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Trip Report Porto - Not Just About the Port

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For a surprise 30th birthday present I decided to take the other, or some say the much better, half to Porto, Portugal.

The destination was a surprise, not her birthday.

With a relatively cheap flight with RyanAir, we were on our way. At this time of the year the time zones were in synch, so after a nice 2 hour flight we had arrived. And with snow due in the UK it was VERY nice to touch down in a sunny, 12 degree climate! Deciding to play some things by lobe (or ear as you might say) we were unsure of how to get to the hotel, Ibis Porto Centro. The first Portuguese we came in contact with, at the Tourist Help Desk, were very helpful in giving maps, metro info and directions. And so to the Metro we went. In fact it's a light rail system going from the Airport and down into the City of Porto - I think there are a choice of 5 lines which takes you over a lot of Northern Portuguese areas.

With map in hand we arrived at the Bolhão station - right outside the Mercado do Bolhão, the main market place in Porto. Unfortunately we never got a chance to check it out, but it came highly recommended. Luckily the Ibis is only a 5 minute walk from the metro stop!

So, on a Friday night around 6PM, we checked into the Ibis. Once again, the Portuguese working there were some of the friendliest people we've met. After checking in (reception and bar area is very nice, hotel room it self was your standard Ibis - but without extra pillows or tea/coffee!) we asked the receptionist to recommend where to go for food and drinks. He recommended the Galeria de Paris area, but we found everywhere to be pretty dead. After walking around for sometime, we stumbled upon a cafe/restaurant called SaborXpresso. It looked like a funky café (check out The Path Café in New York!) but the menu in the window looked appealing. And in we went for some muito bom steak! And again, the staff were really nice and friendly with very good English – greeting and trying to order in Portuguese helped I think! I had the Bife de cebolada com batata alourada and Danielle had the Bife do Portuguese – my steak came topped with onions with small roast potatoes and Danielle’s was made with garlic – both with an awesome, slightly spicy, sauce. Two beers, two Irish Coffees and two deserts and the price was under €50. You really can’t go wrong! By now it’s not quite 11PM and things are still pretty quiet. And in our meandering, wandering state we stumbled upon what looked like a little bar. Poking our heads through the door, some random 80’s tunes falling into the street, we adjusted our eyes to the dark surroundings. And what we saw was much to our liking! We had entered Museu Da'Avó – or Granny’s Museum – which is more of a wine bar, but did offer snacks. The menu they hand out, only in Portuguese, is handwritten in italics. The lack of English was hard enough but the writing didn’t help! Luckily one of the lovely waitresses spoke English and recommended a local red wine (Esteva, VERY nice) for only €9. She also went on to explain that in Porto a night out is as follows: 9PM, coffee; 10PM, dinner; midnight, drinks; 1AM, head to a wine bar; 3AM, disco; 5AM, house party. This is a dream city! The décor of the Granny’s Museum is pretty much random things hanging off the walls and ceiling. Including a push bike over our heads. The atmosphere and everything about this place was so relaxing. And I’m sure the wine had nothing to do with that. We then headed back to R. da Galeria de Paris which was dead just a few hours before. Now there seemed to be more bars than we realised. In the mood for a quieter drink we went in to La Bohème which was pretty darn busy! With film and music posters overlooking us, we enjoyed a beer with Marilyn Monroe checking us out. This bar quickly became busy and we decided to try a bigger place. Just a few doors down is this huge place, with a piano in one corner and a huge bar doing the length of the room. Unfortunately I didn’t get the name of the place, or find it on Google Street View..so maybe it didn’t exist! But, blimey, my head told me the next morning it did. For small beers and wines at a Euro a piece it was student heaven.

We had a tour booked the next day, via the Accor website, for 2:30PM. Getting a call at 9AM, after not getting in till 5, was rather annoying. They told us that as the local agent they only had the tour from 9:30AM. Hangover plus broken English/Portuguese meant we though we were to call them back around 2 to organise the afternoon tour. Unfortunately there wasn’t one, but they did agree to pick us up the next morning for the morning tour, using the same voucher. So we had a free Saturday. Starting with a late brunch, we found the closest café which was Café de Santiago. Not knowing about the place or the food, and seeing it was packed, we decided this was a good sign. And everyone was (already) drinking and eating what looked like a lasagne on a plate of chips. The Francesinha. Which is apparently a Portuguese delicacy! But, boy, did it look like an awesome hangover cure. Wikipedia tells me a francesinha involves: bread, wet-cured ham, linguiça, fresh sausage like chipolata, steak or roast meat and covered with molten cheese and a hot thick tomato and beer sauce served with french fries. We had the Francesinha a Santiagio. The Santiago special – with a fried egg dolloped on top. Washed down with a beer I felt I could take on the whole of FC Porto and Boavista combined. With our bellies filled we decided to take a walk and see where we found ourselves. And we found ourselves in vista heaven. Coming up to the Cathedral and the old walls, suddenly the steal structure of the main bridge comes into view. With the sun shining, the Cathedral at our backs and the river in front of us I couldn’t think of a better place to be. We walked across the top level of the bridge (for the light rail) over to Gaia, a separate city to Porto. We managed to find our way down to the riverside and all the famous port houses. Stopping off in Taberninha do Manel, a small pub owned and serving the Kopke port, we had our first taste of the famous wine. Along with some goats cheese, it was the perfect drink and food combo for a late afternoon snack.

After a snooze and a relax back at the hotel we decided to hit the Ribeiro area where there was suppose to be good food and places to drink: including Porto’s only Irish bar, Ryan’s Pub. It’s sad how we have to go to an Irish Pub in every place we visit! Some of the side streets around here didn’t actually feel that safe, so we stuck to the main riverside section. Even walking to the area from the hotel we stupidly went through the favelaesque winding steps of the Cathedral quarter – only one tramp asked for some change and his English was very good! He would have spent the €3 better than me, I’m sure (during the day these steps are beautiful, but even then there was a gang of kids hanging around – it is peoples front door at the end of the day). Walking back and forth by the restaurants we kept seeing huge queue’s outside Chez Lapin. After our third stroll past there was no queue so we went for it. Inside is very small, but like the Granny’s Museum it had lots of random articles hanging off the ceiling and walls. And to be honest, I love touches like that. It seemed very busy for such a small place, but then you realise there’s another two floors above you and it becomes clear! And yet again, the waitress was so friendly, with her English and suggestions on what wine to order. Using my small amounts of Portuguese threw her though and she accused me of lying about the English at the end! The fish was sublime. Absolutely loved it. One thing I wasn’t sure about was the tipping culture in Porto. In most of the bars I’d left some euro’s and people seemed overly grateful as if people don’t leave tips. But I got a feeling in Chez Lapin that I didn’t tip enough! On a full stomach we decided to find Ryan’s Pub for a Guinness before an early night. Surprisingly the place was pretty dead for a Saturday night, even if it was around midnight (early in Portugal!). Not a bad pint later we agreed on getting a cab back to the hotel – the only walking route I knew back was up the steep, narrow steps of the Cathedral quarter. My gut didn’t fancy it, nor did the prospect of a mugging!

Sunday was the day of the tour. Booked via the Isango website and called the Porto City Sightseeing, my expectations were pretty low after the previous days cock up. Waiting in reception at 9:15 as planned was Claudia who would be doing the tour. A very friendly, smiley lady, she led us out to the coach. Well. Minibus. With only 2 other people in. And you know what? It was probably the best format of a tour we could have had. Basically a private tour, the other couple being Brazilian and Claudia alternating between Portuguese and English, we got to see the Cathedral, Luis I and Arrábida bridges, Clérigos and Carmo churches, Stock Exchange Building and Porto Railway Station, with the tour ending up in Offley Port Wineries in the town of Gaia for a tour of the Croft winery and some good old Port tasting. We’d even stopped off on the beach in the affluent Foz area of Porto! Our last moments of Porto before heading back to the airport was relaxing outside a café along Santa Caterina with a beer in the sunshine. Good times.<span> </span>For a surprise 30th birthday present I decided to take the other, or some say the much better, half to Porto, Portugal. The destination was a surprise, not her birthday. With a relatively cheap flight with RyanAir, we were on our way. At this time of the year the time zones were in synch, so after a nice 2 hour flight we had arrived. And with snow due in the UK it was VERY nice to touch down in a sunny, 12 degree climate! Deciding to play some things by lobe (or ear as you might say) we were unsure of how to get to the hotel, Ibis Porto Centro. The first Portuguese we came in contact with, at the Tourist Help Desk, were very helpful in giving maps, metro info and directions. And so to the Metro we went. In fact it's a light rail system going from the Airport and down into the City of Porto - I think there are a choice of 5 lines which takes you over a lot of Northern Portuguese areas. With map in hand we arrived at the Bolhão station - right outside the Mercado do Bolhão, the main market place in Porto. Unfortunately we never got a chance to check it out, but it came highly recommended. Luckily the Ibis is only a 5 minute walk from the metro stop! The Ibis is literally within 5 minutes of the City Hall and the Rue d. Santa Caterina - the main shopping areas - and places like R. da Galeria de Paris which we found to be the best drinking spot. Or even 10 minutes away from the Cathedral and the awesome views there. So, on a Friday night around 6PM, we checked into the Ibis. Once again, the Portuguese working there were some of the friendliest people we've met. After checking in (reception and bar area is very nice, hotel room it self was your standard Ibis - but without extra pillows or tea/coffee!) we asked the receptionist to recommend where to go for food and drinks. He recommended the Galeria de Paris area, but we found everywhere to be pretty dead. After walking around for sometime, we stumbled upon a cafe/restaurant called SaborXpresso. It looked like a funky café (check out The Path Café in New York!) but the menu in the window looked appealing. And in we went for some muito bom steak! And again, the staff were really nice and friendly with very good English – greeting and trying to order in Portuguese helped I think! I had the Bife de cebolada com batata alourada and Danielle had the Bife do Portuguese – my steak came topped with onions with small roast potatoes and Danielle’s was made with garlic – both with an awesome, slightly spicy, sauce. Two beers, two Irish Coffees and two deserts and the price was under €50. You really can’t go wrong! By now it’s not quite 11PM and things are still pretty quiet. And in our meandering, wandering state we stumbled upon what looked like a little bar. Poking our heads through the door, some random 80’s tunes falling into the street, we adjusted our eyes to the dark surroundings. And what we saw was much to our liking! We had entered Museu Da'Avó – or Granny’s Museum – which is more of a wine bar, but did offer snacks. The menu they hand out, only in Portuguese, is handwritten in italics. The lack of English was hard enough but the writing didn’t help! Luckily one of the lovely waitresses spoke English and recommended a local red wine (Esteva, VERY nice) for only €9. She also went on to explain that in Porto a night out is as follows: 9PM, coffee; 10PM, dinner; midnight, drinks; 1AM, head to a wine bar; 3AM, disco; 5AM, house party. This is a dream city! The décor of the Granny’s Museum is pretty much random things hanging off the walls and ceiling. Including a push bike over our heads. The atmosphere and everything about this place was so relaxing. And I’m sure the wine had nothing to do with that. We then headed back to R. da Galeria de Paris which was dead just a few hours before. Now there seemed to be more bars than we realised. In the mood for a quieter drink we went in to La Bohème which was pretty darn busy! With film and music posters overlooking us, we enjoyed a beer with Marilyn Monroe checking us out. This bar quickly became busy and we decided to try a bigger place. Just a few doors down is this huge place, with a piano in one corner and a huge bar doing the length of the room. Unfortunately I didn’t get the name of the place, or find it on Google Street View..so maybe it didn’t exist! But, blimey, my head told me the next morning it did. For small beers and wines at a Euro a piece it was student heaven. We had a tour booked the next day, via the Accor website, for 2:30PM. Getting a call at 9AM, after not getting in till 5, was rather annoying. They told us that as the local agent they only had the tour from 9:30AM. Hangover plus broken English/Portuguese meant we though we were to call them back around 2 to organise the afternoon tour. Unfortunately there wasn’t one, but they did agree to pick us up the next morning for the morning tour, using the same voucher. So we had a free Saturday. Starting with a late brunch, we found the closest café which was Café de Santiago. Not knowing about the place or the food, and seeing it was packed, we decided this was a good sign. And everyone was (already) drinking and eating what looked like a lasagne on a plate of chips. The Francesinha. Which is apparently a Portuguese delicacy! But, boy, did it look like an awesome hangover cure. Wikipedia tells me a francesinha involves: bread, wet-cured ham, linguiça, fresh sausage like chipolata, steak or roast meat and covered with molten cheese and a hot thick tomato and beer sauce served with french fries. We had the Francesinha a Santiagio. The Santiago special – with a fried egg dolloped on top. Washed down with a beer I felt I could take on the whole of FC Porto and Boavista combined. With our bellies filled we decided to take a walk and see where we found ourselves. And we found ourselves in vista heaven. Coming up to the Cathedral and the old walls, suddenly the steal structure of the main bridge comes into view. With the sun shining, the Cathedral at our backs and the river in front of us I couldn’t think of a better place to be. We walked across the top level of the bridge (for the light rail) over to Gaia, a separate city to Porto. We managed to find our way down to the riverside and all the famous port houses. Stopping off in Taberninha do Manel, a small pub owned and serving the Kopke port, we had our first taste of the famous wine. Along with some goats cheese, it was the perfect drink and food combo for a late afternoon snack. After a snooze and a relax back at the hotel we decided to hit the Ribeiro area where there was suppose to be good food and places to drink: including Porto’s only Irish bar, Ryan’s Pub. It’s sad how we have to go to an Irish Pub in every place we visit! Some of the side streets around here didn’t actually feel that safe, so we stuck to the main riverside section. Even walking to the area from the hotel we stupidly went through the favelaesque winding steps of the Cathedral quarter – only one tramp asked for some change and his English was very good! He would have spent the €3 better than me, I’m sure (during the day these steps are beautiful, but even then there was a gang of kids hanging around – it is peoples front door at the end of the day). Walking back and forth by the restaurants we kept seeing huge queue’s outside Chez Lapin. After our third stroll past there was no queue so we went for it. Inside is very small, but like the Granny’s Museum it had lots of random articles hanging off the ceiling and walls. And to be honest, I love touches like that. It seemed very busy for such a small place, but then you realise there’s another two floors above you and it becomes clear! And yet again, the waitress was so friendly, with her English and suggestions on what wine to order. Using my small amounts of Portuguese threw her though and she accused me of lying about the English at the end! The fish was sublime. Absolutely loved it. One thing I wasn’t sure about was the tipping culture in Porto. In most of the bars I’d left some euro’s and people seemed overly grateful as if people don’t leave tips. But I got a feeling in Chez Lapin that I didn’t tip enough! On a full stomach we decided to find Ryan’s Pub for a Guinness before an early night. Surprisingly the place was pretty dead for a Saturday night, even if it was around midnight (early in Portugal!). Not a bad pint later we agreed on getting a cab back to the hotel – the only walking route I knew back was up the steep, narrow steps of the Cathedral quarter. My gut didn’t fancy it, nor did the prospect of a mugging! Sunday was the day of the tour. Booked via the Isango website and called the Porto City Sightseeing, my expectations were pretty low after the previous days cock up. Waiting in reception at 9:15 as planned was Claudia who would be doing the tour. A very friendly, smiley lady, she led us out to the coach. Well. Minibus. With only 2 other people in. And you know what? It was probably the best format of a tour we could have had. Basically a private tour, the other couple being Brazilian and Claudia alternating between Portuguese and English, we got to see the Cathedral, Luis I and Arrábida bridges, Clérigos and Carmo churches, Stock Exchange Building and Porto Railway Station, with the tour ending up in Offley Port Wineries in the town of Gaia for a tour of the Croft winery and some good old Port tasting. We’d even stopped off on the beach in the affluent Foz area of Porto! Our last moments of Porto before heading back to the airport was relaxing outside a café along Santa Caterina with a beer in the sunshine. Good times.

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