But then again, I wouldn't really know.
Oporto; I hear it's really nice!
But I wouldn't really know.
Well; I arrived after a relatively late start from Lisbon and several hours on the bus. A banana sustained me all day. I was hungry, tired and soon to be lost.
In pulling into the bus station later than I thought, at a place different to the one I had mapped out directions from, the first port of call was to find my bearings. I've been pretty good at doing this before I arrive at my destination, and although I sometimes head in the wrong direction for a short amount of time, I get there in the end.
This time was different.
A partially saved google map and a compass wasn't going to get me out of this fine mess. But not to worry. Find the hostel, it's near the river, it can't be that difficult, right?! However, Oporto is situated pretty much all the way ALONG a big river.
So, I headed in one direction, thought better of it and veered towards the opposite direction. Compelled to head away from the river that I could see. Sensible?! As it turns out, yes.
I needed an information point to get a map, but instead headed to a hotel, as my Portuguese is non existent, but large and fancy dwellings usually have helpful staff. Despite the fact that my scruffy look is in stark contrast to Prada wearing, cashed up middle aged set. But, I'm pleased to say, this place was no exception to my helpful waistcoated hotel staff point of view.
In asking for a map and directions to the hostel's street, both concierges (conciergoos?!) looked at one another in puzzlement but reached for the street directory. Righto, off to a good start.
However, they found the general area on the general map, and mapped out general walking directions for me. Very helpful. Soon I'd be rested and able to go out for a nice meal in the lovely Porto that I'd heard so many good things about, and enjoy my last night in Portugal.
Or would I?!
After I found the general area, I had yet to find the elusive Steps House Hostel.
Unfortunately, the map didn't have street names, and the street name that I was looking for was nowhere to be found. Literally. Nowhere. I did have a saved sattelite image from my planned directions so I tried to zoom in, but still, no street names were apparent. All I could do was look for small square building next to small winding streets with trees. Yup, you guessed it. I was surrounded by such places. All looking the same, but taking me no closer to my final destination. Luckily, I found a landmark that looked a little different to the rest, so I forged ahead and *finally* found the steps, with faded paint signs saying St p sho se ^ which I assumed meant go up the steps to Steps House hostel. And then I realized exactly why it was named such a place. Eesh. So many step. so much altitude. Such great giant leaps from step to step. I was hot, hungry but 30 or 40 steps closer to my place of rest.
That's when I was greeted at the door by Patrick. A nice guy, very friendly - with hair and fashion like something out of the 1980s Beat It video clip. Ah, kids of today. Anyway, Patrick shook my hand and said he had news for me!
Apparently, due to logistical nightmare and the disappearance of logic, they had overbooked the hostel, so, to find a solution I was to be taxied off to their sister hostel, up town. Same price, bigger place, no problem. So, sweaty, hungry and tired, with the sun soon to set, who was I to kick up a fuss. As long as I had a place to sleep and time to see the city, I was happy. Well, I received one of those things. And it was Maslow's hierarchy of needs that stepped up.
I waited for a taxi for about an hour. Time enough for more people to check in (lucky buggers with their fulfilled joint booking), a German couple to make and eat dinner in front of me (man, food has never smelled so good) and a fellow Australian living in London to hit me up for Short Story Publishing advice (good luck, darlin' - you and me, both. You're readin it!).
But, after I learned that the taxi was on it's way, after it had experienced a tyre breakdown, I could envisage my bed and dinner in the very short distance.
As it happens, the taxi was another half hour, and the guy that turned up was like a not so charming, Roberto Benigni on massive amounts of speed, but slightly more crazy. He was very animated and loud to say the very least. I said goodbye to Philip from the hostel, after he assured me I'd be fine with the non English speaking cartoon character as José (I learned his name after he said it repeatedly accompanied with the drumming of his taxi ID and banging his chest to point out the obvious) disappeared down the steps with my heavy backpack that didn't seem to slow him down or slow him up.
The drive, as I shall loosely call it, was fast, furious, dangerous, hair raising and comical. I laughed nervously the entire way to the new hostel. This guy was beyond crazy town. He was the mayor and all if it's inbred residents!
We went past all the traffic by cleverly mounting the curb and driving on the tram rails (ironically as José was clearly off the rails), perhaps going the wrong way, narrowly missing pedestrians, lampposts and railings.
He was pointing and laughing the entire time, making noises like he was a police car.
We hurtled around corners, dove into slightly empty spaces, only just yielded for buses and overtook on the inside lanes. He beeped at cars clearly in the right as we continued to swerve in every wrong way.
I had no idea where I was going as my life flashed before my eyes.
Finally, we screetched to a halt outside a building I could only assume was the sister hostel. He leapt out of the car, popped the boot, retrieved my bag and plonked it in front of the door and rang the doorbell still ranting and raving he entire time. At leas he was having fun. But I had to politely refuse three offers of marriage per the duration of the trip. Lucky me! This crazy mime was one I did not nod and 'si' at.
As the new hostel guy opened the door, listened to the final rant from José and then invited me inside saying that taxi driver was crazy (nice to have it confirmed), I was struggling to keep the smiles up as I felt I was at the end of my rope. Not angry, just tired and disappointed that the sun was going down on the town and my opportunities for seeing this city were slipping away with the dusk.
Still, I had one bastion left against the waste of a day: he local cuisine. I was hoping for a fish dish, bacaluanor otherwise. Instead I was told about something else entirely.
The Francesinha - is the most famous popular native snack food in Porto. And apparently I had to try it. Sure, one night in Porto, may as well do something local, I just didn't know what it was, or what I was in for. So, starving and disoriented, i tracked one down in a nearby cafe. Any port in a storm.
So, the delicacy. It is a kind of 'sandwich' with several meats (mine included frankfurters; sliced, salami, ham, chicken and another 2 slightly unrecognisable meats) slathered with melted cheese and a fried egg, all sitting in a special sauce made with beer and other secret ingredients, and then all of thus meaty white bread goodness is covered in a pile of chips. This meal would have made even Elvis proud. And I knew that if I didn't have a heart attack then and there it would make an unbelievable travel tale. I expected this type of fare in Scotland, perhaps with the addition of batter and being deep fried, but in a river based town and a country where I have eaten the freshest, tastiest fish - I was caught a little off guard. Especially as I had no idea what this was when I ordered it. Luckily, I can live (hopefully) and tell the tale. I feel my life still hangs in the balance.
So, in order to save the save the day, I walked off a stroke, and went back to the hostel in order to have an early night so I might be able to see at least some of the town in daylight. So a shower was in order.
I gathered my things including my €1 rented towel to the one bathroom with two so called showers and one toilet. This is when I realized that the showers were only that, a shower with no place to change. No problem, I'll cover my modesty with my rented red towel.
Surprise, that's when I unfold the towel and notice it is, dum dom dah!: a hand towel. Nice. Laughable and slightly annoying, but it all makes sense in this day.
So I brave the shower, which only works from the shower head, surprisingly and not from the hand held nozzle as is usual in hostels, so I manage to drench my clothes. But only a little bit. And then I proceed to take a shower in what increasingly becomes my own filth as the drain clogs up. Ah, the perfect end to the perfect day.
Clogged drains and clogged arteries.
I put myself to bed, awake the next day, have time to QUICKLY look about the town, where I have really been plonked in the middle of nowhere, then eat breakfast, walk to the bus 'station' -the side of an unsigned road, but have a helpful bus man assist me with printing my ticket from the 1970's wood panelled office - and proceed to bide my time until leaving. As my name is slightly weird, he insisted on calling me Jelly.
"Please, Jelly, have a seat, take off your bag, Jelly. No problem, Jelly, the bus comes soon".
It was actually rather comforting.
So, Porto, you treated me unfavourably, but I forgive you.
Until next time we meet...
Killer photos were included, but through the magic of this time, they have been omitted for now. Typical.
Just wait for it, like a hungry tired girl waiting for a taxi.
Sent from my iPhone