Joined the mile high club this weekend. That’s right. Got onto a plane with a load of people, flew about a bit (over a mile high, yeah) and landed. Yes. Go me.
Friday happened, as it so usually does, after work has been done. After arriving back at 6-ish and performing my ablutions (taking a bloody enormous plop) and packing some shit (not the one I just had, ’shit’ in the euphemistic sense) in my rucksack I headed over to East London to chez IC for a gentle evening of food and the odd cautionary wine. We had a couple of hours kip before getting up at fucking 3am to catch the bus to Liverpool Street, to board the loathsome Stanstead Express and to get to the airport and our gate before the plane buggered off without us. We’d left ourselves plenty of time but after grabbing some food and silly little quantities of toiletries for the flight -as per regulation thanks to retarded fundamentalists- it turned into a closer-than-expected call. In hindsight we got on the plane and it immediately flew orf.
My old mum may recall my harping on about my dislike of flying and/or budget airlines in Fridays post. The case of the former is a known quantity but I have to say the latter pleasantly surprised me, possibly because I was expecting the equivalent of Auschwitz cattle trucks in space. It’s not nice by any means, but as flying is so essentially awful anyway it didn’t seem so bad. Also, flying both there and Back IC and I were the only two passengers that managed to avoid having some tool joining us on the isle seat, I put this down to a combination of my magnificent moustache and fiery glances at which ever poor sap considered taking a load of their dogs. This made the journey 100% better though we both could’ve done without the perpetual harassment from Ryanair cabin crew to buy their shit. It’s like fucking Dalston market up there.
Apart from the actual flying bit there were two major annoyances, the seats don’t lean back and I’ve discovered that my right ear doesn’t like the descent. This was particularly bad when we were landing at our destination, it felt as if someone had placed red-hot flail ball into my ear canal which was threatening to explode in a plume of earwax and cartilage. Once we had landed I remained stone deaf for half the day.
It was clear, in spite of the agony in the left side of my head as we were landing a couple of hours later, that the climate was very different to the one we’d left in London. It was hot and sunny with deep blue clear skies and felt more like high summer than the drizzly October we’d left behind. After passing through customs (and having the bloke in the passport booth make a comment about my magnificent moustache) in the knowingly modern airport we took the spotlessly clean Metro on a 25 min ride to our stop which was just yards from our more than adequate hotel. It was 10.00am and we were knackered but decided that we could have a snooze later in the afternoon before going out again, now was the time to explore.
Porto is In Portugal, it’s where Port wine comes from in case you didn’t know this, you do now. Geographically it’s very hilly and cut in half by the Douro river which leads out into the Altlantic a few miles West. On the North side, which is where the old town is and we were located, the bank is crammed full of medieval winding streets/steps that open into numerous squares each, it seems, with it’s own church and monument –a bloke on a horse. It’s idiotically gorgeous; think of a cross between the old parts of Paris and Venice but with a touch of scruffiness and you are some way there. On the South side is where all the Port in the world comes from, each winery proudly bearing its name over a crescent of bars and restaurants. It’s piss-pot heaven; Tom Chaplin from Keane who was recently convalescing in The Priory apparently has a keen taste for the stuff hence his treatment. If I had my way I’d personally buy him a one-way ticket and happily escort the Mars-faced berk to every fucking one until his liver dribbled out of his mouth, but that’s another story.
IC and I walked out into the blinking sunshine and began our tour; we stopped at markets and churches unchanged for centuries, passed up and down cobbles and flagons worn down with generations of shuffling feet pausing every minute to soak up the aftershocks of serendipity and the sheer beauty of a town that seems isolated from time and progressive modernity. It doesn’t really seem to give two hoots about wonga either, for a European city it’s ridiculously cheap… Two Espresso, a Euro, Two glasses of Port 2 and half Euros, champagne 9 fucking Euros, entire meals comprising of the freshest fish and eaten in decadent surroundings, with wine, never came to more than 25 Euros… I could go on, I will… Malboro 3, Romeo and Juliet cigars 5, our three star hotel was 20 Euros each per night… yet the place isn’t crammed full of tourists, nor has it compromised itself to suit their needs.
The locals are not what one would call easy on the eye and have a rather nasty habit of public spitting but they’re friendly enough (in some instances absurdly so, one girl walked us for 10 minutes to our destination) despite being perhaps a little wary of our being there. Can’t really blame them in my case, the English don’t have a good track record of being ambassadors for their country. Thankfully I had IC to offset all that nonsense and her language skills proved essential as the natives didn’t really speak the Queens parlance.
Late afternoon we took a kip, when we woke it was dusk and the place had transformed into a Victorian Christmas. Far from gaudy Porto was lit with discretion and respect to itself; there were no banging tunes or screaming bars, just lots of cafés quietly entertaining customers. After a drink in a place that looked like The Ritz we had supper by the river, IC had shrimp in this sauce that made my dick heavy and I took on the sardines that we so fresh they blinked at you. The bill made me laugh, it was less than the price of 2 large Doner kebabs and that was with wine.
By now the holiday mood had kicked in, we decided to go back to the Hotel in order to enquire of any late-night drinking establishments. The thing about Porto is that it doesn’t really do bars, you can drink in all the cafes and restaurants but they have a tendency to shut (and open) at will. This problem is compounded by the sheer size of the place, not in terms of geography, in terms of the sheer number of spaghetti like streets that lead to other streets and so on. In some cases it was almost possible to reach out and make contact with both sides of the street with either hand
It was approaching midnight. The hotel bar was closed for a refurbishment so the concierge, after taking one look at the pair of us, ordered a cab to take us to place that, apparently ‘we’d really like.’ It was only a few minutes away yet the map of how to get there would flummox Ran Fiennes (bad example there by all accounts but you get the picture).
We were dropped outside a doorway with, oh joy of joys! a ‘smoking permitted’ sign and walked straight into a goth/rock club. I’d have been less surprised to have stumbled into bear baiting pit frankly, overjoyed IC and I went to bar a bought a bunch of drinks for 5p or something, and we smoked, sat down, inside, with drinks. Like men (in my case). Alas our time there was short lived, we’d had less than 5 hours kip in 24 hours and our heads began to loll. Fortunately cabs were lurking outside the bar like Hyenas and for price of a cup of tea we were back in the Hotel.
We made it in time for breakfast just before the 10.30 am curfew and went back upstairs to sleep some more. After what was lunchtime we ventured out to go and explore the Old Town and Port side more earnestly. It was fucking hot and lovely, we were crushed down into a wonderful outside café and drank a litre of Sangria (slowly) for the cost of a bottle of Volvic. Time passed slowly as a holiday should, we wandered about relaxed and took the place in, stopping occasionally for coffee/cigarettes/food/Sangria as separate entities or even all three at once. Despite this being the only day we’d spend all of it in Porto, in terms of de-stressing it felt like a week had passed and because we’d had such an early start the previous day and slept in irregular patches I was genuinely convinced it was day three.
That evening after miles of walking we had dinner at this opulent looking gaff, which I felt might not be very welcome to two less than conventional looking guests. I was wrong but they did get one over on us. The previous night we were served with this lovely mild local cheese and bread with our meal, later IC and I noticed it had appeared on our bill but as it was the cost of a tic-tac we didn’t give a shit. Once again, as soon as we sat down 3 delicious appetisers were brought out which we consumed with aplomb, I don’t really have gripe here because, again, they were very reasonably priced and stunning but, buyer beware, unless you send it back you will be charged, albeit peanuts. We both had the fish for a main course and FraAngelico with coffee for dessert. The former costs a fucking bomb over here, we got a quarter of a litre of the stuff for 4 Euros. As a subsequence I think we went back to the hotel, perhaps we had another drink, I really can’t recall.
Nonetheless we woke on Monday feeling refreshed, we had breakfast and went out for a final wander after checking out. The weather, initially, was a little overcast but it soon burned off. Our flight was at 9pm so we had a few hours in which to wish the city a farewell. We did some shopping, took a very late lunch at 4 and went back to the fucking airport both of us a bit pissed and pissed off we had to go back to London.
The return flight wasn’t as smooth. I had a mild panic attack as the aircraft was being compressed but it passed thanks to IC who managed to outwit it. Unless you’ve had one of the fuckers that last comment will remain obscure. To my delight the flight landed 15 mins early but the fucking queues at Stanstead put our further travel plans into jeopardy. We boarded the train in the nick of time and arrived back at Liverpool Street at one am before bussing back to Hackney and to bed.
I’m having a day off, spent most of it writing this, food shopping, unpacking and washing clothes after suffering the most awful bad luck on public transport from Hackney this morning -cancelled buses, derailed tubes- took me over three hours to do a one hour trip, it’s shit to be back and all in stark contrast to the magic of the past few days, despite having to fly.
Shortly I’m off to meet Frank for a beer in order to take the edge off my post trip-malaise before going to bed.
Oh fuck, I’m at work again and still a bit deaf.