Originally posted on October 24th on my tumblr.
Porto is my favorite city.
Granted, I’m still not particularly well-traveled when it comes to major European destinations. I’ve never been to Paris or London or Venice or Prague. There are also whole continents I’ve never set eyes upon, and whole regions back home in the United States that I’ve never visited. So I have an admittedly small sample size of cities for comparison.
But it’s hard to imagine someplace better.
Porto is built upon the steep banks of the river Douro a short distance inland from the Atlantic. It’s most famous for its wine, but there are numerous other attractions, such as the architecture of the medieval quarter, the beautiful Livreria Lello, and the Majestic Café. Perhaps my favorite thing in Porto is the massive Ponte Luiz 1, the bridge designed by Eiffel that spans the river and accommodates road traffic, the metro line, and pedestrians.
But there’s something intangible about the city itself that I find deeply appealing. It’s a touristic place, certainly, but not to the extent of Barcelona or Rome. Instead it’s more affordable, walkable, livable. I stumbled across a Wall Street English while I was there on this trip, and I even went inside to ask if they hire Americans and not just EU citizens. (They do. So who knows, maybe…) I think my feelings for Porto are due in equal measure to the city itself and to my individual experiences in the city.
The first time I visited Porto was in April of 2015. I was traveling throughout Portugal with a friend for Semana Santa, and while sipping a coffee in the Majestic Café where J.K. Rowling once scrawled notes about Harry Potter on scraps of napkin, I spotted two good friends from my Master’s program in Spain. It was a complete coincidence, but we went on to spend the rest of the trip together and enjoyed a delightful day and a half.
This time, I was traveling alone, but I stayed in a fun hostel called Nice Way. There, I met people to have dinner with each night. Conversation flowed back and forth between travelers from America, France, India, the Netherlands, and Scotland. A young Brazilian guy picked up a guitar and was joined by a Japanese man who had lived in Brazil, and together they sang one song after another in Portuguese, much to the delight of the local staff of the hostel.
During the day I explored the city on my own. At a bookstore, I bought a sketchbook with a cover made of cork and the English version of The Book of Disquiet, written by Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa. It rained off and on, but it was a blessing because much of the region was suffering from wildfires that clouded the air with reddish smoke.
My second morning, I packed up and took a city bus to the bus station, where I would catch an intercity bus up to Spain. I’d been told at the hostel that it was unnecessary to book in advance, but when I asked for the 1pm bus to Santiago, I was told it was sold out. I bought a ticket for the 4pm bus instead. My initial annoyance faded as the weather improved and I spent a beautiful unanticipated afternoon walking around, relaxing in two different parks, and wandering through an art gallery. A few extra hours in Porto, I resolved, was certainly nothing to complain about.
At 4pm I boarded an almost empty bus and we started North to Galicia.