Thursday, August 19, 2010

Porto day 1

Okay, while I still don't really feel like blogging (have done nothing this week, tomorrow is the last proper day of holidays! Boo hoo!), I had better write up the Porto trip before I forget everything that happened.

The airport in Tours is not far from the city, but there is only one shuttle bus that makes the trip, which is supposedly timed to the few flights that go in and out every day. I was at the bus stop well in advance, along with a crowd of other people with suitcases and so on who definitely looked to be headed to the airport. After I'd been there about 50 minutes, with the bus by now around 20 minutes late, I decided I needed to get a drink or I'd die before getting to the airport. There was a vending machine just across the road, and it seemed safe enough to dash over and grab something. First problem, there was only Coke available in bottle form (bleh), but better than nothing. As I purchased the drink, I was keeping a watchful eye out for the bus - nothing. There was a beggar sitting right next to the machine, and it seemed churlish not to give her my 40 cents change. Unfortunately, loaded down with stuff, I couldn't bend over properly to stick the money in her cup, and so I kind of dropped it from a height and ended up knocking over her cup and sending the few coins in it rolling over the pavement. Basically, if I wanted to avoid going from "nice lady who gave me money" to "bitch who knocked over my cup for the pleasure of seeing me grovel in the gutter", I had to pick that money out of the gutter myself (the beggar looked pretty apologetic about this, I will say). By the time I straightened up and got back to the other side of the road, my worst nightmare had occurred - everyone was gone. Instant panic. I found it hard to imagine that the bus could have come and gone in that time, but where was everyone? I asked someone who was still sitting nearby, who told me that the bus hadn't come and she didn't know what happened, but that "everyone went over to the other side". So great, now I'm imagining that someone had come and told them that the bus was leaving from a different spot. Really getting stressy now - I could probably have taken a taxi, it's not *all* that far, but I am already a stress bunny when it comes to catching planes. I like to leave myself a really huge margin so that nothing goes awry, and I still stress even so. In the end, I tracked down someone who worked there, who told me the bus was coming, to the proper stop, thank god. I was so relieved when it finally showed up, about 30 minutes late. From there on, everything went smoothly - no problems with Ryanair, amazing! And I had to throw away half of the Coke anyway...

Took me a little while after landing to realise that Porto is on the same time as the UK - who knew? This was a nice surprise as it gave me an extra hour in the city - it was already late afternoon by the time I landed. I had no map of Porto, and basically no clue, except that you could take a metro from the airport into the city centre. They are nice enough to have people standing around at the machines helping tourists with directions and how to use the system, which was a godsend. However, may I suggest they have maps to hand out to tourists? The guy giving me directions waved his copy of the map in front of my face, told me what stop to get off at and provided the following directions: "when you come out of the metro, go up, don't go down. You will find a street for people. Follow that until a theatre rose, and then you will look down and see your street." Those are less directions than they are cryptic clues. I'm fairly sure one corner of his map was marked with 'here be dragons'. Still, I figured there'd be a location map at the metro station - there's always a location map at the metro station! A smart (though directionally-challenged) cookie like me will be able to figure it out!

Well, the map at the metro station was really poor, designed more to show bus routes than to actually allow someone to orient themselves in the area - small scale (I think, I always mix up small and large), not many street names, etc. I saw a theatre marked on the map, so decided to head for that, only to find that it could by no stretch of the imagination be described as 'rose'. I thought my best bet was to retrace my steps, except being a dunce, I totally failed to do so and ended up completely lost. From here on, my focus pretty much shifted to finding a taxi, but with no success. Eventually I wandered around in a circle and found myself back at the metro, but at a different exit. Aha! The 'street for people' (pedestrian street)! I followed my instinct on which way was 'down' and which way was 'up', and set out along the 'street for people'. Finally, I came to a square with a YELLOW theatre in it. Maaaaaybe this could be it? I checked each of the five or so streets radiating off the square, naturally the last one was the street I was looking for. Success, finally!

After checking into the hotel, and having the guy on the desk explain to me what was where on the map in Portuguese (discoteca, commerciale, plaia - nod, nod, nod - PS that probably bears no resemblance to Portuguese spelling), I headed back out to enjoy the last few hours of daylight. Basically, this consisted of heading over the Dom Luis I bridge (photos below), which I had heard offered great views. I was not disappointed, it was really stunning! It was also windy up there, which caused muchos problemas for my dress flying up. I was uncomfortably aware that there was an old man walking behind me as I struggled to hold my dress down at the back, feeling all the while that I might actually be pulling it awkwardly as I did so. Whenever I stopped to take photos, he would stop too. He said something to me in Portuguese, and I just did the "I don't understand you" shrug and continued on. I really wanted to enjoy the view and take photos, but old man winter was seriously spoiling things for me. Several stops further down the bridge, he said something to me again. Obviously, I didn't understand what it was, but judging from his gestures, it was an invitation to jump off the bridge. Thanks, dick.

After that, I went back across the river and checked out the cathedral - quite different from cathedrals elsewhere in Europe, all carvings and gilt (not to the same extent as the Sao Francisco monastery church I posted pictures of, but the same idea). Other than that, not exceptional.

I then decided to try and track down a 'Portuguese' charm for my charm bracelet. I went back to the 'street for people' and asked in every damn shop up and down the street, at least a dozen different places, and came up completely empty :( Lots of them didn't sell charms at all, let alone Portuguese-specific ones. Bummer. I really hated not being able to speak the language at all for this. I kept speaking French to people, unless they specifically spoke English to me, partly because I thought it would have more common vocabulary with Portuguese than English, but mostly because my brain was just hearing Portuguese and snapped into "this isn't English territory, we must speak French!" mode. I really felt like a dumb, nouveau imperialist, culturally insensitive tourist though. Okay, maybe that's a bit harsh, but if I judge people who come to France without knowing word one of French (and I do - not so much tourists, but the people I have known who live(d) in France and speak NO French should be ashamed), I deserve it. My Portuguese vocabulary is as follows: agua, bom dia, hola, obriegada, fala ingles?, pendente (pendant, charm) and ciao (again, spelling probably off, and I know ciao is Italian, but apparently it works in Portuguese - and pretty much everywhere else). On day one, however, it was pretty much restricted to 'obriegada', until I became ashamed of myself and listened to a couple of the 'learn Portuguese' podcasts I had downloaded.

After that disappointment, I chilled in the hotel room for a bit and then went out for a sad dinner by myself - hate having dinner alone. I went to a place near the hotel, which I thought was a pasta place, but it totally was not. Seems 'pasta' means something else in Portuguese. Anyway, it was a little bit more expensive than I expected from Portugal, but not too bad, and seemed to serve traditional Portuguese food. I'm guessing there - there was no English menu, and the waiter came and translated what like 4 of the dishes were and then I pretty much just went with what he said was good. Ended up having spinach soup to start, which was nice, although the whole spinach leaves were hard to eat elegantly, and then fish and salad primavera. It was pretty nice, the fish wasn't amazingly flavourful, but pretty good with lashings of lemon juice, and the salad was quite nice. Huge portion, I couldn't finish it all.

Anyway, these ramblings will have to do for tonight & I will finish the rest of the trip off later!


  1. If they ever introduce an olympic sport of "going round in circles" you're a gold.

  2. Or perhaps a better sport would be "disorienteering"

  3. Well I wanted to go back to where I'd come from, so job done! I think it's pretty impressive I found the place at all with those directions, frankly!


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