Friday, October 5, 2012

Portugal Day 2 - Fish, whether they be salted, butchered or mammals

Up at 6.30 for a dawn shoot at Comporta beach, but it was not to be. The dawn came and went with nary a by-your-leave which I thought was most ungrateful, seeing as Father and I had made a special effort to greet it. I got a few shots off in the vain hope that they might turn out OK, but soon enough we had packed up and trundled back to the house for some croissants and coffee to assuage our restless disappointment. But that betrayal by the sun, that huge, blistering bastard in the sky, was soon forgotten as we motored to Tróia for our date with those aqueous clowns of the sea and their terrifyingly benign smiles, just like real clowns in fact, but without the red noses, tiny cars and tragic alcoholism.

As you can see there was a bit of colour in the sky but not a great deal
This is one of those 'why not' shots, it's just a cloudy sky but why not take a picture of it anyway?
As we had a coffee whilst waiting for the catamaran to arrive, that would take us out to their ocean playground, we had a stroll around the complex that has been built on this peninsula. I thought to myself about the land jutting into the Sado Estuary from the Lower Alentejo region, and how Tróia was first settled by the Phoenicians and later served as the Roman fishing and fish-preserving centre of Cetobriga from 1 AD, until it was destroyed by an earthquake in 412. As I ruminated on this I remembered that those same ruins were still visible, and have yielded many important finds, which made it all the more exciting that we were going to see the largest Roman fish salting plant in Europe that very afternoon. And it’s not often you can say that.

But where we walked certainly wasn’t ancient, towered over by the Tróia Design Hotel and casino next door, it was nothing if not striking. Though not the easiest resort to build however as construction had to be abandoned when it was discovered that the entire area was unstable and actually sinking, which is not a good look for any resort, the hotel itself was the subject of major preventative work upon completion when it started to pitch alarmingly, and for a while looked like it was going to topple, so to speak, the Leaning Tower of Pisa for most rakishly angled building.

But that is all a thing of the past, fingers crossed, as it now, along with being the very definition of vertical, boasts stylish decking, trendy cafes and restaurants that line the promenade at street level, although they were somewhat marred by the incongruous inclusion of a kebab shop bang in the middle, which was puzzling to say the least, but fair play to them, even at 10 am it was open and ready for business. How popular kebabs are at this time in the morning is, I think, open to debate, but I admired their optimism, if not their cuisine.

Once on the boat it was a case of shoot, shoot, shoot, with the camera I hasten to add, we were not on a hunting expedition, although it would’ve soon wiped the infuriating smiles off their beaming faces if we were. But to give them their due, they gamboled and frolicked for all their worth and I was soon racing through my memory cards trying to keep up with their water-logged antics.

This fella seemed to be blowing a raspberry at us by the look of that air bubble
If you want to see more of these blow hole beauties then you can check them out here (you will need to log in to Facebook to view them)

A rather minimalist view of Troia from the boat as we headed back to shore
The chimneys of this petrol refinery under low cloud looked quite picturesque
Instead of getting the boat back to Tróia we hopped off at Setúbal so we could have a look around this interesting city. Yet again I was drawn to cogitate upon the history of this land and how Setúbal dates back prior to the Roman period. Across the Rio Sado on the lagoon side opposite the town, as I have already mentioned, is the Penínsular de Tróia. On the inland side of this Peninsular are the semi-submerged ruins of the Roman town of Cetóbriga, see earthquake mention earlier, and the very same largest Roman fish salting plant in Europe we were looking forward to visiting very that afternoon. And as I have may have mentioned before, it’s not often you can say that. Although as I have now mentioned it twice, perhaps it can be said more often than I thought.

After disembarking we headed straight to the central market, where we were presented with a cornucopia of natural produce, rows upon rows of fresh fruit and vegetables, all colours, sizes and shapes, but as attractive as they were it was not these that had drawn us, it was the fish that held court for us this morning. We were not disappointed, there were so many variations, many I had never seen before, it was like visiting Sea World, but with all the species laid out on slabs, and dead.

So it was like visiting a Sea World that was run by a deranged lunatic whose only means of venting his frenzied mania was to butcher, dismember and eviscerate anything remotely piscine, then lay out the defiled remains on marble alters as a perverted exaltation to madness. But on the plus side, once these animals had been at the receiving end of such an outrage, they were very interesting to look at, and of course good to eat. So all’s well that ends well.

Except for the fish.

Snapped on my phone, these unfortunate beasts may have met their fate at the hands of a maniac but they certainly looked appetising 
After that it was time to wander the streets in the old part of the city, and as Setúbal is one of the oldest cities in Portugal, those streets are indeed pretty old. Although the place now has a population of around 120,000 people, boasts Portugal’s third largest port and has been on the receiving end of some less than stellar large scale construction in recent years, its old quarter is still a joy to wander around. With small, labyrinthine streets, sporting boutique shops, intimate cafés or grand old buildings with a pleasant air of faded glory about them, before leading to charming squares housing little churches or monuments, there is plenty to see.

Looking down through one of the city gates (gate not included)
Looking up towards one of the city gates (gate included)
So after visiting a coffee shop that has been grinding its own beans for the best part of 75 years and purchasing a few bags to take home, we took luncheon in one of the many cafes that line the main square where, with my post meal coffee, I indulged in a Portuguese tart, or Pastel de Nata, the origin of which is thought to be from before the 18th century, when created by Catholic monks near Lisbon (I’m talking here about Portuguese tarts in general, not the particular one I was eating). During Portuguese medieval history, the convents and monasteries of Portugal produced large quantities of eggs, whose egg-whites were in demand for the starching of clothes (such as nuns' habits) among other uses, so with an excess of egg yolks to contend with, what else could they do but create puddings with them? And I for one was very glad they did.

We then left to get the ferry back to Tróia except that we missed it, so we went and got another coffee, which is never a bad thing as the coffee so far had been excellent, not a bad cup among them, which always pleases me. So once we’d managed to actually get the ferry and reunite ourselves with the car we drove to the local Roman Ruins, the aforementioned largest fish salting plant in Europe, which was very exciting, right up until the point we got to the entrance gate, and discovered it was closed.

Turns out they were doing some restoration work which meant it would be closed from that Thursday, which was slightly mystifying for us as it was only Tuesday. So after checking the opening times, which categorically stated that it was fully open for business that day, we could do nothing else but get back in the car and glide gracefully away as I permitted myself a rye smile, a small shake of the head and thought, ‘those crazy Portuguese’.

I whiled away the remainder of the day by having a nap, watching the evening rain, which put paid to any ideas of a sunset shoot, and eating dinner, before retiring for the night.


  1. Your first two photos, in particular, Martyn, are magnificent. All of this piece is wonderful. What a place to be in!

  2. Thanks so much, glad you're enjoying the blog.