On Wednesday I flew home from a 24-day solo trip to Lisbon, Porto, Madrid, Barcelona, San Sebastian, Bilbao, Seville, and Lisbon again. I'm blogging excerpts from the (slightly neurotic) travel diary I kept, and illustrating from memory the very memorable meals I had...Start from the beginning here.
Day Three - Porto
So, now to Porto on a rainy and very foggy bus ride. Helpful people found me the right bus, the right seat (you'd think I'd never taken a bus before). The older man beside me, even though we early in the ride established that neither of us could speak the other's language, he loved to point out the rain and the fog as we drove north. At least I hope that's what he was doing, because I did a lot of agreeing head nods and other body language.
But, oh, I got horribly, horribly lost in Porto. That kind of directionless, even-though-I'm-looking-at-a-map-I-have-no-idea-where-I-am kind of lost. I circled, I went up and down several hills, I went back to start all over again from the bus station, all with my little rolling suitcase bumping along the uneven surface behind me. Why did I choose a hostel so far away from the bus station? So far along the hilly streets and tiny alleyways, and up sixteen flights of wet, stone steps? (The hostel's name "Steps House didn't clue me in?) How do people live in a city at angles like this? I feel seasick just walking around the corner. My feet are so tired that I may have to give up the dream of a port tasting. I must remind myself never again to only book one night in a city. AND there's a dog inside this cafe where I'm hiding from the Porto rain. What is going on?
Ok, so yes in the end on the Port tasting, and yes I'm glad I did it. Walking across the Ponte Dom Luis I was pretty fantastic. The tour of the winery itself was fine even though all we saw were some infographic panels about the Douro region and its soil. The guide definitely killed any romantic notions by a) telling us the winery had recently been bought by a huge Port conglomerate and b) due to floods and fires the building was almost completely newly renovated. The fermenting cellar and some of the casks were originals, I think, and the guide showed us the line on the stone wall to where the water had risen, and also how they had had to tie down these enormous casks to keep them from floating away. And, of course, the Port itself: we tried a white and a tawny, which were both sweeter than syrup and yet I managed to empty both glasses. When in Porto, I say...
For dinner I decided I had to try the infamous Porto Francesinha sandwich. In Portuguese, the name apparently means "little French girl" and I believe it's a soggy take on the French Croque Monsieur. So after two hours of wandering up and down the near-vertical streets not being able to choose a restaurant, I finally, finally settled on this sort-of campus pub with a large English (and French, and German) section of menu, long communal wood tables, and a very jaunty nautical theme. The sandwich was nothing like I had imagined - thick slices of ham (I think) and other kinds of meat (I think) between two slices of white bread, slathered in mild cheese and floating in a bowl of salty tomato-beer sauce. The first few bites were delicious (in that sodium-overload kind of way) but I couldn't finish it.
To be honest I haven't fallen in love with Porto, though the weather certainly hasn't helped. I wonder, too, for a homebody like me, if I could really, truly fall in love with a city when I'm living without a home base. It's like I need some home time to truly appreciate being out. Isn't that lame? That's a bit lame. Well, no offense, Porto, but I'm looking forward to having a room to myself in Madrid.
Oh, oh, and remember that time this afternoon when the plain-clothes Policeman stopped me, pulled out his badge, to tell me in Portuguese that I should always keep my bag zipped shut? Yeah, that was awesome.