Day 16: A Tour of Porto & Parking Garages

It rained – no, poured – all night, and was coming down so hard we awoke several times. I wondered if clouds ever run out of rain and just shrivel up on the spot, but that did not appear to be the case.

Photo not relevant to today's post, but I couldn't resist

Photo not relevant to today’s post, but I couldn’t resist. It’s part of a series.

After breakfast we checked out of the Ibis and went across the street to the large city underground parking garage where we’d left the car the night before. You see, the first night in Braga we parked the car in the Ibis parking garage (for €5/night). This involved having the front desk open the gate and driving down a vertical ramp so steep they had carved deep tire grips into the concrete and it felt like we were driving down a ladder (only this ladder made a tight curve at the bottom, adding to the excitement). Once in the garage there was parking for a handful of cars and the space in which to maneuver was, shall we say, a wee bit tight. As such, the decision was made not to ride that ride again.

So we headed into the spacious city underground parking and just as Jim was about to put the parking ticket into the machine to pay a garage attendant came flying over, saying Ibis? Ibis? We nodded yes, and he proceeded to tell us something very exciting (judging by the timbre in his voice), only it was in rapid Portuguese. The long story short is he was distressed that Jim was about to pay €7.30 for our overnight parking, when in fact the Ibis had an arrangement where their guests only had to pay €5. He immediately whipped out his phone, called the Ibis, had a very passionate conversation with them, kept looking at the parking ticket, looking at Jim, looking at his phone, and then hung up, grabbed Jim, and the two of them marched right back to the Ibis front desk so he could get the parking validation from them to qualify for the €5 rate. Jim said he had another zealous conversation with the front desk staff, too. Now, I’ve seen a lot of parking attendants in the US, and can guarantee you that never have I ever seen one get so personally invested before. This parking attendant went way above and beyond, and was a perfect example of how genuinely nice we found the vast majority of Portuguese to be.

On the road again, we headed to the city of Porto. Porto is Portugal’s second largest city and ground zero for the world’s Port wine. We didn’t fancy driving right into the middle of Porto, so Jim had done some research and found we could park on the outskirts by the big football stadium, Estadio do Dragao, and take the train into town. Sure enough, we found a spacious, nice parking structure where Jim found the perfect spot after trying several on for size. We gathered our gear, admired his parking job, and were off.

Sao Bento train station mural, done entirely in tile

Sao Bento train station mural, done entirely in tile

Our next task was to buy Metro cards, called Andante. We each needed our own, so we put just enough money on the cards to cover 2 rides each, and then hopped onto the train. At the Trindade stop we had to transfer and also scan our Andante cards again, only this time mine read as ‘invalid’ on the machine. What th…? I looked into my purse again and found another card that said Andante, which then worked. Hmm, that’s strange. Jim took the invalid card and said I must have picked it up along the way. Huh? I knew darn well I hadn’t, as picking up random slips of paper and carrying them around isn’t my style, but by this point we had reached our final stop and didn’t give it another thought.

It was raining when we surfaced from the Metro, so of course our first stop involved coffee and dryness. While we sat we observed several emergency vehicles buzzing by, which turned out to be a recurring sight all over town. Apparently Porto is not only home to Port wine, but also emergencies. Or maybe the two go hand in hand?

At any rate, the rain ceased and we set about our business that included a stroll down the fancy, wide boulevard of Avenida dos Aliados, a pop into the Sao Bento train station to size up the elaborate tile walls, a quick run by the Stock Exchange Palace (which is neither a stock exchange nor a palace…), and eventually we landed down along the waterfront of the Douro River. Porto had a somewhat scruffy feel to it and the Old Town area is most definitely hanging its hat on the tourist trade. It’s also very hilly, in a Lisbonesque sort of way.

Colorful Porto houses

Colorful Porto houses

We considered taking a Douro River boat tour but the dark clouds rolling in gave us second thoughts, so we took the Elevador dos Guindais (€2.50/ea) back to the top of town, had some vegetable soup and ham and cheese sandwiches for lunch, then set off to look at one more thing, the Lello & Irmao Bookstore. This bookstore was somewhat of a thorn in my side, because I’d seen pictures of it long ago and wanted to see it in person. Originally I thought it was in Lisbon and dragged Jim all over town looking for it, up and down hills in the hot sun. When we couldn’t find it I checked my notes and realized it isn’t located in Lisbon, it’s, um, located in Porto. Oopsie, daisy. So now we finally had the chance to see it, only when we got there they wanted to charge us each €3 for the pleasure of coming in and shopping in their established business. Come again? Can you imagine going to the grocery store and them saying ok, come on in so you can buy products from us but first I’m going to charge you $4? I think a combination of trip fatigue, sleep fatigue, Porto fatigue, and plain irritation dictated policy, but we opted not to encourage this sort of enterprise.

Instead, we took the €3 apiece and I got an ice cream, Jim bought a selection of sweets from a bakery, and we were on our way back to Estadio do Dragao for the car. When we arrived Jim went to put the parking ticket into the machine to pay but the machine was having none of it. Jim tried and tried and tried again, until a mysterious voice came out of the ceiling above us asking if we needed help. Yes, um, something has gone wrong here. The mysterious voice said he was sending help, and sit tight. During our sitting tight phase I looked at the parking ticket and discovered it was the one from Braga from that morning. Well, where was the one from Porto? Jim checked all his pockets and then set off to the car to see if it was in there. I remained behind, sitting tight, all the while having a vague recollection of Jim handing me the parking ticket upon entry to the garage.

Everywhere you turn it's up and down

Everywhere you turn it’s up and down

For the second time today an incredibly nice garage attendant came to our aide. Jim came back empty-handed from the car, and I shared with the group that there was the distinct possibility the card may have gone missing on my watch, and what exactly does it look like? Well, it turns out the parking ticket is printed on the same paper as the Andante cards. Suddenly the morning flashed before my eyes: the invalid Andante card, Jim’s theory I had “picked it up somewhere,” the parking ticket nowhere to be found… Jim! The other card was the parking ticket! Do you have it?!

No.

In an effort to lighten his load he had thrown it away at the last Metro stop we’d been in. Bracing ourselves for the worst, Jim asked the parking attendant what we should do. Now, normally when you lose a parking ticket they generally make you pay absolute top dollar to retrieve your car, and it’s understandable why. In Porto? The garage attendant made a phone call and got us out of there for €0.95. The cost of 1 hour. We could not believe it, and thanked him profusely. I tell ya, we encountered many lovely, friendly Portuguese people on this trip, but the garage attendants are cream of the crop. Once back in the car we immediately established a new policy for parking tickets going forward.

View from our beloved balcony

View from our beloved balcony

Getting out of town was a breeze, and we headed to the coast and south to the seaside town of Figueira da Foz (or Fig da Foz, as we liked to say. Or just The Fig). We had splurged a bit and checked into a room at the Hotel Mercure with a balcony overlooking the sea, bathrobes, and slippers. The sun even started to come out and we thought there was a good chance we may never leave this room. We did leave, of course, to go have a pasta dinner at Hotel Wellington, and afterward we went into the casino for a flutter, a term the British use and I find amusing.

Back to the room we went, where we enjoyed some wine on the balcony and the feeling that we had nowhere to be and nothing to do for the next two days.

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