Porto

vinmac

Glasow, United Kingdom

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Ever since I started posting onto ‘redbubble’ , I’ve wanted to mention my friends from Belgium and Portugal who helped me survive when I was over in Europe about 10 yrs ago If it wasn’t for Bea and Corrado in Mons and Joachim in Porto , I likely wouldn’t still be here !

I think that if your the kind of person who decides to go off backpacking once , then you’ll do it again – it stays in your blood ! I could be domesticated somewhere for a few years but at the back off my mind I know that I’d like to go walkabouts again at some point . This was the case back then – I’d been doing the household thing for some years after previously living ‘on the road’ before that for a few years – now I was back on the road ! To be honest , it’s not so much a question of choice that makes someone walk into the sunset with caution to the wind thrown ; I’ve found that circumstances have a tendency to decide these things for us !

Whatever the case , I’d had enough of rainy Britain , so I was heading off into the sunnier climes and greener fields of mainland Europe for a change ! The only problem was , in mid February it was rainy everywhere just about – certainly everywhere that I’d be passing in the next few weeks ! So I caught the night boat from Harwich to the Hook of Holland – in the days before I even had an mp3 player – with the intention of hitch-hiking to Bilbao in the Basque region of Spain ! This would draw me in a diagonal line towards the west coast of France , I’d hitch-hiked similarly before from Calais towards Catalonia in Spain , which was drawing me towards the eastern frontier . That was about six years previous and had been the most memorable of times for me , for days on end I was walking past the vines , too early to be bearing fruit but so interesting and alluring in themselves – those tapering branches bending and twisting every which way ! I remember the days as being so peaceful – the word ‘tranquil’ is the most commonly used in France to denote being at rest and really I think that the particular atmosphere evoked by the English usage of ;tranquil’ , is how I particularly remember France to have been that year , for me anyway – more tranquil than times I remember anywhere else before .

This time round was to be tougher going though ! When you’re living outside ,
the rain is the biggest dread you have – the cold is manageable , but the rain is your bane ! Especially on the road – you end up 100 km from the nearest town , amidst fields and forests , on a quiet back road – chances are you’ll have to walk it ! A low volume of traffic decreases your chances of being given a lift 100 fold (at least) ; being soaked to the skin doesn’t help – someone is thinking of their car being soaked immediately ! But then we’re talking about the rain really lashing down , where a driver could blink and miss you – or even hit you ! Keeping a couple of dry sets of clothes in polythene bags will see you ok for a few days but if the weather doesn’t do you any favours for longer than this , then you could be in trouble ! You still have to find shelter at night – my way of achieving this was to keep my eyes open from an average of about 5 in the evening – saying that this gave me about three hours of light to find somewhere – after adopting this method , I found that I virtually always found somewhere to lay my hat down for the night !

This year – 2000 it was I think – began o.k . The Netherlands is a wonderful country to visit at any time , a model example to anywhere else in so many ways ! The people are very organised as well as being very progressive in their thinking and ways . I came to a small village after walking a few miles from ‘The Hook’ , the day after my arrival ; I don’t remember the name of the village , but that’s deliberate because I’m holding back on the day that I get the maps out and go over all the places I’ve been ! The first few days in Holland were as peaceful as any time before I’d had . I walked to Rotterdam
, albeit after losing at least a day accidentally going in a large circle and ending up where I’d started ! What a nightmare this kind of disappointment is – aaarghh – I bet I done some screaming and shouting then ! The rain began after Rotterdam and never really stopped for a few weeks . I was able to play my tin – whistle and make some money in Eindhoven , that I knew already because I stayed there for some months some years before ; it’s nice to revisit a place and not to be disappointed ! I knew Maastricht quite well too , as I also had lived a while there , but this time the rain came on really heavy – Oh well , the plants need watered – you can’t argue with nature !

And so it was that a few days later I was standing on the by-way with my thumb out , drenched and shivering en route for Mons in Belgium , where the first shot of WW1 had been fired ! The day previously , I’d passed through Charleroi and Namur . At last someone pulled in to give me a lift ! I was talking to the nice man for about 5 mins – I thought he spoke English ! I was saying that I’d be grateful if he dropped me near a hospital , because I was worried that I might have pneumonia ! After blurting all that out through chattering teeth , Corrado turned around and explained to me he never spoke English , but that he would take me home where his wife was – and she spoke English ! I could also get dried off ! Was I ever so relieved ! Corrado’s wife was Bea (meaning – hope) and when she had listened to me , she said that I could stay with them till I was fit and well again ! They were Christian people and so I got to know many other of the good Christian people from Mons as well – we had many visitors and I had a lovely time there – I’d be taken to all the places that the family were going and it was such a pleasant change from being alone ! Like most places I’ve been , Belgium and Flanders has always been a place that I’ve found kindness – I’d say that the Belgian people want your trust and if they have that , then you are a friend ! Brussels is another lovely city to visit !

After a couple of weeks , I felt that I couldn’t allow my kind hosts to keep me any longer – if I could have spoken Flemish I might have stayed and looked for a job , but sadly this was one occasion were I had to go on , even though it was with sadness !

After crossing Paris and Orleans , as you would do if going east or west (and I’d always end up in Arras too) , I was on the road for Tours , sweeping off to make for Poitiers ! What a lovely day in Poitiers I had also ! It was miserable to begin with , I’d only got a couple of damp hours sleep in an old leaky caravan and I began the day about 6 am – the snowfall was tiny flakes but heavy enough to be lying on the ground . After 10 mins I was as white as a snowman ! But then the weather Improved and by mid-day the sun was out and I was confident enough to need only my t-shirt for protection against the elements ! For the duration of my journey to Poitiers , some few hundred kilometres , I looked to both sides of me and witnessed the damage done by a passing hurricane some months before ( I think it was ‘EL NINO’) The land had been afforested but the storm had flattened absolutely every tree in sight – for some hundred miles ! I got a lift from a guy my own age , who was a forestry worker by trade – a ‘bois – chiene’ – he expressed his sorrow at the destruction – really quite awesome and shocking to witness ! My friend also explained much to me about Poitiers and the surrounding region . Poitiers has a long history , so I mean to read about it in more detail some day . The weather remained pleasant all day , so I was able to top my coffers up after another few hours on the penny-whistle ! I got some nice things to eat from the supermarket and I spent a pleasant evening under shelter in an abandoned monastery – again , the day I spend in Poitiers will always stand out for me .

It was after this point that the weather turned ! I recall another good friend from Angouleme , near Bordeaux who gave me a lift to there ! He was telling me that his ancestor was Richard the Lion-heart , and as I even still remember him to be a very honest and intelligent man – I had no reason to doubt him !
I never had time to stop in Bordeaux , as you really must keep going or else you end up spending all your money ! The rain started getting heavy just as I came out of Bordeaux and into the wilder plains of the French Basque country ! All in all I ended up walking about 150 kilometres over a period of a few days . I was wakened after a couple of days by an old farmer , as I slept in a woodshed ; he had a baquette and some water for me – he’d seen me arrive the night before – he was indicating that the bad weather was to continue ! I continued down the road to Bayonne , with everything I stood in and the complete contents of my rucksack absolute soaked ! The rain had been pelting for about three days , and the worse condition you get into , the less chances you have of getting a lift !

At what must have been one of my most desperate times in all my years , on roads or otherwise – a lorry finally stopped for me ! Praise the Lord for Joachim and the convey of Portuguese and Spanish inter-continental lorry – drivers , headed for Espana ! At that point I was only heading as far as Bayonne but Joachim offered to take me as far as Bilbao ; as we drove , reports were coming over the radio about car bombs going off , so I took up his offer of travelling all the way to Portugal ! I’ve never seen anywhere like the Basque country before – every single road sign had the name in Spanish painted over by the Basque name in ‘Euskara’ – the native Basque language .
This was again the case for what must have been a few hundred miles . I mean this is like on the motorway , so someone must have risked their lives to climb onto every stanchion which over-hung it , in order to paint over those names !

We were in a convoy of four , part of a bigger convoy of a couple of thousand lorries – again just another amazing journey to remember ! I never forget on arriving in Portugal from the north how those huge rocks were sitting on top of the stationary rock – you imagined that any one could tumble onto the road
at any moment ! Joachim took me to his home village near Figura de Foz ; his son Leandro spoke good English , so again I could spill out my heart ! Again , I was made the guest of Joachim and his Family . Yet again , I was taken with the Family when they were going to places , so I got to meet all the nicest Portuguese people as well ! After a few days , Joachim was meeting his friends again and they were heading for Munich in Germany , before returning to Portugal again – they offered that I could come too and I could help with loading and unloading the lorries for my keep ! So on we went and kinder and more decent people again for hosts – you could not help to find !
After our return , I was dropped off in Lisbon to continue with my wanderings ,
by that time the sun was out again ! The next time I set off , if I ever do again , I’ll try not to be pushed into leaving at such an inconvenient time , but like everything else in life – things happen for a reason . Had the weather been milder I might never have met all the people I’m thinking of here . Here I am safe at home again but these are people and times that I’ll never forget !

We drove through Porto a couple of times and both times the football was on the radio – I must say , Porto really seems to be the capital for soccer – the people are really wild for the game !
Joachim had lived in Mozambique before and had a picture on the wall of his house of some Elephants crossing the desert – that he had painted while over there . Thus my tribute here !

Incendia + gimp – background , Terreagen !

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