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.
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.
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.
Did I mention Porto is pretty? Oh yes, and in addition to pretty, it is also a UNESCO World Heritage site.
I loved Porto’s tiles the best.
This is Porto’s train station—can you imagine?! Didn’t even smell like pee.
Porto’s street artists seemed to be trying hard to match the colors of the tiles.
A critical flaw of Porto is the scarcity of public toilets. This one was a life saver, and only 35 cents.
We visited Porto’s market for sardines. (Did you skip ahead to this part, dearest savvy reader? Nicely done!).
Crispy and succulent sardines.
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.