Welcome to my *final* post on my travels during this February vacation! After a whirlwind of visits across southwest France, then Spain, and finally Portugal, I am going to recount my last few days spent in the bustling, but lovely city of Porto!
As you know, I had been traveling with another assistant (“Beth”) through other cities in Portugal: we met up in Lisbon, exploring the city together before hopping over to Sintra, then Aveiro, and finally finishing up in Porto. We were to meet another assistant (let’s call her “Holly”) in Porto, and so it was the trio of us tackling the city together! As non-Europeans, we were set on conquering Europe- one country at a time! 😀
Beth and I arrived in Porto around 17h30, and from there trekked up an incredibly steep hill (like, serious calf-workout material) to our hostel, where we check in and dropped off our bags. Holly wasn’t in the room that we were sharing, as she had arrived the day before and was out exploring the city, so we agreed to meet up later in the hostel for dinner. Beth and I decided to go out and explore a bit of Porto, while it was still light out.
Wanted to catch the sun setting as well, but unfortunately by the time we went out, it was too late; we only saw a last glimpse of it sinking behind the hill. In any case, we managed to see some of the city before it got dark, from the Dom Luís I bridge to the Porto Cathedral.
Any case, we headed back to the hostel around 18h30, since it was already cold and dark. Holly returned shortly afterwards, and we talked for a bit, catching up on life before heading out to a nearby restaurant for dinner. Place was super packed when we arrived around 20h00, but we were lucky that there was an open table near the corner of the room. Food took forever to get to us, as the place was so busy and the waiter had forgotten our order the first time, but it was fine; my steak and chips were pretty on-point: juicy and crispy, respectively. 😛
We headed back to our hostel, where we chilled out for the rest of the night. Met another traveler, an American who had been studying in Prague, and got acquainted with her. Turned in later that night, and woke up the next morning for the complimentary breakfast at the hostel lobby before deciding to take a free walking tour around Porto. Our guide was super energetic, and for the next three hours took us around the city, throwing a ton of history and culture at us. We started at one of the squares near the São Bento train station, then headed uphill to one of the miradouros for a lovely rooftop view of the city. Took plenty of photos there, just like in Lisbon:
Next, we went over to check out the Clérigos Tower, a Baroque church that can be seen from all over the city, as I had observed. We wrapped around and past it to the Livraria Lello & Irmão, a famous bookstore not only known for its amazing interior, but also as an inspiration for J.K. Rowling, who went there often while teaching English in Porto. Indeed, it looked amazing, as Beth, Holly, and I ended up returning to check it out later in the afternoon, after the tour.
Looped back to the square from where we had started, making a stop inside the São Bento train station to admire the interior design before continuing on to the Porto Cathedral. Afterwards, we descended down flights of uneven stairs to the Praça da Ribeira, located along the quai with many bars, cafés, and otherwise *overpriced* touristy places. Still lovely, though. 🙂
We ended our tour in Ribeira around 13h00. Weather was super warm that day, and while the tour was enjoyable, we were getting tired and hungry by then (we had started the tour at 10h00). Our tour guide recommended that we try the francesinha (translates to “Little French Girl”), which is the Portuguese take on the croque madame in French cuisine, a sandwich stuffed with a ton of different meats (steak, sausage, ham, etc), then drenched with a kind of tomato soup, tons of melted cheese, and a fried egg on top. Oh, and it’s served with fries. 😛
Feeling satisfied, the three of us (Beth, Holly, and I) went off to check out the Livraria Lello & Irmão, paying the 3-euro entrance fee to go inside (yes, one needs to pay to get into this prestigious bookstore!). The interior did not disappoint, as I could see how J.K. Rowling got inspiration for Dumbledore’s office, with the high staircase that splits and branches off into two staircases that loop onto each other. Quite fantastic.
Hung around the bookstore for a while; by paying the 3-euro entrance to the bookstore, we could receive 3 euros off of our book purchase, which didn’t sound too bad! I ended up buying a book of poetry from famous Portuguese poets (with both the original text in Portuguese and the English translation), which doubled as a souvenir from the bookstore, too!
Afterwards, the three of us left the bookstore and stopped by a bar to try some port wine; we weren’t able to cross the bridge to the other side of the city (well, the city of Gaia, actually) to the many port wine-tasting tour stores due to time, and so we settled on trying some in Porto. I have had it before in other countries, but since we were in the city that invented it, well, our experience wouldn’t be complete without having it! Very sweet and strong, just how I like it. 😛
We chilled out in the bar for a while, slowly taking in our port wine until it was time to head out to see the sun set along the Douro River, which Beth and I hadn’t been able to see the evening before. Scene was absolutely gorgeous, even though super bright and we were in a local spot with strong smells of cigarettes and hash. But the photo opportunities, man…it was great.
After the sun had finished setting, the three of us headed back to our hostel, and stayed there for the rest of the night. Weren’t very hungry after the late and heavy lunch (as well as pastries and ice cream afterwards), and so we just relaxed in our room, freshening up and preparing for our departure tomorrow: Beth and Holly were continuing on to Coimbra and Lisbon, respectively, while I was leaving to return to France, back to Normandy.
Woke up the following morning bright and early to check out, as my flight from Porto to Paris was at 9h00. Took the metro directly to the airport, went through security, and boarded the plane to take off from Portugal. All went smoothly, and I arrived in Paris around 12h15, where I then took the metro (RER B) for the first time from the airport to the city center. Got to the train station, where I caught the 14h50 train back to Normandy.
Arrived around 16h30 at the nearest train station from my town (still, about 5-10 kilometers away); I was supposed to have caught the bus back to my hometown, but apparently had messed up the times, as it wouldn’t be arriving until ninety minutes after I had gotten in. Luckily, the bus pulled in super early, and was kind enough to do an extra round trip back to my town for me- really appreciated that.
Did a small bit of grocery shopping before heading to my flat close to 18h00, tired but super glad to be back. Had a lot of things to catch up on before starting work again that Monday, but otherwise, all was good.
Overall, this February trip turned out to be very enjoyable, just as much as that in October or in December. I wanted to go somewhere warm, instead of brave the freezing cold like I had done in the U.K. and Ireland over Christmas. I’m glad that I had made the choice to head down to southwest France, Spain, and Portugal, as I was able to experience the sun, the beach, and all of those good things that reminded me of home (“home” as in Los Angeles, California). I love Normandy, but definitely needed a change from the grey, rainy weather. At least, for a couple of weeks. 😛
Any case, thank you so much for reading up to this point. I have many more travels lined up over the last two months here in France (yes, only two more months before I leave- so sad!), so look out for them very, very soon. Take care!
— The Finicky Cynic
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