Nazaré day 2

Sunday 30 June 2013

On our first morning in Nazaré we tried breakfast in one of the cafés in the Sitio. We ordered a croissant, a coffee, and orange juice and a fresh roll with egg. What arrived on the table bore little resemblance to any of these items. We were learning one of the important lessons of Nazaré: stick to the seafood, which is  done well; everything else is to be avoided.

We took the funicular railway down the hill and walked along the length of the beach in order to get a feel for the “beach culture”. A few things stood out for a couple of curious Australians.

Firstly, it was crowded—no doubt because it was Sunday. But it was also notable how families of several generations played together: there were many grandparents interacting with young grandchildren. You don’t see this as frequently on Australian beaches.

Secondly, a section of the beach had been excised for beach tents that were managed by a collective of women who presided over it in a row of chairs. The tents are set out in ten neat rows; they are simple and colourful, and the only accessories are a privacy curtain so you can get changed on the beach and a few hooks to hang towels on. The tents can be rented by the day, week or month, and they provide shade that makes it possible to stay on the beach the whole day without getting sunburnt, and keep babies on the beach for long periods of time. In Australia, beach shelters are a private affair: you either bring your own shelter or sit in the sun, which is considerably fiercer. If you bring a baby, it will probably be nicely barbecued in an hour or so.

Thirdly we did not see any women sunbaking topless, but there was clearly a fashion for bikinis whose lower half consists of only a thong so slender it is often enveloped completely in the contours that surround it. Taking into consideration the general excellence of Portuguese food and the mass of the average portion size divided by the number of person-miles walked in a period of economic downturn marked by high petrol prices, the topography was astounding. Occasionally I felt compelled to look away for modesty’s sake, but where to avert one’s eyes? We had entered a universe that consisted almost entirely of arcs, globes and impossible parabolic achievements that were offered up to the glow of the sun like the famous beehive domes of the Kimberley region of Australia.

Finally, swimmers tended not to venture far into the water. Most preferred to splash around in the shallows and spend most of their time on the rather gritty sand. We soon discovered the reason for this. The water was about 17°C near the surface—and it was somewhat colder if you cared to dive. So it took a good ten minutes to go numb enough to stay in there happily. Since we are used to the cold waters off the South Coast of New South Wales, we were not put off by the cold. But it was fairly challenging.

During the morning, we wended our way through the Forest of Domes to the end of the main beach, which was marked by a breakwater at the end of which was a pair of diminutive lighthouses, one of which was tipping quixotically into the sea. We then crossed the beach back to the promenade past racks of fish and squid drying in the sun. We searched out the Casa do Santo, a café recommended in the guide book. Here we ordered a plate of cockles and then a plate of black clams in garlic, which we washed down with cold beer. The clams were amazing, and we eagerly soaked up the garlicky juice with bread.

For the afternoon we decided to rent a beach tent, so we approached the women’s collective. The first task was to negotiate a language. Our interlocutor could manage Portuguese and German; we could only manage English and Spanish with a smattering of French. Somewhere in the linguistic mélange a price was agreed and an old woman led us through the sand to a prime piece of real estate near the beach front. She asked us a question which we were unable to interpret, and later returned with a privacy curtain, so we understood retrospectively what the offer was. Susie went for a dip whilst I did some people-watching. Later, Susie slept in the shade of the tent while I swam in the chilly water. Later in the afternoon we sat up and watched Portuguese families having a good time around us. Grandparents helped toddlers find their feet on the sand, and fathers folded sheets of newspaper into hats. There were ball games with mothers, sisters and sons; cream buns for sale; and everywhere those other buns, popping out majestically under slender thongs.

After we had soaked up what turned out to be the last of the fine weather and purchased some groceries from a small store—including some excellent cherries, peaches, and strawberries—we caught the funicular railway back up the hill where Susie continued her siesta and I enjoyed a cold beer as the shadows crept along the beach.

Later in the evening we returned to the restaurant that I had tried out on the first night. The waiter kindly moved us next to one of the windows with a panoramic view of the beach and the ocean. I ordered Dourada (Gilt-head Bream) again, and the waiter returned to the table with a large, fresh fish to check that I was happy with what was on offer. It looked amazing. Susie order the “stuck” fish, which was a variety of seafood barbecued on a long skewer. We shared a pitcher of vinho verde and watched the sun go down over the Atlantic as the stray cats of Nazaré emerged from the shadows.

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