Europe, Portugal

Porto, Portugal

December 4-7, 2021

With two holidays falling during the first week of December, we had a puente, which is a word that refers to long weekends created by two holidays. More specifically, when there is a bridge (puente) over a day in the middle, such as this week, where the holidays fell on Monday (Constitution Day) and Wednesday (Day of the Immaculate Conception). Because of this, I had from December 3-8 off from school and was ready to make the most of it.

I decided to go to Porto, the second largest city in Portugal with a population of about 214,000. I chose this city specifically because I also needed to detour through Galicia to pick up some things I had left behind in Pontevedra. Originally, another auxiliar friend was going to join me, but like it often happens, I ended up making the trek alone when they backed out at the last minute.

On Thursday night, after securing my negative COVID test that afternoon, I boarded the overnight bus to Madrid and arrived around 5:30 AM on Friday. This was my first trip on such a long bus ride in Spain, and it was a terrible experience. Being cramped, nauseous, and tired, I was ecstatic when it was over. My experience in airports over the last few years has been painless and quick. I expected an hour to be plenty of time to get to my gate for the flight to Portugal. I was wrong. I walked into a packed terminal with winding lines waiting for security and knew I was doomed. After about 30 minutes of moving just a few steps (and having a back-up flight picked out), the 6 AM security control staff arrived and a bunch more lanes opened. I got through quickly after that but still had to run to my terminal. Thankfully, it was a little bit delayed, so I arrived in time and made it onto my flight. Between being awake all night, nearly missing the flight, and the sprint across the airport, I was dozing as soon as I was buckled in my seat.

December 4

After landing in Porto, I grabbed some breakfast, plugged in my electronics, and did some research about activities to do for the day and anything I needed to book for the weekend.

After I had a rough outline to at least get me started, I took an Uber to where I would be staying downtown at Legendary Porto Hotel. I planned to just drop my bags off to be held until later, but they had my room ready. I got checked in, dropped my things off in my room, and admired the view I had from my window.

Next, I walked to Praça da Liberdade where I would meet my tour guide for my 2.5 hour free walking tour. It was a decent-sized group but still manageable to walk around with. It was in English, but the guide also spoke Portuguese and Spanish. During some down moments, we had a chance to practice some Spanish conversation and talk about my life in Galicia last year (the Spanish community that borders northern Portugal).

After, I found a place to have a francesinha, a sandwich from Porto made with wet bread, meat, cheese, and a tomato or beer sauce. I had a vegetarian version, and while it was not my favorite, it was a nice cultural experience that one must have if visiting Porto.

Next, I went to the Immersivus Gallery to see back-to-back immersive experiences: Impressive Monet & Brilliant Klimt and Porto Legends. I’ve been sad about not seeing the Van Gogh immersive exhibit in any of the cities I’ve been to, so I figured a trip here would satiate the desire a little bit.

Next, I walked along the Douro River towards Cais da Ribeira and visited the Igreja de São Francisco. This Gothic monument is the most prominent of its style in Porto. It was built in 13th century. Below the church, there are catacombs that were actively used until the 19th century.

By the time I finished here, it was getting dark, and my body was ready for sleep. I walked back to the hotel and enjoyed some night scenes of the city on my way.

December 5

The next morning, I started by going inside of São Bento train station. This is considered one of the most beautiful train stations in the world. It has over 22,000 hand-painted titles from artist Jorge Colaço. The tiles tell the story of historic battles and the history of transport. Most of it was closed for restoration, so unfortunately I only got to see a small section. Despite that, what I did see was remarkably beautiful.

Image source for exterior photo

After seeing the inside of the train station, I walked back towards Praça da Liberdade where an interesting site was around the corner: the famous world’s most beautiful McDonald’s. This is certainly an odd site, but when we walked past it on our tour yesterday, they said we had to stop in to see the fuss. I did not know there was a big competition for the title of most beautiful McDonald’s, but this location has won it time and time again. After enjoying the stain glass and a subpar veggie burger, I was on my way.

From here, I embarked on my own walking tour. I had placed a bunch of pins on the map of different sites (primarily churches) that looked interesting. I started walking around and admiring these and the different architecture in the city. Among them below are Igreja e Torre dos Clérigos and Fonte dos Leões.

My next stop was the Sé do Porto. This cathedral is where the Camino de Santiago begins for the Portuguese way. It’s one of the city’s oldest monumnets with its groundbreaking in 1100 AD and construction continuing for centuries.

After, I walked back towards the Douro River, where I wandered up and down the Ribeira district. This is a bustling neighborhood with shops, restaurants, street performers, and activity day and night. I hopped on a river cruise to see views of the city from the water and travel under the many bridges that the city has.

After the cruise finished, I made my way towards Ponte de Dom Luís I bridge and passed some street performers along the way and walked through a craft market. These types of normalcy provide a sense of comfort even as we still battle COVID rates fluctuating and affecting travel and day-to-day life.

After passing over this iconic bridge, I made my way to Cálem Cellar for a wine cellar tour, wine tasting, and Fado show. Northern Portugal, more specifically the Douro Valley region, is famous for its wine. A trip to this area would be incomplete without exploring the role of wine in cultural and the economy. I was excited to bring back some wine from this cellar for my friends and brother next time I visit home. After the cellar tour and tasting, we got to enjoy a short Fado show, which is a Portuguese style of music that dates back hundreds of years.

After this very full day, I went back to my hotel to get to bed and prepare for the next morning when I would take a day trip to the nearby towns of Braga and Guimarães.

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