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Published: March 31st 2007
Last weekend we took another day trip to Porto. It has been one of our favorite places to visit in Portugal, and we knew we were going to have a pretty busy schedule starting next week, so we decided to take advantage of having a quiet weekend and also of the good weather. We started our day by visiting the Casa de Musica, a concert hall built by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas in 2005. The building is very cool and modern-looking and to go in you climb some stairs that look like the entrance to a flying saucer or something. The inside was very cool, full of interesting art as well as slightly dangerous random stairs that came out of nowhere and sloping ceilings to hit your head on. Luckily we didn't suffer any major injuries, and we moved on to the Ribeira district to get some lunch.
The Ribeira is a UNESCO world heritage site and is full of colorful, tile-covered buildings. We stopped in a little cafe to have francesinhas for lunch. Francesinhas are a Porto specialty and basically are a sandwich filled with several kinds of meat and sausage (we counted at least five), covered on
the outside with slices of cheese that are melted and then doused in a tomato-y creamy spicy sauce. Perhaps not the healthiest choice, but we justified it as a cultural experience.
The francesinhas fueled the next part of our day, a walk across the river to Vila Nova de Gaia and up some windy streets to the top layer of the Dom Luis I Bridge, designed by a former assistant to Eiffel (of Tower fame). Despite a little bit of vertigo, I really enjoyed being up there and looking down over the city. After awhile we were ready to come back down and start tasting some port.
We went to two port lodges, Calem and Croft, neither of which we had been to before. Both had good tours and decent tastings, although Croft was free, so that was a definite plus. After consuming a fairly large amount of port (good thing for those francesinhas), we crossed the Dom Luis bridge again, this time on the lower level. On our way back to the train station, we stopped at Livraria Lello, an old bookstore with a cool windy staircase and creaky wood floors. It would have been a fun
place to hang out if the books had been in English, but they weren’t and we had a train to catch, so we took a few pictures and were on our way.
We had an interesting experience at the train station on our way home. We were waiting on the platform for our train to come and there was a large group of gypsies there. They were carrying huge bags full of stuff from somewhere over to where they were sitting on the platform, and they were creating quite a lot of noise and chaos in the process, screaming back and forth to each other, singing, dropping stuff, kids riding bikes around and yelling. One of the kids came up to Jason and asked for the Coke he was drinking, and when Jason gave it to him, he drank it down so quickly that Jason also gave him his bottle of water. The gypsy people in Portugal, like in other parts of Europe, are very much discriminated against and really seem to live at the edges of Portuguese society. I could hear the Portuguese family sitting next to us talking about them and saying that if they were on
Cheese on the outside of a sandwich - why didn't I think of that?
our train then they didn't want to go. Part of me felt angry and sad that these people are so marginalized, but I have to say I was also pretty irritated by all of the noise and commotion. Anyway, there’s no moral to this story, I just thought it was worthwhile telling.
On a lighter note, today is the first day of our two-week spring break, which will be pretty busy. We have five friends coming to visit from California on Monday and we're going to spend the first week of our break in Coimbra and Lisbon with them. Next week we're off to France to spend a few days in Paris and a few days driving around Normandy, Brittany, and the Loire Valley. It's a rough life we're leading over here…
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