Porto

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As I write, I’m on a rather bumpy overnight speed train to Madrid. (Yay Spain!) This morning we were suppose to buy sleeping accommodations for our night train but somehow the term “bed” got lost in translation and the [unhelpful] lady at the ticket counter said “bed” when she really meant “seat”. Did I mention this is an 10 hour train? Seats. Awesome. Okay, I’m digressing…back to Porto. 🙂

Easy Jet is the airline that took us from Paris, France to Porto, Portugal in a cute little plane. This marked my first time walking on a tarmac and up a mobile staircase to get on a plane. Checking that off my bucket list.

From the airport we took the metro train to Porto and arrived in the evening. Our first hostel of the trip, ‘Yes! Hostel Porto’, was conveniently located near the metro station which was amazing because the city of Porto has a LOT of hills. Combine hills with about 35lbs. on my back and 10lbs. on my front on travel days and, well, my calves are looking pretty nice these days.

Yes! Hostel Porto was modern, clean and, best of all, had free breakfast! We were greeted by a sweet young lady named Amanda, from Brazil, who offered us a complimentary drink, got us checked in, and made us feel very at home.

We climbed the stairs to our four-bed hostel room located on the fourth floor, at the very top of the building. It had three windows, all with really cool, different views. Since we were at the very top, the ceilings were slanted making the room feel cozy. Everything was white and light wood. It almost felt like an attic converted into a dorm room. At night, we had an especially great view of the church next-door.

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After getting settled we were both starving and tired, not the best combination. We walked, searching for a recommended restaurant, but found that the streets of Porto were a little tricky to navigate. When we found the restaurant, it was closed. We gave up. Our white flag went up and we marched are American selves into the only thing that was nearby and open… McDonald’s.

Back at the hostel, I realized this would be my first time since summer camp when I was 12 experiencing sharing a room with total strangers. I prepped myself mentally for what was to come, but really had no clue what to expect. Were we going to be roomed with people who come back late and made a lot if noise? Would we be able to communicate with our roommates? All I knew is that everyone would be different and I would have to have the most respect for my surroundings and hope for the same in return.

Our first roommate, Ping, was from Hong Kong and we saw her very briefly, but heard her come in later around 3am from a night out. Which was great for her, we totally support partying. But I’m still wondering why she felt the need to shower that early, mess with her bags, loudly brush her hair, and then get out her bright iPad for an hour when we had a lounge area directly outside our door. Not cool Ping. Maybe it came down to a difference in culture, who knows. My sleep mask would definitely be on the next night.

Our other roommate in the same room was one to take hostel etiquette notes from. Coming from northern Italy, in a region known as Friuli-Venezia Giulia, near the borders of Austria and Slovenia, Filippo was a 22-year-old guy, curious to learn more English and see the world. He had studied Spanish in school so he and I were able to communicate a bit. He would go out each day he was in Porto and experience the city, the food, meet new people in the hostel, and go on the walking tours even when it was raining. Just like us, he would try to take advantage of all the amenities the hostel and city provided, but he was alone. That is how you travel. Thanks for being a great roommate Filippo!

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So those were my first two hostel roommates and they were completely different. This let me know that there cannot be expectations and I just had to hope for the best in people.

Our first morning in Porto, we grabbed our complimentary breakfast and headed out on our first walking tour of the trip. If you’ve never done a walking tour while in Europe, I highly recommend doing so. There are lot of companies that run the tours in each city and in my opinion the best ones are free, just tip-driven. These tours give you an insider’s view of the city; some history, some culture, some warnings and some suggestions.

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We loved the city of Porto. We weaved in and out of its mosaic streets, climbing hills and stairs through tiny crooked streets, finding castles, great views, and an incredible church.

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Our tour guide and group ended up being so fun, almost the entire group went out for lunch together.

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We kept it traditional and all tried some vinho verde (light green Portuguese wine) and Franchesshina, a yummy hot sandwich of ham, egg, and cheese in between layers of toast and drenched in a spicy sauce.

The next morning (February 14th, Valentine’s day!) it was off to a port tasting appointment across the Douro river at Taylor Fladgate.

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I wish you all could have seen us walking across that huge bridge. There was a storm front moving in and we were walking against at least 40mph gusts about 300 feet in the air. I thought I was going to fly away!

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Anyway, we made it in time for our tour, educating us on some of the best ports in the world and then getting to taste 13 of them. It was a good thing I had breakfast prior.

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I won’t bore you with what I learned about port…that the fruit is chosen from about thirty red grape varieties, it works together with the highest quality brandy like instruments in an orchestra, and creates a subtle, complex and multi-dimensional harmony as it ages. I won’t go on about all that. But I will say we sampled late bottle vintage ports, tawny ports, and a first estate reserve port; each one more complex than the last.

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Our hosts, Robert and Fernando, were excellent and got us set up in a tasting room that overlooked the Douro river we had crossed. Robert, who was well-studied in microbiology, began our tour of the facilities. He explained the terrior, the role the river had in transportation in the beginning, the barreling, the manual stomping, the aging, etc. Somehow, Robert made a laborious, complex process seem understandable.

Before beginning tasting Robert left for an appointment and Fernando took over hosting duties. By the thirteenth and final taste of port, we were asked which one we enjoyed the most and got to keep the rest of the bottle, which we appreciated very much. ‘Taylor’s 20 Year Old Tawny Porto’ was the perfect Valentine’s day treat. Thanks again for the tour and education guys.

While we spoke to Fernando about port, we got to talking about our trip and what was next. When we told him that we planned to take a train to Lisbon that Sunday, he said he was actually driving to Lisbon on Sunday for a Portuguese food and wine exposition and would be happy to give us a ride. What luck! So we arranged a meeting time at the train station (since we aren’t using our cell phones) and when Sunday came he was there waiting for us. We had a free (2.5 hour) ride full of good conversation and music, stopped for an espresso and, my favorite, Nata (a Portuguese dessert) and got dropped right in front of our next hostel reservation. Big thanks again to Fernando.

From the world renowned hostel we stayed in, to the people and geography, Porto was a wonderful experience for us. We knew the overall hospitality and charm of the city were going to be hard to top, but looked forward to our next stop–Lisbon, Portugal!

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One comment

  1. Julia, I am just so happy for you: not only that you are engaged, but that you are having this wonderful adventure. You will never regret it. Looking forward to reading more entries soon.
    Heidi Larson

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