News / Culture

Salamanca Diaries: losing our shit in Porto, Portugal

Remezcla blogger Juliana Nalerio recounts news and adventures from Salamanca, Spain while drinking too much caña, going to classes, writing a thesis on latin life stateside, and just trying to make sense of it all.

From Salamanca it is about 5 hours to the capital city of Northern Portugal, Oporto, which borders on the Atlantic Ocean. I call the city Porto, because that’s what the Portuguese call it. Oporto is a colonial name; foreigners mistakenly took the Portuguese masculine article “o” as part of the city name, as in “O Porto,” and it stuck. That’s dumb, so whatever.

I woke up Thursday–the morning after Halloween–with a hangover, suave pero bastante. Felipe was knocking on my door. We packed quickly and made it out of the apartment by 10 am without breakfast. We walked to the bus station. He was already fighting me on the directions. Needless to say, he owes me an euro.

At the station we went to Alsa to buy tickets (60 € round trip) and settled into a table at the bus station restaurant. It was 10:30 am. Pinchos were already spread across the counter. We decided to take churros and chocolate because neither of us had tried it. I wanted to have a foodie trip and figured why not start here in Spain.

For about 3 € we drank the thickest, richest hot chocolate I’ve ever consumed. No lie.  Felipe held up his mug, the shiny Omega watch peaked out from the cuff of his jacket. He was claiming not to like the chocolate, drinking the last drop. Then he finishes off a pincho of tortilla and some sumo de naranja and we go.

On the bus someone is kicking my fucking bag under the seat and I turn around and it’s some blonde girl. She starts talking and it’s English and I immediately soften up, a knee jerk reaction. Oh she is from Australia. Oh she is traveling all around Europe alone and without speaking any other language. Aha. Felipe is listening to American hip hop in the seat in front of me and falling asleep. Sitting next to him is a Chinese girl; she happens to be one of my university students in the English classes I give at USAL. When I realize this I quickly avoid her…okay okay later I say hey to her and Felipe will ask her jokingly if I am an alright professor.

The girl sitting next to me is really cute and turns out to be Portuguese. She teaches me how to say “bom dia” “Obrigada” and “chamo-me Juliana.” Ana Rita also tells me to go to the Ribeira neighborhood in Porto and to try a francesinha. I am super pumped that we have a destination, because Felipe and I have no idea of what the fuck we are doing. Now we don’t have to rely on his guide book–which is in Korean, which is about Europe, and which has just four measly pages on Porto.

Ana Rita tells me an hour later that she has a stomach ache and asks me to tell the driver to stop the bus. I do it. The whole bus is looking at me. We get off at a little restaurant and we’re in Portugal. I know because we’ve already stopped at the border and shown our passports. I also know because the food is different in the restaurant. The empanadas have another name and they are fried. In fact everything is fried with fish, or sweet with some kind of cream. They even have pasteles de nata, the egg pastry thing typical of Portugal.

Pastel de nata

Felipe and I arrive in Porto an hour later and take the well-maintained and very modern metro light rail downtown. We are following two American girls who already have reservations in Wine Hostel. We have no plans and no reservations. I also have little to no interest in staying with them or getting to know them. My ambivalence towards my own kind is revolting.

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Wine hostel ends up having beds for us (10 € a night) so we lock our stuff up and rush out. I am starving. Felipe is lauding the city: it’s better than Salamanca, it’s less pueblo, more modern. I agree because it is along the water and the air is fresh and has that salt flavor like the air in coastal Florida. Also the Portuguese are guapos: dark features. strong faces. The city is very European but the sea life reminds me of home.

We wander the damp and winding medieval streets bajando towards Ribeira, the riviera where all the tourists will be lounging. The view along the water is breathtaking and I am overwhelmed with the sense again that I am in Europe and not in America and it is beautiful. We turn a corner and there is a long vista of waterfront tables and restaurants. People are out walking, vendors are wafting smoke over vats of roasting chestnuts (like NY, but without the cart, with a big pot, a fire and a fan). Two young, handsome guys in dark jackets sit together facing the water holding thin flutes of what appears to be a dark wine. I am intrigued.

Felipe and I choose the restaurant that has Portuguese music playing on the terraza, something like bossa nova. We order an overpriced francesinha with fries (10 €) and a beer (2 €). I am curious so I ask the waiter in Spanish what the two guys are drinking. He says in Portuguese that its Porto wine. I remember that they’re famous for their sweet wines here and we order two of those as well (3 € each). We are paying inflated tourist waterside prices, but in the moment it doesn’t matter.

It’s almost dark now and Felipe and I are waiting for the francesinha. He asks me about M. For a second, I wish he was here. I ask Felipe about his girlfriend in Korea. We decide there are few good things in life, one being sex.

The Porto wine is very sweet, with much depth yet light and fruity. All the tables are full now with Portuguese and Spanish couples and families. I feel that I am in La Dolce Vita or Vicky Christina Barcelona. I pull slowly on my cigarette and am content filtering my European experience through stock mental images from Tinto Brass and Woody Allen movies.

Felipe tells me about his aunts, his uncles and his father’s successful business. Felipe swears by his capitalism. He bought his Omega watch about two weeks ago because he plans to be the boss of an international business one day, like his father; so the watch and the Hugo Boss suits he buys in Madrid are to help him play the part. Not to mention that in his real life he lives in Seoul, Korea, a city where they dress formally for work.

Felipe spills on how the life of a student is much better than the life in the military in Korea (every male serves two years) or life as a businessman (he worked Monday to Saturday from 7 am to 9 pm). I’m like, well NYC is tough too, but I don’t want to lie. I didn’t go to the army. Felipe is very worried about changing his customs again. Back to life in Korea. In 3 months he returns because his visa will expire. He will probably inherit some part of his father’s business and work much while talking little. He says men don’t talk much in Korea, it’s too girly. For this reason, because it’s permitted him to speak, he likes Spain. I like Spain too, a lot.

The francesinha, the regional dish so hyped up by my Ana Rita, is a bit of a let down. It’s literally the Portuguese rewriting of the french croque monsieur. White bread with ham and sausage and steak smothered in cheese and a salsa I can’t identify…Ana mentioned that its ingredients were a secret. The fries soak in the sauce and that’s delicious. Felipe doesn’t like cheese, so he doesn’t like it. (But he always says he doesn’t like anything.) Felipe wants to visit America but I try to clue him in that in order to go he has to like cheese–everyone likes cheese in America.

After dinner we go for a walk that extends three hours and three kilometres. We get lost. In one of the winding medieval streets or in the mile high bridge-expressway we end up crossing under the rain on the recommendation of several Portuguese night joggers and policemen, Felipe loses the watch (2000 €). When we finally find our way back to the hostel three hours later he has no idea where the watch is and I am so fatigued I am vomiting in the shared bathroom.

Felipe leaves me to go back and look. It is midnight and I am sick and alone in the hostel. I text M. I watch some of Pais para comerselo on my macbook. I feel empty, and bad about the watch. Felipe returns and I am half asleep in the top bunk with the computer on. He shuts it and the room goes blank.

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The next morning we get up at 7am and go looking for the watch again in the winding medieval streets with the stray cats and hanging laundry. We finally eat the sweet sticky pastries of Porto and have some coffee. We don’t find the watch. I say it is gone. He calls me a realist. I get upset about spending all my time looking for the watch and go off by myself.

At the hostel later we find the soonest bus time, collect our things, and go. One of the antique trolleys approaches and I make us jump on. Felipe says it is too slow, that we are in a rush and it doesn’t make sense to take it. Then he realizes we are doing it because I like it and he relaxes.

The windows are foggy and the trolley moves along slowly like an old boat. The driver is the conductor and Porto might as well already be under water. We are moving in slow motion. Seriously, the trolley driver rings his bell. We wait in silence. Five minutes pass. The person or car is still in the way. Nobody begins to yell or even moves at all. I like this rhythm. It is slow and creaky like the few older wizened Portuguese people on the trolley with us. With prune-y wrinkly digits on their hands from all that seaside humidity. We are underwater.

SALAMANCA DIARIES I

SALAMANCA DIARIES 2