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Michael’s Travel Diary

Tuesday, 13 Nov 2007

Location: Porto, Portugal

MapI last wrote after the weekend in London, and actually managed to have a much quieter weekend last week - mainly because I decided against heading to Cardiff. I was able to pick up the keys to my new place on the Sunday, so the Saturday was spent lugging stuff to the island.

But first, Friday. Nat came over to the island in the afternoon, and we, along with Laura and Iona from work, headed up to Gurnard Primary School to watch the fireworks display. Being the weekend before Guy Faulkes day (5th Nov), fireworks were again being let off in every available piece of park, from sunset to sunrise. It truly is amazing to see, especially as a Victorian who faces a double life sentence in jail for every having handles fireworks without the correct license. Just walk into your nearest supermarket, walk out with enough explosives for a NYE party Sydney Harbour would be proud of and go nuts. It really is great. Anyway, heaps of organised fireworks shows as well, and we walked to this one up by the primary school. Was actually pretty good, and went much longer than I thought it would. That was about the end of the Friday night and I went to bed early than I had been for weeks...

Saturday I was up early for the first (and last) trip to the mainland for the day. Despite having every intention of making a couple of trips to and from the island to get as much stuff across as possible, I only ended up making the one trip. The day started early with a breakfast in Shirley with Stef and Tom. I grabbed a heap of stuff that I had left at Stef’s place and dumped it into the two bags that I carried across from the island. After chilling at the old house for a bit, t I caught up with Nat for lunch at Zen the Japanese restaurant in Southampton. It was a major eat and dash effort though. I had managed to get tickets to the Southampton vs. Charlton soccer match that kicked of at 3 pm, and Nat had planned on getting to the restaurant at 1pm. Unfortunately, the traffic getting to the game was horrendous, and she rocked up just after 130pm, taking an hour to get there, and I bailed at 230pm to head to the game. Definitely love my Jap food now, but God it is pricey!

I headed to the game and caught up with Stroudy and his mate Dale who was able to get us the free tickets as he used to work there arranging travel to away games. The first thing that took me by surprise was that the bar shut 10 minutes before the game and you couldn’t take beer into the stadium. What? Why the hell are there so many fights at the soccer then? Plus, the bar only opens 10 minutes before half, and shuts 10 minutes into the second half. So they stop you drinking at the game, and that explains why the pub is packed from 10 am in Southampton on the day of home games. You get wasted before the game, but not at the game. Plus there is the whole fact that people get bored watching the sport and would rather throw punches with other spectators.

So, we had great seats, and you can see the whole ground easily. The game was at St. Mary’s Stadium which seats 33,000 people and there were about 26,000 there for the game. Added to that the sun was out, and it was actually a pretty nice day. The only thing worth talking about would be the atmosphere in the stadium. It was cool. Everyone singing songs, both the home and away team, taunting each other, and generally ignoring what was happening on the pitch! At half time 0-0. A beer at half, which people used to knock back as many beers in a 20 minute period as they could, I paced myself with one, and we headed back to watch more 0-0 soccer.

It came as no surprise at 90 minutes that the game was still 0-0 despite Charlton playing with only 10 men for the entire second half after a red card late in the first half. I actually did say out loud in the 56th minute I can feel an Italy vs. Australia scenario coming....

3 minutes of extra time (injury time, time on etc.)

I was really looking forward to the game finishing 0-0, especially after all of the crap that I give soccer, and that I'd be able to justify not having to ever go to a game again.

In the 93rd minute, as we were walking down the stairs from our seats to the exit, Charlton scored on a header to win the game 1-0. In true Krischunas fashion, I missed the goal whilst concentrating on walking down the steps, and with replays not shown on the scoreboard to avoid rioting fans; I will probably never see it. Ahhh, what a great sporting moment in my life.....

After the game we headed back to the middle of town to have a couple drinks, and saw the throngs of Southampton Yoof (yep, that’s what they call themselves) standing in the park waiting for the Charlton fans to walk past on the way to the train station. They probably didn’t even go to the game. Instead they sat waiting at the entrance to the park, looking menacing, and looking for trouble. The cops pulled up just a minute after we walked past and the crowd scattered like the little kids they are. Stupid. The cops then provided a chaperone to the Charlton fans with cops on foot, horses and in cars. Just out of sight, it appears as though it didn’t work with sirens blaring and cops running from Above Bar around the corner, to see what the deal was. Ahhh, soccer hooligans.

After an evening of a few beers I jumped in a taxi, headed back to my old house to pick up my bags and then back to the ferry for the last ferry back to the island. Sunday morning I was up a little later, but still early, and was on the mainland and caught up with Jo from the Walkie for lunch. After a feed and a few games of pool, I headed to Robbie’s place to grab some more of the stuff that I had in storage. I figured I’d need my pillows and doonah (duvet) if I was going to sleep in my new place any time soon. After a little time back at Malmesbury Road (I seem to spend more time there now that I have moved out!) I headed back to the island and deposited a bag load of stuff in my new place and picked up my key.

Monday I managed to get everything in my room, and from Monday I was living in the new place – albeit out of boxes! I am still short my book case, and clothes drying rack, so there are still boxes on the floor and clothes hanging all over the place, but in general I have moved in and am comfortable – even if cold. Damn it is getting cold here quickly, and I don’t have double glazed windows here, so there will be no sitting around my room in shorts and a t-shirt as I like to do. Pants and a hoodie will be the fashion of choice for the winter I think.

So with decorating the room (put up map of Europe and my 2007 & 2008 yearly planners, all my photos) complete, I made my way to the gym and had my induction there on Tuesday. Certainly not the same customer service that all Fitness First had (did I say that out loud?) but I think the gym, will be cool. Plus it has a pool and a spa & sauna (being refurbished at the moment) which will come in handy as well. And a tennis court if I can find anyone interested enough to have a hit some time.

The rest of the week went pretty quickly, and on Thursday night I headed with Potter to Bristol after work. The 110 minute train ride was pretty non-interesting, other than to say that the Great Western trains are crap compared to the South West trains and Virgin rail. Thankfully Potter correctly judged it as a 4-can trip, and you get no grief for having a beer while riding (DRINKING: Yes on the train, No at sporting events? Sounds backwards to me…). We wandered around to a number of pubs once we were in Bristol, figuring we’d stay out as late as possible and head straight to the airport for our 630 am flight to Porto. Well, it was a great idea in theory, but we arrived in Bristol at 830 pm and it was freezing. A couple of pubs, then a quick feed, followed by another pub. Eventually we snapped and headed to the Walkie where we met up with my old housemate Trace who’d relocated to Bristol around the time I moved out of the house.

It was around 1130pm and they called last drinks, the pub was empty, and Potter looked like he could sleep through an earthquake. When the shut we decided to call it a night, wandered through the city, said bye to Trace, and jumped in a cab to the airport, arriving around 1230am. We set up camp behind a food kiosk and jumped into our sleeping bags and tried to get some sleep. It was bloody cold, but we managed an on-again, off-again sleep till 5am when we rose and checked in for our flight. We were roughing it, but saved a bit of money, and would have been up at the crack of dawn (or hours before dawn actually) either way.

A pretty uneventful flight, other than the fact that there was a bit of turbulence, and the landing was rough as guts. OK, so the most eventful flight I had been on for a while. It was also 2 hours of pain, with no leg room what so ever, and no reclining chairs, the main requirement for a flight taken at 630 am after sleeping on an airport floor. That’s what you get for flying Ryanair… can’t complain the ticket cost me 4 pounds!

Arriving in Porto at around 830 am, we got through customs (though they didn’t like Potter for some reason?) and made our way to the train. Just missed one, so grabbed the next and were in the middle of Porto by 10 am. We weren’t exactly sure where we were staying, so as all good holidays start, we grabbed a beer, sat at a café and figured out where we were. Turns out the metro exit was next to the hotel, and we’d walked away from it… back up the hill…

Of course, at 1030 am we were told we couldn’t check in till 1pm, but were able to dump our bags and set off with a lighter load. With nowhere actually in mind, we were blessed with the City Sightseeing bus coming past and ran to jump on it for the ride. Despite Potter holding up his NSW driving license and saying ‘studente’, the guy claimed there were only ‘adulte’ tickets available and we paid the 10 euro for our tickets.

Now, after having a rough flight, and rough landing, we weren’t expecting the rough bus ride. Damn. Potter and I eventually settled on the theory that they had stolen the bus and didn’t know where they were going. I know the trip is one big loop, but the number of times we came to a T-intersection, went left, left, left, left and then back at the same intersection decided to go right was ridiculous. The recorded voice over would play twice after they figured they were talking about the wrong thing… it was actually scary and cool at the same time!

Eventually we made it to the coast, as Porto is set a bit over a mile inland up the River Douro. There was a fort there, and the place looked interesting, so Potter and I jumped off the bus and had a look around. The fort, which we went to explore, was disappointing with nothing but a café inside… so we obliged the guy behind the counter who looked bored out of his mind and purchased a beer. From there we headed down to the beach, and were stoked to see real sand. If only the temperature was a bit warmer and it wasn’t so overcast. There were some guys out there surfing the beautiful clean breaks though.

Deciding that we were both starving, and that was one of the reasons we jumped off the bus, we hunted for food, and eventually found a pizza place that opened at noon. Arriving, he opened the door for us and we had a couple pizzas and a beverage to wash them down. Quickly we headed back to the bus stop, not wanting to have to kill another hour in a part of town that was decided more quite than it should have been. Although, it looks like with the development going on, someone else has the same opinion, and café and bars are being readied for next summer it would appear.

The bus ride back into town saw more of the same that we saw on the way out. Heaps of derelict buildings, primarily destroyed by either fire, or their roofs collapsing for non-apparent reasons, and plenty of graffiti. Add to that, the other things that will stay in my mind about Portugal, well Porto, are the lack of consideration for OH&S standards, and lack of food hygiene. More on that later…

So after the bus trip, we checked in to the hotel and had quick (luke warm) showers after a night sleeping at the airport. It was then decided to hit the hay for a 90 minute power nap so that we could continue to see the town in the evening. At 530 pm we jumped up and headed down to the Ribiera, an area on the banks of the River Douro where the cafes are and moved from one place to another looking for a feed. Eventually we found a small family run kitchen that had set up a restaurant in basically their front room, and along the path in front of the house. The price of the food was a whole lot cheaper than the posh places nearby, and it was mentioned (in a good way) in the old lonely planet I had, so we decided to give it a shot. Good deal. Roast chicken, potato frittes, rice and salad, all for 6.5 euro. Plus the beer was cheap there too.

From there, after chatting for a while with the family that ran the place, we headed out looking for some nightlife. It wasn’t happening. We jumped from café to café and headed further back from the river looking for something that was jumping. We even walked into one ‘bar’ that had two women sitting at a table eating their dinner. Potter and I looked at each other shocked. It was a lounge room, with a disco ball and marble tiles put in. The lady walked up to the ‘bar’ (like you’d have in your own lounge room) and charged 3 euro each for a small battle of the local beer. She must have been laughing all the way to the bank. So Potter and I sat there in stunned silence (except for the occasional utterance of ‘Corbin Dallas Multi-Pass’ in our most Lelu-esque accents which we said when we presumed the people around us spoke no English) watching shit Portuguese TV, feeling like idiots.

After that beer we got out of there as quickly as possible and continued wandering around. We came across an Irish pub that had been listed in the Lonely Planet, but as sums up the nightlife in Porto, the Irish pub didn’t open till 10 pm. We headed to a Chinese restaurant to grab a beer, which the waiter didn’t appreciate. “This is a Chinese restaurant” to which Potter replied “and you serve beer – no?” After that beer we wandered back to the Irish pub and had a couple there waiting for it to get interesting, but without any sign of a pulse at midnight, we called it a night suffering from lack of sleep the previous night, a day full of touring, and quite a few drinks.

The next morning we were up early for the complimentary (and rather awful) breakfast at the hotel (note, no HOT water in the shower, and awful breakfast, but it was cheap and in a great location…) before wandering around the town to look at some of the stuff we had driven past the day before.

The first stop was Torre do Clerigos, an old church with a 225 step spire than gave the best view overlooking Porto. First we wandered into the church, and after the first couple that walked in ahead of us left, Potter and I were the only two people in the church. Quite an interesting experience, no one there for quiet prayer, and no one there to tell you don’t touch, take no photos etc. We then climbed the 225 steps and the blue skies made visibility great, seeing across the river, out to the Atlantic, and down onto all of the tightly packed houses.

Next stop was the Bolhao Market, which sold fresh fish (along with many women on the street without any form of refrigeration) frozen fish, meat, flowers, and trinkets. That was about it at this market. It took some time to find, as it is on the inside of a block surrounded by modern stores, but eventually we did. The only other thing on sale, and something that Potter considered buying, was fruit and veg. Potter had said he wanted some grapes, but after we saw a pigeon wandering over potatoes in one of the stall, we thought against and left empty handed.

Next stop, given it was around midday, was the Ribiera again. This time the sun was out, it was about 25 degrees, and it was definitely shorts and t-shirt weather. We sat at the cafes enjoying a beer, and at 1 pm caught the 6 bridges river cruise. There are actually 6 bridges that join the north and south sides of the river near Porto, and they all look pretty impressive. At first we headed up stream, until we were within clear sight of the 6th bridge before heading back down stream under the 5 bridges to the mouth of the river, and then back to the Ribiera, all up taking about and hour.

After another beer in the sun, we went back to the same restaurant we ate at the previous night and ordered the same meal. The guy looked at us like “chicken, again? You fat bastards!” So we ate his chicken, and then wandered across the closest bridge to the other side of the river and a town called Vila Nova de Gaia. This is where all of the big Port houses have their distilleries/fermenters (?) with the names of Cockburn’s, Taylor’s, and Sandeman all homed here. We had a couple drinks in the bars lining the south side of the river, though it was a very much more laid back and unrefined scene compared to the Ribiera district of Porto, which could still be clearly seen across the water.

As the afternoon wore on, and the sun began to sink, we crossed back to Porto and had a last drink waiting for the colors of the sky to change. It was actually quite impressive, but was getting cold quickly. We made a decision to head back to the hotel and put some more appropriate (warmer) night clothing on, after hitting up the Chinese Restaurant for dinner - It was now almost 7pm. As we walked up, the place looked completely shut, with no lights on, doors locked, and no operating hours on the window. We figured it was like the rest of Porto and started late so decided to get changed first.

Next thing, it’s 10 pm and I wake up with the TV on in the room and Potter snoring away in the next bed? Trying to wake Potter up, he feels ill and doesn’t want to go out. I was bummed as I was REALLY looking forward to Chinese, but I decide Potter is being a wimp, and I might as well call it a night as well. Unfortunately for Potter, he wasn’t wimpy after all. At 3 am we both wake up. I ask Potter if he is feeling OK, and he say he feels like he’s going to vomit. Ten minutes later he does just that – and every hour until we had to get up at 7am. Afraid to get on the train without a feed, we find a bakery and get some bread into the poor chap who’s got the sweats. Every station he looks worse and worse till we get out where we have to change lines. Within 10 seconds all of the bread re-appears.

To make matters worse, we were cutting it damn fine for checking in to our flight, having missed the first train looking for the bakery! So once at the airport, it was a mad dash with me and the ‘stumpy legged’ sick man looking for the check in counter. From there, straight through security, passport control and onto the flight, with boarding already almost complete.

We jumped on the back row, and as we sat there waiting to take off, Potter started turning every shade of white and the sweats started again. A cup of water was given to him, and I asked for a spew bag which no one could locate. Eventually they returned with a plastic bag and with just seconds to spare, Potter started filling the bag. Thankfully, it was only at the very start of the flight that he was sick, almost right on take off, and he spent the rest of the flight sucking on ice cubes. By the time we landed in Bristol he was ready to try some Burger King so fill his stomach. In any case he kept it down, and we eventually made it home after another horror Sunday train ride.

So, despite only getting sun on the Saturday, and not getting out and partying on either Friday or Saturday night, for 4 pound plane tickets, I can’t really complain!

So that’s about it… I am heading to London with Scotty this weekend and Slovenia in the middle of December. Work is giving me mad overtime at the moment and I can barely keep up. The weather is getting frightfully cold already. Still looking to confirm my Christmas and New Year’s plans (must do soon), and early plans for a trip to Morocco in February and a trip to Ukraine early next year too. Football is about to start up again with pre-season training starting next week and the club AGM in a few weeks. Will keep you posted on all the further details of all my dealings as they emerge.

Hope you’re all well, and not exhausted after reading that one!