Monday, July 8, 2013

Not Doing Things in Porto

We arrived in Porto, a picturesque city in northern Portugal, ready to sample tons of port wine. As soon as we checked in, we took a cab across the river to Vila Nova de Gaia, where all the wine cellars are. We insisted on beginning our tour at the wine cellar that also sold cheese and crackers because we were famished. Thing is, our cabdriver was capable of finding any wine cellar but that one. He drove round and round, practicing his French with me, talking about keeping up with French news and keeping in touch with French friends and loving all things French. He also spoke extensively about Porto -- pointing out the architecture and providing a detailed history lesson -- all in French. This was amusing, but we were hungry and wanted our cheese right now. Now! At long last we found the cellar, bid adieu to our Francophile Portuguese cabdriver, and ate some freaking cheese. We managed to tag along on two wine cellar tours and sample four ports that afternoon. Success!

Wine + cheese + chocolate = reason for living
We should, however, have taken the twisty-turny cab ride as a sign of things to come. When we tried to visit a wine tasting house one evening on the Porto side of the river, our amiable but clueless cabdriver took a couple wrong turns before finding the house in a dark, isolated cul-de-sac. It was closed. It wasn’t supposed to be (according to the internet) but it was. Foiled!     

Buses were another problem. We sat at a bus stop for 25 minutes past the time the bus was supposed to have arrived. I suspect that bus schedules in Porto are just there to mess with tourists. The real schedules are communicated orally amongst locals, keeping outsiders out of the loop. It’s a city-wide inside joke. While I haven’t yet attained proof of this theory, I feel in my gut that it is true. At least the double-decker tour bus would arrive on time. It’s meant for tourists, after all. Well, it was so on time that it left us behind. We ran like maniacs for probably a quarter mile in the hopes of catching it before giving up on buses altogether. We can do this without you, buses.

We figured that some chocolate therapy was in order after our wine and bus ordeals. I knew just the shop. It was supposed to be on this cute street, in this cute neighborhood. We walked up and down that street, up and down and up and down, but the chocolate shop was either not there or had to be entered through a secret passageway behind a bookcase at the fanciful bookshop with the winding staircase. I’m inclined to think the latter.

Somewhere in the vicinity of craftily hidden chocolate shop
For the most part, our “plans” in Porto were a complete failure. Here’s the thing, though; I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Our Francophile cabdriver was a kooky character that I’ll never forget, waiting 25 minutes for a bus that never came allowed us to bask in the sudden warmth on a January day, and there was another chocolate shop on the next street that we were delighted to discover on our own. I’ve learned that, when traveling, it’s fun to make plans so long as you’re willing to throw them out the window. 

Taking in the sunlight
For more pictures of my trip to Porto, visit my photo gallery.

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  1. Beautifully written. Your post took me right back to Porto (one of my favorite spots on the trip). I am remembering that day - frustrated, hungry - but you are right, I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Thank you Melissa and Ali for an amazing trip in Portugal. To our next adventure (cheese-filled of course)....

  2. Thanks, Kel. May we continue racking up adventures. Amen.