Originally posted September 08 2009 on em411.com
In April I returned to Portugal to partake in the 3rd year of the STFU Porto music festival.
My first impression of Porto airport, when I arrived 2 years previously was that it was the most futuristic looking airport that I had visited. On returning I can say that this is still very much the case as you can now bypass the passport control queue and self-scan your passport at a turnstile and be on your way before everyone else, provided you have a biometric passport.
I don’t however, so I had to wait in the lengthy queue and grumble. Once in arrivals I was greeted by Hélder and Nuno, who are responsible for putting on STFU Porto year after year, unfortunately it was late at night so there was no time for food, chatting or sightseeing, instead they would drop me off at the hotel and we would meet up the following day.
Hélder told me that I was staying at a hotel named after a king. The last hotel I stayed at in Porto was also named after a king, well, Christ the King, and it was a shithole. However given its central location, en-suite shower, double bed and bedside cabinet complete with 3 stale bread rolls, a coin and an empty packet of paracetamol for the thrifty sum of 7€ per night I would return if that was all my budget allowed. This time however I was breaking the bank at 20€ per night but I was just a stones throw from the venue.
We arrived at the hotel. The smell hit me first of all, that familiar stale cheap European hotel smell. Fit for a king? Maybe Jonathan King perhaps. Hélder did the talking to the guy at reception but he did speak some English. He led me to the 1st floor and showed me the room. It was larger than I expected but smelt just as bad up here. I smelt bad too though as I had been travelling all day, so to cool off I stripped down to my underpants (after the hotel guy had left of course!), my shoes smelled awful and I was relieved that it was the guy in front of me at Stansted airport who was instructed to put his shoes through the x-ray and not me. I had no windows, just a frosted glass door leading outside. It was a warm night so I stepped out onto the balcony; it was huge and had a table and a few chairs. I could get used to this I thought but then the washing line came into view, complete with underwear – someone’s knickers were drying on my balcony! There were no other doors, though the window of the neighbouring room did look out onto my balcony. I thought about the options, either Bo and Luke Duke were next door and made frequent washing trips through the window, or I could be dealing with the Portuguese Spiderman…worse yet was the bland but more realistic prospect that the cleaner simply used the room as a means of getting to the balcony and if I’m hung-over and fondling myself that’s not something I would really want.
I had recently purchased a new 1.4 aperture lens for the Sony A200 camera that I was dying to try out in low light conditions and so before bed I pulled the camera out and took a few shots outside, a couple of shots in and the door of the property next door opened. A dumpy woman walked out, and realising that I was standing in my underpants and brandishing a camera I scrambled back inside.
Outside I could hear a cat calling for a mate. For some curious reason I’ve only ever heard cats like this on the European mainland, never in the UK. Is it something about the heat that makes one, well…in heat? Then a dog started barking and wouldn’t stop. I wasn’t going to sleep in a hurry so decided to have a shower. The en-suite light had a decidedly seedy glow and it took forever for “hot” water to come through the shower head – this is after I finally realised which tap was hot and which was cold. Then I noticed all the hairs at the bottom of the shower. Yeww! Chances are that I did not suddenly become a member of the Sasquatch family and that these possibly belonged to the hirsute bear who put their knickers out to dry and went out for a drink, only to come home and ask “who’s been sleeping in my bed?” I also noticed that the bin in the toilet contained more hair that wasn’t mine! The bathroom sink appeared to have 2 hot taps and after leaving both to run for a considerable length of time they still only deposited cold water. I returned to the bedroom. Oh God! The smell! Are my feet that bad? And then I remembered that the room stank anyway. I lay on the bed and a mosquito floated past, I made several pathetic attempts at swatting it and then realised that I had packed nothing to protect myself from mozzies, and from past experience they like me…well they like my blood so I was at their mercy.
I couldn’t sleep, it was hot, the room stank and the dog was still barking so I turned to TV in a desperate bid to knock me to submission by watching badly dubbed American movies…
I woke up the following morning to noise on the balcony. Yes, someone was definitely on my balcony. I couldn’t make anything out through the frosted glass door but I had no plans to engage them anyway, they can have their knickers! So I turned on the TV and watched a subtitled American film called “Frostbite”. It was 10am and there was an awful lot of swearing and sexual references. It made me wonder, do most Portuguese adults have a clue what’s being said or does “I’m going to fucking kill you for screwing my wife!” translate into the watered down subtitles of “You’ve been a naughty boy!” for the pre-watershed viewing public?
My left cheek was itchy; I walked into the en-suite and saw that my Portuguese mozzie friend had left her mark already. I was on day one of my holiday and sported a great big red swollen cheek shining like Rudolph’s nose and I hadn’t packed antiseptic or anti-histamines or anything. I got ready to go out.
Breakfast wasn’t included with the hotel so I wandered about until I found a supermarket, my shopping came to 7.88€ so I handed over 10€. The girl at the checkout said something and I immediately knew that it would be a request for something smaller, or the exact amount, because in Europe no one ever has change.
From my experience your shopping could come to 9.99€ and if you don’t have it exactly a frown from the cashier is to be expected. I didn’t have 7.88€ but I did have 2.88€ and when I counted it out the cashier excitedly took it from me in exchange for a 5€ note.
My first day’s lunch would consist of a “fresh moment” salad. And let me confirm, it probably was fresh for only a moment and then packaged and left it to sit on a Portuguese supermarket’s chiller for a few days. While I was eating it an old Portuguese woman walked past me, stopped, saw what I was eating and laughed heartily and tried to engage in conversation. I think I made it clear pretty quick that I didn’t speak the language so she walked off disgruntled. She was probably just saying “Ha, those things? I bought one for the first time yesterday, what a load of crap! Fresh moment? Fresh my octogenarian arse”
The “moment” gave me a “fresh” idea however, T-shirts for tourists written in the local language that say “I don’t speak the language so don’t even waste your breath”
After that I walked around Porto taking photos and had a moment that was definitely not fresh when I reached a street corner that stank so badly of pee that I was almost sick. This, where the two ladies are talking, is the offending corner. They obviously have weaker nasal passages than myself. After that I returned to the hotel to freshen up, when I was leaving the guy at the desk told me that they wanted to move me upstairs and asked if this was ok. It’s their hotel and someone else’s knickers stuck hung on my balcony so I agreed. They said they would do this when I returned later but when I did return a few hours later they had already moved my stuff into a 2nd floor room and none of it was packed away – the cleaner must surely have had her mitts on my underpants! I bypassed her on the stairs on the way to the new room and found that my stuff was dumped in piles but my laptop was missing! I explained to her that the laptop wasn’t there. She didn’t understand. “Computer?” I tried. Não compreender. “Ordinator?” The bemused look didn’t go away. I performed my best monkey at a keyboard routine. Nada. I indicated that I was going to my original room. The door was ajar and no one was there. In the drawer sat my laptop and a few other things. Phew. I twaddled back upstairs with my belongings. “Ah! laptop!” the cleaner exclaimed as I passed. The new room overlooked the old room. At least I had a window now and could watch out for the pervy Peter Parker on the balcony below.
Before each night of STFU Porto, Helder and co treated us to some local cuisine at a restaurant near the venue, where I tried “Caldo Verde”, a light and unadventurous soup made from cabbage and potatoes; “Arroz de Lampreia” (Lamprey in rice), which arrived in the pot it was cooked in. It was ok, but it was just far too much of the same thing, “Bacalhau” (Salted cod), which was served with thin potato slices and not too dissimilar to fish n’ chips back home; “Feijoada”, a mixture of tender beef, rice and beans and “Tripas à moda do Porto” (Tripe with beans), something that I’d been avoiding for years. They’ve been eating it for years in Porto however, since the 14th/15th century when the best meat was sent off to soldiers in Northern Africa, or to Henry the Navigator’s sailors depending on whom you believe, so all that was left for the local inhabitants was the cheapest of cheap meat. It is now the “dish of Porto” and was actually ok, but was a bit too chewy.
Onto Stfu Porto itself – over 3 nights I drank lots of beer, sangria and muscatel, and introduced the bar staff to the delights of Glayva whiskey liquor! I listened to lots of good music and met Ingrid (Filmjölk) and her boyfriend who are both from Brussels and whose music I was familiar with from em411.com. I met Floris (Murw) from Utrecht in the Netherlands, who I linked up again with at STFU Leeds the following week. I met Dan from England who now resides in Porto, working as a web designer. Sofia and her friend behind the bar supplied me with antihistamines to speed up my recovery from the mosquito attacks and Sektor 304 kindly told me the best places to experience the real Portugal, which seemed to involve a lot of goat eating and devil worhsipping. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to visit any of these places, but hey-ho that’s my next trip to Portugal already sorted! I once again met up with
Filipe Cruz, who was responsible for organising the very first STFU Porto festival and João (Ocp), who played at the first STFU Porto.
It transpired that DJ Infekt[ion] whom I met on the 1st night had studied at Glasgow University for one year. I asked her if there was anything she missed about Glasgow and she said “yes, the pakora!” She told me that the best pakora was to be found at Aladdin’s on Great Western Road, which is a place I had never made it to. Sadly on returning to Glasgow I discovered that Aladdin’s is no more, but a new restaurant (Persia) now stands in its premises.
After the last night of STFU myself, Dan and Pedro, whom I had only met on the last night went to Tendinha Dos Clérigos, an all night rock club, where we stayed until 7am. You are given a card on entry, which has a list of drinks; whiskey, beer, rum etc and then 10 boxes next to each drink. When you order a drink one of these boxes is ticked off, no cash changes hands at the bar, then as you as are leaving the club you hand your ticket in and pay the appropriate amount. We passed a couple ofcasualties who’d had too much drink and not enough sleep on the way out.
When I got back to my hotel room I realised that there was another casualty, I was a pair of underpants down. Each night I had been washing my socks and underpants and leaving them to dry on the window ledge but the underpants were gone! Mmaybe Spiderpants man had climbed up the drainpipe to nab them or they’d simply fallen onto the balcony below, but I looked down and they weren’t there! When checking out I tried to explain the predicament to the guy in the hotel and got Dan to translate but he was adamant that no one had seen my boxers.
And do on my last day in Porto I hung out with Dan. He took me to Fundação Serralves, the modern art gallery, which was a bit rubbish to be honest, the grounds are worth visiting though, and it was while walking through here that I told him that I was heading to Coimbra and Lisbon next. He told me that he had a friend in Lisbon and suggested that we meet up and would send me his number.
We left and waited for a bus outside but then realised that only one bus came this way so we walked towards the main road where we had a choice of buses to choose from. There was only one other person at the bus stop, an old woman, who after a few minutes asked me a question. As I don’t speak Portuguese Dan took over and engaged in a fairly lengthy and frantic conversation. Dan said he would be back in a minute and walked across to another bus stop to scrutinise a timetable. I hadn’t a clue what was going on and then a bus appeared. Dan ran back over and we got on the bus. The woman then started talking to the driver, again in the same frantic manner. The woman eventually gave up and the bus departed. I asked Dan what it was all about and he said that the woman couldn’t read and was travelling to somewhere she had never been before and she didn’t know how to get there and her destination wasn’t listed on any of the timetables and the bus driver didn’t know where it was, or how to get there either! It was a really hot day as well; we had visions of her stuck at the bus stop collapsing from heatstroke…
We then visited the Casa Di Musica, where I had met the enigmatic, or just plain nutty “Dr Sound” 2 years earlier. This time though we were only going for food and a sit-down. Dan ordered us both a Tosta Mista (ham and cheese on toast). I was still hungry so went back for another. “Tosta Mista” I said to the girl at the till, who looked like I had just beamed down from Rigel Kent. “Tosta Mista” I repeated. I was really struggling with conveying the most basic requests to locals. I said to her in English that I wanted another but she didn’t speak English. I had my receipt from before so pointed at it. “Ah” she said, and indicated that I should wait, she shouted through to someone in the kitchen and served someone else while I waited, and waited, and waited. Then the manager appeared. She thought I wanted to complain about my Tosta Mista! She told her colleague who apologised and made me another sandwich. Dan had some work to do and I had a few hours to spend before my train to Coimbra. He recommended that I go to the beach. Porto is not the sort of place where a Brit goes on a beach holiday but certainly one could as there are a good few miles of beach and a metro station within easy reach. I spent some time here and then headed to the opposite end of town to see FC Porto’s Dragon stadium, before casually making my way to Campanhã train station. On the train I met-up with Filipe Cruz. He now lives in Coimbra a 1.5 hour journey away, and that was my destination too.
Originally posted September 08 2009 on em411.com