Whew! What a week it’s been!! We’ve just finished our tour de Portugal, and without a laptop or solid wifi I’ve gotten quite behind on sharing our experience. There’s so much to catch up on! Our first stop in Portugal was Porto. After spending three lovely days there, I have only good things to say about this picturesque coastal area. I promise that my thoughts of Porto are only minimally influenced by the abundance of Port wine found around every corner, in every crevice, and on every restaurant table in the city. Although, being in Porto, it is only appropriate that one indulges in its namesake wine at least once (or more) each day.
If I had to choose one word to describe Porto, it would be “alive”. The city is alive with music, art, history, and culture. Our first day in Porto provided an abundance of entertainment, as local folk dance groups trouped around town performing in the traditional dress and sounds of the region.
The natural energy that Porto exudes lends itself to an air of romance, the essence of which is fully captured by Porto’s youth. Young lovers sit hand in hand on the banks of the Douro River watching the sunset as a classical guitarist plays in the background, earning the days wage with his melodies as onlookers toss coins into an open case. Local artists sketch the scene with keen detail as it unfolds, capturing a perfect watercolor memory of a glimpse in time. The atmosphere in Porto is one which encourages a slower pace of life. There is no need to hurry here. Simply look around, relax, and drink in all that Porto has to offer.
One of my favorite things about Porto is that it is easily discovered, in large part, on foot (as long as you don’t mind lots of hills). We were never more than a short stroll from anywhere in town. A quick walk to the downtown Ribeira district takes you to the Dom Luis bridge, a double-decker arch bridge that crosses the Douro River and connects the cities of Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia where most of the Port wine houses, or “caves”, can be found. I do have to provide a disclaimer about the wine caves…the term “cave” should not be interpreted literally. Really, they should just be called wine cellars, wine houses, wine stores…anything but caves, basically. Although, I suppose I can see why calling them caves is more alluring. I’m not saying I was expecting to go down into an actual cave to find an underground Port wine barrel aging wonderland, but if you happen to be someone who thinks that is what you are going to do be prepared for disappointment. You should also be prepared for merciless ridicule from your travel mates for thinking there was even a remote possibility of a Port wine spelunking adventure. Again, I’m speaking completely hypothetically here. But I’d imagine it would be tough to live that down.
Art and architecture are one in the same in Porto. The streets are filled with color, beautiful Portuguese hand made tiles, the likes of which adorn massive museums, government buildings, train stations, and homes. Structures typically seen as mundane, such as phone booths, air conditioning units, and electrical panels, have been given life through vibrantly colored street art that can be found all over the city.
The food in Porto was only enhanced by the riverfront setting of the restaurants and the unending stream of performers providing a soundtrack for the evening. Tapas style restaurants are plentiful and our best find provided Portuguese chorizo cooked on an open flame right at the table, mussels in a savory white wine, garlic, and tomato broth, seasoned olives, and crispy tempura string beans. We also tried the local specialty, bacalhau a braz, a traditional Portuguese comfort dish of salt cod, scrambled eggs, potato sticks, onions, and marinated olives. I know what you’re thinking, and you’re right…it was completely delicious!
Coffee is serious business in Portugal. There are about 27 different ways to order it and 39 ways to order it wrong. Your best bet is to simply ask for “um cafe”, an espresso that is insanely popular and can be ordered with any meal at any time of the day or night for about sixty cents. Want a drop of milk in your espresso? Order a “cafe pingado”. For a double espresso, order a “cafe duplo”. Either way, you will not regret Portuguese coffee or the Portuguese coffee withdrawals that will ensue upon your return home. With so much coffee, of course there has to be an unlimited supply of pastries. For the local experience, try the pastel de nata, a very sweet Portuguese custard tart pastry. I can also provide a first hand recommendation that you cannot go wrong by ordering a nutella stuffed churro.
After exploring the historic areas of Porto we decided to take a bus to the beach and explore the coast line a bit more. We spent the day at a pebble beach and were met by a strong breeze, very chilly water, and moderate surf. A long walk along the shoreline provided panoramic views of fishing boats, light houses, and climbing hills in the background. All in all, Porto was thoroughly enjoyed by all and I could have definitely spent more time there. But adventure called, so we answered. Stay tuned to hear more about our next stop on the tour de Portugal…Lisbon! Until next time, y’all, thanks for stopping by!