It didn’t take me long to realize that I have found a new love: Portugal.
Anokhi and I decided to go to Porto on a whim. We wanted to do a weekend trip somewhere not too far that was a good price. We found tickets from Marseille to Porto on Ryanair for 60 euros round trip and thought-why not? I still wanted to touch the Atlantic Ocean. We quickly booked our flight and were very excited to head off to our next adventure in Europe.
As avid couchsurfers, we were both eager to see Porto from a local’s perspective. We were hoping for someone who was funny, easy going and vegetarian. After posting an ad on couchsurfing and wadding through some interesting offers for accommodation, we found Pedro. Or Pedro found us. He was the perfect host for our trip and we stayed with him at his apartment in Vila do Conde (two blocks from the Atlantic Ocean!!!). He was so easy to talk to and showed us around his hometown and even took us to an awesome vegetarian restaurant in Porto.
Anokhi and I had an interesting time actually arriving to Porto. We arrived on the day of a national strike. All of the metros, buses and trains were shut down so there was no way for us to even make it to Vila do Conde. Pedro actually came to pick us up at the airport with his friend and we were very happy to see them after a long trip.
When we arrived, he promptly gave us a night time tour. Vila do Conde has a big maritime history so he told us about the local history and showed us important places around the town. The next day, we went to an awesome Portuguese bakery before Anokhi and I headed into Porto to explore.
Porto is one of my favourite destinations. It has a charm that many smaller destinations lack but it isn’t bustling with tourists. The downtown is quaint with its brightly painted buildings that are all different shapes and sizes; the river is lined with cafés and shops hocking souvenirs to tourists on one side and half a dozen wineries on the other.
Porto is famous for Port wine. Being wine lovers, we had to try Port in Porto. We ducked into one of the biggest Port producers we found and for six euros tried six different kinds of wine with chocolates. It was AMAZING! We had spent the morning exploring the town and were tired so we sat in the wine tasting room for two hours taking our time to enjoy the flavours.
We spent the rest of the afternoon checking out some of Porto’s top attractions before Pedro joined us for supper at the vegetarian restaurant. Earlier, I had noticed that Porto had many abandoned or empty buildings. I asked Pedro about it and he told me that many people had left Portugal to immigrate to other countries in Europe after the economic crisis. However, there is still a housing crisis in Porto. Housing is too expensive in chic Porto that some Portuguese can’t afford to live in the city; landlords are unable to fill their apartments, so some try to sell and others simply board them up until they find ideal tenants. There were also many properties that had fallen into disrepair. Pedro explained that if someone dies without a will in Portugal, their property belongs to the state. Many of the empty houses belong to the municipality, but the government doesn’t do anything with them, so they become abandoned. Some still had belongings inside. Strange.
The next day while we were walking around Vila do Conde to enjoy the beach and the nice weather, Anokhi became very sick. We got her some medicine and took her back to Pedro’s to lay down. While she was resting, Pedro and I continued the tour and we chatted about many different subjects, including strange occurrences in life. He also told me about his struggle to find a job in continental Europe. He has a bachelor’s degree in computer science, speaks 4 languages fluently, has traveled all over the world, but can’t find a permanent job in Portugal or elsewhere.
It made me angry because this is just another example of how youth are paying for the mistakes of past generations. Why should the young of the world be unemployed, struggling to start their lives, while those who caused the financial disaster of 2008 are still enjoying their high rolling lifestyle with private jets and designer fashions? It doesn’t make any sense.
While Pedro is a citizen of the world, it makes me sad that he is basically forced to become a migrant worker based on current economic conditions. He doesn’t have many options in Portugal; what other choice is there but immigration. Many of Portugal’s best and brightest are leaving for better opportunities elsewhere. What will the future repercussions be for Portugal? Spain? My beloved Italy? Only time will tell.
The next morning, Anokhi was still sick but we had to catch our flight back to France. We took the early train to catch our 2 pm flight. As we waved goodbye to our awesome host, we were looking forward to a nice relaxing flight and train ride back to Montpellier. Little did we know that our sojourn had only begun.
We arrived two hours early to the airport in Porto. We made it through security without any problems and were about to board our flight when Ryanair announced that there were engine troubles so there would be a one hour delay. We had plenty of time to catch our 6 pm train from Marseille, so we weren’t too worried. After an hour and a half, they announced another two hour delay due to engine troubles. We waited, now concerned that we would miss our train.
At 6 pm (so four hours after our scheduled departure), we were boarded onto the plane. Everyone around us was rejoicing and happy to continue our voyage. Everyone was ready to go when the pilot suddenly emerged from the cockpit to inform us that she wasn’t comfortable flying this aircraft because they had detected another engine problem. We would have to disembark and wait for another plane to fly from Ireland.
At this point, everyone was exasperated. Our train had already left; the last train from Marseille to Montpellier leaves at 8:30 pm and we had hoped to barely catch it if the plane had left at 6 pm. Back to the airport we went.
All of a sudden, one of the flight attendants told us that the flight was cancelled. We were told to leave the secure part of the airport to go to the Ryanair desk to try to get on another flight out. Most of us followed the crowd which was a mixture of Portuguese, French, Spanish and randoms. The French people didn’t speak English and the Portuguese agents didn’t speak French so I translated for a small group of travelers heading back to Marseille. In this mass confusion, we were informed that our flight was in fact not cancelled so we all had to return to the secure area of the airport to wait for further instructions.
This is when all hell broke loose. Many passengers had purchased wine or other spirits at the duty free store. The wine was swiftly confiscated and not returned. Rightly so, these people were fuming. I was lucky. I began balling to one of the security officers about how I had bought the bottle of wine for my birthday (which was true) and that they couldn’t take it from me. A female officer took the wine from me before I stood in line and after I made it through security, I was one of the only people to get their wine back. By now it was about 7:30 pm.
When we arrived back to the counter to wait for further instructions, the crew began handing out five euro food vouchers. This doesn’t buy anything but a drink and a small snack in the airport and only one store would accept the coupon. Half of our group of travelers was in the middle of eating when all of a sudden, the flight attendants announced that our new plane had arrived and that it was time for us to board. Immediately. Many people had to leave their meals uneaten.
We all boarded the plane and finally took off at 8:30 pm (6.5 hours late). We were due to land in Marseille at 11:30 pm because of the one hour time difference. Anokhi and I had definitely missed all trains to Montpellier but it wasn’t safe to sleep in the Marseille train station or the airport. We decided to ask a flight attendant to make an announcement if anyone was traveling to Montpellier by car and had space for both of us.
The people around us were very kind and we were offered rides to Aix-en-Provence and Arles. The man beside us said he was going to Montpellier, but that he only had one seat in his car and his trunk, so he would take us if we couldn’t find anyone else. By the end of the two hour flight, there seemed to be no one else heading in that direction. He offered to take us on the condition that Anokhi ride in the trunk. It was midnight so we accepted his proposition.
As we got off the plane, the man reached for his crutches. He was driving only a week after having surgery on his hip and knee. He told us that legally he couldn’t drive, but that he had made it in one piece to Marseille, so he was perfectly capable of driving. We both had to work the next morning, so Anokhi and I didn’t really care. Anokhi hopped in the trunk and quickly fell asleep.
My task was to stay awake for the next two hours to keep the guy company while he was driving. He was a really cool musician with a Brazilian girlfriend who had traveled quite a bit but spoke no English. We spoke about Montpellier, Nîmes and everything in between. I was falling asleep but somehow managed to keep the conversation going. He dropped us off at Anokhi’s place at 2:30 am. She had been sound asleep in the trunk the whole time. As she hopped out, we both thanked him profusely. He didn’t ask us for gas money or anything. He was our guardian angel.
As we walked the steps back to Anokhi’s place, we realized how lucky we were to have met this guy. The sad part is that I don’t remember his name, or if he even told me what it was. So wherever you are, thank you.