Nervous American

Trying New Things. Reluctantly.

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Everyone forgets about Portugal

Oh, yeah! That chunk of land over there that isn’t Spain

Among us Anglo types living in Madrid, Portugal has an excellent reputation as a travel destination. It’s cheap, the hostels are really good,* the nightlife is great. Lovely cities, coastlines and nature and stuff. So, I went to Porto a few weeks ago. “Porto” as in port wine, which originated from there.

Boats! Lake! City!

*Our hostel was “Yes! Porto Hostel,” which is part of a chain of hostels. Comfortable, lively, well-located and reasonably priced. And free breakfast. One of the best I’ve stayed at, really. 

Things to do in Porto: Drink port.

Discovery…I like port! Or at least the delicious port I got to drink. Dunno what kind of swill we have circulating in the U.S., but this stuff was good. 

Other things to do: Go on another free walking tour** and realize that you know zero things about Portugal. Go on a cruise around the lake in one of those little boats. Watch sun set over the water.

**The ones with the unofficial guides who advertise through the hostels and work only for tips. I’ve had very good luck with these.

And in my case, another thing to do is suffer the worst hangover of my life. (Unrelated to the port! I promise!). I had some cocktails, and also many shots, while not having had any dinner. This, I believe, may have contributed to my condition on Sunday morning… and afternoon. And into the evening. 

I rarely get truly hungover, but when I do, I pick the most extravagantly inopportune moments (See: my post about Segovia). Possibly my winter of consequence-free boozing made me overconfident. I have vowed to be more sensible.


Porto is gorgeous. It also has the strangest juxtaposition of elegant charm and obvious decay. But even its decay is mostly charming — mostly. Sometimes not. 

Portuguese food is famous for excellent fish, especially cod, but Porto’s signature dishes are 1) tripe, which is disgusting and 2) the Francesinha, which is amazing.

Porto residents used to eat tripe because it was all they had left after shipping off all the other parts of the cow. It’s still quite typical there, but I declined to partake.

The Francesinha (Portuguese for “little French girl) is a white bread sandwich, technically, but mostly you’ll notice the three or four types of sausage and meat encased in a thick shell of melted cheese, and also swimming in a pool of same. There are sauces involved as well. I want another one, right now. As an American I appreciate these things.

J.K. Rowling lived in Porto, working as an English teacher, when she first hatched the ideas for Harry Potter. The university students there wear long black robes as part of an old university tradition, so you when you’re strolling about town, you do see students walking around who look like they just dropped in from Hogwarts. 

And Portuguese sounds like Russian. It’s curious. 

Strangely fascinated by this.

Porto is arrayed on high hills by the river, so you can walk on terraces and bridges and peer on rooftops below… these are ruins of homes right by the water. Prime real estate that, according to our unofficial tour guide, no one can afford to buy.

Sorry, I just like this church because it looks haunted.