Wednesday, 3 November 2010

In Portugal – 3

Sunshine in Figueira all day yesterday and today. Tomorrow the sun is forecast to shine again with minimum temperature 15° and maximum 24°. You can’t complain about that. I have even walked barefoot on the sand.

Yesterday we
walked along the promenade to nearby Buarcos. On the map it’s supposed to be the next small town down the coast but in reality it is just an extension of Figueira itself. We were looking for o castelo, the castle. We saw the signs for it, followed them and then walked past it without realising we had done so. On reflection, of course, the huge wall we walked past was what remained of the fortaleza. It’s just that there was no kind of notice saying “You have arrived at the castle” or anything like that. I also realised that this castelo was what I had seen in an old photograph on the wall of the restaurant Forte Santa Catarina, except that in that photo the beach went all the way up to the walls.

Now there is a fairly fast coast road, piles of rocks shoring up the seawards side and a variety of little cafes and ice cream sellers closer to the beach. The main bit of Buarcos, however, looks as though it’s not changed a great deal over the years. The houses look much the same as they did in that photo I saw, just slightly modernised and nicely maintained. On either side – the Figueira side and then beyond Buarcos in the opposite direction – high rise blocks have sprung up, to nothing like the extent of what has happened on the Spanish costas but still fairly tall modern buildings. Central Buarcos by contrast seems relatively unspoilt.

Just before the spot where th
e more modern building starts is the cemetery, undoubtedly marking what used to be the edge of town. Little old ladies were returning from the cemetery: black skirts, black stockings, black shawls, like characters from another age or extras from an Almodóvar film. Maybe they had not finished cleaning up the family graves on All Saints Day and needed a little extra time.

Just next door to the cemetery we found Lidl and, not having yet found a small supermarket open, we popped in to replenish the chessplayer’s supplies of chocolate and stock of paper handkerchiefs and a few other things. I had been looking forward to shopping somewhere a little less impersonal to try out my Portuguese again, but you can’t have everything. It’s a little odd for me to be in a country where I don’t have complete mastery of the language, especially one which in so many ways is similar to Spain, where I feel completely at home.

And in
some ways it is just the same. On Sunday and Monday, those days being part of the ponte/puente for All Saints, there were the same stalls set up on street corners selling sugar-filled “treats” for children to pester their parents about: the same donuts, packets of soggy popcorn, chupa chup lollies and such. On the corner near the casino where the chess tournament is going on there is a little stall selling roasted chestnuts, just like there is on Príncipe, back in Vigo; it’s that time of year again. There’s even an obligatory beggar hanging around outside the casino, sidling up to passersby with his had extended.

e even found a fishermen’s statue to remind me of the one at the bottom of Vigo’s Gran Vía. And you can buy your stamps in tobacconists just as in Spain and France. They do have these red pillar boxes for posting your letters into though!

And then the written language is so much like Spanish that I have no difficulty with most of the notices. Consequently it’s something of a trial to have to stop and think about what I want to say when I buy something, order a meal or ask my way around. It reminds me of those long distance phone calls you used to make where you said your bit and then waited just long enough to be aware of a pause before the reply came through
. That’s what my Portuguese is like: I listen, my brain processes it and eventually the reply comes out.

But I am making progress and manage to make myself understood and in return understand about half of what is said to me. Most importantly, I am managing to order food and drink.

Yesterday we went for lunch to a restaurant called Núcleo Sportinguista de Figueira. It’s a bright and airy glass and metal structure at the front of a kind of sports club with metal tables and chairs set in rows, almost like a canteen. Service is brisk but friendly. The main thing about this place is that it offers the possibility to eat as much as you can for €7.50.

The price includes starters, main courses and fruit but not dessert of any other kind, drinks or coffee. So no worries about being overcharged for what they put on the table when you sit down; that’s your starter, in this case salad and a dish with beans and some kind of cold fish. They have a list of dishes they regularly serve but not all are available every day. We fancied
arroz com mariscos (shellfish rice) and grilled sea bream, neither of which was being served yesterday. So instead we went for lulas, translated as squid but in this case "baby" squid, what the Spanish call chipirones, and arroz de polvo (rice with octopus). Huge amounts of both of these arrived and we were quite happy with them. I’m not at all sure how anyone could eat more than one dish; you would have to be very hungry or very greedy.

When the bill arrived it was for the grand total of €18, that’s €15 for the food and the rest was for wine, water and coffee. So they are not putting a huge mark-up on drinks either. A half bottle of very acceptable wine cost us €1.50. Very good value indeed.

And then today we located one that was recommended on a website:
A Gaivota – the seagull. (Linguistic note: I have been heard to say rather facetiously that Gallego is a little like dyslexic Spanish. The same seems to apply to Portuguese; the seagull in Castellano is la gaviota. Just shuffle the letters around!) It was in a back street fairly close to the estuary, just a small place with check tablecloths and a fair number of obviously local people eating there – always a good sign.

Their menu offered a choice of
panadinho de frango or some kind of fish whose name I could not even read. The first was clearly something with chicken but there was none left, so we never found out exactly what and opted instead for the unidentified grilled fish. This was very acceptable, served up with boiled potatoes (are we back in Galicia?) and salad and with a small side dish of herby sauce to put on the fish. This time we ventured into the home-made desserts as well: doce da casa for me – something pleasant with cold custard and meringue - and tarta de something for Phil, a sort of cheesecake again featuring meringue. It was all very good and came to a grand total of €13, including coffee. Extremely good value and the owner/waitress was very friendly.

So that’s another couple of the restaurants on our list ticked off. We should have managed all of them, and a few that don’t appear there as well, by the end of the week.

Last note: walking back form the chess venue this evening (current score 2 out of 4) I saw a notice in a small take-away restaurant. It said
Domingo: Cozido à portuguesa. Now if that’s not cocido – Galician pork and greens stew - I’ll eat my hat! Did I mention that there are rather a lot of similarities?

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