Thursday, February 28, 2013

Porto - An Unexpected Find

Never in my life did I think that I would ever travel to Portugal, but man am I glad I did.  However, getting there was quite an experience. I flew the budget airline, Ryan Air, and let me put emphasis on the word BUDGET – the entire cabin clapped when we hit the tarmac – not even kidding.
Anyway, I was so happy to have the opportunity to explore Porto – the city of Port wine, sangria, and codfish. 
The first thing I noticed was that Portugal was definitely unlike any other European country I have visited. The best way I have found to describe Porto is that it is a “lived-in” city, full of charm and character of ages past.  The lack of wealth is quite evident, but it was as though the city and the people did not seem to mind and neither did I. I thoroughly enjoyed meandering along the picturesque maze of little streets – so many darling little nooks and crannies.  And although a lot of the buildings are run down, the orange roofs of all the buildings gave the city a warm amber glow in the sunshine that was truly magnificent. 

So on my first full day in Porto, my 2 travel buddies and I thoroughly explored (aka walked) basically the entire city – it was so fantastic getting to walk around not only in warmer weather but also with SUNSHINE! I had missed it so much!!

 So my favorite activity that day was visiting the SANDEMAN Port Wine cellar. It was hard to actually decide which cellar to visit – the entire side across the river was just port wine cellars and of course the river was lined with boats carrying barrels of Port Wine. So cool!
For only 5 euros, I received a 30ish min long tour of the cellar (in French, I might add) and a tasting of 2 port wines – good deal!  First, I must emphasis the immense size of this cellar – wow. It was a giant building all filled with wine!  The guide was dressed up in the Sandeman cape and hat – pretty amusing. The tour was rather interesting and she even showed us vintage port dating back to 1904!  They gave us 2 rather good-sized Port wine tastings – white and red. The white was the Sandeman Porto Apitiv White. Personally, the white was extremely too sweet and a tad difficult to drink – perhaps if mixed or pair with something it would be better. The red was the Sandeman Porto Twany, which is a lighter red porto wine and has the aroma of vanilla and dried fruits. I much preferred this one to the white.  I ultimately settled on purchasing the Sandeman’s Founder’s Reserve Porto – can’t go wrong with a classic. 

As I was told that I had to try the traditional fish of Porto – Bacalhau – aka Codfish, I was determined to find a restaurant that served this fish. Finally, I found a darling little place that served several varieties of codfish. As a Southern at heart, I ordered the codfish prepared with cornmeal and a variety of vegetables with a side of puréed spinach. And man oh man was it tasty! The lightness of the fish paired so nicely with the cornmeal texture. Mmmmm. For dessert, we headed to a cool bakery with old wooden wine box planks for the floor. I ordered a traditional Portuguese dessert called a Nata, which was kinda like a crème brûlee in the flavor – but a completely different texture. Nothing extraordinary, but I love discovering the food of a culture. 

Coffee at Majestic Café

The next day, we had a coffee at the famous Majestic Café, which is a restaurant decorated in art nouveau style and has been open since 1921.  Even the chairs were lovely – gorgeous leather booths and chairs. It was a nice atmosphere.  Then we headed to another “top tourist activity,” visiting the Lello and Irmão bookshop, famous for its exquisite staircase and ceiling! Plus, it is known that JK Rowling visited this bookshop quite a bit when she was living and writing some of her Harry Potter books. It was a beautiful store, filled with tons of charm and the smell of books!
After the bookshop, off to the beach! The beach of Porto was unlike any beach I have ever visited. Huge rocks and waves, violent water, and not much sand. It was quite a difference experience – cool, but different. I greatly enjoyed getting to feel the ocean breeze, smell the salt water, meander about 5 miles along the coastal boardwalk, and watch groups of old men gathering to play their weekly card game. Although it was not sunny at the time we visited the combination of the vivid grey skies with the white spray of the waves was majestic, plus going to the beach is always a relaxing and renewing experience! Then by the time we returned to the center of the city (the beach was about 30 min bus ride away) the sun was out and why not “profiter du soleil” and drink some sangria! For only 6 euros, we shared a pitcher of freshly made sangria that even came with ice! It was a perfect cap to the trip. 

One final experience I have to share about Porto is the WILD bus ride I took from the hostel to the airport.  So our plan was at 6:30 that morning and it was necessary to take the 4am night bus to the airport – about a 45 minute ride. If you have ever seen the Harry Potter film with the scene of the wild bus ride Harry takes I think in the 4th or 5th movie – this was EXACTLY like that and I think JK Rowling was definitely inspired by the buses in Porto! This bus driver was going about 100 mph on a one way street, flying over speed bumps, and one time almost got hit by another car. It was insane and I have personally never been so happy to get off a bus. Haha whew!
Up next, my post about Madrid!

Wonderful pottery shop I found right next to the water called SOL

The entire city is peppered with builidings covered in this blue and white tile

Porto Boats

Darling little park area in main sqaure

1 comment:

  1. Hi Hanna,
    Love all your beautiful photos. Portugal has some very exceptional sights. I loved the food and the friendly people in Lisbon. Maybe I'll have the chance to visit Porto one day too.