Nazare is a lovely sun-drenched town with blindingly white houses, about half-way between Porto and Lisbon, on the Atlantic coast. I walked around smiling the entire time of my two night stay here. I had booked an extremely cute AirBnB apartment - decked out in marine colours with nautical ornaments and a balcony that directly fronted the Atlantic Ocean. From my lounge, it was very relaxing to watch people walking on the beach, dwarfed by the monster waves that are a feature of Nazare. The world record for the highest wave ever surfed was achieved near Nazare by a Brazilian surfer in 2018 - an astounding 24m high, equivalent to an 8-storey building. These extreme waves are due to an underwater canyon a few km offshore that accentuates their height. This is not a beach for any swimming and all day there were patrol buggies that drove up and down the sand making sure that no one entered the water.
When I was here 24 years ago in May 1995, I watched the fishermen bringing in fresh catches of sardines. Apparently the main season here for sardines is May and June, so I’m a little early this time around. However, sadly, I’m not sure whether the fishermen still go out on this stretch of coast. I went to an excellent new museum that seemed to suggest that fishing was no longer part of the local culture. However, I did see women drying fish on the seashore, so I’m not really sure. I also saw many older women in traditional costume - heavy knitted socks, colourful shawls - in the local food market and on street corners, advertising rooms for rent.
My other funny story about the locals was chatting and waving three times to ‘my’ taxi driver, Manuel, a gnarled older man. He took me from the bus station to my hotel on the first day. As it’s a small town, and the taxi drivers congregate in the same location, I kept on running into him. He would wave, point me in the directon of the market, and otherwise communicate with sign language and a few words of Portuguese. My Italian language skills, together with one month of Duolingo Portuguese, are allowing me to read signs in the street, decipher menus and speak a few basic phrases. My most useful Portuguese phrase when shopping is to say that I don’t need a plastic bag!
I took the funicular up the cliffs of Nazare to get a great view of the town and promontory. Here’s another photo of me, squinting in the brilliant sunshine. The church and bandstand pictured were up on the cliffs above Nazare. And, finally, a lovely sunset over Nazare beach.
After Nazare, I had three nights in Lisbon and will return here for a further three nights after Madeira. While I found Porto immediately enchanting, the crowds and sprawling size of Lisbon make it less walkable (which for me is one of the joys of wandering serendipitously). Lisbon required me to come to grips with an excellent, but initially, complex public transport system to visit some of the major sights. I started with the relatively easy metro system, moved onto the gothic Elevator de Santa Justa, progressed to a few of the ascensors (fixed track, steep tram type rides), rode the historic trams through the Alfama, Baixa and Chiado districts and finally progressed to the bus network to visit the fabulous Azulejos (tiles) museum. There are two private transport modes that I did not use - the tuk-tuks (useful for the steep hills in most of Lisbon) and electric scooters that can be picked up and dropped off anywhere in the city (similar to our bike rental schemes in Melbourne). The great thing about public transport in Lisbon is that all the different modes can be used with a Myki style card that you can top up and which offers substantial discounts to buying single rides, particularly on the tourist dominated elevator and ascensors which take people up and down the steepest hills in Lisbon. So I feel quite proud of having ‘worked out’ Lisbon and will return better equipped to take advantage of my last few days here.
Undoubtedly, the other factor that contributed to my growing appreciation of Lisbon was an excellent three hour, personal walking tour I did with a local - Carlos, the self-titled ‘philosopher for happiness’. We walked and trammed through the Alfama district; he showed me street art and telephone boxes that are now being used as little book libraries; we walked past some intimate fado music bars and ended up the tour in the oldest continuously operating bookstore in the world, where Carlos explained and read to me poetry by one of the leading Portuguese poets, Pessoa. As we had both spent time in Brazil, we talked quite a lot about Brazil, the rise of nationalism in various European countries and many other topics - a very engaging and informative guide.
I arrived safely last night in Funchal, the capital of the island of Madeira. I hadn’t realised when planning this trip that Funchal airport is rated as one of the most dangerous airports in which to land due to its topography and weather. Perhaps, unfortunately, I happened to see an air safety type show on TV while I was staying in Lisbon that featured Funchal airport. It has a short runway and strong winds, so that planes sometimes drop rapidly and then make sideways movements to get back on course to land on the runway. As we were approaching, the pilot told us that we were just within maximum allowable wind tolerances (they often have to pull out of landings and circle), so he would attempt to land. It wasn’t as bad as I had expected, but we all clapped in heartfelt appreciation at the safe arrival!