Tented Travels: Porto-a Divine Debacle

Now where were we? Ah yes-Portugal, the west coast, staying at Praia di Ancora, having pitched our borrowed, pyramid tent [disregarding advice from our elderly Portuguese neighbours, whose comments we could safely disregard by claiming ignorance of their language]. A few kilometers down the road lay the attactive town of Viana do Costello where we could get a train to Porto, thus avoiding the need to find a parking place in a city where streets are narrow enough to string laundry across between the homes.

We parked the trusty Peugeot in the station car park and went to buy tickets. But what a spectacle the interior of the station was! Every wall boasted stunning tiled murals in customary blue and white. Here was a beautiful art gallery before we’d even left! In our innocence we bought return rail tickets and established the latest return time. Then we boarded and sat back as the wheezing, rumbling train took us down the coast.

Porto [or Oporto to the Portuguese] is a stunner of a city, tall umber houses squeezed together on the slopes down to the Douro river and dotted with old churches, frescoes, balconies-all with that beautiful decadence that only grand old cities display. My favourite streets are the narrowest, cobbled and where the balconies almost meet in the middle, as I said-strings of laundry across them.

On the River Douro there are traditional Rabelo boats that were once used for transporting wine barrels but can now be used for tourist trips. As we sat down by the riverside we peered into the waters where the river was boiling with thousands of fish, so that you might be tempted to reach in with a net and scoop some out-until you notice that what is attracting them is a sewage outlet…

No visit to Porto is complete without looking at a Port lodge, of which there are many; cool, cavernous warehouses accommodating rows and rows of barrels full of delicious port in various stages of maturity; Heaven for Husband, who has a penchant for port.

At last we felt we’d done Porto justice and began to consider our return to Viana do costelo. We wouldn’t want to miss the last train back. We returned, footsore by now to the station and presented our tickets. And this is where the vagaries of timetables, coupled with breakdowns in communication failed us. ‘Ah no’, declared the gentleman in the ticket booth. ‘The return train does not leave from here.’ Who knew? How foolish of us to imagine for one moment that our train would be returning from the point where we’d left it? And of course, the station from which it would leave was now too far to get to. We had missed it. But he offfered us one glimmer of hope. A late, late ‘milk’ train would be trundling up the coast in the small hours and we could get back on that.

While it was a relief to learn we weren’t entirely stranded we were left with the conundrum of what to do with our evening and opted for a long, leisurely meal. We found ourselves drifting along to the port area, where a swathe of restaurants fringed the dockside, then selected one. It was quiet, early and there were pleanty of empty tables in the long, thin dining area past the bar. We soon had the feeling that tourists were not regular visitors and this was reinforced by the way the waiter ran to get me clean cutlery when I knocked a knife on to the floor! Though I’m sure the meal was delicious and would have been fish-biased my memory of it is eclipsed by the thrilling sight of a regular who’d been drinking at the bar being roundly ejected by the seat of his pants-an entertaining event.

We spent as long as we were able with our meal, then with drinks, until we could reasonably toddle off to get our train, by which time we were full of food and wine and very sleepy. The train’s old-style compartments seemed inviting and I felt anxious that we’d travel past our destination if we slept too soundly, but we managed to exit the train at Viana and arrived, very late to our site. We’ve been caught out by timetables on plenty more occasions since then!

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