Porto, Portugal

Day 1

This trip started when John and I won a “chalet” through John’s work – a vacation home on an island in Portugal (turns out the island is even closer to Morocco than it is to Portugal). No flights went direct to the island that I could find, so we decided to go to Porto, Portugal for a day and a half, and head to Madeira after. When I first found this city, all it was, was a stop-over until we go to Madeira, nothing more than that. I knew it had churches, and a cool bridge, but nothing more. Two days before leaving I decided to do a lot more research – turning my mind around from this city jut being a “stop-over”. Turns out J.K. Rowling lived in Porto for about three years, most of that time writing the first Harry Potter book. Being as big a Harry Potter fan that I am, I was getting very excited! I had three places to go – Majestic Café (where she wrote A LOT), Lello Library (where she apparently got the idea for the Grand Staircase), and a fountain statue (where she apparently got the look for Gryffindor).

After missing our train to the airport (they changed the platform # and of course we didn’t understand as they said it in German…). We took another train, and then a taxi (which cost a crapload of money..) to make sure we got to the airport in the “two hours before”. We were late of course, but it seems like so many others were also. We got to the gate with barely 15 minutes to spare – still having not eaten a thing all day.. Kids at this point were fed up, but calmed down once we got on the actual plane! The plane to Porto was long – almost three hours. Would have been fine, kids would have slept, were it not for a soccer team being on the flight with us. Between the 10 people in front of us, they finished an entire bottle of Jack Daniels, sang a million songs, and were louder than anything I’d heard in a long time.. They were playing with the kids (which amped them up…), but at least they were having fun, Nathan “took” one of the player’s scarves with team details on it. The man teased him, but let him keep it. Nathan was beyond happy!!

Finally after a half hour metro ride, we made it to our hotel. Unpacked, and went on a food search. After finding food, we set on our tour of the city. Literally everywhere you go, you see Porcelain tiles on walls, outside buildings, sides of churches…etc Everywhere… I heard about a train station called Sao Bento which all walls were tiled. This place when you walk in is spectacular! Thousands of tiles making images on the walls over 15 feet high – on all 4 walls! I cannot imagine using that train station every day!

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As we kept walking we passed the Majestic Café. I checked a menu and saw the prices were insane – no matter how badly I wanted to go, it was just too expensive. So we kept walking until we found a church at the top of the mountain. After that it was now dark, so we decided to do the rest of our touring the next day. John brought us back the same way, passing the Majestic Café again. No matter my insistence on it being expensive, John wouldn’t let me say no – he insisted we go in – which I am extremely thankful for! I have never seen a Café like it. There is a valet dressed in a fancy suit opening the doors for you. The waiters and waitresses all had fancy “costumes”. The chandeliers, the markings on the walls….nothing I’d ever seen in a café before! To be sitting in the spot where one of my favorite authors wrote her first big book – was something I can’t even explain. What a feeling! After leaving, we all went back to the hotel and slept like babies!!

Day 2

Started today by walking to the Lello Library (not really a library, it’s a bookstore). We got there early, so while John was waiting in line for our tickets to get in (3euros an adult, kids free – but you can use the voucher when you buy a book), I found a drink stand where I wanted my first glass of Porto Wine, the regions specialty wine. It wasn’t even 10:00 yet, but as I was told by my hubby “we’re in Europe, you can drink anytime!” 😉  The glass was 4euros, but so worth it – very good glass of wine!!! The bookstore was amazing! I could have stayed in there all day. The red staircase is really the first thing you see. It takes the entire room. It curves up to the top circularly. The carvings along the underside of the stairs were outstanding. Seeing this, you can definitely see how J.K. Rowling would have based this on the Hogwarts Grand Staircase. Books line all walls top to bottom, on both floors. Thankfully we got there at opening time (10:00) and were the first in line, the place got busy fast. Nice pictures would have been impossible after 10:05. We used our voucher to buy a book and a couple souvenirs. I really do wish I could have stayed there all day!

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The rest of the day was spent just exploring. We had a map and just walked to all the churches on the map. Every single one was beautiful. Porto is very mountainous – you need great shoes. Our calves by the end of the day were in pain. Porto is full of fountains and monuments and parks.

At the bottom of the mountain there is a church called Church of São Francisco. We didn’t want to pay for just the church, but found out it was 4euros for the church, a museum, and catacombs. You walk into the church and all you see it gold everywhere! Top to bottom sculptures and statues, all gold. It was stunning! We don’t usually like to pay for churches, but this one was worth the 4euros!

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By 6:00 we had been walking literally all day long, Back to the hotel for supper, early sleep and next day heading to Madeira!!

Day 3

After our week in Madeira, we came back to Porto for two nights (one full day) before heading to Madrid. I thought we had exhausted our stay the first time, but we decided to check out the opposite side of the river – where all the Porto Breweries are. I’d been trying to find the best brewery (cheapest, with the most tastings at the end..). As I was researching them on TripAdvisor, John got stopped by someone who I’d thought was trying to sell us something. Turns out he worked at Porto Augusto’s and was trying to “sell” his brewery. In the end, he was the cheapest, and most tastings at the end. For 5euros we got the tour, and 3 tastings. Ended up that we were stopped by a small locally owned family brewery – ones that still stomp on the grapes by foot rather than in a big industry. We saw where the wine is kept, how it’s made, what kind of grapes they use, and then onto the tasting. In the end 5 tastings were included in our 5euros, and we found out they could ship wine to home in Germany. When they found out we wanted to ship 3 bottles home, as a “gift from the house”, they gave us a tasting of 20 year white and red Porto. Usually to try them you need to pay an extra 10euros a glass! It was a very nice gesture. After buying, we also found out that our 5euro tour and tasting fee was waved – so technically the tour and tasting was free! This brewery was very worth it!

Oh, it was Easter Sunday today – everything was open! Restaurants, stores, breweries, they even had a huge flea market happening! I was worried being Easter Sunday we’d have a boring day – it was a great day! Rest of the day we just relaxed and walked around, and settled into bed early as our flight left Porto to Madrid at 6:30am for the next leg of our trip!

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