I am not usually the superstitious type, nor do I regularly look towards the 'stars' in order to make decisions in my life. However when in Portugal perhaps one should do as the Portuguese do, and let our Mother Mary guide us towards safety and prosperity.
But by the time we were due to leave Lisbon my piece of orange peel was lost for good, my gypsy friend in Madrid had not warned me about driving in Portugal, and we had run out of time to visit Fatima. Yet maybe Marco's F1 experience with the two Tiago's was the only sign that we needed that driving in Portugal was not necessarily the best idea.
You could say that the past four days in Portugal have been an education.
Signs that driving in Portugal isn't a great idea;
No.1- See: Lisbon Blog...'The Tiago's'
No. 2 - Picking up the rental car in Lisbon
We started the morning on a bit of a bad note, very little sleep as poor Oscar was still quite sick and had been up half the night for the second night in a row screaming with a fever and was simply miserable. We were on the verge of taking him to a hospital at one stage as were not even sure it was teething and perhaps something worse, but then the Panadol seemed to do the trick and he was back in form by 7am, yet more of a low southerly than a cyclone in strength.
He seemed ok enough to continue our plans so we soldiered on.
Arriving at Avis in Lisbon we were not so much greeted by a customer service attendant, but grunted at. He decided to pick an argument with me as to why the NSW drivers licenses didn't have a date of issue on them (this was my fault entirely, not RTA's) as he needed the information for his computer. Then he pointed us towards the smallest car I have ever seen and advised it was all they had, yes it was a manual with a bizarre European reverse gear, and that we had to install the baby seat ourselves.
No.3 - The Portuguese drive on the Portuguese Roads
After taking a few very deep breaths Marco started the engine, and adjusted to the concept that he would be driving on the left hand side of the car which also meant the bizarre European gear stick was on the right side. Obviously then the cars also drive on the right hand side of the road which is a hard act to undertake when your first attempt at driving is into peak hour Lisbon traffic.
Somehow we fired up the GPS and we were off towards Braga in the north. I quickly understood what Marco had been saying about the Tiago's as we spent the next hour both quite white-knuckled screaming down the highway at 140kph, feeling like we must have really being driving 80kph because cars were overtaking us as if we were driving like nannas off to a Saturday bowls tournament in North Balwyn.
These people are insane, there are absolutely no road rules, indicators seem optional, tail gating is a recreational activity, and basically the motto seems to be if you aren't travelling 200kph then you are standing still.
In the first 15 minutes of the drive Marco changed lanes overtaking a truck, sitting on a slow and leisurely 140kph with no cars behind us. Suddenly a BMW who had moved into our lane behind us without looking, no indicator, and travelling at least 180kph quickly had to slam on the breaks to avoid running up the back of us because he was going so fast.He then has the audacity to honk his horn aggressively and abuse us as he sped off.
So the next 45 minutes were spent with Marco cursing him and vowing to punch his lights out if he happened to see him at a service station or any stop up ahead.
No 4. The car park
We stopped for a coffee (Marco so wished it was a stiff scotch - eyes still peeled for the BMW driver), in a small town called Coimbra. We eventually found an underground car park; parking wasn't the issue, however getting out proved to be more than challenging. This time it was my turn to jump behind the wheel as I tried about 5 x 3point turns to try and squeeze around the corners of the driveway, while Marco got out and assisted with another pair of eyes out front.
The driveway out was up there with the steepest and narrowest I have ever driven on, and once we had past the boom gate I somehow stalled the car and was stuck on the slope.
No matter what I tried I kept rolling back closer to the boom gate and could smell the burning clutch. The brakes were not even holding the rolling car properly. Marco asked the shifty looking attendant if he could re-open the boom gate and let the car roll back so we could start again, as I was by this stage a bundle of nerves convinced I was about to write off the Avis car and smash into the boom gate. I also had Oscar in the back seat and was more concerned for his safety than anything.
All he did was shrug his shoulders as he swung the boom gate keys in the air around his nasty little fingers, telling me 'just to drive forward and calm down.'
By this stage I was screaming at him, Marco was screaming at him, Oscar had woken up and started screaming, and about 15 local Portuguese folk decided to come into the car park and have a look at what the stupid tourists were doing this time.
Rather than just open the gate with the keys our shifty mate disappeared for a few minutes and reappeared with two wooden logs that looked like he had just hacked off a tree and stuck them under the back wheels of the car (surely this was much easier than just opening the boom gate?). Marco grabbed Oscar, I jumped out of the car and then another guy trying to park his car who was obviously used to this insane car park managed to move the car for us.
Now Marco had two different Portuguese people he wanted to clobber.
No 4 - The Psycho lady who lived on the hill
Despite having all this fun we decided to head straight for the hotel in Braga and get some well earned rest. Oscar was looking a little grizzly and he needed some TLC and possibly a doctor which was not a great position to be in on the best of days let alone in a foreign country.
The reason we had headed to Braga was it was going to be a good central location to explore the region, in particular Tamar Castle, Bom Jesus and Guimares which are all significant historic sights' in Portugals history, and getting around by car seemed the easiest means of transport at the time of booking.
The hotel that was organised for us was located in picturesque Bom Jesus, high on the top of a big hill overlooking Braga down below. We drove around the narrow and windy roads looking for the hotel and missed it the first time because it was located in the middle of one of the narrowest stretches of roads, and just a building that seemed to have popped out of nowhere. We then eventually realised that the slip lane across from the hotel was supposed to be a car park!
Marco somehow managed to pull into this 'car park' (the only other options to park were the bottom of the hill or right up the top) and we were almost taken out by a bus as we pulled in as there was a blind side both directions. There is no other word to describe it than horrific.
We almost ditched the hotel then because of the death trap car park, and also because we were so remote and had a sickly Oscar but it was getting late, Oscar was crying and so we needed to get inside. I rang the bell of the main house and after a few minutes wait a hand reached out from behind the door and stroked my arm, and as the door creaked open I saw it was attached to a tiny little old woman whoflashed me a toothy smile and asked 'where is the baaaaaby??'
With Marco and Oscar still in the car she hurried me to another section of the building and explained we were being upgraded to an apartment because it was more room for 'the baaaaaby '. It was actually ok, nice and spacious with a great view. But I also realised that we were the only guests.
I took the keys and headed to the 'car park' (saying a few Hail Mary's crossing the road...and I'm not even a Catholic!), and couldn't shake the hotel owner who insisted on following me to the car and persisted in grabbing at a frightened looking Oscar, while yabbering away to Marco and I that she would book a restaurant for us for dinner at the top of the hill, and after telling her no thanks at least 10 times, we managed to shake her and get inside the apartment.
In order to abbreviate the next 12 hours and avoid too much waffle, we had quickly decided that due to location, car park, and mainly because of a sick Oscar that this hotel was not for us and we would stay just the one night and head to Porto earlier than planned. The icing on the cake was that the apartment also didn't have any hot water and the next morning after yet another night of 'Oscar Fever' we knew the right decision had been made. We had pre-paid for the three nights and didn't think twice about forgoing the two night's accommodation we weren't going to use if it meant getting to Porto early, where we were meeting Marco's dad who could translate and assist us if we needed a doctor.
Now in a normal world checking out wouldn't be a problem would it?
Enter The Psycho lady who lived on a hill...
We had organised breakfast in the main house for 9am the next morning so decided to pack up the car, have breakfast, quickly zip up to see the Bom Jesus monastery (Oscar permitting) and then head to Porto. As he headed down to pack the car Marco actually commented that he thought there may be some dramas with leaving early, he had a premonition that the owner of the hotel would protest, which I just didn't understand. After all she would be still getting her money from us for the three night's accommodation.
Two runs across the frightening road to the car with the bags, and ten minutes later, Marco came inside and said 'Oh my god she has flipped out!' and I heard the pounding of high heels on the wooden stairs getting louder and closer as she followed him up the stairs to the apartment.
And then the wailing started. This lady started screaming and wailing...'whyyyyyy are you leeeaving meee?' and throwing herself around the room dramatically and grabbing at a less than impressed Marco's arm like she was auditioning for some B-Grade Portuguese soap opera. I was clutching a still terrified Oscar as we both tried to get her to calm down and explain that our son was unwell and that we wanted to head to Porto where we had family. The location of her hotel, we explained, was quite remote, and should we need to go to a hospital in the middle of the night we were going to be quite stuck.
And then it came again...
'But WHHHHHYYYYYYYYYY??? I don't understand, nobody ever leaves meeeeee!!!!!!!!!!!!!!' (and I was starting to think, does she mean ALIVE?)
Now this went on for a good ten minutes, and somehow she convinced us to still come down for breakfast and she still needed our passport numbers for her records. As we walked into the main house she closed the door behind us and we heard a loud click as she locked the door and hurried us down the stairs to her dungeon (nah just kidding, her breakfast room). But what is true is that she left the keys in the door and Marco had the good sense to quickly stuff them in his pocket!
Once downstairs and sitting at the dining table she poured us a coffee and then it started.
'Whhhhhhhhhhhyyyyyyyyyou leave meeee?? You and me, we take your son to hospital in Braga all together I look after yoooouuu!' Marco calmly explained that NO, this was not an option, and we were in our rights to do as we pleased and we did not need to justify our decision to her.
Then out of the corner of our eyes we spied a very sullen and plain looking girl with the best set of coke-bottle glasses I have seen, who it turned out was the Psycho lady's daughter - who was just staring at us quietly peaking around the corner of the next room. The daughter then piped in with her quiet monotone voice and asked why we were being so mean to her 'Mommy Dearest' and why wouldn't we stay.
Psycho lady disappeared for a while (which worried me) and then came back with guest comment books and tried to show us how wonderful everyone else who had stayed thought she was (yeah before she bludgeoned them to death and threw them off the cliff!)
I also made the mistake of telling her the apartment had no hot water, and this made her go even deeper into whatever parallel universe she was in, and she started wailing that there was hot water we just didn't know how to use it (yes she was right we don't have taps in Australia).
I initially felt sorry for her as she was obviously just deeply offended we were leaving her gracious hospitality, which is why we still came in for breakfast. However she was carrying on like no rational person would under the circumstances. True I am a little sensitive at the moment, but on a scale of traumatic events in one's life, I just could not sympathise that she was feeling so mortified about the situation. We didn't need to justify our decision about our son's health to anyone and so I was by this stage livid.
Marco had had enough, grabbed Oscar who was howling with all the commotion and bolted upstairs, keys in hand, to enable our safe escape. I was still downstairs with Psycho lady who was taking an eternity to write down our passport details, at the same time still trying to convince us to stay on and that she would look after 'the baaaaaaaby' (oh and why wouldn't we stay now?)
Upstairs I heard a similar conversation as the daughter was also telling Marco we should stay and that we were being unreasonable.
I eventually got our passports back and ran up the stairs, Psycho lady in hot pursuit this time dispensing with any English and screaming at me in Portuguese. Marco was on the other side of the road by now with Oscar and I made a dash across the traffic and somehow we all got into the car in one piece.
The two of them sat on the front steps staring at us as we drove off down the hill, we actually wanted to go up and see Bom Jesus* but had to take a long detour so she didn't see where we were going!
Somehow we made it back to Porto which was an hour's drive away and checked into a hotel we had found on Wotif.com, as our original hotel booking wasn't for a few days and that hotel was fully booked.
Oscar continued to get worse and the short version of the saga (if there is one!) is that we eventually needed to take Oscar to hospital as he broke out in a rash that resembled the measles, and it was a god send Marco's dad was in Porto because we needed a native translator to manage the entire situation (explaining that component would require another blog entry of its own and I simply don't have the energy. Let's just say that Marco has now added an additional two people to his hit list!)
Luckily it appears he has a virus common in young babies, it's not the measles, but none the less the past few days we would rather forget as it was extremely scary.
In a trip as long as ours I guess we were bound to have a few hiccups along the way, and it's a shame we didn't get to experience more of the north as it's such a beautiful part of the world. Oscar is on the mend now and Porto is a really exciting city too and we hope to have enough to write a more positive blog on in a few days time before we head to Madeira. But for now, lessons learnt?
1)Don't drive in Portugal
2)Always travel with insurance
3)Always trust your gut instinct when it comes to travelling with kids
*For those still interested Bom Jesus is a lovely old monastery and church set in beautiful grounds that was built back in the 11th Century with a spectacular view of Braga. I would however recommend that if you would like to visit a day tour from Porto in a bus is a wiser option.