Porto airport hallways felt like Tron, or entering the Disneyland Star Tours adventure.
Immigration line was efficient and moved quickly. I was nervously preparing my few broken portuguese phrases when the immigration officer accidentally launched/threw my passport across the desk and onto the floor. He’d been intending to hand it back and things somehow got out of control. But it cut the tension, he was adorably embarrassed (as well as just plain adorable) and humbly welcomed me to his country. Ha.
Our hotel room was cute, and then I noticed there was a glass door leading to a balcony!! They must’ve upgraded our room. Because we had this adorable rooftop space, overlooking the theater, and with a table and two chairs with this little peekaboo window onto the plaza.
So cool! And in the daytime a gorgeous view, too!!Porto was a wonderful little city. Eminently walkable, despite all the intense hills and up and downs. But each alley and twist and turn is so friggin charming and picturesque.
Decorative tiles on almost every building front, little windows and balconies, and fantastic street art and graffiti, too. Churches and outdoor cafes and it was just too cool. The old town/tourist area us relatively compact (everything is mostly within 2 miles, so it’s super easy to get places). So many of their churches have had the decorative blue and white tiles added to them in the 20’s & 30’s that it has a very distinctive sense of place.
Our first day we just wandered until our walking food tour (which started at 4pm) and it was just perfect. Then trying lots of Portuguese staples (sardines, vinho verde, cod fritters, specialty pastries, etc). We’d picked this tour because they listed gluten free options. Which is cool and rare in a food tour. The slight bummer for Erin and the gf British couple was that there were not gf versions of the food we were trying. Instead of the slow cooled beef tavern sandwich, they had a cup of kale soup.
Instead of the special origin pastel de chaves (fancy meat pastry) they were served a green salad. So, nice that they still got to eat, but a bit of a bummer.
Our next day was a fancy all day small group (6 person) tour of the Douro Valley, and it was truly wonderful. Sandra was our guide and she was lovely.
As a lifelong resident of the valley, she has great pride in their culture and historical port making businesses. We learned a lot, and drank a lot! Weather was supposed to be rainy and terrible. It was damp and light rain at our first winery, but they had a covered outdoor space AND we got to play with the winery dog, named Zaide.
Saw where they still stomp the grapes (by foot). And the weather honestly felt like wine tasting at home in Woodinville. We kept being told that we were missing out on gorgeous valley views, because all we saw were clouds. However when it came time to drive all the way down to the River, the weather got better the lower we got. By the time we took our boat cruise, the sun was out. Port tasting on the boat, so relaxing.
Then fancy michelin star restaurant lunch at Doc, with lovely river view. And waitstaff who kept refilling wine glasses. Seafood soup, Duck confit and mushroom risotto, fancy dessert, and some small “bonus” bites in between.
We were all sleepy and rolling our way back to the car. Ha. Then off to final winery tour and tasting. Very cool visiting small family run places. Meeting the winemakers and really having long extended conversations and connections. Pretty special. And they had Two dogs and two cats we got to play with. The jack russell is even on one of their bottle label designs.
The first winery, when explaining how their grape feet smash is done without music or talking to keep rhythm. “Military style” And the first pass of all the people walking across the large tub takes 45 minutes. We were shown instagram video. But at the last winery, she said they use music, not silence. Dance music, she said. I made the “oonh ooonh oonh” techno music noise. Her: “Yes, but ya know, we choose GOOD MUSIC. Last time we listened to Joy Division.” Ha! (Just saying, if I had to be on the grape stomping team, I’m picking the place using good dance music vs the military style serious silence).
After this very full day of wine and food, on the drive back into town, one of the women in our 6 person tour excitedly exclaims: “We should meet up at the Discotheque later tonight!!” Erin, equally emphatically, “No!!” Ha (We were both back in hotel and in our jammies by 10pm). Neither of us has been sleeping super great, which is frustrating. But we also are not late night party animals.Getting doner kebab for dinner at Bangla Spicy. A fuse blows and whole place loses power. Fun ambiance as diners and staff use their cellphone flashlights until they get power restored. Only took a few minutes. (Also, only 4 euro for lovely wrap on lavesh bread AND a large bag of fries included!! Portugal, outside of the fancier restaurants, is super affordable)
The next day, in the glorious sunshine, we wander off to cross the big tall bridge across the river in Porto and explore the other side of town. My GPS took us down some of the steepest windiest and scariest steep hills ever. Erin, knowing my phobia of steep slippery hills and my balance issues, says “Your phone hates you!” But it was dry, at least, so the marble cobblestones weren’t slick, or I might’ve been crying. 🙂 And very cool street art all along the way.
The view of the river and town from the bridge was phenomenal! We took soooo many pictures. Every direction you turn, it’s shockingly lovely.
Ended up doing some port tasting at Taylor, because their garden had peacocks and peahen and a baby peafowl, too! Magical, even if the prices were higher tourist pricing.
Found an artist collective (“we run on art and wine”) so of course had to go check it out.
That afternoon and evening, more lovely meanders around our side of Porto. On the recommendation of people we met, we had dinner at Frida’s (a Mexican-ish restaurant, a more rare thing here in Portugal). It was super cute, and interesting, if not maybe the Best mexican food we’ve ever had. The duck breast mole was super cinnamon flavored, and the margaritas were blended. But it was fun, and the melted queso was great (who can go wrong with cheese and chorizo). Our final morning started well enough.
Erin found a street art app, so we went off to find several apparently significant graffiti. Wandered the Portuguese version of Target. And had some of the strongest sangria ever! Halfway through our glass, we both were feeling it! Ha. Which maybe helped my anxiety for the next time of near travel disasters (but it all worked out in the end). At our hotels recommendation, just using Uber to get to the train station. And I confidently entered the destination and everything. As our driver takes us to this green park, he asks, is this where you’re going? Nope. Apparently Capanha is also the name of a neighborhood 2km outside of town and that’s what I’d picked. Eek!! But he was able to take us to the right place, and we’d been leaving early enough, we got dropped off at the bus station 25 min before our train. And then had to ask the nice woman at information where the Trains are, and that was a 5 minute walk to different station. Stressful! But we found our proper gate with plenty of time to spare. D’oh!! Total Uber fail on my part. (And then minor tail on my train ticket buying, back in the states, too. There were two main train stations in Lisbon, and I apparently picked the one that is 20 minutes from our hotel. So we got to enjoy a very grumpy and aggressive taxi driver. But did eventually make it to the hotel, so the worst disasters were avoided. Sheesh. I feel like I’m normally better at this stuff. Maybe the covid break has left me rusty?!? I still can’t believe I didn’t think about transporting luggage and bring my large backpack bag instead of the wheeled bag. It Has been awhile.)