Monday, May 23, 2005

Jetting through Europe
I spent my last day in London visiting the science museums in Kensington. I saw the museum of Natural History, which was more geared towards kids and then went to the actual Science musem which I wish I'd gone to from the start. As it was, I had to catch a 6:30 flight to Porto from Stansted airport, which is about 45 mins by train, plus be there early enough to check in, go through security and get to the gate. I'd left my backpack in the hostel as well, so I had to make the tube trip to get it, throw my stuff in, and tube back to Liverpool St Station. All said, I did the math and thought that I should leave my hostel with everything at about 3:30. Well, I didn't even leave the museum 'til then, though not for lack of trying. The emergency exits were well marked enough, but by the time I'd followed my intuition of where I came in, the "exit" signs, and finally asked for directions, I'd wasted a lot of time. So I spent the next hour rushing, running back to the hostel and rushing like a madman. I got there at 4:40, to find that trains only run every 15 minutes until 4, then it's every half hour. So I had to wait until 5. And my plane left at 6:35! I got to the check in booth just as she was closing down and managed to make my plane, which was delayed about 30 mins anyway. Whew.

The view from my room of Aliados square
Regrettably, in my haste to get to the gate, I didn't stop at the money changer, and so I had no Euro at all when I arrived into Porto at 9:30. The bus came at 10 though we were wondering if it would ever come, and I'd been talking with a Scottish girl about splitting a cab. Thankfully, she spotted me the €2.50 for the bus (or I'd either have to cab it or wait another hour for the next bus IF there were an exchange in the airport), and we also met some Canadian girls when we got to the town centre an hour later. Talk about a long bus ride. My hotel is just off the main square, and while small, is actually pretty decent. It's nice to have a little privacy and a TV to boot. I watched a little to wind down before bed. The picture here is a view from my window.

At the market
The next morning, I went to get my money exchanged and stopped by the internet cafe just long enough to find out where I was supposed to meet Rita and family and also answer a few emails. I met them at the Majestic cafe (on Santa Catarina), which really lives up to its name, and then we did a small walking tour. Paulo & Rita design and manufacture small ultra-modern household accessories, like coat racks, CD holders, lamps, and so on. They showed me their catalogue and my first thought was that my mom would love their stuff. Anyway, they took me walking and we strolled through the street market which is always an interesting experience. It was remarkably subdued, though, and apparently they are quickly dieing across Portugal and this is one of the few remaining.

Paulo and Rita and their daughter Maria. Their son Fabio took the photo
We went for lunch on the other side of the river in Vila Nova de Gaia. Lunch was very authentic, which was really good of them, since they knew that as a Canadian, I was probably a wuss when it comes to food. I tried everything, though I asked that they not tell me what it was until after I'd tried it so that I wouldn't be biased. Well, unbiased didn't help, I really couldn't swallow some of it. Particularly the pig's ears (crunchy cartilige) and the chicken innards. The sauce and beens that the chicken stuff was in was tasty though. We also had some salad, beef, beans (a Brazilian dish), and other goodies that were perhaps less exotic but still genuine. The ties this country has with Brazil are quite strong, and there is a lot of music and other stuff imported from there. I snuck in to the washroom but mostly to pay the bill since they'd been so generous to show me around and had also bought me a snack for breakfast under somewhat dubious circumstances. The guy inside wouldn't hear of it which I thought was strange, but according to him, I was a visitor so I can't do that. Anyway, they bought me lunch which was far more than they needed to do, but they're very nice people, as I've found most Portugese to be.

Fishing at the mouth of Rio Duoro
Then we got in their van and they toured me around, which was definitely the highlight of my stop in Porto. They took me to a fishing village at the mouth of the river and near the beach there, though the water is too dirty to swim (and I should think to fish as well, but...). We grabbed a wake-up (big meal, port, and wine = tired) which I DID manage to pay for and hung out in the park after seeing even more of the city. Then they dropped me off back in the square and I made my way back to the hotel.

I'd no sooner got in then the Julia (Scottish girl) rung me and we went for a bite and met some of HER local friends. They were a fun bunch, but man do they stay out late. They met us around 11 at a dead bar (we thought it was unusually quiet and that SOME people should be out). They then took us to a much better lounge and then another and then a really crowded club. REALLY crowded. As in, shut down in Canada crowded. We got in past the line because they knew the bouncer and we hung out there until about 5:30. At which point, it was as crowded as ever. Yikes! They charge you cover when you leave, apparently, which is a great scam if you know nothing about it, €10! It apparently goes down depending on how much you drink. Which, come to think of it, is a pretty good way of doing it IF the people know that it works this way. I didn't. :)

A small boat similar to the ones that carry port down the river from the vineyards
The next day, I strolled around Portugal taking in the life and scenery and getting a little frustrated because I always ended up at the wrong altitude to cross the river. I was at the top of one that was closed, at the bottom of another with NO apparent way to get up for miles, and so I wound up climbing the rocks and slope to get up.

The crowd in Aliados square celebrating the soccer match

As I walked around the city, it became very apparent that there was a BIG soccer game on. I could hear yells and cheers from the cafes all across the city. Apparently, it was the finals for the Portugese championship, and Porto was playing their bitter rivals, Lisbon. The game was a draw at the end and so because Lisbon went in higher, they won. You'd never know it from the amount of people honking and yelling after the game, though. In fact, I grabbed a cab back to the main square since my feet were dead and there were no safe ways back up the hill (just small dark sidestreets of which I've heard some stories) for a long distance, and the square was closed because a tonne of people were there. It turned out to be quite the gathering and the police were on hand in force. They were chanting their team's name and cheering, and even when I finally left for the night I could still hear them in my room blocks away.

Today, it's already getting to be three and I've no idea where I'm going. I figure I'll just walk to the bus station and try to find out when a bus leaves or if I'll be able to get to a park in the north at all today. If not, I'll head to Lisbon. I saw some photos of the park in central Portugal and wasn't really interested in seeing it. Plus, with my limited Portugese, this country can be tough at times. Like, I ate lasagna twice in a row without meaning to, though the second time I didn't eat much because the hamburger in the inside was undercooked. But try to tell them that. :)

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Anonymous said...

hi dean are you on the train because you aren'y answering me well miss ya lots mariah

Dean said...

No, internet is just very expensive here! Plus, I can't check EVERY day. But I try to as much as I can. Tomorrow I'm on the train for Spain (it rhymes). I'll try to answer you faster, and I might get a phone in Spain but we'll see.