I think I love you.
Mysterious and enchanting.
I’m wanting to know everything about you.
My feet may ache but my mind is smiling and my heart is so very much attached.
Thursday | Porto Day 1 | 19,685 steps or 15.7km
It was such an early start to our day: up at 5:30am to catch a train from Carcavelos to Lisbon, then Lisbon metro to Lisbon country terminal, and to board our 7:30am 3-hour train to Porto. But once we arrived into Porto and navigated our way through the myriad of Porto metro lines again. Now I must say Sao Bento must truly be one of the most beautiful railway stations in the entire world. This railway station opened in 1916 and is adorned with 10,000 azulego ceramic tiles that describe the history of Portugal. Wow. Talk about take your breath away! Apparently it took 11 years for artist Jorge Calaco to complete too. It is worth catching a train to get there or just walk to the station and have a look inside.
We arrived at our Airbnb apartment near the metro line of Casa da Musica just before midday. There Ana and her partner (who didn’t speak English) greeted us with a warm welcome and assisted us with directions, maps and Porto wine. What more can you ask for in an Airbnb host?
The girls relaxed together on the brightly stripe coloured doona on their beds, while Steve and I sipped some of the Porto wine in our bedroom cum lounge room and planned a strategy for getting the most out of our limited time in Porto. If we were going out exploring this afternoon, we needed something to pull the girls along the Porto streets after our very early start. So we chose to visit a library that inspired JK Rowling’s writing of Harry Potter. It was the best we could muster but it worked (well sort of).
We catch a metro train at Francos station (it seems closer to our apartment than Musica) to Trindade. These trains are more like extended electric trams and they move fast above and below ground. From there we walked to Torre dos Clerigos or Clerigo Tower which was on our way to the Harry Potter bookstore and is a distinctive landmark of Porto. But this Baroque style granite stone tower attached to the church had no lift. It took a bit of coaxing the girls, but it was walking all the way up 200+ steps along a narrow winding stone 280-degree staircase to the top of the 75m lookout and spherical clock house. We had some disgruntled looks and words from some of the girls along the way, but nevertheless we made our way up to the top all in our own time passing people coming back down and having to stop and breath in as they passed. It was so narrow and claustrophobic getting up as well as on the small area lookout.
But the panoramic 360 degree views across the city of Porto were of course magical and made the journey all the more worth it. I can now tell if a landmark is worthwhile for the girl as they’ll take their iPhones out and start taking photos or video if they’re also amazed at the sight. This one was one of them – iPhones were out! Phew…
But it was extremely hot. As I stood up at the top along the narrow rounded lookout, I could feel sweat dripping down the arch of my back and that sticky legs feeling. We didn’t stay long up there, enough to walk all the way around the lookout and capture photos and video of the view. Then it was down for some fresh air.
We then followed Steve and his Google Maps direction to the Livrara Lello bookshop. It is meant to be one of the most beautiful bookshops in the world and inspired JK Rowling’s writing and descriptions of her book Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley’s premium bookstore Flourish and Blotts. It cost us 4 euro each to enter the bookshop, and in hindsight it is a rip off paying that much to enter a bookshop but if you purchased a book the cost of entry would be absorbed. But it was one of those visits you’re glad you’ve done because I would have regretted not going and wondered what it was like. Plus I’m a bookshop lover…it was a must!
The 1906 bookshop is a mix of neo-Gothic and art nouveau and it’s simply a wonderful example of enchantment. It’s old world with gothic features and a bright red staircase and extensive stain glassed ceiling gives the feeling of being in Harry Potter. The red stairways look like a tongue and is exactly like the one that features in Harry Potter. Even the end of the wooden staircase morphed into a carved wooden head that looked eerily similar to that of Lord Voldemort. It was unfortunately very hot in there and stuffy with the large amount of people inside the two storey open walled bookshop which meant the kids were losing the plot fairly quickly inside and I had moments to absorb the amazing place and take my photos.
Next stop was finding a place to reenergise us all from the zapping nature of the bookshop. We found a grassed rooftop area, where we explored and discovered an urban rooftop garden with a very funky oasis bar called Base where you could order drinks while listening to DJ music under the shade of a stumpy olive tree. In fact, Jardim Oliveiras has 50 olive trees and lush green grass and successfully co-exists with commerce (there are restaurants and shops and vehicle parking underneath). This beautiful green wedge links Livrara Lello and the Clerigo Tower/Church (we saw the green from 75m up) and this is where we stopped for a cool and refreshing drink. It is also where many of the younger generation came to hang out and be cool. It was a wonderful place for some people watching but it did make me feel slightly old…
The drinks must have given us some renewed energy, as we chose to stay in Porto town and get some dinner under the stars. We walked down the narrow streets and explored half lost half knowing where we were, until we found a place to eat at.
We also discovered that today was a public holiday in Porto. Hence why the bookshop was packed with people, but also a restaurant that Steve had seen recommended on TripAdvisor was also closed. So we dined at Cafe Bogani Desparata restaurant beside the closed Irmaos Linos. We had to wait a short while for an outdoor table – it’s never really straight forward finding a table at an outdoor restaurant in summertime Europe for the six of us. But the girls were like hawks and eyeing off people’s dishes and the level of their drinks as to if they were leaving soon. And we were in luck – a large group of people up and left and we came in and claimed the dirty table for ourselves.
Sitting beside us was a lovely couple from Brazil on holiday in Portugal. Not sure how we got chatting with them, but we did and discovered that we had a lot in common and got along really well. Guilherme and Katia are a young professional couple looking at moving their lives from Brazil to Portugal and we enjoyed discussing life in Brazil and their dreams for the future.
While seated at this outdoor restaurant we enjoyed watching the Porto street performers get ready for their skit or performance on the streets around us and were privileged to get a more backstage view of their lives as they used this restaurant to come to before and after their performance to sit on the concrete steps in the background with a drink or a cigarette.
We said goodbye to our Brazilian friends and swapped emails addresses so we could keep in touch and maybe one day we could visit them over in Brazil if they’re still there. Maybe one day. And they departed down the character filled Porto streets holding hands as we sat back in our chairs listening to the music from the streets.
We make our way back to Trindade railway station, stopping off at the finest and fanciest looking McDonald’s restaurants in the world. The former Imperial Café was taken over by McDonalds in 1995 and is housed in a beautiful 1930s building with chandeliers, decorative walls and an impressive eagle facade and art deco stained glass. Even if you don’t want to buy anything at McDonald’s it’s so worth the look inside. We got a sundae for the walk.
Friday | Porto Day 2 | 23,085 steps or 18.5km
It was a big day yesterday and although we hadn’t planned to be out at night, it was a great day. So we slept in and made breakfast before getting out to explore the square near our Casa da Musica railway station – Praca de Mousinho de Albuquerque. The only reason we thought of adventuring down to this square was the gothic looking creature that protrudes high up into the sky. It looks something out of Ghostbusters (the original movie). And there we discovered a playground full of festival rides – dodgem cars, and a variety of rides that shook and dropped and made stomachs go to heads! The girls eye lit up and the requests came – can we come back, can we go on the rides, please please please???
So we made a quick plan – we would explore the city and return here tonight for dinner and fun. Things were just getting set up so we would be back.
We caught a train from Casa da Musica to Trindade, and then Trindade to Sao Bento. There we walked to the Se Cathedral and its lookout, and then onto Ponte Luis I bridge. If there’s one thing that we are yet to see in Porto that the place is most famous for it is its port wine tastings and bridges that crisscross over the Douro River. But at the moment it seems Porto town is riddled with large cranes that jut out into the sky above the city.
The bridge was spectacular with trains going across the top level with pedestrians walking either side, and below a road for other vehicles and pedestrians. As we crossed the bridge from the top level, trains passed by traveling fast. There are no barriers, there are no warnings. The view is again glorious. The Dom Luis I Bridge is a double deck metal arch bridge with a span over the river of 172m. Another bride further down the river which we can see from here is the Maria Pia Bridge and it spans 353m over the river and is made from wrought iron. This bridge is not in use today as a rail bridge but was previously the longest single arch spanning bridge in the world. Both bridges were built by Gustav Eiffel and the likeness to the Eiffel Tower in Paris is similar.
The other side of the Luis bridge links Porto proper with Vila Nova de Gaia. On the upper level of the other side a cable car takes tourists from top level to ground level. Otherwise it’s a nice walk meandering walk through the cobbled streets to ground level. At ground level there are the many varieties of Porto wine cellars and tasting houses – names like Calem, Sandeman, Vasconcellos, Ramos Pinto. We walked into a massive warehouse wine space called Sandeman where huge groups of tourists’ flock to taste, look and buy. It’s a very popular tourist destination gaining an understanding of the art of Porto wine making but we skip this session, and decide to stroll along the Douro river looking for a suitable place to sit down and grab some lunch together.
We strolled up Rua de Candido and found a little place, like a bakery, that offered simple food of panini and pastries. Café Encontro Ribeirinho was perfect as we sat inside out of the increasingly hot conditions outside and enjoyed lunch. The cafe even had an original granite stone archway inside. Just amazing! It must be high 30s today and it’s a little unbearable walking much further so we sit and work out what we are going to do next.
The girls tell us loud and clear that they’re keen to head back to the urban rooftop oasis and chill out under an olive tree with a slurpy. Sounds great! Plus, we have been spending a lot of time together and it’s time to enjoy some time apart. After lunch we depart the café and Steve and I turn left to walk along the banks of the Douro river, while the girls turn right and walk back over the Luis bridge to where we relaxed yesterday. Meet up time is 5pm.
Steve and I decide to take a boat cruise down the river Douro. It’s a great way to see the bridges up close and the beautiful parts of Porto and the characteristic coloured buildings on either side. The boat ride costs us 12 euros each for 50-minutes and we sit and wait for other people to pay and embark. We enjoy a drink on the cruise – a red Porto wine for me and a beer for Steve. It’s lovely and relaxing and we soak up the couple time.
The bridges are extraordinary to look at up close too – the ability to appreciate the beautifully rounded arch and materials used to create such fine looking bridges. And the height these bridge are built is extraordinary. We see young men climbing over the railing and jumping into the water below for some fun. The river is certainly a hub of activity and entertainment with plenty of tourist boats, speed boats and jet skis on it. As the boat takes us down the river towards the Atlantic Ocean, there is part of the road built over the water and it juts out at the bend.
Check out the boat cruise under the bridge:
We disembark the boat and head back to meet up with the kids at the urban garden. We cross the lower level of the Luis bridge and stop to watch the young men (some older) placing themselves on the other side of the bridge and hanging onto the edge or standing on the top railing as they jump and dive down into the river below. There’s quite a crowd that’s decided to stop and watch the spectacle. Human nature is so interested in what the normal aren’t doing. The girls on the other hand have had a lovely time chilling on the green grass listening to music without us all afternoon. It’s been a good time apart for us all.
We return to the apartment, freshen up and head out to the festival down the road. It’s a great night out eating Portuguese style kebabs and watching the kids enjoy the rides. We get back to our apartment at midnight and although Steve and I are ready to crash, the girls are all still rearing to go. Let’s just say it’s late before we hit the sack.
Saturday | Porto Day 3 | 16,934 steps or 13.5 km
It’s hot and stuffy in the apartment. The Airbnb we’re staying at doesn’t provide fans or air conditioning. We open up the windows and it’s another very warm day. The heat at the moment is unrelenting. I’m left wondering if the cost of electricity here in Portugal is high and that’s why fans and AC are not part of the accommodation.
Today is our last day in Porto. I have a list of a couple of places I’d like to visit. One being the old town called Ribeira and the other side of the river where the colourful buildings reside but also much of the tourist traffic.
We eat breakfast at the apartment, pack and do a quick tidy up. We close the door at 11am and walk to the Casa da Musica train station with the red suitcase and all of our belongings. Airbnb host Ana calls us as we walk along the pavement and checks in to see if our stay was all good. It was and we thank her for our stay in her cute and character filled apartment.
The girls are again a bit over the thought of traipsing through the city, and opt for an afternoon sitting at their favourite spot under the olive trees in the middle of Porto. It’s hot and I can understand how they’re feeling. What we really need is a swimming pool. But that’s not going to happen today. The closest they’ll get is another refreshingly ice cold slushy drink.
Steve and I stay on the metro train with the luggage as the four girls jump off at Trindade station. They’re getting to know their way around the city of Porto now. We stay on the train that takes us all the way to Campanha railway station where we will be catching our country train back to Lisbon later in the afternoon. There we leave our suitcase and belongings in a large locker and head back to town for some exploring without having to lug our things around.
We take the train over the bridge this time and go to a higher lookout near Jardim do Morro metro station, and walk back along the bottom of the bridge to the old town area of Cais da Ribeira along the river. It’s both beautiful and crowded in Ribeira Square – translates to Riverside. There is a plethora of cafes, restaurants, stores, tourist attractions, and boat cruises. There’s also the Ribeira Cube that is the illusion of a large cube sitting on a water fountain. Catches the eye. The number of people sitting down eating lunch under about 25 umbrellas is quite overwhelming as I flinch and quietly flee the scene.
However, I’m thoroughly enjoying taking photos of the Ribeira street scene even though it’s a hot and hectic place. We look for a cafe to sit and cool down, but that’s getting hard to find in this high tourist area. We find one place near the old tram that’s under the shade of glorious old and spread out trees. But as we sit there working out what we want to order we’re asked to move to the table in the sun if all we’re only going to order a coffee and cake! We decide to get up and leave altogether.
We move away from the touristy areas and walk back along the foreshore looking for something more suited to us. There are many amazing upmarket restaurants here with plenty of seafood coming out on plates with lots of wine. Mostly it’s fine dining with a view but it doesn’t interest me. As we’re walking on the upper level of the foreshore past the fine diners we walk past something that takes our eye – a handmade model ship sitting the concrete railing outside an elongated shop. Inside was an elderly man hammering a piece of thick wood. We feel as if we’re entering into another world of miniature handmade and built ships and boats. There’s a wall behind where the man is working and it’s covered with tools while the floor below is a sea of saw dust.
The elderly man works alone and doesn’t stop; he keeps banging the wood at his worktable near the doorway as we wander through the shop looking at his intricately created artworks. A small cute brown dog curls up in its basket behind the doorway after we enter. It’s a lovely reprise being inside someone else’s creative space that is messy and old and overwhelmingly full of ships built by hand in this otherwise crazy tourist area.
We make our way through some of the backstreets to a little place with brightly coloured check tablecloths and a simple menu of pizzas. The man sitting at the table is a ginger haired man eating a bowl of pasta. He makes eye contact with us and says Ola (hello) and makes a note that this is unfortunately not on the menu for guests – it’s just for staff. We sit outside and an elderly man comes by to take our order. We give it to him but although he looks like he works here, he also looks quite disoriented. He’s holding menus for the café we’re sitting at and places them on vacant tables beside us and walks off back to the café. Did he get our order?
The ginger haired man reappears and apologises and tells us that the old man is getting forgetful and would we mind if we could repeat our order to him. We guessed it right. We order a pizza to share and two beers. We have a lovely conversation with the ginger haired man who tells that not many people think he’s Portuguese due to the colour of his hair. It was a bit of a surprise when he was born to two dark haired parents but the ginger is traced back in the family. From first sight, he does look more Scottish or English or Irish than Portuguese with his ginger head and fair freckly skin. But he’s a witty man and very pleasant to have a chat with. Steve says Obrigado to him, thank you in Portuguese and then before I can say my thanks, he’s asking us if we know how a female should say thank you. We do and I say Obrigada to him. He smiles broadly and we have a laugh together and when we tell him we’re living in Portugal for five weeks he nods his head and says “then no wonder you know!”
We enjoy our pizza and cold beer – even though today we had assigned it to be a no alcohol day, it’s been broken due to the heat! It’s nice just sitting here together looking directly out onto the Douro River and all the buzz of a European summer happening around us.
We receive a Messenger call from the girls and we are meeting them at the Trindade train station. And as we walk in that general direction, we notice the four Cole girls walking to our left in the distance. It’s funny to watch them knowing they don’t realise we’re watching them. They head to the Imperial McDonald’s for a loo stop downstairs. I order a coffee and we wait surprising them outside before heading to Trindade. We end up walking with a group of traditionally dressed Portuguese folk who are assembling together at the church. I’m not sure what the group is all about but they start dancing in pairs to folk music.
We collect our luggage from the locker at Campanha station and we wait for out train on platform 8. The train leaves right on 4:40pm and we are back in the same seats that we arrived in with sore feet from walking so much around the city of Porto. I pull the book The Alchemist out from my bag and finish reading it. I loved the book and I love Brazilian author Paulo’s storytelling about life’s purpose.
Little did we know when we reached Lisbon at 8.30pm to a dark and thunderous sky that we had passed by one of the worst bush fires Portugal has experienced for many years. As people back home in Australia watched the news of the fire unfold and the loss of lives, they message me to ensure that we are all safe.
We’re okay. But for 62 people who lost their lives, many in their cars, it’s a tragedy.