Upstairs in the coffee shop at Porto Campanhã station, way too early for my train, the 11:15 to Lisbon. The travel arrangements were uncertain this morning, but the right bus arrived just ten minutes late, and I was in the middle of Porto in under an hour. I thought I would do a bit of wandering around the centre, but the heavy case, and the general ugliness of that part of town, sent me to the Bolhão Metro for the short ride here.
Apart from the wedding, the specific reason I came to Portugal, this trip up north has been the kind of mess that seriously puts me off foreign travel. I would never want to visit somewhere like Ibiza, which has been totally Anglicised, but Portugal seemed to me be an inconsistent mess of old and new, welcome and unwelcome, ancient and modern, and not in a charming tourist brochure fashion.
Prime example: the hotel, with its near-total lack of written information in any language. I missed breakfast on the first morning, because I could not tell where or when it was. There was nobody around to ask, and the dining room was totally deserted with no activity. Was I too early? No, as I found out the next day, when the receptionist grabbed me on the way out the door: there was a separate breakfast room, at the far end of the hotel. This is a good illustration of what I mean: if that information had been written down, in Portuguese, I would have figured it out. I even had a list of phrases including “pequenos almoços”, the Portuguese for “breakfast”.
How hard is it to type out essential information, so that foreign visitors do not have to struggle with verbal communication in a language where the slightest deviation in emphasis or accent renders you unintelligble? (Even reading directly from a list of phrases, with pronunciation, didn’t get through to the hotel receptionist, when I checked out this morning!) It doesn’t take long, and you only have to do it rarely.
There’s a lot to be said for a region where a wedding party is a gourmet feast of local specialties, all the way to the vinho espumante; where the standard coffee is an evil espresso with lots of sugar, and where the government health campaigns against heart disease are in the form of painted human outlines on the sidewalks. Where it seems no-one ever paints a building; where subtitled movies on TV get a fanfare of publicity; but please spare a thought for the foreign visitor? Now, before the train to Lisbon, a final couple of photos from Esposende, of the old lifeboat station in the harbour.