Before I went abroad this past year, I made a list of all of the countries I wanted to visit and Portugal was at the very top. I’m not totally sure why I was so drawn to this country. I don’t speak Portuguese (yet) and I didn’t know much about Portuguese history before I traveled there.
After living in France, a country that I’ve studied in depth, it was refreshing to be in a completely new environment. I hopped off the plane with my mind open and my stomach ready to eat EVERYTHING.
The first town I visited was Porto. It’s the second largest city in Portugal yet still felt very small. It’s located along the Douro River which is famous for a lot of vineyards so naturally, wine is a staple in Porto. But not just any wine! Port Wine is a sweet wine with a VERY high alcohol percentage. It’s usually paired with dessert, consumed after dinner, or at a wine tour. One of the main attractions in Porto is taking a tour of at least one of the wine cellars which is usually paired with a wine tasting at the end. I did the Calem Wine Tour which had a really cool interactive museum at the front, followed by a 45 minute walking tour of the cellar where the guide talked about the history of port wine, the Calem family, and the different kinds of port wines there are.
I spent about two and a half days in Porto and aside from visiting a wine cellar, I didn’t have a strict itinerary. Since I was traveling alone, I had the freedom to do what I wanted and when I wanted to do it. The first day I turned off Google Maps and just explored the city. Luckily, my hostel was near all of the landmarks and sights to see so I hit all of them by just walking around. Porto is a great city because like I said, it’s located along the Douro River which I found to be beautiful. One one side of the river you have the main city of Porto and if you walk across the Luis I Bridge (Fun fact about the bridge: it was designed by someone who worked for Gustave Eiffel, the man who designed the Eiffel Tower), you’ll find yourself in Vila Nova de Gaia or just Gaia as the locals call it. This is the side of the river that has all of the wine cellars, souvenir shops, and restaurants. I also came across a stand that was selling large portable cups of Sangria for 3 euros to drink alongside the river.
The second day I was in Porto, I decided to go on the free walking tour that my hostel offered. We explored all of the key sites in Porto and got to learn about the history and culture from a local who had grown up in the city. I learned that Porto was the inspiration behind Harry Potter! J.K. Rowling spent a large chunk of her life in Porto and spent her time writing Harry Potter at the Livraria Lello, a famous library in Porto. Even the villain Voldemort from the series was inspired by a fascist dictator from Portugal. Another important topic of the walking tour was the francesinha, a famous sandwich that comes from Porto. The name means “Little Frenchie” and it is supposed to be a portguse adaption of the famous French sandwich the croque-monsieur. It’s truly a sandwich made for those who enjoy meat as it has cured ham, steak, and two different kinds of traditional Portuguese sausages. It’s covered in melted cheese and smothered with a thick tomato and beer sauce and usually comes served with french fries surrounding it. I won’t lie, my mouth is watering just thinking about it. As you can see from the description, it is a very very VERY HEAVY sandwich. Some tourists split them among two people but since I was eating alone, I made sure to not eat lunch so my stomach would be empty just for the sandwich. You can get this sandwich from various locations around the city but the one my tour guide suggested was Cafe Santiago.
It was through the walking tour that I ended meeting a ton of really cool people. I met two other Americans who were English Assistants just like me but in Germany instead of France and a Brazilian girl who was studying Law in France. During the walking tour we realized that we all planned to go to Lisbon after Porto and ended up meeting again once we changed cities. I also met some girls who were either doing the same teaching program as me in France or studying in France.
We were all on spring break so I guess everyone in France decided to head to Portugal for some sunshine! It was amazing to see how close we could all get in just a few short days together. We ended our time together by doing a bar crawl that was sponsored by our hostel. Waking up at 5Am after being out until 3AM wasn’t the best but the memories were definitely worth it.
I’ll always love Porto since it was the first city in Portugal that I went to and the city that made me instantly fall in love with the culture. After Porto, I took a train and made my way to Lisbon with my new Brazilian friend that I met at my hostel.
To read about adventures in Lisbon, stay tuned!