Last days in Porto & Lisbon...or so we thought!

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April 29th 2014
Published: April 29th 2014
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Our last morning in Porto we did the usual breakfast and shower routine, then checked out and left our bags downstairs while we did one last loop around the city. We hit up the post office, bought our train tickets, and grabbed a couple sandwiches for the train ride. We also popped into a church that had been closed before,the Igreja da Miseracórdia, a 16th century rococo style building/façade and a pretty gorgeous interior. It was once again gloomy and rainy, but at least in Lisbon it doesn't seem to be raining. Vamos ver. Given our previous issues with the trains here, I held my breath as we traveled the one stop from São Bento to Campanhã on the suburban line. If I understood correctly, using the Porto transit card would be fine since we were traveling within Lisbon, but no one came around to check and we made it to the other station without issue.

Our original itinerary included the medieval university town of Coimbra, which lies between Lisbon and Porto, but since there are no lockers to store luggage at the Coimbra station, it just would have been too big a hassle. We also had plans to get a coffee with my friend Pere, who as luck would have it would be traveling from Lisbon to Porto the same day. Pere was my Catalan conversation partner when I lived in Andorra - the last time we'd seen each other was in Boston when he visited in late 2010, so we were long overdue! After the 3 hour train ride there he was along with his boyfriend waiting for us. We sat down at one of the cafés and had a round of espressos and caught up before their train to Porto. We then grabbed the metro to our Lisbon accommodation for the night - this time north of the historic area and on the large boulevard Avenida Liberdade. We booked using Amex points so it was a bit nicer than our precious accommodation and very modern.

We were petty exhausted from the week and didn't have any grandiose tourism ambitions, so we headed down Liberdade to do a bit of shopping at El Corte Inglés, the big Spanish department store. I bought a "European" bathing suit for Ft. Lauderdale, and we got a bottle of ginjinha, the sour cherry liqueur, to take home. As a non-EU citizen we got 10% off our purchase, which was a nice surprise. On the way out we came across the 'Club Gourmet', which had more of the gourmet specialties, so I picked out a few conservas - smoked sardines, squid in its ink, and cod.

After that we scouted out places for dinner, dropped off our stuff at the hotel, and went down the street to Cervejaria Ribadouro. The restaurant reminded me of a dim sum place based on the interior, but it was a Portuguese seafood and beer place. The menu was a bit intimidating - various shellfish were listed with prices per kilo, and you basically just told them how much you wanted of what, and whether you wanted it grilled or boiled. I wasn't about to guess the weight of shellfish in kilos, so they waiter brought us a sample of a mixed platter and I went off of that. We selected a bunch of jumbo shrimp from the Azores, a big sapateira - which is a local crab, and percebes - goose barnacles along with a bottle of vinho verde. 15 minutes later came a giant plate of everything. The crab was somewhat separated for us, and they had made a salad with the body meat (salad = add mayonnaise) and returned it the shell. The percebes were interesting- we'd never had them, but they have the same oceany taste as raw clams and oysters. You basically twist off the rubbery neck and pull out the meat, then go into the hard shell and pull out the rest, which has tiny feathery-looking tendrils. A bit of work but I thought they were super tasty. Feeling stuffed we went back to the hotel for rest for a bit before going out in the Bairro Alto, but the bed got the best of us and we called it a night.

The next morning was basically packing and then heading to the airport. Our flight wasn't til 12:45 so we had a bit of time. We were there by 10:45 and headed straight to check-in, where there was no line. Immediately we were told - quite casually in Portuguese - that the flight had been cancelled until the next day and to go to the SATA office around the corner. Um ok. For me this wasn't too traumatic, since 1 more day of work wasn't that big a deal, but Chris would have to send some frantic emails and coordinate coverage for his classes. I shockingly wasn't put into a completely foul mood, as there truly are worse things that an extra day in Lisbon. Once it was clear that there was no way to Boston (Chris called Amex to see if they could work some magic, but no) until Monday, and that we'd be bussed to a hotel with both lunch and dinner covered, all free of charge, it didn't really matter. The only concerning thing is that we got wind of this actually being day 2 of cancelled flights for people that had tried to get out of Boston on Saturday. We still have no idea as to how they can just cancel flights without explanation (we still have none), but we did hear a rumor about strikes.

The hotel they put us up at was nice enough, and it was right on the red line northeast do the city center making it easy to go wherever. The weather was once again beautiful, so we sat at the cafe next door and had a couple beers while making our day plan and waiting for the lunch to start. The lunch buffet was interesting - some scary-looking salads and such - but the unlimited wine made it tolerable, not to mention the really good dessert spread. Since we were already to the northeast of the center, we made plans to stay local-ish and do the Parque das Nações, the former site of Expo '98. It's basically a long riverfront area full of shops, restaurants, high-end residences, a cable car, a shopping center, and a number of event and exhibition spaces. We did little more than stroll along the water, stopping for drinks along the way at an outdoor cafe and then at a high-end hotel bar where we, for the first time in a week, actually had a martini. Apart from caipirinhas and mojitos, cocktails just really don't seem to be a thing in Portugal.

We next went to the Oceanário de Lisboa. Lisbon's aquarium. It wasn't anything special, but nice enough for something different to do. The sea otters were fun, as were the penguins, which you could get surprisingly close to. By then it was maybe 6pm and we headed back in the direction of the Metro. We stopped at the big supermarket to buy a new converter, since we'd lost/left ours in the other hotels (we=Chris) and grabbed a couple of mini beers (cute 20cl baby beer bottles that seem to be popular) to have at some point. The hotel dinner was equally strange - a mix of edible and questionable dishes - but we ended up being seated next to a woman who had gone through a PhD program at BC's Lynch School of Education, so Chris was enthused and they chatted about education-related things for an hour. I drank wine. She was half-Portuguese We once again had plans to go out in the Bairro Alto but we got into a corny Meryll Streep movie and basically fell asleep.

At 6:30am we received a wake-up call, but we still had no real information except for a tentative "airport at 8 and flight at 11". I called the front desk and we actually were departing at 7:30 via bus, so I'm glad I went ahead and did that. At the airport it was a bit of a mess with lots of disgruntled Americans and Portuguese trying to get the f home. By 9:15 we got to the ticket counter and to our surprise the agent told us that we had to pay to check a bag. Um no, puta, read the ticket "LIS>BOS One checked bag". Meanwhile they printed us out a ticket for the day before that was for 12:45 and said it would work, no problem. I was right about the luggage, and while the ticket worked, the flight actually was for 11am which no one confirmed. SATA is going to get a very strongly-worded e-mail from me. I want €€€€€€. I guess I asked for it with these too-good-to-be-true flight prices on a non-major European carrier, but according to their little sign we are entitled to compensation and to contact a representative when a flight was cancelled for more than 4 hours. I actually went ahead and talked to the representative at the desk, and she gave me an email. Customer service at its finest!

Since it was my birthday Chris treated me to an overpriced smoked salmon breakfast sandwich before we headed to our gate. We ended up taking off maybe a half hour late, and everyone clapped (which I cannot stand) after we finally were off the ground. The flight was pleasant enough, though the plane was on the crappy side. They gave us a ham sandwich with fruit juice and wine, then coffee. Once in Ponta Delgada it wasn't really clear what to do, so I went and stood in a random line. At first there were rumors of us having to stay in the Azores a night - then came an announcement about a delay - but we actually were out and on the new plane (parked directly next to the old plane - idiotic) within maybe half an hour. By 4pm we were through customs and on our way back to the apartment.

That's all folks!

Additional photos below
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30th April 2014

European swimsuit
Did you but a Speedo at Corte Ingles??!!
30th April 2014

What a way to spend a birthday! Thanks for taking me along. So glad you're back home!
1st May 2014

Yes, I did.

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