7 September 2010

It's not unusual - Porto [Day One]

Public transport was not my friend early one August morning. Having booked a 9am flight, I naively thought that I might not have to get up at ridiculous o'clock. But to catch my 9am flight, I needed to be at the airport for about 7:30 am. Buses from Victoria station take about 75 mins, and run on the hour, so I had to book one at 6:00am. To get to Victoria - only an 8 minute journey - the only train ran at 5:00am. So as it turns out, a 4:30am start. Not cool.

I arrived in Porto to beautiful sunshine. As soon as I stepped off the aeroplane I could smell the salt in the air - it reminded me of being home. I instantly knew I was going to like this place.

I jumped on the metro and headed for town. The metro was amazing - clean, plenty of space, amazingly maintained - one of the best I have ever ridden. The journey was interesting - I got the feeling Porto was an old city coming to terms with the modern world. Crumbling stone walls and brightly tiled buildings were scattered amongst apartment blocks and all kinds of industrial buildings.

I got off the Metro at Aliados station; again, immaculate. They even had a stereo system, which was playing, rather unusually I thought, its not unusual by Tom Jones. As soon as I left the metro station I was hit by a wave of heat. Being dressed for Londons rather mild summer, I was sweating within seconds. Not to worry - according to my directions the hostel was just around the corner. The area around Aliados is amazing, with beautiful architecture, wide open pedestrian areas, monuments and plenty of trees. At the very end is the huge and wonderfully detailed City Hall. But there was plenty of time for that later... I finally found my hostel about 30 minutes later due to a lack of clear directions and the heat interfering with my internal compass. By this time I was exhausted! Unfortunately it was too early to check in, but I was allowed to leave my bag. A quick switcheroo in the baggage storage area, donning shorts and jandals, I was ready to explore.

The helpful people at my hostel gave me a tourist map and a run down of the attractions etc. I wandered off without paying much attention to it, and I'm glad I did. I was soon lost in what I guess was Porto's version of middle-class suburbia. Tiny, winding alleyways. run-down buildings intimidatingly leaning over into the streets (seriously - some of the buildings have huge steel supports on all over the sides just to hold them up!) Locals going about their daily grind, some just sitting on the side of the road watching life go by. I walked past cafes packed with locals and homes with pumping Portuguese music. Within five minutes of exploring I already loved the place. Not to mention, I was offered hash twice that afternoon... Either they do that to all the tourists, or I looked like I needed a pick-me-up. Probably both.


I made my way up a steep hill, and was rewarded with an amazing cathedral and breath-taking views of the city. Porto was built on very 'hilly' -for want of a better word- terrain. You are lucky to find a flat spot anywhere. Walking around means either hiking up a steep incline, or falling down the other side. This is hard going for the tourist, but can also provide spectacular views. In Porto especially - the ramshackle buildings with their orange tile roofs looked stunning. Unfortunately I don't think my photography quite conveys this, so you will just have to go and visit it yourself.

With legs of jelly, I took the path of least resistance - down! I found myself on the edge of the river Douro - along the Cais da Ribeira. The river is filled with rabelo boats - old style boats that were used to transport port down from the mountains to the cellars in Porto. Obviously they are not used for this any more, mainly used for tourist trips, but they are nice and add a bit of authenticity to the city. The waters edge is packed with café's, chairs, tables, umbrellas, beautiful people sunning themselves, drinking, eating, music... A perfect place to sit back with a port and enjoy the view.

I decided to check out Rue de Santa Catarina - the 'shopping' area in Porto. Within five minutes I was ready to move on. This was definitely not the reason I had come to Porto, and I'm not a great shopper at the best of times. But it wasn't a complete loss - I stumbled upon the Capela Das Almas - a beautiful church with an elaborate tiled exterior. Very cool.

I heard loud music coming from around the corner so decided to take a look. There was (I assume) traditional Portuguese dancing and music. I settled in and watched for a good 20 minutes. I'm not very knowledgable when it comes to dance styles, so I'm not sure what I can compare it to. Regardless, it was interesting and they were having a lot of fun!

Back at the hostel I met my room-mates - a French guy (Jerome) and Indian girl (I'm hopeless with names!), both from London visiting Porto for the weekend. We went up to the roof terrace where the hostel was serving up caipirinha's for €1.30 ! Who could say no to that? Later I got chatting to Beth, a girl from DC, and Alex, an Italian/English guy, both super cool. After a few (too many) caipirinha's, Jerome had this awesome idea to go to a beach party. We piled into taxi's and took the 20 minute drive to the beach. One other guy and I got a bit shafted, as the other taxi's had 4 people, and it was only the two of us, but such is life. On the way the inevitable happened - it started to rain. In my experience beach parties and rain don't mix too well. But not to worry, there was further disappointment ahead. I expected a large beach with loud music, bon fires etc, what we got was a club that had doors that opened out onto a tiny sectioned off area of the beach. While there I managed to walk into a glass wall. And it wasn't one of those times where you see it at the last minute and try to stop - I walked square into it with pace! I'm surprised I didn't go straight through. Classy.

So with the rain and the average atmosphere, we got sick of it after about 45 mins. Hailed a taxi and back to town (which cost about half as much! Meaning I got double-shafted on the way there - ouch!). We found the local area with bars and clubs etc - it was awesome! Everyone outside having a good time, music, dancing. I ended up finally collapsing into bed about 4am. This was when things got a bit scary. Jerome got changed by my bed... it was dark and I was only half awake, but I saw something that I REALLY hope was his belt.

Anyway, an epic first day, and a perfect way to start my trip.

Next Post - 'Old Men in Speedo's'

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