Thursday, 6 October 2011

travelling stories

Bus Drivers
We had heard that a lot of Portuguese die on the roads. Given our up close observations of bus drivers, we are not surprised.
The bus trip from Evora down to Faro last week saw us pass through some stunning scenery. Instead of winding through the hills like Australian highways, the objective of this road maker seemed to be to eliminate hills. To do this the road traverse copious bridges of staggering height as it meandered south. Rather then go down into valleys and come up the otherside the road just kep going wih the bridge apparently 'coming up' to meet it.
As we drove south, our driver seemed obsessed with cleaning and biting his fingernails. While he concentrated hard on his nails, he would lean forward and steer the coach with his elbows, as we traversed these bridges seemingly hundreds of meters above the valleys below. At times I felt like leaning forward (we had secured the front seat - more on that later) and saying, 'just concentrate on driving the bus will you mate!'

Yesterday we took local buses west to the tourist coast. On the way back at one of our stops the driver seemed to be waiting past departure time, looking acros the road, and finally took off slowly with the door still open. A hundred meters down the road a girl jumped on the slowly moving bus, obviously known to the driver, with some drumsticks. As we drove down the road the driver proceeded to tear off the paper in pieces, casually turf the paper our his open window, and then munch away on his ice-cream, again steering with his elbows. Maria was particularly pleased when he finally finished and got two hands back on the wheel.

Seats and travel sickness
The first time we traveled on an intercity bus we discovered someone sitting in our seat. We were told (or at least she indicated) that essentially you don't take any notice of seat allocations.
For the very long trip from Evora to Faro I was pleased to see that our allocated seats were the two front ones. We decided we would act ignorant and indicate that we assumed we had the right to our allocated seats. We felt a bit mean to de-seat an older couple but were very pleased we had a good view out the front.

So when we got on the train early this morning, we didn't look properly at our tickets and got on early enough to secure what we thought was prime seating.
A couple of stops in the conductor comes around to check our tickets and informs us that we are in carriage 2 which is first class and that we'd need to move way up the train to carriage 5. What a bummer. 
Anyway, with no choice we sway our way up the train toward cattle class. I tell Maria that we'll leave our bags back in first class and I'll come back and get them once we've found our correct seat.
When we get there someone is sitting in our seat, of course! So we trigger a minor domino seat reshuffling as people merge into their allocated rather then chosen seat.
Then I begin the task of getting our luggage and lugging it through the swaying carriages up to our end of the train. Naturally, in this situation you avoid all eye contact with fellow passenges - you already know what they are thinking - stupid British tourists trying to exploit the system or just plain dumb.
BTW we end up sitting beside a German couple who we had shared the bird watching boat crisis with in Faro and had also run into across at Tavira. Small world.
Anyway, by the time I got the first bag back and turned to head back towards first class to retrieve the second, the swaying train had got to me and travel sickness came at me like a freight train.
I pressed ahead, managing to get the bag back in time for a quick stop over at some disgusting loo where some little kid had peed all over the place and not cleaned up ... As I bent over and reached I'm not sure whether the motion sickness or the state of the toilet was worse.
I stagger pale faced and sweating back to my seat and curse the air-conditioning set at 25 and no ventilation. Only 5 hours to go.
Another trip to the little room, lots of shut eyes and willed snoozing and eventually I started to come right. Not the most pleasant few hours of the trip for me so far.

That's all behind now, we have arrived in the fascinating river city of Porto and you guessed it, Maria has done it again. You'll see photos of the setting in which our hotel sits soon, suffice to say this is an amazing place, and even though we've been here less than half a day, Maria has already announced that we could easily have spent a week here.

It's a public holiday here today, so lots of people in the streets ... And it's hot today 30 degrees, so a real summery feel.