Two Redheads Take on…Portugal

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I consider myself to be a well-travelled individual. I am very fortunate that I have had many opportunities to see not only my own country,but really, the world. I’ve done a significant amount of independent travel since moving to Europe and think that I have learned how to handle very stressful and confusing situations. Nothing in all of my travels could have prepared me for what happened in Portugal. Let’s begin.

After a night involving a lot of live music and even more wine, Jeannette and I had to get up to catch an early flight to Porto, Portugal. We knew it was going to be a rough morning, but for some, it was a little rougher than for others. I was up and ready to go, even if I was in a bit of pain. I was used to navigating the Paris Metro at all hours, both with and without luggage. Grown-Up Me, not so much. I had arranged all necessary transportation and purchased all necessary tickets. I thought we were ready. Then we entered the Metro. Let’s just say, it was a little more challenging than I had anticipated and I forgot to explain how luggage worked going through the turnstile. After a slightly stressful moment, we made it through and were on the metro to get the bus. We were running a bit behind schedule (which actually meant we had more than enough time to still make our bus). However, I was feeling overwhelmed and my anxiety was beginning to build. We made it to the bus without any major problems and before we knew it, we were en route to the airport.

IMG_2956The flight to Porto was pretty uneventful. I had forgotten that Portugal was in a different time zone than France, so I was pleasantly surprised when we gained an hour. We got off our plane, gathered our luggage, and began the very, very long process of trying to leave the airport. While I understand that different countries speak different languages, being fluent in two languages has usually helped me significantly. But not this time. We were planning to take the tram from the airport to our hotel. We began the adventure of trying to buy our tickets. You could switch the language from Portuguese to English, but it still was neither comprehensible nor helpful. We attempted to use my French credit card to purchase the tickets, as 99% of machines in Europe do not accept American credit cards. I got an error message the first time, so I decided to try it again. The second time, I also go the error message. At this point, both Jeannette and I were becoming annoyed by this situation. We decided to try another machine to see if we would have any luck there. After standing in line, we reach the front, only to discover that this machine only gives you the option of reloading your monthly pass. You know what would have been helpful? A sign indicating that this machine was only for people with monthly passes. Then, we noticed that there was a worker at one of the machines helping people to buy their tickets. We jumped into this line and patiently waited our turn. When we got to the front, the worker was less than helpful, and before I even said or did anything began yelling at me in Portuguese. Another traveler attempted to speak to him in French, which he didn’t understand, so I tried to say something in English, which he also didn’t understand. After a few minutes we realized we were not going to be successful at this machine, even with a worker to help us. So we left the line feeling very defeated. What to do next? The one useful piece of information we received from the disgruntled employee? Only Portuguese credit cards work in the machine or exact change (CHANGE, not bills).

Jeannette and I gathered all of our change together to see if we had enough between the two of us to buy the tickets. We did, but just barely. We work our way to the front of the line again, with our exact change prepared, and select the option to buy two tickets. We purchase two tickets, but only receive one. At this point we are completely confused and decide that it is time to find the welcome centre and get some answers. After walking back into the airport (again), we are told that what we had bought were two consecutive one-day passes for the same person, not two one-day passes for two people. We would be able to get a refund, but it could only be issued at the main train station. In order to get there, we were going to have to buy two short-trip passes, and then have the tickets refunded and buy the correct tickets from the train station. Talk about a complicated process! The man at the welcome centre was very nice, but it didn’t help that we had already wasted nearly two-hours of our day attempting to leave the airport.

Once we made it out of the airport, exchanging the tickets at the main train station was a surprisingly easy process. With the correct tickets in hand, we continued our journey to our hotel. We checked into our hotel and decided that we needed food ASAP. Since we are both vegetarians, we usually agree pretty quickly on a restaurant (i.e. anything with any sort of vegetarian option). We found a cute little café not far from our hotel, where we had an absolutely delicious meal. After lunch, we walked around exploring the city of Porto, which was absolutely breathtaking. We wandered around aimlessly, getting lost in the winding streets countless times. We made it to the bridge designed by Gustave Eiffel. We walked across a very, very tall bridge (well, I was basically running, it was terrifying!).IMG_2968

A fun fact about Porto is that this is where port wine was originally created. Of course, that meant that we had to do at least one port tasting. I’m not a huge fan of port, but believed that it was important to seize this opportunity to try it in the town where it originated. I discovered that I no longer hate port, but that it is definitely not something I could drink everyday. After walking around for a bit more, we eventually decided that it was time for dinner. It was actually quite difficult to find any restaurants with even one vegetarian option. We ended up trying this ‘Tex-Mex’ style restaurant. We explained that we were both vegetarians, and our server very strongly recommended the nachos, along with a cheese platter. We followed his suggestion. The cheese platter was lovely. The nachos were, interesting, to put it nicely. They were essentially, off-brand Nacho Cheese Doritos, Cheez-Whiz, and Frito Lay Guacamole. It was awful!

The next day, we were off to Lisbon, which was like any other big city I have visited. We rented a car, as we were going to be driving through Spain in a few days. The drive from Porto to Lisbon was breathtakingly beautiful. I love taking country roads and seeing the real countryside of a country. Olive groves, cinnamon trees, storks, castles–we saw it all on this journey. We also stopped in a small town, Águeda, that was known for an art installation of umbrellas over one of the main streets. When we arrived, we didn’t see any umbrellas, so we headed to the visitor centre. The person working didn’t speak English, but spoke French, so I explained what we were looking for, and she told us that the umbrellas hadn’t been installed yet. In two days, they would be installed, so we should come back then. Needless to say, this was our only scheduled visit to Águeda this trip. We left feeling a little bit defeated and continued our journey to Lisbon. We eventually made it to Lisbon (after getting lost a few times) and checked-in to our hotel. The hotel was well placed and included parking (in the city), so it was exactly what we were looking for. We explored the city for a few hours before stopping for dinner. After dinner, we were exploring the old town and found a bar with seating on stairs, so we stopped for a quick drink. It was unlike any other bar I have visited and a really cool experience.

One of the places I wanted to visit in Lisbon was the Pink Street. After stopping for a quick drink, we began our adventure to Pink Street. We eventually found it (not an easy task), only to discover that it was closed…why? It had just been repainted. Of IMG_2972course! While I wasn’t able to walk on the street, it did look like it would be a really cool place to try and visit another day. The next day, we were leaving for Seville, Spain, so we headed back to our hotel kind of early. We were driving to Seville, but were eager about exploring even more of the Portuguese and Spanish countrysides. Once we were on the road, we decided to stop for some breakfast at one of the many roadside cafés we kept seeing. As neither of us speak Portuguese, communicating in small country towns proved to be quite challenging. We saw they had some cheese, and what appeared to be bagels. We were so excited to have found bagels! We ordered two coffees, some cheese, and one bagel to share. The cheese was delicious. The bagel….wasn’t actually a bagel. What it reminded us both of was a bagel-shaped dog treat. It had a cinnamony-flavor and was hard. To this day, we are not sure what we ordered, but we like to joke that we ordered a dog bagel.

Overall, our trip to Portugal left much to be desired. While the country itself was beautiful, the specific set of circumstances we found ourselves in was less than ideal. I feel like I need to put some distance between me and Portugal, but one day, I would like to return and give it another chance. The next leg of our adventure was even more eventful! Stay tuned for what happens when two redheads take on…Spain!

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About Tracy S

I'm an adventurous and outgoing individual who is trying to live her lifelong dream in France. I took a year's leave of absence from my teaching position in Michigan to work as a language assistant in France, which then turned into a two year experience. My original plan was to return to the states after one year of teaching abroad, but changes in circumstances caused me to stay for a second year. Teaching in Michigan continues to become more and more difficult, and unfortunately, I was laid off from my position. I viewed this as the perfect opportunity to continue living in France, so here I am. Following your dreams isn't always easy, but in the end, I believe more and more that it is worth it. The pain, the struggle, the loneliness that I feel from time to time. The journey isn't always easy, but I hope that I will grow as a person from my experiences around the world.

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