I’m back. Finally. It’s been a busy year. Benjamin turned one (!), I finished my master’s degree, I worked two different jobs (and am currently teaching art which makes me incredibly happy), and am now pregnant with Baby Herbie 2.0! I have also done quite a bit of traveling, which is probably going to be the focus of most of my blogging from now on (don’t worry, I will still post pictures of my incredibly cute baby boy and other adventures in my life, traveling will just be the main focus.)
I was going to progress chronologically through the last year with my travels, but I think I might just kind of hop all over the place instead, starting with our most recent out-of-the-UK travel to Porto, Portugal.
Porto is the second-largest city in Portugal, and is located along the Douro river. Its western area extends to the Atlantic Ocean. One of the things it is most famous for is its wine- Port wine. I will get into that later!
While Benjamin has traveled with us quite extensively, we decided to make this a baby-free trip. This proved to be a great choice, as Porto was not especially child/stroller-friendly. B and I arrived in Porto mid-morning Saturday, January 16 after an early flight from London. We decided to check a bag this trip, as we knew we wanted to bring back some wine from the area (being 4 months pregnant prevented me from fully enjoying the fruits of the Douro valley…pun intended 🙂 ). We hopped on the metro from the airport and enjoyed an easy 40 minute ride into the city centre. There, we met up with the owner of the AirBnB apartment we were to be staying at for the weekend. The apartment was not ready yet, as it was still morning, so the owner was kind enough to take our bag and meet back up with us when the apartment was ready. He also was incredibly helpful in providing us a map of the city and outlining all of the top sights and some delicious restaurants.
B and I wandered off into the city for a bit, armed with our map and a handful of Portuguese words (which, by the way, is nowhere near as similar to Spanish as I expected!). We stopped at the Mercado do Balhao first, an open market with food, fish, etc. Compared to many of the markets I have been to throughout Europe, it was very dilapidated and old, but still had an air of charm and beauty.
A lot of Porto’s buildings are quite dilapidated actually, which I think I was surprised by. I was also surprised by how hilly Porto was! I knew Lisbon was hilly, but I didn’t know quite as much about Porto, and hadn’t really paid much attention to the photos I had seen. It was a little rough on this pregnant lady’s body, but it was worth every step (all 25 miles we walked that weekend)!! The beautiful tilework, cobblestone streets, and colorful buildings were breathtaking as well.
After the market, we popped into Estacion Sao Bento, a functioning train station filled with the blue tiles the area is famous for. It was gorgeous!
We stopped for a light lunch at a cute cafe near our AirBnB- Taberna do Largo – then headed to our AirBnB apartment to rest for a few. The apartment was absolutely amazing!
Despite being pregnant, we booked a wine tasting at the highly recommended Ferreira Wine Cellar for that evening. Before crossing the impressive Luis Bridge to get to the “wine cellar side” of the Douro, we wandered along the Ribiera, which is lined with gorgeous shops, buildings, and restaurants.
Our wine tour was fantastic- our guide was incredibly knowledgable and funny, and even B, the non-wine-drinker, enjoyed it! I actually learned quite a bit about wine (especially Port wine, which I am not a huge fan of…). We had a tasting of two types of Port wine at the end of the tour, neither of which I really liked- much too sweet and strong for my liking.
After the tour we took a “leisurely stroll” (aka a long, steep, arduous hike) up to a building right above the Luis Bridge. Did I mention Porto was hilly? It was worth it though for the amazing view of Porto all lit up at night! We walked back across the top of the bridge to get back to the other side of the Douro to make our way to dinner.
Our AirBnB apartment owner recommended a restaurant called Cantina 32, so we ended up there. It did not disappoint- we split beef steak, potatoes, and salad, as well as delicious pumpkin soup. A detour on our way back to the apartment led to some yummy ice cream to top off the night.
Sunday we ate breakfast at a hotel restuarant near our apartment before hopping on the old Port Tram City Tour. The tram was super cool and old-school, and gave us great views of the river. We got off where the tram ended, near the western coast where the Douro meets the ocean. B and I found a mini golf course and decided to play a round. The course was crazy, but a lot of fun. Next to the casual mini golf course was the “Petergolf” course, which was a professional course (yes, professional mini golf, who knew?!). There was a tournament going on while we were playing, which was both interesting and hilarious to witness.
B destroyed me, as usual (thanks to a 20-shot hole I had, oops!). We then headed down to the beach area and took a walk along the coast. It was half rock, half sand, and almost completely littered with trash, which was a bummer. It started to rain a bit, so we headed back toward the tram to take us back into the city centre. We ate lunch at a restaurant along the river, sharing the Porto-famous “Francesinha” sandwich.
Since it was mid-afternoon, we decided to head back to the apartment to rest and come up with a game-plan for the evening. Our plan was to check out the San Francisco church, then get dinner at a nearby restaurant. The church ended up being closed, so we tried to go directly to the restaurant. Being silly Americans, we didn’t realize it wouldn’t be open for dinner yet (they opened at 7:30 and it was only 6ish). Most of Europe certainly runs on a different time schedule than America, and even somewhat different than where we live in the UK.
It ended up being a bit of a blessing in disguise that both the church and restaurant were closed as we ended up wandering around, running right into the Livraria Lello, a famous old bookstore in Porto. It was high on my list of things to see in Porto but I thought it was closed on Sundays, so we were planning on going the next day before we left the city. I am so glad we stumbled upon it, even though they were closing in 20 minutes. It was absolutely beautiful! It is one of the oldest bookstores in Portugal, and often makes the list for most beautiful bookstores in the world! Rumor has it that JK Rowling used to frequent it when she lived and taught English in Porto.
After a bit more wandering, we ended up at another highly recommended restaurant for dinner, Traca, which was right around the corner from our apartment.
Monday was our last day in Porto, but we didn’t leave until afternoon, so we did a bit of exploring in the morning. Before leaving the apartment in the morning, we headed out for some coffee and also bought some local olive oil to bring back to the UK. The owner of the shop we went to was beyond kind and helpful-
forcing allowing us to try all the different types of olive oils they sold. We also stopped at a wine shop and stocked up on some (non-Port) Douro Valley wine to bring back for me to enjoy this summer. We also bought some for our amazing babysitter, since she had to put up with Benjamin all weekend ;). We carefully packed our goodies into our suitcase and headed to the train station to store our bag until we headed to the airport. We checked two more things off of our “must see/do” list by the afternoon- the famous and delicious Majestic Cafe, and the Dos Clerigos tower.
The Majestic Cafe was just that, majestic! It was beautiful and old and served the thickest, richest hot chocolate I have ever tasted in my life! The french toast was delectable as well- definitely a good choice for brunch.
To work off our breakfast, we headed to the Clerigos tower church exhibition to climb the bell tower. After many, many stairs, we made it to the top, where we were greeted with stunning views of the city. It was definitely a nice little time-filler and photo-op before we had to head back home.
Overall, we really enjoyed our “babymoon” getaway! Porto is a sweet, beautiful, old city filled with charm and character. I am so thankful for the opportunities that I have to travel living here in Europe!
Look for more soon, I hope to post about the following adventures:
*Exploring the UK (Dover, Canterbury, etc.)