After nearly 3 days in Madeira, we flew out on a late night flight back to the Portuguese mainland, arriving into Porto at midnight. Then Uber’ing straight to our lodgings at Ribeira São João Apartment in the city center, we arrived by 1am. I immediately fell in love with the city:
The next morning I quickly grabbed coffee at Café do Comercial in the neigborhood at 9am where lo and behold, I’d make sure to run into Vibhu, whom I first met in person 25 days ago on May 20th in NYC, before she’d catch her 10:25am train to Lisbon.
Flippantly at the time when we had first met, we quipped then that “who knows, we might run into each other traveling,” not realizing a scheming universe always could make sure it would actually happen 25 days later.
I mean of all places to have a run-in, what better than a place like Porto? The city oozes with saudade:
So take your time wandering, especially in the alluring and evocative winding and hilly streets of Riberia.
19th century built Bolsa Palace is right next door:
And facing the palace is Mercado Ferreira Borges, a landmark building from the 1880s now converted into a nightclub and performing arts space.
A few paces away from both structures is the local’s favorite pasteis de nata at Castro:
Walking 10 minutes uphill and northeast along Rua de Mouzinho da Silveira, you’ll reach the decorative São Bento Train Station, which was formerly a monastery.
About another 5 minutes walk south street stands the 12th century Porto Cathedral:
The Cathedral is in the same complex as the former Bishops’ Palace of the Episocopal Palace. It became controversial for how lavish the residence became for the bishops as the rest of the city languished economically.
The cathedral complex faces the 16th century Convento dos Grilos across an overlook:
If you dig old bookstores, head up 10 minutes north from the cathedral for some Harry Potter vibes at the historic Livraria Lello. To set the record straight, the bookstore has no direct connection (the movies were never filmed here) with Harry Potter other than it was known that JK Rowling used to live in Porto while in an abusive marriage before leaving for Edinburgh.
You have to reserve ahead of time online to even get in (a minimum of a 5 euro entry per ticket, which can be used as a voucher towards a book at the gift shop; vouchers cannot be combined for a single purchase), let alone wait on the hour and half line. If you want to skip the line entirely, expect to pay up to 15-17 euros for a book you can then pick up at the store. We got lucky as we visited in the afternoon during lunch, so our wait time was only 20 minutes on the 5 euro voucher. They even give you umbrellas in line as protection from the elements!
This place is currently regarded as the beautiful and one of the top 3 bookstores in the world after Cărturești in Romania and Avid Reader in Australia:
After about 15 minutes at the Livraria Lello (it’s otherwise pretty small), walk 5 minutes southeast along Rua Das Carmelitas to Igreja dos Cléricgos, the world’s tallest building made of granite. For 6 euros you can climb the 200+ steps to the top for 360 views of the city, which I found to be similar to the views I got from Luis I Bridge and the countless elevated terraces around Porto:
The continuing along Rua dos Clérigos, you’ll reach Av. dos Aliados a few minutes away:
A little more north leads to the streets of Rua Santa Catarina, famous for eating, shopping, and churches with Azulejo tiles:
If you’re feeling peckish, there are numerous small dessert shops back in Ribiera. We picked out a special homemade nata dish at the oldest building in Porto:
And finally to the south of Riberia, you can walk along the top of Luis I Bridge for the views of Porto from afar:
Venturing further outside of Porto’s old city, we looked at the unique trees at Jardim de João Chagas. They’re not a native species but rather newer trees replanted within the old, dead trunks that swelled immensely from a tree-specific bacterial infection decades ago.
You may notice that across the street from the park, António de Oliveira Salazar’s unique “Lady Justice” statue stands imposingly outside the very un-Portuguese brutalistic architecture of the Tribual da Relacão do Porto. The statue is unique in that it has been redesigned without the typical “justice is blind” blindfold and the scales are tucked away at her side.
The redesign became symbolic of the fascist style of justice that Salazar’s reign wanted to convey to his people: we’re watching you and it’s not going to be impartial.
I then walked south back towards the river into the former Jewish neighborhoods of Porto, situated by the Jardim Municipal do Horto das Virtudes:
Of note, the stray cats here are taken care of and have been trained so well by the neighborhood here that they’ve learned to do their business in the man-made drains:
Resting a bit in the afternoon, we then headed back out in the evening west, passing by the Casa da Musica:
…before finishing our trip with a splendid al fresco dinner at Em Carne Viva:
Most atmospheric dinner of the trip so far:
Arugula Bread and Vegetable Chorizo with Chickpeas and Spices Tapenade:
Bulhão Pato Mushrooms – Shiitake and Marron mushrooms in a white wine, garlic, and fresh coriander sauce:
Spinless Tofu with seaweed “Lagareira” – Finely sliced grilled tofu with seaweed from the Atlantic, crispy bread topping with herbs, sautéed greens and roasted potatoes:
Spearmint Petit Gateau, Caipirinha Hail, Creamy Lime Ice Cream:
How this trip ends:
Returning to the USA (COVID-19)
While in Madeira 2 days ago (which was at the beginning of our 72 hour window on our return back to the USA), we scheduled a rapid antigen test beforehand at one of the pharmacies in the neighborhood. Many already have testing tents set up in front of them but they only take appointments, which you must arrange at the sponsoring pharmacy itself.
Timing our flight back to NYC to be 4pm exactly 2 days from today, we selected the 4:35pm time slot the next day (yesterday) to be tested. This way our tests could count not only for our return back to the States, but also our layover in Madrid beforehand just in case we wanted to leave the airport.
Then yesterday afternoon we checked in at the tent located about a 2 minute walk past the pharmacy in front of Sé Cathedral in Madeira:
They really go up there in that nose here! Our rapid antigen test results were ready within 45 minutes and we picked them up back at the pharmacy where we originally scheduled our tests:
Then I uploaded my test result to the new app Verifly so I can make sure I minimize the fuss on my way back to NYC tomorrow morning.
- At time of posting in Porto, it was 15 °C - Humidity: 74% | Wind Speed: 8km/hr | Cloud Cover: sunny