Hills, Francesinhas and tea
It’s been a while since I left the shores of the United Kingdom and with some extra days off, I decided to book an impromptu trip. I called the one and only Sisheng Zhang and asked if he was free? In the end we picked Porto due to the flight cost and to surprise our friend Pedro.
I had the joys of flying via an earlier morning flight from Gatwick dealing with the delays that an apparently the norm in Britain. At least I got the view to go above the planes.
Once in Porto and figuring out the metro card system (with a quick call to Chris), I found out that Porto is very hilly. Lot’s pebbled streets that would put most suitcases to the test of durability. With the streets full of tourists and locals getting on about their days and I heading towards the Airbnb to find out what to do while I waited for Chris to join me. While I could have seen Pedro, he was still unaware of my trip. We decided it would be more fun to surprise him at brunch the following day.
I ended going for a walk talking in a view of the riviera and reminding me that I really need to invest in both stylish and comfortable walking shoes, rather than one or the other. I ended up exploring the area towards the university before heading to a café to eat a vegan burger while reading my book.
After really chilled day I headed for a quick wonder around town and may have had a few pasta de natas… Of course, I ended up walking around the city and looking for spots to watch the Tottenham match. However, without finding a bar to watch the match, I ended up grabbing another coffee and watching the match on my phone via a VPN. Chris ended up coming in late, due to a flight delay. Looks as though we’ll all be suffering from these issues for the foreseeable future. On arrival, we grabbed a beer on the riviera, and Chris had what I will generously call food. Over this dinner we plotted our plan for the next couple of days.
We had decided not to inform Pedro that I was visiting, just made him aware that Chris was in town (no point in going somewhere where you can’t visit them). Ended up picking a place for brunch and heading to a nearby café while we waited. An old habit of Chris and I continued without planning at the cafe. Reading at breakfast. Considering that we spendmost of the day together, breakfast was the one time where apart from some polite conversation we would read instead.
With a minute to our meeting time, I headed without Chris for the meeting cafe, asked for our table. Only turning around to see a Pedro who was totally oblivious that I was asking for a table. After a few choice words and a warm embrace, the bromance was fundamentally back. The surprise trip to visit Pedro was going swell and I think that Chris has regretted us exchanging numbers, as we constantly rip into him. More so is how alike we are be it our thoughts about philosophy, ethics and tea… among other things.
Unsurprisingly, Chris and I had not planned much on this trip and asked Pedro what we should do in our short trip to his hometown. He was shocked that we hadn’t booked anything in terms of the vineyards or the cellars themselves in Porto, as it was still tourist season. This was nonsense as we had come after all the schools were back and universities starting to ramp up again. We finished our lunch, went for a stroll and Pedro took us to a café, with a singer whose guitar amp was way too loud, to sit outside and drink some vino verde. While sitting and chatting shit (well I always am), Sarah and old colleague of Chris surprises him and asks him what is he doing in Porto! And thus, we had a fourth in our triumvirate. Well later we would. For now, we had decided that we shall have dinner together. Prior to that we decided to have a stroll down around Porto. Eat some pasta de natas, before going to the riberia to get catch sunset by the bridge with some more wine. Took some pretentious shots, but what are you meant to do on holiday otherwise?
Time to go grab dinner
Pedro was right. Everything in Port(o/ugal?) requires a booking. After standing too long in a queue. Pedro books us a restaurant on the other side of Porto. While only be a 15 minute London walk, because of the steep hills, took us nearly 25 minutes, but still better than queuing. Pedro had taken us to a place that served vegan Franchensias which are a local speciality (that isn’t fish or port or natas). What I can say about these sandwiches (if it is fair to call them that), they are full on. It’s a massive slab of bread, with tofu instead of meat inside for me, in a tomato-based liquid. Then some cheese is grilled on top, served with chips. Not what the doctor ordered, but it was so so good. Absolutely loved it. Would highly recommend, to try it.
Nova Gaia and Chris unable to take a photo
While I was surprised by the need to book everything, I was shocked to find out that I needed to find bookings for all port cellars and vineyards. Scouring the internet, we went for a walk towards Gustav’s bridge looking for breakfast. We found a cheap café for breakfast, which while allowed us to pay by card, spoke no English. Fun times ahead. I sat upstairs, sent Chris (the nominated Portuguese speaker). It was good and we continued with our reading at breakfast tradition. We did have to get there through the rain and a hill climb and honestly the coffee was terrible. We found another nearby café and that was great. We sat there as the rain poured down. A young boy ignored Chris, passed me a piece of paper and asked me to draw a bike on it and sign. Of course, I obliged.
We then headed to Nova Gaia to explore the World of Wine (WoW. Not World of Warcraft you nerds) and try our hand at getting into a cellar. This walk was great where I took this fabulous picture through the train of Mr Zhang. If I don’t win a photography award for this, then the whole system is rigged. We wondered down the hill, towards WoW taking photos. I took a great shot of this girl in black and white. Asked Chris to take the same photo of me and got this shit. Like Chris, what the hell is this? Where is Porto? What was the point in you complaining about my camera, when you can’t take the shot…
Apart from the photography, escaping the pouring rain we were able to go for a self-tour of the Fonseca cellar and actually learn about port. We walked around, we drunk port at the end of it, trying to see if we remembered anything. We barely did, other than I liked the taste of tawny port than ruby or late bottle vintage.
We ended up going for lunch, before heading up the cable car to the top of Nova Gaia again for sunset (while cloudy). While Chris rejected Pedro’s idea of going for Chinese, one of the few times he held an opinion on what to do mind I say. We ended up at NO-LAs, grabbed good food. Went for tea afterwards (we had drinks first in this left-wing bar. But the rain was coming in). This was a late night before an early trip to Douro Valley.
Walking, boats and not a lot to eat
Get up early, no time for the usual reading trip. Zhang and I head to the platform with haste, as we are relying on Sarah for the planning of the trip. She is coming from Bordeaux, thus our unofficial wine expert. We hop onto the train and head into the valley. The train trip is spectacular, and we are met with scenes across the river that perfect for a morning whizzing past the window. Zhang takes a well deserved rest on the trip as, Sarah and I have our cameras pointing out of the window snapping shot after shot.
We arrive in Pinhão with the rest of the wine crowd, cross the tracks and get into the small town. Though I would call it a village at best with less than 500 residents (which comes from our boat tour guide). Now, without bookings or a car, we had to walk to the nearby vineyards and see what was available. First we went to Quinta de la Rosa, who did have on the day availability, but only when we would be on our prebooked boat tour. We headed back down, to Quinta da Foz, which was unavailable for a couple of months. Nothing different from a few places we called. We walked across the village to Quinta da Bomfim, as they had restaurant which the village seemed to lack (that was open). We went in only to find out that the open and empty restaurant required bookings. What a place. However, there was a self-guided tour which is perfect for us, and they had space in the wine tasting area! We ended up getting a cheese board, 3 glasses of wine, 4 glasses of port and some other snack. It didn’t matter, the biggest nutrient group is fruit and what’s better than that?
We then had a wonder around the vineyard with map in hand following a self-guided route. Zhang, Sarah and I all taking turns to be models and having fun with camera settings, be HDR shots, going in for a close up or pure mucking about.
We then realised that we had our boat to catch and sprinted towards the pontoons (it’s definitely not a dock). We got on our tour and sailed up and down the river enjoying the view and chatted away while our audio guide was on going. Admittedly the view was great, but it was rather the same after the first 45mins on the Douro. We headed back into the village while we waited for the next train and then back into Porto. Unable to secure a restaurant (seriously Porto, schools are back…) we ended having some okay-ish Mexican food, before grabbing an ice-cream on the way back to the flat. Can’t remember what Chris got, but I had avocado which was a shockingly nice (though extremely millennial) choice.
To the beach
With our last few hours together Chris and I venture up the hill for breakfast, as 0ur tour of the old exchange is in a bit. We grab a few natas and I decide to try a local drink which can only be described as hot ribena in milk. Do not recommend. The tour itself was great, though the Islamic room is gorgeous.
Probably why most people come on the tour itself. After a quick check out, we head for lunch where I get a last minute vegan Francesinhas. We popped over to another café for more natas, get some port for home (what ever we could take on hand luggage) and then our goodbyes. Zhang and I knew that this would be last time catching up with each other for a while (due to work schedules and already planned trips), we said our heartful goodbyes and cursed the Spanish authorities for charging 40 Euros for his flask that never arrived (it cost under 10 quid, so under the limit required to pay duty).
This left Sarah and I heading to the beach to see the coast, before seeing Pedro for tea. We sat on an old tram and enjoyed the views while have a good old natter. Walked to a light house, did some posing and having the Atlantic waves splash us. As we walked up the coast to find a café that was suitable, we continued nattering and eventually found a spot to plonk ourselves and got a drink. Even with the non-sunny weather it was jol, even more so when Pedro arrived.
With another round of goodbyes and see you soons, I was in a cab to the airport to catch my flight back to blighty. While I had a few extra hours in Luton (on the tarmac and in the terminal) it was an enjoyable trip.
Looking forward to seeing more of Portugal. Though, as of writing I’ve been to Himalayas and soon off to the US of A.