Douro dreaming

First of all, I want to say “thank you” to those of you who have sent me details of your experiences with Sapo and their modem scam. This is clearly a very serious matter, and one that should be taken to the appropriate authorities. One man told me that two charming Portuguese ladies had called on him and persuaded him to buy a modem, promising that a technician would call to install it – you can imagine the rest. Another man said that he received a red card from the post office. As he was expecting a parcel from the UK, he thought nothing of it. He was asked to pay 50 euros for this parcel, which had no markings on it at all. Thinking it was the parcel he was waiting for, he paid, took it home – and there was a Sapo modem he had not asked for and did not want! This just gets worse– so come on, give me more ammunition and I will be happy to go to Deco, the consumer association, with the evidence.

Now on to nicer things. I recently spent a whole week in Porto and the Douro valley. Once again, I was sacrificing myself for my work, staying in luxury hotels and centuries-old manor houses, tasting superb food and wine – it’s a tough life sometimes!

In between all the lovely bits was a lot of hard work – honest! The first two days were a seminar organised by Forum Portucalense to attract tourism-related investment to the Douro. We were shown some beautiful parts of the Douro and heard some interesting presentations about possible projects. One, for instance, was a former coalmine right by the banks of the river. The mine is now disused, but some of the old buildings remain and the location is just lovely – the idea is to have some cottages or apartments for tourists, with a restaurant and the usual support facilities.

The people on board were a mix of Portuguese and English, and not everyone spoke the others language. What struck me was how ill mannered some people were – mostly Portuguese, I’m sorry to say. They talked – on their mobile phones or to each other – through keynote presentations and especially if someone was giving a talk in English. On the final evening, there was a display of folk dancing, and a delightful lady – fluent in both Portuguese and English – explained the significance of the costumes and the traditions that went with them. One group of Portuguese professionals talked loudly through and over this poor lady, totally ignoring all the dirty looks and pleas to “sshh”. How rude. How sad.

There was one man on the boat I recognised, but I could not place him. Then it became evident – this was Paulo Teixeira, Mayor of Castelo de Paiva. Do you remember a bridge over the River Douro collapsing at Entre-os-Rios, sending 70 people to their deaths, a couple of years ago? The victims were his people, and he was there, at the scene, constantly, looking bleak and desolate.

He is only a young man, but he is determined to improve the lot of his people. He understands only too well what investors want – and he has a portfolio of projects prepared, complete with all necessary permissions. Can you believe that? When I told him that here in the Algarve investors have to wait up to 10 or 15 years for permission to build a golf course or a tourist project, he smiled. “Things are different here,” he said, “we want to welcome investors.”

I voiced my concerns that the mistakes of the Algarve – building high, building dense – would not be repeated. No buildings there are to be more than three storeys high – and that goes for hotels or apartment blocks. It helps, of course, that the Douro valley has UNESCO World Heritage status, which implies strict controls. The various associations that had co-operated to make this event happen know that they have a huge challenge ahead of them, and their targets are very ambitious. But they deserve to be successful – if there are any investors out there looking for something a bit different, I would be happy to point you up the Douro!

One of the places I stayed was an old family home dating back to the 1600s, with stunning views down onto the Douro. What could be nicer than coming out of Porto on a boat to Pinhão, renting a car if you want to travel around, then going back by train? And, of course, Porto itself has much to offer – history, culture, architecture, port wine…

Back to earth with a bump! Not literally, thank goodness – but the same cannot be said for several people who have had bumps at that mecca of grocery shopping, Apolónia. Everyone who comes out of Almancil turns left to go into the car park – but the local council has not kept up with Apolónia’s expansion, and at the new entry there is actually a solid white line, meaning no left turn. Poor Sr. Apolónia has been pleading with Loulé council for several years now to make new markings on the road, but so far in vain. Which means that almost every week there is a shunt and a bang outside his store. Come on, Loulé council – there is more going on around here than football – and one day, a little bump might be a very serious accident!