Friday, August 15, 2008


Last weekend, Stephanie and I went to Porto, a city in Portugal. We had decided to go very early in the summer, since neither of us had ever been there, and we had a 2-day weekend (usually we only have Sunday off).

Porto was a very romantic city – full of old buildings, winding cobblestone streets, and cute cafés. The city is built on a steep hill sloping up from the river (Rio Douro), so there are many striking views, and there’s also some challenging walking. In addition to the many centuries-old stone buildings, there are lots of buildings with a blue-tile design on them – you see it all over the city. Despite its relaxed atmosphere during the day, Porto had plenty to do at night – there are lively restaurants and bars down by the river and dancing places all over town.Stephanie’s and my trip was definitely enhanced by our friend Hugo, who is from a town about 80 km from Porto. When we told him we were going, he made us a google map with a list of places to see, and made a document with information on how to get around. He even included pictures to show us where to buy a metro ticket and how to use the machines. This really made things go smoothly, and his suggestions on where to go were really helpful.

Our travel adventure started on Friday afternoon, when we left straight from our team meeting to go to the bus station. Since we were flying Ryanair, a low-cost airline, the flight was actually our of Girona, a smaller town about an hour away. We didn’t have any trouble finding the bus, and made it happily to the airport, where we even had time for a diet coke out on the terrace.

We got into Porto around 8pm, bought metro tickets, and found our way to our hotel (all simple tasks thanks to Hugo). We stayed at the Castelo Santa Caterina – which is actually a renovated castle. I read about it online, and despite being a centrally-located castle, it didn’t cost much more than a hostel. It was a great place to stay. The buildings inside were really pretty, and covered in the characteristic blue and white tile. There was a really nice courtyard, and since it was up on a hill, you could look out over the city.

After dropping our things off, Stephanie and I ventured into the city. We were walking distance from the city center, though the windy streets in the downtown area make it difficult to navigate. In Portugal, dinner is usually from about 8pm-9:30pm, so Stephanie and I were catching the tale end of dinner hour. Actually, when we finally made it to the river, the waiter at our restaurant said we had arrived exactly one minute before they stop taking customers. We shared a Bacalao de Casa – Cod prepared in the style of the house. This is a famous dish in Portugal – you can get cod everywhere cooked in a million different ways. Dinner was wonderful, and we complimented the main dish with some port wine, a fruit and chocolate cake for dessert, and an espresso to finish. This was when we discovered that the espresso in Porto was really good, and began a weekend of seriously over-consuming espresso. (I think we had 6 or 7 of them on Saturday.)
After dinner, we crossed the Rio Douro. We found a nice place with an outdoor patio and had a drink by the river. Continuing the theme, we went from there to a bar playing music on a terrace overlooking the river. At this bar we met some people from Portugal, who were now living in Brussels, but visiting home. They were really nice, told us about the city and what to see, and taught us a bit of Portugese. (By the time Stephanie and I left Portugal we knew how to say hello, thank you, yes, no, and how to order a drink.)

Andre, one of the Portugese people we met, suggested we head out to a disco. Stephanie and I had heard the discos in Porto were good, and were excited to find out first hand. We went to a place called La Movida Beach. It was filled with beach decorations and tiki bars. It played tons of Spanish pop. A really fun feature of the club was a stage in front where people that work there would show the dance that goes with a particular song, so that everyone in the club was doing the same dance. We had a great time dancing – a very good end to our first night in Portugal.

We got up around 9am on Saturday, had breakfast in our castle-hotel, and then started wandering down the road into town. We did a bit of shopping, and saw many of the sight-seeing highlights in the city – churches, castles, plazas, etc. We had lunch in a plaza overlooking the river (the view never gets old). Following lunch, we headed to the Port Cellars that line the coast of the river for some tours and tastings. The port in Porto was really great, as you’d imagine.
However, the port tasting made us a bit sleepy, so we followed that activity with a much-needed nap back at our hotel. Feeling refreshed, we headed out to Foz – the area where the Rio Douro meets the Atlantic Ocean. We got there just in time to watch the sun set over the Atlantic. This was beautiful, but having come from extremely-hot Barcelona, Stephanie and I were unprepared for the cool and breezy Porto – especially after the sun was gone.

We popped into a restaurant called Mascara (Masks). It was a fondue restaurant, so Stephanie and I ordered a tomato and cheese fondue with bread to dip. It was really tasty – kind of like cheesy spaghetti sauce. We also had some sangria, and finished our dinner with desserts – I had an amazing cup of chocolate mousse.

Even though it was pretty, we decided the beach area was too chilly for us (we’re really Barcelona girls now, I guess…), so we headed back into town to a new area – near the Casa de Musica. We went to a cute bar there, and then headed to a disco that had been suggested to us multiple times. The club was called Via Rapida – it was a pretty nice place, though Stephanie and I had come pretty early, so it took a while to get going. We danced into the night, and then grabbed a cab back home.

Sunday was our last day in Porto. Having seen most of the major landmarks in the city on Saturday, we took it slow on Sunday. We wandered the small streets, checking out little shops. We also decided to go on a boat cruise of the Douro – something Andre had suggested on Friday night. It was a great idea – only 10 Euros for an hour long cruise – it’s a great way to see the city from a different angle. After the cruise, we took the scenic route walking back to our hotel, bought some new skirts and matching shirts, and then jumped on the metro back to the airport. We saved enough time to get some Port to bring back for our friends – and having gone to tastings, we even knew what we liked. We each bought a Ruby and a Tawny, and I also bought a half-dry white port.
We had been a bit nervous about our trip back – we arrived in Girona around 11pm, and then needed to get the bus to Barcelona. Luckily for us, everything went smoothly, we got a bus right away, and were back in our student housing before too late. It was a great trip – even though we were in Portugal for only about 48 hours, Stephanie and I really were able to see a lot and to get a feel for the town.

No comments: