When Night Falls, Porto Awakens

Railway station, Porto, Portugal

Railway station, Porto, Portugal

Let’s just say it:  Porto is not exactly a beautiful city.

At least, not as a whole.

Yes, the riverside area known as Ribeira is nice and touristy and there are pockets of beauty around the city, but much of the city is a collection of aging buildings with worn facades and collapsed roofs.

And yet, though this may seem strange statement to some, there is beauty to be seen even in fray and decay.

Don’t get me wrong. I really liked Porto. It’s a vibrant city with a nightlife that is off the charts. At night, it seems the entire city becomes one big fest of  food, drinks and music. In Porto, you will find hundreds of people standing outside bars, standing and sitting on the street, drinking. It’s a wondrous sight. And the drinks are generally cheap, as the nightlife caters largely to university students.

Go across the river to Gaia and indulge in some wine tasting. The city is the birthplace of port wine and there are many wine tasting spots. I stopped in at Ramos-Pinto, and for 7.50 euros, I got to sample five different port wines in a nice ambiance. There are also tours of the cellars.

In addition to Porto and Gaia, I visited some surrounding towns and villages, including Cucujães. Love these small Portuguese towns, with their narrow, cobblestone streets and picturesque views.

On the streets at night in Porto

On the streets at night in Porto

My one complaint about Porto is that because it’s so overrun by tourists, some restaurants charge tourists prices and will even try to take advantage. For example, the meal you see at right is a francesinha,  made with bread, wet-cured ham, linguiça, fresh sausage, steak or roast meat and

A francesinha with chips, which may cost you extra

A francesinha with chips, which could cost you extra

covered with melted cheese and a hot thick tomato and beer sauce served with french fries. I did not order the fries. I assumed they come with the francesinha. But they do not. It’s a separate charge.

When I got the bill and questioned it I was told even if I didn’t order them, I ate them, so I had to pay for it. Tricky business. So beware. I found this sort of thing in South America – they put bread or olives or something else on the table and never tell you that it’s not included until you get smacked with the bill. Only in Portugal did I encounter this, so my guard was down. Now I know to ask.

Ribeira area of Porto

Ribeira area of Porto

Wine tasting in Gaia

Wine tasting in Gaia

Blue tiles: The outside of the church tells tales

Blue tiles: The outside of the church tells tales

Coffee house

Coffee house

Main train station

Main train station

Sweet wine, in slightly different flavors

Sweet wine, in slightly different flavors

The view from Gaia

The view from Gaia

A family dinner in a village near Porto. Homecooked meals are always nice.

A family dinner in a village near Cucujães. Homecooked meals are always nice.

 

 

 

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Portugal: A Retreat, A Reveal

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For such a small country, Portugal has a wealth of beautiful beaches.
Much of the country is rugged coastline, waterlogged and accessible only by small boat, if at all. Low tide, however, each day does its reveal. When the tide retreats you can walk on miles of white sand that spends most of its time under water. You are walking on what is normally part of the sea, under several feet of water.
This beautiful stretch of sand in Lagos is such a place, which I recently explored with a Portuguese friend. It is safe to say most tourists don’t know about this place. How would they? It takes a bit of trekking across rural trails to get here. And around bends, there are caverns and caves carved by wind, sea and time.
These coastal walks are so invigorating and life-affirming.

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Plenty Of Juice, Where’s The Gin?

It’s citrus season in Portugal, and for that matter across the rest of Southern Europe. And many people have fruit trees that yield a bounty this time if year – more than they can consume.
At the fruit and vegetable market I noticed that a very large bag of oranges – containing about 25 oranges or more – goes for 1€, maybe 2€ tops. That’s a good price.
But consider that people keep giving me bags of oranges, lemons, tangerines, picked from their trees, free. No need to buy. Tourists buy :)
So what’s a guy to do? Break out the makeshift juicer – a wooden fork and a strainer – and go nuts.
Now, to find the vodka and gin giveaway :)

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