On the first stretch of our trip, we had to unfortunately take the tough decision to keep Spain and Portugal out of our travel destinations as our time in Europe was restricted by our Schengen Visa. We had opted to visit Greece and Italy because it was easier to get there when arriving from Eastern Europe and because… well because it’s Italy ! At the time, we did not know we would be back in Europe on this trip. After the week we spent in London and this one in Porto, we are really glad we made the choice to come back, even if we had to leave the beaches and the warm tropical sun.
Apparently, spring is the perfect time to visit Porto, it is neither too hot nor too cold. We even enjoyed a few days of temperatures above 20°C. Porto is a colourful city and it is possible to observe several buildings with magnificent ceramics on their exterior walls. We took advantage of our visit to sample some delicious pastries and the typical dish of Porto, the Franceshina. The latter is truly the nemesis of vegetarians. It consists of mortadella, beefsteak, two kinds of sausages and ham between two slices of bread, covered with cheese, an egg and a spicy sauce made with Porto wine. As if it was not fat enough, the sandwich is surrounded by fries. This is altogether as appetizing as a poutine.
We could not come to Porto without tasting some of the famous Port wines. Luckily, there are several tasting houses in Gaia which is just across the river. We planned on visiting several companies when we started our day, but we quickly became disillusioned after our first stop. We visited the Croft wine cellar and after three glasses of port, we decided to go home. It’s not that we did not enjoy the tasting, but the lady who looked after us was rather generous about the amount of alcohol she served in our glasses and the sweet taste of Porto made it as enticing as eating a chocolate mousse after eating a piece of chocolate cake. We were given a private tour of the place in French, during which we learned a little more about the origin of Port wine and the restrictions of the appellation. The boys even got to enjoy handmade chocolates. We were able to see a Port wine barrel dating from 1855, very impressive!
Several of the tourist cities in Europe offer guided tours of the city by locals. The tour itself is free, a tip is expected at the end of the tour depending on whether you liked the experience or not. Our tour in Porto was actually the first of these free guided tours we did. We all enjoyed the experience. Our guide Pedro was very lively, he gave interesting and imagined explanations. We learned more about the Portuguese, the history of the city and the local specialties.
Did you know that JK Rowlings taught English in Porto? We did not know either, but apparently, this city would have inspired much of the universe depicted in the books. It is possible to visit the bookstore that inspired the setting of the world of Harry Potter at the cost of 4€ per person. We found it ridiculous that an actual store charge people to visit and make money over the success of the books so we did not visit this bookstore. But we saw statues in the names of Arthur Wellesley and Abel Salazar that clearly influenced JK with some of the characters. After our visit to the Harry Potter Studios, our little guys were super excited to learn all these little anecdotes and make connections with elements from their beloved novels.
National Museum of Soares dos Reis
This museum is located in an old palace where magnificent mouldings, chandeliers and furniture can be observed on the second floor. The museum feature Portuguese paintings and sculptures from the 19th and 20th centuries. It is also possible to observe magnificent pieces of porcelain, jewelry amongst other artefacts.
Casa do Infante Museum
At the time, Portugal was a very powerful country and Porto is a historic port city. It is by chance that we have entered the Casa do Infante Museum. We learned more about the trade that passed through Porto. We were able to make connections with what we had learned before in Europe and in Asia on maritime history. Apparently, the great explorer Henriques was born in this house (hence the name of the museum). We were also able to learn a little more about the colonization of South America, which is a part of history that we had not yet touched on with our kids.
Since we had not visited any aquarium during our trip, we took the opportunity to visit the one in Porto, Sea Life. Located on the seashore, we were able to observe sea turtles, sharks and a multitude of fish. We were also able to attend the feeding of several crustaceans that are fed by hand only once every three days. The aquarium is quite small so we went around quite quickly. We took the opportunity to walk along the seaside and observe the waves coming down the coast.
We loved our week in Porto, we are glad to have visited this fascinating city. We especially enjoyed the small neighbourhood grocery store downstairs and the bakery two doors down from our flat. We are leaving Porto more informed about Port Wine and Portugal and are now off to Lisbon.