“Follow your bliss, and doors will open for you that you never knew existed. Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors for you where there were only walls.” – Joseph Campbell
When they say life is an adventure, so live it to its fullest, I kind of took it literally. A few months ago I had this urge to do something random. I browsed through airline websites hoping to catch a cheap one way flight ticket without knowing exactly where to go. Obvious choices were dream cities like Paris, London or Amsterdam but the safest choice would be any Southeast Asia country because of the proximity and it’s obviously cheaper. But then I thought, why not seize the chance to go somewhere different (and the furthest I dare). I ended up choosing Portugal and if you ask me why, it was just super random.
It was my first solo trip travelling to a place this far. I flew across the continent with KLM for 13 hours; with 2 stops and plenty of hours to procrastinate before the journey began…
10 hours later I arrived at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris. Everything looked so strange but instead of feeling scared, I braved my way through the airport. I was in awed.
I hopped on to the next flight to Lisbon and 3 hours later, I was already in Portugal. It was the longest journey I had to experience but it was so worth it. I didn’t even feel tired or experience any jet lag, I just felt so impatient because I couldn’t wait to start exploring the city.
But let’s save the story about Lisbon for now because in this post, I will share my experience living in a city called Porto, a piece of land in Portugal that is rich with culture, people and outstanding architectural treasures.
What’s not to love about this city? Everything is simply amazing!
The view is to die for. Everywhere you go, everything is so scenic; clean, refreshing and awe-inspiring. Porto is famous for its port wine and finding them is not like solving a puzzle. My favourite spot would be along the famous River Douro, amazing cafes lined up by the narrow street with people taking a sip or two on Porto’s famous port wine. The joy of relaxing by the river watching boats passing by during the sunset is priceless. Getting there is easy, take the metro and stop at Jardim do Morro, and you will see the amazing Ponte D. Luis 1 bridge (a metal arch bridge that spans the Douro River between the cities of Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia). Once you get down from the train, you can see a spectacular view from there, overlooking the River Douro and Zona Ribeirinha, among the main attractions in Porto.
Lello Bookstore @ Porto, Portugal (source)
Surely you can’t find any tall tower and futuristic building in Porto but it doesn’t mean the city is under developed. I love how the buildings have the antique touch to them with some looking a bit dated and crying for a major makeover but that’s the beauty of it; they are all well structured and preserved. Porto is rich with museums and churches that you have to visit. Centro Portugues de Fotografia is one of them and it’s located in the heart of Porto. You can take the Metro and stop at Aliados, venture the city and you will find many great places to visit. São Francisco Church is one of the amazing churches I’ve seen. With its extraordinarily lavish church interiors and completely covered in gold, you have to be there to witness its grandeur. Casa Da Musica is Porto’s other famous landmark, it’s a concert hall space in Porto which houses the cultural institution. Easily spotted as it has been uniquely designed by world-renowned architect Rem Koolhaas. If you want to experience being in a bookstore with a historic twist from its Neo-Gothic interior, Lello Bookstore is the place. I’m not exaggerating when I say this is one of the most beautiful book shops in the world, I mean it. You’ll be amazed too if you go up its beautiful staircase and take a look at its stained glass ceiling. Be sure to go to Palacio de Cristal to hangout and chill, it has a nice park with fountains and clean grass. You can also see River Douro from there and a part of the Vila Nova de Gaia. Everything is located within walking distance in Porto and I love it!
If you want to go for sunbathing or surfing, Matosinhos Sul is the perfect place for it. The beach is huge with clean white sand that stretched for miles long. Coming from an Asian country, we’re so used to hot and humid weather, thus the seawater is known to be warm to us. My first trip to the beach was nothing short of wonderful, the Sun was out and it was warm that day so I thought it would be the perfect day to go for some dip. I sunbathed for a while then jumped into the sea excitedly but to my surprise, the water was ice cold and it made me shiver instantaneously! I wasn’t prepared for that.
Apart from all the amazing features and places I just mentioned, Portuguese people should be praised for their kindness and friendliness. They’ve been so helpful towards me although there was a minor language barrier as most of the people I met couldn’t speak English but that didn’t stop them from trying to help. Body language comes in handy and common words such as Ola (hello), Obrigada / Obrigado (thank you) and Faz Favor / Por Favor (please) are very useful for everyday use. Another thing I adore about the Portuguese is that they are people with smiles.
In terms of public transportation, the train system is so advanced. It is so reliable and convenient. It will take you to almost every part of Porto. Travellers wont be facing any problem to commute from one place to another as there are many train stations / lines and if it is much more convenient to travel by bus, they have bus stops almost everywhere. I encountered some difficulties in understanding which train goes to which area because the routes are divided into many sections / lines (which are colour coordinated) but I got used to it after a couple of times (or maybe more) taking the train. They even have midnight bus to take you to town. I love the public transportation here, super efficient, clean and reliable.
Pastel de nata or Portuguese tarts! How can one ever visits Porto without trying their insanely famous tarts – a crisp, flaky shell and wobbly vanilla custard filling every time. Frango or chicken is also one of the most popular dishes in Portugal. Their specialty is the sauce called Piri-piri; a hot sauce with a pinch of a sour taste that goes well with any meal. None of their chicken dish was a disappointment to me. If you ever come to Porto, you HAVE and MUST try the food at Churrasqueira Cidade. They have one of the BEST chicken grilled ever and all of the food is fairly cheap although the interior of the place says otherwise. This restaurant is located a few shops away from where I used to live, it was my staple food in Portugal. To get there, you can take the train from anywhere and stop at a station called Combatentes (yellow line), exit from the station and you will see the restaurant at the corner of a building which is just a few steps away.
Another famous restaurant that you have to try is situated at Rua de Santa Catarina known as Café Majestic. It is located on one of the busiest street filled with shopping centres and boutiques for tourists with great cafes along the street. You can easily spot Café Majestic because of its outstanding interior. The restaurant sure carries the name well; the interior and decor are simply majestic. It looks luxurious and it makes you feel like you’re dining at a super fancy restaurant, with a fairly affordable price. It has a variety choice of food to choose from, but I went for the classic caesar salad. I would definitely recommend the place to everyone, just so you could be amazed with the interior and to make your trip more memorable.
Portuguese food is amazing. Choosing what to eat here was interestingly challenging because most local cafes only have the menu in Portuguese, so most of the time I ended up with finger-pointed dish. Sometimes the food was good, sometimes I wasn’t even sure if the food was edible. It was a fun experience nonetheless. Bakeries are quite famous there, there’s at least one shop in every block. They’re famous because they’re super GOOD and I kid you not. There are plenty of good ones dotted around the city. Be sure to check them out!
Oporto in a Nutshell…
Porto is an inexpensive destination with fabulous culture, art and good vibes. There’s so much to see and do, and too much to tell. Everyone is just so friendly and honest – not once during my stay in Portugal did anyone try to scam me. Lisbon was beautiful, but Porto was just something else. It’s set along a beautiful river with a quaint and almost mysterious old town, tons of amazing architecture, scenic views, amazing bridges, and churches. Porto is such an amazing city not only for solo travelers but also for everyone who just wants to get away from hectic cities. I’m calling this my home 🙂