So this past week we have been running up and down Portugal. We were trying to fit in all that we wanted to see before we leave for the next stop on our journey. We have a little over a week before our next destination. I am splitting these trips into two posts because there is just so much that I want to say about each. I am going to start by telling you about our trip to Porto.
We had really been wanting to check out Porto, which is a city in the north that everyone raves about as being “the” place to go wine tasting. Chad and I had originally considered staying in Porto, which is the second largest city in Portugal, instead of Lisbon. It was a hard decision, but the descriptions of Porto reminded us too much of home, so we chose Lisbon. As some of you might already know, we are from Sonoma County, California and have been surrounded by vineyards and wineries in all directions most of our lives.
We arrived on a Wednesday by train, which took about 3 ½ hours and cost about 25€ each. I love taking trains. I love feeling the soothing rock of the cars click-clacking along. I love being able to walk around and stretch my legs as much as I want to. I especially love the fact that there is usually a snack/dinner car where I can get something to eat or drink when I want to. This method of transportation makes it incredibly easy to travel with a toddler in my opinion. Zoë had a great time playing with the seat table and drawing and being able to sit in her own chair, she already wants to be a big girl.
We arrived mid afternoon and were able to hop on a metro immediately that took us directly to our hotel. Chad found a place called Hotel Da Norte, that was relatively inexpensive and like I said, as soon as you walk off the metro stop, there was the hotel right in front of us. It was nice not to have to search for it.
The hotel staff was lovely and helpful, making sure that we got a room big enough for a toddler crib for Z. The room was very clean and although the view was not beautiful, there were many windows that let the sun shine in (and give me a dose of vitamin D without having to sit in the horrible cold weather outside).
Porto is in northern Portugal and is bordered by the ocean on one side and a huge river runs through it, so it makes sense that it is a bit cooler than Lisbon. I was prepared for it, and yet it still made me a little cranky. I think I hid it well, although maybe Chad noticed a little.
We decided to walk down to the river front and get some seafood for a late lunch. It was a big mistake. The river front is tourist central, which doesn’t really bother me usually, but the food that they served was disappointing and overpriced. The local dish, called Francesinha was really the only thing offered, besides hamburgers and hot dogs for the most part. I decided to try the local favorite and was served a lukewarm sandwich made up of one slice of cheap white bread, a some ham, sausage and cheese topped with a chili sauce that lacked any flavor at all. Luckily, my meal came with french fries, so I did have something to eat. Chad had calamari rings that looked as though they were probably from a bag. Poor Zoë got a hot dog on a moldy bun. She was okay with it though, as she only eats the hot dog anyways. Still, this was not the type or quality of food we had become accustomed to. We hurriedly finished our overpriced cardboard fare and decided to do some sight seeing.
We decided to do the Hop on Hop Off Red Bus again, but this one also included a boat trip down the river to look at Porto’s six famous bridges and a free tasting at one of the port wineries. We started with the boat trip. This was fun, but a bit disappointing as there was no information given about the bridges or the landmarks on the shore. It was simply just a boat ride up and down the river. They dropped us off on the other side of the river, where all the port tasting rooms are and we headed by foot to the tasting rooms that were on our voucher. They were the furthest ones away, but I needed to warm up a little and the brisk walk took care of that quickly. Just a quick note for parents of toddlers out there, the sidewalks were very well maintained and we pushed Zoë around in her stroller quite easily the whole trip.
We tried a red and white port at Krohns, the first port winery we came upon that we had a free tasting. Then we walked up the hill a bit more and went to Cockburns Port Winery, and there we tried three other ports, a tawny and two reds. I must say that the ports were divine. I loved them all. The walk back to the bus stop was merry. I was warm from the port and ready for the next adventure to begin.
After we arrived at the bus stop, we realized that the busses had stopped running an hour before. So we had another opportunity to warm up with a walk back to the other side of the river. It was actually pretty cool, the bridge was built by Gustave Eiffel and you could see the similarities between the design of the bridge and (the pictures I have seen of) the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
We then got to take a Funicular up the hill back to the area where our hotel was. A funicular is a small trolley car that acts like an tram mixed with a elevator. It was a lot of fun riding in it up the hill, it was probably one of the highlights of the day for me. It’s the small things like that that fascinate and enthrall me.
By that time, it was dinner time. We walked around for a while and noticed that all the restaurants near our hotel were closing. It was only 7 pm! We were lucky and one of the ladies taking her outdoor tables down gave us the name and directions to an amazing restaurant called Casa de Paraiso II. The seafood was fresh and cooked perfectly. The restaurant had wonderful house red wine, and their half portion meals were big enough to feed a small family. All three of us had full bellies as we made our way back to our room for some much needed sleep.
The next day, our little alarm clock, named Zoë, woke us up early enough to check out of our room by 8:30 am. We went and had some typical pastries at a snack bar and made our way to one of the nearby bus stops to catch the red bus and see the sights of Porto. There were two lines the busses take and we got on the one that took us out to the neighborhoods of mansions built in the 1950’s instead of around the center of town with all of the castles and cathedrals. So, yes, we were not very lucky with the red bus on this trip.
We jumped off the bus as Zoë fell asleep for her nap so we could sit and enjoy lunch for awhile before she woke. We ducked into a little cafe as it began to rain and had a lovely lunch of spaghetti (yep, that was me) and Chad decided to take a chance and had an awesome plate of francesinha. The local fare was vindicated from our horrible food at the river front the day before. We drank some red wine and waited for Z to wake up. It was great to have some time to relax with each other and have an uninterrupted conversation. Zoë had another hot dog when she woke up (I swear we feed her more than just hot dogs!) and we left the cafe happy. Our time in Porto was up, we had to run back and get our bags from the hotel and catch the metro to the train station back to Lisbon.
There were things I really loved about Porto, but I must say that our little overnight trip was marred by the very cold weather and my first sub par meal since entering this amazing country. I am glad that we chose to live in Lisbon for the time we have been in Portugal, but would not hesitate to spend some more time in Porto.