Portugal: The Old Wooden Door to the Atlantic

After a 3 week whirlwind of travel and a little break from my blog, I have finally wound down a bit and got back into the writing spirit!

The end of April, my travel vagabunda Nazli and I headed off to the lovely far off lands of Portugal. Nazli fell-in-love with Portugal after her first trip back in February and this ended up being her 3rd time there. I figured any place amazing enough to draw that travel addict away from discovering other unknown places was probably something worth seeing!

Due to some school obligations, Nazli had to catch a later flight, so I spent the first day in Porto (Northern Portugal) on my own. Well, I can hardly say that I was “alone” because she arranged for me to meet with some of her lovely friends that she had met through couch-surfing on her past visits. Diogo, a 20-year old university student – warm, friendly, eager to practice his English and wise and mature beyond his years – met me in the center of town. We walked around a bit, munched on some Pastel de Nata (custard filled pastries) and visited one of the local Port wineries. Interesting fact: Port wine actually has nothing to do with Porto – the grapes are produced in the north and the wine is produced across the river from Porto in Gaia! Anyways, we opted to take the Spanish tour and I was so proud that I understood about 75%, with a little help from Diogo (so jealous that Portuguese and Spanish are so similar…NOT fair!) Diogo also took me to a local spot called “Santiago” to eat the Porto delicacy, Francesinha. Meaning Little Frenchie in Portuguese, the Francesinha is a Portuguese sandwich made with bread, wet-cured ham, linguiça, fresh sausage, steak or roast meat and covered with molten cheese and a hot thick tomatoand beersauce served with french fries. Disgustingly delicious! During the day I also had time to meet up for a free local tour with Pancho Tours – http://www.panchotours.com/. This is a great organization that offers “free” tours by “unofficial guides” in Lisbon, Porto and almost every major city in Andalucía, Spain. The tours are meant for broke back-packers who want to hang out with a local and have a more “cultural,” laid-back, cheap experience. At the end, you normally offer your tour guide a small tip (5€ or so) which helps pay their bills. In Sevilla and Cadiz they even offer bar hopping tours at night! If you’re ever in the area I encourage you to check out their website and have the “Pancho experience.”


More interesting facts about little old Porto:
  • Would you believe that this little seaside town was the birth of Harry Potter? Author J. K. Rowling (married to her Portuguese husband at the time, whom she never likes to mention) was living in Porto as an English teacher when she started writing her first book, “The Sorcerer’s Stone.” She spent a lot of time at the local café in Lello & Irmão’s bookstore (considered one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world), dreaming up one of the most famous legends of all time. Although she has never stated it publicly, everyone says that her idea for the grand Hogwarts staircase came from the magnificent red staircase in the middle of Lello & Irmão’s . Also, the Hogwarts attire of black suits and black capes was most obviously inspired by students from the local University of Coimbra who to this day, still sport traditional attire – black suit and black cape – to and from class, as well as proudly displayed as they walk around the city (it’s true, I saw them!)



    • Moving on from Harry Potter, I found it incredibly interesting that Porto is know as the Unvanquished City, or the Cidade Invicta, due to the fact that it has never been conquered militarily, either by the Romans or the Moors, as well as it resisted the military attack in the 19th century by Napoleon (go Porto!). 
    • Artist Ricardo Dias decided to paint 1,000 cranes (rather than fold them) to get his one wish. He painted 999 cranes all over Porto, all of which are numbered. The 1,000th crane is in Brazil somewhere because that’s where he was born. Hopefully he got his wish!
  • The famous Ponte Luis I bridge that connects Porto across the river to neighboring Gaia, was designed and constructed by Téophile Seyrig, a protege of Alexandre Gustave Eiffel, designer of the Eiffel Tower in Paris and has some incredible similarities (breathtaking at night all lit up).


bus ride to Lisbon – nap time! (classic)
When Nazli arrived the next morning, we caught the first bus we could and headed south to Lisbon – 3 hours and only 17€ with student discount! There we met our wonderful couch-surfing host, Ricardo, and he whipped up some home-made “caipirinhas” – Brazil’s national cocktail, made with cachaça (sugar cane rum), sugar (preferably raw sugar) and lime. ¡Delicioso! Afterwards, we headed downtown to the old quarter of Lisbon, were Ricardo introduced us to one of his favorite local taschas (small Portuguese restaurant). We had to wait an hour before we got seated (seeing as there was only about 6 tables!) but we nibbled on bread, fresh cheese and wine. When dinner was finally served (around midnight!) we devoured the bakalao (cod-fish) and typical rice and sausage dishes. We topped it off with some amazing chocolate mousse and rice pudding – the total bill (appetizers included) came out to 45€! Did I mention how cheap Portugal is? Around 1:00am, on a Sunday might I add, we headed down the street where Ricardo led us into a tiny, local bar. There we sat in awe listening to some traditional Fado music. Fado can be traced back to the 1820s and is a form of music characterized by mournful tunes and lyrics, often about the sea or the life of the poor, and infused with these feelings of resignation, fatefulness and melancholia. Nobody knows why the Portuguese are so sad…but either way, I hope they continue to stay a little melancholy because their music is like none I have ever heard! (the video below is pretty dark but you can hear the female Fado singer)


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