The First Day in Portugal

We were accompanied by our friends from Virginia during this trip to Portugal. We have made a few other trips to other parts of the world with them in the past, always traveling with Gate1.

We flew in to Porto, via Brussels. We took an overnight flight from Dulles airport to Brussels, and then we had a short wait in the sprawling Brussels Airport before boarding the final leg of the travels to Porto.Brussels Airport was quite busy even in the early hours of the morning, with people heading in every which direction – quite of few of them appearing to be stopping by the coffee shops and restaurants for their morning pick-me-ups. You could even get beer at that time of the morning, I think!

Large groups of young people passed us by as we rested in a waiting area – listening to the entertainment provided by passers-by playing on one of the grand pianos placed around the airport for their personal playing pleasure.I saw at least two of these pianos in different spots in the airport concourses. The guy in the picture above was playing some complicated classical piece. The second gentleman was waiting to play the piano himself!

This was the scene next to the boarding gates.
Almost all of people that I saw in the airport were not masked, an indication, I think, of the exhaustion in the minds of people regarding COVID.

We were still adjusting to the difference in time zones.

The flight from Brussels to Porto was short and uneventful. From the aircraft tails that I saw on the tarmac at Porto, I got the impression that the city was probably a popular tourist destination for tourists from Europe.

Once disembarked from the plane, we were able to do directly to the baggage carousel to pick up our bags. We did not have to go through an immigration process, and only then realized that the passport stamp for our entry to the European Union had taken place earlier in Brussels.

We were the only folks being picked at that time up by Gate1 for transportation from the airport to our hotel. Once we left the highways closer to the airport, I could not help but notice that we were were being driven over some cobblestone backstreets closer to the hotel. The common presence of cobblestone streets and sidewalks in towns was something that one eventually got used to during our travels in Portugal. I found it charming.

The hotel was located in a part of town that was somewhat commercial, but not too busy. Unfortunately, it was not within walking distance of City Center, the place where most of the tourist activity was centered.

We were met by our tour manager, Rui Pacifico, upon entry into the hotel. The cheerful young man with his long hair and smiling face was super friendly and helpful. We got to know him better during the rest of the trip.

It was too early in the day to check in to our rooms. We went out to lunch. We had our first dining experience in a restaurant. We started our process of getting used to the way things are handled while eating out in Portugal. I ended up over-tipping, but that was not necessarily a bad thing. The staff was very nice to us – welcoming us to their country.

Since we still had time before check-in, we went to the local grocery store to get some supplies for the next few days. Would bananas and chocolate be considered essential? Perhaps, in some families!

Both shopping and dining were convenient in Portugal since our credit cards worked without any issues.

We had thought about going to the City Center before the welcome dinner that evening – just to kill time and get our first experience of the city, but we changed plans and decided to rest up in the rooms that we were about to check into instead. We did not want to be too rushed on the first day.

The welcome dinner was a nice event. We got to meet a few other folks who were traveling with us for the first time. It was also the beginning of the ongoing wine-drinking sessions at meals, and the ongoing making of new friends. The cod fish that was served was great. Portugal is known for its fish, and that is what we consumed a lot of the time during the trip. I cannot remember what the dessert was that night, but I am sure there was some. There was always dessert with dinner!

We had the group orientation after dinner – getting more specifics about the nature of the tour, and also learning about who the other travelers were in the tour group. There were 42 of us, another large group just like during the trip to Morocco. The biggest sub-group in our tour was from Los Angeles. We also got our badges and our audio units for listening to the guide when we were traveling and off the bus. We headed back to our rooms after that. Our bodies were still in a different time zone – earlier in the evening than our normal dinner time – but we were tired after our travel.

As is normal with Gate1 tours, we were going to get a very early start for our activities the next day. Our tour bus was going to leave the hotel at 8:30am. We were expected to be on the bus by 8:15.