South to PortoOctober 6 in Portugal
Over a year ago, when I was planning this trip, there was always one important variable in my mind. It was the one element that we have very little control over. Most of our previous European adventures had been scheduled to start in late August or early September. No one wants to travel in Europe in the hottest and busiest months of July and August, if they can possibly avoid it. I was also aware that Spain and Portugal can be even hotter than the rest of Europe. For that reason I decided to start the trip a couple of weeks later than usual, knowing full well that the final result was still a lottery.
You could imagine my relief when we were able to complete the entire Camino walk without any rain (apart from a gentle early drizzle on the very first day). In fact every day was almost a carbon copy of the previous day - cool in the morning and the warm and sunny every afternoon.
Following our visit to Finisterre, our mission in Spain was done and it was time to move on to the next chapter. We began our final day in Spain by saying goodbye to the two Christines (aka C1 & C2). The remaining ten of us would be catching a bus down to Porto in Portugal.
The taxi van we had ordered the previous evening turned up a few minutes ahead of time. We were a little apprehensive whether all of our luggage would be able to fit in, but we needn't have worried. It is really amazing just how many bags you can fit in a small space when you resort to sheer brute force. You have to just ignore the possible collateral damage that might be happening to your fragile contents.
A few minutes later we had arrived at the big bus depot and struggled to find out exactly where to catch the bus. We were not alone. Dozens of other multinationals were also wandering around in a state of confusion trying to sort out the vague directions. The bus we were waiting for arrived promptly on time at 11.15 am (it was due at 11.00 am) and we climbed inside.
To our initial relief there were many empty seats, suggesting that the 5 hour ride could be more bearable than we thought. It wasn't. After a few stops all the remaining seats were taken and I was reminded afresh why I would NEVER go on one of those terrible bus tours.
If the bus ride was not bad enough it got even worse when we pulled into one of those huge roadside stops. You know the drill. The women all rush to the toilets, while the men line up for potato chips and drinks. The smokers make their way to form a guard of honour outside every doorway. It really is horrible. How some people put up with day after day of this torture I will never know.
It was also worth noting that something strange was happening outside. Heavy rain was falling and the temperature had dropped a few degrees. What perfect timing.
Somehow I endured the 5 hour trip, only sometimes losing all feeling in my left leg. It really was worse than the 14 hour plane trip from Melbourne to Dubai. It was a huge relief when the bus finally pulled into the depot in Porto and we were able to stagger out into the fresh air again.
Our home for the next two nights is the Porto Domus Hotel, situated in one of the highest parts of the city. The hotel was surprisingly good, although I had some initial trouble getting the Internet to connect. I then took the opportunity to walk through the centre of town down to the waterfront.
Porto certainly is a fascinating city and its buildings contain a riot of colour and patterns that reminded me a little of the famous La Boca district of Buenos Aires. It was easy enough to find my way down to the water as all I had to do was keep going downhill. Along the way I passed through a number of pedestrian shopping malls and numerous buskers. One of the more interesting ones was a colourful women playing a hand organ, complete with pet chicken. She seemed to be doing a good trade.
At the waterfront I watched the jet ski riders intent on killing themselves and simultaneously deafening everyone within a 2 km radius. A number of larger tourist boats sailed back and forth, while overhead there was a cable car leading to a large Ferris wheel. It was obviously all happening on this Saturday afternoon in Porto. It was also an unusual feeling being in a country where I did not speak a single word of the language. Although my Spanish is not so good, at least I could usually muster enough vocabulary to make myself understood. Here I felt a little like an intruder into a foreign world and Spain quickly felt like a long way away.
So what did I do ? I sat at an elevated restaurant and enjoyed a seafood pasta while I watched the action that was taking place on the water. It seemed like a perfect way to start a new adventure in a country that I had never visited before.Read more