Day 19 – A wet walk along the coast – Matosinhos to Vila do Conde (22 September, 23.1km, 6 1/4 hours)

The idea of an early start doesn’t really work too well in fancy hotels and big cities. We tried but in a real hotel, you actually have to check out rather than just leave the room key and walk out. That takes time, particularly when you need to get the night desk clerk off his video game and when the hotel computers are broken.  It also takes time to correct the clerk’s math error and make sure you are not being overcharged by 130€. By the time we finally got out the front door, it has started to drizzle and so out came the rain gear. We had only about 600m to the metro station but that would be enough to soak the backpack without a cover. When we do get to the station, the only machine where we can top up our metro card with cash is broken. Begging for someone to give me coins for a 5€ note doesn’t work out so we headed out into the rain to buy a single drink at a café for the change. Finally, we got on the train for the long ride out to Matosinhos to start our walk again where we stopped yesterday. It’s raining even harder when we arrive so after only the 600m to the first train station and 20m from the ending one, we stopped for breakfast. Are we keen or what?  Our 6:00am start turned into an 8:00am start, just like that.

Once we did get walking, we crossed the bridge over the River Leça, headed west for the coast then turned north. With the rain and the whole trail ahead, I wasn’t too keen to walk in the sand like other people do. We stuck to the coastal road at first but when that headed inland, we walked along the boardwalks. This is an alternative way to get out of Porto so I didn’t expect arrows. I was surprised to see some though and I wish I didn’t. We were doing quite fine using Google Maps and common sense. At one point, we caught up to the two fast walking German women who had been quite a distance in front of us.  They had followed the arrows and we used common sense and the free app to catch up to them again. Later though, we made the mistake of following the arrows when they led us out to a trunk road with heavy traffic and really, really bad cobblestone as a road shoulder. As in most parts of Portugal, older roads are paved with cobblestone and this road was no different – at least on the portion that cars drove. On the shoulder where we were supposed to walk though, the cobblestones were laid by a blind, one armed, autistic artist who took great liberties in caring which way the stones were laid. Many seemed to be on an angle so that a point stuck upwards. Why we were taken out of our way to get on to this road from a back rural lane, I will never know.  I suspected that a merchant along the main road had repainted the arrows but I saw no one that would benefit from passing pilgrims there.

After arrival, we stopped at the village church, Igreja Matriz, a 16th century masterpiece. There is probably more gold in there than in Fort Knox. At the time of evening Angelus, there were 40 people praying in church. We don’t get that many for mass on Sundays back home in Baltimore. There are an impressive number of old churches, chapels and alters all over the old areas. Other “must see” things here include the tiny circular/domed chapel in the old quarter (c.1603), the Convent of St. Clara looming over the entrance to town and the Roman aqueduct that brought water to the town. It lasted a lot longer than the one outside Coimbra (which Napoleon’s troops sabotaged about 40 years after the Portuguese built it).

For those following us, note what I said above about ignoring the arrows and guide book.  Use Google Maps and common sense and you will enjoy this stage more. Definitely DO NOT follow the arrows telling you to turn right on Rua do Norteto to the main road just before you hit the Litoral de Vila de Conde Reserve. You should be able to walk along the side of the reserve and easily find arrows after walking less distance on a quieter, safer and more relaxing road. Finally, I’m staying in the Pensao Patarata where a small en-suite room goes for the standard 35€. On the main square, around the corner, is a very good tapas restaurant that has a regular deal of 5 dishes for 12.50€. With olives, bread, a couple of bottles of water, a draft beer, and a tip, the whole dinner was 20€. Not too shabby.

Other than the two German women, I was surprised that I didn’t see more pilgrims until we got to Vila do Conde. Walking around tonight, we saw several others and call me a cynic, but I just saw that there also is a nearby Porto metro station. I hope no pilgrims skipped the portion to Vila do Conde as well as to Matosinhos.

Typical scene from our rainy walk along the coast to Vila do Conde

The massive Convent of St Clara looming over Vila do Conde

A replica of the famous Portuguese caraval

Some of the tile work in the tiny 17th century Capelo do Socorro

Inside Vila do Conde’s  Igreja Matriz.  The large amounts of gold point to the importance of this area in Portugal’s history of exploration.

Part of the 4km aquaduct (c. 1705) that brought water to the convent and town.