With the already hazy Boston Harbor islands fading behind him, our hero settles in for a few hours on an Iberia Airlines flight to Madrid.

Annoyingly, I had just an hour to spend in Madrid where my AFS-sister Maria and her husband Rodrigo live. My layover in London on the way back—where none of my friends live—was thirteen hours long. (Idiot Andre, when booking the flights, saw a 9:30 arrival in Heathrow and an 11:15 departure. A more adept traveler would have noticed the difference in PM-ness and AM-ness of the two flights.)

Four megabytes for five bucks, huh? What a deal!

I have a hard enough time sleeping on planes. The presence of hundreds of glowing screens didn't help.

But then... Porto!

According to the itinerary I'd printed out, my flight arrived several hours before check-in time at the Hotel Vice Rei. (This was several hours plus one half hour before the actual check-in time I later found out from a perturbed employee at the front desk.) With time to kill, I and my preposterously over-packed bag set off in search of an ATM that would cooperate with my chip-less American credit cards and a nice place to set a spell.

By chance, I happened upon the Jardins do Palácio de Cristal, a cliff-side park with stunning views over the Rio Douro, wild peacocks skulking around fountains, and countless paths weaving their way down the steep valley walls. Incredible!

Uhm... Wut?

Cool tat, bro!

Plants upon plants!

And seagulls! We have seagulls at home, but I don't take them very seriously. I mean, by my calculations the closest sea to Potsdam is at least a five and a half hour drive. (And yes, I know that seagulls don't drive, but still!)


(Also: Interesting that 11-C would include her/his real name.

Staring across the river at the old shipping company warehouses.

Zé, my friend José would tell me several days later as we waited for delicious pork sandwiches at Leitâo do Zé, is a Portuguese shortening of José.

There was a church in the park: the Capela de Carlos Alberto da Sardenha. I could see, from a distance, that the interior was lit by a huge skylight. Unfortunately, it was locked.

But there was a big keyhole so I sneaked a peek!

The Ponte da Arrábida.

And then there was this thing... Some giant alien spacecraft that had landed next to the cliff and around which the residents of Porto had built magnificent gardens.

Sarah always makes fun of me for taking pictures of the same things over and over: palm trees, chain-link fences, flowers... If I lived in Porto, she'd have to add slightly dingy architectural patterns to the list.

That's a lot of tiles.

A silhouette.

To my dear friends Fu Manchu and Bill Paxton.

One way to make trespassing a little less appealing.

Seeing as how most of my sightseeing on this trip consisted of completely unguided, aimless wandering, I didn't usually know what any of the buildings were. That didn't stop me from looking them up on Google Maps afterward though! Above: the (perhaps famous) Seminário de Vilar.

Right in the middle of downtown Porto!. You can't tell from this angle, but this quaint, seemingly rural, undergarment-y scene was surrounded on almost all sides by tall apartment and office buildings.

I couldn't see any, but from the sound of things this decayed corrugated siding was infested with birds. (If you trace a line up from the right-hand wing of the MINI badge, you can at least see a feather caught in a crack.)

A little exhausted, and still a half-hour (or hour, depending on who you ask) from check-in time, I bought a couple of mini loaves, a package of cheese, and a jug of juice. I selected a bench and had a nosh.

It was at that point that I noticed a Portuguese Doug seated on the next bench over. (Doug confirms, the dude looks exactly like him.) I was pretty close to going over and seeing whether or not it actually was him by striking up a conversation. It's a good thing I didn't. As Real Doug pointed out when I sent him this picture: "guy's lookin like that might shiv a random stranger that approaches them." (And he would know!)

When I went to check into the Hotel Vice Rei, I was informed that my reservation had been canceled. Confused, I showed the man my printed confirmation email. He produced a second printed email confirming the cancellation. (I hadn't seen it because I used my SPAM address and logged off once I had what I wanted.)

We sorted it out and I celebrated with a nap under this floral wallpaper.

Plants in the hotel stairwell.

Plenty of architectural decay to document in Porto!

Post nap and no longer burdened by my over-heavy backpack I set out once more to explore.

A girl (I think) kicks a ball at Centro Português de Fotografia. I didn't go in... No time! No time!

I always figured that people tagged buildings with stickers because it was a little less vandelizing-y. If that's the case, I don't see why ELSIE bothered.

One of my favorite things about the buildings and other structures in Porto was the way that all kinds of different plants would grow out of the cracks. How did the seeds get there?! Did they blow up on the wind? Did a bird or a rat put them there?

Here, a wall at the Parque Municipal das Virtudes.

It seemed like a lot people were drying out rugs.

Scribbles on blue.

A shark!!

Making my way down to the riverfront, I headed toward the Praça da Ribeira. As any (and every) pamphlet and tourist map will be excited to tell you, the Ribeira was, in the not-so-distant past, designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You might think it a little dumpy, but hey, they got satellite!

A couple of tourists (fresh out of some tony European prison from the looks of it) and more wall plants.

Becky and Dave gotta come up with better tag names.

Towering over the Ribeira, the Ponte Luís I bridges the two sides of the Rio Douro. (I looked around on the map for a Ponte Luís II, but I think maybe it was just named after Luís the First.)

There was a gaggle of boisterous teens climbing up over the high railing and yelling at tourists to give them a Euro to jump. It worked.

Looked like a pretty fucking high drop to me!

See what I mean?

A couple of tour-boats and the north bank of the river as viewed through a south-bank restaurant in a glass-walled box.

The postcard angle.

The Ponte Luís I has two levels: one pretty high above the water and the other way too high above the water. There was a cable car you could take from the river up to the top. (Those are the cables up above.) I opted to hoof it.

I think these were probably old shipping company warehouses. But again, I have no idea what I'm talking about.

I've said it before: Portugal is like a little mini-California. Here, a thick marine fog creeps up the river toward the city, devouring the Ponte da Arrábida and everything else in its path.

People on the lower level, as viewed from the upper level.

The were a ton of tour boats going up and down the river. In retrospect, I probably should have shelled out the perfectly reasonable €4 that seemed to be the standard fare.

Miniature tourists milling about.

The jagged teeth of some unidentified wall.

I'd been running on no more than three or four hours and had been walking for a very long time. As the sun got lower, I headed back to the hotel.

Tiles! So many tiles! (More later...)

Bonus! Clone Wars View-Master reel!

The view across from my hotel room across Rua de Júlio Dinis. I can see two people: me and a woman in a blue shirt.

In the center of the city, in a circular plaza between my hotel and the Casa da Música: the magnificent Monumento aos Heróis da Guerra Peninsular. The top of this thing features a lion stomping the shit out of an eagle.

(Slightly) better shot of the aforementioned bad-ass lion.

And speaking of the Casa da Música, here it is! Several of the events on the first two days of the conference were held here. Then, on Friday, the whole conference moved here.

It's a weird building, reminiscent of the sandcrawler in A New Hope.

An illuminated black wall at the Casa da Música.

One more view of the Casa!

Most of the conference, however, was held at the Faculdade de Letras de Universidade do Porto. Nice place! Strangely familiar... Like a music department in California...

The interior decorations were equally strangely familiar...

I really liked the geometric colonnade.

For most of my stay in Porto, I was a responsible and diligent conference attendee. I was also trying to keep my expenses down. So after a full day of listening to papers, I marched right back to my room (tired) and ate bread and cheese and fruit and fruit juice.

It was a Wednesday to Friday affair, and I figured I'd hold off on indulging until after I'd given my paper (Thursday afternoon). In the meantime: sweaty tired Andre in his room.

When the fog rolls in at night, the whole city is cast in an orange-ish hue. Here's another (nighttime) view out my hotel window.

Portuguese peeps crossing the Rua de Júlio Dinis.

Água em um frasco.

I saw this place, the Cemitério de Agramonte, when I was walking back from the conference. It looked really neat, but I couldn't find a way in. Tracing the high wall around the perimeter, I finally found the front entrance. Closed. Open until 17:50.

I didn't get back there until the last day of the conference. I'm glad I did!

There were a few graves of the sort I'm used to: plots in the ground with little headstones. But most of the graves here were family mausoleums, most of them pretty ornate.

(I think the chick up above this mausoleum broke her cross...)

Count the crosses!

The seagulls were really into this place, usually setting up shop at the top of a cross.

...or flying off to do it somewhere else.

So I'm walking around this graveyard, right? And I see that one of these mausoleums looks like it has a basement, right? So I look in one of the broken windows...

I don't know what's going on here, but I like the colors!

A cross and a tree.

Walking around town on the last day of the conference, I snapped a paparazzo pic of Dick Hebdige, one of the keynote speakers.

After the conference wrapped up (with a mostly-in-Portuguese book launch), I met up with my friend José for dinner and drinks. We had Francesinhas at a cafe downtown and headed over to Plano B, a surprisingly hipster-y bar, for the official wrap party.

It was awesome! The conference organizers had arranged for a concert by D3O , what we were led to believe was a supergroup of ex-famous-punk-band stars. This was a most welcome addition to the proceedings considering that none of the people we had spoke to had heard any punk music the entire conference! (They were really good too!)

Academic conferences are ruined for me now. They should all end with a show in a bar that opens at 10pm and closes at 6am.

Walking home after the gig, I squeezed in a little extra sight-seeing just before the sun came up. Here: the Igreja dos Carmelitas Descalços.

...with its famous Rococo tile wall.

There was a lot of interesting post-Baroque street art in Porto too. In fact most of the graffiti in the city seemed to take itself pretty seriously. After walking around for a few days I suspect that this is because of the apparent overabundance of graphic design schools and art galleries.

I fucked up on my last day in Porto. My flight out wasn't until 7:10pm. But I had to check out of my hotel much earlier in the day.

Now, the wise thing to do would have been to take up José on his offer to let me stash my baggage in his room while I spent the day roaming the city. When I woke up, however, still drunk after only a couple hours sleep following the conference wrap-up show, I figured it would make the most sense to just check in with British Airways and head back into town, sans-bag, to see a bit more of the city.

As it turned out, however, I wasn't able to check in until just a few hours before the flight. So instead of exploring, I spent most of the day sleeping it off in the Aeroporto Francisco Sá Carneiro and Skyping with my wife. A decent Plano B.

I had a not-so brief layover in London on the way back: about thirteen hours. After Sarah convinced me that I was too old to sleep in the airport, I booked a room near Heathrow. Expedia has a feature where you can get a lower price if you take a gamble on the actual name/location of the hotel. I went for it and landed a room in a Holiday Inn for $50.

The best part, or so it seemed, was that the hotel was less than two miles from the airport. "I'll hoof it," I thought, particularly after seeing that there was a well-reviewed Indian restaurant along the way. (We don't have Indian food in Potsdam.)

Well, after about two hours of taking shuttles, walking through subterranean tunnels, and trespassing alongside dangerous highways, I came to the conclusion that it is, in fact, impossible to exit Heathrow Airport on foot.

Dismayed, I paid for a hotel shuttle, took it partway, made the Indian food just before the kitchen closed, and walked the rest of the way to the Holiday Inn. The view out the peephole might not have been as impressive as the Capela de Carlos Alberto da Sardenha, but it was still pretty cool!

I decided to not try to walk back in to Heathrow. (Although, as it turns out, it is possible.) Instead, I took the four-and-a-half pound shuttle directly to T5.

My flight was delayed so I had a few hours to contemplate the enormity of the place. My experience, partially influenced, I'm sure, by lack of sleep and travel exhaustion, was profound. I looked out from enormous glass fortress of T5B and saw an armada of British Airways planes. I paired up the enormity of everything I was seeing with the knowledge that each of these planes and buildings was filled with tiny people and started thinking about ants. They say that a colony of ants is a superorganism, consisting of many individuals but behaving as one.

To kill the time before my flight, I downloaded a time-lapse app on my phone and set it up near the departure runway to watch the little planes take off.