Bidding farewell to Daniel’s family, we travelled two hours by car to Porto, Portugal. Daniel’s cousins graciously offered (code – insisted) to drive us across the border, from Spain to Portugal. It took 2.5 hours by car. Such a short distance, and yet we were in a new country! Blink, and you would almost miss the border change. There was no border patrol, no passport check and no real sign that we were entering into a new country! For many Spanish living in the north of Spain, a trip over the border is a weekend activity for lunch or some shopping. So strange for two Australians, who have only ever experienced international travel via expensive and lengthy aeroplane tickets, jet lag and 8+ hour flights.
Along the way, we had a tour of some small towns of Portugal on the way to Porto. First stop, Valenca do Minho. This is a small village which has a castle overlooking the natural border between Spain and Portugal; the Mino/Minho River. Up on the lookout (Fortaleza) there are cute stores selling homewares and touristic knick-knacks. Next stop, Vila Praia de Ancora. This is a small beachside town – for our Canberra readers, the Batemans bay of Spain and Portugal :). Here we tried some local Portuguese food, including Bacalhau (salted cod fish) and Pastel de nata (Portuguese tart). Last stop, was a lookout at Viana do Castelo, located at the Monasterio de Santa Luzia (Church).
Arriving in Porto, we bid farewell to Daniel’s family, with a promise of a reunion in Australia. On our first night in Porto, we found a restaurant which was open for the very first time- shout out to Concept 31! Food was delicious, although it was pot luck as the menu was not in English.
The next morning we set about getting to know our home for the next three days. One of the first things we noticed in Porto was the use of bathroom tiles on the exterior of the buildings. So many tiles, all different colours and designs! Even in the train station, an elaborate tiled mosaic design.
Whilst in Porto, we took a free walking tour with Free Tours Porto (by Simply B). This tour is capped at approx. 15 persons so the experience is more intimate and you are able to enter some small stores to sample Portuguese food! We tried a Bacalhau Croquette- salted codfish croquette with gooey melted cheese filling. Whilst on the tour, we were informed that JK Rowling lived in Porto for a number of years whilst she wrote the famous Harry Potter series. It should have clicked earlier! Portugal was ruled under the dictatorship of Salazar for many years – Salazar Slytherin; we found a statute with the name “Arthur Wellesley”; there is a fountain with stone Griffins in one of the main squares – Gryffindor, and the book shop called Livraria Lello claims that Ms Rowling got her idea for the Hogwarts staircase whilst browsing their store!
Whilst in Porto, we also walked up the narrow staircase of the Clerigos Church. This church is located almost in the middle of the city, and from the top (about 250 steps), you can get panoramic views of the city!
We also went to the Gardens of the Crystal Palace. Here there is a small garden called Jardim dos Sentimentos (Garden of Feelings) where you have a great lookout point over the river. If you have time in Porto, we thoroughly enjoyed the Museum of Photography. It is located in the old city prison which was fitting, as one of the exhibits we saw was photographs in a juvenile prison. Our favourite exhibit was by Pedro Mesquita and Paula Mourao Goncalves entitled “O Tesouro da Abissinia”. The photographs were of their travels through Ethiopia and beside each photograph was a story/memoir relating to the image.
As luck would have it, we were in Porto for the Festival Sao Joao (“Saint John/Juan”). This festival is widely celebrated in Porto, with over 200,000 participating in the celebrations! People decorate their houses and streets with flowers and paper ornaments – like Christmas but in June! People line up their BBQs on the street, grilling sardines and meat and drinking beer. And the best bit? For 2 Euros, you can buy a plastic hammer and walking around the streets bonking strangers on the head! So much fun, with a slightly sore head by the end of the night.
We loved our time in Porto and can’t wait to return one day! Our next stops, Coimbra and the capital Lisboa!
Until next time,
AP & DT