Date of trip: July 7, 2017 - July 22, 2017
You can read the first part of our trip, here!
After a long week in and around Lisbon, we were yearning for some mossy mountainsides, salty seaside breezes, even a boat ride. Next up was the island of Madeira and Porto, in the north of Portugal.
Read further for our day by day ventures and musings from Madeira and Porto! Or if you want to cut the shit and go straight to photos or specific travel information, find our Portugal destinations within the Explore tab.
- Day 8: Madeira: Ponta Do Pargo, catamaran cruise
- Day 9: Madeira: Pico do Arieiro
- Day 10: Madeira: Levada hiking tour
- Day 11: Madeira: cruise to Porto Santo
- Day 12: Old Porto
- Day 13: Porto: Douro River Cruise
- Day 14: Last day in Porto
We were up before the sun. Daniel, our taxi driver, drove us north to the airport, suggesting things to eat and see while in Madeira. He had never been, a theme it seemed among the few locals we had met–hopefully not a sign of ill fates to come, we hoped.
We rode a crowded bus with a small yappy dog and a woman with a crying baby to the tarmac. We feared the plane would be small and wobbly over the ocean because it was such a short flight from Lisbon to the island. To our luck it was a decent size, like flying from Minneapolis to Chicago. A boy in front of us puked as the plane took off. We tried sleeping with the sweet gift of spacious legroom, but couldn’t in the bright light of the morning sun. Tall, dark, and handsome flight attendants–both male and female, to be fair–served us wheat buns with slices of ham and hard boiled eggs.
The flight took no more than two hours. As we neared the island, green peaks shot out of the ocean. Dotted on the mountains were tiny, white homes. A soft woman’s voice came over the intercom to say we’d be circling around before landing. The engine roared as we took a tight turn. The plane’s wing dipped as she took us around. From across the aisle through the window, we could make out the waves of the water. The plane’s wing licked the top of the water as we straightened out and came in fast towards the landing strip, flying alongside the mountains. The little boy started puking again and the woman across the aisle looked like she was meditating. The plane teetered from side to side a few times before finally hitting the ground and braking. When we came to a stop the passengers clapped. A short woman, with shoulder length silver hair, tan skin, and sharp blue eyes stood at the cockpit in uniform. She thanked passengers as they exited. We overheard her reply to a passenger, “it’s a very windy morning.” As we stepped off the plane, the wind shook us to a stumble. She was right.
Once through Madeira’s sleek airport, we shot off down the freeway in our small rental car. We could not believe where we were. The freeway hugged the side of the mountain with the ocean to our left and rising mountains, dotted with neighborhoods to our right. The freeway jumped over deep fissures and valleys and ducked through long, dark tunnels. Rows of palm trees and houses with orange rooftops, pastel sides, and fuchsia blossoms climbed up and up and off into the distance.
In awe, we drove about a half hour to the Campanário neighborhood where we booked our Airbnb. The roads narrowed as we exited the freeway. The car twisted tightly around the narrow neighborhood roads. We passed a corner store with a cart of caged, young chickens. When we arrived, our Airbnb host, Gina, a smiley middle aged woman with wild curls and smiling eyes greeted us at the road. She explained there was a water leak in her home (where we were supposed to stay), but she could offer us her sister’s home. It was a large, modern looking house, with lots of angles, wooden floors, and a large garage. As she spoke, she smiled warmly and stumbled on her words. She seemed frazzled but in good spirits.
She led us into the main bedroom, opened the skylight window, and encouraged us to pop our heads out. Below us was a paved patio with lawn chairs.
Past the road the neighborhood dropped into the distance until there was nothing but sky and water. Prior to arriving, Gina had asked us to join her and her friends on a catamaran sunset tour for that night. We agreed, of course. As she spoke about the evening plans in broken english, she smiled like a child, clenching her fists and squeezing her eyes shut with excitement. As she continued preparing the house for our stay, she suggested we go eat lunch at a place down the hill.
We took Gina’s advice and drove slowly as we wound back and forth along precarious bends to the top of the neighborhood and back down towards the town. “Is this more narrow and dangerous than what you did in France?” I asked Chris. The delicate dance of letting others by with no room of our own made this worse.
It wasn’t yet mid-day, and we had lived through a rocky landing, a change of stay, and cliffside drive-bys. We sure knew how to create a relaxing, restful honeymoon for ourselves! What followed was restful, however–a big seaside feast of fish, pork, and vegetables atop a shaded paved patio. We practically had the place to ourselves. The waitress acted surprised when we said it was our first time to Madeira, like it was a place most people go. “Well, welcome,” she smiled.
After eating, we took a brief stroll around town and near the water. The view of the water wasn’t significant, despite being on an exotic island. Only a couple beaches on the island have soft sand, brought in from the mainland to please the plump feet of tourists. It was the view looking inland that would never grow old, of the jagged, green cliffs that stretched deeper and higher into the island.
We continued driving west in search of said sandy beaches. We stopped at a busy one, long enough to buy an ice cream cone and want back in the cool air conditioning of the car to continue exploring. We passed resort after resort, through low forested areas to high arid clearings in the sky, stopping once at a roadside lookout to see where the sky met the ocean and watch a foreign couple feeding crumbs to a pack of geckos. “Just like pigeons,” the man said, “except cooler.”
At this point, we were driving as far west as we could to find the lighthouse, Ponta Do Pargo. Our GPS took us to a gravel road unfit for the rental car. In the heat, we walked the gravel road towards the lighthouse up ahead. At the end of the road, a few other tourists drove up and parked along the nice paved road that we somehow missed.
Chris was the first to see the water. He turned around, eyes wide with hands cupped around his face. He mouthed to me, “Oh my god, are you serious?” As I approached, he took my shoulders and asked, “Are you ready?”
Even now, the photos we took did nothing for the sight we found.
That afternoon we took a long hard nap before the catamaran cruise. Before the fun could begin, though, we spent the next hour on a wild goose chase. Unable to find street parking, we found a parking ramp. Unsure of what any signs said, we did our best. But as we were walking away, someone pointed out to us the lot would be closing within 45 minutes. So we thanked them and tried leaving. In order to exit, we had to figure out why the blue plastic coin we were given upon entering wasn’t working. We pushed a button for assistance and through a really fun language barrier, figured out we needed to find a pay machine in the parking ramp, pay for the three minutes we’d been there, and then the coin would work. We then zipped around town trying to find more parking.
Of course, we had no idea what the other parking lot signs read. We asked a couple in another parking ramp what time it closed. They didn’t know, but guessed sometime around midnight. In the meantime, Gina repeatedly called us trying to figure out when we would be arriving to the boat. She put an English speaking man on the phone to give me directions once we had made it to the boardwalk. But I had a hard time following, for we had bigger problems at the moment.
Worried we would miss the boat, Chris began running through the garage with me yapping and following behind. He lead us into a dark stairwell. I thought, “This can’t be right.” I followed him through the dark stairwell trying to get off the phone with the man. What. The. Fuck. “This isn’t right, Chris.” He kept running. “It said exit!” The doors opened to nowhere. I made us turn around. Eventually we made it back to the bottom of the stairs, where a tall man in uniform gave us a look and pointed back out into the light of the garage. “Where is the exit?” Chris asked nonchalantly. The man pointed to a lit up door and elevator across the garage. We made it through the mall, out the doors, and ran the couple blocks towards the water. We caught sight of Gina right away, near the waterfront. Jezum crow.
That night made up for all the hullabaloo. We sailed off, literally into the sun, alongside families from Gina’s community.
Above the waves, we watched dolphins come up for air. Chris bought us drinks in tiny plastic cups from the bar and we watched the beautiful Portuguese families tease one another, swing their hips to the music, and coo at their littlest ones.
When the water was still and the horizon hazy, we anchored for swimming and dinner. A woman near us said it was an exceptionally calm night on the water.
We were served a buffet dinner of pork and fish, corn, lettuce, bread, sweet potato, rice, and a mix salad of carrots and beans. We were given free wine. Lots of it. Both Gina and her friend, Tiago, gave Chris and I a red and white wine. They continually asked, “Are you happy? Are you enjoying yourself?” Tiago bought me a snickers candy bar. There was nothing else to say besides, “Of course! Look at this place?”
Tiago, a local mechanic, scoffed at our short stay, and said we needed at least two weeks to explore this island he called home. He emphasized the importance of us enjoying ourselves during our stay, and offered to take us to dinner the next day. He insisted, “You must say yes or no. Nothing else.” We said yes, of course, and shook his hand when we landed and bid farewell. Luckily the parking garage was open late that night solely due to a jazz festival that went until 3am.
Back at our Airbnb, without air conditioning, we left the windows open that night and enjoyed our first dose of the wild dogs of Madeira. We slept hard, despite the wild ruckus and incessant barking.
On our second day on the island, we set out first to the grocery store in preparation for our road trip to Pico do Arieiro, Madeira’s 3rd highest mountaintop. The grocery store was a bit haphazard and foreign to us, with different kind of produce. There was a big barrel of shrimp and fresh snails, even. We passed on that but got some yogurt, cookies and crackers. I recall feeding Chris yogurt as he drove away.
Our GPS offered two routes to get to Pico do Arieiro and we aimlessly chose the route that would wind us up the mountainside. We drove through a couple towns before the scene became rural with pastures and a sole cow here and there. We passed a family who stood at the edge of the road with machetes, foraging for something within the brush. It wasn’t long before we felt a bit out of our element on the insufficient road. “Im white knuckling it. My hands are going to fall off,” he said. We climbed higher and eventually stopped to take photos at one of the small spaces for pullovers.
When we tried driving away, Chris put his foot on the gas and we started to slowly roll backwards. Confused, he braked and then tried again. Each time, the car rolled backwards with no indication she was trying to defy gravity. I looked at Chris when I realized what was happening. He looked at me sheepishly. “It’s okay,” he said. He tried again and we fell closer and closer to the edge of the guard rail. I grew claustrophobic all at once and cursed as I jumped out of the car. Chris panicked and asked me to try pushing the car as he floored it, but clearly I was no stronger than gravity and my shoes popped right off my feet the moment I tried. “Fuck this. We’re going to let the front end fall downhill, and get off this mountain.” I stood in the middle of the road where I had eyes on incoming traffic as I directed the car downhill. I got in as fast as possible and we drove off feeling like a puddle of a mess.
As I was thinking about all the safe, relaxing activities we could find on flat land, like flat, safe, land at sea level, Chris slowed and turned around at the bend of foragers. I looked at them and they looked at me, both in a moment of confusion, as Chris revved the engine and sped back up the hill. And then I died. He explained, “We just won’t stop again until we get there. It’s just 20 minutes.” And so we continued.
We did arrive to our final destination soon after, and with all the luck in the world, did not stall or fall backwards into other vehicles as we finagled our way into a tight parking spot (on a fucking hill). We ate a cheese pizza at the snack bar and let our legs gather their strength for the hike. When we (I) was ready, we set off into the hot sun, walking as far as we (I) could handle.
Chris tried holding my hand as we hiked, trying to keep me at his pace and from slipping to an untimely death. We stopped along the way to regain steam and sip water. It was incredibly hot.
When we left, we took the other, wider route that led to the capital, Funchal. We found a steamy rooftop cafe, wrote, and laughed about the past 24 hours (especially the time Chris asked Ali to push a car uphill).
At some point during our road trip, we reflected on our vacation choices. Chris stammered, “I would not…advise this…to anyone trying to relax.” But hey, if you’re headed to Madeira and really like heights, you should totally (somehow) get to that mountain peak. Either way.
At some point during the day, we had canceled our dinner plans with Tiago and Gina, knowing we would be needing some time to just relax on our own. We explored the resorts and waterfront, drank an old fashioned and manhattans at a cafe patio, and dined on Indian for dinner.
We turned in early, as we do, and prepared ourselves for the next day. I wanted to rest on the patio of the Airbnb to watch the sunset, but a white mange cat had started stalking us and sat outside the sliding glass door.
After a night of howling animals, we drove down the mountainside to Riviera Brava, had a quick empanada breakfast, and sat waiting for the van to pick us up for our Levada hiking tour. We waited for far longer than planned, anticipating a colorfully printed van, something telling of a touristy tour. Right? Instead, an unassuming van finally arrived, and a middle aged, straight faced man approached us, “Chapman?”
We drove east and west picking up and dropping off all sorts of people. After an hour of taxi service, we gave up on the idea that this van was solely used for our tour. We stopped at one point, waiting for a taxi of people who had been missed. It was a total cluster fuck. After two hours, we eventually had everyone aboard who was to hike with us. The van headed inland, thus starting the actual tour.
The van then drove through Jurassic Park. We entered a long dark tunnel and came out five minutes later in the clouds. We were in the village of Santana, famous for its steep, triangular shaped, roofed homes. We met up with our tour guide at the local grocery store who told us to grab a bite to eat and to use the loo, for it would be one of the last restroom opportunities for a while. The van continued for another 10 minutes past a farm with goats and up a narrow (weird), wooden drive. Not one but two vans of tourists stood at the start of the trail. And we were off!
The path started wide and flat, shaded from the Laurisilva forest. I wondered when it would become difficult. We met our first American couple of the whole trip from Chicago, also visiting Portugal on their honeymoon. Their next stop: Lisbon. We enjoyed the familiarity of midwesterners and ended up sharing almost the entire levada tour with them. Steven and Lisa.
We kept our noses down as the path became rough. Our guide stopped to explain that African slaves had built the levadas, or irrigation system, around the 15th century. He pointed out the local flora and fauna, and explained it’s not uncommon to see stray cats along the way, waiting to strike and kill rare bird species. Steven joked of comparing his honeymoon with others, “Yea, well, we saw kittens in the clouds.” That we did.
The trail had narrowed until we were walking along the stone edge of the levada. To our left the silent stream flowed downhill as we went up. Moisture dripped from the greens covering the rocky mountainside. Little fish swam idle in the shallow water of the levada. To our right the mountainside dropped to deadly heights. We waited to see an avatar or dinosaur.
Then came the tunnels. Our guide stopped us, telling us to take out our “torches” (flashlights) and watch our heads, for the tunnels would be dark and low. One by one we filed through the narrow tunnels in the faint light of our phones. “Is this Six Flags?” Steven asked. In one of the longer tunnels, he said to Chris, “Whatever you do man, don’t fart in here.” As the hike went on, clearings in the vegetation lent expansive views of Madeira’s greenest peaks and valleys.
Midway, the trail opened up to the Green Cauldron, a rocky valley halved by a stream and nourished by a tall, slim waterfall. Others were already picnicking under the sun, atop massive boulders.
Unfortunately, there was not a bar and grill on top of the preserved Laurissilva forest, though we had been hopeful. We snacked atop boulders and explored around the waterfall, resting for about 30 minutes.
Afterwards we backtracked the way we came. It was rush hour. Others gingerly passed us on the outside as we made ourselves small and leaned against the wet, mossy mountainside, angled over the levada. At the end of the tour, we stopped for a quick drink in Santana Village before the long ride back to our drop off points. I wanted to share our blog with the Chicago couple, but didn’t want to be a jerk.
At the end of the day, we dined at a lonely pizzeria next to a community center. Except that we weren’t lonely–we were kept company with Elvis, Michael Jackson, and Marilyn Monroe posters, and a movie starring Sylvester Stallone and Chuck Norris. We even bought gummy candies from the candy counter in the pizzeria. When it was time to drive home, I had to grab change from a nearby store. A young man working behind the counter greeted me, though I didn’t understand him. I said I needed change, hoping he understood. He took some coins from his register and held them up for clarity. “Yes!” We shared a smile and I thanked him for the help, “Obrigado.”
That night I made it our mission to get some quality photos of the Campanário neighborhood. We found another tiny road that lead up to a lookout with a snack bar that offered the highest views.
We then walked along the drive in and out of our Airbnb, stirring the neighborhood dogs to bark. A man walked by silently with a bundle of greens on his back.
When we arrived back home, the white cat sauntered down the middle of the road towards us. I felt a terrible guilt for wanting nothing to do with it. Nevertheless, my guilt was no stronger than my fatigue. We rested and journaled until sleep came.
That night a mosquito of all things kept us awake. The circus must of have taken the night off. With one final day on the rocky island and full up on heights, we opted for the sandy beaches of Porto Santo, a short boat ride away. We drove to Funchal and found a parking garage near the ferry (with much less hassle). We bought tickets just in time and upgraded to first class for $20 more each. It was our honeymoon, after all.
We were greeted with comfy chairs and a breakfast buffet with cereal, eggs, bread, ham, and coffee. I did my best to sleep to avoid getting seasick while Chris took photos Madeira’s coast as we started off.
Just two hours later Porto Santo’s long skinny beach appeared. After we docked, we snagged one of the taxi’s waiting to take visitors three miles to the small capital, Vila Baleira. We stopped at a gift shop to use the restroom. I remember frantically trying to get out after the handle came clear off the door. I’m not sure how I got out, but do remember Chris shaking his head at me.
We walked towards the water and in little time found two lounging chairs and an umbrella. We put up our feet and tried our best to relax (we need practice with this). There was always people watching–a topless woman taking a thousand selfies with the ocean using a selfie stick, a briefly naked elderly man sunbathing, and a vain lifeguard taking watch over the beach.
Chris wasted no time finding a gin and tonic to take back to the beach. The water was so clear and cold. We watched as the waves fell over the shoulders of squealing children. A few sail boats floated across the horizon. The selfie stick snapped more photos.
The clouds and breeze gave us some reprieve from the sun, but nothing like the cold water. I floated on top of the waves like a salt bath, letting the sun warm my front side until I was shivering.
We had an early dinner on a stone patio looking out over the beach. Uninterested in missing the ship and becoming stranded on Porto Santo, we grabbed an ice cream treat and walked along the beach back to the cruise ship. We arrived early, but slept until we were near Madeira once again. The sun had made its way behind the island, silhouetting the peaks of neighbor islands.
We stood on the deck, the wind swirling around us, becoming mesmerized, even by the seagulls hovering above the waves alongside the ship. A few dolphins swam in our wake and another casually passed by. A woman dashed to the deck and huffed as she realized she had missed them. We were salty, dry, tired.
As we drove through the dark up to the house, I sighed with relief. The white cat wasn’t on the our doorstep. “It’s gone!” But I was no more safe than a fish in a net. “That’s because he’s out there waiting for you,” Chris said. A second later, as we backed into the garage, our headlights shone straight ahead at the white cat. He sat there, looking straight at us like he had just won. “Noooooooo,” I pleaded Chris crash into the garage and close the door all at once. Once inside, I watched from the stairwell as the white cat strolled in the moonlight across the patio.
I had experienced Madeira with a fraught excitement, if you will, and Chris, with slightly more contentment. We could have done without the stray animals or sewer smell at the Airbnb, but we were grateful for Gina’s hospitality and the opportunity to be in such a beautiful place. We were ready, though, for flat land and to return to Portugal’s mainland.
We left before the sun that morning, speeding to the Madeira airport through the dark. Finding where to drop off our rental car was not, not stressful. However, Chris managed to figure it out. Our flight to Porto was quick and easy, and when we landed we followed signs to the metro, which took us 40 minutes into the city.
When we surfaced, we were standing in what felt like the center of old porto, amongst 17th century gems like the Porto São Bento train station and Saint Anthony’s Church. And because we had done our research, we would be staying in an Airbnb just across the street from the train station. Our Airbnb host, a tall serious man in a blazer, met us on the street and took us on a silent, squished elevator ride to the top floor. He showed us around the spacious apartment and when he left we took a long, glorious nap. In silence. With no wild animals or city sounds from down below.
When it was time, we returned to the hustle of the streets. The line to the Livraria Lello Porto was longer than our patience, so we weaved our way to Mercado do Bolhão, an old market.
Under the iron framed entrance of the neoclassical facade of the market, sat a father son duo with a crowd of onlookers. The man played some mystery music box while the child drew on a notepad. A fluffy chicken pecked at kernels on top of a bucket nearby. “Papa!” the boy exclaimed, showing the man his drawing. A small colorful bird sat on the boys hat.
In the center of the market sat piles of tourist trinkets–bottles of port wine, ginja, and Portuguese tiled everything. Hungry patrons sat at small unassuming tables with plates of fish, lettuce, potato, and mussels.
A baker wrapped torts in white paper. A florist cut and arranged flowers as she watched an old tv hanging in the corner of her stall. We passed barrels of dried fruit and olives, and tubs of anchovies, shellfish, octopus, and barnacles. In a quiet corner of the market two old women descaled the catch of the day. Chris nearly tripped over their running hose as it snaked around, full of water pressure.
Ready for Porto’s famous sandwich, Francesinha, we walked southeast towards Vitor’s suggested restaurant–which it’s name, of course, I don’t recall. And because there are so many near perfect descriptions of this famous sandwich, I paste here my favorite from Kevin Gould at the guardian.
“Anyone aiming to polish off even half of one of these needs to be pretty forceful, for this little Frenchie is a tower of power. A doorstep sandwich layered with pork, then smoked sausage, then bacon, and topped off with a medium-rare beefsteak, it is finished with a fried egg and covered in a thick coat of cheesy sauce. It is heated through and then drenched in a murky dark sauce. A mountain of french fries is served on the side. Health food it’s not.”
Yea. We ate that. I even broke my cow rule. We also enjoyed banana caramel something and chocolate hazelnut mousse with tiny shots of espresso. Feeling super satisfied with gorgeous Porto thus far, we continued. We wandered through one of the old prisons turned photography museum and then south to the Douro river.
A crowd had formed around a group of young men shooting a music video. Topless and scowling, they spewed Portuguese aggressively towards a man holding a video camera. Two young boys stood in front of the mob, nodding along and flipping off the camera at one point. When the chorus finished, the crowd dispersed like it had never happened.
We walked under the metal arched bridge over the golden Douro and spotted the same young men jumping from the bridge for money. Two of them, no older than 12, stood stoically above the crowded bridge waiting for the moment. Another was collecting tips in a baseball hat on the terrace nearby. Suddenly, a whistle shot through the air and the boys pencil dived straight into the blue. When they surfaced, they climbed the rocks along the river up to the terrace of onlookers.
On the other side of the river, we drank port wine and sangria at Sandeman winery, and sang along to the best Chris Brown playlist.
We tried once more that evening to get into Livraria Lello Porto, but a massive group of young women singing Disney songs in Portuguese clogged the line. Instead, we sat across the street at a snack bar, ate a bowl of açaí, and drank gin.
That night we dressed warmly, crossed the bridge, and sat at the top of a terraced bar to capture the sun setting behind the city.
While just our second day in Porto, we could have opted to explore more on foot. But how could we resist a guided, relaxing cruise on the Douro river? We opted for a day trip and left early in the morning.
We boarded the boat in little time and were seated at a set table. Glassware, tea cups, and rolls with jelly sat before us. While most others waited to eat until everyone was seated and coffee was served, I helped myself to my bread. The dining area had big windows allowing views of Porto’s riverside. The sun was still rising when we took off slowly out of the city.
The boat offered multiple viewing decks as an alternative to the dining area; one on the bow, and two above the dining room. After eating, we snagged a corner seat in the enclosed deck with unobstructed views of the river.
The city sites soon gave way to more greenery. Along the way, the captain came over the intercom, first in Portuguese and then English, sharing history about the surrounding areas.
We sipped coffee and rested our weary (spoiled) feet. It was our last excursion of the honeymoon, so we happily accepted someone else taking the lead. We even journaled about our adventures to date. The boat floated along passing villages, abandoned buildings, and even a shipwreck!
Around midday, after going through a lock and dam, the rugged wilderness and isolated villages gave way to rolling hills of green terraces. Sparkling water dazzled in the high sun. We were starving at this point, and gladly took our seats when lunch was ready.
We were served red and white wines from the Douro Valley and dined on pureed potato soup with bread, rice, pork, green beans, and potatoes (topped off with cheesecake and espresso, of course). The man across the table saw me eyeing the wine. He passed it to me and said, “You don’t speak Portuguese?” Shocked at his insight, I flashed a smile, “No, I wish.” He returned the smile and continued speaking another language to the woman beside him.
We prepared to get off the boat as we neared the city of Régua. It was smaller than we anticipated. A flock of men and women selling sun hats charged up the dock and stood chirping at the side of the boat as we departed. We ditched the crowd and followed a green space along the river.
Eventually, we found a strip of small wine rooms and sipped on a glass. Truthfully, we were fucking sick of wine–in one of the world’s most famous wine regions. We opted for bottled water and basked in the sun on a wide ledge across from the train station overlooking the river and a terrace of grape vines.
The 5pm train finally arrived and as directed, we met the director of the river boat cruise on the train platform. She told us we needed to buy train tickets. Chris approached and showed her the train tickets she had given us on the boat, reiterating they were complimentary according to their website and what she said earlier that day. Unexpectedly, she said they were not. Confused, we asked her, “Then, when did all the others pay for their train tickets?” We had watched her hand out those tickets like candy on the boat, with no monetary exchanges. She replied that people had paid her on the boat. Why was she asking us now, then? She was so intent that we gave her the 20 euros and found a seat on the train.
Feeling really suspicious and uncharacteristically aggressive, I spied on her as she directed the others to the train. She asked no one else for money. I turned to those seated next to us and asked if she had made them pay for the train ticket at any point. They spoke enough English to say the train ticket was complementary, and were surprised that she had us pay. I hung out of the door of the train, eyeing the director down the platform. A man who appeared to work on the train looked at me a few times and left the train. I watched as he approached the director. They looked in my direction.
A man and woman on the platform noticed my glare and I asked them, too, about the train ticket. The woman narrowed her eyes at my story, asked if I only spoke English, and offered to approach the director with me. As we approached her, she waved at us with the 20 euros in her hand. In the end, the director’s excuse held no weight. She apologized for the confusion and gave me my 20 euros back, but had the nerve to ask me for her change back.
“No. I don’t have your change,” I replied. I thanked the woman who translated for me, though she hadn’t needed to. The director spoke just fine English. I asked if she believed her. She gave me a side eye and said nothing. I was proud to find Chris again and show him how I had been direct. I was satisfied to have our money back, but was steaming with disappointment that our really lovely day had suddenly been tainted.
The train took off, chugging through the golden light of the evening, past century old wineries, bed and breakfasts, the sparkling Douro river below. I fought my anger, and tried rationalizing that she stole for good reason, like to feed a hungry child. But as Chris dozed off, I spiralled downward as I thought about all the damn hiccups thus far.
Our Lisbon apartment was great, but Chris couldn’t walk around without hitting his head. Sintra, the most majestic place in all of Portugal, you must go! Except, you can’t get around because everyone ended up going and because traffic. A cabin in the woods, how romantic! But you’re slightly stranded with no cell phone service to call a taxi. A big house with ocean views and Madeira’s most beautiful neighborhood. But it’s barren, smells like sewer, and as a bonus, comes with a brood of wild, roaring animals and a white mange cat who stalks you in hunger. And a luxurious apartment in the heart of old Porto, minus a working shower or bath.
I got to the end of my list of reasons to bitch and felt like such an asshole. Out the window was a dazzling scene. From up high, the river snaked through the green terraced valley, shimmering in the sun. A windsurfer, even, danced on the water in a small lagoon. Are you serious?? Maybe it was us. Or me.
Or maybe it was just life. Honeymoons aren’t real, anyways, right? That’s why it’s called a honeymoon, because it doesn’t last. The universe was proving a point. Marriage is hard, and life is bumpy. This was nothing compared to real trials. As Chris slept next to me in the jerking train car, I did my best to push the disappointment out the window, to roll away behind the train and down into the river.
The train ride took only two hours. Near the end, the sleeping toddler near us woke and needed to wander. He clutched his father’s fingers as he waddled up and down the aisle. He smiled and reached out to a woman nearby. She happily embraced the child, loving on him like an auntie. Everyone was speaking another language to the child. It sounded French. Surely they were together? And then the toddler turned to Chris. He stood at Chris’ knees, smiling at us and reaching up to be held. Chris looked at me and then picked him up, setting him on his knee. The child reached for Chris’ phone. With few words to share between us, the father motioned to Chris the phone falling to the floor. Everyone giggled, but the little one didn’t drop the phone. He crawled on my lap and for the first time ever held a child and was speechless; he wasn’t responsive to our English. I smiled like an idiot at him and back at his parents. Soon after, the train pulled into the station and I handed the child back to his father. In a moment, the train of smiling company turned to silent strangers filling off a train. Children sure make the world go round, don’t they?
That night, Chris grabbed toasty’s and cookies from a place down below and we had dinner in bed as he looked over our photos.
On our last morning of the trip, we were up early. What else do you expect from us? And I was determined to get inside that damn bookstore. No more waffling about tourist lines and the purpose of life. I wanted in, and I would hold my horses like all the other crazy cats. We strategically had street side breakfast at the snack bar across the street, again.
We watched as the early birds formed a line outside the ticket office. I wouldn’t wait any longer. I stood in line and bought a ticket when the doors opened. Like those in front of me, I dashed out of the ticket office and stood in line two doors down where a line had already formed. What in the world?!
When the doors finally opened about 20 minutes later, a tall man in a suit and black top hat took tickets and ushered us inside.
Wooden detailing and bookshelves lined the walls from front to back on both levels. I knew the crowd was going to get worse, so I zipped around with one thing in mind and camera in hand.
Worn, red steps of the wooden stairway split halfway up and circled back around to the second level. The steps were smooth from years of traffic. Stained glass ceilings dazzled the upper level. And when I felt satisfied, I slowed down and spent time searching for just the right souvenir. I left with a 20th anniversary edition of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.
In the meantime, Chris proudly bartered with a gift shop owner to buy a small toy train for nephew Henrik. From there, we wandered–probably bickering about how to spend our last hours in the city and getting lost in back stairways where young boys kick around a futbal.
Sick of sandwiches, we found a riverside cafe and enjoyed a really yummy lunch. “I don’t want to run around anymore,” Chris said as he watched the masses shuffle across the river. So we sat on another patio listening to Bob Marley, drinking the largest Sangria and gin drinks in Europe and grew pink in the sun.
We bid farewell to Porto sometime that afternoon, taking a two and a half hour train ride into north Lisbon’s contemporary neighborhood, Parque das Nações, where we would spend one last night. We dined on cheap asian food from a nearby mall and fell asleep before 10pm–because that is the life. And really, there’s nothing left to say. We arrived back home in Minneapolis safe and sound, and as always, in a cloudy haze of awe and gratitude for having two long weeks of exploration across Portugal.
If you want to see more photos or find specific travel information about our sights, find our Portugal destinations within the Explore tab!
If you missed “Part I”, and would like to read about our time in Lisbon, click here.
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