Porto

Our train had wifi. Do you know how cool that was? Who needs to nap when you can check the internets for three hours. Of course we got our hopes up that we’d experience that on every train from then on [and we did ride another three trains and a bus], but that wifi was elusive for the rest of the trip. The landscape between the two cities ranges from bleak to lush and green. There really isn’t a whole lot going on between the two.

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We took the Metro from the train station to get to the apartment. Traveling in rush-hour was an experience. We missed our stop because no one would let us out despite saying excuse me in English and Spanish [forgot to look it up in Portuguese at that point], saying the stop, mildly pushing, and pointing at the door. At one point someone repeated the stop back to us, and we’re like “Yeah…” and the door closed. Funny and irritating at the same time. The apartment we rented from Vitor was gorgeous. He and his family appear to have purchased the whole building and are slowly remodeling each unit and putting them up for rent. The remodel was really well done, and the location, again, was great. There was a lot of exposed stone, natural light, and a stacked washer and dryer in a closet in the basement. I am a master of Portuguese laundry now. All I can say is thank god the the wifi worked down there. We were a short walk into to the river, and having a market across the street increased our port and wine consumption without even trying. Oh, and chocolate salami. Lots of chocolate salami. It tastes like a Little Debbie brownie. It goes well with port. Trust me.

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There is talk that Porto was a huge source of inspiration for JK Rowling and the Harry Potter series. I was so giddy, and really didn’t try to hide it. The talk isn’t wrong. There are definite reminders all around that city. The shop-lined cobblestone streets feel a bit like Diagon Alley, the bookstore, Livraria Lello, has a staircase that resemble Hogwarts, and the university students wear uniforms with capes. Harry Potter nerdom activated!

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The university students were celebrating that weekend with Quima das Fitas, which is a celebration lasting a week before they go into finals. We happened to be around for the culmination of it, called Cortejo Académico, where the students from each grade level or discipline dress up in certain colors or wear certain costumes. They greet the mayor at the end of the parade. People started getting spots for the parade early in the afternoon and when we went to dinner well after 10pm, the floats in the parade were still going strong. It was pretty hard to not get swept up in the enthusiasm and excitement of the event even though I wasn’t the least bit invested. It’s way cooler than a traditional graduation.

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The food in Porto was some of my favorite. Possibly more memorable than Lisbon. I traded bacalhau for Francesinhas. There was still a lot of fresh grilled fish. But what is a Francesinha? It’s a sandwich topped with ham, two kinds of sausage, and either steak or roasted meat. The sandwich is topped with slices of of melted cheese and is smothered in a beer tomato sauce. If you get it “especial” you’ll have a fried egg on top. A necessary addition. The sandwich comes surrounded by french fries to help soak up that sauce. I have to say that while the sandwich was delicious on more than one occasion, I was kind of disappointed. Call it the gluttonous American in me [and she’s a big girl], but I was expecting something a little more ridiculous. It wasn’t that heavy or a gut-bomb at all, even with the fries. I would have loved if their beer tomato gravy was a little thicker and creamier. I kept expecting it to be, but it just wasn’t so. In a perfect world, I could pour a bowl of pork stew [papas de sarrabulho] I had that was thickened with blood all over the sandwich. Don’t crinkle your nose until you try it. Think sausage gravy in a porky stew form. You can’t taste the blood. So. Dang. Good.  We had that at Conga – Casa das Bifanas, known for their bifana [obviously], a stewed pork cutlet sandwich. Simple and delicious. The spicy sauce it’s stewed in is ladled with your meat into the small soft roll. They’re tiny and incredibly addicting. They go great with a beer. I watched a table of older men down several of the sandwiches, beers, and fried quail legs. Men after my own heart! Can I also talk about burgers for a second? Portugal [and Spain] love burgers. I think we had a burger in every city except Lisbon, and I’m not talking McD’s style. Bugo Art Burgers in Porto is tied for my favorite burger of the trip. Had we gone for dinner to be able to sample their more adventurous dinner menu, I’d say it would have easily won top spot. I got really well acquainted with eating my burger with knife and fork, like a local. The beef was really juicy and well cooked. You can choose a variety of condiments. I ate mine with caramelized onions reduced in port and a Portuguese cheese because when in Porto…

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…you drink port! As you probably already know, Porto is known for its Port wine. You can’t make it anywhere else. Seriously, it has to be made there in order to be considered port. The port caves are across this river in Gaia [hello tax break], and they line the streets. I read that there were 50 different caves up in the hills, but people usually only hit a few. In our case, only two on separate days. Krohn was stellar, and the definite favorite of the two. It was a really laid back port tasting without a tour. Sergio explained all the nuances of their port in a way that my wine-dominated brain could understand. It is definitely different than wine, but that’s the point. I don’t know if it was our enthusiasm or what, but he poured us a special taste of their 20-year just because. Yes please! It set the bar high for port. I have no idea if I can get Krohn in the states [haven’t seen it yet], but I will totally have a bottle on hand going forward. It has similarities to Vin Santo [Italian dessert wine] but a much better shelf life. You can take open a bottle and it’ll last for at least a year or longer. The second port cave we went to was Ramos Pinto. Chosen randomly, as all good things are. They had an hour long tour, with an extremely enthusiastic guide, and a simple two port tasting. The tour was informative and fun without being too dry.

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We also spent an afternoon taking a tour of the FC Porto stadium, Estádio do Dragão. It’s the newest of the cities we visited and is LEED certified. Fancy! This tour was guided and in Portuguese and English. They’re super passionate about their team, living and breathing it. They don’t have nearly the international presence as many of the countries in Europe, but the pride in it is the same. Oddly enough, their uniforms were just picked up by Warrior an American company that primarily takes on lacrosse and hockey jerseys. Our tour guide was asking us about them when he found out we were American, and I honestly had no idea what he was talking about. I hadn’t heard of it until that moment. Apparently they’re trying to take on the global soccer market. After the tour, you have the option of checking out the museum, which you must. It was a highly creative and interactive museum—an adult playground. Your senses of sight and sound are assaulted by all of the videos and audio everywhere you look. We practically had the place to ourselves, too, which made it equal parts awesome and creepy. It was a pretty dark experience, and I don’t love loud noise when I can’t see well. Plus we were followed by an employee the entire time. I swear I wasn’t going to steal that trophy! By the time we were done with the tour and museum, three hours had gone by.

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One of the nights when we were headed out to dinner [another Francesinha, of course], our street was blocked off by an apartment fire. It was almost unbelievable how close they’ll let the public get to the scene. At home, it’d be roped off for at least a block. We could have gone up to the firetruck that had the ladder allowing the firemen to get to the roof. They made quick work of it, and by morning I could hardly tell where it took place. I tried to search for it on the internets, but I couldn’t find anything. The firefighters didn’t seem to stressed, so I’m thinking everyone involved was okay.

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The Duoro river is really quite beautiful. It runs right along the Porto. We spent a lot of time either walking along it or sitting on the riverbank on the Gaia side, near the port caves. The Porto side is one of the most touristy parts of the city, and you can’t really sit unless you want to be at a restaurant. The grassy banks of the Gaia side are much more pleasant, and allow you to take in the great view of the Porto side. The old buildings are so charming. They’re tiled like Lisbon, but not nearly as ornate. I wanted to take a tour up into the Duoro River Valley to go on a wine tour but it didn’t end up fitting into the schedule. We made up for the wine tasting in the apartment. It’s easy to do while you’re trying to figure out the cycles of the washing machine and dryer. Their energy saver cycles will be the death of me.

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Porto was all kinds of lovely and easy to get around. While I liked Lisbon a lot, Porto had a little bit more charm and that touch of fantasy that makes my geeky heart swell. I was sad to leave and head to Seville, but Seville was it’s own kind of awesome. On our way to the train station, I was surprised to see all the kids teenagers on the Metro at 6am. At first I they might be going to school when one of them stood up, half asleep and really drunk, to get off the train. Of course. The bars were just closing. They were going home for the night. No wonder the cities stay relatively sleepy and quiet in the morning. They’d only gone to bed! I can’t keep up. Without wifi and only getting a few hours of sleep the night before, I slept a lot of our train and bus rides to Seville.

[Recap: Lisbon, Seville, Madrid, Barcelona]

4 comments

  1. Amy Mills

    1 chocolate salami is THE BEST. and I like it even more now that you’ve compared it to a little debbie brownie. between the two of us we have to figure out how to re-create back in the states because I need that stuff in my life
    2 can I just say I think europe outdoes america with burgers? it that blasphemous to even think? but seriously, everyone loves them here (spain, portugal, france…) and they do them so well
    3 that third photo reminds me – didn’t you love how the old people dressed in portugal? man, I was so impressed, they all looked impeccable. it’s amazing the dignity everyone has there with presenting themselves well and I wish I had it
    4 your post made me kind of wish I had gone to porto rather than lisbon – my friends and I were deciding between the two cities and we ended up going for lisbon. beautiful photos, and the food sounds amazing (especially the francesinhas)

    • Michelle

      I think I’d be tempted to agree with you for the burgers. There are some pretty good ones here, too, though. I just wasn’t expecting it! That made them way more magical. Speaking of blasphemous, I’m pretty sure I ate more foie gras in two weeks than I have in the last two years.

      Old people did have that air of dignity! They were so nicely dressed, but not in an over the top kind of way. I always get impressed when I see people put together. I grew up in a jeans-and-tee-shirt family, so anything above that is impressive.

      It is hard to choose between Lisbon and Porto. Both were awesome in their own way. Porto felt a touch more magical. I’m interested to see what Lisbon looks like in 10 years. They’re really starting to pick up on the tourism thing, so I think the culture that comes with tourism is going to change the city a bit. Unsure if it’ll be better or worse, but I’m sure they could appreciate the income that comes from it.

  2. Sara Kuhlman

    I have never heard of chocolate salami!! I can’t believe I’ve never been to Porto. I’ve actually never even thought about going, but now it’s on my list because you know I also love Harry Potter! It’s too bad you couldn’t come to London and go to the Harry Potter studios – you would have loved it!
    Awesome pictures.

    • Michelle

      My love of HP has waned a little bit, I have to admit. I don’t go out of my way for it, but if it’s in a place I’m already at? I have to check it out! That’s how my first ever trip to Europe started. I made some friends on a HP forum, and I went to Edinburgh to meet up with them for the final book release. Of course, after we booked everything, JKR changed locations and moved it to London. Wah-wah. It was still a great trip, though. Caught the travel bug and never looked back.

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