I visited Porto because it was cheaper to fly out of than Lisbon. I may never visit Porto again because I’m worried I’ve used up all the luck the city can offer me. I got off the train with no expectations and stumbled into one of the better weekends of my trip thanks to chance encounters with friendly strangers, close calls with dramatic weather, and a whole lot of fortified wine.
Porto is famous for being the home of Port, the sweet fortified wine that your favourite British professor probably drank before lecture. I think the city should be renowned for a lot more than its booze.
First of all, its train station is gorgeous. The tile work in the main entrance is composed of over twenty thousand hand painted tiles and took eleven years to finish. It’s the first piece of Porto that I saw and it certainly set the tone.
Then there’s all the other tiles scattered around the city. Oh so many tiles! I’d developed a crush on Lisbon’s urban aesthetic but then I saw Porto’s gritty walls contrasted with such colourful tiles and it was love, especially when the buildings wore the residents’ wet laundry around their windows.
And of course there’s food. Porto has its fair share of markets and traditional fare, but what set it apart for me were its northern delicacies. The most famous example being the francesinha, an artery clogger that could go toe to toe with the best of them, and its little brothers the bolinhos (deep fried salt cod fritters) and cachorrinhos (the Porto hot dog).
Oh, and did I mention it could hold its own in a Panorama battle with Lisbon?
Secondly, I’ll just go ahead and say it’s a “lucky” city, at least for me. Whether it was returning to the hostel mere seconds before an unexpected torrential downpour, bumping into a hostel-mate on the street who directed us to a top-tier port tasting and tour that started in a few minutes, or just casually arriving at the platform to catch an airport-bound train that I thought was more regular than thirty minutes, luck just kept on giving.
Last but not least, luck saw to it that I bumped into some other hostel-mates on the street with the same mission as me that morning: coffee and pastries. It didn’t take long after joining forces to realize that I’d made some genuinely great people. The quartet of US-born English teachers are working in Madrid and constantly on the lookout for seat sales that lead them to good food and great sights. When Jennifer told me she’d compiled a food list and was keen on checking off as many Portuguese dishes as possible, I knew I’d be tagging along with them. Thankfully she wrote a great blog post about some shared plates and adventures so I can cut this one short and just post pictures.