Day 5: Festa de São João do Porto

I woke up this morning to the sound of rain outside my window around 5am local time, and went back to sleep until 6, then I woke up and watched a little TV before getting ready for the day and packing up. Before checking out, I braved getting annoyed by the residential owner to ask about breakfast, and apparently it was being served over at the nice neighboring residential I couldn’t get a room at yesterday. I was a bit relieved that thats where it was. I also knew that they had internet access, so I checked out, ate a small breakfast of toast and jam with OJ and a bowl of corn flakes, then went downstairs and used the internet for few minutes to check my email(which has been flooded since I left haha), and look up hotels as options other than the one in my guide book. I have the feeling there might not be any spaces open since this weekend is a big holiday in Portugal especially Porto, and the one I had bookmarked had no vacancies. I also took the time to post an update to the previous post since I had posted in Évora and still had much time for stuff in Lisboa, along with new photos. By the time I got outside the rain had stopped and the sky was clear blue.

Today I made my way up to Porto via the Alfa. The trains are a lot faster than the regional or the IC trains, and are the equivalent to the Shinkansen in Japan, however, unlike their Japanese counterparts, they only go around 220kph, compared to the faster of the Japanese ones that go 300. Its still nice to make the trip from Lisboa to Porto in 2 ½ hours instead of probably 7 or 8 by bus. The cars are relatively well appointed, and sit better than an airplane, yay for leg room. Some apparently have power jacks fro laptops, but not my seat. Its pretty neat to see the change of scenery as I zip past. The Algarve region to the south reminds me of Mexico; dry with few trees and low brush, the soil also seems to be super rich in iron since the soil is bright red, and I’m sure that cuts down on the plants that can grow there too. The Alentejo region which Évora is part of is the poorest in the country, and is primarily agricultural, its not uncommon to see miles and miles of livestock farms, and grain, along with some patches of sunflowers and olives. The Douro River valley where Porto is located has a whole lot of trees and the farms growing crops like rice and strawberries, along with some swamps, it seems that this area gets a lot more rainfall.

I arrived in Porto and figured I would walk to my hotel again, save some money. Stupid me.. As it turns out my hotel was a looong looong ways from the station, and with Portugal’s small winding streets with almost no markings, and the poor map in my book I got lost… yet again. I feel like this is how every day begins with me. I wake up, go to a new place, then promptly get lost for an hour before finding my hotel. Eventually I wound up at the tourist office where I got a new, better map, and directions to my hotel. The woman working there even called ahead to see if there was a free room. The hotel I had picked out was right on the center square of Porto, where a stage had been set up for the festivities. After checking into my room I went out and had lunch at a local cafe, before returning for a nap expecting to be up late because of the S. Joãa holiday. As it turns out this is one of Portugal’s biggest holiday’s celebrating Saint John. There is some tradition where they take these little squeeky plastic hammers and bop each other and themselves on the head. Supposedly its some symbol of how we are all equal, though I don’t quite see it. The result however is the thousands of people who show up for the celebration are all running around fwapping people over the head with their plastic hammers.

At 6 I headed down to the waterfront to have a look around and absorb as much of the atmosphere as I could. Already by then there was probably a thousand people. I stopped along the way at the Torre dos Clorigros, the tower of a church that’s the highest point in the central part of Porto, overlooking much of the city. The steps were really narrow, and the climb long, but it was really worth the view. I then headed down towards to the World Heritage area down by the water. The waterfront was packed with tables and vendors, and people strolling up and down. I decided to go across the famous bridge and get some good views of the main part of town from there. On my way back I went down through the winding alleyway streets back to the waterfront. Every house was open with BBQs outside grilling sardines. I swear they must be importing as many sardines as they can just for the holiday. I eventually got some food, and found a seat and waited for the sun to go down and the fireworks to start. It was really an experience to see all of the people enjoying the festivities. There were these small paper hot air balloons being launched around the area, which was pretty cool. They would rise up, and eventually catch on fire and burn up by the time they came down. By 11 the fireworks hadn’t started and I was feeling tired, so I decided to go back to my hotel. The number of people was crazy, it was a massive press of bodies. I have pictures in the high res area (or will once I get the bandwidth to put them up), but there was too little light, so the pictures turned out blurred. It took me a whole lot longer to get through the crowd than to get in. Even leaving at 11, there was a flood of people heading down. At midnight the fireworks started, and I watched them on TV, because this holiday was so big, it was broadcast all over the country. Then fell asleep.

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