Monday, October 25, 2021 | Written by Mira
After a pretty stressful morning including a 200-euro taxi due to a windstorm causing a cancelation of trains, we were in the air, headed to Porto, Portugal! Portugal was not on my wish list at the start of the semester, but when one of my friends asked if I wanted to go, I said why not! And I am so glad I did.
We landed around noon on Thursday and headed straight for our Airbnb area to have lunch and drop our bags. We had lunch at a small confeitaria, called Confeitaria Belo Mundo (Rua de Santa Catarina 542, 4000-446 Porto, Portugal), where I tried a Portuguese lanche; where a sandwich meets pastry. Compared to France, food in Portugal is quite inexpensive – my whole lunch was 5 euros!
Our Airbnb was in an area called Bolhão, filled with restaurants and shops. We walked around, weaving in and out of souvenir shops and local boutiques, and gaping up at grand cathedrals in awe. With iconic, intricately colored tiles, the building fronts were some of the most unique I have ever seen. We took Thursday kind of slow as we got acclimated to our new surroundings and just appreciated walking around with no set itinerary.
On Friday, we had two plans: (1) Lunch reservations at 12:30pm and (2) Entry tickets to a bookstore with no set time. We started our day at 11am, and even with our lunch reservation quickly approaching, we decided to head out for breakfast – a pre-lunch treat. Over 120 years old, Confeitaria Do Bolhão (R. Formosa 339, 4000-252 Porto, Portugal) is a retro bakery with traditional Portuguese treats, including the Portuguese egg tart (pasteis de nata), which was a technical challenge on the Great British Bake Off in a recent season, pointed out by one of my friends. The pastry is best enjoyed with cinnamon, which we actually forgot to add because we were too eager to try it.
After our pre-lunch traditional Portuguese pastry, we headed for our lunch reservation to try a traditional Portuguese meal, a francesinha, a sandwich topped with melted cheese and drenched in sauce. We ate at Brasão Coliseu (R. de Passos Manuel 205, 4000-385 Porto, Portugal) because in our research, this place was recommended and had both the traditional meat version and an alternative vegetarian version. The francesinha was delicious and the ambience of the restaurant was immaculate.
Our next stop was the bookstore, Livraria Lello (R. das Carmelitas 144, 4050-161 Porto, Portugal) one of the oldest and prettiest bookstores in Portugal. Allegedly, this bookstore served as inspiration for Harry Potter, but according to some British people in front of us in line, that was just a rumor. Either way, the bookstore is absolutely gorgeous and has a massive staircase and striking architecture. It’s pretty small, so they limited the number of people inside at a time, but it is a must-see destination in Porto.
After the bookstore, we went down the street to a lookout point called Miradouro da Vitória. From here, you could see just how hilly the city of Porto is and how the sun glistened off of the Douro River. From the viewpoint, we continued our descent down the road to the river front, where we walked along the river to find a boat tour. At the port, we got tickets for a 5:30pm boat, which was incredible. We went up and down the river, almost to the Atlantic Ocean, and we got to see the sun as it almost set behind the horizon of the sea.
After the boat, we had dinner at a restaurant on the riverfront, where we officially saw the sunset and the lights of the city shining brightly against the water.
We had a slightly earlier start today, and our goal was to explore the south side of the river. We stopped before the bridge at a coffee shop called Esquires Coffee Porto (R. de 31 de Janeiro 215, 4000-543 Porto, Portugal), for breakfast.
As we crossed along the upper portion of the Luís I Bridge, we kept stopping to take pictures of the view. On the south side of the bridge was a garden, Jardim do Morro, with yet another postcard-worthy view.
We took the cable car down to the riverfront, with even more exceptional views. There was a little market at the bottom with jewelry and souvenirs. We even found some street art, the Bordalo II half rabbit, made from pieces of scrap and materials from around the city.
Our next goal was to see the sunset at the beach. Porto is a little too in-land to walk to the beach, so we found a tourist office and asked what the best way to get to the beach was. She gave us a map with instructions (go up the hill to the bus stop and take bus 15) and we were on our way! We probably could have taken the cable car back up the hill, but why spend another 6 euros when you can walk up a giant staircase in a hurry? In hindsight, we probably should have figured out how to get to the beach before we took the cable car in the first place, so we could have bought a round trip ticket. Either way, we made it to the bus stop, and waited for the bus. Out of all my bus experiences in Metz and Tel Aviv this summer, this was by far the wildest, perhaps scariest bus ride I’ve ever had (this includes the time I was on a bus in Tel Aviv that hit a taxi). This normal-sized bus zigzagged around streets of suburban Porto which it arguably should not have been able to fit through. Pedestrians flattened themselves against the buildings to avoid getting hit. I guess the bus driver was very experienced, but I could not even imagine driving a sedan down these cobblestone suburban Porto-streets.
The beach was everything we hoped it would be and more. We had a few hours to relax in the outdoor seating of a restaurant and watch the sun as it dropped to sea level. When the main event was about to begin, we went down to a walkway and sat on the edge. The sky lit up with reds, oranges, and yellows, and the sun illuminated the nearby clouds. Since being at GTL, I had yet to sit and really see a sunset. And in about 12 hours, we would see the sunrise from 30,000 feet.
We caught the last bus back to Porto and walked back from the garden to our Airbnb. Before crossing the bridge, we walked up a hill to the Miradouro da Serra do Pilar, a lookout point in front of a 16th century monastery. The sunset was still slightly visible from up here, and below us by the bridge, a band was playing Portuguese music. How was this real life?