I’m very much into road trips. Mainly railroad trips that are. Since I’m not driving, I don’t have too many alternatives for tripping, anyway. Well, sometimes I also take buses. When there are no trains. Or when taking a bus is far cheaper.
Red roofs of Porto – to be seen from a wide range of elevated spots.
It’s nice, too, but there are certain disadvantages to it. Like I’m writing on a fast train from Lisbon to Porto right now – I could not do that on a bus. I couldn’t even read a book or flip through a magazine: I tend to get unpleasantly motion sick when reading or writing on a bus.
So for me, preferably trains.
I think what I love most about travelling by train is the food. No, of course not the food they are more or less serving on the train, that’s mostly gross.
No, I’m preparing my own gourmet food.
No, not on the train, the evening before I leave.
I’m making these enormous sandwiches that put every Louisiana Po’Boy to shame. A piece of artisan bread, smeared with some deli mayonnaise, topped with layers and layers of French ham and Swiss cheese, a couple of apple slices (Sounds weird? It’s super-yummy and gives the sandwich a fresh crunch. It’s better when the apple is not too sweet and works also with pears; you’re welcome!), sprinkled with a fistful of chives. Sorry for the smell, my fellow travellers, but it’s just too good.
Talking ’bout sandwiches: This is a Francezinha, a Portuguese sandwich, filled with loads of meat and slices of Coldcut, covered with melted cheese and soaked in gravy. Ok, even my hyper-travel-sandwiches cannot compete with that.
I hardly ever make such a rich sandwich when I eat at home. It’s travel or at least outdoor sandwich (indoor food is healthier).
Trains are celebrated at the São Bento station – we get to this jewel later.
But there are more railroad trip amenities such as the leisure to read a nice book, to read the other passengers’ minds or not to read at all, but just watch earth passing by. It’s totally ok if you fall asleep from time to time since the monotone sound and movement rocks you to sleep.
It is so relaxing.
You see, while a road trip by car takes you across the same country and landscape, you can hardly enjoy any of the sketched activities or rather passivities – unless you’re keen to kill yourself and others on the road: I hope you are not eating or reading or working or falling asleep!
Yes, you can risk a short glance at the landscape around you, but just a really short one – and now: eyes back on the road!
I must admit that there are a couple of road trips by car that are quite sexy – like the legendary Thelma and Louise or classic Bonnie and Clyde.
At the same time, they tend to be more some sort of flight or escape, they have often something desperate and dangerous to them. They are rather races over the highway than meandering unhurriedly over rolling hills and through mellow valleys.
No wonder no car ever became a legend by a road trip – but think about the trains that make you all dreamy: The Trans-Siberian Express, the Orient Express, the Hirma Bingham – aaah, just mentioning their names takes you back in time when ladies used to travel in dresses and hats, taking all these chic travel accessories in leather trunks. Not light and handy, but definitely classy.
The train I took from Lisbon to Porto was far from being a legend; but I was wearing a dress, I was eating a fancy sandwich creation out of a paper bag and my other dresses were safely stored in a practical, light carry on.
No glitz or glamour there.
However, while I dressed up a bit in honor of beautiful Portugal – we were about an hour from Lisbon, going along some vineyard, I decided that I’ll finally have to write a post that might inspire and maybe even help especially the ladies on road, rail or any other trips: What to pack just in a carry on for one week and still not looking like a bum (and how to outsmart TSA rules, too).
I’m planning on sharing my wisdom with you next month.
Talking ’bout bums – you know how at most of the world’s train stations the passionate rail tripper is greeted by a bunch of drug dealers along with their clients, groups of drunks and shady individuals? Well, Porto is a grand exception to the rule – Porto’s train station is not only the city’s hub to the world, it is one of its major attractions.
Nope, this is not an art museum, this is São Bento train station.
You get informed right away on Porto’s history….
…which of course is connected with the river Douro.
As soon as you arrive, it makes you forget seeking orientation and searaching for the way to your accommodation. Keeping half an eye on your belongings, you begin to klick away with your camera or phone because this train station is like a huge art gallery presenting beautiful paintings and impressive, immaculate Portuguese ‘azulejos’, the classic blue painted tiles.
As you force yourself to step out of this blue-tiful hall, you enter one of the most beautiful European cities: Majestic buildings lining narrow streets and alleys that lead up and down steep hills – shoes, ladies!
The grand facades – lots of art deco and of course some of the unevitable azulejos – make you forget your aching calves and your burning feet and your sweat.
Igreja de Santo Ildefonso – decorated with gorgeous azulejos.
And then the views…oh, these views! That’s the big advantage of the steep hills: once you make it up there, you are rewarded with spectacular views of this North Portuguese jewel.
The historic center along the river Douro.
As a matter of fact, due to the humid climate from the ocean and from river Douro, it seems to be difficult to maintain the structures; a bit similar to Venice. So the city and the owners are fighting a probably never-ending fight against the Verfall. The densely crane-sprinkled skyline proves that a great effort is made to keep the city as breathtakingly beautiful as it is.
Porto, Portugal’s second largest city, is just beautiful – did I mention that? And actually it’s not as much a hidden gem as I thought before I got there: It’s not overrun like some Italian jewels like Venice or Florence, but there is a good amount of mainly French and Spanish tourists and weekend-trippers there.
What I particularly liked about Porto are the hidden gems within the gem. Even if you ignore all these fantastic churches and palaces and just walk – literally! – up and down the streets and alleys, you will notice all these artists working right on the pavement.
There are cute little specialty shops – and I am not talking about the numberless souvenir shops selling basically every imaginable item made of cork.
There is this guy across from the Sé do Porto, the bishop’s seat, who is standing on his balcony on the third floor of his slightly deteriorated house, singing to the crowd standing and sitting on the stairs in front of it. When his audience needs a snack, they can buy some food and drinks from his woman standing behind an improvised counter in front of the door.
Are they doing this for fun? Do they try to make ends meet? Are these relevant questions?!
His audience loves him!
On Saturday, the gentleman on the balcony under the guitar was quite a show, on Sunday, the entire city was swinging to a cacophony of different street bands and musicians – everybody seemed to have a blast!
What was there first – the hen or the egg? This question also occurs when it comes to the quirky bookstore Livraria Lello. It used to be a really special and sort of bewitched little bookshop. Then no one less than JK Rowling discovered this jewel and rumor has it that it inspired her to Harry Potter’s Hogwarts. So now the visitors come here for the magic of Harry Potter who came to life because of the magic of Livreria Lello, so….hen or egg?
The third hidden gem of probably hundreds more I’d like to introduce made me laugh a bit: Do you know this Big Bang episode where Penny gives Sheldon acting lessons and improvises she’s working at a shoe store and he asks the vendor for frozen yogurt?
We all thought that was quite quirky, right?
Clothes and shoes and coffee and lots and lots of a cool and laid-back atmosphere.
Well, while at the shoe store The Feeting Room on Largo dos Lóios, they might not sell frozen yogurt, they do sell coffee along with their shoes. Actually, they have a small, well-chosen range of shoes, clothes, and accessories on two floors, and upstairs there are some seating accommodations where you can relax and have a cup of really good artisan coffee and read a magazine.
Pretty cool, pretty surprising.
Well, that’s what Porto is actually all about: pretty, cool, surprising!
Note to the curious reader: Like I did during my former trips like e. g. Brazil, while travelling, I’ll be posting little stories and reflections on my stay. At the end of the entire tour, there will be an extended travel guide with all the relevant information including addresses, links etc. Until then, just enjoy some special moments with me. If you choose to pin this post, please use this picture:
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