As soon as I stepped out of the airport to wait for the metro tram (not train!) I was in love with Porto and more excited for Portugal than I ever thought I would be. I don’t really have expectations when I travel, I would rather be pleasantly surprised than let down. And Portugal has definitely given me a pleasant surprise.Porto was the first city I ever visited where I didn’t book accommodation before I arrived. I heard this is a thing people do sometimes and as I’m embracing flexibility I decided to give it a go. Yeah… So I did it once, tick that off the list, no need to go through that again! Fortunately I was really enjoying just wandering the streets of Porto. Unfortunately I decided to wear my thongs and I developed blisters between my toes that have continued to give me grief for my entire time in Portugal – how un-Australian.
Eventually I found free wifi at a bank, booked a hostel, and trekked back across town to collapse on my bed. Oporto Sky hostel had weird showers and a nice garden that was closed due to maintenance, but it also had a friendly vibe and comparatively cheap bicycle hire (albeit they weren’t the best bikes…). Also, this is where I discovered that about 90% of the tourists in Portugal are German. No joke, I’ve met so many Germans I don’t think there can be any left in Germany.
After collapsing for a while and attempting to use the wifi I went back out into the city and walked and walked, this time in my runners much to the satisfaction of my feet. I looked at the map for a while and then put it away and just wandered around. I walked through a park and then an hour later I found myself back at the same park, and another hour later I was back there again! I walked up and down the same streets so many times to go to different places, and I do mean UP and DOWN because the closer you get to the river the steeper the streets are.
Then, because I hadn’t been through enough already, I climbed the bell tower. All 240 steps. It cost €4 to get in but the views of the city from up there are seriously amazing, you can see everything and there are little markers all around the top that tell you what you’re looking at.
The next day a German guy from the hostel and I hired the two bikes that were “working” of the three available and rode down to the beach, about 10km away. It was quite a nice ride along the river and around the coast, but it’s not really a beach for swimming, it was definitely only surfers in the water. This was partly because the waves were enormous and partly because the water was so icy it made my toes numb in just ten seconds. So we just chilled, chatted and listened to music with two girls we saw there who were also staying at our hostel – they caught the bus before we started riding but we arrived at the beach first!
After a delicious supermarket lunch we got back on the bikes and rode into town again. This was when we decided to cross the river on the lower level of the Dom Luis bridge and then after exploring return to the main city via the top level of the bridge. Easier said than done. As I already mentioned the streets went UP and DOWN, so we did too. With the bikes. On the cobblestones, I should add. Half the time we were in Vila Nova de Gaia we weren’t even on the bikes. We were either pushing them up the hills or taking “shortcuts” by carrying the bikes up flights of about 50 steps at a time. Altogether we did 27km on the bikes (and partly off the bikes) and it would be an understatement to say I was feeling it the next day. Definitely worth it though. My final day in Porto I packed up my tiny 5kg of luggage and went wandering with the two girls from the hostel that I’d seen at the beach, one English one German. We went down to the river to check out the Ribeira and then went back up to the city for a lunch of kebabs. After lunch Pauline, the German girl, and I sat in a park (the same park I’d returned to again and again the first day) and just read in the shade and people watched. Afterwards we grabbed a drink and then she very kindly walked me to the station where I could get the tram to the airport for my evening flight to Faro.
Porto was fantastic, it immediately confirmed for me that I’d made the right decision in coming to Portugal. The people were friendly, the city was beautiful and the weather was warm and sunny. It really felt like a proper vacation.