Friday, April 10, 2009

Portugal: Part 2

After spending a day hiking through stone castles in built in the 8th century, Thiago and I hopped on a train Monday night from Lisbon and headed to Porto. It was just a 3 hour ride north to Portugal's second largest city, so not bad at all transportation wise to get there. Originally, we had planned to head south during these two days to the Algarve coast, which has some incredible beaches, but the weather was rainy in the Algarve so we instead booked a last minute ticket to Porto the night before. It's fairly safe to say that I think we're both extremely glad we did because Porto was equally incredible and another beautiful city.

On Tuesday, we got up to wonder throughout the city. Porto is extremely small (even though it is Portugal's second biggest city, Portugal has only 11 million people total) so it made it very easy to walk everywhere. The first thing about Porto is the architecture is entirely different than the architecture in Lisbon. Lisbon is covered with white-washed buildings, red tile roofs, and more of a spanish-style look. Porto on the other hand has a more romanticized archicture, very old looking stone buildings with engravings worked into the walls or columns. For being in the same country and just over 300 km apart, the two cities appeared completely different and I could have sworn we were in a different country. We started off by making our way to a pastry shop, which I'm pretty sure we did at least 6 or 7 times in Porto! If you've ever been to Seattle, it's not an exaggeration that there is a Starbucks on every corner. Or if you've been to Berlin, there's a Doner stand on every corner and then another one in between. It's the same idea with pastry shops in Portugal - they are everywhere and impossible to resist! Anyway, I'm sure we grabbed lunch there on Tuesday before making our way down to the river front where we probably got another pastry on the way. If Porto pastries aren't what you prefer to satisfy your sweet tooth, then the river front would have sufficed because the view is pure eye-candy. The city of Porto situates itself basically in the same way Lisbon does - the Atlantic ocean is about 20 km or so away and a river inlet from the ocean runs through the city. In Porto, the river lies in a valley with the city rising up on each side with beautifully arched bridges spanning the two sides. After taking a few photos, we sat down at a side walk cafe and ordered a couple drinks while further admiring the view. Deciding that even more views would be nice, we made our way an hour or so later to the top of a tower the overlooks the city, a few other monuments, and eventually to a park. The park was definitely the best part of the day - it sat on one of the large hills that overlooks the river and we layed around again admiring views and I even fell asleep for a while in the grass. Theme of the trip - plan a little for each day and just sit back and relax, but still get to see a lot. It's definitely the way to do a vacation as long as you have enough time. I really feel like I appreciated Portugal much more because I was able to just lay around, have a convo here or there, see things at a leisurely pace, etc. So that wrapped up our first day in Porto, which was definitely a nice start to seeing the city.

Alright - so before I jump into our last full day in Porto and also in Portugal, let me build this up a little bit. First of all, whenever I think back on Portugal, this day is the first image that comes into my mind. Actually, I've probably thought about Wednesday in Porto every single day since the trip. If you've ever had the quintessential day at some point in your life where you think, "man - if every day could be just like this," then this was that day for me. So we woke up Wednesday morning, hopped on a city bus (which was a much better bus system than Lisbon) and took a 30 minute ride to Foz, a coastal suburb of Porto. We had no specific plans for the day, were dying to be on the beach since Algarve fell through, and with the weather we had there was absolutely no way were were going home without spending a day by the water. We started off by wondering up and down the coast for a while, hiking out on rocks the jut out into the ocean, and soaking up some sun. Thiago brought a mini soccer ball with us, so we also spent about an hour making freestyle videos which was hilarious. If you look at the pictures in the photo album of the columns along the beach, there's another sidewalk about 15 feet below the columns. After many failed attempts, we made a pretty sweet video of us juggling back and forth between sidewalks, Thiago down below and me up above. While I'd love to say we got it on the first take, it was actually hilarious how many times we messed up, or I would hit somebody walking by down below because I wouldn't see them from up above and would pass the ball down anyway. But eventually, we found success. Remember kids - never give up and you too can conquer the world. After deciding that the freestyle session was over, we sat down at an oceanside cafe for a mid-day lunch. We had an delicious plate of duck risotto for only 3.50 each, again illustrating how cheap Portugal was. Once we finished lunch, we strolled a bit further down the coast where we stumbled upon a beach cafe, which is where my slice-of-heaven day hit its peak. We had 4 hours still before we had to catch our train back to Lisbon, so we figured why not sit around some more and enjoy the view. Just after we sat down, we met a Polish girl who was studying in Porto through the Erasmus program, which is definitely the greatest exchanged program ever if you're a European Union citizen. Once accepted, you can pretty much just say I want to go study here or there for this or that amount of time and then you go. It's incredible really, and the states should seriously look into adopting a similiarly structure program. So we sat around talking to her for a couple hours as we layed around in beach loungers while sipping Caipirinhas and listening to a smooth set of global grooves. Caipirinhas by the way are "the" drink. Delicious, sweet, and perfect for a warm sunny day - and this was unquestionably the perfect day. There's nothing better than having nothing to do, finding a delicious drink, meeting a beautiful girl, relaxing to some smooth grooves, lying around in beach chair, and listening to the ocean all while soaking up the view on the Portuguese coast. It was literally one of the best days from beginning to end that I have ever had in my life, and if only this one random Wednesday in Porto could be on repeat, I'd probably drop everything and go right back. But, life is good here too, so for now it will have to remain a sweet memory in my mind.

So that wrapped up our week in Portugal. It was incredible getting to spend so much time in such a beautiful country all while travelling with my best friend. Lisbon is now my favorite city in Europe that I have been too - it has the perfect combination of a laid-back atmosphere, nice people, beautiful views, yet plenty to do. And likewise, Porto was also a beautiful city where as you know by now I had the best day of our trip. It's too bad that this is all just a memory now, but there's no question that the time I spent in Portugal will stay with me for the rest of my life. So, until later, take care, sit back, enjoy life, soak up a view, live at a slower pace - you'll appreciate it in the long run.

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