To celebrate the end of exams and undergrad (what…im not a student anymore!!?!), I travelled with my friend to Portugal where we visited Porto and Lisbon. With its low prices, amazing food, and beautiful architecture, Portugal was definitely one of my favourite places to visit from Spain.
Our first two nights in Portugal were spent in Porto, a small city north of Lisbon. The first place we visited was Livraria Lello, one of the most beautiful bookshops in the world. For €4, visitors gained entry into the store. Upon entering, the first thing we saw was a stunning red staircase. The store was filled with books in English and Portuguese. With the purchase of the €4 admission ticket, I was able to get €4 discounted off Sanditon, Lady Susan, & The History of England, a Jane Austen book I purchased to add to my mom’s collection at home. The book was really pretty with gold trim pages and a built-in ribbon bookmark.
The second floor of the library was also stunning with stained glass windows and the continuation of the red staircase.
The place that sold tickets to Livraria Lello was a few doors over and had a mural depicting the 9 ¾ platform, just like the one at King’s Cross. Because I was unable to take the photo above at King’s Cross in London, I seized my opportunity in Porto. Interestingly enough, J.K. Rowling spent a lot of time in Porto working on her first Harry Potter book because her first husband was Portuguese.
Our next stop was Dom Luis I bridge which connected Porto to Vila Nova de Gaia, another region in Portugal. The weather in Porto was cold, cloudy, and windy. Walking across and taking a photo on the bridge was a challenge because I was nervous that my phone would blow right out of my hand. The photo above really captures the colourful buildings of Porto; the city is truly one of the most vibrant and cheerful places I’ve ever visited.
For dinner, we went to a highly recommended, cheap-eats restaurant on Trip Advisor. For only €5, I got this amazing chicken and goat’s cheese sandwich. It was delicious and just what I was craving. We also ordered some Port Wine, a famous dessert wine from Porto. Usually, Port Wine has a 20% alcohol content, making it the wine with the second highest alcohol volume after Sherry Wine.
As we walked back to the Airbnb after dinner, the streets were packed with crowds of students wearing Harry Potter-like robes and multicoloured top hats. It turns out that we had accidentally booked our trip in time for Porto’s second largest festival, Queima das Fitas which is Portuguese for Burning of the Ribbons. The streets were absolutely wild with students screaming, music playing, and huge parade floats everywhere. The most intriguing part of this festival was the fact that upperclassman seemed to carry canes that were used for bashing the padded top hats worn by freshman. Despite being super interested in the ongoing celebrations, I was also horrified at all the concussions that were just waiting to happen. Every student had a role to play in the festival depending on their school level. For freshman, the festival marked their transition to sophomore year while for the graduating class, the festival was an opportunity to sell alcohol to raise money for grad trips. Even the mayor of Porto was involved because he greeted the freshman.
The next day, it was raining so we took refuge in a café for most of the morning. Fortunately, most of the cafes in Porto are well stocked with pretty much every single pastry and beverage you could possibly want. We had Portuguese egg tarts, quiche, empanadas, coffee…the list goes on! Food is a huge part of why I loved Porto; the selection is huge and it’s all so good!
In the afternoon, we met at a park in the Northern part of Porto for a free walking tour given by a company called the “Worst Tours”. The tour took us to some of the less frequented neighbourhoods in Porto. The tour also focused a lot of on the architecture of Porto. Unfortunately, I lost a lot of the photos from the tour so I pulled some from the internet. The photo above shows the various tiles used on the walls and doors of buildings in Porto. The tiles in Portugal reminded me a lot of the tiles in Morocco; I guess the proximity of the two countries means that they share certain architectural traits.
Walking through the streets of Porto, I realized that the economic crisis had really taken a toll on the city. The buildings were very rundown and a lot of them were deserted. Our guide also gave us some very shocking statistics about Porto. Apparently, 68% of the population makes only €7000 annually. Additionally, the Catholic Church owns a third of the property in Porto, but pays no taxes. The government needs more funding to start restoring some of the buildings. The guide also mentioned that the buildings could potentially be transformed into hotels which would allow tourism to become one of Porto’s biggest industries.
The tour ended in downtown Porto which allowed us to explore some of the more popular neighbourhoods of Porto before heading back to our Airbnb for the night.
One of my favourite places in Porto was the area by the Duoro River which flows between Porto and Vila de Nova Gaia. Joining Porto and Gaia in the photo above is the Dom Luis I Bridge. In terms of altitude, the waterfront area of Porto is at the bottom of the city. The hills in Porto make everyday leg day! It’s a great workout.
The buildings along the river are relatively well kept and very colourful. A lot of people say that Lisbon is one of the most colourful cities in the world, but I think that Porto is even more colourful.
In my last post about Rome, I mentioned that the city seemed like a giant amusement park where I would run from attraction to attraction and line up at each one for at least 45 minutes. Well, Porto was so different from that. Something I loved about Porto and Portugal in general was that the buildings and streets themselves were the major attractions. The entire city was so picturesque; it was easy to lose track of time while roaming the city.
For our last dinner in Porto, we found a restaurant that served meat and rice dishes. For only €6, I got big helpings of rice, meatloaf with egg, potatoes, and salad. Hands down, this was my best meal in Portugal and potentially my best meal on exchange. Given the restaurant’s central location, portion sizes and food quality, the meal was not only delicious, but also excellent value.
I had a wonderful time in Porto and it was the best way imaginable to start off my Portuguese adventure. I’m definitely adding Porto to my list of favourite European cities and can’t wait to visit again! Next stop, Lisbon!