Powers of Porto

As I was coming back from Porto to Madrid yesterday, I wondered if the excitement that wells up inside me whenever I hear the plane’s engine thunder into life and shudder as it speeds up ready to take off into the air will ever leave me. It certainly hasn’t yet.

I visited Porto this week for a few days as a last minute plan, which actually seems to be becoming a bit of a habit. On the Friday night my friends drunkenly invited me to stay with one of their grandparents in Porto, at first I was a curious but doubtful I would actually make it. Nevertheless, the day after (albeit a little hung-over and heartbroken) my curiosity and love for Portugal drove me to book the flights and join my friends.

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We had planned to all meet up on the way to the airport at a metro stop, as despite flying with different companies, our planes were leaving at the same time; however, with my Portuguese friend’s alarm failing to go off, we were plunged into a mad rush to the airport as she arrived an hour later than planned, but thankfully all of us made it to the boarding gates with time to spare, even with leaving just thirty minutes from the airport doors to the gates.

Even as low as I felt earlier in the morning, that roar of the engine made my heart beat faster and some kind of serenity washed over me. I flew out with TAPPortugal, which turned out to be a lovely choice as it was a small plane, a row to myself, and a free Pastel de Nata with coffee. The landing wasn’t as spectacular as I expected, with a thick overcast sky covering the small city, but I had a spark of hope in me that it was to be a good trip, and I wasn’t wrong.

After we landed, the three of us met with some of my friend’s Portuguese family members for brunch who all greeted me and my other British friend with such kindness, I felt right at home and joined in the parts of the conversation I could understand in Portuguese or shared conversation in broken English. I tried a delicious dish Balcalhau com Nata that had a similar consistency to fish pie, but more creamy and certainly very tasty! We then had a nap and crawled out of our beds and onto the tram to Porto under breaking clouds that slowly revealed the beautiful evening sun. After getting of the tram, we took a slow walk along the river and then chose a café on the waterside, O Muro, that offered a jar of sangria to share (which was slightly watery so a bit disappointing as I’ve known Portugal to usually do tasty fruity sangria), some smoked sausage (linguiça) for my friend and mini fishcakes (bolihnos de bacalhau) for me, both of which were delicious.

When we woke the next day, it felt like a cold morning, but as we opened the shutters, warm light gushed into the room and we cheerfully prepared for our day in Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia. First of all, we wanted to catch the view from the bridge so we climbed above the city walking upon the 146ft high Ponte Dom Luís I, we then took the cable car down to the shore on the other side which is known for it’s famous wine “caves”, one of which we took the time to explore in a vinho do porto tasting session, a new and chic experience for all three of us. It certainly was interesting to find out from Taylor’s the bond that the British and Portuguese have over their port wine.

After, we went and had lunch at what Erasmus+ students of my uni have adopted to call “spanish time” (15:00) as they’re known for their late mealtimes. We chose a lovely restaurant overlooking the river and Porto itself to try some fresh fish and then continued on our way, stumbling across some stalls from where we bought some cork jewellery before walking back across the bridge to the have a look at the shops that were still open. For our supper, my friends lovely grandmother prepared us a snack for tea, as she had been preparing us a big breakfast of coffee, bread and different cheeses each morning, consisting of Portuguese sponge cake and chamomile tea.

On the morning of our last day, waiting for my friends to get ready, I had a lovely simple conversation with the Portuguese grandmother where she talked to me about her pets, her family but she also told me something that touched my heart when I thanked for her hospitality, “I do everything with pleasure and I do it with love”, which is something I feel I should use in my own life. Not being afraid to offer kindnesses to people you don’t yet know, there is no need for coldness or aversion, each acquaintance is a potential friendship or good conversation.

Later that day, we went to the beach for the afternoon, arming ourselves with snacks and sun cream, we soaked up the last rays of sun and enjoyed a refreshing wade in the ocean water. We took in the beautiful pastel sunset from a beach bar overlooking the industrial port of Porto and we were cooked a delicious meal of rice, fried chicken, tuna omelette and olives at home before we took an early retirement to bed for our 6:30am flight!

Now, I am never sad to be coming home to Madrid, I love this city and it has done so much for me, but I could have happily stayed in Portugal as now I am feeling holiday blues for the first time in a long time. But that can only mean one thing, right? Portugal could be my next home after my studies finish in England.

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Chicas break in Lisbon

So me and my chicas (Spanish for “girls”) made the decision to go for a weekend break to Lisbon to escape the big city just for a little while. Living in Madrid, Portugal is not too much of a stretch to get to, but the few viable options are bus (8hr journey for aprox. €25) blablacar (6hr for €40) or a plane (1hr for €45). We opted to take the plane to save time on travel during a busy exam period at our university.

When we arrived in Lisbon it was already dark in the city, so we took a taxi to our quaint airbnb, which turned out to be within the great castle walls, to drop off our bags and freshen up and then pop out for some dinner. We found a lovely restaurant just 10 minutes away from our place and settled down for traditional Portuguese cuisine, including delicious salmon, octopus and pasta.

The next day was when I believe we all fell in love with Lisbon, strolling outside of our castle walls like unworldly princesses, our eyes fell upon the stunning view that was Portas do Sol. Palm trees, ocean and old houses stretched out in front of us as we breathed in the crisp sea-air. We took one of the old rickety trams down to the city centre, which I must say as pretty as they are to look at, I wouldn’t recommend taking one unless you wish to pay €2.85 for a very short journey where you will be squished amongst strangers like a sardine and thrown around the twisting roads until you feel rather weak at the knees.

Once we got to the centre, we went for a stroll around the Praca da Figueira square until our bellies began to rumble and we settled down for a late breakfast at the most wonderful brunch place ever fittingly called “Brunch Cafe” (we even went back for a second time on our short trip!). As a vegetarian, I struggle finding good brunch places in Madrid, and being British I also have difficulty finding proper tea, but this place had it all! Me and my other vegetarian friend settled for a huge Mexican breakfast consisting of tortillas, eggs, avocado, tomatoes, black beans and a good old cup of tea. We also were able to draw during our time waiting for our food to arrive, which was a lovely touch, plus our pictures are now on the wall for everyone to see! The waiter was also incredibly accommodating and recommended somewhere to go for a good night out, somewhere called “pink street.”

After we finished our delicious brunch, we continued on with our days, with no plans in our heads, we simply let the streets lead us to where they may. This happened to be a stunning cathedral with the most incredible architecture (well, what can I say, the whole of Lisbon has stunning aesthetics). Outside this cathedral, we saw many tuk-tuks lined up outside offering tours and since we were there for such a short time and definitely did not want to opt for the tourist buses, we thought “why not” and the four of us jumped onto a tiny tuk-tuk and what a wonderful decision it was! We were taken to Miradoura da Senhora do Monte, through the thieves market (which we ended up going back to later and buying all sorts of interesting stuff), The Cloister of Jeronimos Monarchy, Jardim Botanico Tropical and the Tower of Belém all in the warmth of the shining autumn sunshine. Our driver even treated us to the traditional Portuguese tart called Pastel de Nata from the famous Pastéis de Belém, which is like an egg custard served with cinnamon and icing sugar, and the joy of a tuk-tuk is that we could jump on and off whenever we pleased.

We did indeed end up experiencing pink street to it’s full, it’s literally a street painted shocking bright pink, by popping into a tiny ‘hole in the wall’ type bar and getting to know the bar’s owner and his friends who happened to be drinking in the bar too, we tried some delicious cocktails for a reasonable price (€4) and even ended up pouring some drinks ourselves to show the owner how much (or rather how little!) alcohol Swedish and British bars pour for one mixer or cocktail, around half the amount of the Portuguese, so there’s no doubt you will get your money’s worth! After chatting to some people in this small stand-up bar, we discovered they were flight attendants pre-drinking before a ‘flight attendant party’ at a club called “Place,” which we danced in until around 6am to Spanish, Portuguese and English music with flight attendants dancing up on stage! Brilliant!

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Getting ready to experience Pink Street!

On our last day, due to it being a rainy day and me and Jennifer being tired from our late night out, we simply went to different shops in the centre and found a lovely winery and spent our afternoon drinking red wine and eating cheese and in the late evening we braved the pouring rain to go out to a lovely little restaurant just five minutes down the cobbled roads where we had the Portuguese equivalent of “tapas” trying many different dishes, which were simply just delicious!

One thing I must point out is the Portuguese people are just so incredibly friendly and I felt at home in this new city straight away, I certainly can say that I will be going back in the future and I would 100% recommend Lisbon to anyone for a relaxing, food and drink orientated weekend break.

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Taking the taxi the airport, on our way back to Madrid…