My bestie Kiara is an expat ballerina (look she’s famous!). She moved this year to Les Grands Ballets Canadiens in Montreal. The snowfall there is just really unethical and since she’s never been to Europe we decided to meet up somewhere warm. The fun thing about living in Europe is that I get to go on a lot of day long and weekend long excursions. But this time I had nine whole days. That’s a full-on vacation. So we decided on Portugal.
Besides being warm, this somewhat obscure country has racked up numerous accolades in recent years, most of them having to do with the words Cheap and Best. Portugal’s heyday (until now it seems!) was in the 14th -16th centuries when it championed the Age of Discovery and conquered colonies around the globe. It retains an allure of mystery however, having been eclipsed by it’s bigger, more popular European siblings. If you are bad with geography, it’s a tiny slice of a country shoved completely to the western side of Spain. It’s so unassuming that it even managed to keep itself out of both World Wars.
The empire may have crumbled but Portugal is experiencing a renaissance so with my compatriot in tow we set off to discover what Portugal is like in the 21st century.
Much like Spain’s eternal battle between Barcelona and Madrid there is a battle between Porto and Lisbon for superiority. Kiara and I did both- 2 nights in the smaller Northern city Porto and 4 nights in Lisbon. Which did I prefer? You’ll have to wait and see.
The first day was gray and rainy and to be honest, I think that is how Porto should be. A somewhat mysterious, somewhat melancholy shroud perfectly suited to its labyrinthine streets. We rambled through the narrow cobblestone alleys, made a lot of cat friends and went on a quest to find Kiara a knee brace. These hills are no joke y’all.
Porto is a little city full of crumbling beauty. Some buildings are from the 1100s! I kind of fiercely loved it right away. The people are all nice, the pharmacist proud to point out that the pharmacy had been there since 1747 (“not me though,” she added). We found a brewpub and we were the only two people in there so the bartender pulled up a chair and had a chat with us. He was determined to have us sample different local beers and we obliged him.
Here’s one thing you should know about Portugal. Google Maps can’t deal here. It just really really can’t. So on our sunny second day we embraced being lost. And found this, our favorite miradouro.
Walking across the Dom Luis Bridge (designed by Gustav Eiffel) we took in the view of Porto from the other side of the Douro River. We had olives next to the river and later decided to have a picnic and watch the sun go down. Four bottles of beer, two bottles of water and a bag of chips set us back….two euros
Day three was more wanders and more hills, more vegan restaurants and more shedding of our winter coats. More orange trees and viewpoints and azuelejos.
Two days in Porto seemed like enough. While I loved it’s decaying grandeur and hospitality, I feel like we pretty well checked everything off the list. Our last glance of Porto was at the São Bento Railway, considered one of the world’s beautiful train stations.