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Dave Go Round

I am a world traveler. These are my stories.

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4
Sep '16

Ups and Downs: Porto

My arrival in Porto set the tone for a lot of things. A thoughtful train ride vomited we passengers into the streets and to our own recognizance. Without an internet connection to summon Uber, I was left at the mercy of the local Taxi mafia. Portuguese taxi drivers are some of the most brutal you will ever meet.

My history with Taxi drivers is no secret if you’ve read much of the site. It goes back years, to when a social friend of mine who happened to be a taxi driver gave me a ride into town after I had been in a significant motorcycle wreck and could not walk. He charged me $50 for a ten minute ride. I never called him again. I’ve been overcharged, robbed, and abducted by taxi drivers… so when I say Portugal has bad ones, please understand that this is a qualified statement.

I walked up to a taxi driver, setting down my bag and asking him if he knew the street I needed to go to. He grabbed my bag off the ground next to me, threw (actually threw) it in the trunk of his taxi and slammed the trunk lid shut. I yelled at him, and he yelled back the name of the street I had mentioned and he got in the driver seat, shutting the door. I quickly yanked open the back door and jumped in, so as not to lose half my worldly possessions to languidness.

The Porto taxi driver took off like a madman. The guy was a complete bastard. He drove like a psychopath with a death wish. It was the most fun I have had in a car in Europe. I was smiling and laughing the whole time. Don’t misunderstand me, this guy was a total asshole, but the ride was exhilarating. I am a bit unhinged myself.

Gallery Hostel in Porto is one of the best I’ve been to. Well run, clean, nicely decorated; the staff is attentive and available 24 hours a day. It is not without it’s shortcomings, but if you need a place to stay you could do significantly worse. Alex, an art historian from a family of anthropologists who works at Gallery, sat down in their bar with me until late in the night pouring 10 year aged Port wine and telling me stories about the region and it’s historical connections with the rest of the world. It was unexpectedly interesting and something I would recommend for any visitor. It’s full of fun art, too.

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The following day, the plan was to get on a train and spend the rest of my time in Portugal out in a little town in the countryside. The more I looked into this and the more informed individuals that I spoke with, the more convoluted and further away this goal seemed.

Everyone, absolutely everyone, in Portugal has a better idea for what you should be doing. I was a little put off by it at first, but eventually just started ignoring everyone. Often, before you can give your name to a local, they are telling you where you MUST go or what you MUST do while you are there. Take all of it with a bucket of salt. The hostel telling you that you must rent a car to the tune of $60 euro a day is not telling you that you can rent the same car for 30 euro for 3 days if you just take a 4 euro Uber to the airport.

Life lesson: just do whatever you want.

After several hours of searching for guest houses, AirBnB, or any lodging in the countryside that resembled what I wanted, I gave up. The goal was to unwind, and so far the whole process was just a huge stressor. I found an apartment of the top floor above a quite plaza in Porto on AirBnB, and booked it.

Whilst booking the apartment on my laptop, I overheard some people discussing going out for lunch. I volunteered myself as a member of their party and our lovely mixed group went out for some local fare before I set off for my new apartment.

The wall in my apartment in Porto.

The wall in my apartment in Porto.

I spent most of the rest of the week with an open laptop and wine bottle, writing down stories, and enjoying my time alone. One of the girls from my hostel lunch team, Lena, had the marvelous idea of getting out of town for a day and we made plans to do just that.

Porto itself is all hills: Up and Down. While this can be tiring, it also may be contributing to the impressively powerful and curvaceous lower halves on some of the locals, so I can’t complain. Walking anywhere is likely the fastest way to get where you need to go, as the city was not built with cars in mind: a ten minute walk may well be a 15 minute car ride. If you can, just walk. If not, relax and don’t expect anything to happen in an expedient manner. Portuguese are not particularly skillful or careful drivers, in my experience; given the striking volume of times my Uber drivers drove the wrong way down a one way street, got stuck in a dead end, drove over a curb, or made me an accomplice to vehicular homicide. That anyone is alive in this city is a testament to their agility.

Sunset park to the side of the Justice Palace is a great place to be around 8 p.m. to sit and watch the sun set over the ocean. It’s lovely, and it just gets better for the hour after sunset. The contrast of twilight and street lights sharpens the world over the Douro river into a painting the likes of which you will not see elsewhere. Stay; it’s worth it.

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The best place I found to eat in town was this little alley immediately off of Fonte dos Leões Fontijn: Rua de Sá de Noronha. It was full of fun people, good food, and importantly, no weird beggars. The worst place… Rua das Flores. It was afflicted with all kids of homeless beggars and loud buskers of dubious quality. Local beggars have realized acting like you are mentally disabled gets you more money… either that, or the sum total of Portugal’s population of retards all reside in this one street.

Best place to start your morning? Moustache Coffee shop. How come you taste so good? Good coffee, great snacks, pretty girls, nice location. It can’t be beat.

Peneda-Gerês National Park was not on my radar. That being said, it was a great day trip with Lena from the lunch crew. Rent a car and go. There is a surprising lack of ANY useful information on this area, and any google results on swimming there just direct you to tour groups. While this may be your bag, it wasn’t mine. There is a tourism info office at the main roundabout in the town of Gerês; ask clarifying questions!

I had seriously intended to tell you how to get to Tahiti falls, my favorite place in Gerês. I thought I had saved a GPS point, or a screenshot of the map, or something… but I didn’t. The best I can tell you is leave Ermida in the direction of Fafião. At the first bridge, park and cross to the far side of the bridge, turn right, and just keep going. Even the walk is an adventure. Stop when you find somewhere you love.

That actually might good advice for life in general.

Here are some pictures showing what we got into on our own. Lovingly crafted, irresponsible fun.

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Porto was worth this visit in so many ways. If you are on the fence, just go. The simplest answer is to act.

Even the flight out was entertaining. Filled with some group named “Club Tour” that seemed composed entirely of pensioners who had never been on an airplane before. Picture the stereotypical grandmother learning to use technology for the first time, then fill a plane with her in varying stages of disarray. People who didn’t understand that someone needed to step over them to get to the window seat. Ladies standing in the aisle while others were trying to board the plane so she could take pictures of her friends in their seats. They seemed unaware that there was a seat belt, what it was for, or how it functioned. Throughout the flight they were leaning in front of my screen as I watched a movie, talking loudly to each other; placing their hands on the touchscreen causing my movie to end prematurely. The old farting lady in my row with her clawed hooves dangling over the lip of her shoes really took the cake.

Costa Coffee provided me with a mocha before I boarded. The gate agent informed me that the flight attendants may not allow me to take it on the plane, but to try anyway. No one attempted to warn me against it. In fact, all the flight attendants were smiling at me looking me straight in the eyes; a trend that continued for some time into the flight when I finally  discovered the chocolate coffee/mocha drop that was dead center on my nose from blowing on my drink to cool it off. They weren’t looking in my eyes… they were staring at what a slob I was. 🙂

One of the important lessons we learn in traveling: sometimes things aren’t always what we think they are.

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Wrap-Up:

  • Moustache Coffee
  • Gallery Hostel is solid
  • Rua de Sá de Noronha for dinner
  • Avoid Rua das Flores
  • Watch the sunset
  • Go to the beaches north of the city, not the one to the south. It’s the wrong kind of blowjob.
  • Go to Geres. It’s fun! Just don’t rent from the place your hostel or hotel tells you to.
  • Just walk. Taxi/Uber will scare you or take almost as long.
  • Drop the expectations… just roll with the punches. You’ll be happier for it.

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