grinning up at him and reached over to tweak her nose. It made her day. She’s been talking about ‘brides and brooms’ ever since!
Porto is an incredibly hilly city, and from many locations, including the cathedral, there are delightful views out over seas of house roofs. Something that I loved about the city, and something that reminded me very much of Rome, was all the ordinary life going on amidst all the splendor of churches and historic buildings. I enjoyed seeing people sitting outside their homes, hanging their laundry out to dry, in houses and apartments that look at least as old as the 12th and 14th century historic sites around them.
The narrow roads lead ever downward towards the River Douro, a hive of tourist activity. Although the north bank of the river is very beautiful, I found it a little crazy, with too many people around and every squished together like sardines. Better still was the view of the north bank of the river from the bridge across to the south bank.
The south bank of the river is home to the city’s many port warehouses, many offering tours. Unfortunately, we got there too late to take a tour, but it was lovely to walk amongst them and recognise famous brands of port. The cobbled streets behind the warehouses are steep, with a mixture of old homes and gentrified trendy apartments and homes. Down on the riverside, the street is broader with more room for pedestrians, and I didn’t feel quite so squished!
At every turn there was something else to see and think about – the history of the city, and Portugal’s colonial past; the historical importance of the cod fishing industry, and the continuing importance of the port industry (which we discovered is historically linked to the cod fishing); Catholicism; tourism; secular and sacred art; the importance of the river; old and new (seemingly) happily residing side by side. It was too much to soak in in two short visits. But what a beautiful and amazing city.
PS…Henry, Stewart et al….a great city for a Human Geography field trip!!