It was a delight to spend a day in Porto before cycling the length of Portugal with Peak Tours. But it was a bittersweet pleasure. Almost a year ago, I spent an anxious 12 hours overnight in the city on my mission to rescue my late father from a hospital in Vigo, Spain.
I took a tram to Campanhã station to retrace my steps that fateful morning in June 2022. Here’s how I recorded the experience at the time:
I was relieved to see the train on the departure board at Porto’s Campanhã station. I joined a huddle of others – mainly Canadian – and waited on platform 13. New departure times kept being shown. Then, alarmingly, the train disappeared from the board. I realised to my horror that it had been cancelled. The only other train was that night! Another realisation – I’d seen just one train. Just as in Britain, the Portuguese rail workers were on strike. That would explain the TV cameras I’d seen. But unlike at home not a single poster or announcement warned travellers.
Plan B was called for. I walked back to my hotel and was told there was a coach leaving Porto for Vigo at 10.25am. I set off again for the coach station, dragging my uncomplaining wheelie bag behind me. Suddenly, a light drizzle became a downpour that even South Wales would be proud of. Seeing everyone else wielding umbrellas, I popped into a pharmacy asking if they sold them. Nope. I’d just have to get wet.
But there’s wet and there’s drowned in a Portuguese city. As I was sheltering under a modest porch, my phone rang. A Spanish number: I must answer this. It was Dad’s hospital. I spoke to him briefly after a word with Susana, a kindly administrator at his hospital. He didn’t hear a word. But he often doesn’t if I’m sitting opposite him nursing a beer. I said I was on my way to Vigo, sounding more confident than I was feeling.
I arrived at a bus station that made Cardiff’s grotty, long-demolished 1970s terminus look classy. No ticket office – thank goodness for the internet. Seeing the shiny Flixbuses, I looked up their website and in seconds was booked on the 10am. Phew! I went for this departure not the 10.25am mentioned by the hotel on the assumption that if the 10am didn’t turn up I had a second option. But wait! Google told me to set off now as the departure point was a 15 minute drive! I’d chosen the wrong departure point. I was relieved to find changing the booking to the 10.25 was a click away.
I was soon departing Porto, admiring the spectacular bridges over the Douro, including a disused railway bridge designed by Gustav Eiffel. I was relieved when we passed the airport as that confirmed I was going in the right direction. Crossing the Spanish border was another reassuring moment during a morning that had been short of reassurance.
I walked up the hill to the metro station opposite last year’s hotel, heading into the city centre by tram rather than on foot.
Destination 2022: the coach station from which I finally departed for Vigo, and cafe
On this lovely sunny day, I felt a few shivers as I found the coach station, and the cafe where I grabbed a much needed coffee as I waited for the Flixbus coach to Vigo. I felt I had laid a ghost to rest and was now able to enjoy being a tourist in this lovely city.