Portugal has been a mixed bag so far. Wonderful, warm people, always trying to help, who sound like they are speaking Russian to my English ear.
But the two largest cities, Lisbon and Porto, coupled with the location of the marinas in those cities has been a disappointment. I know I should know better. My mantra over the years to anyone who will listen is to always avoid the large cities of Europe if your goal is to really see the culture and people of any given country.
Doesn’t matter if you are in Ireland or Italy,
Dublin and Rome are more about the tourists and their expectations than the locals. This became even more evident last year in the Baltic. I saw the same tourists in Helsinki, Stockholm, Copenhagen and Tallinn. Between Ryan Air and the high speed ferries, they transport the same group from city to city. And the effect is that the food and expectations in those places start to look more and more the same.
Much like the street fairs of NYC. They used to be a celebration of the neighborhood in which they were located: Italian in Little Italy, Greek in Astoria, Polish in Greenpoint, etc. But about 20 years ago, the City in a move to further commercialize, tax and regulate, increased the number.
Looked good on paper to the politician’s, probably even looked good to the clueless who just arrived in the City from the hinterland, but to New Yorker’s, the damage was done. We now have the exact same vendors every week in different parts of the City. New York, known as a city of neighborhoods, is becoming a city of Blahness. Every place you look looks the same.
OK, moving on.
The above is why I have not written a blog post in the last week. Oh, I’ve written plenty of drafts, I’ve started at least four. But they have all digressed to a point in which even I don’t see the point.
So, ignoring my own advice, since getting to Portugal, Dauntless and I have spent 90% of our time in Porto and Lisbon. And both marinas have been relatively expensive ($45 per day) and a half dozen miles from the
town’s center. People have been wonderful, especially in Porto, where the marina people made me really feel at home and we managed to make a number of new friends.
Now Porto does have different feel than Lisbon, but still.
So, when I found out about a little marina about 20 miles upriver from Lisbon, I jumped at the chance. The home of my new found friend Diogo (the star of another blog that’s yet to be published), Vila Franca de Xira, has been a wonderful little spot.
On the river, attached to a little park and only minutes away from town, it’s like being home; and I just got here.
Numerous cafes, European bars, simple restaurants and an indoor market, full of fish, meat, poultry, vegetables and fruit stalls, it’s the kind of place that makes Europe, Europe.
Very few people speak English, I get by with my few words of Portuguese, a little more Spanish and when desperate some Italian. The other day, for my main meal, which is early afternoon, when the waiter asked my desire, I just pointed to a nearby table and made the international sign for “everything he is eating and drinking”. That sign by the way is waving one hand in a big circle, while smiling foolishly and saying, “Si” (yes).
It worked and ended up with my normal 375 ml white wine, a mixed salad (tomatoes, onion and some lettuce, salt, pepper, oil and vinegar) and a half dozen little flat fishes.
Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water.
Schengen, that wonderful scheme that allows open borders from the bottom of Greece all the way to the top of Norway. The only European countries NOT in the Schengen area are England, Scotland, Ireland (one of the reasons I kept the boat there), Turkey, Russia and perhaps Croatia.
Everyone else, Schengen (drum roll please).
Now the rules are relatively simple, 90 days allowed for every 180 days. So if you stay 90 days, you must leave and not return until 90 more days have passed. Arriving my air, from a non-Schengen country (all the rest of the world plus the U.K and Ireland) as you pass through immigration, they stamp your passport.
When you leave, they look for the entry stamp and stamp you out. If you have overstayed your 90 days, then the penalty will depend up on the person checking you out and probably most importantly, what side of the bed they got out of that morning.
The penalty for over-staying, a big red stamp in your passport banning you from any Schengen area country for three years. Now with a boat in Europe that would throw a monkey wrench into the works. So that’s a fate I would like to avoid.
Now the rules for boats differ slightly. From what I have been able to determine and am still not 100% sure since I get told different things by different people all the time, boats and those who enter the country on them are treated as they have always been treated. Presumably this means that they treat the boat as always leaving and entering, so theoretically, I should check in at every port of entry in each country.
So while I am diligent, I also don’t like wasting my time. Last year, I traveled by boat through 15 countries. Only in one, the Netherlands, did anyone what to see my passport let alone stamp it. In fact, there was clearly an aversion to stamp anything.
That’s what happened a few weeks ago in France. The Customs people came by the boat, to check its papers and to make sure I had not overstayed the 18-month limit on boats and payment of the Value Added Tax (VAT) which is about 21%. Not chump change, as we said in the day.
They French Customs, checked my USCG Document, and the most important document of all, the original port of entry into the European Union (EU) that took place in August 2014 in the Azores. Now the Dutch in their vigilance, had given me another form. This one based on my August 2014 entry into the EU had an area for a stamp when I left the EU. They also told me that they would enter the information into the big brother computer in Brussels.
Last September (2015) I duly got that form stamped while in Norway to prove that Dauntless had left the EU. Unlike the rules for people and immigration, the customs rules for things and VAT are totally different and separate. But I knew it was a big deal, so I ran around Norway, well maybe not the whole country, but the little city of Kristianstad, where I found a bemused customs agent to stamp my form for me. Did he want a copy? No. Did he want to stamp my passport? No.
Since I have been living this for the last three years, just to clarify, the Schengen Area and the EU are totally DIFFERENT administrative areas. The former is for people and latter for things. Dauntless only had to be out of the EU for one day to reset the 18-month clock.
Now fast forward to France a few weeks ago. The French were very nice and easy going. I had the forms, they gave me another one, presumably to document that Dauntless was back in the EU and they went on their merry way.
But no, sorry, they could not stamp my passport. That was the job of the immigration people, who seem to only hang out at the airport.
OK I figured I get it stamped sooner or later,
So being the diligent little cruiser that I am, I had attempted to get our passports stamped while in Porto. But upon arriving at the office in the middle of town, it looked like the latest refuge boat had just docked. There were hundreds of people on line. I decided to take my chances on the next town.
Figueira da Foz was that place.
When I walked into the Immigration office, no lines, no waiting, a nice reception. The Portuguese Immigration Agent was duly summoned and I explained the problem in my “English for Foreigners” talk.
He had a colleague who was more fluent and that helped the situation. But it was obvious that he did not understand why I was all the way down here and had not gotten my passport stamped in France or even Spain or even Porto.
I put on my best Please Help Me look and hoped for the best.
He then took my documents and went back to his office to have a conversation first with his colleague and then on the telephone with a couple of people. Now I do wish I understood a modicum of Portuguese, though while my reading is almost usable, the sounds they make are hard for my language challenged brain to decipher.
In less than 10 minutes he emerged telling me he had stamped our passports, but he wanted to come to the boat to check my other two guests (they havening just arrived only days ago had their entry stamp so I had decided I did not need to also bring their passports.
He verified their passport information and that was that. I thanked him and he left.
A number of observations and reflections:
Had I not been flying out of Spain or Portugal at the end of September, I would not have bothered.
Last year’s cruise and now this one demonstrate that while a uniform rule is made in Brussels for the EU and Luxemburg for Schengen, counties in general, and marinas specifically, don’t want to hassle boaters.
Lastly, one of the biggest issues is that every agent I’ve spoken to in the last two years is convinced that every office, every agent, every country does it just as they do. It’s simple, the rule covers everyone and therefore everyone is doing the same thing.
Well, the simple fact is that the situation is exactly the opposite. Every country seems to have different interpretations of the same rule. And within countries there is not even a sandcasting of procedures. Thus, when I say, the French did not want to stamp my passport, I get a look like I have two heads.
So today’s mission was successful because unlike in the past, I knew not to tell them what they could not comprehend.
I will also add that in the plus two years Dauntless has been in Europe, having stopped in 100 cities and towns and over 15 countries, my contacts with Customs, Immigration or even just Maritime Police, were rare, only about a half dozen times and each and every time, the officers were kind, friendly and efficient. They have always asked to come aboard and always ask if they need to take off their boots (I always say it’s unnecessary).
In terms of rules and regulations, cruising in Europe could not be easier with less histrionics than I have observed in the States.
By the way, did you notice the similarity between Schengen and Shenanigan? As I’ve said before, I don’t believe in coincidences!
As I have discovered talking to Alvaro and Ana at the Marina do Freixo, Porto, aka Oporto, it is actually Porto. It seems the English, or most likely one Englishman, upon hearing the Portuguese say “do Porto” as in I am of Porto, the English combined the article with the noun, thus “Oporto” was born.
In any case, it’s Porto.
Porto, Portugal, as we know, if only for the strong wine that originates in this region.
First, let me say that in the first day, I discovered a cornucopia of “port” wines that were both red and white in a spectrum of sweetness.
Which just goes to show you, even when you think you have seen everything, like most New Yorkers, you only know the sliver the marketers, want you to see.
I had a wonderful lunch, for me dinner, at the Jimao, 11 Praça da Ribeira. The four small plates I had were as good as I have had in Europe: sardines on toast, morcella and apples, pig cheeks and I ended with panna cotta and a glass of “port” that was not so sweet and more like a rose. These were washed down with a vinho verde, a tinto (red from the region) and a “port” that was almost a rose. All perfect accompaniments.
As I meandered back to Dauntless, about 1 mile up river from downtown, I thought about how fortunate I am.
No matter what travails I have had in the past months, the reality is, I am sitting in my own boat on the River Douro in Porto listening to a classical radio station and writing this blog.
I eat well; drink better and if I had a lament, it’s nice to share great times, adventures, eating and drinking with someone who appreciates the same.
But am I suffering? Please.
As I took the bus back to Dauntless, a picturesque ride along the river, I noticed the dozens of fisherman along the river bank.
Like my father, who would go surf casting on Long Island, these fishermen (and some women) certainly enjoy fishing, but like most before them for the last eon, they also appreciated that what they caught was “meat” on the table and it was free. These aren’t sport fisherman with million dollar boats spending more on fuel and beer than their catch would ever pay for. No, these are real people, doing what humans have done for hundreds of thousands of years.
And now they have the luxury of being able to pass their time in a way both fruitful and enjoyable.
And like most Americans, just trying to get by as best they can.
In every port we have stopped, not a day goes by without someone mentioning our upcoming presidential election. Not a day. My nephews have remarked on this; coming from places in the U.S. where evidently no one they talk with talks about such things. Instead in Europe, Europeans always talk about politics, be it the government of the month or the world as they see it.
Trump is mentioned is the same way one talks about the latest disaster, with a certain gleam in their eye, knowing just the name will bring a reaction: “Did you see that train wreak last week, how could the Italians have two trains on the same track? What about that tsunami, a quarter million washed out to sea!”
What does one respond? “Yes, it will certainly be a speculator train wreak. I have tickets for the first row. I’d be glad to trade them for a few rows further back”. “Oh, I understand. You have to give your cat a bath that day.”
Just like in America, Trump certainly has his admirers, especially in Ireland. Oh those rebels. Europeans are fed up with politicians just like most Americans, but Europeans also have a better view of reality. They see Trump for what he is.
So their conversation really revolves around the theme of “how is it possible you have such poor choices?” The non-politician who pays no taxes versus the professional politician who only pays taxes on those monies given to her for her political favors.
But Europeans respect the USA in ways that can not be appreciated unless ones spends time outside the USA. Those same people who lament our choices, also know that we are strong, don’t put up with BS very long, so will vote the bum out in four years.
Most Americans are just like the fisherman along the river. They are just trying to get by and do what’s best for their families.
Our problem is that our elected leaders don’t have the same priorities.
Summer weather in western Spain and Portugal has the large high pressure area centered west of the Iberian Peninsula over the Azores. It’s called the Azores High.
The fair weather allows a lot of sun, heating up the interior of the peninsula and causing the formation of a so called “heat Low”. That is an area of low pressure caused my intense heating of the ground. Hot air rises, air must flow into this area on the surface to replace the air that is rising. Thus the typical pattern of converging air at the surface, a low [pressure area.
Now, with a Low to the East and a High to the west, we in between are caught in the winds caused by this pressure gradient. Thus as the day gets hotter, the low gets stronger and the winds therefore must increase.
These afternoon winds, hot and dry, then make the numerous forest fires now burning pretty much unmanageable. Last night was the worst here in the last three days since we have been in Baiona. The winds stayed strong all night, keeping the fires going, thus it was smoky all night.
Rinsed Dauntless off this morning, ash is everywhere.
Now this problem is exacerbated by the fact as told to me in broken Spanish and English that the problem in Spain is most of the fires are purposely set and the fire fighters are on strike. Thus the government plan seems to be to wait until winter and the rainy season.
So later this afternoon we will pull out and head south to Portugal. There they have even more fires burning, but I think they are at least trying to put them out.
Winds died down again, so after a few hours we decided to anchor in the harbor of A Guarda. A very small harbor just north of the border.
As we pulled into he very small harbor, a Spanish flagged catamaran suggested we anchor a few hundred feet ahead of him and we did do with less drama than usual.
Of course, the best part of anchoring is being in your cabin, half asleep, when you feel the boat starting to move as the winds picked up. So at midnight, up again, check everything, we have turned around, but had not dragged anchor.
In fact, we’ve never dragged anchor since I got rid of the CQR and replaced it with a 55# Delta. That’s thanks to Parks (or was it the cat) at Hopkins-Carter in Miami, who convinced me the Delta was as good as any more modern anchor.
But being in a dark cabin, felling the boat movement, if even at anchor, it is easy to convince oneself that the boat is heading out to sea or to land at 20 knots.
Doesn’t matter that Dauntless couldn’t go 20 knots over Niagara Falls.
No, your mind can convince you of anything.
So, seeing all was in order, I went back to bed.
That lasted 10 minutes, until I heard another thump.
Up again, now, I released I had to put the snubber on (when we had anchored the winds were calm).
Though the winds stayed up, the snubber sis it’s job and we pretty much stayed still other than the usual rocking and rolling. By early morning though the smoke was again obvious, so we pulled out into a very hazy, smoky landscape.
As we turned south to Porto, the Atlantic became almost flat, as the winds once again died down and went northerly at 6 knots.
Tonight, I will tie to a dock; Porto or is it Oporto?