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


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Saturday, November 25 2023

Room 215 on the Andorinha at a dock in the mouth of the Douro River, Canidelo, Portugal

This morning we'd have breakfast and then have to abandon our cabins by 9:00am. But, since this was the Andorinha's last cruise of the season, we'd be free to hang out on the boat until nearly noon. They'd even keep to cappuccino-making robot working! We;d packed all our stuff and were out of our cabin even before going to breakfast.
We sat with the Chichester couple and I made myself a breakfast of all the legitmately good things one is unlikely to find at other, eggier breakfast buffets, including several vegan croissants, and a variety of vegan meats. (Dirk, the German cruise director, who joined us for a time because Simon was there, makes sure to provide a lot of those.)
Aftert the dining area was shut down for the season, we relocated to the lounge, and up there I was trying to do my best to stay away from the few people on the boat with the unhealthiest-sounding coughs. The worst offender, as you can probably imagine, was the cruise's only child. He lookeded to be about four years old, and his parents weren't much behind him in a hypothetical ordering of the passengers from youngest to oldest. I think the parents were German, and my only conversation with them was when they tried to convince me to play chess with their kid. I'd said "maybe later" to be polite, but there was no way I wanted to be within that kid's coughing radius. He seemed to cough a really wet, bubbly cough every two or three minutes, and, since he had no habits around this behavior, the coughs went into everything, including breakfast and lunch buffets (which he was lifted so he could examine) and baskets of bread being brought around by waiters. I'd been good about avoiding that kid on the whole cruise, but somehow once I plunked down with my big heavy bag in the lounge, I was soon surrounded by and archipelago of baggage belonging to that kid's parents. And then the mother appeared with that kid on her hip, and in something of a panic, I got up and left, which I had to be kind of rude to do, since she was blocking my way with the kid's covid-hole pointed directly at me.
At about that time we were told to move up to Arthur's (the little bistro restaurant in the back of the top deck) because the lounge was now being shut down. It felt a little like the Milton in Office Space being told to relocate to a storage closet in the basement, though of course this storage closet had grand views of the lower Douro and a cappuccino-making robot.
We ended up chatting for a couple hours with the Chichester couple as the others on our cruise gradually caught taxis to the airport. Both Simon and Cathy and Gretchen and I had late flights, so it seemed most comfortable to do as much of our waiting on the Andorinha as possible. Eventually we were joined by Dirk and even Carmem came through. She spent a lot more energy than was warranted explaining to me a European all-in-one kitchen gadget I'd never heard of that had supposedly changed her life. She called it something that sounded like two English letters, but I think she meant the Thermomix. When Carmem wasn't there, Dirk told us how crestfallen she'd been when one of the tip envelopes she'd received contained only five euros. That was probably the Belgian couple, since they're a bit nicer than certain others on the boat.
The Chichester couple has been on a lot of these vegan riverboard cruises, but the one they and Dirk discussed at some length this morning was one of Adriatic Croatia (which might not technically have been a riverboat cruise). The staff on that boat had been, according to Dirk,, Simon, and Cathy, the worst they had ever seen. They were lazy, ill-tempered, and routinely did things like sleep in public places. The staff has been so competent on all the cruises we've been on that I harbor a little hope that some day I can experience such madness.
After we were finally ejected from the Andorinha at nearly noon, Gretchen and I decided to see if we could walk to downtown Porto from the distant (presumably cheap) harbor the Andorinha had ended up at. We'd have to do all the walking with all our stuff on our backs, but we'd already established down in Lisbon that it was possible to walk pretty much constantly without the bags being much of a burden. We ended up hiking all he way to the Luís I Bridge, 2.77 miles away. The walk was nothing but a joy, with lots of things to see and talk about along the way. And the walkway was generally well-buffered from nearby automotive and even some bicycle traffic, though sometimes this required the walkway to use a platform erected a dozen feet or more out in the Douro itself. There were a fair number of fishermen (always men!) with rods trying to pull fish out of the Douro, which didn't seem all that wise considering it's a big slow river going through a very old city.
Pedestrian activity increased dramatically as we passed the place were the fancier cruise ships docked (only about a half mile west of the Luís I Bridge). As we approached the bridge, we passed numerous merchants selling items made of cork, the whistles that sound like singing canaries, and roasted chestnuts (all of them common for sale on the streets of Portugal). We also passed some surprisingly hideous public art made from old rubber tires that were trying to look like sea turtles.
We cross the Luís I Bridge on its lower deck, which supports both pedestrian and vehicular traffic, though there was very little of the latter. On the north bank of the Douro, we set down our packs and Gretchen took advantage of free wifi to find us a place to eat. There are a number of vegan restaurants in Porto and she would've been happy to support them earlier in our vacation. But they all seemed to be serving vegan versions of Portuguese food, and by this point both of us had realized that Portuguese food isn't all that good and probably isn't really worth veganizing. There's a good reason one rarely encounters a Portuguese restaurant: their cuisine is not worth exporting. I told Gretchen that if she could find a pizza place that makes vegan pies, I'd be into that, but I could also go for Indian food. So Gretchen found both, and they were close enough to each other that we could start walking. The only real problem was that most of Porto is on a plateau above the Douro gorge, and it takes some work to get from the lower level of the Luís I Bridge up to where most of the city is. There are a few funiculars and perhaps elevators as well, but some of those we knew to be inoperative or otherwise difficult for us to use. So instead we just started climbing steps a little east of the bridge (41.141004N, 8.609167W). Initially we couldn't see how many steps we'd have to climb, but then we rounded a corner and saw that there were a great many. But we knew we had to, and we would be rewarded eventually by a lunch, so it wasn't as bad as I would've thought considering we'd just walked three miles with our backpacks and now had to increase our elevation about 100 feet using a very long stairway.
Eventually we arrived at Indian Garden, and I was so ready to eat that I definitely didn't want to go and first look in the window of the pizza restaurant and then decide. I'm the kind of person who really doesn't need to deliberate at all when there is a perfectly good food option in front of me. So we went in and the one guy in the restaurant sat us at a table. We were the only customer there. Gretchen ordered a chana massala, a mixed vegetable thing that she ordered "extra spicy," and some roti. We also had to order the rice separately. One later quibble that Gretchen didn't bother making a stink about was that the menu said rich was four euros, but we were charged five. And we got two of them. (This is why it's great that restaurants in Portugal don't necessarily expect a tip.) I also ordered a Super Bock Stout, which was a decidedly more interesting beer than a regular Super Bock. The food was pretty good, and the spicy dish we'd ordered was way too spicy for Gretchen but not too bad for the likes of me. We managed to eat all of our food, with the possible exception of some of the mango pickle.
Next we walked to a place that Gretchen thought sold a kind of vegan sock she'd gotten for me in Lisbon, but it turned out she was wrong. Near there, though, was the Mercado do Bolhão, a fancy perpetual indoor farmer's market with lots of individual vendors selling things like nuts or mushrooms. Knowing I wouldn't be so into that, Gretchen first parked me at a café with a glass of port so I could fuck around with my phone and people watch while she did her thing. That was a good spot for people watching, though people-watching is a good way to end up with beggars standing in front of you point at a sign they are carrying that is written in a language you don't understand (true story!). Gretchen joined me and drank part of her port, giving the rest to me. And then she had me look at some of the highlights in the mercado, where (among other things) a smallish animatronic Santa Claus was playing a saxophone. The mushroom stall really was an interesting one, and I'd love for there to be such vendors in the Hudson Valley. But I wasn't going to risk carrying mushrooms through American customs.
After we emerged from the mercado, Gretchen ordered us an Uber and it appeared mere seconds later, and then we were off to the airport. At some point along the way I felt an urge to sneeze, which I then did, directing all of the droplets into the inside of my hoodie like coitus interruptus for my nose. (Hey, don't knock it, I never ended up having any children, though maybe it's because I am sterile.) Usually when I sneeze, there's something that has irritated my nostrils, but in this case I couldn't think of anything that had.
At the airport, we got through the initial security very quickly and then found ourselves sitting in around waiting, not really knowing where to go because our flight hadn't yet been assigned a gate. Gretchen took a picture of me looking miserable and sent it to the Chichester couple, who had said they would be spending the afternoon and evening in the airport lounge, something they had access to because they were flying business class. (Because they'd spent their working lives catering to the various classes on thousands of flights, they'd arranged their lives so they would never ever have to fly coach. Cathy had told us that they usually get their upgrades from airline miles alone.)
Simon is definitely the kind of guy you want on your side in a situation like this. Completely unexpectedly (and without us asking anything of him), he managed (through charm alone) to talk the guys staffing the lounge into letting him bring a couple of "guests" in with him. So soon there we were in the lounge, sipping glasses of free wine and looking out from our perch and the wretched hoi polloi down below. Somehow I got to telling Simon the arcane details of how some aspect of the American political system works, and I soon felt fatique from all the words it required of me. But the time passed quickly and then Gretchen said our plane was boarding. So we had to say yet another goodbye to the Chichester couple and descend into the purgatory of basic airport facility.
Nobody had yet asked us for a passport; that happened at the gate itself, when a man asked us if we had packed our own baggage and made us take off our glasses to make sure we were the people in our passports. After he did that, a second person did almost the same thing, but it could've been worse: we were not asked to join the miserable souls in a warren of cubicles who had been picked, for whatever reason, for detailed luggage examination.
There was some hold-up on our plane that was causing the line of people boarding it to stall, and this caused us to spend a little too much time near a family with a chronic cougher in it. Almost as worrying was the color of one gentleman's shoes: a mix of pink and orange. In what universe would that be a thing to do? Yes, it's technically possible. But so was the 1980s. With 1980s technology at that!
When, much later, we finally reached our seat on the airplane, we initially thought we'd somehow lucked out and had three seats to ourselves. But the plane was pretty crowded and one straggler, a teenager who seemed to belong to a family further in the back, was placed in our third seat. That was a bummer, and Gretchen tried to get a flight attendant to maybe find him a better place. But evidently he wanted to be there, in the aisle seat. Gretchen was in the middle and I was against the window.
Before leaving the lounge, I'd snatched a Super Bock from the refrigerator, and by now it was warm. But I drank it anyway, and it wasn't very good. I then lost myself in movies for awhile, watching the rest of Edge of Tomorrow and then an action adventure apocalypse film for incredibly stupid people called Geostorm, by the part of the team who brought us Independence Day. I forget sometimes how bad movies can be and then watch something like this and have my opinion of the human project further diminished. From that I moved on to Inception, which I've tried to watch in the past and never made it very far into. During all of this, the food and drinks came. There were vegan meals for both of us this time, and they were surprising good. I was a little sick of red wine after having it at every meal on the boat, so when the drink cart came through, I asked for white and had Gretchen get one two (to double my dosage despite her rolled eyes). Well into our nearly eight-hour flight, I took my ambien, and that scooped a big chunk of boredom out of it.
My next moment of awareness was about two thirds of the way across the Atlantic Ocean. I resumed watching movies again, this time re-watching the beginning of Benjamin Button because I couldn't remember how they'd depicted a 90 year old newborn. Inevitably, we trouble the teenager blocking our access to the asile for our one bathroom break and then switched positions so Gretchen could have the window seat for the last couple hours in the friendly skies. I noticed, by the way, that the teenager had no interest in the entertainment provided by the plane. Instead he was completely absorbed by things on his phone. His parents probably paid extra so he could have internet.

After landing in Newark, we filed out of the plane in a bit of a daze (more so for Gretchen, because she'd taken xanax, not ambien). She didn't realize until she'd gotten out of the plane that she'd left her glasses behind. But the staff refused to let her go back to get them, and when they went to look for them, they claimed they couldn't find them. I knew that was it, there was no reasoning with these people, and I somehow got Gretchen to abandon all hope and accept the glasses as a loss. She said they were $100 progressives from EyebuyDirect, which is bad but not as bad as the $250 glasses swallowed by the surf in Montezuma, Costa Rica.
Our dicking around while the glasses were not being found caused us to be slow in getting to US Immigration, and that long sinuous slow-moving queue is no fun to be stuck at the back of, especially when there are asshole immigration officers acting like dickhead drill seargents, yelling at people not to use their phones and coming up with other stupid, juvenile humiliations. I'd mentioned how bad US Immigration is to Simon, and he absolutely agreed, saying no other countries has such assholes in that line of work. (He then told us how an immigration agent once reached for his gun when Simon tried to pick up a bottle of water he'd put down at some phase of the humiliations.)
But the amazing thing today was that there were no obnxious immigration agents marching around barking orders, being obnoxious, and making the United States seem like a place nobody would ever want to travel to. Then I wondered if perhaps those asshole immigration guys were a manifestation of Donald Trump and his stunted little boy take on toxic masculinity. Perhaps they all had been wiped away by one of Sleepy Joe's executive orders. That alone would make me crawl across hot coals to vote for that guy again.

Outside the airport, Fern was already there waiting for us with both dogs in our Subaru Forester. We both climbed into the back to be with the dogs (though initially Neville was riding shotgun, as he prefers to do) and Fern drove us all the way back to Hurley like an Uber driver. Charlotte had been pretty well-behaved during our absence, though she had shat in the living room three times. Another wacky thing that had happened was that the living room ceiling fan had fallen in the night. When we got to the house, I saw that the mount had broken free from the electrical box it was bolted to. Perhaps the slight wiggling of the whole thing at the end of that long down rod had caused enough accumulated metal fatigue for the screws to break.

Approaching the Luís I Bridge on the south bank of the Dourno. Click to enlarge.

On the Luís I Bridge. Click to enlarge.

On the Luís I Bridge. Click to enlarge.

The view from where we sat after crossing the Luís I Bridge. You see people climbing a daunting set of stairs, but those weren't the ones we climbed. Click to enlarge.

Gretchen and our Indian food at Indian Garden in Porto this afternoon. Click to enlarge.

Where I did my people watching and port drinking. Click to enlarge.

In the Mercado do Bolhão. Gretchen is standing there with all the things she brought for this vacation in her bag, looking at something. Click to enlarge.

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