I recently travelled to Porto, Portugal. Here are my little scribbles from while I was there about the city and its people.
Genuine. That is honestly the first word that comes to mind. I’ve been in Porto less than four hours and I’ve had half a dozen full and proper conversations with people. Not people hawking anything or wanting my money (except for the most friendly and energetic hash dealer I’ve ever met). And though my grasp of Portuguese is pathetically weak, these lovely people have humoured an already very red British lad.
One lady, running a tiny little cafe outside the flat I was staying in where I popped for a quick after flight espresso, tried her English on me as much as I tried my Portuguese on her. I have no idea how old this lady was, but her wrinkles had wrinkles – and they were all from smiling. As soon as she guessed I was British (not a hard one to figure out if you knew what I looked like), her face lit up. She told me she had just started learning English because her Grandson had married a girl from Manchester. There was her, going through her entire menu in English, asking “Is right?” after each item. And then me, stumbling through the five-word sentence to ask for a “black coffee, please.” She was a delight.
Each encounter after was much the same. The hash-man I mentioned earlier was this guy hopping from foot to foot declaring, in English, he had “the best hash ever to escape the confines of the arse of a Moroccan.” An interesting pitch and, depending on how much booze I had that day, I thought I might try to find him later. Then there was the waitress at this small restaurant down a cobbled street (I had cod and potatoes in a sauce I don’t know but will forever dream about) who immediately told me everywhere I must visit in town. I had paused my music to ask her for a table and she saw I was listening to ‘California Sun’ by The Ramones. We became immediate friends – discussing the entire discography of those pioneering Americana punks. She disagreed ‘Sheena is a Punk Rocker’ is their greatest track – everyone’s entitled to be wrong I suppose.
TimeOut told me to go to Livraria Lello – famously the world’s third best-looking bookshop. I’ve no idea about the first and second, but they must come with some sort of sexual gratification, because Livraria Lello is bloody stunning. Apparently the staircase was the inspiration for the grand one at Hogwarts in Harry Potter. Sure, why not. I’m certain the whole place has been the inspiration for a great many things. With a ticket to enter (€5) you also get a discounted book. On the advice of a dear Portuguese friend of mine (Sara, if you read this, you’re the best), I picked up ‘Message’ by Fernando Pessoa, an acclaimed Portuguese poet (a gift for a pretty awesome person who loves poetry).
Back to Livraria Lello; bloody brilliant place. A couple of hundred years old, the building is stunning. A tourist hotspot for sure, but not a trap – more a celebration of literature and the calming nature of books. The staircase is busy though. My gormless mug must be in a fair few holiday snaps. Adjust your face accordingly if visiting.
I had a little tootle down the road to the Clérigos Church. The bell tower, the Torre dos Clérgios, is 75m tall. It’s a dominating sight across the skyline of Porto – in fact, I used it as a reference point for where I was in the city for the rest of my stay. Started in 1753 and finished in 1763, the church was designed by Italian architect Nicolau Nasoni. It’s a damn impressive building. Baroque motifs are always fun – grand scale and over-the-top details. Definitely a place to visit.
I wandered around and ended up on Rue de Cândido dos Reis, a night-time haunt of tourists and locals, but the sun was still out when I was there. I was struck by how, for such a small city, (300,000 people), Porto is full of life. And soul. The architecture is a blend of Mediterranean and Italian, with a few Moorish influences, and is all unblemished by garishness. In a word, it’s cute. I could, incredibly easily, be an old man in Porto. Under the eaves in the shade with a sea breeze, watching the world go by with an espresso and a tall cerveja. I’ve always been an old soul – and Porto seems to understand that.