"Where are we going?" I ask Frank the Sushi Knife Sharpener. I'm nervous. We have veered away from the entrance to the gardens.
"In there?" It's a museum. I just know it's a museum. My stomach is already in knots. My legs are aching and I have the distinct urge to buy a coffeetable book.
"No way around it," he says. "We have to go in. We can use the toilet."
So we go in. Fortunately, the toilets are before the barrier for paying visitors. Good going, museum adminstators! Also before the barrier is an installment, which is attracting a lot of attention from an aromatically off-putting group of teenagers. It is a movable staircase--similar to one you might use to board a very small plane--with a pair of headphones hanging on the railing at the top. There are too many stinky teens crowding around it, taking turns to climb and listen to whatever it is on those headphones, so I go to the john while Frank the Sush Knife Sharpener buys our tickets for the botanical garden.
When I return, the installment is teenless, so I climb the stairs and put on those headphones to see what it's all about. Then I notice that the entire wall across from the movable stairs--and they are quite unstable actually--is mirrored. Ahhhhh. I am the art. I get it. The art is a stupid person at the top of a pointless, wobbly staircase in a museum. I get it. I so get it.
The gardens are expansive but not very well kept. I have the sad feeling that this place is becoming a ghost garden. It's quite sad really, because there are lots of visitors--just not very many employees. The herb garden is ratty, the ponds scummy, and so many opportunities to make a bit of money simply wasted. Near the herb garden is a courtyard that could makea delightful café, but it is empty except for a few visitors taking a rest on some old benches. Here are a few nicer impressions of the gardens:
On the following day we--Frank--decide to take a boat trip up the Douro river--against the flow, mind you. That's the kind of rugged travellers we are. Battling the elements. Struggling. Grunting. We take a boat with 200 school children, sit in the sun and nibble crisps.
But then something beautiful happens. Two of the kids' teachersspot the two non-Portuguese adults--two of these are not like the other 200--and see that we don'thave any proper food, so they invite us to share their lunch of local ham and bread (of course I have to pass on the bread). What nice people. They tell us a little about the towns along the river while we chew the fat, literally. I know I'll completely forget what they tell us, but the taste of the ham will stay with me for a very long time.
The Douro uses a system of locks to regulate traffic on the river. Weare not prepared for the grandeur of the lock we gothrough. I think Frank the Sushi Knife Sharpeneris more excited than the children.
"It's huge!" he keeps saying.
"Calm down, partner," I keep saying, but it really is huge.
"I've been through locks in China in that gorge dam thing--"
"The Three Gorges Dam?"
"That's the one."
"--and it wasn't even close to being this big."
"Um, I just looked at this YouTube video provided by Matthias Alles, and actually the Three Gorges Dam lock here looks to be about the same size."
"How did you do that?"
"I cheated the constraints of time and space."
"You are adorable."
Our destination is a little town known for its central role in the history and production of port wine. Seriously, it's not worth the effort. The boat ride is great, but the sleepy little non-descript town--which will remain nameless since I don't want villagers to show up at my door with pitchforks and torches--is disappointing. There are a couple of restaurants near the dock, but at least one of them isn't good (again, I'll leave this a mystery: pitchforks, torches). Our lunch is a disaster. We wait forever even though there are only two other tables occupied, and our food is worse than not good.
Next time I'm off to Warnemünde at the Baltic Sea.
I must be off,
Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire), an episodic adult cartoon about a man struggling with expectations. Allen's award-winning fiction has appeared, or is forthcoming, in SmokeLong Quarterly's Best of the First Ten Years anthology, Prime Number Magazine, Pure Slush, Apocrypha and Abstractions, among many others. Allen's creative non-fiction has appeared in Connotation Press, BootsAll Travel and the best-selling series, celebrating its 40-year anniversary this year, Chicken Soup for the Soul.