18.04.15 – 22.04.15
En route to Porto we stopped in a small city called Coimbra for a day and a half. We hoped to stay longer but the tattoo business on our last day in Lisbon held us up a bit. It’s a cool place, the main attraction is the University, reportedly the second oldest in Europe, so it’s a vibrant city full of young people studying. The University is also a great place to walk around and enjoy the history. It was definitely a welcome break from spending nine days in a frantic city like Lisbon.
I’d heard a lot about Porto, so as much as I didn’t want them to, my expectations were rising as quickly as the bus ride from Coimbra (only 90 minutes or so). Although the walk from the bus station to our hostel was uphill and wet, everything was instantly improved once we saw where we would be spending the next five days. Yes! Hostel Porto is only a lift, a valet and a few private rooms away from being a hotel really. The whole place is so clean and modern, each bed in the dorm equipped with it’s own huge luggage locker locked with your own individual room key. Sounds like a weird thing to get excited about, but not as weird as Daniel skipping through the hallways when he spotted the bathrooms –more specifically the size of the showerheads. The place even has lightning fast free wifi. The things you get excited about while travelling, seriously.
Luckily, Yes! Is right in the centre of the city, so everything is generally very walkable. Our first afternoon we walk down to the main riverside, one side lined with endless bars and restaurants, the opposite side lined with Port wine shops and cellars. This is where Porto gets its name from, although that side of the river is not even part of Porto city! I feel deceived. The side of the river with all of the Port shops is actually part of the city of Villa Nova de Gaia. As we learned on a walking tour, Porto actually used to be fully governed by the church, and so the taxes on alcohol meant it was too expensive to produce or sell wine on the Porto side of the Douro River. Just across the water though, was a completely different city, and still under control of the empire. #partytime.
Another super non-nerdy fan girl fact I found out during our stay was that J.K. Rowling actually lived in Porto for several years in the early 90s. My inner Hermione Granger squealed when I discovered this. 10 points to
Gryfindor Porto. Although she eventually fell on hard times while living here, she apparently drew a lot of inspiration from Porto which would later appear in the Harry Potter series. The school uniforms for one, look quite similar to those of Hogwarts, but also the narrow, winding streets with mismatched houses of different eras and styles look like they are straight out of Diagon Alley. As well as writing often in the Majestic Café, she also regularly visited the famous bookshop, Livraria Lello –often voted in the most beautiful bookshops in the world. It’s high ceilings, huge winding staircase and stained glass, are probably a few of the reasons it was the inspiration for the magical Flourish and Botts. I visited Lello twice in one day, probably secretly hoping to bump into Jo Rowling or Professor McGonangall.
Of course we drank and dined like locals, or as much as our budget allowed. Apart form Port, Porto is also known for a dish known as ‘Francesina’. It’s nothing really, just a casual four different types of meat in a sandwich covered with melted cheese and surrounded by gravy. Eeeeep, that’s the sound of my arteries slowing down. But hey, ‘when in Rome’, right? We tried two, from different restaurants, and the second was definitely better. Bufete Fase, no wonder it was voted as having the best Francesina in the city. The meat was all beautiful, the bread fresh and the sauce was spicy, all as it should be. I’ve been cursing the hills of Portugal, but they’ve probably been my saviours as I stave off inevitable weight gain as long as possible.
Port wine exploring is a must, which we did with a couple of friends we made along the way. Ourselves, plus Mika and Jason did a tour of Taylor’s, a large wine producer, and then visited a couple more cellars. It’s worth doing, for the free tastings if nothing else! I think we all settled on the Ruby style of Port as our favourite (not too sweet, not too strong… just right). Too many glasses though and you’d be in danger of falling over into the river.
Porto didn’t fall short of the hype we’d heard from other travellers, it was charming, the bars full and the people friendly –apart from the Tuesday night we thought it would be fun to watch the quarter final of the UEFA Cup at a pub with locals, only to see Porto get annihilated by Bayern Munich. Locals weren’t as happy then.
Now we’re leaving the Iberian Peninsula after six weeks of fun, sun and cheap beers. I’m excited to see what other parts of the continent hold for us, starting with the home of waffles, frites and beer –Belgium. That’s a recipe for success if ever I heard one.