Our luggage was different this time. Normally we’ve established how many suitcases we can take with our airline allowance and packed accordingly, with a weather eye on the bathroom scales – those extra pots of Oxford Vintage Marmalade that we believe are coveted or that special Muesli that someone the other end identified as their favourite in the whole wide world and could you bring a bag or two (another 500 or 1000g eating into your weight allowance!!). And eventually it’s done and we leave for the airport, our minds running a mental check-list to ensure that it’s only at the top of the road that we shout stop and not think f**k when you get to the departure gate at the airport!!
One of my pet hates is the electrical socket difference. How did the world develop different plugs and sockets? Bit like PAL and VHS but some of you will be too young to remember those video formats? Surely this is something the UN should insist on, a change to one standard and it would have to be the UK system because that’s the best!! How many travel adaptors do I own? Too many – and often not the right one! (See note)
This time we were packing for an extended time away in Portugal and not Brazil, where some of the European descendants still hanker after certain English favourites. In Europe these are probably now available in the Saloio supermarket in Estoril, an upmarket delicatessen that serves a sizeable British ex-pat community. …. but going by sea ferry and car we were able to take as much as we wanted – weird! For example: “Should we take a picnic bag?” “Why not, it doesn’t take up much room.” “A kitchen sink?” “Nah!”
Do you have a box or a tin or a bag with all your loose foreign change, or are you good and drop it into the charity envelope proffered by the stewardess on the aircraft prior to landing or into that cardboard box close to arrivals? When I worked for Short Brothers in the second half of the 1980s my role was to go and meet potential customers; I was a salesman but I think I was called Sales Executive or Manager or some such as the word ‘salesman’ in the UK carries certain connotations, connections with second hand cars and the name Arthur Daley!! In those 5 years I covered just under 300,000 miles with Singapore Airlines alone and visited a large number of countries. Each time I came back with some loose change and generally put it into old Schimmelpenninck cigarillo tins I had for some reason kept (in case ?). Being quite organised I labelled each tin, according to the contents – Deutsche marks, Danish Krone, French Francs, Indian Rupees, Singaporean dollars, Malaysian Ringget, Australian Dollars etc. Now I only have some Euros or Brazilian Reals in coinage and don’t really need those tins.
Some of you will be aware that Celina and I took the ferry to Santander in northern Spain and then drove to Estoril in Portugal. Apart from the Dartford crossing of The Thames to the east of London where you have to pay a toll, no longer through a machine but only ‘online’, it’s rare for me to travel on a toll road. Here on the Iberian Peninsula motorways charging for their use are common.
The locals will have one of those cards that are automatically read by sensors on an overhead gantry at the Toll Gate, and are charged monthly. Tourists have to pay at a personnel-manned or machined-manned gate. We thought we had got the hang of it, then found ourselves with a ticket that needed to be paid when we got off the motorway. An hour later, in the outside lane of three, the exit booths were upon us before we realised it and we drove through an open gate. Aagghhhh!!
So, when we got into the hotel in Porto, we asked the reception staff how we could pay. “On the right of the Praça do Marquês de Pombal there’s a Post Office counter inside the CTT bank.” The man we found there laughed and almost accused us of trying to avoid paying. Then he told us he couldn’t take the payment but if we went down the street, turned left etc etc “You are in a car, no?” “No!” “OK, rather a long walk.” But this wasn’t the half of it, as they say. The attendant in the garage to which we had been directed said he couldn’t help but if we went …… five sets of traffic lights …… turn left …… can’t miss it. “You’re in a car, no?” “No!” “OK, rather a long walk …..” Eventually we did find the offices of the company Via Verde who operate the toll roads and paid what we should have paid three hours before. The dubious bonus was we saw parts of Porto that tourists rarely see ……. and I understand why!
Porto, on the Douro River, is the commercial capital and second largest Portuguese city: the inhabitants think it’s the best. It has of course given its name to the fortified wine beloved of after-dinner drinkers and the warehouses of the great trading families line the river – Taylors, Sandeman, Graham, Vasconcelos to name but a few. I have drunk enough port in my life to know it’s glorious, in the right place and at the right time. It was an essential part of the formal dining I enjoyed, and endured, in my military life. After the debris of the last course had been cleared away, the port decanters came out and were placed at each end of the dining table. As far as I remember, the ‘form’ was for the person at the end to offer it to the person on their right …… and then pass it clockwise. Once all the glasses were full, the appointed president asked the Vice-President to propose a toast to The Queen who, in the case of the Royal Regiment of Artillery, was also our Captain General. We got to our feet, toasted Her Majesty, and then got on with the more informal entertainment. Maybe some of that port had been in casks on one of these small boats on the Douro River, decades ago.
Richard 14th July 2018
Note: The eagled-eyed among you will notice a UK plugged extension cable. This trip I decided to take one and then replace its UK end plug with a Portuguese one – that’s on the assumption that I can find a plug as most electrical appliances these days have a molded non-replaceable one.