Had they told me in advance that I’d find myself entirely alone in an old Porto building, I would’ve booked elsewhere. Had they told me in advance that the beautiful back garden would be out of bounds due to a photo shoot, I would’ve booked elsewhere. I must admit that the garden was a big attraction for me, gardenless as I am in Paris. Had they told me that the back door wouldn’t lock ….
But no one said a word. When I descended the three flights of steep wooden stairs from my room at 5 pm, I saw no signs of life whatsoever.
“Hello?” I called out, my voice echoing in the high-ceilinged foyer. It’s an old house, high and beautifully refurbished, and entirely empty. I walked from room to room, hoping to come across a fellow traveler, a staff member, a friendly cat, a parrot in a cage. All that greeted me was the sound of my own footsteps on the polished parquet floor.
I don’t know about you, but part of the fun of travel is people-watching and sitting at the bar at day’s end enjoying a glass of the local wine while hobnobbing with the bartender or the person on the stool beside you. And then ordering dinner and having a nice meal in the hotel restaurant, if there is one. I can’t tell you the number of interesting people I have met and befriended while travelling.
So to find yourself all alone in a big old guest house in an unfamiliar city is kind of anticlimactic (and scary). It was the garden door that precipitated my move to the hotel across the road. It wouldn’t lock. After the photo shoot had ended, I went into the garden to look around. When I had finished, I couldn’t lock the door. I must’ve stood there for 10 minutes fiddling with the key and the handle, but to no avail. Already nervous at the idea of spending the night alone in that tall empty house, and now cognizant that the back door was unlocked, I just grabbed my things, walked across the street to the beautiful Baixa Bessa Hotel and checked in. Have I seen too many Alfred Hitchcock movies? Perhaps. But as I sit in this hotel garden enjoying a glass of crisp white wine from the Douro region while perusing the dinner menu that the waitperson brought me, I can say that I’m happier here.
The thing is this: human beings need other human beings; in the end we are social animals. I didn’t come to this lovely country to be a lonely guest in an empty guest house, I came to engage and mingle with others. And now if you’ll excuse me, the waiter has come out to tell me that my dinner is ready: cod fish confit with a crust of pine nuts and breadcrumbs over roasted asparagus, spinach and tomatoes. Served with a red wine from the Douro region. Photos taken with my tablet.
If you come to Porto, I highly recommend this sleek, brand new hotel. It has a spa and a swimming pool too.
The guesthouse that I left, directly across the road, is called the Malmerendas Boutique Lodging. It’s a lovely place, I don’t wish to disparage it. The Portuguese are lovely people and I fell in love with Porto (in the summer).