To visit the first post for The Port Run click here.
The next to last night in Porto was their big annual festival – celebrating the city’s patron saint, St John. It seemed that the main idea was to go round the city doing one of two things; either stick a huge garlic flower up your neighbours nose or hit people over the head with a plastic hammer.
And they say Morris dancing is strange. The significance of the irritation is to try to expel the devil from your body; and seemingly fill it with beer and sardines.
I acquired my hammer from a local shop in Gaia and we followed a whole bunch of people down the main street to watch the traditional firework display over the river. Whether it was the coolness of the night, the effects of the river, or the smoke from a million sardine barbeques, the fog which descended over the gorge came in to about 100 ft. We could just make out the ghostly outline of the bridge crossing the Douro by its lights, the occasional bus inching across in front of the crowds. All down the street in Gaia we had seen thousands of people trooping down the hill, many of them linking arms, so huge human chains would block the entire road. Occasionally a chain would run down at breakneck speed, sometimes losing a link here or there who would spin off into the crowd. But the atmosphere was generally peaceful.
We worked out after staring at this fog for an hour that the fireworks must have been cancelled, and we split into smaller groups to enjoy the parties. We headed off into the old town, down many steps into the little courtyards, The place which had looked so dingy now was lit up with fairy lights and festooned with garlands. The activity was amazing, barbeques were all over the place, and there were bands, both ancient and modern, playing music, and people dancing, showing garlic up your nose or hitting you over the head with a lightweight mallet.
We drank and drank, we ate hamburgers and sardines, we danced and chatted and soaked up the atmosphere. At about two in the morning we headed back up the hill to the relative calm of our dormitories back in the school.
After the festival we got up late and our last day in Porto was free. I was heavily hung over and it had been about three in the morning when we finally got to bed. Most people had decided to go to the beach. I finally stirred very late and decided to go down to the station to catch up with the others. I had better go back a little to explain my actions. Including our Portuguese speaking tutor, Jim, we had all turned up at Villa Nova de Gaia station a few days before to catch a train to Espinho, about ten miles down the coast. He took a long time at the ticket office explaining how many he wanted, and the train had already arrived in the station before he completed the transaction. Some of the girls shouted at him to hurry up; he replied – stand in the doorway , they cannot go. But the doors were automatic and when they started to slam shut, none of us wanted to get squashed. About six of us ended up on the train with no tickets and the others were left watching us. But we managed to explain what had happened to the ticket collector and he let us buy tickets on the train.
Now on this day, the train was again pulling in to the station as I arrived, so I naturally assumed that I could buy tickets as we went along. So I got on the train with the rest of the guys who had already bought tickets and off we went. Two stops along, the ticket inspector came into our carriage. I had borrowed Alison’s Berlitz guide (much better than mine) and already had my phrase ready “Uno retournez et douz a Espinho” or something like that. When I said it to him, he grunted, and held out his hand. I started to explain, first in terrible Portuguese then in even worse English that I did not buy my ticket. He waffled something at me I didn’t understand. I tried again, again he waffled back. Then we stopped at a station, the doors opened and he pointed outside. I understood that, and with his heavy hand guiding me through the doors, I got firmly put off the train. My friends were left to watch as the train pulled out of the station with me standing there alone on the deserted platform. I was midway between home and destination, and there was no other train for over an hour. I think something inside me worked fast that day, and the adrenalin took over. The back of the train was a dark green first class compartment, and instead of the automatic doors of second class, they were just open to let some air in. I grabbed hold of the handrail as the train accelerated out of the station and swung my legs through the doorway and scrambled to my feet. I spent the next ten minutes cowering in first class hoping the inspector had not got to the front of the train and would not come back to find me here. With the best luck in the world, he didn’t and my friends were amazed to see me stroll along the platform to meet them at Espinho. I was still hungover and now drained of energy from the rush, and was quite happy to sit on the beach in nothing but a skimpy set of trunks. My body was bright red when we got back to the dorms, and I remember about a week later, peeling off whole sheets of skin in the bath.
The next day we headed for home. I was travel wise, or so I thought, and I enjoyed the flight back, very clear as we flew over Brest and Selsey Bill. About seven of us took the Gatwick Express up to Victoria, four of us took the Victoria line tube.. I left a couple still on there, including Samantha who I got very close to on that trip, and we hooked up as a couple soon after, at Euston, and went up to buy my ticket back to Liverpool. It was mid afternoon midweek and the train was fairly empty. The good weather finally deteriorated as I headed north, but I enjoyed every inch of that last leg of the journey. As we went through the ripening wheat fields and thick summer railside vegetation, I absorbed it all…my love of travel had been pushed to a new step, and I started getting the wanderlust to see elsewhere. I remember that I could hardly wipe the grin off my face on that rail journey, and I saw my beaming face in the window as we came to a halt in the summer drizzle outside Crewe. It’s a face and a set of feelings I have had many times since at the final stages of a good trip, but where it still has not quite ended. I had it then, and it has never left me.