Saturday, June 14, 2008

Portugal travel letter: morto Porto

It’s Monday now, not that it matters what weekday it is, when travelling. But, suitably for a normal Monday, it doesn’t have to be pleasant. Most of my day is spent on a train from south to Lisbon to Porto – altogether it takes more than 7 hours. It’s not so bad though, I sleep and I’ve got my iPod and my new Nick Hornby book. But I still can’t say that “time just flies by”. I arrive allright and find the hostel allright, which is on a hill in the center. Surprise, surprise, Porto is even hillier than Lisbon. The hostel (Oporto Poets Hostel) is allright too, but not quite as nice as Traveller’s House. Their best asset is however the beautiful inyard with a hammock. It’s already evening but I decide to take a first look at the city but it’s not welcoming me. It’s Monday evening, which is like a resting day for Porto people and everyone stays at home or goes to the movies, since it’s cheaper on Mondays and so the town is quite dead – morto Porto. It’s the first time during this trip when I don’t feel so safe walking around on my own. Instead of the old ladies I got used to in Lisbon, there are some old guys commenting me as I walk buy and clacking their tongues very rudely. I head back to the hostel and decide to give Porto a fair chance the next morning.

It’s Tuesday morning and after a good night sleep I start my day early. The weather is stunning and Porto immediately seems nicer. I must say it’s a really gorgeous city. It’s a little dirty and ragged and very old and beautiful. If anything, Porto reminds me most of Marrakech, except that it’s more hilly and the houses are higher. I think Porto looks exactly as I thought Marrakech would look like before seeing it. I walk and walk and walk all through the city and enjoy the sights and the narrow streets and peeping into the lives of the locals through their open doors and windows. It’s a holiday and most of them are home – the children are playing on the streets, the men are watching football and the women are either just gossiping among themselves or cleaning up their homes, whilst listening to music and singing along to it. I get the feeling that it is important to them that their own homes and in front of their homes is really clean, especially when I see a woman religiously scrubbing the street right in front of her door. Even if there is dog shit and smell of pee 3 meters away, she can be sure her home is a clean sanctuary. It’s funny though, there’s definitely a lot of dog shit but I don’t really see dogs, all I see is cats everywhere, many meagre-looking cats, sitting on porches and stairs everywhere.
I have my lunch at the riverbank, eating some grilled sardines and having a glass of white wine. And then I walk some more, concentrating at the riverside ribeira. I buy a bottle of Port for my parents, I get a really good quality port, but it’s still only 7 euros. The port here is incredibly cheap. I would buy more, but I’m already over the capacity of my suitcase, what with all the stuff I’ve already bought from London and Lisbon.
In the evening I join a couple of Americans and a Dutch girl to go to Feist concert. I’m only hoping there’s some tickets left because the Lisbon concert was already sold out before I even started my trip. I’m in luck again and get to see Feist!! Her performance is (borrowing from Americans) awesome! She is superb live and the venue is great – like a small theatre – with great acoustic and just enough people. In addition to getting the audience sing along just beautifully, there’s also the whole visual part to her show as one girl is creating pictures and stories on a screen during the songs. It’s truly like watching a beautiful music video. After the concert me and the Dutch girl speak to a woman from Feist’s crew. The Dutch girl met her earlier that day at port tasting and she’d put her on the list and now she gets to thank her. I get a piece of it too as she gives us some really nice tour t-shirts.

Just a little sidenote – Porto is oozing a bit of gay vibe. I see many gay people around here, on the streets and at the concert and also in the hostel. Like, for instance, the receptionist guy is gay, for sure, and the receptionist girl seems to be as well, and there’s also a French lesbian couple staying at the hostel. The receptionist girl seems to be flirting with me before I go to Feist concert and when I come back from it and when I’m leaving the hostel and thanking them for my stay, she says: “It was nice having you….well, not quite;)”

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