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This is what we came for

sunny 24 °C

It’s our second-to-last day in Portugal. We’ve travelled from Lisbon up through Coimbra via Obidos and Tomar with a few short side trips along the way (both planned and unplanned), then on to the Douro Valley and Guimarães, and now finally Porto, our final stop before we head to Corsica on Thursday.

We’ve had a few bumps in the road, as you know if you’ve been following this blog. The Bad Case of the Missing Luggage. The Sad Case of the Dead Fiat. The Mad Case of the Shawmail Lockout. But these are all now in the past, and you know what they say: “Comedy = Tragedy + Time.” To be sure, none of these bumps remotely qualify as tragedy – but Aggravation + Time also = Comedy, and we’re already starting to laugh at them in hindsight, especially bearing in mind the other maxim that “what doesn’t kill me … makes a great story later!”

So here we are in Porto, Portugal’s “second city,” Lisbon’s grittier northern sister. Not as pretty, perhaps, but it draws you in with its energy and diversity and slightly grotty grandeur. Like every Portuguese city, it has its share of splendiferous cathedrals, imposing monuments, elegant boulevards, and fascinating museums.

We’ve ignored them all.

Oh, except for the São Bento train station, a gloriously tiled confection that would be thoroughly Instagram-worthy except for the fact that (1) there’s a new subway line going in right beside it and the outside is mostly obscured by construction material, and (2) everyone else in the station (and there are a lot of people in the station) is gawking at the tiled walls too, so mostly what you’re taking pictures of is other people taking pictures of the walls. It’s gorgeous anyway. And I've resigned myself to the fact that people taking pictures on their phones (and taking pictures of themselves in front of what they're taking pictures of) are part of the landscape, so I just include them, because they're there. As am I.

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Apart from São Bento, though, we haven’t mustered up the energy to visit another church or tower or museum or edifice. After a certain point, one just gets churched- and museum-ed out. And we’ve hit that point. Not without a slight feeling of guilt, like “what kind of travellers are we anyway that we ignore all the places we’re supposed to see??” There’s a certain tyranny of touristic travel that makes you feel like a bit of a schmuck if you don’t check all the must-do boxes on the Lonely Planet or Rough Guide lists.

But fuck them. This isn’t Lonely Planet or Rough Guide’s trip. It’s ours. And we get to opt out if we want to.

So we left the book back in our Airbnb and just gave ourselves over to the pleasures of wandering. Wandering the artsy neighbourhood of Cedofeita (where our Airbnb is), with its excellent restaurants and little art galleries and bewildering collection of “concept stores” (not sure who buys concepts or how much they cost, but they are apparently very popular here). Wandering through downtown Baixa with its fancy hotels and many shops (including an old bookstore people actually line up to get into) and a surprisingly large number of art deco buildings and signs (none of the books commented on the presence of art deco here, so we have no idea about its origins).

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Fancy hotel

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Livraria Lello, where you line up to get in at designated times

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Examples of art deco

Wandering past construction sites (everywhere – and I mean everywhere) and multitudes of tourists on walking tours (what are they all still doing here?? Don’t they know tourist season is over?) and café after restaurant after café, one after another, everywhere – possibly my favourite thing about Europe.

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Construction is everywhere. When we were looking for places to stay we noticed that one person had written in their review: "Nice place, but there was a lot of construction outside." The owner replied: "Where isn't there construction in Porto?"

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OK, everyone: tourist season is over! Go home, people.

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Cafés and restaurants wherever you can fit a table or two, even in what basically amounts to a back alley. ❤️

Looking up at the tiled and ornamented façades, looking down at the differently tiled and ornamented sidewalks. Just wandering and looking and enjoying.

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Eventually we wandered down to the Ribeira district, which is the most picturesque part of the city and the one you see on all the postcards, and treated ourselves to a boat tour on the river that took us past all of Porto’s six bridges, with explanations in four languages. (Fortunately, English was one of them.) And today we wandered across the most picturesque of the bridges to Vila Nova de Gaia on the opposite bank, taking more than half an hour instead of the 5 minutes it would normally take because we had to stop every few feet and take several million pictures.

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Trust me, you don't want to see them all!

Vila Nova de Gaia (or just Gaia) is known above all for its key role in the port wine trade – and for its many port lodges where you can get tours and tastings. We skipped the tours, having done two last week in the Douro Valley, but we treated ourselves to yet another tasting. (You can never have too many port wine tastings.) (And by the way, if you’re wondering: “tawny or ruby?” the answer is “tawny.” Every time.)

We wandered through the portside marketplace where people were selling all the usual tourist chachkas, and where I finally gave in and bought myself a cork hat, because doesn't everyone need a cork hat? (Cork is a big deal in Portugal, and you can buy cork anything: hats, purses, shoes, clocks, postcards, furniture – you name it.)

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And some time in mid-afternoon, you would have found us sitting on the riverbank, enjoying our picnic of local cheese and olives and sardines and fresh figs, looking across the river at the postcard-perfect scene in front of us, sighing contentedly, and agreeing with each other that aaaahhhhh: this is what we came here for.

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Thank you, Portugal! Ate logo!

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Posted by AvrilAbroad 17:55 Archived in Portugal Tagged walking tourism portugal porto wandering

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Comments

Well…. It looks like you’re both having an amazing time 😊👍. We like port so that would definitely be on our to do list. I guess buying a cork hat is one way of getting “corked” without getting sick afterwards 🤣🤣🤣🤣. Enjoy, hon 🥰

by Ev Orloff

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