We were told that Porto was a must-visit city. I was naturally very suspicious.
It’s a beautiful city, they said, but not like Lisboa. It’s similar to Lisboa, they said, but different. Is it worth taking a detour to visit? I asked – No, but yes! If you have time…
You see, I’ve been through the cycle before: someone gives me a glowing recommendation for a restaurant/event/place, I plan a trip, the anticipation grows… and then the day arrives and I end up shaking my head with a small, sad sigh. As disappointing as a doughnut without a gooey filling.
It turns out that Porto was a good choice. But perhaps one day instead of two would have been enough.
The city is most notable for its Port wine. My tastebuds may not have been sophisticated enough to appreciate the finer points of Port and its many varieties but it was good and I enjoyed it.
It went very nicely with the local speciality: the Francesinha. A cheese-smothered, meat-filled, sandwich delight in a pool of tomatoey sauce, topped off with a fried egg. Essentially, a glorified sandwich. And a very tasty one indeed.
There were some impressive-looking bridges arching across the river; we crossed to the less touristy side in the evening and were rewarded by a stunning view of the old town and the riverside.
There was also an old bookstore in a historical town house – notable for its beauty. I was more impressed by the long line of tourists queuing outside to enter. It was quite nice I suppose, if you like that sort of thing.
The layout of the city is very charming; all sloping, cobbled streets, rattling trams and colourful buildings. On paper, it sounds very much like Lisbon but it had a different vibe. Smaller, laid-back and more local. There were some very quaint elderly folk dressed in their Sunday best on the day we arrived. A fast-paced cosmopolitan city, Porto is not.
But it is the kind of city to settle down and grow old in, maybe rent out a store front and sell cured ham and cheese… sit around in the sun, snigger at the tourists taking selfies. Give me a couple of decades – I’ll be back.