Europe 2014 – Porto, Welcome to Portugal

Santiago to Porto

Santiago to Porto

We broke camp at Cancelas and with a somewhat short drive to Porto, decided to try to find out what those interesting buildings were on the top of the hill that we’d aimed for on our bike ride a day or so earlier.  Joanna had picked up some information at the campsite for this complex, the City of Culture of Galicia (the region of Spain we were in) and so we plugged the coordinates into the GPS and made our way there.

City of Culture from the Parking Lot

City of Culture from the Parking Lot

This is a gigantic complex, partially completed as the 2008 financial crisis impacted funding for this ambitious project.  We spent about an hour there, walking the site, examining the display devoted to its architects and the various models that had been constructed to show how it was designed and what it would look like when it is completed.

We stopped at the café on site and enjoyed, as has become our habit, a couple of nice café con leche’s and a piece of chocolate cake and then drove off for Porto.  I’ve done the bulk of the driving on this trip, particularly in crowded situations, but having driven quite a bit the last few days, we decided that Joanna would start out the day behind the wheel.

Santiago Cathedral from the City of Culture

Santiago Cathedral from the City of Culture

Of course, no sooner did we leave the site then we made a wrong turn and ended up driving on some very narrow roads, well almost lanes, which would challenge any driver’s capacities.  Worst of all, we miss-interpreted a GPS command and made a right turn down a one way dead end street that would require Joanna to back up all the way out uphill, further challenged by a cow that mysteriously appeared out of nowhere and challenged us for supremacy of the road.

City of Culture after our encounter with the Cow

City of Culture after our encounter with the Cow

We made it out and eventually found our way out of town, proceeding for Porto and Portugal.  We’d turned off the “avoid Tolls” option on the GPS and were making good time, the toll damage not too great so we kept driving.  Halfway through the drive, while I was spacing out in the passenger seat, we approached the toll payment station and Joanna, boxed-in in the left hand permit lanes, failed to move over to the right to approach the pay lanes and thus we blew right through.

This was not a good thing.  Our days of living recklessly and on the line (well, let’s be honest, more mine than Joanna’s) were long past us.  We’re just law-abiding retirees traveling abroad hoping to have meaningful encounters and experience cultural enrichment.  So we drove on, wondering when a police car would pull up behind and light us up.  Our luck held though and we made it to the outskirts of Porto without incident.

Getting to the campsite, Parque De Campismo De Vila Chã, near the beach, involved navigating rush hour traffic and typical European driving conditions, narrow streets, an abundance of round a bouts, somewhat conflicting instructions from the GPS.  On top of the tollbooth incident, a separate toll of sorts was building up for Joanna.

We arrived at the campground and parked across the street in what appeared to be a dedicated lot.  Registering was not a problem, the rates quite reasonable, but they advised no Wi-Fi available, just a 2-Euro per hour kiosk in the bar.   As I walked the campground with one of the attendants to pick a spot, I noticed that no cars were present.  I asked about parking the car at the site and he responded that it was not allowed.  I mentioned to him that this would be a problem, as we needed to have the car close by to access much of the gear that we kept in it.  He said he would check with the supervisor and it turned out to be OK for a small additional charge.

On first impression, the campground appeared a bit bleak.  No shade, few other campers, a large number of permanent trailers with run-down tent like structures attached to them, not a pretty picture.  As with many of the sites we’ve encountered in Spain, the pitches are small and we had to strategically position the car in order to set up the tent, table, and chairs.

We finished, sat down and that is when Joanna expressed her frustration and started to cry softly.  Much like my day back in the Dordogne, this one was hers.  She explained it succinctly, by describing what it is that gets to anyone who travels for a long period; the feeling of always being lost, not being able to speak the language wherever you go, being away from home and the ones you love, your familiar routine, and for her, the final straws, blowing through the toll booth and having to deal with Porto traffic.

We talked for a bit, discussing options, the campground being such an apparent disappointment.  We decided to walk down to the beach, a few blocks away to see if we could pick up Wi-Fi in one of the bar/restaurants there, as was suggested at campground registration.  It was a very nice afternoon, and being Los Angeles natives used to living close to the beach, just being near the ocean seemed to lift our spirits a bit.  We stopped at a place, had a beer and glass of wine (they had no Wi-Fi), and then walked up the boardwalk a ways to discover another campground just across from the beach.

A Beach Near the Campsite

A Beach Near the Campsite

We went inside and walked round noting how it might be different from ours. In the end, although it initially appeared more appealing (and had Wi-Fi) we concluded that it wasn’t worth the effort to break camp and move.  On the way back to camp we stopped for one more beer at a place that had a big sign out front claiming free Wi-Fi, to discover after ordering that it didn’t work.  The waiter spent quite a bit of time helping us, but to no avail.

We walked back to camp having decided to get back in the car (I would drive this time) and using the GPS locate a supermarket not too far from camp.  We got there easily enough, picked up supplies for an easy meal (chicken breasts, a green salad, a baguette and a bottle of wine), drove back to camp and within an hour completed our meal.

We made our way to the café/bar to work on the computer and use the Internet connection.  I ordered a glass of vino blanco, the stock house white wine for less than a Euro.  It was an interesting semi fizzy concoction, not bad for the money.  We plunked our 2 Euro coin into the pay terminal and checked emails, not able to figure out how to use the Skype option that was available.

It was quite busy that night in the restaurant, a large group eating off of a special Friday night menu that looked quite tasty.  The staff so far had been quite friendly, and as we would discover throughout the rest of our stay in Portugal, most spoke some English and our ability to communicate was a bit easier than it had been in Spain.

So we went to bed, wondering what the consequences of the blown tollbooth might be, but feeling better about the day and the campground.  We anticipated a busy and nice day in town the next day, and fell asleep with visions of port wine dancing in our heads.


City of Culture of Galicia:

Parque De Campismo De Vila Chã:

Jumbo Supermercado:


One comment

  1. Lee Schulte · · Reply

    Hang in there! Joanna, I remember a little sadness on your visit to Charlotte looking for a rental home. That worked out well as I am sure this will. Really enjoying the blog. It is a great escape for me to read about all the adventures! Enjoy, and keep the updates coming. Your friend in Charlotte-Lee

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