Spring Break, Part 2

Destination #2: Porto, Portugal 

The next day, Becca and I caught our flight to Porto, Portugal, where we immediately caught our train to the hostel since we were arriving at night. The hostel was only a 2-3 minute walk from the train station, which was extremely convenient since we were tired from traveling. The next morning, we stepped out of the hostel’s front door to be greeted by the bright sunshine and 70 degree weather. Perfect. Before we left, the lady at the front desk had given us a map, a few suggestions, and the name of a free walking tour starting at 10:00 am, so we knew we had about an hour and a half to explore before that began. After walking for a short while, we came across a beautiful pedestrian street, but quickly learned that the drivers in Portugal will drive wherever they can fit their car through – quite entertaining to watch a couple times. Since it was about 8:30 in the morning, most of the shops were still closed and it was very peaceful and quiet. A farther walk down the peaceful streets led me to one of my favorite things – a stunning blue and white tiled church – which was one of several in Porto.

Below: the first blue and white tiled church we found!

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Below: Clérigos Tower and the view from the top

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I have always loved looking at pottery and fine china that is painted blue and white, so this was almost heaven for me. Our point of interest before our walking tour was Clérigos Tower (built back in 1763), which after a 240-step climb to the top, provided a fantastic panoramic view of the city of Porto. If you haven’t noticed yet, I enjoy going to the top of things, whether it is a mountain, a building… or really anything I can climb. So, a short climb later, we were at the top and gazing out over orange-tinted grooves as far as the eye could see. Our time was short, so we quickly made our way back down so we could meet up with the walking tour. Our guide took us to the São Bento railway station, where the architect in 1900 was so concerned with making the train station beautiful (so people would want to come to Porto) that he forgot some very important things… He forgot to add a bathroom to the design, and he also forgot to include a ticket collection booth (or any place you could buy a ticket). However, the inside of the station was truly impressive as all of the walls were covered in hand-painted tiled murals and azulejo tiles – all having something to do with Portugal’s history. The tour also took us to a TINY bakery called Cozinha doce, where the owner was a woman who was kind enough to make some lovely desserts for us. So, naturally, I had to treat myself to a typical Portuguese dessert. We also went to Igreja de Santo Ildefonso, which was another painted, blue and white tiled church constructed in the XVIIIth century.

Below: Inside the São Bento railway station

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Above: The traditional Portuguese dessert I tried (no clue what it is actually called)

Another stop of the tour that stood out was the visit to the Church of Santa Clara. While the facade of the church does not look like anything special, all you have to do is step inside to see the intricate woodwork and gold gilding to be overcome with awe. The wood carvings are covered in gold leaf, and the lavishly decorated church sits unused today, with 200 kg of gold covered in a light layer of dust. Porto is trying to raise money to restore the building, and they therefore forbid anyone from taking pictures of this mysteriously eye-catching place.

One of the last stops of the tour was the famous Dom Luis I Bridge, which spans the Duoro River. On one side of the river, there is Porto. On the other side of the river, there is Vila Nova de Gaia. Portugal is known for its Port wine made in the Port region, so it only made sense for Becca and I to do some wine tastings while we were in town. The best wineries span the riverfront on the Vila Nova de Gaia side. The Vila Nova de Gaia side is also where you can get one of the best, most-photographed views of Porto due to its picturesque, multicolored buildings lining the river with bright sailboats in the foreground. We made sure to admire the view of the Cais da Ribeira and snap some pictures before we did our wine tastings.

Below: Parts of the view from atop the bridge

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Below: The view of the Cais da Ribeira

IMG_3470.jpgThe first tasting we did was a wine and chocolate pairing with three wines – a Ruby, a Tawny, and a Rosé. We also learned that the way Port wine is created is quite unique because they actually stop the fermentation process in order to add additional alcohol, giving the wine it’s 19% alcohol content. But, due to the process, the wine also has a very high sugar content, giving it a very palatable taste. After our wine tasting here, we were on to the next winery – the Sandeman. Here we actually took a tour of the facility and learned more about the process that goes into the wine production. Many people recognize this brand of Port wine for the logo, which reminds many of the movie Zoro. At the Sandeman, we tried two wines, the Ruby and the white.

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After two tastings, we were more than ready for dinner, and we took it upon ourselves to try out a recommendation at a place called Cafe Santiago which made one of the best Franceschina sandwiches in town (so we were told). The Franceschina is a must-try if you are ever in Porto because the sandwich was created there. What doesn’t look that looming or threatening on your plate can be quite deceiving. Under that nice blanket of an egg on top, hides layers and layers of just about everything.IMG_3664.jpgThat night, since it was our second and last night in Porto, we explored the lighter side of the nightlife and I enjoyed a $3 sangria (which is VERY cheap for drinks here). Other highlights of our stay in Porto included the fact fact that you could purchase a HUGE bottle of water for 20 cents… unheard of anywhere I had been before.

The next morning, we woke up early to catch the metro back to the airport which was an experience in itself. When we had first arrived in Porto, we thought we had purchased the return ticket but were not completely sure SO when the police came on the metro to check tickets, and they started handing out fines to people who’s tickets were not valid, Becca and I had a little bit of a scare. BUT good news, our tickets were valid – THANK GOODNESS. Once we got to the airport, we checked into our flight to Paris. The lady at the desk informed us that our flight had been rerouted to another airport due to “an incident.”

Naturally, Becca and I were curious as to what the incident was so we went off to the side and googled it. Come to find out, there was a shooting that morning at the airport we were supposed to fly into… not exactly the news you want to hear. So after our second scare of the morning, we checked to make sure it was still safe to fly into the other airport and decided we would go ahead and make the pit-stop in Paris.

Destination #3: Paris, France (for the second time)

Due to the rerouted flight, we basically utilized the whole day for traveling and did not arrive in Paris at our hostel until dinner time that evening. We were just in time to meet up with Cecelia and two other friends who just happened to be visiting Paris for the week! That night I tried escargot for the first time, and believe it or not, it wasn’t bad. I was doing great until one of the girls said “Look, you can see its feet!” That slightly took away my appetite but nevertheless, I was fearless and kept chewing! It was an experience, and there is a slight possibility I would try escargot again in the future (if someone else was twisting my arm). After the escargot escapades, the night got even more interesting when I arrived back at our hostel and found someone else sleeping in my bed! Oh the joys of traveling.

On Saturday, Becca and I were up early to make the most of our day. Since she had never been to Paris before, I made sure to bring her to all of the major places like the Eiffel Tower, the Tuileries, Notre-Dame, etc. One thing I wanted to make sure I saw was the Pantheon, which was something I did not get the chance to see the first time. Back in 1744, King Louis XV wanted to dedicate a building to Saint Genevieve, the patron saint of Paris. Thus, in 1791 the building was declared a national Pantheon. Not only is the life of Saint Genevieve, the protector of Paris and its French Kings, depicted in painted decorations all around walls of the building, but many great people, including Victor Hugo, Voltaire, and Marie Curie, are buried in the crypts underneath the building.

Below: the Pantheon

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Following my visit to the Pantheon, there was one last place I was determined to visit – a cafe called Le Depart. This specific place was on my list because a family member of mine ate at this restaurant when he was 17 years old. Since it was one of his favorite spots, I was so excited to experience it for myself. Needless to say, it did not disappoint. In fact, the food in Paris never disappoints.

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And just like that, our 24 hour stop in Paris came to a close. It was back to the airport and on to the next stop: Germany!

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