My brother and I arrived in Porto, Portugal at 6am after a 5.5 hour night bus ride. We couldn’t check in until 11am so so we dropped our bags at our hostel and stumbled out onto the cobble stone streets, thankfully the rain had fallen the night before leaving us only with wet roads and overcast skies. My brother questioned this gloomy city; dark, run down, sketchy folks on the street and a completely different feeling than Spain. Though it’s true, it’s only been since 2001 that the city has focused on restoration projects to give the city a little face lift yet there is still a run down feel. Having been to Portugal before, where I feel in love with Lisboa, parts of Porto felt similar; colorful tiled buildings, steep roads, slippery cobble stone streets, orange tiled roofs and baroque style churches. After our overpriced cafe, we walked down to the river, braved the wind and watched the boats that once took Port down the Douro river and now takes tourists on hour tours, prepare for the day.
We returned to our hostel at 10:30am, the guy had our room ready in 20 minutes and we crashed. We awoke 3 hours later, still tired but ready to see Porto again, hopefully with a different perspective. The sun seemed confused, unsure if it wanted to sleep behind clouds or party at the beach.
We took 50 steps outside of our hostel and saw a local Portuguese restaurant, stared at the menu and quickly had an elder Portuguese woman playing charades with us about what was on the menu (despite having English translations). We quickly went inside knowing we were in no state to “go looking for a perfect place.” She showed us what other patrons were eating and then took us back into the kitchen to show us other offerings, baked chicken. We both gave her a thumbs up and said “si” and soon we had soup and bread before she brought out a massive plate for each of us- roasted chicken, potatoes and rice. Portuguese love their carbs, maybe even more than Spaniards do. A Portuguese soap opera was on TV and the elder man, took breaks and watched, waving his finger at his wife as she went back and forth from the kitchen to the front of the restaurant taking care of little things.
We were surprised they were still serving lunch since Portugal also has strict kitchen hours, 12:00-15:00. We soon realized it wasn’t 15:30, it was 14:30 when we finished lunch. Portugal is an hour earlier than Spain and my cheap, Spanish phone without phone service was still on Spanish time, of course.
Tummies filled, we paid our bill while the elder couple who ran the restaurant ate their lunch and I wondered how cool it must be to grow old together. So set in your routine and yet know each other so well, know your role in the relationship and at work.
We steeped outside and roamed aimlessly with a map in our pocket, knowing Porto isn’t a big city, despite being the 2nd largest in Portugal. We crossed 1 of the 6 bridges along the Douro river and enjoyed the stunning view of the city of Orange tiled roofs, laundry blowing in the wind and colorful buildings adding color to a grey day. It began to sprinkle and we went in search of a cafe along the river. Eurocup (important football games) played on TV with all patrons except us watching.
We returned to the hostel as we cursed the steep hills and slippery cobblestone streets and sidewalks and took a 30 minute siesta. Then we checked out the social scene of the hostel since this was my brother’s very first hostel experience. There were a lot of young lads who had yet to learn social skills and our low energy didn’t help, so we went in search of dinner and found a local place.
My brother had running not so nice commentary about Porto and I hoped the following day and ample sleep would bring new perspective. Before we went to bed, I had a look at Couchsurfing and found a last minute event planned for the next day: Walking tour. We were the only one’s who responded to the event and I wasn’t sure if would actually happen. We showed up an hour later, thanks to having a phone and Portuguese number and found ourselves with 10 new friends. We were led by an elder CS’er, who often does free “tours” almost daily, to various places we wouldn’t have known about. We visited a ceramic tile and photography exhibit, a few churches , enjoyed a long inexpensive lunch, communicated in Spanish with a Brazilian guy who spoke Spantuguese, and then all hoped on the bus to the other side of the river to go on a Port tour. One of the main things to do in Porto is visit a cave, or Port cellar and finish with samples of Port.
By the end of the day with new friends and sunnier skies, my brother had a different attitude about Porto. We went home soon after (after 10 minute bus ride to the beach and snacking at a French bakery) before having a little siesta. Two friends invited us to join them and eventually we made it back out on the town. We weren’t sure who “Tony” was having met 10 folks that day and only remembering our “guide’s” name. We joined Tony, who turned to be the Frenchie and his boyfriend Andre from Brazil, who had spoken too early.We joked over beers, nearly crying in laughter. Nothing quite like hanging out with an uber gay drunk couple! My brother was happy to listen to Spantuguese and my lovely Spanish to give his ears some practice, as he feels like me, frustrated he can’t speak fluently. We called it a night around 2am. Porto, despite your gloomy skies, you are a cool place.
South we go…