Portugal Travel-Log: Part 2, Porto and the Return to Lisbon

Read Portugal Travel-Log: Part 1, Lisbon and CoimbraModern Lisbon and classic Coimbra, home to one of the world’s oldest universities

Porto

The next morning brought cold rain and an early departure for Porto, further to the north. Portugal’s second largest city and famed for its sweet Port wine, Porto stands gracefully above the northern banks of the Douro River. Arriving on the train, the first thing a visitor will notice are the towering bridges that connect Porto and its more modern neighbour Vila Nova de Gaia. One such span, the Dom Luís I Bridge, arches majestically over the river and brings to mind images of Paris’ Eiffel Tower. This is no accident; the bridge’s designer, Léopold Valentin, was one of Gustav Eiffel’s young protégés.

The lights of Ribeira glisten in the cool night air, the historic center of Porto, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996 (Portugal's 8th)The lights of Ribeira glisten in the cool night air, the historic center of Porto, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996 (Portugal’s 8th)Parts of Porto, with boarded up buildings and scrawled graffiti, hint at the city’s hard-scrabble past as a shipping port and decades of economic despondency. Closer to the Douro River, the buildings are older and the area more well-preserved. Riberia, belying Porto’s more recent economic struggles, is an exquisite gem of august architecture, fine restaurants and majestic bridges. UNESCO certainly thought so, naming Riberia a World Heritage Site in 1996. Dining on Portugal’s superb cuisine and sweet Port wine with the Don Luis I alight in the darkness as a backdrop is truly a singular pleasure.

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Yes. I Bought an iPhone.

Yes. I Bought an iPhone.So everyone will stop being shocked when they hear about it, yes, I bought an iPhone. And it’s brilliant.

It is sort of like the genius friend we all have. The one who also happens to be a super-model. And just like the beautiful intelligent friend, occasionally it crashes hard when over-burdened. But I still love it. Now, everyone, stop asking to hold it every time I take it out to check the time. My genius-super-model-phone is taken.

Portraits of Portugal: Journeys through Lisbon, Coimbra and Porto

Portraits of Portugal: Journeys through Lisbon, Coimbra and Porto

Perhaps it was the promise of old-world European elegance, with mysteriously hidden side-streets and quaint restaurants, or the chance to utilize my meager Brazilian Portuguese. Whatever the reason, Portugal became my second foray into Europe thus far. Between its great food, wonderfully unique scenery, storied history and quick public transport network, this gem on the Iberian peninsula did not disappoint.

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Portugal Travel Log: Part 1, Lisbon and Coimbra

Generally I travel on short notice and with little planning. For me, aimlessly wandering secreted urban streets and directionless forest paths is the true appeal of travel. Metered hours in an unknown landscape leaves little time for the majesty of the unexpected. It was in this spirit that I set out for Portugal, with dreams of old-world charms ripe for exploration. Visiting the hub of new world discovery as one of my first European forays added to the appeal.

Elegant residences line the streets around the Baixa Pombalina (or Pombaline Lower Town), rebuilt following the devastating 1755 earthquakeElegant residences line the streets around the Baixa Pombalina (or Pombaline Lower Town), rebuilt following the devastating 1755 earthquake

My itinerary was, perhaps, rather ambitious: three cities, one of them the metropolis of Lisbon, in a scant five days. Alas, the timing was beyond my control, so smooth traveling was subject to capricious winds of fate. Fortunately, Portugal boasts something all too lacking from my past travels: a first-world transportation system. While not France’s TGV or Japan’s Shinkansen lines, Portugal’s aptly named Comboios de Portugal (Portuguese Trains) is an easy, if leisurely, way to traverse the country without risking life and limb on the nation’s precarious roadways.

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