I am glad Ryanair found Porto for me

Trip Start Aug 25, 2008
Trip End Oct 17, 2008

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Flag of Portugal  ,
Saturday, September 20, 2008

Never in a million years would I have ever found Porto without Ryanair offering the €1 fares to and from here, so the city basically found me.  I can honestly say that hands down this is one of the most visually unusual cities I have ever been to.  I don't even know an adjective to describe it one word.  In German I would say that the city has me begeistert.  Maybe the closest word in English would be beguiled.  It's Portugal's second city but a clear first in my book.

Let me set the stage for you.  Imagine a city of winding, steep cobblestone streets that are built into a hill that overlooks a river.  This river empties into the Atlantic just a mile or so away and the seagulls overhead are a constant reminder of how close the ocean is.  These streets are all lined with 5 or 6 story buildings that have facades lined with colorful tiles.  Yes, tile!!  I have never seen anything like it before in my life.

Now here is what has caused Porto to just absolutely capture my imagination.  It is a real living and breathing city within the historic district and it hasn't been restored and sanitized for the tourists.  This is one place where I can use my imagination to look past a broken window or two, a missing group of tiles or just general decay to get an idea of how this place must have looked hundreds of years ago.  The city seems to have also mastered the art of graffiti and tags add some color to an already unique place.

I think I find the place so captivating because it is what it is...just a regular city living and breathing and doing so all but oblivious to tourists like me wandering around.  Saturday must be laundry day because almost every balcony had the wash hanging from it.  I would turn down a narrow alley with all the laundry hanging and hear all kinds of voices drifting down over me from upstairs balconies.  Whatever was going on behind closed doors sure was loud enough for me to enjoy and soak in.

I have yet to meet someone here who isn't friendly either.  I was wandering around and I stopped to look at a menu of what looked like it a family run diner.  While admiring that the prices in Porto were down out of the Euro stratosphere and actually very reasonable, I I felt a tug on my shirt.  Instinctively I grabbed my backpack tight but it turned out to be one of the owners of the diner.  This older woman told me I looked hungry and to come in and have a meal.  How could I say no to the delicious smells coming out of there and a Portuguese grandma who was such a good saleswoman.  I actually was hungry since I hadn't eaten since Paris and within 5 minutes I was eating some delicious pork chops with fries and a salad at a long lunch counter that would be at home in Mayberry.  She and her daughter hovered over me to make sure I was enjoying my meal, and I sure did (and so did my wallet!). 

With some much needed fuel in me I was headed up a really steep alley and I peeked inside a dark doorway to see what all the racket was.  I found three women laughing and eating at a counter but more importantly I saw big bottles of mineral water behind them.  I desperately needed some water so I walked right in not even knowing if the place was open or not since the lights were out.  Luckily they needed the sale as much as I needed the water and 70 cents later I had a 1.5 liter bottle of water in my backpack. 

But they weren't done with me...the box of pastries they were sharing was on the counter and they insisted that this wayward traveler take one.  I must have made a surprised look because one of them in a floral dress and white apron said in English, "is free, take."  I couldn't believe the hospitality while I was enjoying that delicious pudding filled donut with them.  I said my one word of Portuguese, obrigado (thanks), and was again on my way to take in more of this strange city.  Imagine that happening at the Quicky Mart in the US. 

This is definitely a poor and rough around the edges city but what it lacks in newness and money it sure does make up for in atmosphere and character.  What Paris had in snobbishness and grand boulevards this place has in humble people and grittiness.  Like I said, I have never seen a city this visually different and I am really going to enjoy wandering around here for a couple of days.  I saw the whole place pretty much in one afternoon but I do enjoy watching people and trying to figure out what makes a place tick so that will occupy my time until I head to Madrid.

I may even head out for a day at the beach tomorrow.  Who knows.  All I know is that this is a nice stop to rest for a few days.  I met a German guy who is backpacking around Europe so I've got a travel buddy to hang out with for a beer later on. 
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