A brief portrait of Porto, Portugal

I just put the finishing touches on a really, really long Camino de Santiago guide (soon to go up in my Guides section). So I thought I’d take a little break today from all the wordsy stuff and show you some photos from Porto.

I perhaps waited a little too long to find a cheap flight out of Santiago de Compostela. On the other hand, I wanted an excuse to check out Portugal.

Portugal has been calling to me for some time now. I’m drawn to places with a Newfoundland connection. The Portuguese fished off the Grand Banks hundreds of years ago, and cod was as valuable a product for them as it was (is) for us.

And of course, St. John’s has the Newman Wine Vaults, where port wine was stored for ageing. (Apparently the port had a special flavour.)

Unfortunately, I didn’t have much opportunity to enjoy port or cod. Eating anything a day after recovering from food poisoning is akin to forcing yourself to enjoy a party when you’re sober. You so badly want to participate, but life is hell.

As soon as I announced I was going to Porto, my social media lit up. “It’s beautiful!” “It’s one of my favourite cities!” People threw recommendations at me. So Porto had a lot to live up to. Would it meet expectations?

I was really short on time, mind you, so this is no guide.

After getting off the bus from Santiago, I walked to my hotel. I had splurged on a room at Eurostars Das Artes Hotel. The twenty-minute walk in the glaring sunshine took me about an hour, because I couldn’t stop pausing and taking photos of the building facades.

Colourful doors in Porto

The architecture here is insanely colourful. Most buildings have intricate patterns and designs, often with elaborate hand-painted tile-work (azulejoes). “Azul” in Portuguese means blue, because usually the art is (you guessed it) blue.

I’d be meeting my Camino friends for dinner in the evening, so I decided to spend some time wandering on foot. I headed downwards towards the Douro River. Porto is hilly! Possibly more hilly than St. John’s.

Downtown Porto, Portugal

I was taken aback by how touristy is Porto is. After being on the Camino for so long, the hordes of people were a little overwhelming. I was completely underdressed. Tourists walked by sporting designer shopping bags; locals flaunted their style. I meandered through streets, dressed like a pauper, suddenly starving, and decided to find a restaurant for a quick bite on the waterfront. I was looking for the local sandwich, a francesinha.

Hanging out along the Douro River, Porto

I didn’t realise, however, that there’s a time zone change between Spain and Porto. The waiter at the restaurant told me that the kitchen didn’t serve until 7 PM. I checked my watch and realised I only had 10 minutes to wait, so I ordered a beer. After some time passed, I understood that I was actually an hour behind…and starving to death.

(It’s a good thing I didn’t get to try the sandwich in the end, though. It’s a huge mess of bread, meat, sausage, cheese, and a few other ingredients thrown in. Probably not the best option for an upset stomach.)

So I moved on, to sangria.

Sangria is clearly the smarter option.

When I finally met the others for food, we decided to go to Bacalhau (“bacalhau” is Portuguese for “cod”). Bacalhau is a tiny little restaurant right on the river with a quirky menu, and so we had to wait about 45 minutes to be seated. No matter – a glass of beer overlooking the twinkling lights of the port wineries on the other side of the river made for a fine wait.

I was so excited to see so many cod variants on the menu. Including cod tongues! On a bed of rice. Naturally, it’s what I ordered. The tongues came lightly battered and perfectly cooked; they’d do any Newfoundlander proud. Except I could only manage to eat just one of them.

Cod tongues in Porto

The waiter with his fumbling English looked sorrowfully at the full plate of food and asked, “You didn’t like?”

There’s nothing I hate worse than people thinking I don’t like their food. I think I stammered out an apology and tried to explain that I had recently been expelling fluids faster than the BP oil spill, but I fear the analogy was lost on him.

My flight the next morning wasn’t until the late afternoon, so I headed out to find Livraria Lello & Irmão, one of the “world’s most beautiful bookstores.”

As I approached, I noticed the snaking line of people in front of a red building directly in front of the bookstore. “Surely it can’t be a line for tickets,” I pondered. How wrong I was. 3 EUR, to step inside an overcrowded bookstore.

I puffed with condescension and bought a ticket anyway. The entire façade was covered in scaffolding, but I assumed the interior was untouched. Wrong again! The insides looked like a nightmare of classical architecture merged with modern steel ribs.

Bookstore in Porto

There was not one good opportunity to take a photo. The fact that people were still happily snapping away – pausing for boring selfies and blocking the way of other tourists – made me think that most everyone was there to tick an item off their tourist list…not to appreciate books. This was confirmed when I made a mental note that only two or three people were even browsing the literary section.

I felt violated and ill. I found the tiny English section and considered buying a book as a keepsake, but I was continuously prodded and poked by elbows and (likely) boners. I spent about ten minutes in that store. It was enough.

On the way back, I stumbled across Praca de Gomes Teixeira, the square with the lions fountain. Next to it is Carmo Church, with one of the nicest examples of azulejoes I had seen.

Fountain of the Lions, Porto

I barely skimmed the surface of Porto, but I’m amazed the city hasn’t filled my travel newsfeed in the past. Next time: Porto, the Azores, and Lisbon. Comin’ for you.

  • May 09 2016

    It’s too bad you didn’t have more time! I’m a Canadian living in Porto, and if I’d known you were coming I would’ve shown you around and steered you away from Livraria Lello while they’re undergoing renovation (there are good times to visit when it’s less busy). There are still plenty of places less overrun with tourists.

    Next time you’re in town, seriously, let me know and even if I’m not around I’ve got lots of tips.
    Gail at Large recently posted…The Azulejos of Caminha Railway Station

    • May 16 2016

      Oh man! That would have been SO awesome! I’ll be back though. Definitely.

  • May 12 2016

    I might have been one of the people who commented about how much I loved Porto because I have such a good memory of my visit back in 2011. It is so beautiful and your pictures make me want to go back! When we went we had zero expectation because it was a last minute pick and we knew nothing about it… also, I remember being really surprised at how few tourists there were so maybe we just got lucky.
    Jules recently posted…See Jules Review: Laguna Cejar (or more accurately, the poor nameless lake next to it)

    • May 16 2016

      It might have become more popular since 2011! But yeah, what a place. I can’t wait to get back to Portugal.

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