We arrived in Porto in the late afternoon after our stop in Sintra (see my next post for Sintra and Salamanca). As Portos wealth has come from its largest trade and is still famous for it, our first stop was the Port cellars. The cellars we visited were over 400 years old and some of the oldest cellars still in use around Europe. We went on a quick guided tour of the port winery and then had a port tasting. We each had a Rosé, a Ruby, and a Tawny port. As someone who doesn’t enjoy drinking wine, I wasn’t expecting much, but I was pleasantly surprised with most of it. The Tawny was too intense for my liking but I did enjoy the Ruby and the rosé wasn’t bad. The small tasting of each was more than enough though and still wouldn’t be anything that I would drink as a preference.
Afterwards, we checked into our hostel which is probably the most upmarket hostel I’ve stayed in. Each bed had power outlets, curtains, and a fan! It was also the most comfy sleep I’ve had in a hostel, ever and the pillows were even good (for those who haven’t stayed in a hostel before, the pillows are never any good). There were two showers in the ensuite bathroom, per room of 6, and we had a balcony with a view of the streets of Porto.
We went on a walking tour and saw the main sites of Porto and learned about some of the history of the city. Our wonderful guide pointed out the highlights that we should see the following day and gave us a few tips on where to find good food too. I noticed the buildings and the town in general here in Porto was vastly different to Lisbon. Everywhere is kept beautiful and the upkeep is noticeable. The houses are all similar and the contrast of rich and poor, old and new is less apparent. It seems older yet wealthier and more loved by the people who live there. Like Lisbon, there were a lot of beggars and gypsies on the streets. Many people had physical disabilities (especially loss of limbs) and begged at the entrance of churches or popular tourist spots, speaking in Portuguese and jiggling the coins in their cups to make themselves noticed.
Porto and Lisbon each have their own unique charm that is different to one another, but still a charm none the less.
We had another later dinner in the restaurant, as late eating is common in both Portugal and Spain (ours was 8.30 which was a little too early for the locals who normally eat between 9-10pm). While most had a traditional Portuguese burger type creation filled with about 5 kinds of meat and smothered in cheese and gravy, I had a chicken and mushroom rice which looked not only much healthier but also tastier! A few drinks at the hostel bar saw out the end of the night and I retired to the comfy bed.
The next day, a group of us went to the Cathedral and saw both the inside and out.
Afterwards we headed to the bell tower and climbed the steps to the top of the tower to see the views of Porto. Climbing up, the stairs became narrower and more crooked underfoot until the staircase was a single person wide, with people trying to climb up and down simultaneously. This resulted in a lot of stops and turning sideways, sucking in the belly and pressing yourself against the wall as you brushed against the person squeezing past you, every few seconds. The 360° views at the top were amazing and worth the climb and invasion of personal space. The tower also had a lovely church attached to it that we explored and we saw the (religious) exhibitions over 3 levels.
We continued on and saw two churches that were of different faiths that seemingly stand next to one another however as two denominations cannot be neighbours, a 1 metre wide house is between. It is not a clear distinction between churches and house, and without knowing of its existence and reasons for being there, I would never have noticed.
I saw some old street cars zipping around the city and a miniature train.
We scoped out the book store that has an infamously large and extravagant staircase (like in Harry Potter) but the line for tickets was rather long and we decided to skip it. We carried on to the fresh food (meat and veg) market where we met up with some others and went for lunch together in a cafe in one of the main streets. The waiter remembered 11 peoples orders of food and drinks off the top of his head in English which was a broken language for him, so hats off to the waiter for that one!
After lunch we grabbed ice cream and walked across the King Louis bridge for some photos and a view across the river of Porto. This was a train and foot bridge on the top level, and the lower level which we cannot see from above is for general traffic. The train tracks are not blocked off from the public and people need to just get out of the way when the trains roar along and toot at you. The views were great though and it was such a lovely, warm, sunny day. By now I could feel my new layer of sunburn getting nice and crisp and tried to cover myself when I could. We could see the monastery that later became an army barracks but is now empty, however we didn’t have time to go in and see it. It is something that is recommended to see if you have time though, apparently.
We walked back along the bridge and down the stairs to make it down to the waters edge. The stairs were behind the Cathedral and took us through residential areas of Porto, with people’s washing hanging and blowing in the breeze, and a woman yelling in the window of a house who seemed to be rather displeased with who ever the occupants were! Children ran and played along the streets and men talked and smoked.
We made it down to the waters edge by the restaurant strip and grabbed another ice cream before boarding a river cruise. We learned a little about the 6 famous bridges of Porto, the monastery, empty factories and the old Port boats that are still dotted along the harbour side.
With the day coming to an end and my sunburn screaming at me for some shade, I wandered slowly back up the hill, checking out the local shops which sold port, cork accessories (I’m not sure of the history of cork in Portugal but it’s everywhere), and other gifts and goodies.
Some cold water and a fan on my sunburn cooled it off a little, and I changed into a long sleeved shirt and went for a drink on the terrace of the hostel with some of the others, listening to their adventures of the day.
7 of us then went out for dinner at an amazing local restaurant and ate delicious food. I tried the Licor Barao which is a traditional Portuguese liqueur, with flavours of aniseed, jäger, orange, and caramel. It was interesting and not bad, but definitely something you would only want in small quantities with certain food.
A gelato store finished out the night that was now going on to 11pm and we walked home, seeing musicians in the streets, runners in some kind of race (they had numbers on their shirts), and houses filled with flowers. Flocks of white birds flew high in the sky over the churches and cathedrals while the streets bustled with city folk heading home for the night.
A final drink on the terrace with my fellow topdeck travellers before bed was a lovely ending to my time in Porto.