From Here to Catalina
In week 36, I wrapped up my time in Guimarães and struggled to get back to Lisbon.
A Turn for the Better in Guimarães
After things took a turn for the better at my new hotel in Guimarães, I was able to enjoy my time there. While it had rained every day, there were long breaks and even sunshine most days. It’s not normal for northern Portugal to have better weather than the south, but thankfully I was getting a bit of a break here as Lisbon prepared to float away.
On my first trip to Guimarães in January of 2017, I loved wandering the old town. One of my favorite spots back then was a place called “Coconuts’ on the main square. This was perhaps because it was one of the only places open in a time with far fewer tourists coming to Portugal in general and especially in the middle of winter.
On this trip as I passed Coconuts it seemed cheesy and a bit touristy. However, after another disappointing visit to Martin’s, the so-called “Sports Bar”, I noticed Coconuts had the Chelsea and Arsenal game on a big TV. Finally the football gods are smiling on me in this small, northern town.
Overcome by the thrill of seeing football, I went in, grabbed a table and ordered a small beer. A young guy in the corner was also watching the game at a table in the window. He was alone but not for long as an older lady, dressed in a way in which to look stylish but not too fancy, arrived to hugs and catcalls from all the young guys working in the cafe.
The Coconuts crew fussed over her as she dismissed them half-heartedly and pushed her way to a seat. I thought she might want my table as I was in the middle of the café, away from the drafty windows. I told the waiter I’d move but he smiled and said not to worry as she was already in her favorite spot. As more locals joined her, I could see she was well cared for, similar to the lady that hangs out in my old local pub in NYC called Rosie. I see you Rosie of Guimarães. I see you and applaud you.
It Happened on the Way to the Train Station…
Finally, the day came where I had to say goodbye for now to Guimarães. After a last lovely breakfast in my hotel, I headed to the library to wait until time to leave for the train. When I arrived I walked into town as it was only about 10 minutes away and the sun was shining. With the rains, I was going to opt for a taxi or uber. When inquiring about a transfer to the train station, the lady at the front desk said she could show me on the map how to walk there. I felt like she was making a strong suggestion so I reconsidered and headed out with my one rolling bag to the train.
Unfortunately, I had forgotten one tiny detail. Walking into town was a bit easier as it was downhill from the station. Walking back up was a bit more challenging. When I first left the hotel, the sun was shining. I assumed this would be the nice, long break we had been getting daily.
It was not. About halfway to the train, the heavens opened. Trapped without an umbrella, I did my best to dive under trees and awnings so as not to get completely soaked. That last bit of the trek to the train was a long ride on the struggle bus. Finally, I arrived, soaked but happy to be inside a dry, albeit cold and damp train station.
The Station “Support” Staff
I had just enough time to buy a ticket for the next train. However, as I waited I noticed the line was not moving. Everyone that made it to the window was taking much longer than usual to buy a ticket. It’s a very straightforward transaction, especially from Guimarães as it is the end of the line. The only line.
Finally my turn arrived and I learned of a delay. The train that was scheduled before the one I was planning to catch had not arrived yet. The staff did not have any information on when that train might arrive and they were not aware if the one I was waiting for was on time, delayed or canceled.
Wow. I hope you guys get paid a lot because you are a crack team here. SUPER helpful. In these modern days of GPS tracking, how can you run the ticket office at a train station and not have any idea where the trains are? Were they hi-jacked? Stolen? Mysteriously disappeared somehow?
When I tried to buy a ticket, I was advised to wait. I might waste my money. This was nerve-wracking because they were telling everyone that. If a train actually did miraculously arrive, I might miss it while waiting for the line to clear.
Taken for a Ride
As I was contracting pneumonia while sitting in the damp, cold train station in wet clothes, I depended on the couple next to me to translate what others were learning of the fluid situation, which was nothing new or helpful. Considering my options which were fading as the afternoon wore on, I went on the bus app and bought a seat for the next departure in an hour. Hopefully the bus will not take the same route as the trains and vanish into thin air.
Checking uber, the cars were all a bit of a wait so I jumped into a taxi outside the station. I showed the taxi driver, a friendly lady, where I wanted to go on the map on my phone. She nodded knowingly and headed in that direction.
Until she wasn’t. She jumped on a highway and despite my protests, was headed out of town. Before I knew it we were twice as far away from the bus station as we had to drive to get there. I finally insisted she stop. She pulled over on the highway and I showed her my intended destination again on the map. With a look as if she’d had some massive epiphany, she headed back toward the bus station.
She pretended not to know any English or understand my few Portuguese words of protest over her scam. However, when I called Mama Tis and began to describe my situation to her, saying I was going to turn the driver in, she became much more apologetic. I think it also helped when I started taking photos of her taxi license. She dropped me at the station with excellent instructions on reaching my bus and cut the fare to what it should have been.
Do these taxi drivers not know that everyone has a map app on their phones these days? I’ve never been a huge fan of Uber but at least they cannot run you around to hike the fare. Finally I made it to Porto via bus and checked into a hotel, opting to tackle the train to Lisbon the next day.
Catalina Is the Answer
Back in Lisbon with nothing but persistent rain on my horizon, I became grumpy. I could not snap out of my negative mood. After leaving the grocery store disappointed at not being able to find most of what I wanted, I became fixated on the complete lack of salad dressings. The Portuguese do not use salad dressings, opting only for olive oil and white vinegar. For about a month, my market stocked a nice balsamic vinaigrette dressing but lately even that was missing from the shelves.
Keeping in mind, I rarely used anything other than balsamic vinaigrette dressing on my salads back in the States which I can easily make, my current obsession with finding more of a variety of dressings was completely irrational. I could not get the image of Catalina French dressing out of my mind. While I am not the best of cooks, whipping up a salad dressing is within my skill set. However in all my months of living here, that option never dawned on me. Finally desperate enough, I found a recipe for Catalina French online and headed back to the grocery store to get what I needed, hoping to snap my cranky streak.
I bought lettuce, many toppings and everything I needed to whip up the salad dressing. Unfortunately, when I arrived home, some of the things I thought I had were not in stock at Casa Tis Lisbon. Some searching online came up with suggestions for substitutions that were available in my limited pantry. I worked within my limitations and surprisingly, the dressing was really good. I was quite proud of myself. This little accomplishment helped bolster my mood despite the beco floating away….