We were going into Porto expecting great things. Along the way, a number of people had said how much they enjoyed the city, and it was voted best European destination in 2014. We have lukewarm feelings. There are little pockets, and aspects that we loved, others that we hated.
We left Lisbon in the late morning and took a very smooth train trip and arrived in Porto in the late afternoon.
We settled in and then headed out for a wander and dinner. The city is quite small, but very hilly. It shares the same dilapidated “charm” as Lisbon, but it’s kept up a bit better in certain areas.
We stopped in the Gardens of the Crystal Palace, which had a great view of the city and the Douro River, and a peacock!
Our biggest beef with the city are the drivers and where they allow cars. The combination of narrow sidewalks, taken up by parked cars, coupled with overly aggressive drivers you encounter when you are forced to walk in the street is a disaster.
The river is lined with tall, skinny, brightly tiled buildings with a promenade of shops on the upper and lower levels. It’s a great space, and certainly one of the most popular destinations of the city, but it’s such a shame that cars are allowed here.
You know there’s a problem when you need a speed indicator sign on a narrow cobbled street.
We had dinner at a vegetarian restaurant that we visited a few times over the next few days. We had our first taste of port wine. It’s delicious and much sweeter than I expected. We put a bottle of port in a wedding time capsule to drink in 25 years, and now I’m quite looking forward to it!
The next day as we explored, the sunshine brightened things up, and we warmed to the city a bit. The cloudiness had accentuated the dinginess.
The train station
We visited a traditional open air market hall and tasted our first Pastiel de nata, a traditional Portuguese custard tart that is the most delicious thing imaginable. Though we didn’t try them all, I can confidently say that the best in the city is from Nata Lisboa.
There are a number of pedestrian streets (at least during the day) lined with local shops, patios and full of people.
We took a walk over the Ponte Louis I, a spectacular bridge where you can walk along the top, right next to the tram. It’s the best lookout in the city.
The funicular on the north side of the river.
The pedestrians navigating the cars on the promenade below.
This neighbourhood has been completely overgrown, but there’s evidence of people living there.
The south side if the river is primarily where the port cellars are located. The names appear in large letter on top of the buildings. We enjoyed this side of the river for its view of the other side (would you rather live in the most beautiful house, or across from it?) and its quieter riverfront.
We headed back to the apartment for dinner and narrowly avoided a massive downpour.
The next day Darren and I spent our first day exploring on our own, over the whole trip! He had a turn with the camera, and I navigated. It was strange to be wandering on our own, and when we happened to bump into each other earlier than planned, it was a pleasant surprise and we had so much to tell about our days. We had both visited the famous bookstore Livraria Lello & Irmao, which supposed inspired J.K. Rowling. It’s a fairly small shop, with it’s beautiful staircase and stained glass ceiling.
Darren noticed a pigeon invasion.
We enjoyed the narrow alleys and the unique Porto style street art. The colourful graphic pieces seen below were commonly found on filled in windows and doors.
It was a common sight to see neighbours talking, sometimes across narrow streets.
We tried the other varieties of port – white, ruby and tawny – at a tiny little bar with a few tables set up in the pedestrian street. For dinner we tried the local food phenomenon called the francesinha, a loaded sandwich with cheese on top, smothered in tomatoy sauce. As my dad would say we tried it twice, the first and last time.