Monday, December 7, 2009

Portugal Trip Part 1 - Getting There

Sorry guys, I have really been putting off writing about my trip to Portugal because I saw so much stuff (came back with 900 something pictures) that writing about it seems really daunting. So I'm gonna ease into it and give a little preface about what I had to go through to actually GET to Portugal.
So even if any of you have looked at a map of where I am it still may not have occurred to you that Oviedo is kind of out of the way, which is part of why I chose it because I didn't want to go to a place that was really touristy. Even though it's the capital of Asturias, Oviedo isn't really a major transportations hub and as far as Spain is concerned there isn't a whole lot of stuff up here worth making it better connected. Asturians have no problem with this, in fact most of the Autonomous Communities of Spain have their own independence movements, with some (Catalunya, Basque Country) more serious than others (Asturias). Anyway, I digress. And I got a little bit ahead of myself too. Let's regroup in the next paragraph.
The main bus company in Spain is called ALSA, and they service most cities I have tried to go to so far, as well as some international routes. The ALSA website is pretty informative and you can look up bus routes between any two cities and see when they run, with one major flaw - if there is not direct service between those two cities, the website won't tell you how to make your journey possible. Therefore, when I searched for routes from Oviedo to Oporto, Portugal, the ALSA website pretty much told me "you can't get there from here". Not one to be defeated, I picked a few cities in Galicia that were closer to the border with Portugal that connected with both Oviedo and Oporto, eventually settling on Vigo, as it gave me the quickest journey time. I went to the bus station the Wednesday before I left and bought the tickets in person so I wouldn't have to pay the 1 euro surcharge on the website, and everything went off without a hitch. I had a ticket from Oviedo to Vigo at 3:45 on Friday afternoon, arriving there at 10 PM, and then a ticket from Vigo to Oporto leaving there at 11 PM. I also bought a ticket on the overnight bus from Lisbon to Madrid for the following Friday, but we're not even close to it being time to talk about that yet.
So I packed up my new 30 liter backpack with everything I thought I would need for a week in Portugal and headed off to the bus station Friday afternoon. I got there a little early, and I realized something interesting as I was looking at the Arrivals/Departures board - although I was going from Oviedo to Vigo, the bus line I was traveling was the Gijón-Pontevedra route. This made me worry that when I got to Vigo I wouldn't know which route to look for, so with my extra time I went to the information desk to ask. Unexpectedly, the lady at the desk told me that the ticket I had purchased was for a route that only runs on Sundays. I asked her why they would have sold me a ticket for a bus that didn't exist, and she told me that I should take it up at the ticket window, but in her computer it said that my bus didn't exist. I went over to the ticket window but there was a long line, and I had five minutes before my bus to Vigo left, so I reasoned with myself that she was wrong and there was no way that they would have sold me a ticket for a bus that didn't exist, and got on my bus.
I was disappointed to find out that the majority of buses don't have bathrooms onboard, not because I found myself needing one at any point during the ride, but my anxiety likes to have that option should the situation arise. The buses stop pretty frequently, although they only stop for longer than like two minutes every two hours or so. The ride to Vigo took about 6 hours because we went due south and then due west like a giant backwards L. At one of the longer stops in Ponferrada (Templar Castle, remember?) I had the chance to talk to someone at their booking office and she looked up my bus to Oporto in her computer and assured me that it existed, and that there were only 8 people booked so I could probably sit wherever I wanted.
Imagine my surprise, then, when upon arriving in Vigo I checked the departure board and couldn't find any buses to Portugal, much less the one I had paid 10 euros to ride. My stomach sunk, but I still figured there might be some kind of mistake and went up to the information desk (which was closing, because it's 10 PM, mind you) and asked them what platform the bus to Oporto would be leaving from. I kind of feel like doing this part like the dialogue in a play, instead of relating what I said, then what he said, etc.

Patrick: (forcing optimism) "Excuse me, I didn't see the 11 PM bus to Oporto on the departure board, what platform does it leave from?"
Information guy: (hesitating) "There is no bus to Oporto tonight. That bus only runs on Sundays."
Patrick: (disheartened) "But they sold me a ticket for it in Oviedo." (shows ticket)
Information guy: (mulling over ticket) "There used to be Friday buses but they stopped starting the fourth of this month. But they sold you a ticket, huh? They shouldn't be doing that anymore . . ."
(long pause)
Patrick: (defeated) "When is the first bus to Oporto tomorrow?"
IG: "The first ALSA bus leaves at noon, but there is another one that leaves at 9 AM."
Patrick: "Can I sleep in the bus station?"
IG: "No, it closes at night. But that cafe across the street stays open all night, you can probably sleep there."

Well I went over and checked out the cafe in question, and decided I could probably find a place a little more comfortable and less smoky to spend the night with some effort, so I started walking down what appeared to be the main road leading away from the bus station looking for a hostel. As I wandered I called the hostel I had booked in Oporto and told them of my misfortune so they wouldn't cancel my reservation entirely, because I still needed to spend the following night there. I finally found a hostel for 20 euros, which was more than I wanted to spend, but I did end up getting a private room with it's own bathroom. I told the lady to wake me up at 7 and I also set both my phone and watch alarms for that time.
The next morning I got up to my alarms and showered, then headed to the bus station to try to get my money back from ALSA and buy a ticket for the 9 AM bus. Unfortunately ALSA doesn't have an office at the Vigo bus station, so I was informed I'd have to take up my refund with them back in Oviedo. Oh well, I bought another 10 euro ticket and had a glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice while waiting for the bus to leave, which it did promptly on time. On the bus I decided that at least I had gotten all of the b*llsh*t out of the way early, so it should be smooth sailing from there on out. And it pretty much was.
So there you have it, in a very wordy and rambling fashion. My adventure was definitely underway, for better or worse. (Does that make it sound like the whole trip sucked? Because that's not what I was going for, it totally didn't.)


  1. Can't wait to hear about - and see - the rest of Portugual! Loved the bus station "dialogue;" a nice touch and very entertaining -- Dad

  2. I know you're not working on your write more about Portugal!!