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Day 1: Home to Porto

Today was an exciting day: our first visit to a brand new country :)  I had looked at flights to Portugal a few times over the past couple of years, but always given up after a few minutes because they seemed prohibitively expensive. When we were looking at flights earlier this year, however, we found that there were now relatively cheap Ryanair flights between Birmingham and Porto (well, cheap if you're prepared to fly on a Wednesday, at least!) and that seemed like too good an opportunity to miss.

I'm not sure I've ever been flown on a Wednesday before, but it turned out to be a lot more relaxing than flying on a Saturday. It took less than five minutes to drop our bags at the Ryanair desk (compared to the 45 minutes we would normally build into our schedule for this on a Saturday morning at Stansted!) and probably only ten minutes to get through security. The only place which turned out to be hell on earth was Wetherspoons, which was so full of hen parties that we failed utterly to get a table and ended up having breakfast in the much more expensive (but significantly quieter!) All Bar One in the old terminal 2.

I had made the mistake again of thinking that flying from Birmingham would be nice because it wasn't such a long journey to the airport, and then booking a 7am flight, which actually involved leaving home at 4am. So I may have accidentally slept through most of the flight itself, waking up just as we were starting our descent to Porto. First impressions were that Portugal looked much greener and much hillier than I had anticipated. We had some wonderful views firstly of mountains and then of the sea as the plane came down.

Porto airport seemed fairly quiet too and we were through passport control in a couple of minutes, which was a relief after the extremely long queues in Milan last week :) From my research I knew that the best way to get into the centre of town from the airport was to take the metro, so we set about trying to find that. This is where things became a bit more chaotic! Although there were quite a few ticket machines in the ticket hall, enormous queues had formed at each one as a succession of tourists tried to figure out how to use them. We joined what we thought was the shortest line, but some people seemed to be finding it exceptionally difficult to buy a ticket, or else weren't sure which station they wanted to go to, and it moved very slowly.

Once we got to the front, we found it was a bit confusing because buying a ticket firstly involves purchasing a reusable ticket card and then consulting a long list of destinations to find out which zone the place you want to go to is in. We thought we had got this figured out and tried to buy two tickets to São Bento, the main train station in the centre of Porto. Unfortunately what we ended up doing was loading two journeys to São Bento onto one reusable ticket card (and the rules on the machine stated that each person has to have their own individual ticket card), so we had to go through the performance twice to try and get a second ticket. In the middle of this the machine froze for several minutes and refused to do anything. Tim tried in vain to attract the attention of the attendant who was supposed to be helping people use the machines, but eventually it started working again of its own accord. Phew!

Having a metro from the airport to the town centre sounds like a wonderfully efficient idea on paper, but in practice the journey turned out to be a bit of a challenge. When we emerged onto the platform there was one metro train on the verge of departing, but it looked incredibly full so we decided to give it a miss and wait for the next one. We could already see the next one waiting further down the track, so I figured it must be a very frequent service. Unfortunately it isn't!

The new train did pull in almost as soon as the other one had departed and we got on board. Unusually for a service designed to depart from an airport, there was nowhere at all to put baggage. This was rather problematic, as our suitcases are quite large. It soon became clear that the train was going to be too busy for us to get away with blocking seats with them, so eventually Tim managed to (just about!) push them under the seats. Effectively about three quarters of the suitcases fitted under the seats, meaning that there wasn't really anywhere left to put our feet, so we had to sit at a rather strange angle.

Initially I didn't think this would be a problem, because I anticipated it would be quite a quick journey to the town. What I hadn't anticipated, was that the metro was first going to sit at the station for a full 30 minutes while person after person tried to squeeze themselves onto it. The journey itself then took around 30 minutes, so by the time we got eventually got off we could hardly walk!

Luckily, things improved after that! It was a beautifully warm sunny day in Porto and we didn't have too far to walk to get to the apartment I had booked. The owners had emailed me at the point I booked it and said that although check-in wasn't until three, we could turn up early and leave our bags in their office, so we headed straight there. The route seemed deceptively easy at first, initially leading us downhill, but when we arrived at the turning for the road to the apartment, it suddenly became very steeply uphill indeed!


We just about managed to drag the suitcases to the top of the hill, where we found the apartment. There was a rather unique welcome waiting for us in the hallway :)


Luggage successfully deposited, we set off for a stroll around Porto. We soon found ourselves at a viewpoint over the River Douro.


From here it was obvious quite how steep some of the streets in Porto are!


We found a pleasant route down through a park, which took us almost as far down as the level of the river.


As we walked along some of the little streets in the lower part of the old town, we caught sight of a beautiful church.


The facade was covered in the pretty little blue tiles which seem to be on so many buildings in Porto :)


We soon found ourselves in a large square.


The grand building on the edge of the square is Palácio da Bolsa, which used to be the city's stock exchange.


On the far side of the square there was another beautiful tiled church.


We made our way down to the river.


There are some really pretty and colourful buildings along the riverside.


As we walked along by the river, we had our first view of Porto's famous Dom Luís I Bridge.


The bridge has two levels, with cars travelling along the lower level and pedestrians along the top level, which is 60m above the river. We may try walking across it tomorrow, but our main aim for today was now to find somewhere to get lunch. There were lots of interesting looking cafes and restaurants along the waterfront.


However, unfortunately most of them seemed to be serving fish :(  Octopus seemed to be a particularly popular option, as were prawns. As we were also keen to avoid Porto's local meat speciality, which involves some kind of tripe, we spent quite a bit of time walking around and rejecting restaurant menus before we eventually found somewhere where I could have spaghetti bolognese :)

The good news is that the restaurant we did find was really lovely, and both the food and the wine in Portugal seem a lot cheaper than in France, for example. We had a nice meal sitting outside, and then once it got to 3pm we began the long trek back uphill to our apartment.


To our surprise, when checking in we received a small glass of complementary port and a chocolate. The port had a nice flavour, but it tasted very strong! We were then shown upstairs to our apartment, which is really lovely.


The people who own the building are architects and so the room is full of clever little features. If you were wondering where the kitchen was...


... it's in here :)


We were pretty hot and tired by this point, so turned on the air conditioning and had a nap.  Tomorrow we're looking forward to exploring Porto in more detail :)porto-03.jpg

Edited by Clare

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