Monday, May 1, 2017

Day 15: A Porto Zero

Oct 1: Amanda hadn't officially started the trail yet, so I'm not sure today would officially count as a "zero day"--but for me, it certainly would be! My first zero day of the trail! =)

The morning was foggy, the air wet with moisture, and we decided just wander around a bit. Most places were still closed anyhow. The cathedral, however, was open, and we stopped there first so Amanda could get her first stamp. Well, technically, her second stamp. She had picked up a credenciale in Lisbon a couple of years earlier so it had a stamp from that but had never been used since. This would be her first stamp for this hike, though. We then walked across the giant bridge over the Douro River because the views from the top are amazing--even on this foggy morning.

On the other side of the river, we had planned to take an urban gondola from the high point at the end of the bridge to the river level below, but the gondolas weren't running yet. Curses! Foiled again!

No problem, though. We'd just have to walk down. I didn't have any good maps of this side of the river, though, so we had to take educated guess about which roads would lead us down. It wasn't difficult, and often times when we were left with a choice that we weren't entirely sure about, I suspect either direction would have worked. One way was probably a bit longer than the other, but they'd both get us to our destination.

We reached the river level and continued walking along the river, admiring the boats and sights along the way before returning to our original side of the river using the lower span of the same bridge we crossed over before.

That was close to one end of the funicular which was open and running--and Amanda was happy to see that. It meant she wouldn't have to hike up steep streets or staircases to our hotel. We paid the entrance fee for the funicular and piled on where it whisked us up the steep mountainside. It only lasted a few minutes, but it was a FUNicular--how can you not have fun? =)

We headed to the hotel where we packed up our gear and checked out. Because cheap lodging seemed in high demand, I couldn't get the room for two consecutive nights thus requiring us to move to another hotel. The check-in time for the new hotel was still an hour away, however, so we stopped for lunch at an outdoor patio then sat around killing time until it was check-in time for the new hotel.

Amanda takes a photo of my lunch. =)

We showed up at the appointed hour, checked into the new hotel, then immediately headed back out again because hey! We still had more of the city to see!

We headed to a prominent tower at a church that tourists were allowed to climb for a fee. I wanted to see the view--the fog had finally burned off and the skies were blue and clear. Amanda decided not to climb the staircase to the top and would wait below.

The route to the tower looped me around the upper levels of the church before landing me in a line where they limited the number of people who could ascend the tower at once. I didn't realize that there would be a wait and had no way of telling Amanda it was going to take longer than expected. About 15 minutes later, I was let through and started ascending the narrow staircase, spiraling ever upwards.

Partway up the tower--it was hard to tell how far up I was from the inside, but it seemed like it must have been somewhere near the halfway mark--the staircase passed a small window covered with bars which I stopped to look through and there was Amanda at the bottom of the tower! She was standing by the trolley line and appeared to be taking a photo of the tower. I waved frantically at her trying to get her attention and called out to her--although not very loudly since I figured the other people in the staircase didn't want to hear me shouting as loudly in its narrow confines.

Amanda didn't appear to notice me, but I would have bet I showed up in her photo. Was it just a coincidence that I happened to look out the window just as she was taking the photo, or had she been taking photos for most of the half hour since we had parted ways? (Turns out, it was a total coincidence, but I wouldn't learn that until after getting back town.)

Amanda seemed to stop giving the tower her attention, so I went back to climbing the narrow staircase which continued to squeeze narrower and narrower the higher up it went.

Views from one of the windows while climbing the tower.

Eventually I reached a level where one could walk on a narrow path around the outside of the tower, but it wasn't the top. There was still more to go, but I took a quick walk around before heading back into the tower and continuing up. That last section was so incredibly narrow, I had to take off my pack and hold it in front of me whenever I passed someone going down, and even then one of us had to squeeze into a corner as best we could while the other rubbed against us coming down. It was very cozy in that staircase. Amanda would definitely be glad to have missed this part of the tour. She gets very claustrophobic at times, and this would have driven her bonkers.

I finally made it to the top where a sign directed people to move clockwise around the top of the tower. It made sense--the narrow pathway at the top was all but impossible for two people to pass each other in opposite directions, so it made sense to make sure everyone moved in the same direction. Inconceivably, however, a couple of the people decided to go in the wrong direction leading to more mayhem and difficulties. What was wrong with these people!

The views from the top were wonderful, though. I could see for miles in every direction. I looked for Amanda far below but didn't see her anywhere. I took some photos. But I didn't linger long. Amanda was probably wondering what happened to me, and it was far too crowded for people to linger up here for very long. It was time to get back down the staircase.

As I descended, I joked with the people going up. "Don't do it! It's not worth it! Claustrophobia! Someone farted! Save yourself!" The ones who didn't speak English just looked at me like I was a raving lunatic. The ones who did speak English usually laughed but kept going up.

I made it back down where I quickly found Amanda at a table reading her book. I had her pull out her camera so we could check out the photo she had inadvertently taken of me--which she was just now learning about. I told her about all my waving and trying to get her attention which she hadn't noticed at all!

We had to zoom into the photo to see it, but yep, there I was. I looked like a faint smudge--a ghost of a person not quite halfway up the tower. It wouldn't have even been recognizable as me since I was so small and hidden in shadows, but I recognized my pants and could see the figure waving a hat through the bars. It was definitely me. It had been the only photo Amanda took while I was in the tower, and she had unwittingly got me in her photo! It must have been fate. =)

A block away, we then headed to one of the biggest tourist attractions in Porto: a bookstore! The Livraria Lello is often described as the "most beautiful bookstore in the world" and allegedly was the inspiration for the look and feel of Hogwarts since J.K. Rawlings frequented the place when she lived in Porto teaching English and working on her first Harry Potter book.

The place is so popular, there's even a cover charge to enter the store. A cover charge just to get into a bookstore!

This little bookstore allegedly inspired the look and feel of Hogwarts from the Harry Potter books.

We paid the price and entered, and the place was packed to the gills with people. I felt like I was back in that narrow, claustrophobic tower again. Even if this store never sold a single book, they'd still be in business just from the entrance fees they charged.

But the place was a stunning work of architecture. A sexy, curvy staircase split into two leading up to the second floor, and a beautiful stained-glass skylight filled the ceiling. Amanda found a couple of books she wanted to buy, but the checkout line downstairs was quite long and we took advantage of the checkout line upstairs that almost nobody else seemed to realize was there. In fact, it seemed like a lot of people didn't even realize there was an upstairs--it was much less crowded than the downstairs portion. After Amanda purchased her books, we headed to the exit, pushing our way through the crowds.

One other thing that Amanda wanted to see was a tourist trap called the World of Discoveries, so we headed in that direction, paid the entrance fees, and entered. The place was largely deserted. We weren't the only people there, but it would be better described as "lonely" than "crowded." Portugal, in its heyday, had a rich history of exploration and that's what this museum was all about.

They had recreated how scenes might have look on the wooden ships plying the waters and interactive screens where you can learn more about the explorers, ships and the places they traveled but it all had a cheap feel to it. The place was mediocre, at best.

Then came the ride where Amanda and I got into little boats that floated down a track through a variety of scenes from around the world that the Portuguese had explored. We traveled through jungles and deserts and the orient. It was like the It's a Small World ride at Disneyland but without the too cheerful music. I pointed out to Amanda that this ride didn't have the Disney touches.

"Look!" I said, pointing to the water ahead of us. "They didn't even color the water blue! You can see the underwater tracks that are pulling the boats! Disney would never have been so careless!" (It's true--if you ever rode the Jungle Cruise, they deliberately color the water so you can't see the tracks that pull the boats. The waterfall isn't just decorative--it's how they mix the color into the water.)

By now, it was late in the afternoon and Amanda was ready to call it a day. We headed back to the hotel where we watched TV online together. At around 8:00, I decided to go out again and see some of the sights lit up at night, but Amanda was tired and decided to stay behind. I wandered around for about an hour, but didn't see anything new. Just the same sights as before, but under artificial lights instead of daylight. =)

And that was my zero day. Tomorrow, the march continues!

Amanda checks out the first arrows at the front of the Cathedral. To Santiago or bust!

I look out over the Douro River.
Riding up the funicular! What fun!
Something's fishy around these parts.... =)

Amanda found a car that she wants to own. =)

Amanda makes a new friend on the way to our new hotel. (You can tell we're changing hotels because Amanda has her full pack on her. The rest of the day, she just carried the waist pack.)
This is the church whose tower I would climb.
Inside the church
This is the photo Amanda took of me in the tower. Can you find me? =)
There I am! =)

View of the top of the tower.
In the Harry Potter bookstore. The second floor was much less crowded than the ground floor! If you go here, spend your time on the second floor. *nodding*

This scooter is completely covered with buttons!
Cork is big in Portugal. You can find everything made out of cork!
Those are some bizarre-looking trees!
Scenes of the World of Discoveries!

Look at that! You can see the underwater track pulling our boat! Definitely not Disney quality. *shaking head*

The cathedral at night

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