After an eventful trip to Azores, plus a few nights in Lisbon, I finally managed to catch a break in this beautiful city called Porto. As a wine lover, I first knew of Porto as the origin of Port Wine. In fact, a bottle of 10-years old port wine was actually what I bought and consumed in the first few nights in Lisbon. However, the city actually turned out to be one of my most favorite cities in Europe for its beauty despite not having done much…
Coming to Porto from Lisbon is an easy train ride. It is also possible to get there by flight, but during the COVID era, a train ride is possibly faster. With all the morning routines and some unexpected traffic in Lisbon, we were quite stressed in the morning from the possibility of missing the train. Fortunately, that did not happen – in fact, far from it.
The train ride to Porto is only 3-4 hours. I was quite tired from all the travels from Azores to Lisbon, a night out drinking, and yet another travel. I fell asleep listening (and finishing) Becoming by Michelle Obama. It is a very good book, but, to be utterly honest, I’m not sure I grasp much toward the end…
I was actually pressed for time upon arrival at Porto because I had a call at 3 pm sharp. Fortunately, yet annoyingly, the call was eventually canceled last minute. We ended up having a chill and relaxing afternoon. The place we stay in Porto is called Apartment No. 5 hosted by Luis and Lucia. It is a “humongous” apartment with 4 bedrooms, 6 beds, a big living room, and a big dining room. All of these are for only 74 EUR per night not including the cleaning and service fees. The location is also in the middle of the city. We were very lucky to have found this place!
What my friends called "Sea's check-in pose"
The first meal
We had a very delicious, classic, and local first meal in Porto… McDonald… Yes. McD! But… This McDonald's in Porto is very different in its design. From the outside, you can clearly see the unique and local architecture and a not very clear McDonald's name and logo up top. However, the inside is still a good old McD plus a few mosaic works to make it look pretty.
I ordered a very classic bacon-and-cheese burger set with half of my fries being stolen by my travel companion – you know who you are…
Fair warning, if you think that McD is the most unhealthy thing you can find in Porto, you are sooooo wrong.
Crossing the bridge
One of the signature scenes of Porto is Luis I Bridge, and, of course, as an oblivious international tourist group that we are, we decided to do a walk to and across the bridge – not knowing until the third day that the other side is no longer Porto (but seriously, I don’t think many tourists know that either).
The view from the bridge is breathtakingly beautiful. I could only imagine how amazing the sunset view would be, but I ended up not having a chance to really see it from there. On one side of the bridge, I can see the cliff and the hill, and the other side, you can see the cities and lines of restaurants, shops, and bars along the river.
The way down from the bridge to the river is actually quite tough (and potentially bad for the knees). Once we reach the riverside, it’s already sunset time and it was actually quite interesting for me to see the sunset by the river as a change of scenery from the typical sunset by the beach in Azores or in the city like Lisbon. One random thing I really like about this river though is the random ships carrying barrows. I don’t know what they are for, but they are quite photogenic.
A big-ass snack shop
One of the shops that is really memorable is Casa Portuguesa do Pastel de Bacalhau which sells deep-fried mashed potatoes and fish with cheese. The special thing about this is that shop itself was super glamourous with a big organ and a pianist actually playing it live as we entered. Although the price is quite steep especially with a glass of port wine, I still really wonder how could a tourist-trap shop with this much maintenance and operating costs survive the COVID crisis, when there are very few tourists.
Early nightlife in Porto
Hunting for good and unique foods in Porto along Douro River is not easy – especially after living in Portugal for nearly 3 weeks. There isn’t much difference between foods in Porto versus Lisbon. We managed to land at one restaurant that serves monkfish, which turned out to be quite good. In fact, Portuguese foods have not failed me so far.
Nightlife in Portugal during COVID time, for tourists, is nearly non-existent. Nearly everything closes at midnight (with the exception of some places in Azores). We tried to hunt for a shisha bar, but the last order was at 11 pm. It was a sad weekday night for us, but I guess it is a decent enough ending for our first day in Porto.
As a jobless and nearly carefree person in the group, I was privileged enough to have a chance to stroll around the city and to take some photos. Sometimes, getting loss (in a city that you know is quite safe) gives me a thrill and a sense of adventure to try, to find new angles, and maybe to just walk endlessly.
I ended up exploring some churches and found one nice little and quiet church to just sit and soak in solidarity. I have said this once, and I was experiencing this again – there sometimes is comfort in just surrendering your problems to some higher power. When you know that you are helpless, there is comfort in just letting go. I’m by no mean a Christian, but, at this stage of life, I think I a conversation with God or Jesus is not a bad idea after all.
Somehow I ended up by the river once again and managed to take some nice photos of the river, the line of the boats, and the renowned bridge. I truly love this touristy spot of Porto.
… and also some hidden photogenic places.
One just can’t leave Porto without eating Francesinha – the signature dish of Porto. The name sounds very complex (at least for an Asian like me), but the dish is essentially a sandwich with sausage, cheese, steak, bacon, a sunny-side-up on top, and lots of gravy. This is what I would call “hypercholesterolemia on a plate”… and I have been eating that 3-days straight in Porto.
Here are some recommendations of two good places:
1. Cap ana Baixa
2. Brasao Cervejaria Aliados
Night walking tour with the local
While I was very lucky to get recommendations from my local friend, I was also lucky to get a guided tour around the city by another local friend (or friend of friends). One interesting thing (apart from the fact that I was surprised how I managed to hold myself together that night after 3 Xanex) was that parts of Porto were not like this at all 10 years ago. From my experience working in the tourism strategy and masterplan, I could foresee the impact of the tourism industry to economic development and urbanization. However, this is probably the first time I have heard and seen the drastic change – both the ups from how the buildings were renovated and the downs from the closures due to COVID.
… and of course, with the local, we managed to find a place to sit and drink until 2 am…
The good thing about Portugal, especially the three areas that I have visited, is the fresh seafood. How else can you better taste seafood but picking a fish fresh from the market and get it cooked right there? That’s exactly what we did at Matosinhos market. The place is basically a market with a restaurant that takes fishes and other seafood that you purchased from the market and cook them in whatever form you want. Apart from that, it also serves an amazing Tuna steak that is perfectly cooked.
One sad part, according to my friend, is that the second floor of the market sells other live animals, such as chicken, rabbit, and many others. “This is sad and amusing at the same time. I wouldn’t want to eat this after I see them like this.” said one of my friends… I would love to think I’m not a cruel person, but he made me feel like a mean person for still eating chicken and rabbit.
Not far from the fish market there is a very nice beach! To be fair, I didn’t expect much of the beach scene in Porto from all the photos from my friends. Especially after having experienced Cascais, Azores, and seeing photos from Faro. However, the beach here is quite legit as well. The sand is very warm – just like Thailand! The only difference is that the water is still, just like other Atlantic beaches, very cold…
My favorite parts are the giant art piece by the beach and the nearby fort. Anemona (the name of the piece) looks just like a jellyfish. It is said to have been built to represent fishery, which is the main source of income for the people here. I didn’t read up much about the fort (Fort of Saint Francis Xavier, 17th Century), but, for some reason, I have always been drawn to ancient buildings. There are some mysterious vibes around it that make each very unique – especially when it blends with the surrounding nature.
Picking up a new hobby
One of the things that I picked up during the trip is watercolor painting. Arts have always been very therapeutic for me – but I was quite limited to singing, poetry, and writing. Watercolor was my experiment to also conquer my mental obstacle of creating artworks – something that I have never been good at since young. My friend was kind enough to guide me through it for the first few days (whenever he has the mental capacity – aka “mind space”). My first attempt was a disaster that I quickly threw away, but my first “finished” (by my definition) was quite okay. I still am on this learning, experimenting, and healing journey.
Hope my grit is enough to pull me through!