Porto: you can skip ahead to the sardines

Every country has what I call “the circuit.”  The circuit is the travel itinerary most tourists follow (Rome-Florence-Venice-eat lots of gelato-fly home).  When I put together our Portugal itinerary, I stuck to the circuit much more than I usually do.  HOB was having problems with his foot and I couldn’t anticipate if he’d be able to do much off-the-beaten-path schlepping around so I kept everything easy.

Porto is on Portugal’s circuit but there’s a great reason for that: it’s so stinkin’ pretty.  I’m happy we visited but if you’re not a fan of “I visited and it was pretty” stories go ahead and skip ahead to the part where we eat sardines—I won’t be offended.

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My favorite part about Porto was getting there.  We left Vila Nova de Foz Coa early in the morning and were on a train before sunrise, moving west across the top of Portugal through the Douro Valley.  We were fussing around, trying to sort our directions out for Porto and moaning about our lack of breakfast (nothing was open at the train station so we made do with canned ice tea and a banana).  The sky lightened and I glanced out the window and—GAH!—the moaning and fussing stopped while HOB and I jostled each other at the window.  We’ve taken some scenic train rides, sure, but never beside a river next to stepped vineyards and silvery olive trees caressed by a mist shaded a delicate apricot by the rising sun.  I tried to take a few pictures but they didn’t capture the magic—sometimes you just live it.

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We arrived in Porto famished from not having a proper breakfast.  I thought we should eat a francesinha, Porto’s special sandwich.  So a francesinha is white bread with a few types of meat inside covered in a box made of cheese which is smothered in a beer-tomato sauce.  To make it extra healthy, the sandwich comes with a side of fries.  While we saw francesinha shops all over, I’m not convinced the people of Porto actually eat this specialty with any regularity or they’d all be stumbling over from the weight of the gunk in their arteries.

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Did I mention Porto is pretty?  Oh yes, and in addition to pretty, it is also a UNESCO World Heritage site.

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I loved Porto’s tiles the best.

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This is Porto’s train station—can you imagine?!  Didn’t even smell like pee.

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Porto’s street artists seemed to be trying hard to match the colors of the tiles.

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A critical flaw of Porto is the scarcity of public toilets.  This one was a life saver, and only 35 cents.

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We visited Porto’s market for sardines.  (Did you skip ahead to this part, dearest savvy reader?  Nicely done!).

Sardines.

Only €3.50.

Crispy and succulent sardines.

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HOB pick up a sardine and said “What do we do with the head?” just as I bit one off and swallowed it.

It wasn’t pretty, it was way off the circuit and hot damn it was tasty.

 

How we got to Porto: taxi from Vila Nova de Foz Coa to Pocinho, train from Pocinho to Porto.
Where we slept: Anibal Cunha Apartments. Price: €40 for a double. Recommended: yes.

 

23 comments

  1. I loved Porto’s tiles you give a great shot of this beautiful place

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! When were you in Porto? My favorite tiles were in the train station—it’s like a little history lesson with painted tiles.

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      1. I never been there I just commented seeing your photo

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Ah, got it. Hope you can make it one day.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I intended to visit Porto on my bicycle trip in 1963, but for some reason I only got as far north as Celorico da Beira before crossing the border into Spain, where I spent the next night at Cuidad Rodrigo.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. As I understand it, Porto was considered quite scruffy in the 60’s. It has only recently been polished up.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Must get to Portugal/Porto even though I can’t stand sardines. Obviously will go via train with a pre-packed breakfast.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Don’t worry—I don’t think they force sardines on vegetarians in Portugal. 🙂 I did not develop a taste for the dried cod dishes, which were ubiquitous…

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  4. What a gorgeous place to visit….Leo was there when young and perhaps that was what turned him into a sardine addict.
    That francesinha had me reaching for the Alka Seltzer just from the photograph….

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    1. Has Leo’s heath improved at all? Hopefully he is feeling a bit better and you can stuff his Christmas stocking with tins of sardines.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Francesinha? In a box of cheese?!?! Um, I wasn’t expecting that! Was it tastier than it looked? I see you looked amused more than bemused, while HOB looked distressed at all those eyes looking at him…

    Not been to Oporto, but I do (probably) have a droplet or two of Portuguese blood in me thanks to Portuguese immigration to India, whence my parents.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I did not relish the francesinha, though it did keep us full while we trekked up all those steep hills.

      You can see the influence of Indian temples in Portuguese decorative arts. The explorers must have made extensive drawings or perhaps brought sculptural elements back home with them.

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  6. Circuit shmirkit. I liked the sardines, and I ate too many whole in Porto. And I don’t mind going back for more. Did you walk across that high bridge over the Douro to Villa Nova de Gaia?

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    1. We went to see the high bridge (which is lovely and a UNESCO site) but didn’t cross it. HOB has intense fear of heights and he’d be pretty miserable in an open bridge like that.

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  7. Hey, WOB, haven’t responded in a while. That doesn’t mean I don’t love your posts. I do. The last one from Portugal was terrific. You have stimulated my wonderful memories of Portugal from some time I spent there many years ago. I was going to comment on the tiles before I got to your photos. Lisbon is particularly rich with them. Some are quite old. Thanks as always for letting me travel with you. My memories of the sardines was getting them grilled right on the beaches. Yum.

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    1. NIce to hear from you bappek2014! How is your cousin doing? The only way to eat sardines (or any other fish for that matter) is fresh so I’m jealous you got to eat them fresh grilled on the beach.

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  8. I saw your title and was immediately interested, because I plan to visit Porto for the first time next year. And if you state “I visited and it was pretty” plus “sardines”, well, you’ve got my interest. Because well, thanks to Dad, I happen to like sardines: straight out of the tin and eaten whole, like a pro! 😉And holy sardines, Batman: I want want want that francesinha with lots of gravy, please. I think I might have two. Or three.

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    1. I can’t be responsible for your dead gallbladder if you eat three francesinhas with gravy! Are you going any place in Portugal other than Porto? You should bring your dad.

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      1. Hi! My Dad would have a big kick out of one of these bad-boy sandwiches, but he has passed on and presumably has access to even better food wherever he may be. 😉 I don’t think my gall badder would be the worry should I eat three francesinhas with gravy: oh my poor heart, oh to that clogged circulation! 🤪💔

        Liked by 1 person

      2. A toast to the memory of your dad, fellow adventurous eater!

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Excellent! I’ll be going to Porto in April to meet up with my parents. Glad you wrote about it! Also fyi my favorite train ride was Edinburgh to London. Expensive though.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hopefully I’ll get to take the train from Edinburgh to London some day. You’re right about expensive though—-London hotels are crazy. I think April will be a lovely time for a trip with your parents (will Littlest come too?)

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  10. It looks fabulous. I’ve never been but your photos and review have definitely inspired me to look at travelling there in 2019. Thanks for sharing 👍

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