BootsnAll Travel Network

Viana do Castelo, Life on a Ship, National Geographic View

Viana do Castelo was established as a Roman outpost called Diana, at the place where the River Lima meets the Atlantic. It is an elegant, feminine city, rather like New Orleans was before the floods: shops selling tourist crap, glorious old buildings with wrought iron balconies, the river, flowers, churches, and (what New Orleans never had) a bustle of development. Old warehouses are being rebuilt into lofty condos, the statue of “Viana” herself is hidden behind construction cranes, businessmen somewhat less spiffy than those in Porto walk with a spring in their steps. They are swimming in technological transfer, here. A beggar near the train station was mewling his poor-me melody when suddenly an unmistakable ring came from his pocket. He interrupted his cry, pulled out his flip-phone, and in a completely different voice, cheery and upbeat, “Hola!” I´m going to blog a bit more about this city, but I´ve had my epiphany for the moment, and apart from the conversation with the taxi driver who brought me down the hill from St. Luzia, I´ve had no intense encounters, so if you´re having a busy day, you can stop here and check back in another day, perchance for more depth. I´m staying in a hostel on a ship docked on the Lima, and so far the highlight for me was the Atlantic beach at sunset yesterday.

The Gil Eannes (pronounced Jilly-AH-nesh) was built right here at the shipyards in Viana, in 1955. It was a hospital ship sent regularly across the Atlantic to take care of sick and wounded Portuguese fishermen in (of all places!) Newfoundland and Iceland. It kept running till 1973, at which time I guess the Portuguese fishermen had either become Canadian, shipped home, or died. The people of Viana were appalled to hear that their wonderful ship had been sold for scrap, so they rescued it, brought it home, and turned it into a hostel and a museum. Right now I´m in an “individual cabin” (formerly the first doctor´s cabin, and don´t I feel important!) for 15 Euros a night, but tomorrow I move to a dorm (for 8 Euros). I have a porthole next to my bed where, if I stand on the bed, I can see the river traffic and a large parking lot with a huge bronze statue of an explorer in the middle of it. It smells a little moldy, but I can feel the history in the metal walls and the wooden floors; I can imagine being a Portuguese fisherman in frozen Newfoundland with frostbite, the flu, or a wrenched leg, relieved to be able to board this ship, take a bed, and be looked after by doctors who speak my language. The practical aspect is that I feel a little drunk walking down the corridors, and when I get up in the night to pee, the floor shifts under my feet slightly, rocked on the waters. The toilet flushing sounds like a cannon going off, so we residents have come to an unspoken agreement not to flush during the night. The whole experience makes me grin. Unfortunately all visitors are locked out from noon till 6 p.m. for “cleaning.” All they do is make the bed (which I had already made for myself) and empty the trash. I would be happy to do that myself for the privilege of being able to lie down in the heat of the afternoon, and there is no fridge & no breakfast, so the money saved on the room ends up being spent on food, but nevermind. This is the only ship I´ve ever been on, and it rocks. (Sorry, couldn´t help myself.)

Yesterday I was overstimulated, after the stillness of Melgaço, and I did a stupid thing. I walked up to Santa Luzia right after lunch, in the heat of the day, without a hat. I should qualify that by saying that this is not REAL heat. Since I left Leiria and its 104 degree days, I have enjoyed perfect weather in the 70s and 80s F every single day (I think yesterday was 29C, which is about 84F), but walking five kilometers straight uphill was idiotic. I remembered that the Rough Guide I read back in Texas (how many years ago was that?) said that the stairway to St. Luzia is “punishing,” and that it is better to take the road. The author probably meant to take the road BY CAR or taxi. That didn´t occur to me. I went by foot. It took me an hour and a half, and by the time I got to the top, I was pissed with myself. Didn´t I just have this fantastic revelation in Melgaço, that I don´t need to DO so damn much? And then what? The very next day, I slog up five kilometers in order to see the view from the dome at the top of St. Luzia, which the National Geographic, as every guidebook will tell you, declared “the most beautiful panorama in the world.” Well, it is stunning, but I wouldn´t say it has THAT much over Melgaço, except of course the magic of the point where the river meets the sea. I was too tired to walk downhill, so I got a taxi, and on the way down, the taxi driver told me (in Portuguese) that he was born in Viana and would never want to live anywhere else. I told him he is a wise man and it´s a beautiful city. He asked me where I am from. I said the USA. He asked where in the USA, and I confessed near Houston, Texas. “Ah,” he said. “Your Bush comes from Texas. Do you like him?” No, I said, “I don´t want him. Many people in America [I am learning greater subtlety] don´t want him.” The taxi driver was relieved. He told me, “I have driven many Americans, and not one of them likes this man. I never met an American who likes him.” Then I came up with my best Portutuese phrase yet. I said, “Violencia faz violencia.” Violence makes violence. “Yes!” he said, enthusiastically, repeating my phrase, which I did not tell him was a translation from Buddha. “This man Bush makes everyone to hate Americans, and I find when I meet them, I don´t hate them. They are not people who want to kill children in Iraq and Lebanon. Why do they let this man do what he does?” I shook my head sadly, said that it is very sad, very sad, and I don´t know. “I don´t know why we can to permit him to make violence. I don´t know.” He seemed satisfied and refused my tip at the end of our short ride.

Back down in town, I sat in a cafe and had some water and read my tourism office information. I just have to share this wonderfully translated snippet from the Tourism office: “. . . Viana do Castelo´s landscape leans over the Lima river and back on Santa Luzia hill. The sea is also there, offering outstanding colourful sunsets and far blue horizons, as well as the wide open valley, sprinkled with green, ripping the sunrise.” I can´t say much for the sunrise, but I did get some time on the beach yesterday at sunset, and while I wouldn´t say it ripped anything, it gave me great joy. To get to the beach it is necessary either to have a car or to take a ferry. The ferry runs just about every hour thoroughout the day, and from the dome atop St. Luzia I could see that the beach was dotted with about 150 sunbathers, swimmers, and surfers. I waited till the 8 p.m. ferry and rode over to have a picnic (my usual bread and milk) and had the beach COMPLETELY TO MYSELF. Not another person was there for a subtle, cloudy, eventually intensely magenta sunset. The sunset lasted nearly an hour, and by 9 p.m. a few other people had shown up for night fishing. I got the 10 p.m. ferry back to my Ship and fell into a welcome sleep.

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One response to “Viana do Castelo, Life on a Ship, National Geographic View”

  1. stephenbrody says:

    Talking about a Roman outpost, the Rio Lima was supposed to be the Lethe, the Water of Forgetfulness. Have a drink of that and your troubles should all be over!

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