Wanderer

Portugal is beautiful… if only they could understand a word I say…

I know, I have a bit of a tendency to stammer.. or rather, not quite stammer, but more like stumbling, when I talk it’s like running downhill in flip flops, there’s so much that I want to say, and sooner or later I’m going to fall flat on my face at the bottom of the hill in a muddy pile that was once a sentence. That’s why when I travel I slow down, I take my time, I take off the verbal flip flops and I enunciate. And so when I arrived in Porto I thought, my Portuguese may be pretty much non-existent (despite having read through my phrase book about 50 times!!), but my English-speaking friends will be able to understand me. So, I arrived, and in this one apartment there are my three Portuguese friends, two people from Turkey and there was until yesterday an Italian guy, and I have also been introduced to a third Turkish guy and a girl from Finland. Can any of them understand me? No.

The stumbling stammer has been left behind in England, I’ve never spoken so clearly in my life and still, no one can understand me. It’s pretty frustrating to sit in a room with people from all over Europe, talking easily in broken English between each other and as soon as I ask ‘how are you?’ or ‘how was your day?’…. ‘what did you say?’

I think it’s partly because I say things like ‘gr-arse and ‘b-arth whereas they say ‘gr-ass‘ and ‘b-ath‘, but for the most part… apparently I am just too English. It’s one thing when I can’t join in a conversation because I don’t know the language, which of course is my own fault, but quite another when I can’t join in a conversation because I have the wrong accent.

Strangely, people here always presume that I’m French. I don’t know if it’s the clothes (mostly people ask if I’m French when I wear this skirt) Can’t say that I’m complaining. In fact, early today it took me five minutes to convince an elderly Portuguese woman that I am in fact English, despite my English accent and of course, the fact that I was speaking to her in English. ‘No, no, Français!’ Sure, if you say so.. it’s not an insult so, whatever.

I really have tried to learn at least some Portuguese though, but still after 9 months, I’m still stuck at the basics: hello, please and thank you. My first phrase book wasn’t really helping me though, as it contained such ridiculous phrases such as ‘Please help me, I have lost my pen’, ‘I have ripped my pants’ and ‘I have many diseases’ and in the ‘everyday use’ section, some worrying phrases about rape and murder. Yes, you could argue that these are important phrases, but everyday use? That’s worrying.

I’m sure it’ll just click for me eventually though, especially as here people are so friendly, even when they realise I can’t speak Portuguese, they insist on talking to me all the same, which is nice I suppose. I’m not really used to it yet though, I mean personally, if there is a language barrier, that ends the conversation right there unless I have to continue it, like when I am couchsurfing or if there is something urgent that I can only say in English; ‘your house is on fire’, ‘I am having a heart attack’, ‘a bird has just pooed on your head’ etc. Maybe people think I am lying, or maybe they think that as I am apparently French, I would be able to magically understand Portuguese?

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Anyway, on a cheerier note, I’ve fallen a little bit for Portugal again. I realised it while sipping cappuccino on the harbour front in my favourite cafe; it’s unbelievable cheap for a harbour-front cafe, modern and beautiful and yet I’ve never seen it more than half full, which is just perfect. Porto is one of those places when you can just spend hours people watching, and I’ve started to collect interesting characters; Portuguese Sean Penn with a mouth ready for false teeth; a cat with a mouth like Carey Mulligan (as in it looks like a corner of it’s mouth is being pulled up towards the sky with a fish hook); a morbidly obese woman with smiley face shaped sweat patches (and somehow the face had a ketchup nose) on her back; Asian Indiana Jones meets Dame Edna. Everyone has something that they collect when they travel; this is mine, and I’m rather excited to add to it.

I love that Porto has red phone boxes and postboxes like in England. It’s taken me three days to re-notice since September, but there they are, right in Avenida dos Aliados. I love that the metro is 1000x simpler than those in London and Paris, though sometimes I think the simplicity takes the fun out of it somewhat, and I especially love that the metro has air con! Both the stations and the tube itself. London, take note, you may not have Porto’s climate, but for god’s sake, you need air con too! I love Livraria Lello bookshop, which is quite possibly the most beautiful bookshop of all time, though I rather wish they didn’t have a no camera rule… and I also wish they’d allow me to have a shoot there, but alas, no.

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Photo from hereImage

Photo from here

I was not at all surprised to learn that JK Rowling once lived in Porto and that this bookshop was a thread of inspiration behind Harry Potter.

I even love the beach, Matosinhos, though generally I am not a beach person. I hated it for a moment when the sand (I swear it wasn’t sand, it was glitter, someone has emptied 100 million pots of gold glitter and called it a beach), almost stripped the flesh from the soles of my feet, but I forgave it. It was my own fault, and I have learnt my lesson; keep the sandals on when it’s 35C+ degrees. The sand will be hot.

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Wanderer

And so it begins…

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Porto. Second city of Portugal after Lisbon, with a population of 238,000, and famous of course for port wine. I’ve been here before; last September, for just a short 4 day trip to end last summer’s adventures. It was a lazy holiday to end the chaos, and I was too poor to do anything much at all, having spent all of my money in Italy and France and the various other countries that I had wandered into last summer. But this time, Porto is the first stop…

I do still love Porto, but that fuzzy haze of last summer has faded; last summer I could compare the row after row of derelict shabby chic buildings to beautiful, crumbling Venice, but now they seem very much apart to me. Maybe the fuzz will be back by morning, and it will turn out that it was just the less than perfect Ryanair flight that has clouded my opinion for now… we’ll see.

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Of course, I feel like I shouldn’t bother to complain about Ryanair; you get what you pay for and for a £50 flight (and 100000000 Ryanair flights under my belt already), I really couldn’t have expected much. It was all very same-same; they don’t even consider opening the gate for boarding until the plane was due for take off, then we are all prodded and poked like bad tempered cattle up the narrow staircase with our as-heavy-as-we-dare case, and into any available seat, while we are then stripped of our luggage and watch cautiously as it is launched from one end of the cabin to the other and following a brief game of catch between crew members during which I swear they earn points as to how many heads they can clobber with each case, it is finally placed in a luggage rack miles away. None of that bothered me in the slightest, I’m more than used to Ryanair’s typical passenger treatment by now, I’ve learnt how to just breeze by, which I think is quite impressive when I’m wearing as many layers as I can get away with without looking like the Michelin Man’s self-combusting wife.

Still, I honestly think I was the cheeriest person on that flight; everyone let the 15 minute delay get to them far too much, or maybe they were just naturally a bad-tempered bunch. Even my meagre lunch of overpriced sweaty cardboard chips and soggy salt which fell in clumps onto my food couldn’t put a damper on my mood. They tasted as if they had been re-heated at least twice. In fact, I’d swear that they had been, as they tasted exactly like a bowl of chips that I ate last year shortly before we caught the freezer out on it’s infamous game of sneak-a-defrost. Sneak-a-defrost was an irritatingly secret game played by the household freezer during which it would switch off just long enough for everything to thaw, and then magically repair itself, leaving us oblivious. They tasted exactly like sneak-a-defrost chips. Still, I’m off on my big adventure, so I can forgive a short delay and a dozen re-heated chips.

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As soon as I stepped from the metro at Sao Bento, I just so happened to bump into an old acquaintance (of sorts), Scary Mary, a local homeless woman who despite a pretty serious limp and her feeble remains of a pair of sandals can chase after you at about 100mph, jingling coins at you and shouting in Portuguese about lord knows what… my bets are she’s either shouting at me about her unfortunate living conditions as one of Porto’s homeless or a detailed fantasy about the various ways she’d like to kill me; batter me to death with the sandal remains. I bet it’s one or the other. If she wasn’t so terrifying, I’d buy her a McDonalds and a coffee, but I just don’t dare to linger when I see her charging towards me, filthy, wild-hair flailing all over the place, even wilder-eyes burning through me, limping away in her shit-stained trousers and those damn sandals scraping across the cobbles. She’s truly terrifying.

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Don’t get me wrong, Porto isn’t all homeless people and crumbling buildings (though sadly 70% of the buildings here are derelict, so I’m told). It’s a beautiful city which is a strange mix of being loud and lively and full of dancing and music and people congregating in squares and at the river to laugh and talk, and equally you can walk down eerily quiet, deserted streets moments later, which is perfect for someone like me; I like my me-time, and I like my space, which of course can be impossible to find when travelling. I find it pretty admirable how happy people are here, despite buildings around them quite literally falling down around them. It’s just one of those infectiously cheery places.

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Tomorrow I will probably head to the beach, and make the most of this lovely 30-35C heat! Are you jealous my lovely friends back home in England? I hope so.

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