Departing Toronto for Oporto, excitement quickly fizzled learning that our flight was delayed 6 hours! A total of 9 hours waiting to takeoff resulted in a weary arrival in Oporto. Looking forward to ‘crashing’ in a big comfy bed as soon as our small, standard-shift rental car could get us to our booked accommodation—40 km south of the airport in a seaside community. Without GPS, a map, or ability to read Portuguese signs, we immediately got lost (a regular occurrence) selecting wrong highway ramps, doubling back, trying different ramps, and so on.
An hour later we found the district our lodging was located in and searched for the street address. Around and around we drove, stopping to ask assistance, finally finding the building…but the driveway was gated. Not knowing our contact’s last name rendered the intercom useless. Waited for anyone to emerge to explain our situation and luckily were directed to the suite. Our contact woman spoke some English and proceeded to show us her bedroom(!) the shared kitchen, the shared bathroom(!!) and lastly ‘our’ small bedroom. Apart from being totally taken by surprise that our ‘hotel suite’ consisted of a bedroom in this woman’s apartment, both of our noses started to twitch—our host was a smoker! The stuffy apartment was our polite excuse to cancel the booking, blaming our exit on allergies!
We were back out on the street in a district south of Oporto, so completely disoriented from arriving there that returning to the main highway proved difficult indeed on narrow winding streets that ended abruptly or led us far off the beaten path! Frustrated, weary, hungry, lost—it was also raining and near dusk. Thinking that driving north along the shore would get us back to Oporto was a mistake. It was Sunday, the shore road was clogged with traffic, and the tiny guide map I’d picked up at the airport indicated this road paralleled the highway—it didn’t connect to it! Thankfully Bill’s inner compass, or whatever, pointed us in the right direction to the highway and it loomed in the distance! Great—now we could head towards an unfamiliar city at dusk without a reservation, and begin to search for lodging!
My tiny guide map’s reverse side listed hotels—hooray, a Best Western logo so we headed for it but finding the hotel was another lengthy hide-and-go-seek of 1-way streets, no turns permitted, and no signage even on major streets. Then in close proximity to the hotel, an arrow pointed the way…the bad news was the direction the arrow pointed in did not bring us to the hotel. After another 20 minutes of maze-driving, I saw a mirage off in the distance…a small Best Western sign jutting out from the front of a building—our oasis for the next 2 nights!
Traffic jam is common here due to narrow and/or 1-way streets, or too many automobiles for roads designed many years (or centuries) ago. Parking is well defined, costly and well monitored!
Heading north from Oporto, scenic Guimaraes with walled inner city and university.
An overnight stop in Braga was in a recognized budget hotel chain. A spotlessly clean room yet sparse indeed, consisting of a frame-less bed, small shelf with a chair for use as a desk, and a couple of clothing hooks. With nowhere to set anything on except for the floor, grovelling for clothes, water bottles, snacks, immediately became tedious upon entering! A super clean bathroom was equally sparse, barely room for a tiny bar of soap at the sink, and no place at all for soap in the shower. Our toiletries joined our belongings on the floor. With the 2 thin pillows, thin bed-cover, thin curtains, and thin walls, every footstep, conversation, and door closure resulted in restless sleep.
After the hotel’s (3 Euros each) breakfast, we proceeded to get lost departing town. Over an hour doubling back, re-reading signs, taking a split in the road to the right, trying again to the left—not exactly an envisioned adventure! It had been raining both days in Braga; weeks later I noticed I hadn’t taken any photos! Probably too busy read road signs.
Awesome scenery, architecture, and overwhelming historical presence.