10.12.21 — Travel
With a busy few weeks in Madrid over and done with, it was time for a spontaneous weekend away. A couple of holiday days here in Spain allowed me to nip over to Porto in Portugal, a city I’ve been wanting to visit for a good while since I visited Lisbon a couple of times back in 2017.
The trip began with a mad dash to the airport after work with my colleague, Julia, whose family live in Portugal, and so she was also going to spend the weekend in the city. After a very short flight the two of us landed in Porto together, before heading our separate ways as she headed out to the suburbs as I headed into the centre of the old city and to the flat I’d booked for my four-night adventure.
My first task was to run myself a bath, as I’d splashed out a bit on a nice apartment with a fully-equipped bathroom for just that purpose. Popping on some relaxing music and dimming the lights, I lobbed the bath bomb that I’d brought with me into the tub and settled down amongst the bubbles for a relaxing evening in.
The next day I woke to my first view over Porto and my first taste of its weather, with a low fog hanging over the terracotta roofs of the nearby buildings. I still couldn’t head out to explore, however, as it was a Friday and I’d still a full day to work. For this, I set up my laptop, had some leftover food for breakfast, and then began my most extravagant day of remote working ever.
Once work was over, Julia came over, and the two of us headed out to spend our first evening in Porto together. She’d been taking about an Asian fusion restaurant, Boa Bao, which was a real treat – we enjoyed a few different types of bao, a curry, and some delicious sticky noodles. This was all washed down with some delicious cocktails and then one final G&T in another local bar, all before we headed out to grab some pastéis de nata (little sweet custom tarts) at a place that Julia insisted had the best ones in the city – it was a lovely evening!
I was in no rush to move the next morning, mainly because the mix of drinks had left me with a bit of a dodgy head – I forgot to mention that I also had a shot of ginjinha (a cherry liquor) with my dessert, which may not have been the best idea. Hindsight is a beautiful thing!
The one thing that did eventually motivate me to get out of bed was the beautiful clear skies and the beguiling sun I could see shining from the lovely views of my bedroom – that plus the knowledge that I’d a couple more pastéis de nata waiting for me for breakfast…
Freshly energised, I headed out for my first day of exploration of Porto by day, which wouldn’t take me far from home seeing as I’d grabbed a place smack bang in the centre of the historical centre of the city. I’d decided on where I was going to head to for lunch (thanks to one of Julia’s many recommendations), and so decided to wander around any pretty streets that I found along the way – something I learned to do in Lisbon four years ago.
As you can see, the city streets were as charmingly beautiful as I had been told they would be, with a certain quaintness coming from their age and the dilapidated state of man of the buildings along the way. I’m sure I looked rather like a lost tourist as I wandered around aimlessly looking upwards, and that wouldn’t have been too far from the truth – I was in no rush.
My walk took me past the São Bento train station, a place I had marked on my map thanks to its striking displays of painted tiles (azulejos), so I headed in to take them in before containing on my way. I eventually found my lunch spot and sat down for a delicious sandwich with was full of succulent pork and local type of gooey cheese. I washed this down with a beer before heading back off on my way.
My afternoon then took me past the Livraria Lello, a gorgeous book shop which inspired the design of certain locations in Harry Potter. I had intended to head in for a visit, but there were huge queues outside, and so I decided to head on and check out a few more sights that Julia had mentioned.
The first place was another spot to see more azulejos (the blue tiles that Portugal is famed for), this time on the side of an old church in the north of the city. There I red into (almost literally) one of the infamous trams of Portugal’s hillside cities before sitting down again for another bite to eat at another local spot that I stumbled across.
I continued on my way after the second half of my lunch, passing through yet more pretty and sometimes empty buildings and down some gorgeous tiny streets with some impressive views. I nipped back home for a quick rest in the mid afternoon, after which I headed back out again and to one of Porto’s most famous landmarks.
Heading back out, I wandered just a few streets away from the one I was staying on and started my descent onto the Ponte de Dom Luís I, a huge double-decker metal arch bridge which spans the River Duoro and which offers some stunning views over the city. I gingerly began my crossing, worried about losing my phone down the gaps in the metal sheeting or being run over by the metro. Yes, you heard that right: the metro runs over the upper deck of the bridge. Moving out the way to let the trains pass and feeling the shaking as they do so was quite the experience!
I’d inadvertently timed my crossing just right, as the sun was beginning to set over the river which splits Porto from it’s neighbouring city, Gaia. As I crossed over into the latter, I snooped down at the sights such as the boats passing by, the expanses of Port wine cellars along the banks of the river, and the general gorgeous views across the hillsides.
Once over in Gaia, the best views of Porto finally came into view, and I headed up to the best vantage point I could find to take a series of shots. I think it’s another one of those times where I don’t really have to explain all that much, as the photos capture the moment pretty well…
After a good while just taking all of my surroundings in, I began to head back down to the bridge in order to head back over to Porto as the sun finally fully set beyond the horizon. I had originally planned to head straight back to the flat, but curiosity got the better of me, and I found myself heading down to the riverside to take in the evening views and atmosphere.
I then headed back home, relaxing with another quick bath in the flat, and then headed back out into the city streets for my evening meal. I eventually wound up back over in Gaia for a traditional cod-based dish and a glass of wine, which took me back over the huge bridge by night – another pretty unique experience!
The meal down by the river was very enjoyable, and I finished it off with a delicious dessert and a glass of Port wine – I mean, it’d have been a crime not to! I then meandered my way back up the steep streets back to base, bedding down to make the most of the Sunday afterwards.
My Sunday began much the same as the day before – with a morning lazying around in the flat. What eventually got me out the door was a message from Julia, who said we should meet up to eat the city’s most famous dish, the francesinha, for lunch. She insisted that she knew the best place to try out this huge sandwich consisting of bread, ham, linguiça (smoked sausage), chipolata, roast beef, cheese, and a fried egg, all covered in a spicy sauce made with beer – quite the list!
As you can imagine, this meal was quite the experience, and I really enjoyed the huge explosion of a sandwich! Whilst we were having lunch it had begun to rain, but the clouds thankfully lifted after we left the restaurant, and so Julia took me to a lovely rooftop bar for a coffee with a view.
After another drink or two in a bar that Julia used to haunt a few years ago, we met up with her brother and another friend to finish off the evening with some beers in a specialist brewpub. There we entered in a whirlwind of languages, with English, Spanish, and Portuguese being thrown around seemingly at random. At least it was a good way to tire me out so I’d get a good last night of sleep!
The next morning was my last day, and so I packed my bag, left the flat, and had a coffee and some breakfast before hopping in a taxi back to the airport. I’d been in Porto for just three and a half days, but I’d had a great rest and not rushed around too much, which was quite nice, as I’m famed for trying to pack in as much as possible whenever I go travelling.
Porto was a lovely city to spend a long weekend in, and I’ve to thank Julia for her recommendations and for spending time to show me around. Although I didn’t do everything on my list, I know now how easy it is to get to from Madrid, and so I’ll surely be back in a warmer season to enjoy the rest of the city that I didn’t manage to see.
Until then, I’ll sign off here with another photo and a quick video that I took from the vantage point in Gaia, looking over Porto and it’s iconic bridge. I took so many photos from up there that I really struggled choosing which to include, so I’ve decided sneak these in as a little extra at the end such as not to overwhelm the post with photos above…