Porto

I wanted to visit Porto in Portugal for two reasons – firstly, Port wine is made there, and secondly, it is close to France and the flight to Paris was too cheap to refuse. I left the Coimbra hostel with Pieter and Marty and we headed to the train station to go our separate ways. The boys were heading south, and I was going north to Porto, keen to try their Port Wine. Given that the train tickets and timetables were difficult to figure out, I wasn’t sure exactly when I was due to arrive in Porto, so at every stop the train made I’d frantically scour the platform looking for the station name. Luckily Porto was major stop, and although we arrived earlier than I figured we would, I managed to get off at the correct location.

I am determined to see how easy or difficult we make it for travellers in Melbourne to get hold of a city map and directions of where to go next. Some cities here are great, yet some are atrocious, and when you arrive in a new place the last thing you want to struggle with is finding how to get to your accommodation. Luckily this station had an information office of sorts, and the lady gave me a map and told me my current ticket was still valid to use on the local train to get to the city centre.

Feeling like some exercise, I decided to walk to the hostel. The directions on my map took me through the main square in Porto, with some huge old buildings, and along the way I saw many spires. Porto for me was characterised by the numerous churches and spires that were everywhere I went. I eventually reached the street in which the hostel was located, although it was at the other end of 400 houses. Thankfully the street was downhill, which I slowly walked, only to find a notice on the door of the hostel advising me that check in was to be conducted at #213 – halfway back up the bloody hill! What choice did I have except to retrace my steps and check in. Then it was back down the hill, up four flights of stairs and I could finally put my backpack down. I have no idea why I bought such a big backpack all those years ago when I was travelling up the East Coast of Australia, however it is too big for me now. I could easily do with one that is 10L smaller and still take everything I need. If anyone is in the market for a 75L backpack still in good condition, and well travelled, let me know.

Eager to do some Port Wine tastings, I took the tourist trail down to the river and arrived at the Ponte Luis Bridge by lunch time the next day. Of the information booklets I’d collected, I had marked the wineries that conducted ‘free’ tastings, and headed for those. Well ‘free’ doesn’t actually mean free in these cases. Sure, it is free to enter the winery and sit down, but they will charge you 2 per tasting – yes, that is about $2.70 per wine you want to try. Forget it, I’m not paying the equivalent of a bottle just to try five different ones. Although I’d already sat down and talked to the staff I thanked them, said I wasn’t going to pay for each tasting, and got up and left. Onto the next one. I couldn’t find it. There were signs pointing in the general direction, yet the main gate was closed and I didn’t see any ‘tourist’ entrance welcoming me and my euros. The next one I came across had tours on offer (in English because I was the only one in there) for €2.50 and you got to taste two port wines after the tour. I paid for it and was joined by a Canadian couple and two other girls from Australia.

Although the tour was mildly interesting, all we wanted were the tastings, and I think the guide knew this so he went through the motions until we reached the ‘sit down and enjoy the two free tastings – that we’ve chosen for you – before you buy an overpriced bottle’ room. I must say, I was unimpressed. The guide told us they add brandy to their port wines, and I could taste it. I don’t know if we do the same in Australia, but surely not. Why do you need to add brandy to what is already a good product? I got to try their white port, which was particularly brandy like, and their standard port which was not as good as some I’ve had at home. Disappointing.

I decided to try one more winery, and this one was actually free. Free to enter, and free to taste one port wine – of their choice. While waiting for the free tour – so I could try the second free port – I saw a guy sitting on his own so went to talk to him. Markus was from Sweden, and was in Porto for a work conference – he worked for Ikea. He’d arrived a day earlier than his workmates, so he could see a bit of Porto and try their port wines. We paid to taste their ‘pink’ port, which was the best tasting by far, and interestingly it was served over ice. We exchanged email addresses in the chance of meeting up when I get to Copenhagen in two weeks, as he if often in Copenhagen for work. Ikea are big in Europe, nearly all the hostels I’ve stayed in are stocked full of Ikea furniture, bedding and towels, and most of the Couch Surfing homes I’ve stayed in also have Ikea labels around the place.

I was keen to fly to Paris the next day and went to bed early to try and get a decent sleep after the previous night of a noisy, full hostel with people arriving at all hours of the night.

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