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Published: October 2nd 2012
Porto - The World's Best City!
I know, calling it early, but Porto is a total winner!
We had very low expectations of our RyanAir flight to Porto. We'd heard horror stories about being charged obscene amounts for the tiniest indiscretions (not printing off your own boarding passes before arriving at the airport, your bags being accepted at one airport but rejected at another etc) and about the mad scramble to get a seat (seats are not allocated on RyanAir flights). We'd prepared for the worst, throwing away all non-essential toiletries and a whole bunch of our 'working' clothes to make sure we were under the baggage limit. We'd even heard horrible things about the length of their queues so we'd made sure we arrived at the airport with plenty of time. As has been the running theme of this trip, we'd worried ourselves for nothing. Even though the airport was completely obscure and out of the way (Paris' version of Avalon), we go there quite easily, the lines were short, our baggage went through without a hitch and we departed on time. There was even a little trumpet salute over the loudspeakers when we touched down in Porto 10 minutes early!
Our arrival in Porto's city centre coincided with a massive protest organised in
The Douro in Porto
How could you not love this?
all of the major cities in Spain and Portugal regarding the governments plans for austerity measures and increasing taxes for the poor as well as lowering the minimum wage (we subsequently found out that 10%!o(MISSING)f Portugal's population are living below the poverty line already
). As we were walking to our Hostel in mid-afternoon there was a small gathering of people in the main square but by early evening there were thousands upon thousands of people marching and chanting through the city centre. It was an amazing sight to behold. There was even a helicopter circling and filming footage for the live stream on the evening news. Albeit the huge crowds and the passionate chanting of the people, all of protests we saw seemed very good natured and peaceful.
As we have managed to do in countless cities on this trip, we managed to plan our long weekend in Porto to time perfectly with their Festival Weekend. There was a massive music festival on Saturday night (free performances set up all over the city) and a Wine Festival on the banks of the Douro on Sunday. One of our first activities on Sunday was to go on
the walking tour of the city. We love to do this in the major cities we go to as it gives us a good basis from which we can base our further explorations of the city, and we get to hear all the stories about the monuments and the history of the city from someone who lives there.
One of the interesting things we did notice in Porto was the prevalence of young men and women walking around the city dressed in black suits and capes. Yes, capes! Our guide explained that the cape-wearers were actually the cities university students. The students are so proud of their education that they all voluntarily wear this uniform for the whole of the time of their studies. The other interesting piece of trivia we learned on our walking tour was that J.K. Rowling was actually a resident of Porto for a number of years prior to writing the Harry Potter series. The capes that the students in Porto wear look veeeery similar to the capes of the Hogwarts students, one of main villains in Harry Potter (Salazar Slytherin) has the same name as Portugal's notorious dictator (1932 - 1968) Antonio de Oliveira
We love Lisbon too!
Salazar. We also visited an amazing bookshop with the most incredible staircase we have ever seen, and this seems to be the inspiration behind Hogwarts magical staircase. Coincidence? Nah!
One of the best parts of our stay in Porto was the fun people we met at the Hostel. We met Jasper, a German exchange student preparing to study for a semester in Salamanca in Spain during our walking tour and spent the remainder of Sunday and all of Monday in his company. We enjoyed plenty of port (some would say too much port), delicious meals, sightseeing and nursing hangovers together. We also met a lovely couple from Northern England (my favourite English accent, I have decided) Jess and Ben. We ran into them at the Hostel on Sunday night, and then ran into them again at the tours of the wine cellars and enjoyed a fun time with them.
For our second consecutive morning feeling the effects of too much port, we boarded the train for Coimbra. Coimbra is a little University town between Porto and Lisbon and has some amazing sights. Coimbra was also the place where we enjoyed some incredible Fado, the
traditional music of Portugal. Fado in Coimbra is a bit different to Fado in the rest of Portugal, where it is only played by the men of the University (some might argue that this is incredibly sexist however in the 90s there was a big survey to determine whether the people of Coimbra wanted to get more women involved in Fado and the result was an overwhelming 'No'. And as it turns out, the minority that were keen to get more women involved weren't actually the women themselves! It was the men! Fado is normally a trio, with someone playing a classical guitar, someone playing the Portuguese guitar and a singer. To signify that the group are definitely students or ex-students of Coimbra University, they also wear their 'Harry Potter' capes. We thoroughly enjoyed the Fado performance in Coimbra and even bought a CD to bring home!
We'd heard from a few sourced that Lisbon was the most beautiful and underrated city in Europe. It certainly lived up to it's expectations (however Abe and I do feel that Porto is just in lead in the 'best city in Europe' stakes.) Our hostel was in the backstreets of
Lisbon at Sunset
See? Best country in Europe FOR SURE.
Alfama, the oldest part of Lisbon. The amazing twisting and turning streets were so much fun to explore. The stopped in little dingy bars to have an extremely cheap drink and speak to the most friendly locals. On our final night in Lisbon we found this amazing restaurant to have dinner, with a lovely open terrace and a full coal fired BBQ in the corner that they cooked the meat, chicken and fish freshly on for the most sublime smoky flavour.
One of the great surprises of Portugal was the food. Somewhere in our heads we had the perception that it was really fresh chillis, coriander and limes but it really wasn't the experience we had at all. One of the most amazing dishes I enjoyed (twice) was the Sardinhas Assadas - whole sardines grilled over open coals. They were AMAZING! The other of Abe's favourite dished was the Francesinha - Porto's most famous sandwich. It's a bit of a piss-take of the French toasted sandwich (croque monsieur) and the name 'Francesinha' translates to 'little French girl'. The sandwich is filled with egg, steak, sausage, bacon and drowned in a beer and tomato sauce. A magnificent hangover cure.
The Portuguese people are really some of the most funny and friendly we have met so far. Their accent and language is hilarious. The Portuguese language was best described to me as 'a drunk Russian trying to speak Spanish'. A lot of the written Portuguese words look very similar to spanish, but the way you pronounce them is different - the Portuguese pronounce all of their 's' and some of their 'c' as 'sh'. For example, the number two Spanish is 'dos' and in Portuguese is 'dois' but you pronounce 'dois' as 'doysh'.
All in all Portugal was the most gorgeous surprise. The streetscape was a lot less touristy than other mainstream places in Europe and seemed more 'real'. You could get lost for days in the old town backstreets but emerge very happy and well-fed and with your wallet not much lighter than when you went in!
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