Dateline – Porto, Portugal
Today was a very Seattle in the summer day. Low overcast with temperatures in the high 60s/low 70s – perfect for urban walking in the morning and early afternoon with drizzle and winds beginning mid-afternoon with the rain getting stronger and stronger around dinner time. I have no objection to rain, even on vacation. No native Seattleite does. If we fussed every time it turned gray and drizzly, we’d never get anything done in that corner of the world. Just pack your rain gear and go do it anyway. The rain showers were likely pushed this direction by hurricane Larry and my reading of the weather map shows sunshine coming the next few days.I got up relatively early this morning, at least for me on vacation, and was out on the street by 8 AM. My body hasn’t quite figured out what time zone it’s in. That will take another day or two. The fact that my CPAP was in the lost luggage didn’t help. I kept waking up last night unable to breathe properly. I don’t know which of my ancestors gave me the genes for a soft palate that won’t stay elevated when I’m asleep but I have a few choice words for him or her when we meet in the afterlife.
My first stop on my self guided walking tour was Igreja dos Clergios, an 18th century church on top of the hill just beyond my hotel with a three hundred and some foot belfry that you can ascend for views of the entire city. I had hoped that in some 20th century renovation they might have installed an elevator, but that was not the case and I marched up and down all 216 steps (yes, I counted… I do things like that). My lungs did not like me on the way up and my knees did not like me on the way down. The church was lovely. The view was great. The family of selfie taking teenagers from somewhere in the South of France (judging my accent) were not good company.
From there, a ramble through the old down to the riverfront. Porto is built on the Ria Douro (which means River of Gold if I’m learning my Portuguese correctly). We’re very close to the Atlantic coast, a mile or so away. I’m assuming the Romans, who founded the city about 2300 years ago, decided that having it upstream a bit on the estuary protected it from Atlantic storms. The Douro snakes across the Portuguese countryside and into Northern Spain. There are week long boat tours up and down its length, but not for me this trip. The waterfront is dominated by an enormous wrought iron bridge, Ponte Dom Luis I which was designed by Eiffel and various other compatriots in the late 19th century. The old city is a UNESCO world heritage site and most of the buildings are 18th and 19th century with baroque detailing and painted tiles. A number are abandoned as the population moved away to the suburbs but, as in Birmingham, a new generation is discovering the positive things about living in reclaimed urban space and there is renovation happening everywhere. Out of curiosity, I stopped at a real estate office. I could afford a loft here but I don’t think retiring to a country where I know no one and don’t speak the language is the best of ideas.
Back up the hill from the river and more wandering through commercial and shopping areas. There was quite a line up outside of one establishment, something one rarely sees at bookstores. Then I realized that this shop Livaria Lello was a hangout of J.K. Rowling’s when she lived in Porto and was the model for Flourish and Blott’s in Diagon Alley (and used as the location for the film). It’s dominated by a gorgeous Art Nouveau staircase and central skylight. Of course I had to go in and I bought a copy of the first Harry Potter book in Portuguese and Camus’ The Plague in the original French. I’ve been meaning to read it all year and I’ll be interested to see if my rusty French is good enough for me to get through it without Larousse at my side. More window shopping and then, as the rain was strengthening, dinner al fresco in a sidewalk cafe accompanied by several classes of the local port (named after the city and where the grapes are grown and the wine manufactured). I returned to the hotel to find that my errant luggage had returned from its romantic tryst in Paris so all is well with the world on this Thursday evening.
Nothing major going on in the world of Covid around here. The only issue I’ve run across is that sit down restaurants are starting to demand vaccine passports on weekends (at least for indoor dining). The unwillingness of the US to do such things means I cannot easily get one. I do have my vaccine card and I can get an instatest if need be. It shouldn’t be an issue as I am in the hands of Tauck tours as of tomorrow at 1800 and they take care of all that. Looking at America from a lens of several thousand miles, I noticed that Jim Jordan tweeted that ‘Real America is done with Covid-19’. That’s nice Jim, because Covid isn’t done with America. The numbers keep escalating, the health system is buckling, the schools are a shambles, and all because a once great political party decided to kowtow to science denialism and anti-intellectualism just so they could be against what the other side was for. The Biden administration is tired of letting that minority destroy lives, public health, and the economy for no particular reason and, as I write this is coming down hard with some new mandatory vaccination policies. Cue the howls of outrage in 3…2…1
Bedtime for Bonzo. I haven’t figured out what I am doing tomorrow day yet. I’m going to play it by ear. But whatever I do, I have my mask, I have my hand sanitizer, I don’t crowd up on people I don’t know, and I have had my vaccines.