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April 25th 2014
Published: April 25th 2014
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Feeling well-rested after turning in early, we went down to breakfast and then to the São Bento train station to catch the suburban train to Guimarães. Guimarães is famous as the birthplace of the first independent king of Portugal, Alfonso Henriques, and is another UNESCO World Heritage city. This would also take us to a different region of Portugal, the Minho, which is also the birthplace of vinho verde. I'd be needing some after the ticket debacle that ensued. thought I understood the ticketing system correctly and, using our multi-purpose transit ticket, I got two tickets to zone 8, which Guimarães seemed to belong to. Once the ticket man came around, however, this was not the case, and am awkward 5-minute exchange occurred between us. From what I understand, that multipurpose card worked only within greater Porto, and for suburban lines you needed to get a separate green transit card. I wish he'd have just said "pay €3,35 more" instead of trying to explain things using vocabulary I didn't have, but whatever. In Lisbon it's one card for everything, sorry you have a stupid system, Porto.

The weather was once again on the shitty side, and since Chris lost the second umbrella, it was annoying attempting to stay dry. From the train station it wasn't really clear where to go, but we ended up in the right direction, first coming across the Vila Flor cultural center. Normally this restored palace houses various exhibitions, but it was closed given the national holiday, so we instead walked through the gardens a bit before heading down to the historical center. The town itself was very medieval looking, but it seemed quite sleepy, either due to the weather or the holiday. It being Liberty Day, the commemoration of the 1974 revolution, the museums were all free, so at least that was nice. Our first stop to escape the rain was the Museu Alberto Sampaio, which was built around the cloister of Nossa Senhora da Oliveira church. The building itself was Romanesque and very impressive, and the collection included mostly religious artifacts and ecclesiastical art.

We then came across one of the lunch places we'd read about, Mumadona, and figured we might as well get lunch. It was a small, family-run place filled with only Portuguese so it seemed a good choice, and we both went with cod plates - bacalhau cozida e bacalhau grelhada. The portions were quite big but given it was just white (not fried) fish I didn't feel bad finishing it all. It came with boiled potatoes, green beans, and carrots, which might be the first vegetables we've had all week - oops. Feeling full, we then headed up toward the Castelo de Guimarães.

Built in the 10th century, the fortress was built as a stronghold against potential attacks by the Moors and Normans. It later fell into disarray but was restored in the 40s. It wasn't the most impressive structure I'd ever seen, and the ramparts and tower, supposedly accessible to the public, were closed, but I guess I can cut the 1000 year old castle some slack. Just next to the castle was a small Romanesque chapel São Miguel do Castelo, where legend has it Dom Alfonso Henriques was baptized. Just below that was the Praço Dos Duques de Bragança, the Palace of the Dukes of Braganza, a 15th century medieval palace that housed the Braganza family until their decline a century later. Today it is a museum, exhibition space, and part of the top floor is actually reserved for the President of Portugal as his official residence when visiting the north of the country. The insides were a stark contrast to the other palaces we'd seen in Portugal - very dark with lots of stonework and medieval tapestries - much more like the stereotypical medieval castle image.

After that we meandered for a bit, hit up a few small shops, and then sat down inside a pasteleria to have coffee. We also split a torta de Guimarães, a delicious crescent-shaped flaky pastry filled with a sugar, cinnamon, and almond glob - delicious and reminiscent of baklava. By the time we paid our bill, it was time to head back to the train station to make the 3:48 train back to Porto. Back in Porto we did a bit more perusing of the shops, had drinks down by the water (while next to heat lamps and wrapped in blankets) and then went back to the hotel to wait for Diogo, a Porto native who we'd met through friends in Boston while he was doing something at Harvard Medical School and who is currently back in Porto finishing med school at the University of Porto.

He picked us up at 8:30 and we headed west along the coast to a patisqueria called Casa de Pasto da Palmeira - House of the Palm Tree Pasture - stupid name, but really good inventive small plates. We had swordfish with asparagus and macademia nuts; spring rolls with Portuguese garlic sausage and greens; tuna with mango, basil, red onion, and a curry foam; and a few other dishes. It was a nice break from the standard fare. We next headed back to downtown Porto to get a drink, parking and then entering a random storefront and heading up the stairs past a deranged homeless drug addict. It ended up being this really cool place called Era Uma Vez - Once Upon A Time. It had a live DJ spinning really good music and felt like someone's living room, mostly because of the floral wall paper and small, homey vibe. It was the perfect end to our time in Porto throwing back some beers with a native and catching up.

Tomorrow it's back to Lisbon for one last night, then back the the U.S.!

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26th April 2014

Jeff -- you are just amazing! I love your descriptions -- especially of the food! I'd be fine with most of it, but you'd have to eat any octopus that happened to land on my plate!

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