I hugged Mom. We stood outside Santiago de Compostela Cathedral breathing in relief. It had been quite the journey.
Over a week previously we had been taking it easy in Portugal, basking in the buzz of Porto, meeting up with friends and barely acknowledging that we had to walk to Santiago. On reflection, we’re not quite sure if it was the smartest move!
Even though we didn’t start walking until we reached Vigo (in Spain), to us our journey started in Porto. For those who plan on walking, it’s entirely possible to start from Portugal but given our two weeks, there was no way we would’ve made it to Santiago in time.
Porto is a city that captured our hearts from the moment we arrived. We had booked an Airbnb in the centre of its “Old Town” and had just a day and a bit to explore. Settling in quickly we bolted out the door in search of food and to fuel our curiousity – we weren’t disappointed.
Tiles upon tiles stuck to the walks, giving Porto a uniquely beautiful look. There were blues spilling from the buildings with some built so close together that it almost looked like they were about to fall.
It felt like a place where you could just simply be you. No one seemed to second glance that you were a tourist and they enjoyed when we attempted our Portuguese (with Google Translate’s finest effort).
We watched the sunset slowly dip as it shone across the Ribeira. We saw the boats slowly chug past in the watery blue. We listened to the buskers and watched as they jostled for tips by the banks of the river. And that was all in the space of a few hours.
The next day there were two things we wanted to focus on. We decided to take in as much as possible and we needed to book our train ticket up the coast.
Rambling through the tiled and cobbled streets we accidentally stumbled into São Bento train station. My friend Carla jokingly said that it was the most beautiful train station in the world, and it’s hard to disagree!
The vestibule is framed by pilasters, covered in azulejo tile creating large “paintings” representing historical events in Portuguese history. There are approximately 20,000 tiles, dating from 1905–1916, and were composed by Jorge Colaço. It’s a stunning piece of architecture that’s absolutely breathtaking.
The friendliness of the Tripeiros (Porto people) was astounding and their smiles stand out in clear memory. There’s the man dressed to the nines laughing and waving his Panama hat to Mom; the ticket man in São Bento who patiently guided us through the process and the cellist serenading passersby – the place was simply ALIVE.
We spent the rest of the day exploring the city at our own pace, enjoying little moments and re-discovering again the joy of travelling together.
While we didn’t get time to try Porto’s famous Francesinha, we had no doubt that we would make our way back to this haven in Portugal.
General tips for Porto!
- Get the metro from the airport into Porto. While it might be tempting to hail a taxi, the metro is really easy to use and you can get into the centre easily. Don’t be afraid to ask for help using the ticket machines.
- Try to get by using Portuguese. The locals appreciate the effort and it’s good fun to practice. I’d recommend downloading the offline version of Google Translate.
- Don’t wing it for places to eat. Generally, it’s a good sign to see locals eating at the place you head to. Our food offerings were ok but I think it’s because we didn’t have time to scout out the best places to eat. We tried to get into Casa Guedes but were too hungry to queue!
- For great views of the Ribeira and sunset head over the Dom Luís I Bridge (Ponte D. Luís I) to Serra do Pilar.
- The yellow bus tours are good value and offer a great overview of Porto if you’re short on time like we were. We got to see the outskirts of the city as well as the main attractions. We got our tickets in one of the Tourism Information offices but you can buy them on the bus too.
I’ve so many stories to tell but I’m not quite sure yet how I’m going to tell them. For now, I think I’m going to sprinkle them in other pieces. Thank you for reading.