We’re crossing the border into Portugal and I’m thinking…shit I dont actually know a whole lot about this country. Where should we go? How do you say thankyou? Is the language that much different to Spain? Are the people nice? Thoughts were running through my head as I looked at the map and tried to pick somewhere for us to go. Onto instagram I went, knowing that I follow many vanlife instagrams who are currently, or have already travelled, through Portugal by van. “Lets just see where they went and follow suit,” at least then we wont be driving straight into the unknown (though thats also fun). But with the sun not on our side and a grumpy boyfriend, I needed a location and I needed one pronto.
I came across Porto, Portugal’s second largest city behind Lisbon, home to, well, port wine. A beautiful and charming city that needs to be visited while traveling Portugal. Like many of the places we’ve been while living the vanlife, we had no expectations and thats exactly when the magic happens. You dont expect anything exciting to come therefore when it does, it’s always something special.
Staying in a campground just out of Porto in a town called Espinho, we parked Cassie girl up for two nights to give us some time to explore Porto and wash our daym clothes! I was down to my last pair of undies and every chick that gets down to this knows that the last pair left is either baggy granny panties or a shoe string g banger. Not ideal. We spent our first night cooking dinner and having our first shower in about 3 days. God our standards have really dropped. Cooking however, has become the opposite and we’ve been nailing every meal. We’ve decided to try cook every day instead of eating out and its really saving us heaps. We’re spending about 30Euro on a food shop (and thats not being stingy) which seems to be lasting us about 3 days, buying the odd bit of milk, meat or french stick in between. Thats 10Euro a day for breaky, lunch and dinner for the two of us! Not bad, not bad. Breaky is always museli, yoghurt, milk, honey + a coffee of course, lunch is usually a sandwich with ham, cheese, tomato, avo, gherkin + mayo of course and dinner is usually chicken, broccoli, greek salad + a cider of course. YUM. Full and clean, we jumped into our bed that Bryn can’t straighten his legs in and fell fast asleep…
The next morning, after hanging up our shit ton of washing, we set off via the metro into the heart of Porto. We came in over a huuuuuuuuuuge bridge, giving us an epic view of the beautiful town down below, separated by the Douro river estuary. The city centre is built along the hills overlooking the river and has a mix of medieval and modern buildings wherever you look. I was so impressed with the some of the architecture, it was so pretty! Unlike New Zealand, we found that the front face of many buildings were covered in amazing, patterned tiles. So many different patterns and colours, it was actually really beautiful. I thought so anyway…Bryn was just keen to get to the port wine. Anyway…We walked down through the city towards the river, feeling our tummies grow hungry and had one thought in mind…food.
We heard one of the specialty things to eat in Porto is something called a Francesinha, so as we got to Riberia (river front) and looked around at all the restaurants, we eyed one up and sat down. Not knowing what the hell was going to end up on our plate, only that whatever it was, was called Francesinha…funny name for a food dish but hey, we ordered the 10Euro meal to share and waited patiently.
Looking around us there was endless sights to look at. Just across the river you have the suburb of Vila Nova de Gaia, home of all the port wine companies. Yep we’re heading there next. Along the river you see boats taking people on river tours (this costs 10Euro and takes about 50mins if you have time), or bringing the wine barrells over from the Gaia, which they’ve been doing for hundreds of years believe it or not. Something your eyes cant miss though, is the grand Dom Luis Bridge, a huge double deck, arched bridge connecting the Ribera to Vila Nova de Gaia. We saw kids jumping off into the river and charging spectators a fee! Bryn pipes up…”I’ll do it if it’ll get us some money.” Yeah right.
At long last our strangely named meal arrived! Confused and weary, we look down at the plate “it looks like a heart attack” I hear Bryn say. Francesinha, a Portuguese sandwich made with bread, cured ham, sausage and roast meat, covered in a hot, thick tomato sauce and melted cheese. And french fries too. WOW. We gobbled it down and although greasy and a little gross to look at, it was the goods so if you get to Porto, get one of these beasts in ya.
Keen to get amongst the so called “caves” or Porto, we took a left, walking down along the river towards the giant Dom Luis bridge. The top level is a rail line, where pedestrians can also walk (I suggest going up here purely for the view) and the lower level is for general traffic and pedestrians too. When you get to the other side, Vila Nova de Gaia, you see little market stands with people selling everything and anything and a whole lot of port wine cafes, restaurants, museums and cellars. What one do we choose?! After asking some random people on the street, they told us Taylor’s at the top of the hill was the way to go. For 12Euro you get an audio tour of the company (available in English so thats good), a walk through the huge cellar holding thousands of barrels of fermenting port wine and at the end you get to taste two of Taylor’s most iconic port wines in the gardens outside (a white and a red). This was a cool experience and we actually learnt a fair bit about where the ports grown and how its made and shipped worldwide. As you probably guessed, we also got a bit carried away trying all the wines and so eventually, we cut ourselves off and headed back towards the river. Just note that the walk up to Taylor’s is hard on the legs. The hill up is suuuuuper steep but the tours well worth it. Porto in general is extremely hilly, so be warned about the many uphills, downhills and stairs.
Walking, or should I say stumbling, back down the cobbled paths and trying to decide what to do next. By now its 4:30pm, we’re a little tipsy, so there goes our interest in sight seeing, so we do the most logical thing…find a bar and get a litre of Sangria. We crossed back over the bridge (lower level this time), cheered the kids who were jumping off, then prepped ourselves for the STEEP walk uphill back toward the train station, looking for a cool bar on the way. Its honestly soooooo steep! Bryn tried to shut me up with an ice-cream but the “are we there yet, are we there yet, are we there yet” was coming out my mouth loud and fast. Boy was the reward worth it, a 1.5 Litre of Rose Sangria to wash down the ice-cream, the port wine and the Francesinha. Clearly Porto isn’t the most healthy of locations. Oh and can I say this now while you’re reading this…Bryn and I are doing “ON A DIET OCTOBER” I’m telling you so that it forces me to stick to it and actually make a change. Cool? Anyway back to the Sangria. We finished it off, wobbled our way back to the train station and headed back home. The best thing about vanlife is no matter where you are, what city or what country, you always have your home to go back to after a big day of exploring.
A day in Porto really wasn’t enough. The longer you’re there, the more charming it becomes. If we had more time I would have spent longer wandering the paths and narrow passageways, embracing the bohemian vibe of the city. I would have climbed the 240 steps up one of Porto’s famous landmark, the Torre dos Clerigos (apparently the view is aaaaaaaaaaamazing), had a coffee at the Livaria Lello, an old bookshop with a beautiful spiral staircase and gorgeous interior (voted one of Europe’s most beautiful bookshops), taken a cruise up the river, going underneath some beautiful bridges on your way and even taken part in a crafts workshop lead by local artists, which includes, tile painting, seat weaving, sketching and painting. What a way to get into the culture. Thats on the cards for next time for sure.
Porto, a place with no expectations where the magic happens.
Leah | free & addicted
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