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Serendipity in Porto

by Katarina Hedstrom

Last Updated on November 10, 2014 by

For some reason, people assume that my favorite question to answer is “What are you planning on doing with your life?” And my go to answer is “I have no idea, and I probably should starting thinking about it”. However, last weekend, I found some answers – I now know that some time during my life I am going to live in Porto, Portugal. This charming (and no I’m not being cliché) on the banks of the Douro River is often overlooked by tourists coming to Portugal. I’m going to be honest; if you had asked me where Porto was a month ago I wouldn’t have an answer. But I cannot pass up a great deal so when my friend said we could go to Porto for $70 I asked when. Three weeks later we were on a plane to visit Spain’s neighbor. This trip it was Catherine, Kate, and I travelling together. After our flight we took the metro 40 minutes to our Airbnb apartment. Upon arriving, we realized that none of us had actually looked up where exactly our apartment was. But we were immediately distracted by the uniqueness of Porto so we weren’t too bent out of shape about our situation. Cobblestone streets and colorfully tiled buildings was a common theme, and it didn’t help that we popped on to Santa Catarina Street, where I would’ve gladly slept in the street. Like any American would, we went into a nearby café and bought a coffee and pastry just so we could use their Wi-Fi. We got the address and checked into our apartment. I had my doubts seeing as we were only spending 30€ for each night, but my only complaint was that I couldn’t buy the apartment for myself.

After dropping off our bags and changing (it was a typical October day – 80 degrees) we went out to explore. The whole weekend we never really had a plan, we just went down whatever street we wanted – and it was wonderful. I could sit here and try to explain the beauty of this town, but pictures will do a much better, and it’ll be more fun for you to look at.

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We wandered through these streets finding colorful doors, windows, buildings, mailboxes and garbage cans around every corner. Tiles were all bursting with a popular bright blue color. We stumbled upon a market that was described as a “silent market” which just turned out to be a normal market with great jewelry. Finally, we found the river, aka the Mecca for all tourists in Porto. We walked around, crossing over the Ponte Dom Luis I Bridge to get the great views of Porto. Basically on one side of Porto are the colorful houses, and across the river are it’s wine cellars; hence the popularity of Porto’s “port wine.”

We had dinner and let me just say I fell love. Dinner was chicken with “chips,” which was basically like chips meets fries meets a real potato (imagine that) so I had no shame in inhaling all of them. After, we walked along the river, got wine and chocolate, and headed back to our apartment. The town seemed to become even more enchanting at night and I could’ve walked all over the town if I wasn’t so tired.

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Saturday we got up early to go check out Livraria Lello, a picturesque bookstore that inspired J.K. Rowling to write the first Harry Potter book. The famous author actually lived in Porto, further justifying why I need to move here; I’ll write an award-winning novel. According to TripAdvisor you could go an hour before the bookstore opened to take pictures. Which is true, if you’re there on a week day. So after our disappointing start we fixed it with a café con leche and pastry at the café next door. It was a blessing in disguise really because we got to enjoy the crisp morning on a completely unoccupied street sipping coffee. We waited another hour until the book store opened to go inside finally. The store has a sign that no pictures were allowed inside and I had my doubts how they could enforce that. But everywhere you turned they had a worker saying “no peectures please.” They even kicked someone out for taking pictures. So aside from these two photos, you’re going to have to take my word for it that it was amazing, or Google.

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Following our “no plan” agenda we explored the city, found another market, spent more money, and then went back to our apartment to make lunch.

After regrouping, we went back down to the river for a boat tour, something I was looking forward to. All of the tourist boats have been created to look like those that were used to transport the grapes and wine on the river at the turn of the century. There’s one too many companies offering tours so I picked the one that had the prettiest boats and went with it. Ours turned out to be great: 10€ got us a 50-minute boat ride and also tickets for three wine tastings. Luckily on our boat it wasn’t too crowded so we were able to relax and take in the views.


After, we visited some of the wine cellars for a tasting. Porto Cruz, one of the bigger names, offered a free tour of their museum and their rooftop terrace that offered great views of the city. Next we visited Quevedo which had a fun atmosphere and also offered a free Fado show, music that is customary in Portugal. On our way back to our apartment we stopped to take a few hundred more pictures because, plot twist, artsy pictures are the real reason girls study abroad.

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porto18That night we went to a restaurant that offered typical Portuguese food called Tasco. It was a very cozy restaurant that we luckily got into- you usually can’t get a table without a reservation. We decided to order a couple of tapas to share for the meal. We (mainly I) were adventurous and got a lot of meat, which I’m usually really picky about. Surprisingly enough, the pork was my favorite and not surprisingly enough, I loved the chips that we got, which were identical to the ones that we had gotten the night before. Sunday morning we slept in and got an extra hour of sleep because Europe is trendy and has their daylight-savings time a week before the States. Unfortunately we had no time to do anything that morning due to our long trek back to the airport.

It’s weekends like these that make me so grateful for the opportunity that I have here. I was able to explore a city at my own pace and I fall in love with it. I entered Porto not knowing what to expect and now I’m counting down the days until I can go back. Next weekend is Morocco and then the parents are coming to visit! Just one more picture, because why not?


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