Monday, 1 November 2010

In Portugal – 1

So here we are in Figueira da Foz on the coast of Portugal about half way between Lisbon and Oporto. According to Wikipedia it has 46,600 inhabitants, making it the biggest city in the Coimbra district. The name means Fig Tree at the Mouth of the River, a very Red Indian sounding name in my opinion. No-one seems to know how it got the name but there are various legends about a fig tree that fishermen used to tie their boats to, an idea that seems plausible enough. It has been very popular with surfers and presumably still is, judging by the surf rolling in. In 1996 the World Surfing Championships took place here. This is the stuff that makes places famous!

Figueira da Foz also has a
HUGE sandy beach, with long, long, long boardwalks taking you out to the sea, about a five-minute walk by all accounts. The beach is said to be about three kilometres long. I can believe that.

Now, I grew up in
Southport on the west coast of England and have long suffered people making jokes about how you can’t find the sea there. Well, this beach makes Southport beach look rather small. Mind you, on a day like today with a strong wind blowing you could never comment that you can’t see the sea. You can hear it before you see it and then there are huge breakers rolling in; the Atlantic is just a bit different from the Irish Sea.

Well, we went restaurant hunting yesterday, one of our favourite occupatio
ns, and ended up at Caçarola II, just across the way from the casino where my Phil is playing chess this week. We had been misled in our research because the internet had thrown up Caracola, which I assumed meant The Snail. Instead we found ourselves at The Saucepan and very nice its contents were too, not the most spectacular we have ever eaten but good wholesome stuff.

Now, we have been told many times that in Portugal they put nibbly stuff on the table while you order and then while you wait for
your actual meal to turn up. Naïve customers are lulled into thinking this is rather like the free tapas you get in some parts of Spain. Then the bill arrives and there are the “free tapas” itemised and charged to you. (They talk about Spanish practices; Portuguese practices need some comment as well!) Anyway, we knew this but we decided to go ahead and eat the stuff anyway.

The bill, when it came, was like this:-

2 paté atun 2.40

1 mexilhão vinagrete 5.50

1 azeitonas 0,80
1 cesto pão 1.50

2 caldeiradas 14.00

1 agua ½ litro 1.25

1 ½ vinho branco casa 2.90

2 café 1.80

Total – 30,15.

The first three items were the false freebies, leading us the conclude that if you stick to the simple things like olives you’ll not pay too much but you should avoid anything fancy like mussels. But the mussels were VERY nice! Then they charge for bread which I think is a bit poor, but it’s standard practice here (and in some places I’ve been in Spain, mostly would-be up-market places) and for the mineral water. €1,25 for a bottle that costs about €0,22 in the supermarket is a bit much and I know loads of places in Vigo that just give it you free because they can’t be bothered to fill a jug from the tap. But the main course, caldeirada de peixe, a kind of fish stew only cost €7 per serving and was very good.

I’m not really such a stingy, tight-fisted Northwest of Englander that I want to complain about the price. €30,15 for lunch for two people is very good value. It’s just that I know of so many places in Galicia that do a menu del día with three courses AND wine AND coffee for under €10 per person AND throw in a bottle of water or even in one place we know a free chupito as well. And, yes, we will be eating in Caçarola II again, probably trying out Caçarola I just around the corner as well.

So that’s it for the start of my stay at Figueira da Foz. Oh, and the chessplayer won his round 1 game! Watch this space for more fact-filled Figueira fancies!

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