Friday, April 28, 2017

Day 14: I pick up a new hiking companion... Amanda!

Sept 30: I didn't sleep well during the night. The temperature in the hostel was quite hot and--even more surprising--the mosquitoes were awful. We were indoors! Where did all those mosquitoes come from?!

I had a laughably short 15-kilometer day into Porto today, and was in no big hurry. I could finish the day's hike in 3 hours, easy--and not even need a rest along the way. I didn't want to get into Porto too early either--hotels might not allow me to check in that early.

By morning, the mosquitoes finally went away so I lingered at the hostel fairly late. Unfortunately, Mary lingered too and wound up coming up to my room to chat a bit asking if the mosquitoes were bad up here. "Yep," I answered.

She was so infuriated by the mosquitoes, she told me, she set up her tent inside the hostel to escape them. I was a little envious. I wish I had thought of that. And had a tent. =)

She also told me a rather alarming story about a pervert who had started jerking off right in front of her then followed her down the trail, but he peeled off when she took a photo of his car. She then reported the incident to the local police in Coimbra and asked that I warn any women hiking in the opposite direction to be careful in that vicinity. That, I would certainly do that, but I never saw any other women walking in that direction. Like I've said before, it wasn't common to see people hiking in the other direction.

I was the last person to leave the hostel and waited around long enough to make sure Mary got a good head start on me. When Mary left, she asked me which direction the trail went explaining that she had taken a bus into town yesterday so didn't know where the trail had come from or where it was going. I pointed to the left--follow the yellow arrow on the front door. I didn't really care that she took a bus--except for the fact that it threw her in my path again.

I didn't want to catch up with Mary, so I dwaddled a bit longer at the hostel letting her get a solid head start on me. Despite all my dwaddling, though, I still left the hostel by 8:00. It didn't have Internet access and I had grown bored sitting the dingy building reading my Kindle.

The walk into Porto was positively awful almost the entire distance following busy, noisy roads. I was disappointed to catch up with Mary after about an hour or so when she stopped to chat with some locals, and I soon took a "much needed" break so she would move on and leave me alone before continuing on myself.

The trail followed some busy roads deeper into Porto, eventually arriving at the Douro River and the historic old part of town which was absolutely spectacular! Incredible views, dramatic bridges, gondolas, boats and ancient historic buildings dotted the skyline.

But I had still arrived far too soon to check into any hotels. Actually, I had a specific hotel in mind. I had checked out lodging options a few days earlier and was startled to see that most of the hostels and hotels listed online were already full! And that was a few days earlier! I was planning to meet Amanda today, and the cost of a cheap hotel was barely more than the cost of two beds at a hostel, so I decided we should stay at a hotel. And I decided we'd take the day off tomorrow and just sight-see around town. Porto was the second-largest city in Portugal and had plenty to see!

I had trouble finding a cheap hotel for two consecutive nights, however--they were all full either one night or the other. Eventually, I booked two different hotels for each night. It would be inconvenient to move hotels, but it was better than paying a few hundred euros to stay in one place.

But still, I had arrived in Porto too early. The hotel's check-in time was nearly two hours away, and Amanda wasn't expected to arrive until later in the day as well. So I took an extended break at a nice viewpoint overlooking the downtown core of Porto.

About an hour later, I headed towards the hotel, swinging by the cathedral along the way. Many pilgrims start their Portuguese hike in Porto and pick up their credencials here to begin their walk. I saw numerous people carrying packs and looking confused--clearly pilgrims just beginning their journeys. I've been told that the section from Lisbon to Porto wasn't a popular section and I wouldn't see many pilgrims--and for the most part, I didn't--but the trail would be a lot busier between Porto and Santiago and so far, that already appeared to be the case. In a five-minute window, I counted six different people I pegged as pilgrims.

I took a quick look around the cathedral and had the guy who sold the credencials stamp mine with the cathedral's stamp. I didn't have to purchase one since I already had it, but I still wanted mine stamped. Amanda would have to come later to get her own credencial stamped.

I continued on to the hotel hoping they might check me in a bit early, which they did. I took a quick shower and changed clothes, then walked out to the train station. Amanda was flying into Lisbon and taking the train to Porto. She said that if she got on the early train, she was expected to arrive at 2:50. Otherwise, she would arrive sometime around 6 or 7:00. It depended on how long it took her to get through customs at the airport. Since it had taken so long for me to get through customs in Lisbon I was not sure she would make the 2:50 arrival.  At the hotel, I checked my email, but I hadn't gotten anything from Amanda. I didn't know if that meant she was on the train and unable to contact me, or that she hadn't gotten on the train and wasn't able to contact me. Her flight should have landed in Lisbon that morning, but it would take time to get through customs and immigration then a train to Porto. So I showed up at the train station... just in case... but kind of doubting she caught the earlier train.

The train station was gorgeous with enormous tiled walls showing the history of Portugal. I waited for about a half hour after her scheduled arrival time, not entirely sure which train she would arrive on--assuming, of course, that she arrived at all. She had to change trains outside of Porto so it's not like the arrivals board would say the arriving train was coming from Lisbon--it wasn't, and I wasn't sure which arriving train she'd be on. So I waited by every train that arrived... just in case... but Amanda never showed up and a half hour after her expected arrival, I threw in the towel and gave up.

I was starving at this point--I hadn't eaten lunch yet--but I was anxious to get back to the hotel and check my email again hoping for an update from Amanda. I noticed a McDonalds nearby and figured they'd have to be fast--it was McDonalds, after all! I walked in and oh my! Wow!!! I was absolutely stunned.

Chandeliers hung from the ceilings and stained-glass windows were lit up, and a curvy staircase led downstairs. For a moment, I thought I walked into the wrong place. This was a 5-star restaurant! But no... it was... McDonalds. There were the McDonalds menu boards, with a Big Mac and everything. It felt wrong on so many levels....

Hard to believe, but this is actually McDonalds.

I went ahead and ordered a combo meal--supersize it! I needed the calories. =) I scarfed it down quickly and headed back to the hotel where I checked my email and finally got an update from Amanda saying that she had arrived in Lisbon and was on the train, and should arrive in Porto around 7:00.

I had a few hours to kill and took a short nap. I was a bit tired from my lack of sleep the night before and by around 6:30 headed back to the train station to await Amanda's imminent arrival.

She finally got off a train that arrived at 7:15. There were hugs and a tearful reunion. Well, there was a hug. Not so much tears, but it sounded good, right? =)

I asked Amanda if she was hungry and needed some dinner (nope). Anything she wanted to see or do?

And she said that there was a McDonalds in Porto that was allegedly the "world's most glamorous McDonalds" that she wanted to see.

I held up a finger. "Say no more! It's on the way to the hotel! We'll make a quick stop." =)

I had no idea when I walked in the first time that it was billed as the world's "most glamorous" McDonalds--but apparently it was a tourist attraction and Amanda learned about it while researching the town. It was kind of a shame that she already knew about its reputation, though. She probably wouldn't have the same, stunned shock that I had when I walked in.

So we swung by the McDonalds where she poked her head around and ooohed and ahhhed. She took a few photos then we left without buying anything.

Amanda admires some of the tourist souvenirs for sale.

On the way to the hotel, we passed a couple of tourists shops and Amanda couldn't help herself--she had to go in and look around. She looked in a couple of shops for about 15 minutes, and eventually came out and we finally arrived at the hotel.

It was already getting dark out so we called it a day. Tomorrow, we would officially hit the streets of Porto!

Amanda started the morning in a first class seat for her flight to Lisbon. Flying in style! =)

I started the day walking the streets towards Porto.

Construction led me on a slight detour, but the detour was well-marked!

The trail runs over the top of this bridge over the Douro River. Awesome views!
It's a funicular! I made a mental note.... Amanda might want to ride the funicular later. =)

The Porto Cathedral
Inside the cathedral

The lobby of the train station is a tourist attraction in its own right with tiled walls showing the history of Portugal.
Waiting around for trains to arrive...

Even the exterior of the McDonalds had this elaborate statue over the front door.
Amanda took this photo while waiting to change trains on the way to Porto. I'm not actually sure where this photo was taken, although I can see from the clock on the column that she took it at about 3:30 in the afternoon. =)
And yeah! Amanda finally made it! (This photo was taken the next day when it was actually light out. It was already getting dark when Amanda arrived.)

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Day 13: A Painfully Slow Day

Sept 29: I expected to cover a little under 20 kilometers today--my shortest day yet--so I slept in late then goofed around on the Internet killing time before hitting the trail by around 9:30.

And for the most part, it was an utterly miserable day of road walking--including a particularly nasty stretch that followed along the shoulders of the busy N-1 highway. It was a spectacularly ugly, noisy, and horrible part of the trail.

My guidebook showed a "calzada romana" (Roman road) that sounded like it was away from cars and might be pleasant for a stop near the halfway point for the day, and I decided to shoot for that point for an extended break. It looked like the only place all day that might be off a car-choked road lined with civilization.

And it was... nice! Yep, that was definitely the spot for me to take an extended break, lay down, and read a book. =)

I'd been there for about 10 minutes when a hiker coming from the other direction arrived. I didn't see many people hiking from the opposite direction--they do exist, but most pilgrims are hiking towards Santiago. There are a small handful following the blue arrows (now pointing behind me) towards Fatima. Typically we never said anything more than "hello" and "goodbye" as we passed each other, but this one stopped and sat down to chat for a while.

She was young, very pretty, and all I had said was, "Hello!" and she immediately recognized the American accent. "American, are you?" she said with a distinctly British accent.

"Guilty as charged," I replied.

She introduced herself as Christie, and was from a "small town" called London. "You've probably never heard of it," she said jokingly.

"Hmm.... I think I might have. Is that in England?"

I had assumed she must have been walking to Fatima because... why else would she be walking the "wrong" direction on the trail? But no, she had started her walk in Bilbao, Spain--then hiked the Camino Norte, then picked up the Camino Primitivo before finally reaching Santiago. But she didn't want to stop and decided to keep walking on to Lisbon and maybe keep walking after that. She didn't really have a specific destination in mind. Just walk until she got tired of it or ran out of money, I suppose. She had already covered a whopping 1,000 kilometers since starting her journey. I was a little envious. I want to see the Norte and Primitivo routes, and she'd already seen them both!

Christie, from the "small town" of London.

She had decided to walk the Portugal Camino next--but in the "wrong" direction since she was already in Santiago. She had noticed that she seemed to be following blue arrows, but she hadn't really trusted them because she didn't know what they were for or where they ultimately led and kept looking behind her for yellow arrows to confirm that she was still going in the correct direction. So I got the chance to explain that the blue arrows led to Fatima, and it overlapped the Camino--at least up until Coimbra where the two paths diverge. Although she could walk to Fatima, then reconnect with the Camino afterwards. Didn't really matter, I suppose, since she had no set destination in mind.

She had stopped for about a half hour to chat but eventually got up to continue her journey. I was a little sad to see her go. It was nice having company to chat with. I enjoy reading books on my Kindle, but I'd been doing an awful lot of that lately. People made things more interesting.

I went back to reading my book for nearly an hour before my legs started getting restless and I packed up and continued down the trail.

I only walked for about an hour and was still going too fast. I needed to kill more time, but there were no good spots apparent on my map ahead so I stopped at a cafe in town where I could sit in a proper chair and get food and drinks served to me.

On the door of the cafe was an illustration of a delicious hot dog, so I pointed at that trying to order one. Plus my usual pastry and Coke, of course. The Coke turned out to not have even been refrigerated--disgusting room temperature stuff, so I asked about ice. I didn't know the word for ice in Portuguese and tried to pantomime dropping ice cubes in the cup and shivering and pointing at the cup. I didn't know if he had any ice, but come on--room temperature Coke? The Coke didn't have to be cold (although it would be nice), but I wasn't going to drink a hot Coke. Not going to happen....

The guy did understand me and filled up my cup with ice. Awesome. Now I could get a cold Coke. =)

The hot dog came out a bit later and.... it looked absolutely nothing like the illustration I pointed out which looked like a standard, regular, run-of-the-mill hot dog. This looked more like a sandwich with hot dogs (two of them!) inside as a meat filling. Yeah, okay.... whatever. I'd still eat it, but that was no hot dog.

This was what I got when I ordered a "hot dog." =)

I lingered for another hour and a half, killing time, then continued on to the small town of Grijo and my destination for the day.

I went to check into the hostel, and another pilgrim from Holland gave me a tour of the place pointing out the various rooms. One room she pointed into she told me had a Canadian woman in it, and when I saw the gear, I thought, Mary! Oh, God! That's totally Mary's gear! I didn't express my thoughts out loud, but I fell into a panic. How do I get rid of Mary?!

Mary wasn't there at the time, but she had to be nearby. Her gear was here, after all. I would have immediately changed to a different hostel if there had been another one in town, but this was the only game in town. Crap.

I selected a room on the second floor, a floor above Mary and as far away from Mary's room as I could get. I knew I'd probably run into her at some point in the hostel, but I wanted as much cushion between us as possible.

After setting up, I headed next door and joined a table with a bunch of other pilgrims including three French people who spoke no English at all and the woman from Holland--whose name I still hadn't gotten and now felt awkward to ask--who did know English. She translated a bit between the French people and myself, but her French seemed a bit rusty. Still better than my French, though!

I got an ice cream sandwich and another Coke, which the French people insisted on paying for. I hadn't even realized it until I tried to pay for my stuff and the clerk wouldn't take my money because it had already been paid for. Well, then... thanks! =) When they talked to the clerk in French, I had no idea what they were up to.

When I returned to the hostel, I finally ran into Mary who seemed surprised to see me. "I thought you would be further ahead by now," she told me. She probably wished I were further ahead, which I was wishing as well at the moment. So I explained that I was meeting my girlfriend in Porto and couldn't get there too early and had to slow down.

The pilgrims were offered a "family dinner" nearby--for a price, of course, which the French people and Hollander went for. I didn't really want an elaborate meal, but decided to go mostly for the company. Mary was vehemently against it saying that they were serving a month-old piglet for dinner. "It's just a baby!" she told me.

I wasn't sure how that was relevant. Was it okay to eat an adult pig, but baby piglets somehow crossed a line? But I was happy to agree with her. "Yes, it's barbaric," I told her. I hoped the piglet had been raised humanly and killed humanly, but I didn't really have any way to verify if that was the case or not. If it was raised for food, though, I couldn't see the distinction between killing it after a month or after a year or after a decade. But if Mary boycotted the dinner, I won't have to see her there so I was perfectly happy to push her on the point. So I readily agreed: "It's barbaric," and nodded my head wisely.  =)

At the anointed hour, everyone except Mary headed to the nearby house where we were served a family dinner which included salad, rice, and... chicken. It definitely wasn't pork because I found a chicken wing in the meat, and I was very certain that piglets did not grow wings. The family dinner also included a few screaming but adorably cute kids who lived at the house. I guess it wouldn't be a "family" dinner without the screaming kids nearby. =)

The family spoke Portuguese, of course, and enough French to chat with the French people. I felt a little left out, though, only being able to communicate with the woman from Holland. She was the only other English-speaking person at the table. Oh, well.

We finished dinner and got back to the hostel fairly late at night--after 10:00, I think--and headed to sleep.

This is a fairly well preserved original stretch of a Roman road, hundreds of years old and the location of my first extended break for the day.

When I first saw this sign, I thought, "Oh! The alburgue is close! Only 6700 meters!" Then I did the math and realized that 6700 meters is the same as 6.7 kilometers. Which isn't really that close. (Over 4 miles.) But it left me scratching my head and wondering.... why did they list it as 6700 meters and not 6.7 kilometers? Why use meters at all if you're talking about something greater than 1 kilometer?

The door of the hostel had these arrows at the exit. Turn left for Santiago, and right for Fatima!