Day 31: Porto to LAX to Ventura

When you buy flight tickets with frequent flier miles you get the worst flying times. When we made the reservations we were thrilled to get free tickets, and thought we’d figure out later how to get to the airport for our 6 a.m. flight in Porto. The reality hit us when we realized we had to be at the airport at 4 a.m., which meant leaving the city at 3:15 a.m., which meant getting up at 2:30 a.m. But that’s not the worst of it! The metro doesn’t run at night. We could take a taxi, (which aren’t expensive here), but how do we call one in the middle of the night in a foreign language? People told us to walk to the taxi stands and catch one. What if there weren’t any waiting in the middle of the night? It’s a lot to risk. If we couldn’t get a taxi we could miss our two flights, and replacing them would be very expensive. Tourist information said there was a bus that went every hour on the hour that we could catch across from the train station. Great. So we did a dry run at 9 p.m. two days before. We couldn’t find the airport bus on the hour. We asked at the train station.The gentlemen at the train window didn’t speak any of my three languages, and I didn’t speak his. But between my Spanish and his Portuguese, we came close. “The night bus to the airport runs every hour in the night, starting at 1 a.m. and stopping at 5 a.m. (Not EVERY hour.) And the stop is at Aliados Metro Station. (Close to the train station, but not across the street.)”  Even the simplest activities are so difficult in a foreign language and culture. The hardest part to communicate was that we had to leave on the 3 a.m. bus and the number was 3M. I thought he was misunderstanding me when I asked “What number?”

“3 M”

“I know 3 a.m., but what number bus?”

“3 M.”

“No. Not the time. The bus number.” He writes the time and the bus number on a piece of paper. Oh.

The night before we walked to that metro station to see if we could see the bus schedule posted. The metro station had at least three entrances and they were far enough apart you couldn’t just run to the bus on the other side of the street. Oh sweet merciful cupcakes! Why can’t it just be easy?

There are few things scarier than closing the door to your AirBnB at 2:35 a.m. in a foreign country with the keys on the inside. No going back. And we were still uncertain about our transportation. We were surprised that even though it was Monday morning, the streets were full of people, and the bars were open and loud. (Note to self: I hope Lydia and Miriam don’t want to vacation here on some random trip when they are in their 20s.) There were plenty of taxis. Relief. There were 20 people at the airport bus stop. YES! We arrived at the airport with our passports, phones and other personal items intact. The rest of the way home was uneventful. Lots of food, movies, and rest. We are exhausted.

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Day 30: Porto

Jim ordered the “Small Plain Omelette”, not expecting this huge breakfast. (It was about $3.) The omelette is under the fries. IMG_4026.jpg

Then we took the bus to the ocean. I had heard that the beaches are beautiful, and they might be, but although Porto was sunny, the beaches outside the city were very foggy and cold. We walked along the shore for about two miles, and then took the bus back. I feel much more confident riding foreign buses now. I’ve been in enough countries and seen enough systems that I think I can figure out how to do it now. I’ve had good luck with showing the driver my question in Google Translate on my phone. It always gets a laugh and the drivers I’ve encountered were eager to help. IMG_4027.JPGIMG_4028.JPGIMG_4032.JPGIMG_4029.JPG

When we arrived home at 11 am I was overcome by fatigue. I’ve been gone a month. I’ve pushed myself every day. I’ve had a lot to think about, process, and plan. I’m really tired. I took a two hour nap and felt better. Then what I wanted to do was explore the local grocery store, and what Jim wanted to do was to ride the overhead cable cars, so we both did our own thing. Then we played together a bit. Mmmm. Costa Coffee. IMG_4037.jpg

Next door to our AirBnB is a bookstore. There’s always a long line to get in, and in fact you have to buy a ticket for four euros to even get in the store. I couldn’t figure out what could be so interesting about a bookstore that you would PAY to get in. Today I asked, and it turns out J. K. Rowling wrote the first three chapters of Harry Potter in Porto during the day while she taught English at night. This bookstore inspired her description of the library at Hogwarts. In the center of this picture is the bookstore, and our AirBnB is just to the left, upstairs.  IMG_4033.jpg

You’re probably getting sick of hearing how amazing the food is here. The plates are huge and everything is so yummy. And the restaurants are cute, too. And inexpensive. Can you tell I’ll really miss the food? IMG_4011.JPGIMG_4014.JPG

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We walked down to the river at sunset. It was really pretty. I’m tired and ready to come home, but I will miss Porto. It’s a fun city. IMG_4047.JPGIMG_4048.JPGIMG_4050.JPG

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Day 29: Porto, Portugal

We started the day, as always, with coffee and pastries, but the coffee here is extra special. The espressos here are so flavorful and not bitter I can drink them with no milk and sugar.

The pastries are better in France and the hot chocolate is better in Spain. But the coffee is hands down better in Portugal. This is Diane’s picture from a few days ago in Spain. Look at how this churro can stand up in Spanish hot chocolate. Mmmm. DSCN1988.JPG

On our way home from the vegetable market we passed a fire station with some old-looking engines. I asked the firefighter if I could take pictures, and said that my son-in-law is a firefighter. He asked “Are you proud of him?”

“Yes. Very.”

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Porto is famous for Port wine. For over 2000 years the grapes have been grown and the wine made in the Duoro valley just up the river, and, it’s stored in Porto in long lines of huge barrels. Then it’s shipped from here all over the world. We toured one of the wineries this morning. If I had a quarter for every time they said how great Taylor vineyards are, I could buy a lot of bottles of Port wine. Despite this annoyance, I learned a lot, and Jim was fascinated by it all. Interesting fact: the grapes are still trodden by foot to make the wine. (Not so factual: By people who are happy all day and sing and dance while doing it. And the pickers with five heavy crates on their backs are always happy, too. At Taylor we’re all working together in the beautiful Portuguese landscape.) IMG_3990.JPG

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Later we were walking through the city and saw one of The Way markers. We followed the shells and the yellow arrows, realizing that for three days we were walking past them without even realizing. IMG_4021.jpgThe city seemed so big when we arrived three days ago, but now, even if we go somewhere new, we will most likely be on streets we’ve walked before.  I love the red tile roofs and the little side streets. IMG_4017.JPGIMG_4018.JPG

Our friends Rick and Diane started their journey home today. We have one and a half more days.

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Day 28: Porto, Portugal

I walked into a bakery today and said “Buenos días” before I remembered they don’t speak Spanish here. I tried to figure out which language would be the least insulting to use. (English? French? Spanish?)  My mind is so confused. Later we were told Portuguese is the language you get when someone who has had six espressos speaks Spanish with a Russian accent. We went into a lamp store and I asked “Parlez-vous Français? Do you speak English? Habla español?”  and she pointed to the plug adaptors, which is exactly what I was looking for. (Foreigners come into lamp stores for adaptors, I guess.)

People who live in Porto are so proud of their city. They see Porto as the spiritual center and point out that the whole country was named for their city (it was the gateway–the port to the country, thus Portugal. Gal refers back to a word meaning “calm.”) There are no palaces and no kings in Porto and they like to think they care about each other as equals in their city.  Starting ten years ago tourism started to expand exponentially, due to one big international soccer match, Ryan Air starting international flights to Porto, and the advent of AirBnB. There were lots of abandoned buildings in the historical center. People bought them for low prices, fixed them up and started renting them as AirBnBs. It changed the whole downtown for the better. Cafes and restaurants started opening, followed by bakeries and tourist shops. Now Porto is a tourist destination. It still has a little “not-ready-for-prime-time” feel to it, but it also has an authenticity, (no tourist train, for example), no crowds and no one standing in lines at national monuments. The city is darling with lots of history, great restaurants, and plenty to do. The buildings are beautiful. Many are covered with beautiful tile work–the majority blue because blue is cheaper–while others are painted bright colors. The tiles protect the buildings from the six months of rain they get.

The blue façade is all 4×4″ tiles. IMG_3918.jpgIMG_3872.JPGIMG_3915.JPG

It’s hard to tell, but the blue and pink buildings are covered with tiles. IMG_3919.JPG

These British-style pay phones are everywhere, and they really work. This is their beautiful train station. The blue and white wall murals are made of individual four-inch tiles. IMG_3868.JPG

This is a close up of the tiles in the right side of the previous picture. IMG_3864.jpgThe guide on the free walking tour was an actor/comedian with a passion for history and storytelling. He was great. We learned so much about the city and the interesting history of Portugal. They were leaders in exploration–reaching China, Japan, and Africa ahead of other European countries, but the Portuguese lack of militarism and competitive spirit meant that many of their colonies were lost to others early on. They are culturally more laid back and easy going. (All this is according to our guide.) They became their own country very early–the 12th Century. Long before Spain and Germany. IMG_3920.JPGIMG_3874.JPGIMG_3886.jpgIMG_3900.JPGIMG_3902.jpg

Delicious chocolate cake was part of the tour.

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We also took a six bridge boat trip down the Duoro River. This bridge is often called the Eiffel bridge because it was designed by Eiffel’s disciple. People remember Eiffel’s name, and not his student’s, so he often gets credit. (Ironically, even here.) IMG_3929.JPGIMG_3945.JPG

The iron bridge, (in front of the white one), was actually designed by Eiffel. IMG_3932.JPGIMG_3930.JPG

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Day 27 Santiago de Compostela, Spain to Porto, Portugal via Pontevedra and O Grove

When we checked into our beautiful AirBnB in Santiago the hostess asked us “Are you going anywhere else in Galicia?”

“No.”

“You really should.”

She was so proud of her country and really wanted us to see it. She recommended two little towns that were only an hour or two out of Santiago, so we visited them on our way to Portugal today. I’m really glad we did. The scenery getting there was breathtaking. I kept wanting Jim to stop so we could take pictures, but it was a little two-lane road with few pull outs. The pictures in my mind of the little fishing villages and seaside towns are magnificent. IMG_3849.JPGIMG_3848.JPG

This basilica in Pontevedra is on The Way, and is over a thousand years old.

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I liked this little pilgrim guy inside the church. IMG_3835.jpgPontevedra had a cool fish market. IMG_3844.jpgO Grove is on a little peninsula in an inlet and is just darling. Somehow I didn’t get any great pictures of the town. The view was spectacular. IMG_3857.JPG

This sign on a wine store translates to “less blah blah blah, more glug, glug, glug.”IMG_3843.jpg

We have eaten really well in Galicia. Today we all had the set menu: soup or salad, then this giant plate of four kinds of fish (and the fries that you keep eating not because you are hungry but because they taste like something you’ve never had before), wine or beer, dessert, and coffee. For all four meals it was €51. ($58)

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Our AirBnB in Porto is in a great location, but the ambiance is lacking. It’s like a college student decorated it using cast-offs from his parents’ friends. But the host was one of the best we’ve had. He sat with us an hour going over a map and telling us all the special things he likes to do in the city. We have suggestions of a great pastry and coffee shop, a bookstore, the best port wineries, places to hear beautiful music with a view, and scenic walks. We also heard advice like “Don’t order coffee with milk after breakfast time. Only tourists do that.” (Their coffee is supposed to be one of the best in the world.)

Parking is very expensive here, so the first order of the evening was to ditch our rental car early. We drove to the airport and took the metro back, which was a fun adventure in itself. We were pretty proud of our navigation skills.

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Day 26: Santiago de Compostela, Spain

Santiago de Compostela is in Galicia, which is its own autonomous state within Spain. They have their own language and culture, which is closely related to Celtic and Portuguese culture, rather than Spanish. For instance, the bagpipe is their traditional music. The music we heard in the little squares reminded me more of Ireland than Spain.IMG_3826.jpg

The free walking tour started in the cathedral square, and as the guide told us different stories and history, groups of pilgrims porting rucksacks and sturdy walking shoes would enter the square. As they did, people would burst into cheers for them. It was really cool. Many Spanish high school students complete the pilgrimage, also called “The Way.” They might do the first quarter after their freshman year, and the second quarter after their sophomore year and so on, so that they’ve done the whole thing by their senior year. I found it hysterical that there’s a street just before the cathedral called “the question.” People hike many miles, but when they get within three blocks of the cathedral, they can’t see it, and the crooked streets are confusing, so they often ask the question “Where’s the cathedral?”IMG_3806.JPG

Pilgrims carry a type of passport that is stamped along the way, and they receive a diploma when they arrive. The guide told us about a friend of hers who is a marathon runner, who completed The Way in half the typical time. They wouldn’t award him a diploma because they didn’t believe he really travelled that quickly on foot.IMG_3797.jpg

There’s something about being on a difficult physical journey with lots of time to reflect that changes people. Additionally, meeting others in different situations traveling the same road opens your mind. Traveling the road this week was a woman from Seattle who had lost two daughters, a heroine addict from the Germany whose doctor advised him to do the Way, and a high school teacher from East Los Angeles facing a difficult decision. As they shared their lives on the journey, each pilgrim was touched by the others’ stories. The Way changes people, and broadens their minds. In the evening we went to a mass blessing the pilgrims. The priest encouraged the travelers not to forget what they’ve learned on the Way. They should continue to travel toward finding God and His will for their lives because this is the road to happiness. It was very moving. I definitely felt like an outsider because many people assumed we had also done the Way. (No, we’re just on a trip in our rental car staying at beautiful tourist destinations and gratifying our sensual desires.) IMG_3832.JPG

We’ve had amazing food here. It’s very inexpensive, so there’s no risk in trying exotic foods. Diane ordered the frogs legs. For me, it was too much work to get a little bit of meat that tasted like chicken. The fish is delicious here because it’s the meeting point of two oceans and there’s a wide variety. IMG_20170712_143458.jpg

They eat in courses. (Even at MacDonald’s you order a first and a second course.) I’m always full after the first, which often looks like this for me. (The meat is tuna–not from a can.): IMG_3817.jpg

St. Martins fish, potatoes, peppers, peas, tomatoes and a wonderful sauce. IMG_3820.jpg

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Day 25: Oviedo to Santiago de Compostela

We started our journey today at the Oviedo cathedral, the starting point of the oldest pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela. We had approached the church from the side and I pulled open a side door. Since it was unlocked, I assumed the cathedral was open and we went in. Later we found out the cathedral was closed, and we weren’t supposed to be there. Oops.IMG_3718.jpgWe always look for Saint Peter, holding a key. IMG_3720.jpg

I love the appropriate wording: Visitors not allowed during the wordship.IMG_3717.jpg

Next stop: two romanesque churches built in the 8th (!) century, when most of Spain was under the control of the moors and Asturias was bravely carrying the Christian flame. They are UNESCO World Heritage sites.

IMG_3745.jpgIMG_3758.jpgThe apostle James is buried in Santiago, and in the 9th century believers from all over the Christian world started making pilgrimages to his grave.  Today people make the pilgrimage for all kinds of spiritual and athletic reasons. The journey takes over 30 days to do the whole pilgrimage. I don’t really believe in making physical sacrifices as a way to gain spiritual rewards, but I do encourage people seek God, and the north coast of Spain is a breathtaking way to see His handiwork. IMG_3761.JPGIMG_3763.JPGIMG_3753.JPGIMG_3777 (1).JPG

We stopped for lunch in this little town on the coast and were surprised to have one of the best meals of our lives. Jim and I had Galician-raised pork that was unlike anything I’ve tasted before. (And a roasted pepper and fries.) The fries here taste amazing too. They use super-flavorful potatoes that put our potatoes to shame. Rick and Diane had fish (Hake and St. Martin) and loved it. IMG_3775.JPGIMG_3769.jpgIMG_3795.JPG

We wanted to see part of the walking path of the pilgrimage, which wasn’t as easy as one might think. It’s completely separate from the highway. Pilgrims follow this symbol:

IMG_3778.jpgIt was like a treasure hunt to find the signs. We followed the path for a bit, but when we realized the wall we were posing next to was covered in rats, (see picture below), I decided I would make a terrible pilgrim. I love the lovely walk part, but the suffering, not so much.

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We arrived in Santiago de Compostela in time for a walk around the town, a trip to the grocery store, and ice cream. Our AirBnB is five star–really beautiful and in a great location. We’ve been eating a big meal at noon and roasting vegetables for dinner, so sometimes our mornings start like this:

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