Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Porto - The Week That Was

“Lisbon?” Husband enquired, perusing the internet.
“Flight time?” I asked
“7.30 am”
“So, we’d be leaving for the airport at 5.30am? For a restful three day mini break? No thanks”
“Where do you want to go?”
“Anywhere we can fly to at a decent time that has a nice hotel.”

And so it was, that with these as our two key criteria for a mini break sans children, we found ourselves headed for Porto.

In the run up to our mini break, I did not worry, I did not feel guilty. I felt confident that Pip and EB would be happy in the company of their grandparents.  All I did was dream of sleep. Uninterrupted sleep, a full twelve hours, where neither of us were beckoned by the call of the wild one at 4am or found our bed invaded by the fidgety four year old.  Two mornings, when I could wake up naturally.  Two mornings when a lie in was not a pipe dream possibility but a cast iron certainty. Bliss.  Husband felt the same.  He even went as far as to suggest we didn’t drink too much (alcohol) on our nights away. ‘“We don’t want to be dehydrated, drinking water and going to the loo all night’. (He meant me.) 

Porto was covered in a thick cloak of fog the morning we landed. Rather like the state of my addled head.  In fact, each and every morning, the air was damp, a misty fog swirling around the old Ribeira. From our room overlooking the Douro river, I rather enjoyed watching it lift. A slow and metaphorical ‘coming to’, rather like myself; ungoverned - no rush, no routine, no racing to beat the school bell.

For a destination selected a random, we struck lucky. The Douro river estuary, flanked by many of the large port warehouses, is impressive. Crumbling old medieval townhouses sit aside restored buildings, their brightly tiled fascias with a patina of old world charm glistening in the sunshine.  A cable car runs alongside the river, a funicular railway up to the top of the cliff, where one can alight and wander along the higher plains to visit the cathedral and the Clerigos tower.  When the morning mists cleared, we rambled along the river, upwards, through hilly cobbled streets, taking the tram, enjoying long lunches with a glass of wine (or two) and eased ourselves into later afternoon with some cellar tours and port tasting. “But, it’s only 4pm” I lamented to my enthusiastic husband. "Yes, but there are a lot of Port houses to get round" was the response.  It’s fair to say, we did not follow our own advice, collapsing into bed each night after too much food and wine, but, thundering wild horses couldn’t have kept me from sleep. As 350 thread count sheets soothed me into slumber, I slept better than I have in the last five years.

Porto gave us a chance to rest, regroup and gather strength. It gave my parents a chance to spend precious quality time with their grandchildren, in a way that they never could were we also present. Time with my boys, only given to those I trust, a more precious gift than any other.  Equally, their gift to me, also one of time; to rest, to sleep, recuperate; for two days, my Mum, trooper that she is, bore the brunt of EB’s 4.30am rooster call.

There was something soothing about the crumbling imperfection of the place.  Something soothing about warm soft hands holding mine, and something soothing in the simplest sense, of being uninterrupted and able to finish a conversation.  We talked about our boys, but not incessantly. I missed them, but I was confident in the knowledge they were happy with their grandparents, as evidenced in the constant stream of photo texts.

In those few days I allowed my mind to wander beyond my children, beyond the house renovations. I took the opportunity to think about other projects and possibilities. I dusted down dreams and shared the thoughts germinating in the thick undergrowth of my mind that rarely get the oxygen to grow or develop. Those few days together alone reminded me of a life once lived. I don’t miss it, but like Cinderella with her glass slipper, I appreciated borrowing it for a couple of days.

And a couple of days was literally all it was; the pumpkin effect came approximately six hours after the plane landed.  EB, teething, was awake most of our first night back and was determined to start the day at 4am. The builder, aware we were back in Blighty, stopped worrying about his phone bill and started calling again. After operating at eighty miles per hour and dropping back to twenty for three days, Husband and I found it hard to rev back up to full throttle.  The kids put us through the masher for the next two days and suddenly back in a world of urgently required knobs, carpets and tile configurations the halo effect of Porto seemed years not days away.

Returning to London, I found myself in the odd situation of feeling more tired than before we went.  I felt like weeping with exhaustion. Husband looked equally browbeaten. Where had the Porto positivity gone? Had we mistakenly left it hanging in the fine Douro mist?

At the weekend we visited Faulty Towers as a family. In just one week significant progress had been made. The boys' rooms finished, they joyfully whooped their way round them in excited frenzy, opening every cupboard and door.  In the kitchen, they hid inside the box sized compartments of the unfinished sideboard, chuckling and playing peekaboo.  In the garden, a complete mud pit, they roared and raced around, finding all manner of sharp and unsafe objects in their wake.  Their enthusiasm was infectious and rejuvenating, and a stark reminder of why this year of hard work will all be worth it in the end.

We have handed in our notice on our rental property. We will soon cross the finish line. We may be limping to the end of our project, but by mid April, we will be home.  Porto was a reminder of life with head space, life with time to think. That’s what I’m holding on to. 

*PS. If you're ever headed to Porto, I highly recommend The Yeatman Hotel. Wonderful.


  1. Oh goodness what a wonderful reprieve! I bet you hardly knew yourself. So pleased for you. Your pics are glorious - can almost feel the town itself. That feeling more tired after you've slept is a bugger. I think it's because we go deeper and get to its depths - not realising how much we keep going on adrenaline / autopilot until we stop. I hope it brings new patterns for you and congratulations on giving notice and going home! Amazing. One day, it'll be like this never happened (probably like that week end away already feels!) X

    1. Thank you so much, as for the pics, they were taken on my trusty iphone! I did take my other camera but my hard drive is full so haven't taken them off yet. Amazing what good pics you can get with a phone these days. And yes, that weekend away does already feel like it never happened. Ah well..will have to have another one!

  2. And nobody deserved that time away more than you right now. Goodness, how you must have relished every moment. I always think that stealing 3 days away with the OH is so important, as you say, to 'regroup'. The first day we get used to it, the second day we love it and the third day we savour every moment but are ready to come home and see our babies. I always feel so thankful that I have a husband that I still want to spend time with. Grandparents are like gold dust aren't they?! I am sure your boys had a marvellous time. Can't wait to see the pics of Fawlty Towers! x

    1. I agree, time away with the OH is important - and thank goodness for Grandparents who are happy to babysit!

  3. Porto looks stunning.

    So glad you had a wonderful time away and I can sympathise with the pumpkin effect on your return - we felt like that on Saturday!

    Beautifully written as always.


    1. Thanks so much Hannah and for the comment about my writing. I was going to link this up to your linky #TWTWC but as ever, was running behind... next time I will try to be more prompt :0)

  4. And you were worried you'd lost your 'writing voice' *sniggers*.... what a beautiful post, and so glad to read you had such a wonderful time with you husband; must have been a fab to spend that time together, and Porto looks gorgeous... but sorry to hear you felt frazzled days after returning; no matter how it feels again now, those days away will still have done you lots of good (I hope). And so exciting about Faulty Towers, so pleased and excited that you will be finally moving in soon... and I really hope you publish details of your new home! X

    1. Thanks OM. Lots to do these next few weeks and when we get back I think we'll be 'camping' for a few months but rest assured, some pics will def make it here.x

  5. What a beautifully written post. Porto sounds incredible - I'm not surprised you felt dejected after coming back to reality. It must have been doubly difficult as you're not actually 'home' yet. Not long now, though! I wish you all the luck in the world for the move.

  6. A mini break without kids does wonders for the soul! Shame it does always seem to come down with a bit of a thump when you get back through. Sounds like the house is getting there, so exciting for you all! x

  7. Love that you had the opportunity to regroup :) I've just had a look at The Yeatman and it's tugging at my purse strings haha...