Sunday, 31 October 2010

Into Portugal.

Yesterday we woke to a familiar sound: Galician rain beating against the window. However, despite the forecast that it would continue all day, by the time we set off for the bus station to begin our journey to Portugal the rain had stopped and the sky had started to clear. And there we were, off on our travels again.

We discovered a good thing about the Alsa bus service to Portugal: if you are over 60 you get a discount on your ticket to Oporto. So we paid 9 Euros instead of 12. That’s practically 2 cups of coffee! They won’t make up the cost of motorway tolls that way. Otherwise the Alsa service was much the same as ever. A bus arrived in the designated bus bay at the designated time with a label that said “Coruña – Portugal”. People put luggage in the hold and showed their tickets to the driver who growled, “Só Fátima e Lisboa”. Not going to Oporto at all then. That’s fine but there’s no need to be grumpy about it and maybe the sign needs to be more specific. He did calm down and reassured us that the bus to Oporto would be along shortly. Some 15 minutes later, in other words fifteen minutes behind schedule, it arrived with an equally grumpy driver and we were on our way.

We had originally thought we might catch a train at 1.45 from Oporto to Figueira da Foz but it quickly became clear that we were not going to make it, despite the driver catching up on some of his lost time en route. So we wandered into the city centre – trying out my Portuguese to ask directions, only to be answered in American English - and had a fairly rapid but very good value lunch at a place called Restaurante Marinheiro, not far from Avenida dos Aliados: €13.20 for olives, fanecas fritas (some kind of fish) served with huge quantities of rice, wine, water and coffee, ordered mostly in Portuguese with a bit of Spanish thrown in. Not bad at all!

Then we negotiated the Oporto metro system – probably very simple if you use it every day – to get to the Campanhá railway station where my Portuguese was marginally more successful for buying tickets to Figueira. The helpful lady in the ticket office did have very good English, however, which was useful when I completely forgot the meaning of “trocar” as she explained that we needed to change trains at Coimbra.

We then experienced two extremes of train travel. From Oporto to Coimbra we travelled in a modern, high speed train. I wanted to take photos of storks’ nests on top of electricity pylons but by the time I had got my camera out we were way past the objective of my picture. At one point we clocked up 220 kilometres an hour. Clean, comfortable and fast: most impressive! And then we switched to a
“comboio urbano”, the local train service from Coimbra to Figueira da Foz, stopping at every possible place along the way and probably not getting above 25 kilometres an hour. Still, we got lots of Portuguese pronunciation examples as the public address system announced the “proxima estação” just before each new stopping place.

And finally we were there and it was a fine but windy early evening. So we walked – rather further than we expected – to our hotel, asking a policeman for directions along the way. He was a little surprise that we were on foot but was very helpful and then, just after we had checked in, turned up at the hotel to make sure we had arrived safely. Now, that is what I call community policing!!

Some time later, showered, smartened up and generally rested, we emerged to go to the opening ceremony of the chess congress which is the main reason for our being here. This involved a glass of port for everyone and an address by the organiser, thanking the local council and various sponsors for their support and naming almost everyone who represented a country other than Portugal. Then followed a concert of fado music and singing by a group of gentlemen from Coimbra. From what I was able to make out they are very proud of THEIR music, far superior, it would seem, to the kind of fado they do in Lisbon!! Don’t you just love these folksie rivalries??

No comments:

Post a Comment