Having said our bittersweet good-byes to Paris last night, we were up painfully early this morning to catch our flight to Porto.  As we were riding the Metro to the airport at 5:30 am, I noticed that most of the other passengers on the train looked like they were just heading home from a night out on the town – no self-respecting Parisian would be starting their day at that hour.  But alas, we forged ahead and made it to Porto around 11 this morning, tired but excited to see what kind of adventures lied ahead.

As we exited the Porto Metro station and headed toward our hotel, our suitcases bumping loudly along the uneven cobblestone sidewalks, my first impression was, “Uh-oh…”  Graffiti covered nearly every storefront, building facades were dingy, window shutters were crooked and broken, hanging by rusty hinges, and I didn’t understand a single word of anything that was being said around us.  Had Rick Steves led us astray?  Where were the brightly tiled buildings, the ornate church towers, the glistening river?  Anxiety set in, but I bit my tongue, afraid that Shane would think I was just having Paris withdrawal.  We navigated our way to the hotel and were relieved to find a sparkling white lobby, complete with modern interiors and an English-speaking clerk.  We checked into our room and were thrilled to find a beautiful room with a little balcony overlooking the street, a marble-tiled bathroom, and crisp white bed linens.  I began to relax.  We unloaded our things and headed back out the door, in search of some lunch.  We popped into a little cafe and scratched our heads at the Portuguese menu, but decided to take a chance and just picked out a couple of sandwiches with what seemed like pronouncable names.  The first sandwich brought to our table was a grilled ham and cheese, which was decent but unremarkable.  But the second sandwich was more of surprise, filled with various meats, covered with melted in cheese, and served in a bowl of rich red broth.  Hmmm…  It was good, but not what we were expecting – Shane joked that he’s often ordered sandwich and soup for lunch, but never sandwich in soup.  We finished lunch, paid our bill after an uncomfortable exchange in our waiter’s broken English and our very few words of Portuguese, and we headed out for more exploring in the city center.  The sun came out from behind the clouds that had hung over the town all morning, and I began to take note of the beautiful painted tiles that covered several building fronts.  Turns out we had taken one of the less scenic routes to get to our hotel.  But regardless, after a day here, I am beginning to appreciate the grit and the cracks the as part of the urban fabric.  They are signs of authenticity, of this city’s culture and history.  There is something really neat about being in a town where people still hang their laundry out to dry on clotheslines strung between windows, where they let chipped tiles fall away to create a secondary pattern on building fronts, and where they let things like peeling paint or crooked roofs stand as signs of the remarkable age of their city.





Uplifted by the beauty and character we’d discovered, but still quite tired, we headed back to the hotel for a nap, deciding that we would make our way down to the river later on for dinner.  After some rest and showers in our seemingly palatial bathroom (did I mention that our shower in our Paris apartment barely allowed me room to turn around without knocking the handle?) we set out toward the Duoro river for dinner.  We tried to follow the map to our final destination, but couldn’t keep track of the changing street names, so we decided to just head downhill and hope that we ended up somewhere near the Ribeira district.  Our wandering brought us to a fantastic little lookout over the city – this was the point in the evening when I really realized the awesome-ness of Porto.  I’ll let the picture speak for itself.


Dinner was great and we finished off the evening with a glass or Port and a cup of espresso.  Despite my original skepticism, I would say day 1 of our Portuguese adventure was a success.  We’re hitting a couple of big sights tomorrow and leaving the rest of the day open to be surprised by whatever little gems are hidden in Porto’s narrow, twisting streets.