‘The time to relax is when you don’t have time for it’ – Sydney Harris
Porto, Canon 5d2, 70-300L
I slept well after watching mass the previous evening. With a relaxed breakfast of churros and espresso the day was off to a gentle start. I had spoken briefly with the bar owners daughter, a student at the local University, and she told me of her dreams to travel Europe and to perhaps work in hotels to pay her way. She asked me about my plans to which I replied that I didn’t really have any – other than I would end up at some point at Nordkapp after crossing the Arctic. Seemed surreal to say that and I remember catching myself and pausing a second. She smiled and said she couldn’t wait to see more of the world.
I returned to the room, packed up my gear and pulled out the travel guide I had bought with me – Lonely Planet Europe. Dumping my bags outside the garage, I walked back into the bar to ask for the doors to be opened and gave her the book and wished her well in her future. She smiled, gave me a hug and wrapped up some Santiago cake for the journey.
No such thing as a bad bike, Canon 5d2, 16-35L
As I walked into the garage, her father was there looking over the bike. He stood there staring as I removed the (completely pointless) chain and he then pointed at the screen. No english, no spanish. I looked at the screen, just flies and assorted bits of road crud. I looked at him, he looked at me. He then pulled out a rag from a drawer and started filling a bucket with water. I said no need with a wave of the hand. He carried on and then said ‘no, nice’ in very broken language. It was a major effort for him to say that and so what could I do, I said ‘gracias’ expecting him to pass me the bucket. He didn’t, he smiled and started cleaning the screen, seat and anything else with a loving care. I was really moved by this – genuinely didn’t know what to say or do so I did the only thing I could. I motioned to him and patted the seat. He looked at me for a moment, nervously smiled and then pointed at the seat. I smiled back, said ‘si’ and patted the seat again. He got on, i started her up and he had a play with the throttle. Hopefully it made his day because he made mine.
Earlier that morning I had been looking online for a B+B in porto – they were available but were far too expensive or didn’t have secure parking. So I finally hit on the idea of staying out of Porto and travelling in – less hassle. I got a beach-front B+B in Espinho for a really low rate per night and so booked up for 2 nights, figuring I could have a relaxed ride today through half of Portugal and then visit Porto the day after.
Mural, Porto Station, Canon 5d2, 16-35L
It was a cool but sunny day and a pleasant ride. I took the coast road for a little while from Santiago but then hit the major roads to get through to Espinho. I did a ‘whoop’ in the helmet as I crossed the Spanish border – just a bridge over a river but a significant point for me since it was the first country border I had crossed on the GSA. To get to Espinho I had to cross through Porto and there is a point where the road becomes 4-6 lanes (just by the FC Porto stadium) and it is a bit intimidating but my sat-nav worked perfectly, giving me plenty of warning of which lane to get in. To say that was a relief would be an understatement – 6 lanes of traffic is not much fun. Shortly afterwards I arrived in Espinho, a coastal town with a one way system that led to me going round about 3 times to find the right point to get to the B+B. Checking in at the restaurant next door, I asked them about the bike and they kindly took me about a quarter of a mile away to their family home and let me secure the bike in their garage as I was planning to get the local train into Porto the following day. It really is great to not have to worry about the security of your bike.
It was definitely closed season in Espinho and I was pretty sure I was the only tourist there. Espinho is the beach resort (I think) where the people of Porto go to on a weekend. A long sandy beach, a small shopping centre and beachfront restaurants and bars. In many ways, similar to English coastal resorts with a mix of beach and holiday related businesses mixed with run down areas.
I spent the remainder of the afternoon having a wander along the beach, sitting with a beer and watching the sea. The wind was whipping the sand off the beach into my eyes, the temperature had dropped and so on went my fleece and I was the only person sat there. Resisted the urge to put a napkin on my head and don a Union Jack t-shirt.
I ate at the restaurant and this was my first experience of ‘starters’ – I had ordered my meal, they delivered nibbles which I ate to stop my stomach growling and then got charged for them. I soon learnt after that – you have to actively refuse them even if you do not order them.
Espinho at dusk, Canon 5d2, 16-35L
Leaving early the next morning, I caught the metro into Porto along with the commuters and what, to me, looked like the cast of Harry Potter. It was only much later in the day that I found out it was some kind of academic initiation to welcome new students or to say goodbye to old ones in their final years. Lots of teenagers in cloaks emblazoned with colours and sashes and badges walking around in groups and going to the beach. The metro ride was very cheap and a great way to see the coastline and suburbs.
The main train station at Porto has an amazing set of mosaics and murals on the walls depicting historical Portugal – immaculately maintained and amazingly detailed.
Porto Station, Platform 9.75, Canon 5d2, 16-35L
Mosaics, Porto Station, Canon 5d2, 16-35L
With the temperature rising I set off in to Porto, taking in the castle, the churches and the cobbled and hilly streets. It’s quite hard going with many inclines and steps but a bit of perseverance gets you to some wonderful streets off the main drag which alternate between being in light and shade. Having walked for over an hour I made my way downwards towards the river – the classic part of Porto that adorns a thousand post cards and is the feature image at the top of this page. On one side of the river you have the most amazing houses built on top of each other and yards from the water. Underneath them are the bars and restaurants serving the tourists. It’s very busy and so I escaped quickly to the other side of the river which is the site of the port producers and is less busy.
Crossing the Ponte Luis, Porto, 5d2, Canon 16-35L
The bridge was filled with bikes as was the other side of the river. Lots of Harleys and the occasional Jap 600 riding up and down….and up and down….and …you get the idea. I guess it’s where the local bikers meet. With the sun shining and the temperature in the low 20’s I decided it was ice cream time and as I was taking it off the lady serving me I said ‘gracias’. This would be the first in a very long line of linguistic errors and faux pas that would pepper my journey with a blend of embarrassment, confusion, hilarity and sometimes despair. Watch out for egg soup in a later post. She smiled and said, in perfect English ‘You are not in Spain, this is Portugal, we say obrigado’. What do you do? With an embarrassed smile and avoiding her gaze I did what anyone would do, said ‘obrigado’ about 5 times, rolling it around my mouth like a 5 year old. Now, the problem is that when you learn a new word, you have a tendency to say it for everything. Which I did. Obrigado. The people of Porto will long speak of the grateful Englishman. Maybe.
Port on a boat, Canon 5d2, 16-35L
Porto is famous of course for Port as it sits on the River Douro that carries the grapes from the fertile uplands and so I decided to do the tourist thing and visit one of the port factories. It’s quite a walk up a hill and having duly paid the admission I sat down next to a group of American tourists who had ordered the ‘full monty’ tasting session. I had chosen the pauper one. I watched as they smelt the aroma, sipped, pursed their lips and then spoke of the various flavours and the sweetness and depth. If I’m honest, mine was bloody vile and I felt my body contract, my cheeks hollow and my foot tap a little bit. I took one sip and that was enough to remind me of childhood illnesses and cough syrup. I smiled at the hostess and she asked me if I had enjoyed either of the samples. With a grimace and a nod of the head I think she was left in no doubt. Strangely, as I walked out I looked back at the connoisseurs from the US. Couple of them were tapping their feet…
View down towards the river, Canon 5d2, 16-35L
I wandered around a little more, failed to get into a museum because tours for english speakers were only at certain times and it was 20E anyway. It’s odd, I used to love cities when I was younger and now I prefer the open spaces, the mountains. Maybe it’s my age, maybe because one city just blends into another (as I would find out over the coming 2 weeks). On the whole though I can see Porto being a wonderful place to visit if you want a city break of some form – food was good, plenty of places to see if you don’t mind wandering up and down steep hills and steps and a very relaxed, informal atmosphere. As a real plus, it’s in its original state – no signs of any major ingress of the chain stores and restaurants other than in the main shopping area which is away from the old town.
Unspoilt Porto, Canon 5d2, 16-35L
As I walked back towards the train station there were large amounts of policia and the sounds of shouting and chants. Thousands of people has gathered in the main shopping square – lots of banners, megaphones, red and yellow t-shirts and a long procession of what were obviously different groups of people on the same march. Always a lively time watching a march and there was quite some passion in this one. I asked a policia what the march was about and it was the national day of workers rights. A simple moment like that can bring things into focus. Normal people marching and chanting past expensive boutique shops being watched over by guys (and girls) in paramilitary uniforms wearing guns. An elderly Eastern European woman sat at the side of the pavement selling 3 pairs of sports sock for a euro as everyone marched past.
Fight for your right, Canon 5d2, 16-35L
Arriving back in Espinho, I showered, ate and then hit the sack. One of the problems with being folically challenged is that you under estimate the sun on your head. Mine was red and sore the next day and squeezing my head back into the helmet as I left Espinho was uncomfortable. I’d decided to ride some good roads down towards Coimbra and call in at Obidos before ending the day at Estoril (some 30 mins from Lisbon). Obidos had been described to me as an old walled town that was beautiful and unspoilt. It is.
It was a pleasant ride to Obidos, some great roads, blue skies and temperatures in the low 20’s. Arriving at the town, I parked up in a deserted tourist car park, left the chain off and stripped down to shorts and t-shirt which was a welcome relief – I had ridden for several hours and needed the air. Obidos is beautiful – cobbles streets, white walls and very relaxed. It is famed for it’s cherry liqueur and its annual chocolate festival which is supposed to be quite an amazing feast. I must admit the big rabbit looked a bit scary to me. Donnie Darko sprang to mind.
Donnie, Canon 5d2, 16-35L
I didn’t want to leave Obidos – the views across the open fields and the serene nature of the place really made me unwind – I spent an hour at a small coffee place just watching small birds fly round and round from one rooftop to another. However, onwards I had to go as I still had a few hours ride to get to Estoril. Dragged the gear back on, felt that inevitable rush of heat as you suit up and put the helmet on and then that lovely calling breeze on your face as you get moving. An uneventful ride apart from the arrival at the B+B who’s definition of secure parking was slightly different to mine…
Obidos, Canon 5d2, 16-35L