Somehow, in all my visits to Portugal, I had never visited the lovely city of Oporto, the 2nd largest in Portugal, which is situated on the Douro River. This trip it was a ‘must see’.
But to get there you have the hear the story of the ‘the purse on the train.’
Joyce, my friend and traveling companion, carries a black, Baggallini purse. She also has a pinkish-purple nylon backpack along with 2 smallish bright, blue suitcases. On our arrival from Lisbon, after a lovely 3-hour train ride in a very nice first-class compartment, we got our suitcases from the storage area and were almost to the taxi stand when Joyce realized she did not have her purse – the one with her credit cards and passport inside!!
She rushed back to the platform but of course the train had left the station and she was terribly upset. We asked several official-looking people for help before being lead to the station manager’s office. There we found Jorge, a excellent English-speaking young man who placed a call to the conductor on the train and asked if he would check seat #35 to see if he could find a black purse sitting in that seat?
We waited an agonizing 10 minutes for a return phone call, all the while Joyce was biting her nails and slowly pulling every hair out of her head. When the phone rang, we anxiously waited while Jorge chatted in Portuguese with the caller. He hung up, told Joyce the purse was found just where she left it and the conductor would hand it to her on the return trip from Bragga which would be in an hour and a half. As you might imagine, kisses and hugs and a thousand thank you’s were bestowed on the slightly embarrassed Jorge.
Off we went to the coffee shop (which thankfully served wine and beer!) and where we met the lovely Susan from Ft. Worth to chat with while we awaited the return train with the purse.
It arrived on time, but with lots of passengers getting off and more getting on the train, finding the lone conductor was going to be a problem – until Jorge The Magnificent magically appeared at Joyce’s side, told her to stand still while he found the conductor and the errant purse. Out of the mist, he returned it to her waiting arms! More kisses and hugs ensued and we finally left the Porto train station with all our luggage and personal items – almost. While we were waiting for the taxi I realized I had left my backpack in the coffee shop. I ran back and there it sat – safe and sound. Finally we could head to our lodging!
We had not been able to find an Airbnb that fit our needs so we booked this lovely, modern apartment through Booking.com. The location was great (once we figured out where we were!) and the owner was there to greet us and gave us wonderful ideas of what to see and where to eat!
But I had come to Porto to see one thing – the Livraria Lello. I had heard so much about it and seen so many photos of this bookstore – said to be the most beautiful in the entire world – that we put it first on our list of ‘must sees.’ We purchased our ‘bypass the line’ tickets online and headed out in the late afternoon to see this gem. My photos do not do it justice so be sure and look at some of the wonderful ones online.
It would have been so nice to be able to browse and shop in this amazing store for hours on end, but with the thousands of people who pass through their doors each week, that is no longer possible.
We had an extra treat this day when finding my friend Margaret Manning, fellow traveler and big-time developer of the fantastic woman’s website SixtyandMe, was also in Porto for a long weekend. We met for coffee, conversation and a quick catch-up before heading our separate ways – with promises to find a way, if possible, to work together in the near future!
After a light dinner and a good night’s rest, we rose early the next morning to explore as much of Porto as we could in the time we had left.
We found a tour online which included a train-ride around the city, a visit to the oldest port cellar in Portugal, Real Companhia Velha, and an hour-long boat ride of the Douro River. Doesn’t that sound like fun?!
The train was rather silly and had no shocks, so terribly bumpy! The port cellars were cool and dark and I learned a lot about port which I didn’t know and enjoyed the sampling! We met an extremely friendly seagull and had time for a fresh-caught octopus salad at a very local riverfront cafe before boarding the boat.
Now it gets fun!
We boarded the boat after waiting in the hot sun for 30-minutes past its arrival time.
We sat in the bow with a boat full of touring Germans and listened to the garbled 5-language montage of what we were supposedly passing by. After cruising under the 6 bridges that cross the Douro River in Porto, the boat docked on the opposite of the river and the tour group disembarked.
We asked both the boat captain and the deckhand if it would be going to the opposite side to let us off and they both said ‘of course.’
Another tour group boarded the boat, this time French, and off we went. BUT WAIT! We are not stopping on the other side of the river but are trapped onboard for another hour-long cruise of the 6 bridges and the same garbled explanation of what we are cruising by. I actually had passing thoughts of what I could wrap my phone in to waterproof it before swimming to shore!
When they finally pulled in to dock at the end of this trip – still on the opposite side of where we needed to be – we got off as quickly as possible, walked back across one of the bridges, caught the funicular up the hill and headed to our apartment where a much needed glass of wine awaited!
We concluded our stay in Oporto with a lovely dinner at Cocorico which was almost next door to our apartment, We learned that not only was it an outstanding restaurant, but also offered luxury guest suites on the upper level. As we were the first customers to arrive (we like to dine at 7:00pm – not the typical Portuguese 10:00 pm dining time) our waiter treated us to a free tasting of some very delicious Portuguese white wines and we ended the evening with profiteroles filled with ice cream.
As we boarded another train early the next morning headed to the Algarve (with Joyce’s purse tied to her body!) I can say with certainty that this, while my first visit to Oporto, will certainly not my last!
Until next time…in Tavira
NOTE: The Portuguese normally will call this town Oporto while we English-speakers write and say Porto. Both are correct and I chose to interchange them throughout this post.