Tuesday 31/05/2011 Figueira da Foz to Leixoes

We left Figueira on Wednesday and headed up to Leixoes. This was a longer hop of about sixty miles, so we left early and crossed our fingers that the forecast was right and that light winds would be what we’d get. There was the option of stopping in at Aveiro, but the pilot book was a bit iffy about getting in and out of the harbour at various states of swell and tide, and we weren’t keen on the idea of getting stuck somewhere.

Luckily the swell had died with the lighter winds of the last couple of days, which sped us up considerably, and for the middle part of the day the wind was north westerly, and just enough for us to be able to sail quite well for a few hours which was bliss. We both took it in turns to nap and read books to pass the time, and looked out for ships and things but saw virtually nothing. A few miles off Leixoes as the sun began to drop, we suddenly saw dark patches in the water ahead, until we were surrounded by shoals of pilchards.

This must be what the water in Gerrans Bay used to look like back in the day. Hevva hevva? Saffron buns? There wasn’t a boat in sight, just seagulls.

Si went back to his book. Unfortunately, in Nazare Si found a book swap and traded a couple of items. I say unfortunately because he has been particularly absorbed in one for the last couple of days and as such has been fairly uncommunicative.

But I busted him and managed to catch him on camera in the act of saying ‘Mmm I know’ and not actually listening at all. Take a look at the cover, ladies and gentleman.

Jilly Cooper. Really, Simon. (Though I am DEFINIITELY reading it after him!). Fishing boats started appearing from Leixoes, and finally we made it into the harbour just before it got dark and unfortunately just after it started to pour with rain and anchored for the night outside the marina.

We’ve spent the last couple of days exploring Porto while some strong north east winds blew through. Leixoes isn’t particularly beautiful, but the marina’s good and it’s five minutes walk to the nearest metro station which takes you into Porto.

Porto seems to be one of those rare European cities that is both old and unbombed.

There is no giant hole in the middle of its skyline replaced with hastily built concrete boxes but neither is there a museum exhibit too tidy and preserved air to it.

The houses are piled on top of each other, red tiled brightly coloured and teeming with stray cats and drying washing.

There are seemingly endless streets of sloping houses with open doorways, abandoned pigeon filled basements and broken windows.

We walked along the river front yesterday and looked over to the port houses which we visited today, then climbed up to the cathedral which has the most amazing view over the city.

It is possible to bring a boat into the Douro River, but tricky with currents and shoals.

I’m glad we didn’t try after seeing the boiling water churned up by wind against strongly ebbing tide today.

We wanted to visit Sandeman’s today, as recommended by my lovely sister and brother-in-law. But we got there, took a few photos then were told by a snooty woman that they were all full up for the day, so instead we wandered up the hill to Taylor’s.

As it turned out, they were about to start a tour, which was free, so we sat down to wait and were given two different ports to taste, also free. These were not small glasses, and the day was still fairly young, and it definitely made the tour more enjoyable.

It was very interesting to learn something about port, other than the hard way the next morning with a pounding headache. Taylor’s is the only port house never to have been sold outside the family, the nice tour lady with a spectacular monobrow told us.

Then some of the grown ups on the tour decided to be smart arses and ask questions and we wandered up and down the aisles of barrels, some the size of caravans and four hundred years old.

We bought a couple of bottles for Christmas, which we are somewhat ambitiously going to attempt to bring back by sea with us, without them breaking. Apparently West Country fishermen used to exchange nets with their Portuguese counterparts for port via salt cod, or something, so it seems only appropriate. However, the aftermath of a port spillage in a small boat is a fairly alarming prospect.

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