Your leaking thatched hut during the restoration of a pre-Enlightenment state.


Hello, my name is Judas Gutenberg and this is my blaag (pronounced as you would the vomit noise "hyroop-bleuach").


decay & ruin
Biosphere II
dead malls
Irving housing

got that wrong

appropriate tech
Arduino μcontrollers
Backwoods Home
Fractal antenna

fun social media stuff

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Like my brownhouse:
   train to Porto
Saturday, November 18 2023

location: room 2016, Hotel Avenida Palace

We had to get up earlier than usual to start our day, meaning we saw an older and, dare I say, more Asian demographic in the fancy breakfast hall. I should mention that Gretchen had discovered a large number of public spaces in the hotel, some of them dating to a very different time. There were multiple small libraries and even a room Gretchen thought might be for the playing of cribbage. There was also a room featuring two desktop computers, both of which had been unused since we'd come by to print out our train tickets yesterday (we came by again after breakfast to make copies of our passports should they get stolen).
This morning we had to walk to a somewhat distant train station to catch a high-speed train to Porto. Gretchen was feeling the need for exercise, so she suggested we start out walking and then maybe catch a bus or flag down a taxi whenever we got tired of walking. The weather was colder than it had been, enough for us to be comfortable while hiking in our jackets. Initially our walk took us down an attractive (at least by the standards of Lisbon) boulevard called Avenue da Liberdade lined with plane trees and the occasional palms. The sidewalk continued to be in the style we'd seen everywhere else, that is, a grid of diamond-shaped stones, each about the size of a fist, though here the usual white stones had been interlaced with black stones in swirling designs. Our walk took us to a large traffic circle, where our trajectory changed direction. As we passed a fancy hotel, a taxi had just disgorged a guest, so we hailed the cab right then and there and a doorman reflexively opened one of the cab's door for us.
Our cabbie had nothing but good things to say about Porto, which he said was the "real Portugal" (which Lisbon was apparently not). He also told us that the train station we were going to, "Entrecampos," meant "between the fields," that is "between the stadia." We were alarmed to learn one of those stadia was for bullfighting, though, the cabbie was quick to add, "they no longer kill the bull."
Entrecampos was in a grimy neighborhood and had the kind of stainless steel cladding and unnecessary decoration that is often used to gussy up cheap midcentury architecture. Foreshadowing the depressing interior of the train station, a steep set of concrete steps in front were punctuated regularly with abandoned beer and wine bottles left by people who had sat there and drank their contents.
Inside, the train station had low ceilings and unadorned ceilings that would've perhaps been a step down even from the new Penn Station in Manhattan. Infuriatingly, there were no signs telling where the tracks could be found (it turned out that they were all upstairs). We found a bathroom that charged half a euro to use (and I paid this). A woman staffing it whistled constantly as she worked, perhaps so as not to hear the sound of people unburdening their bowels. For all my complaints about the train station, the bathroom itself was immaculate. (I only had to piss, and it made me wonder if there were bathrooms that nickeled and dimed their customers, charging extra to get a stall, take toilet paper, or wash their hands.)
It turned out that our train was running late, so we went on a stroll through the neighborhood, a windswept land of featureless boxy buildings and broad difficult-to-cross avenues. We found a farmers's market, where one could buy all the foods familiar from our farmers markets (though with more oranges). But then it started to rain, sending us back to that ugly train station. On the way, I had to piss again and wanted to save the half euro, so I found an entrance to a construction site. As I was pissing, Gretchen pointed to some orange fur protruding from beneath a barricade. It belonged to a napping feral cat (or perhaps some other orange animal).
While waiting for our train, I managed to go downstairs and get internet long enough to load the day's New York Times Spelling Bee. But then I lost it, then the train was delayed some more, and then train came. It was high-speed train with an ærodynamic shape. I thought we could just climb on and take any seats, but then it turned out that the seats were all assigned and someone came to take the seat I was in (while Gretchen was off scoping out other seats). Two relocations later, we were finally in our assigned seats in the very center of car #4 (the one we'd boarded). The seats on the back half of the car faced forward and the seats in the front half faced backwards, so Gretchen was facing me across a table while we each sat next to strangers. Fortunately, there was free internet on the train for our two hour ride to Porto, though I mostly just napped or watched the scenery whiz past out the window. I also briefly read about Portuguese colonialism in the Lonely Planet guide.
As for the others on the train, they were mostly well-behaved, and the ones nearest us seemed mostly healthy. Off in the distance, though, I heard some very unhealthy-sounding coughs and wouldn't've wanted to find myself assigned a seat next to that person. The woman next to Gretchen was also doing a fair amount of sniffling, but that seemed relatively harmless, since it wasn't projecting tiny droplets into the air that we would then have to breathe.
Later in the trip, a group of drunk men took seats together only about 12 feet away, and they were talking a bit too loudly and repeatedly making noises that only a drunk person would appreciate. I always find drunk people annoying, forgetting (I suppose) that I too have often been that annoying drunk guy. But then again, at least these days, I'm not usually the kind of person who spends his time drunk in public places. And when I do, I'm not the kind of drunk who talks loudly and makes monotonous noises. Well, maybe I am, but I have to be really really drunk to do those things.
The train passed mostly through flat agricultural areas dedicated to growing various plants; the only animals I saw were horses, which might've still been used in some places instead of tractors (as they had still been in parts of eastern Europe). For a western European country, Portugal is relatively poor, and has been so for a long time. This is probably one of the reasons Lisbon is not as beautiful as other European capitals. Its golden age was a long time ago, and there hasn't been the money to maintain its artifacts. But there also hasn't been money to tear down its landmarks (as there has been in, say, Manhattan).
Further to the north, there was extensive digging for what appeared to be drainage and/or sewage systems near the railroad tracks. That went on for a great many miles. And then passed through a few ugly suburbs before arriving in Porto.
As we were walking from the train station, the buildings were small and somewhat grimy, but Gretchen announced that she already liked the æsthetic more than what we'd seen in Lisbon. Soon, though, the buildings looked grimier and, occasionally, had weird brutalist touches in either concrete or Wonderboard, and Gretchen started getting a little skeeved out, especially after a little man on the street seemed like he wanted to pick a fight with me and then some young woman with severe bone structure passed us.
At some point, though, we crossed a street and the neighborhood suddenly looked a lot better. It wasn't much beyond that where we reached the Odete Bakery, the nearest vegan establishment to the Campanha train station. A feature of Odete is that all their bread is sourdough, which is something I enthusiastically support. We both ordered oat milk cappucinos and sandwiches (mine being a faux fish sandwich featuring tofu wrapped in nori and colored with beet juice). By then we were already two thirds of the way from Campanha to a hotel where we'd be catching a bus to take us to the vegan river cruise ship where we'd be spending the next week. Somewhat unnervingly, nearly everyone on the bus we would be riding was wearing a covid-era mask. Later we would learn that there'd been some sort of outbreak on a vegan riverboat cruise that had just happened on the Rhone, though I'm not sure it was covid. In any case, we're delighted there is still a vegan cruise ship industry in covid's aftermath.
Gretchen took advantage of the good WiFi in the hotel while waiting for all the stragglers to arrive. And then we began our two hour bus ride to the boat, which was several locks west of Porto on the Douro River. We had tour guide named Carmem who narrated much of what we were seeing, which began mostly after driving through the absurdly long (3.5 miles!) Marão Tunnel. Meanwhile I was drinking the second half of that bottle of wine I'd begun at dinner last night, discreetly pouring it into the plastic cup that the beer I'd gotten at the Belém Tower had come in (on the chance that drinking on the motorcoach was forbidden, although at my age I've noticed that I no longer raise any suspicion even when flagrantly drinking in public).
The boat was the Andorinha, a fairly typical river boat featuring a large restaurant, a small restaurant, a small heated pool on the upper deck, and three classes of cabins. Ours was a mid-tier cabin on the middle floor, #215 (near the back). On the boarding the boat, we were each given initial drinks (as is often the custom) as well as tiny snacks. There was a brief safety presentation, and then we were shown our room. At some point I delivered three devices to the main desk so that the internet could be set up on them without my ever knowing the password.
At dinner, we were joined by an older divorced woman on the cruise by herself. She said she lived in the north of England but (after I pointed out her lack of such an accent) said she was from London. Fortunately on this particular cruise, wine at dinner is free, though the food tonight was not especially to my liking.
Later, back in our cabin, Gretchen and I used our in-room television to watch one of the available movies, Heidi. That's the black & white Shirley Temple movie from back in 1937. Gretchen had read the book, and I'd had some Disney audio version of Heidi on vinyl as a child (which was set in Switzerland, not Germany). I don't know why, but we watched the whole thing even though it was not good. [REDACTED]

Gretchen on the train to Porto today.

At Odete Bakery in Porto.

A particularly ugly building in Porto, after we'd left the ugly part of Porto near the train station.

Tiny dog convention on a street corner. Unfortunately some of the dogs are hidden my kneeling humans.

The western side of the long Marão Tunnel.

The Douro Valley on our way down to our river boat in the tour bus.

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