The road from Sintra to Porto was completely clear being that it was Christmas Day. The toll lanes, however, still functioned. Not realizing it at the time, I drove through one of the toll lanes designed for people with speed passes and didn’t pick up a ticket. This didn’t bother me so much until an hour and a half later when I stopped at one of the toll points and was asked to deposit said ticket into the machine. As I had none and only a five Euro bill in my pocket the cars started piling up behind me. All possibilities of escaping not just the fine but being able to continue driving seemed impossible. Surly, if I was pulled over, the Civil Guard would see how terribly I started the car into first gear and would follow me until I made some sort of other gaff that would then cause him to pull me over and prevent me from getting to my destination. As all sorts of contingencies ran through my head as I was unable to think of what to do next the intercom came on. In English I explained that I had lost the ticket. Responding in kind, he told me that I had to pay 60 Euros, the cost of driving the whole of the toll road up to that point, but that as they only accepted cash he would print me out a bill that I could pay in a few days. With this printed out he opened the gate, and let me go.
I thought this escape to be a positive portend for things to come but after arriving in we found our hotel closed. The lights were on but no one was home. We knocked. We called on the intercom. We called on the phone. Both rang endlessly. And after a half an hour of this we finally decided to drive around and find someplace else to stay. Nearly immediately we found a hotel right next to the main square that was open. As, we decided to take care of our hunger pains with some Indian food – one of the few restaurants that were open and something that I’d wanted to try since getting into Portugal given their colonial linkages. It was good, however it was little different from the northern Indian cuisine that I’ve had at dozens of other restaurants.
My alarm woke me up at 7 a.m. so I could find the free parking spot the hotel receptionist had gave me directions to. She said that it was only four blocks away. I passed by the x she’d market on the hand made street map and saw the number on the building but there was no lot there. After an hour of driving around and not being able to find it I reluctantly settled on an underground lot by a mall. I walked back to the hotel and slept some more. Around 9 a.m. we woke, had the hotel’s free continental breakfast and started out on our day to walk around the sights of Porto.
Because my foot was still in pain from my sprain, we decided to get tickets for one of the hop on hop off bus tours. As so many tourism websites state with more florid verbiage, Porto is beautiful. The gothic churches which abound with blue and while tiles are gorgeous. The old schools and homes of the rich give it an imposing air deflated by the massive amounts of unoccupied buildings and homes. Next to grand edifices are dilapidated houses claimed by stray animals and wayward substance abusers. We stopped at many places, such as the statue in honor of those who died defeating Napoleon’s army, a cultural center bankrolled by British merchants with regional investments and went into many unique places, such as the bookstore once frequented by J. K. Rowling. There are many beautiful statues and fountains in Porto worthy of note, but they almost seem to slip into the background as even the storefronts and apartments above them have a distinct old-world charm.
While attempting to check in for our flights at the hotel we discovered that there were no tickets for our return trip. As we were having such a pleasant time in Porto, we decided to stay an extra day. This meant, however, that I had to return the car back immediately rather than on the way to the airport. Now my ability to drive stick goes as far as that I can do it. I can’t do it very well, and I can’t do it very calmly. This is because ten years ago, over the course of a half an hour, my friend Aaron taught how to drive stick and since then this skill has lain dormant. This lack of practice combined with no area or language knowledge made driving for me a very anxiety inducing experience. How Josselyn was able to find the grace to deal with me like this I don’t know, but I am very appreciative for it and her help in getting us to where the car needed to be returned. After dropping off the car, we walked to the ocean. It was perhaps a mile and a half walk but it was such a wonderful day. Josselyn and I sang and talked on the way over.
We stayed there a bit then took the bus back to the main part of town. One there, we took a boat tour up the Douro River and down to the mouth that leads out into the Atlantic. We passed by many boats that one loaded Port wine onto larger ships for delivery to the New World and now take tourists out. It was gorgeous and pleasantly brief.
In order to catch the last Cortez port tastings we went down the Teleferico. Compared to the one in Medellin it is very short, but having the carriage for just the two of us was romantic. The Cortez tasting had just closed when we got there, but luckily for us there was another one open nearby. There we had several glasses of Port as well as an appetizer of cheese, chorizo, olives and tostadas. Because this wasn’t very filling, we walked out towards the river looking for a place to eat. Facing the water was Sandeman’s restaurant, which has no connection whatsoever to the tour guide promotions company. We walked in and had delicious food and amazing sangria without a huge price. Now slightly tipsy, Josselyn and I chased each other around, her running and my skipping on my one gimpy foot, before arriving at the Dom Luis bridge. We walked across the bottom and then climbed some four hundred steps, which I nicknamed “The Steps of Truth,” in order to arrive at our hotel.
We slept early that night so we could have a final look around in the morning – yet when morning came our plans for an early wakeup didn’t come to fruition. We were both tired and didn’t end up leaving the hotel until almost noon. We ate lunch at a vegan restaurant then ambled our way around the city until finally catching our flight home.