“In the faint shadows cast by the last light before evening gives way to night, I like to roam unthinkingly through what the city is changing into, and I walk as if nothing had a cure.”– Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet
I thought Porto would be the highlight of my trip through Portugal. The hills overlooking the Duoro River, the port wine houses, river cruises with plenty of wine, and cheese. Oh, the cheese! It would all be so wonderful after celebrating my birthday in Aveiro and before heading back to Lisbon. The travel tips I received from friends and family who had visited before provided me with a great list of sights to see. And it was all for naught.
I was exhausted upon arrival — that birthday in Aveiro ended late with a few too many drinks, partly thanks to a friendly Brazilian couple I met at the bar. The warm humid air did not help while pulling my suitcase on the tiled sidewalks, half of which were closed due to construction, from São Bento station to my hotel, which I booked for its proximity to the station (and ease of finding along the winding streets). I didn’t book a free walking tour like I did in Lisbon partly because I wanted to make sure the weather would cooperate (it didn’t).
I took a few moments in São Bento to admire the beautiful tile work — there’s a reason it’s a tourist attraction in Porto. I took a closer look on my way out of Porto as well, and it was a wonderful sight despite the crowd.
After checking in at Almada Wine House, which was more of an apartment, I headed out for food — I was hungry as I had only eaten a small breakfast in Aveiro and it was now well past noon. Staff at the hotel directed me to a large cafe around the corner for convenience. Unfortunately, the sandwich I ordered was not hot enough; it seemed like it was reheated meat with unmelted warm cheese. It might have been what gave me a mild case of food poisoning later that evening. When hungry, I tend to make poor decisions.
Though I was still tired, I forced myself to see some of Porto — it’s a beautiful city to wander through. My intention was to get oriented and make my way to the Duoro River to take in the view. Offline maps are helpful, though Google did not want GPS to be accurate and pointed in the wrong direction more than a few times.
The sky grew darker and the first drops of rain began to fall, so I decided to duck into the church next to me — it was a terrific decision. It was Torre dos Clérigos. This church has a lengthy museum that you must walk through before entering the bell tower to get a view of the city. I wasn’t enthralled by much of the exhibit that explained the history of the Brotherhood of Clergy, but there were some interesting baroque architectural details along the way through the church that was completed in 1750. I probably would’ve found some of the information about the Brotherhood of Clergy more interesting had I not been so tired from the night before, but, alas, I was mostly interested in escaping the rain and gaining a view of Porto all for about $9.
The stairway up the bell tower was lengthy, and the staircase became narrower as tourists reached the top. This all made things more claustrophobic when someone was coming in the opposite direction — there were moments I had to wait for a small crowd to come up or down before continuing.
As I reached the top of the bell tower, the rain cleared temporarily, and I even got a rainbow above Porto. I figured this was a good omen (maybe I shouldn’t trust rainbows considering I was sick that night). Despite the pain of later, the view was refreshing and provided enough energy for me to venture farther out.
From Torre dos Clérigos, I walked over to the Gardens of the Crystal Palace, which I expected to be a bit more picturesque. It’s a better location for views above the Duoro River than it is for the actual gardens (or maybe November isn’t the best time for lush gardens?). I also thought it’d make for an easy path down the hillside to the river and dinner — it’s definitely not easy to judge whether streets and alleys are passable on Google, which made me consider using Maps.me for offline maps next time.
What surprised me about wandering the grounds was all the chickens and peacocks roaming the area. I hadn’t expected such wildlife in a city park, but it was a pleasant scene despite the grey skies.
After a few dead ends through the Gardens of the Crystal Palace, I managed to find a road that wound its way down to the riverfront, where I could enjoy the view with some sporadic light showers. As it neared dinner (at least for Americans traveling in Europe), I searched for at least a light snack but came up empty until I reached the more touristy area next to Luis I Bridge.
The weather cleared up for some sunset pictures before turning returning to a dreary, rainy mess. I was standing next to a touristy wine bar on the Duoro riverside walk when the rain restarted and they had an available seat for me to order an overpriced wine and appetizer. Aside from the view, it was unimpressive, but the small appetizer was enough to keep me walking after the rain let up again and I could cross the Luis I Bridge into Gaia.
The bridge was undergoing some renovations, so I couldn’t get any pictures while walking across. But I found the street along the river to be pleasant — it was quiet, likely because of the rain. I walked along looking for a place to eat that had covered outdoor seating so I could enjoy the view while avoiding more rain. I found a restaurant that I thought would be suitable and ordered a charcuterie board to relax with — it was honestly the worst cheese I’ve ever tasted as they all were candy sweet. The cheese was difficult to eat in between bites of cured meat, which made me consider that this is what led to my illness that night.
Despite the sub-par food, I enjoyed the view and shelter from the storm. It was bad enough that I decided to get an Uber back to my hotel — plus, I was exhausted and didn’t want to walk up the hills.
There’s never a good time to be sick while traveling, but the timing in Porto wasn’t bad. My full day in the city was beyond miserable — the rain was heavy and nonstop the entire day. Considering I would’ve had to take taxis everywhere that day to avoid getting soaked, I didn’t feel bad about sleeping most of the day.
My itinerary for the day was to get yogurt, water, and the equivalent to Pedialyte. The pharmacist who helped me recommended some other OTC meds to help out, and I felt a lot better by the next day. Despite the discomfort, I managed to get out for a bit of sightseeing on that day — the discomfort was definitely exacerbated by the pouring rain that didn’t let up until evening.
I managed to muster enough energy to book a timed ticket to enter the “world’s most beautiful bookstore” at Livraria Lello — it’s €5 for the ticket, but visitors get reimbursed if they purchase anything in the bookstore. After being underwhelmed by the world’s oldest bookstore in Lisbon, I didn’t have high expectations for Livraria Lello.
Livraria Lello is supposedly the bookstore that inspired J.K. Rowling. There is a whimsical nature to the design of the bookstore. Unfortunately, the book selection was disappointing — there was mostly branded prints of classic literature, a lot of Harry Potter, and a few mass market books. I would’ve been interested in picking up some translations of Portuguese literature if some were available (I bought Fernando Pessoa’s The Book of Disquiet after returning home).
As I was there in the afternoon, it was crowded. That meant I had to wait to take pictures of the winding red staircase in the middle of the store — so many people were posing for photos that it made it difficult to go up or down. I would recommend visiting first thing in the morning to avoid the crowd (and I’m sure it was more crowded because of the rain).
I had little energy after visiting Livraria Lello, and the weather didn’t help improve any motivation remaining. My main purpose of visiting Porto was to enjoy port wine, a lot of cheese, and some fish. Getting sick ruined that plan.
There was enough energy to walk around the city close to my hotel — I wasn’t about to venture farther as I wasn’t sure I would be able to make it back up any large hills. As the rain subsided, the city lit up in the evening; it was beautiful for the time between the rain showers.