Greg and I originally had very different travel styles.
Greg wanted to plan as much as much as possible to ensure that we stayed within our budget, and I wanted to leave some “wiggle room” to allow for some spontaneous adventures.
By the time we had left England (our fourth country in our year-long adventure) we had both agreed we needed to start at least booking our accommodations 2-3 weeks ahead, so before we left we had made time to book a bunch of upcoming items all at once to save money.
When we arrived in Porto, Portugal close to midnight we were tired from carrying our big backpacks after a long day of travel. The hostel receptionist greeted us with every traveller’s worst nightmare:
“Greg, is it? Oh, your reservation doesn’t actually start until tomorrow night.”
Our hearts sank.
Shit, where are we going to SLEEP TONIGHT? Did we get confused with our bookings?
She waited a beat and then exclaimed, “JUST KIDDING! Your booking starts tonight (ha ha). You two didn’t look happy when you arrived, now look at you smiling!”
WHAT- THE- HECKEN- HECK- LADY.
We did laugh along with her, but mostly because we were so relieved that we were weak in the knees for a moment.
Welcome to Portugal.
The next day we did our obligatory Sandman’s Free Walking tour to explore Porto. It was BEAUTIFUL and to be honest, quite hilly.
Our guide showed us some stunning lookouts, taught us the origin of the famous blue tiles and gave us some fantastic recommendations on what and where to eat.
In our previous destination in London, we had done some serious reflection and had realized we were overloading our days and scheduling our time as if we’d never have a chance to come back.
At this point, we were only one month into our trip and we were already burnt out.
Everywhere we went we were doing 2-3 hour long tours, walking 10-20 km/day and some days doing 2 tours in one day. It was social and informational overload.
It was time for us to slow down.
So as painful as it felt, our first day in Porto we did a walking tour and then went back to the hostel and actually relaxed.
The next day we signed ourselves up for a Port Wine tour through Sandeman’s. If you aren’t familiar with Port wine, it is delicious and incredibly inexpensive (if you’re actually in Porto) and people really enjoy it with cake.
We decided to get “dressed up” (and by we, I mean I encouraged Greg to not wear dry-fit clothing) and we crossed the bridge from Porto to Gaia for a night of Port tasting.
The tour included two stops that night with a total of 6 samples. We were brought into less touristy cellars and “taught” all about what makes Port wine, Port wine.
To be honest, it was a lot of information so here’s a bit of what we retained:
Port wine is typically classified into three categories: Rosé, Tawny and Ruby
The grapes are from the Douro Valley (down the river from Porto)
To make Port wine, Aguardente de Medronhos is added (AKA " Portuguese firewater")
Sandeman is also the name of one of the most famous Port cellars (not just the name of our favourite walking tours)
Um, that’s it...
We enjoyed the Port samples, but the best part was the group of people we met through the tour. Afterwards, we rounded up this group to go out for dinner to try a local delicacy called Francesinhas.
This wasn’t my first time in Porto, and I was excited to eat this again. It basically has all of the things I love to eat in one giant, heavy, gravy-soaked sandwich:
4-ish kinds of meat (ham, sausage, steak, roast beef),
In between two pieces of thick bread,
Covered in Melted cheese,
Sitting in a tomato and beer sauce,
A fried egg on top, and
French fries on the side
After this delicious, belly-busting meal, our group of new friends decided it was time to sit on an outdoor patio. We headed to BASE to drink Porto Tonics under the stars and share stories about where we were from.
It was an awesome night.
The next morning we planned on meeting with two of our new friends again from Australia, Courtney and Stephanie, to climb the highest tower in Porto called Clérigos Tower. When we arrived we realized it was a really long wait, so instead we wandered around the city until we crossed over to Gaia to drink at a rooftop bar.
It felt awesome to chat at length with new people, especially two that had been travelling together for a number of months already. We swapped stories about being lost, making new friends, what it was like back home, politics, the list goes on.
We ended our very relaxing day with one last meal together by the water before we parted ways.
On our last day in Porto, Greg and I ended up at the camera museum (Portugeese Centre of Photography). It was a really unique space; it was converted from an old prison so you could actually walk through the cells of former prisoners.
We climbed all the way up and realized we could see rooftop views of the city for FREE and there were no long waits or tons of people around like the Clérigos Tower from the day before.
The rest of the day we took a leisurely 15 km walk along the river to the ocean and stopped at the Sandeman’s patio for some amazing drinks and charcuterie (platter with meat, cheese and bread).
That night was when things started to get a little wild.
We decided, again, to go have a bottle of wine by the water. Greg being the wonderfully classy human that he is, poured the wine for both of us and then when he realized some was dripping down the side, without hesitation, licked the side of the bottle to prevent any from spilling.
I love this man so much.
The best part? An American man from across the patio saw the whole thing and started to belly laugh and yell at Greg for how proud of him he was.
We both laughed and continued our conversation as if nothing had happened.
A few minutes later the man appeared out of nowhere beside our table and said to Greg while slapping his back, “WANT A ROASTED NUT?!”
He then produced a bag of roasted nuts that he had just purchased from a street vendor as a friendly offering.
I couldn’t stop laughing at the whole situation.
Who said good table manners were needed to make friends?
At this point we started to notice the wind pick up and that the people at the tables around us were leaving. Not thinking anything of it, we continued to chat and enjoy our wine.
That’s when the sky opened up and it started to POUR.
It felt like huge buckets of water were being dumped on the umbrellas providing coverage to the patio. People started getting up and shifting around to avoid the inevitable soaking that was about to happen.
This went on for some time, until we realized it wasn’t going to stop. A huge storm had hit, we were by the water and about a 45 minute uphill walk back to our hostel.
We tried to ask the restaurant staff to call us a cab but, without explaining why, they said no more would drive down this way.
It was time for us to brave the storm on foot.
When we left the hostel that morning it was sunny and hot, so I personally did not bring a jacket. Greg had his raincoat and offered it to me, and asked the restaurant for a garbage bag to wear for himself.
We then started the incline back to the hostel.
It was no easy feat to get back. The cobblestone streets were flooding and slippery and I was only wearing Birkenstocks on my feet. On a few occasions I lost a sandal mid-step and had to double-back to pick it up before it washed down the street.
When we got back to the hostel we learned what all the fuss was about: We had just walked through the one of the most powerful storms to ever hit Portugal.
The next morning began our strenuous journey to Lisbon, the capital of Portugal. We each have two backpacks that we need to carry totalling about 40 extra awkward lbs (18 kg), which we carry on our backs and on our fronts.
On a good day this can be tiring, but remember how I mentioned that Porto is very hilly?
We kept saying we needed to "slow down" but we were really bad at it. Things didn't change much once we reached the capital, Lisbon either...
Check back next week for Portugal Part 2: "Unusual" Tours and for our complete lessons learned, recommendations and cost breakdown for this beautiful country.
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