Sunday, April 19, 2009

Porto: The Wanker on the Beach

*I am posting these in reverse chronological order so that the older days of vacation appear at the TOP of my blog, rather than making you all scroll on down to the bottom to find where my vacation started. Make sense?

I will also try to post other people's pictures as soon as I have a change.*

We arrived in Portugal a few days ago after spending over half the day traveling. It seems like no matter how short a trip we're taking (the flight was only two hours), with waiting times, transport to and from places, and allotments for human error (especially important during travels to countries where I can't read the signs), we can never make a trip that doesn't take up at least half of a day. I spent the 1 1/2 hour coach ride to the airport in Spain asleep, and the two hour flight asleep as well--making up for two weeks of restless nights in a studio full of 3 or 4 people. At least.

Towards the end of the flight, craning my head over Kili and an older Portuguese woman (who spent the flight startling Kili by trying to turn Kili's attention to what could only have been clouds at random intervals throughout the flight), I saw the Atlantic Ocean for the first time, and the most green I've seen in about 7 months. Portugal is lush. Enough said. We had to take about an hour long metro ride to get from the Porto airport to where we were staying in Povoa de Varzim, and while most of it was spent in the dark after nightfall (and avoiding glares from our fellow riders for making a picnic dinner on the tram...), I was amazed by how much vegetation was around.

Jonna, our lovely Swedish couchsurfing host, met us at the metro station and walked with us the short distance to her flat, explaining a bit about Povoa, about Porto, about Portugal in general, and about how people were going to stare at us a lot. While still on the metro, we had joked about Jonna meeting us at the station with an axe and murdering us then and there, but she actually turned out to be amazing, and welcoming, and it's given us all a lot more security and confidence concerning this couchsurfing thing we're doing on this vacation (Karen confessed this morning that she was still a little scared that we would get murdered the first night in Jonna's flat). Exhausted from a long day of napping, we turned in early without setting an alarm, and slept hard until mid-morning. The next day we spent in Porto itself--not doing much but walking around. The city is gorgeous, full of brightly colored houses, tiled walls, and winding pedestrian streets. You know the scene from Love Actually where the writer goes to Portugal to ask for Aurelia's hand in marriage and the whole town walks up and down those little streets with him looking for her? That is exactly what Porto's streets are like. Porto is cut through by the Douro River, which is lined on one side by port cellars, and on the other by touristy, expensive restaurants (10 euros for lunch, instead of 5) that are nestled in between a boardwalk and a cliff face crammed with old houses. Pictures (a conglommeration from Kili, Ashley, Karen, and Greg's cameras) are to follow. I promise. After heading back to Povoa for the evening, we made a pasta dinner for us and Jonna, and also asked if we could stay another night with her, rather than leaving for Lisbon the next day, which she was more than happy to let us do.

We spent the next day on the beach in Povoa. Although it wasn't quite warm enough to swim or sun ourselves in swimsuits, we were quite comfortable reading in jeans and tank tops, until the unfortunate incident of the wanker in the sand. We were quite nearly the only people on the beach, until Karen tentatively said, "Guys, there's a weird guy over there looking at...nevermind." As soon as we all perked our heads up to see what was going on, he kind of started to walk away, but not all the way. It quickly became apparent that he was just having a wank, right there on the beach, staring at us, like it was the most normal thing in the world. We disappeared behind a sand dune quicker than you could say "out of sight, out of mind". Soon after, when we were sure he had left, we walked back to the flat for a late lunch, and spent the rest of the afternoon walking around Povoa and popping into cafes to have those requisite cups of coffee or glasses of wine. Before dinner we went briefly back to the beach, where the sun was beginning to set over the water. Kili and I had a sand fight, but the sand in Povoa isn't sand so much as small rocks. I am still coughing those rocks out of my sinuses.

For dinner, we found this weird little restaurant whose clientele were entirely Portuguese, and were all there to watch the futbol game that was playing on the television right next to our dining table. Awkward. Throughout the whole trip Karen has been so good about trying really hard to speak Portuguese, and she has been doing a lovely job--people understand her, and she understands them (even the old old woman who owned the restaurant on the port that we lunched in). When she asked for four glasses of white wine to go with dinner in Povoa, the waiter asked, in perfect though accented English, "Do you want a bottle?" We busted up laughung, especially because we had spent the last ten minutes trying to find translations in our dictionary for the menu that was only available in Portuguese. He didn't know specific fish names in English, either, however, and so we just ended up agreeing that he would bring us something delicious. He did.

This morning we woke up, said good-bye to Jonna and made our way to the station to catch a train to Lisbon, where we are couchsurfing with a guy who describes his home as somewhere between a hostel and a halfway house. We're not so much couchsurfing as sleeping in a tent in his yard...That'll be a big change from Jonna's two extra rooms. I just hope we don't freeze to death. Or die.

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