Nine days in Porto

Our visit to Porto was marred by a dose of bronchitis. However barring that, Porto is one of the most pleasant cities we have visited. It was an unexpected surprise. No wonder Conde Nast named it as one of the great places to visit for 2021.

We found it very human, which is a tall order these days for travel. The people we met were genuinely friendly. For example our waiter/owner at a restaurant said as a Portuguese citizen he was not as proud of the high level of COVID-19 vaccination as he was of the fact that per capita Portugal is a world leader in donating to other countries.

Porto for pedestrians is wonderful and an easy walk.

Porto is well known for its tiles and particularly blue tiles. The use of tile originated with the Moors [Moslems] during their period of occupation of Portugal, starting in the eighth century.

The Train Station – one of the most picturesque in Europe.
Image from the Porto Train Station

Tarts, the baked type, are popular in Porto. Here Heather samples the Pasteis de Nata, a delicious custard tart, with a bit of cinnamon on top. If you care to make some [see the recipe], we’d be pleased to give an opinion about your baking.

Train stations are always worth a visit.
Porto Street Scene

COVID-19 TESTING

COVID-19 testing is routine in much of Europe. These self test strips are available for less than CAD $2.00. We tested before our visit to Cologne, once while we were there, then a clinic test before our trip to Portugal, then a full PCR test before our return to Canada.

This one was again – negative, based on where the red line appears on the strip.

Amsterdam – Photos

Can you help me find my bike?
Bike Parkade
Each year between 12,000 & 15,000 bicycles are fished out of Amsterdam canals. That may sound like a lot but there are about 847,000 bicycles in the city.
Some bikes are prettier than others! …and get a special place in the parkade.
And there are forms of transport, other than bicycles.
One of many canals. There are over 1,200 bridges to get to the 90 islands that comprise Amsterdam.

COVID-19

We were surprised at the lack of precautions taken in Amsterdam compared to Canada, Germany or Portugal. Amsterdam appeared wide open with little mask wearing. For example, staff in restaurants were serving without masks. It could be the high vaccination rate has caused the Dutch to be complacent. Currently [October], about 84% of the eligible population is fully vaccinated. Canada stands at about 83% of the eligible population fully vaccinated.

During our visit at the largest square in Amsterdam, we encountered the end of a large demonstration of anti-vaxxers. There was a significant police presence just in case.

It could be my flawed Dutch but the gist of the sign is, “Vaccinated or not do not exclude each other but love each other, let vaccination be a choice.
I believe what the person whose vehicle is being towed is saying is ‘freedom of choice’.
or in my terms, let the 1954 polio epidemic put children in
iron lungs because I want to be able to choose whether to be vaccinated.
Polizei
Someone’s home

Yet another attack by the travel industry

It was 1230 hours & time to check in for the flight to Canada scheduled for tomorrow. There were two legs to our journey, one to the Azores, then a second from the Azores to Toronto. I happily checked in for the first leg, but there was then a problem. The second leg was ghosted. Qu’est-ce que c’est?

I looked more carefully at the ghosted section and to my horror, discovered there was a reason. It was booked for two days ago.  What had I done wrong this time?  How could I make such a mistake. Panic spread.

We were on a tight timeline because we had to board a flight to Canada within 72 hours of our COVID-19 PCR test, we were now 24 hours into the 72 hours. These COVID-19 tests cost us CAD $300 not a small sum.

Then there was the already booked hotel in Toronto and the onward flight from Toronto home on Saturday.

After the initial panic, I realized it was not me. The airline had cancelled one leg of the flight and no one informed us. Quelle une cock up!

Simultaneously we went to work, contacting the airlines, contacting the booking agent, attempting to get on a flight from Porto to Toronto within the window of our expiring COVID-19 tests. Sean provided help with getting us a functioning internet phone called limphone.

The sorting out of the past mess would have to wait. Our first attempted booking on Lufthansa failed. We had lingered too long, and the seats were gone. Back to the drawing board. This time it was Portuguese Airlines that had a flight available except we would have to be up at 2:00 a.m. to make it to the flight from Porto to Lisbon, then to Toronto. Get out the old credit card, and go at it, done.

We would arrive in Toronto at 11 am, after departing Porto at 5 am.
Such is travel.

As we boarded the flight in Porto, Heather made a comment that we were like sardines.  What a great idea for the Portuguese airline because sardines are found everywhere. Paint the jets like sardine cans and be honest about modern travel with the slogan, “Your sardine can in the sky.”

Excuse the quick Photoshop work. If asked by the industry I will create a more professional looking shrink wrap of the idea.

Sardine Airlines

Canada Arrival

Unlike the Dutch and the Portuguese, the Canadian COVID-19 entry requirements were adhered to strictly.  At the check-in at Porto we had to show that we had completed the federal government questionnaire, including copies of our vaccinations, and the results of our PCR test. This derailed us at the airport as the questionnaire we previously completed on the laptop with accompanying uploads of proof of vaccination, first came up blank. Hmm.

Finally it  appeared with the fields populated – when did we take your first and second vaccinations, what flight are we one, where had we been?


Onward to the boarding area. There Portuguese Airlines wanted to see the letters from the clinic that were issued after the COVID-19 results came back negative.  The person in front of us drew a blank. He was angry. He knew nothing about the requirement, and was refused boarding. Luckily our technology worked and soon saw the Lisbon airport sprawling in front of us.

Pearson Airport in Toronto was a disappointment. Crowds to the left of us, crowds to the right of us, small children in the line with many many adults snaking our way through. Reminded me of cattle drives in my home province of Alberta. One adult with two small children asked what the age maximum was for the family line – answer was that the staff person did not know!

Staff were sadly, rather rude. One staff member responsible for directing traffic was distracted as she played with texting on her cell phone. Very unprofessional and a poor image of a traveller’s first image of Canadians.

The customs officer asked us a few simple questions and we were through after showing an email about receiving our COVID-19 app registration.

Then again we were checked to make sure we had a sticker to show we had not simply slipped through the cracks. How a person would get through this who did not speak English or French was beyond us.

Finally we were through, and on to the Toronto hotel, which we will write about later.

Looking Backward

We arrived home late last night, and today I am reflecting on the action packed three weeks we just spent in Europe. Our vacation was riddled with complications, COVID-19 regulations, logistical screw ups and health issues.

We loved spending time with our grandson and his parents in Germany (even though he was the little mite who passed on viral bronchitis to all of us)! Our little Nikolas was so inquisitive, joyful and sweet. He was not in the best of health during the week we were with him, but hopefully we were able to provide some measure of support and distraction that was helpful.We see him a few times a week on Zoom calls, but being with him in the flesh was pure heaven. It must have been very strange for him to see us walk through the door when we arrived in Germany!

Before we left Germany Garry was down with the virus, and our daughter in law Jessica had full symptoms. So far, I seemed to be avoiding it.Whew! By day three in Portugal, I was down for the count with lethargy, nausea, sore throat and a nasty cough. We managed to get out for a few days every day in the coming week. Despite our health issues, we fell in love with Portugal and managed to make the best of a bad situation. It was certainly not the type of vacation we had planned, but it did bring us closer to Portuguese culture as we shopped almost every day for food and I even had a doctor’s visit to get support for my trip home. Coughing and hacking on a plane is not something you want to be doing during COVID-19 times, so this young physician, after giving me a thorough check up, loaded me up with Codeine and a couple of other drugs that kept me quiet and comfortable for the trip home.

Our accommodation was just two blocks from the famous Sao Bento train station. Beautiful location, right in the thick of things, but very, very noisy, with restaurants and lots of foot traffic just below us. Fortunately we had floor to ceiling windows that you could open at night once things settled down. And, if you wanted almost dead quiet, there were thick shutters you could open and close from the inside.

PCR Testing went fine, which we did within 72 hours of our flight time. There was some major stress with that flight “disappearing” but I will leave the details of that tale to Garry.

At times during the past three weeks, it crossed my mind that our vacation was “ruined.” Well, it certainly wasn’t what we expected, but one day out I feel privileged to have had some rich experiences while seeing another part of the world. And, sometimes it’s the unexpected, untypical moments that stay with us.

Like cuddling a sick child back to sleep, late into the night. Having my breath taken away by the beauty and magnificence of the Sao Bento Train Station when I popped out of the Metro. Watching the street sweeper in the quiet of the night from my balcony at 3 am, long after the tourists had gone. Feeling so heard and well cared for by the Portugese physician who helped prepare me for my journey home. And sharing all of this, the good, the bad and the ugly with a wonderful man with whom I would trust my life. (Just thought I would throw that in as I have a birthday coming in a few days.)

Yes, all in all, it was a grand adventure and a truly rich journey.

Light entertainment

A poke up the nose hurt less than the $300 it cost us. Covid PCR test.

Then a pleasant evening seated at a bar in Bento square watching tourists as we sipped white wine and a sangria.

We were treated to a very large demonstration—dressed in black, loud, drummers, noisy, about 30 police in front,a group of about 200, with another 30 police behind and two riot equipped police vans. The cause – Portuguese football.

Then our bill – a true tourist trap. I had a glass of white house wine because all the bars here serve ‘super bock’ beer. Heather had a sangria. Total cost €3 or about $4.50 Cdn., including great personal service and occupying an outdoor table for an hour. Tipping in Portugal is limited.

Your Big Chance to Make Big Dollars

A worldwide pandemic creates great business opportunities to make big dollars.

Don’t miss your chance to make money from this world wide calamity!

With the help of the Canadian government, your company could make millions. It is easy, legal, and simple by acting as a franchisee for Joe’s Covid Testorama.

Here’s how it works. In Germany simple quick test strips retail at about $1.50 Cdn. We market them for $50.00 with hundreds and thousands of buyers. A great mark up on a cheap product. And it’s all legal!

This is your chance to make it big on the world pandemic stage.

In Portugal, Canada requires returnees to undergo a PCR covid test to board an international flight to Canada. The cost in Germany is $100 each. The cost in Porto $150. Don’t let this opportunity pass you by. These cost you very little and you have a captive audience of handcuffed Canadians.

Of course the Brits have raised questions – they will “look into” it – about the costs, but precious little about it in the Canadian media, so act now you never know when the Canadian government may clamp down on the racket. On the other hand, they may never!

Again, don’t let this great business opportunity pass you by.

BBC Story. https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-58191963

A Day at the Beach

Finally made it to the beautiful Atlantic Ocean today. Warm, sunny, humid.

On December 1, 1947 in this community of Matosinhos, four trawlers sank, killing 152 fishermen. This statue commemorates the tragedy.
Although tourism is taking over, fishing is a significant part of the economy, with many fresh fish restaurants attached to the shoreline.
Surfing, eating, what more could you want on a sunny day.

Recovering in Porto

An old Holiday Inn commercial said when travelling we need to “expect the unexpected.”

And so it is that inevitability meets opportunity. Here we are, both sick with bronchitis, in the midst of our long awaited vacation in Porto, Portugal. Nikolas our dear grandson being a small child passed it on to us while we visited him in Germany.

Garry contracted symptoms a few days ahead of me, and he is close to being on the other side of it. I, on the other hand, am in the thick of it, sore throat and cough cough cough.

When I first realized a few days ago that I had not fended it off, I was angry given the challenge of getting here. It became clear to me that we would not cover the ground we had hoped, including a half day trip to the beach, a road trip into the Douro Valley, and a day trip to Lisbon. C’est la vie, or as Sean’s company [deepl.com] translation into Portuguese says: isso é vida.
The good news is we are well located to see many sights within walking distance of where we are staying.

Our current pattern is to take it easy in the morning, and then head out for a few sights and be home in time for an afternoon nap, and stay in for the rest of the day to preserve our health.

Today we managed a delicious lunch out at a Porto icon called The Majestic Cafe. Garry will have more on that later, including some photos.

My big purchase of the day was cough syrup, the strongest the pharmacist could recommend without a prescription.Our accommodation is clean, cozy and centrally located. We have been able to rest and recuperate well here.We love Porto and look forward to coming back after our next visit to Germany.

And now, nap time!