10 Points for Porto- A Travel Journal
On Thursday morning, after our stint in Lisbon, Allie and I were up with the sun, packing our bags and mentally checking off items left on our Lisbon bucket list- we had a train to Porto to catch, my dudes.
By nothing less than travel witchcraft and trickery, we somehow managed to spend 3 days in Lisbon without riding the ever-famous street cars. Hellbent on having the experience before heading to Porto, Allie and I abandoned our stuff in the hostel and ran down the street to the nearest tracks. Here, we caught one of the first rides of the morning; the usually very crowded cars were all but empty with one or two local commuters. We were able to snap some beautiful pictures and enjoy the spacious ride up the hilly cityscape.
Back at the hostel, we reclaimed our bags and enlisted directional advice from one of the workers. Eager to find the cheapest way to get from our hostel to the train station, we shortly found ourselves hauling our luggage from our train station hostel to the metro down the street, the spectacle nothing short of ugly.
On the note of train stations- Lisbon was ripe with train stations. Of the three trains we took, not one departed/returned to the same station. Because we didn’t have a Portuguese credit card, we had to purchase our tickets at the station. And per the advice of the same hostel worker, we were told that tickets were a hot commodity among locals this time of year. Hesitant about navigating the metro successfully and now suddenly pressed for time, Allie and I summoned all the good travel juju, and blazed through the station with the highest levels of competency and success of our whole trip. I carry that moment with me like a badge of directional honor. A monumental moment for me, truthfully.
At the station, we lucked out and snagged two of the last tickets. There was a catch, though- the only tickets left were for first class. For the sake of being facetious brats, Allie and I shared a “oh, bummer!'“ shrug, proceeding giddily to our first class cabin where we legitimately went from standing to expanding horizontally into our monstrously cushioned seats in .001 seconds. I guarantee you this ticket was one of the least fancy first class experiences available, but make no mistake- we took our job as first class passengers very seriously.
The train ride was a treat. We passed through beautiful towns that had seemingly been untouched by the passage of time. Immediately, we were captivated. Porto was going to be perfect- I felt it in my bones.
And perfect, it was. We debarked our train rather groggy from our first class treatment (#neverforget) and proceeded to botch the entire Porto taxi system. We obliviously began to load our bodies and bags into a taxi.. only to turn around and see a whole line of people waiting in the que. We realized our mistake right away and joined in on the taxi attendants’ laughter. Despite our ineptitude, we eventually made it inside our rightful cab and were whisked away to our hostel.
Arriving at our accommodation a little before check-in, we stashed our bags in the luggage closet and pulled a very cliche Allie and Sydney move: “So…. what’s good to eat around here?”. The hostel worker pointed us in the direction of one of her favorite local spots a few blocks down. We cut the small talk and hustled down the street on a mission to quell our rumbling stomachs. In the span of a few meters, I reclaimed my directionless crown and somehow got us lost. So while we didn’t enjoy the recommendation of the receptionist, we did get lulled into a bakery where we ordered a pre-lunch snack.
We were back on the prowl for lunch in no time, our to-go pastries in hand as we strutted aimlessly through the little town. Thinking I ordered a muffin, I chomped down. To my astonishment, the pillowy treat I was prepared for turned out to be a rock solid lump of peanuts and caramel. Ouch. Having failed to order what I thought to be a muffin and navigate us two blocks, I gave myself a little ~Porto pep-talk~ and we continued down the street until we stumbled upon a quant little pizza joint. Bingo.
Allie and I exchanged one of those “Why! Say no more, my lady!” glances, and, without speaking a word to each other, found ourselves seated and with menus in front of us. We chowed down on a delicious lunch of pizza and sparkling water (an Allie and Sydney signature), and left to explore the city with full bellies and spirits. From our lunch joint, we meandered into the heart of Porto- the riverside, “Ribiera”. Along the way, we gawked at the breathtaking old buildings and views of Porto- the overlooks in Old Town are no joke, people!
Somewhere between the first overlook and the Riberia, we swung by a small Porto tourism booth and very dignifiedly asked about their Port Wine tours, like either of us were classy enough to know what Port Wine was. The tourism rep directed our attention to a brochure of lush, picturesque Vinyards. As we learned, the tour company offered two tours the following day: a single winery tour, and a double winery tour plus a boat ride and lunch. Allie and I opted for the double winery tour without any hesitation whatsoever because- and let me put this dignifiedly- we ain’t no sissies.
On to our thorough exploration of Porto, we crossed the bridge from Old Town’s Ribiera to Vila Nova de Gaia. The two cities are separated by the Douro River, both sides offering picturesque waterside views of the other. It was early evening by the time we made it to Vila Nova de Gaia, so Allie and I broke out our free Port Wine sample coupon cards that our Hostel had gifted us upon check-in. Having booked an entire day’s tour of the Port Wine vineyards, I don’t think the thought of not liking Port Wine ever crossed either of our minds. So you can imagine our surprise when we took a long, savory sip of our Port Wine samples and were confronted with the faintly familiar sensation of having just taken a shot of alcohol.
“What the hell is this stuff!!?” I asked, my face pinched in every possible direction, eyes probably watering.
One sip in, and Allie’s unsuspecting reaction was one of pure horror… and painted plain as day across her face, too.
And then it dawned on us. We had just booked an entire day trip to the Douro Valley to drink this devil’s juice…..
We looked at each other and just erupted in giggles. We heaved in unison, sound barely coming out of our mouthes as we held our bellies in a fit of laughter. So then we did what any person who had just spent a chunk of money to be bussed 4 hours out into the specialty vineyards to drink wine we didn’t even like would do- we forged onward. The second sip was just a jarring as the first. So was the third and fourth. By the fifth sip- the very last drops of our sample- we had a nice buzz. I wish that was an exaggeration.
We returned our wine glasses to one of the workers and examined the crates of Port Wine bottles they had on display. While the price point was mostly comparable to American wine, the alcohol content was not. As it turns out, Port Wine is distinctive from other types of wine because it is fortified with actual alcohol, giving it ABv’s of about 22%. So essentially- seeing as we’d booked a day long Port Wine tasting- Allie and I had booked a one way ticket to hangover hell. Oh, joy.
On the walk home, we explored some Christmas markets, taking in the beautiful sunset as we crossed the Douro River. We turned ourselves in early for the night as an attempt to remedying the drunken disaster we knew would ensue the following day. Back in our hostel room, we introduced ourselves to some of our roommates. Come to find out, the girls in the beds next to me were both from Alabama as well- one of them a student at the University of Alabama, at that! The small world saga continues.
The trend of early morning alarms continued on Friday. We said a hail mary prayer as we boarded our tour bus and accepted certain (and rancid tasting) drunkenness. We were the last pick up before the group took to the interstate and bussed the width of Portugal to the highly anticipated Douro Valley. Despite the very beautiful scenery, Allie and I took turns nodding off to sleep during the drive. Between my cat naps, I picked up on some Port Wine trivia.
So, unbeknownst to me, the Douro Valley is the only valley in the world where they make Port Wine. After the grapes are grown and the wine is made (and aged), it is shipped from the Douro Valley to Porto (hence the name Port Wine), which is where they used to export it internationally from back in the colonial days. Now, Porto is still a famed place for tasting the Port Wine, but it’s a common misconception that Port Wine is grown and bottled in Porto. It isn’t; that’s why you have to make the trip over to the Douro Valley.
When we finally arrived to the Douro Valley, I was thrown another curve ball-
“What the heck!” I said, staring incredulously at the skeletons of what was once flourishing grape vines. “Everything is dead!”
My inner, more rational self popped in- It’s winter, you dumbass. What did you expect? Touche, inner self, Touche.
Allie and I debarked the bus and carried our sleepy bodies alongside the sea of very adult, very amped Port Wine enthusiasts. The first vineyard was the famed Sandeman Port Wine Vineyard. We hung at the back of the pack with a sorry little boy that had very clearly been dragged along with his overly-eager parents, the three of us painfully adamant about not being seen in the back and dodging any questions that might be fielded our way.
Even from the flanks, the tour was incredibly neat. Sandeman’s vineyard has progressed with the times, the wine making process aided by the help of modern technology from start to finish. We explored the facilities from the vineyard to the “grape stomping” simulating machine. By the time we rounded out the tour with the wine tasting, we found ourselves not only enjoying the Port Wine, but entertaining the idea of buying a bottle. Attribute it to what you’d like, but I’m almost wholly convinced that Sandeman wine is the unicorn of Port Wine.
However many glasses of port wine later- three I think…?- we hobbled back on the bus and laughed at our body’s outrageously nonexistent tolerance to Port Wine. Mind you- Port Wine is strong. We’re talking glasses of wine that are equivalent to shots of alcohol. Leaving the Sandeman vineyard, the entire bus- now enjoying the side effects of a solid buzz- gawked loudly at the narrow roads and the impossibility of our bus navigating its twists and turns. Miraculously, we made it to the base of the valley for our group lunch reservations. Allie and I wasted no time smashing the overflowing bread basket. The main dish was a delicious seafood plate by all accounts. Our chefs were so kind as to accommodate my dietary preferences, and I was dished up a veggie omelet that was as good as it gets after a few glasses of wine. Oh, and what lunch in the Douro Valley would be complete without overflowing bottles of Port Wine? Bottoms up boys and girls!
Determined to get our money’s worth, Allie and I forged on with the Port Wine, though somehow unable to keep up with the more seasoned enthusiasts on our tour. We sure did get our money’s worth- but it cost me a piece of my ego. After lunch, a small river cruise boat awaited us along the shore. To board our boat, you had to hop from the dock into the first boat and then climb over the side of the same boat into the second boat. If you have a bad feeling that you know where this story is going, I am here to assure you that things ended as dismally as you feared. Nothing more than a liability, I conquered the first jump without any issue and proceeded to overconfidently take on the second boat-to-boat obstacle. In the most by-the-book fail of all time, I wiped out between the two boats and took an outrageously uncoordinated tumble into the second boat. A mixture of laughter and horror immediately ensued from the onlookers- the loudest laughter a la Allie Jorde behind me.
I rode the duration of the boat ride nursing my bruised self esteem (and tailbone.. ouch), though I did successfully stand out to the very attractive boat driver- for better or worse. The cruise was painfully cold, so Allie and I stayed bundled up inside the covered portion for fear of losing some of our more vital body parts to hypothermia.
Docked on the shore, I made it back on land without a Syd Wipeout™ 2.0. From the riverside, we drove to the second vineyard of the day- Croft Port. This winery- unlike it’s Sandeman counterpart- does all of its winemaking the traditional, old fashioned way. Much like the first tour, we hung at the back of the group and soaked up the tour in all it’s glory. While the actual vineyard of Croft was leagues more exciting, the Port Wine from Croft was a total bust. It was a brutal fight ‘till the end to drink our Croft wines, and if I’m not mistaken, Allie and I left a few sips of one particularly cringe inducing Port Wine behind.
As you might imagine, the bus ride back to Porto was an interesting one to say the least. Allie and I compiled some of our best one liners of the trip from that commute. When we weren’t uttering the most ridiculously things, we were catching some intense Zzzs.
Back in Porto, we hurried to the ever-famous Livraria Lello, determined to make it in before closing for the night. This bookstore is supposedly where JK Rowling was inspired to write Harry Potter, and it has become such a tourist destination for fans that you must buy entry tickets to enter inside. Though we debated whether or not the tickets were worth it, we decided to go for it- and I am very gad we did. After the tour, we found a nearby gelato place where we munched on the cold treat and rode out the last bits of our buzz, opting to get dinner afterwards on our way home.
The next morning, we were off to Paris. Though I only spent an afternoon there (I made Paris my “manual” layover home to score the cheapest fare back to NYC- a post on that soon!), we made some incredible friends and memories. The absolute highlight was taking horribly posed pictures in front of the Eiffel Tower holding a baguette. Kidding. But not really;)
We enjoyed lunch, dinner, and drinks with our friends and even squeezed in time to go shopping and sight seeing by some twist of fate. One crazy thing about our time there- we were in the middle of the yellow jacket riots. We saw some burning objects in the roads and many, many yellow jackets , but more than anything, we were floored by the number of police- both in uniform and not- that were fortifying the different parts of the city.
Saying goodbye to Paris and more importantly, my new friends and my best gal, Allie, was next to impossible to say the least. The entire trip was one for the books- certainly surpassing my every expectation and then some. It’s barely been two months, and I’m already ready for my next adventure and my next stint with my best friends. Speaking of, there’s one in the works.. stay tuned for more travels soon :)
Career updates guys! In January I got to fulfill a huge dream of mine- I took a job at Discovery Inc! I’m so stoked to be a part of such an incredible team, and cannot wait to see where this journey will take me. While it’s so weird to be leaving the traditional ad agency life behind- I mean, after all, that’s the sole reason I moved to New York in the first place- I cannot put into words how excited I am to merge creativity and my passion for content and adventure into a career. I have a lot of thoughts about my time in New York so far and the ups and downs of being a post-grad so far away from home- so much so that I wrote a post about it a month or so back. It’s currently sitting in my drafts folder, and while I’m not sure if it’s will ever see the light of day, I can tell you this: life is freaking awesome right now. And I’m so, so, so happy- happier than I’ve been in a very, very long time. Most of all, I’m filled with immense gratitude for the people that have ridden alongside me on this 7 month ride to get me where I am right now. So whether you’re family, a best friend, or someone who follows along with my adventures- thank you. I mean that so, so sincerely.
Here’s to the best year yet. 2019 is our year.