Viana Do Castello (14th - 16th September 2008)

Viana Do Castello was new to Selma and I and well worth the visit. We were welcomed into our first Portugese marina as if we were long lost friends of the harbour master. The marina is tiny with next to no visitor spaces and despite our diminutive stature there were no berths available. We volunteered to stay on the waiting pontoon outside the marina but our new friend was having none of it. 'You are very very small ... very small ... it would be very dangerous out here for such a small boat, at one stage I thought he was going to ask how we possibly got there but he didn't, he simply relocated a police launch to make way for us and a few minutes later we were all snugged up in Portugal.

Viana Do Castello is a typical Portugese town with the wonderful blend of old churches, squares and fountains with totally out of place, modern, EEC funded public facilities which don't quite operate as intended all wrapped up with lovely weather and an overiding waft of raw sewage ... it really is our kind of town.

Portugal's idiosyncracies were illustrated by the marina facilities. Our mate showed us the enormous shower block which was quite fantastic, everything you could possibly want ... showers, loos, washing machines, driers ... the works. Unfortunately there was only 4 keys so for access you had to track the harbourmaster down and the lone key was then handed over with great ceremony ... Selma popping up to the loos for a quick pee was definitely not on the agenda. The picture got even better because when we did borrow the key almost all of the facilities were out of order with the exception of one shower in the ladies and one in the gents. Still one was better than none so girls and
boys shared. It was not until we were fully lathered up .. and I mean fully lathered up (Jack looked like a mini abomnible snowman) that another little quirk of the marina struck ... the hot water simply stopped. At the best of times I am a bit of a softy when it comes to cold but quite frankly compared to Jack I'm a superhero. We both stood there to consider the problem and then stood there a little longer and a bit longer; in fact our prevarication was such that just before we were going to risk hypothermia and jump under the cold shower the hot water returned. It transpired that the hot water alternated between the Gents and the Ladies ... absolutely classic Portugal and really great fun, once I'd got the froth off.

Lessons continued and Selma decided that one of them should be Capn John teaching navigation. The kids were sent the challenge of using the tourist map to track round the town; in truth they did a better job than either Selma or I. A notable spot that we visited was the Church of Santa Lucia which is located on the top of a hill overlooking Viana. The church is pretty spectacular but the view from the church is breathtaking and was quoted by National Geographic as one of the best panoramic views in the world; it certainly looked pretty good to us.

From Viana we took the 40 minute train ride down to Oporto which is a real favorite in the area. A free tour of a porthouse plus free sampling (all port comes from Oporto) was essential so we made for the hill on the side of the River Douro where all the port houses are located and visited Taylors. The kids were surprisingly interested in the process and slipped down half a glass each; well recived by Jack but less popular with Ella, still plenty of time yet. The history of port is a great tale and shows that some good can come from the taxman. The creation of port was stimulated when the taxes on French and Spanish wine were artificially increased due to our not being too chummy with said countries at the time. This made Portugese wine a bit of a bargain. The trouble was that it didn't travel very well so they whacked a drop of brandy in to help the wine last and hey presto ... port.

The sites in Porto are too many to mention but personal favourites are the fish feeding frenzy at the raw sewage discharge point in the Douro and the Eiffel Bridge which transfers pedestrians, trains and cars across the same river. Either way the sights, smells and culture of Portugal are unforgettable.

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