I’m not a fan of city driving, especially city’s I have never been to before, which is why I’d made a conscious decision to book accommodation just outside Porto city centre. Thankfully the rain had eased as we approached Porto and just when it seemed like we had arrived without any hitches and a normal heart rate, the turn right instruction from the sat nav, which would bring us to our destination, could not be followed, unless I was prepared to make an illegal manoeuvre down a one way street!! Bloody typical.
Some 15 minutes later, now in torrential rain, we were knocking on the front door of what would be our new home for a couple of days. Within minutes we here a “hello” from above and looking up we see our host Alexandrea standing on the balcony, seconds later she is at the front door to let us in. Many of the houses on the residential street are of typical Portuguese architecture, with tiled facades, not the overly elaborate ones but the more simplistic block patterned ones. Stepping into Alexandrea’s rather modern and artistic front living room came somewhat as a surprise as did the size of the house, the scale of which was hidden from the street view. Within seconds we found ourselves on the sofa detailing the plans of our world trip and then talking about our pasts, when we discovered that we had connections in our previous employments, such a small world.
Alexandrea took us down into the basement which would be our place of rest whilst in Porto. She had created such an amazing space to host guests and if the weather stayed bad we would definitely have lots to keep ourselves entertained down here, we had a drum kit, a couple of guitars, table football, rock band and so many DVD’s to watch, a creative chill out zone had been designed next to a small kitchenette. Alexandrea had stocked the fridge for us with snacks, drinks, breakfast items and had even left some yummy fresh pastries. After such a warm welcome we nestled into our new pad and waited for the rain to lull, giving ourselves just enough time to enjoy some of the treats provided by our host.
With paper map and umbrella in hand we started the twenty or so minute walk into Porto centre, opt’ing to head down to the river to an Organic restaurant. Walking along the main road into town, one of the first things we noticed was the amount of closed down businesses and derelict buildings. A site I’d become familiar with in Portugal but not something I had expected to see so much of in the bigger cities. We reached Porto Cathedral just after sunset and taking an old steep staircase we wondered through some dark medieval looking alleyways before appearing on the waters edge, right next to the famous Dom Luís I Bridge, instantly the same architectural style of the Eiffel tower was evident. Twinkling on the northern side of the river were all the familiar port brand names such as Taylors and Sandeman, but we avoided the temptation to cross. Expecting to see more life along the water front I could only conclude that we must still be some way off the centre, but it quickly became apparent that my assumptions were incorrect, passing several empty restaurants and more derelict buildings it didn’t take too long before we were in Ribeira Square just as the heavens opened.
Thankfully we spotted the Organic Restaurant but unfortunately in the absence of a reservation, we were out of luck and quickly snapped up the only table left for the following evening, we would be having a late meal at 10pm. It was no fun traipsing around the streets trying to find a place to eat in the rain, so we jumped a taxi to restaurant option number two, a little hidden gem, called Camafeu, where we feasted on a selection of cheese, wild boar and king prawns. It only seemed right that we should walk all the way back home to try and counteract our overconsumption, taking the opportunity to squeeze in another famous landmark. Torre Medieval do Porto.
The following morning, we were greeted yet again with rain and I was on a mission to try out a Portuguese speciality that I had read about and kept seeing pictures of in the restaurants, a Francesinha, I had read that the best place in Porto for a Francesinha is Restaurante Bufete Fase so this is where we headed, despite the distance in the pouring rain. When we arrived it looked very much like a local cafe and it was packed, there was only one thing on the menu here, Francesinha. Old photo’s and newspaper clippings on the wall reflected how well established and popular Bufete Fase was. The only options we had were if we wanted french fries or not and I seemed to be given an odd look when I asked for a galão. It wasn’t long before our Franesinha arrived and I can only describe it as a ham & cheese style lasagne, soaked in a very strong tomato sauce with a sausage on top, overly substantial and if I’m honest I didn’t understand what all the fuss was about, I have to admit a normal lasagne would be my preferance over a Francesinha any day and now I understand why the waitress gave me a funny look when I ordered my coffee, it’s not the right drink to have with this kind of a meal.
Over brunch we discussed the plans of the day, we both agreed that we didn’t want to visit any museum’s or church’s so our next port of call would be the main food market which just happened to be at the bottom of the road. Upon arrival I think we were both a little surprised at the state of the market hall, we had entered on the upper level where vendors had set up their boxes of veg against the wall, on the lower floor, the market hall was arranged more into small shop like buildings where fish, pulses, bread and garlic shops where flaunting there goods, but all in all it was quite small and I think we were a little disappointed, we were expecting something a little larger and more varied for such a large city.
Thankfully the rain had now stopped, so we continued on into the old historical part of the city, getting lost in the maze of old cobbled streets, gazing at the amazing architecture and feeling saddened by how derelict everywhere seemed, all we could do was wonder how amazing Porto must have been in it’s heyday. Making our way to the City Hall we headed along Avenida dos Aliados and made our way back down towards the waters edge, finding time for port, cheese and a bit of postcard writing, before continuing further along the river Douro then commencing the steep climb up to Jardins do Palácio de Cristal, a tranquil place with roaming peacocks and an outdoor book market. Having felt like we had covered a fair part of Porto it was time to head home for an afternoon coffee and a power nap, we had a very important diner date at the ODE Porto Wine House to prepare for.
10pm on the dot and this time we were shown to our seats instead of the door. ODE Porto Wine house was an Organic restaurant and used as many goods as possible from their own family farm in the kitchen. We spent some time talking to the owner about his farm and listening to his recommendations before placing our order and then spending the next three hours over indulging in delicious organic fair, we probably over did it on the alcohol front too, when we got back home Alexandrea’s dad was waiting up for us, making sure we returned safe and sound.
The next morning we woke to glorious sunshine, but our stay in Porto had come to an end, time to pack everything back into the car and continue on to our next destination.