Porto, Portugal: The Destination You Didn't Know You Required
I didn't plan on visiting metropolis of Porto. I took a bus from southern Spain that brought me across the border into the Algarve in Portugal. There a second bus unceremoniously required the rest of the way north through endless errors and rocky green hills to Lisbon. I admit Lisbon was lovely, but it only took me a day to realize I'd rather spend my time somewhere a little smaller and quieter. An hour of research landed me on an apple-green train heading up the coast to Portugal's second greatest city, and also the next about three weeks, without flash, without pretension or fanfare, Banchina became one of my favorite places in the world.
Delightful to the Old Globe
Don't get me wrong when I say "without flash", there's plenty of wonder in Porto but it's all of the weathered sort- the sort of grandeur left over from a substantial colonial past that scarcely echoes through Portugal's modern financial troubles things to do in porto. Porto has worn down with time and while its inhabitants certainly care about their city they haven't polished it to a sheen to attract tourists.
The vacationers who do come have a tendency to arrive during the summer season months to take benefit of the city's stunning shorelines. I stayed in Banchina throughout the spring, before the busy season, and Now i'm sure I would have enjoyed the location less if this was teaming with students letting loose on summer break. Arriving in the off-season you'll trade swimmable warm waters for modest leisure, an exchange I actually was more than happy to make and would accept again in a heartbeat.
Even with the waters cold the beaches are more than well worth a visit. Open expanses broken with ragged stones, soft sands dotted with sea-shells whose blue-and-white coloring mirrors the hues of traditional Portuguese ceramics. Throughout the days you can sit and watch locals fishing and during the nights you can walk the coast line and sit undisturbed on ancient stone structures as the waves crash under the moonlight.
The Douro River
Arriving at the beach is easy- take the rickety old train operating along the shore of the Douro River. Typically the rail will take you back and forth between the beach and Porto's main docks, and along the way you can watch the adegas, the old port basements, pass you by across the waters, their buildings marked with monumental old signs bearing the titles of the families that own them.
The hanches by the Dom Luis Bridge are lively during the day but provide a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience when visited at night, because the top of the bridge offers an unbelievable view of the rolling city and river illuminated by the lights of many small stone homes. I could write endlessly on this view, but I'll abstain. Go to Porto, go to the Dom Luis Bridge at night, and thank me when you return.
The Joys of City Life
Porto is a lovely city, not quite as steep as Lisbon but still filled with its fair share of hills and rocky outcroppings half disguised by bistré stone buildings with demure red tile roofs. The particular city has plenty of distinguished centuries-old buildings but nothing caught my attention quite as much as the Casa da Musica, a huge and seemingly unwieldy modern concert space-slash-school lying fairly near the coronary heart of the city. The particular Casa da Musica is impressive and imposing inside and out and appears almost like the sand crawler from the movie, Celebrity Wars.