I had such a great time in Madrid and Lisbon but there were some long days and lots of walking involved so I was ready to chill for a little bit. After a few days in Lisbon, I was heading to the north of Portugal and the second largest city, Porto. When I was planning this trip, I decided that I wanted to see more than just one place in Portugal which is why I didn’t spend the whole week in Lisbon. On second thoughts, I regret that decision slightly but only because I loved Lisbon so much, not because I didn’t like Porto. Another exciting part of Porto was that I was meeting a friend there so I had some company! It didn’t end there either. After two nights in Porto with my friend Anna, I headed to Paris to meet my dad and sister for the weekend and round out my trip.
From Lisbon, Porto is only a three hour bus ride away so I arrived about midday. Anna was flying in from France a few hours after me so I scoped out where our AirBnB is and then killed some time in a Starbucks so I could charge my rapidly depleting phone battery (the beginning of the end for my old iPhone 8, she served me well). Once Anna had landed and was on her way into the city, I found a lunch spot for us, Garden Cafe, and we caught up over some delicious burgers. After lunch we still had to wait an hour or so until we could check in so we sat reading in a square in front of Porto town hall until it was time.
Once we could check in and leave our bags, we went straight out to catch the sunset. Of everything we did in Porto, this was my favourite. We headed down to Ponte Luís I, one of the bridges that crosses the Rio Douro. The view of Porto is incredible but made even better by an incredible sunset! On the other side of the bridge is the jardim do Morro, a small park, where I had an incredibly weird (almost) encounter. Out of the corner of my eye I spotted a face that I recognised and it took me a second to place it. It turned out to be someone I met in Beijing in the first few days that I moved to China in 2019! I bumped into his friend early in the morning in the hostel and ended up going for a walk with them both as the sun was still coming up (blame jet lag). I couldn’t believe that I had spotted and recognised him three and a half years later. I didn’t go up and say hi because the only contact we’ve had since Beijing is being Facebook friends and I didn’t fancy the awkwardness if he didn’t also recognise me. Still, it was a nice reminder of how small and serendipitous the world is!
We walked back along the bridge and down some stairs to get to water level (glad we were going down instead of up!). We had a look at a few little shops, enjoyed some buskers and then sat down for a drink in the cosy terrace of a bar. One glass of wine and a hot chocolate later, we headed back to the AirBnB via McDonalds for a light dinner. Incidentally, the McDonalds in Porto is considered by many as the most beautiful in the world! It is housed in an Art Deco building that previously was home to the famous Cafe Imperial.
For our full day in Porto, we had a few things on our list. Top of that was Livraria Lello, one of the oldest bookstores in Portugal and often considered one of the best in the world. You can also see a collection of letters from Bob Dylan to his high school girlfriend that are displayed upstairs. I definitely think it’s one, if not the most, beautiful bookstore that I’ve ever seen. The warm wooden interior and the nooks created by the beams make it feel comforting, like any good bookshop should be. However, I think it’s really more of a tourist attraction than a functioning bookshop, which is fine as long as you know to expect that. If you want to visit Livraria Lello, you need to buy a ticket, €6 on the door I think or €5 online. We bought them online while standing outside so it’s easy to do. If you go on to buy a book inside, the price of your ticket is deducted from the price of the book. In theory, I think this is a good system. If you have a bookshop that has become as popular as Lello, then this is a good way to incentivise people to actually buy books rather than just come in and look around. However, there were some flaws in practice. Once we got inside it was absolutely packed, so much so that we could barely move up or down the main stairs. Anna pointed out that if you’re going to have a ticketing system, why let that many people in at once? Once inside, they don’t have a very large selection of books other than a limited selection of their own editions of ‘classic’ novels in a selection of languages. In the end, neither of us bought anything. I think a better example of a famous and popular yet still functioning bookshop would be Shakespeare and Company in Paris. Yes, the lines can be long and it’s still very busy but it’s free, there’s enough room to breathe, a wide selection of books plus you’re not supposed to take photos so that people don’t get clogged up taking Instagram pics.
Moving on, we passed the Torre de Clérigos, a church tower that is one of the symbols of the city, and walked down the Rua das Flores, possibly the most picturesque street in Porto. This took us back down to the waterfront where we found a spot to eat. It was mostly likely a tourist trap, the food was fine but not great, but we wanted somewhere to enjoy the view and the sunshine. I had a francesinha, a sandwich that originated in Porto, with steak, salami, sausage and ham topped with melted cheese, a fried egg covered in a tomato and beer sauce. It is usually served with a side of chips and traditionally eaten alongside a cold beer. Who am I to break with tradition?
After lunch we wandered across to the other side of the river where we passed a stand selling fatura, the Portuguese version of a churro. You could get them with a filling so I had creme de ovos, a bit like the filling of a pastel de nata but less creamy. Just further along was the teleférico, the short cable car that takes up to jardim do Morro. It was €7 which is very expensive for a journey that is less than 5 minutes but it was the only activity we wanted to do that cost anything. We sat in the park reading for a little and headed back in the direction of our AirBnB. We stopped for my daily pastel de nata. I also tried Licor 35 which is a pastel de nata flavoured liqueur – as delicious as it sounds!
That was it for Porto, we had a chilled evening in the apartment as Anna had an online class to teach and we left the next morning. It was nice to have a change of pace after a very busy time in Madrid and Lisbon as well as to have some company! From Porto, it was off to Paris to meet my sister and my dad. Seeing as this was back in February, it was right in the middle of the Six Nations rugby tournament and we were there to watch the Scotland vs. France match! It was an easy journey into the centre of Paris where I met my dad and his friends. This was actually a bit of a lads trip that they do every year, either to Paris or to Rome for the Scotland vs. Italy match, that my sister and I were crashing! We were staying around Gare du Nord where we had a drink in a bar called Ô Béret Basque and, after my sister arrived, dinner at Maison Bleue. The food was great, with nice wine, nice company and nice conversation.
Having arrived on the Friday and the match not being until Sunday, we had all of Saturday to kill in Paris (not a hard thing to do). Amy took the lead as it had been the longest since she had been to Paris. We started with a walk up to Montmartre (emphasis on UP) where we went into Sacré Coeur, a first for me. We wandered around a little more, had a coffee and then headed down past the Wall of Love, a cool mural with ‘I love you’ written 311 times in 250 languages. At Amy’s request, our next stop was Sainte Chappelle, the lesser known neighbour of Notre Dame. I think Sainte Chappelle is absolutely gorgeous but there’s not a lot to see once you’re inside so even though it’s one of my favourite tourist activities in Paris, I think it’s a little overpriced at €11.
We had lunch at a creperie nearby and then headed back to our hotel. We had a pit stop at one of my dad’s favourite bars, Le Sully in the Strasbourg-Saint-Denis neighbourhood. I really liked it because it was cosy, full of an eclectic mix of locals, had friendly bartenders and served Cuvée des Trolls, one of my favourite beers that is served in Gambrinus, the go-to bar in Mulhouse. Le Sully also reminded me of some of the pubs that I went to in Edinburgh as a student. After some chill time in the hotel, it was time for dinner. In a stroke of coincidence, the restaurant that had been chosen was Alsatian! Bofinger is by Place de la Bastille and, to cut a long story short, I wasn’t impressed. The interior was very impressive, as were the prices, but I’ve had better choucroute garnie (sauerkraut topped with potatoes and a selection of pork, an Alsatian classic) in the Christmas markets in Mulhouse. I did get to try French onion soup for the first time, which I liked, and enjoy some pinot blanc, another Alsatian classic.
And finally game day! The match wasn’t until the afternoon so we had a lovely lunch at Terminus Nord, a restaurant across from Gare du Nord. The inside is very cool, in an art deco style with lots of mirrors that give it this feeling of old school glamour. I liked the food here much more than the night before, the standout being my sister’s starter of little ravioli in a creamy cheese sauce. After lunch we headed over to the Stade de France along with 80,000 other people. As usual for a rugby match, the atmosphere was great and it helped that even though it was cold, the sun was out. It was a good game but frustrating because Scotland had three close calls for a try but didn’t quite get there. After 80 minutes, two red cards (one for each team), four tries for France and two for Scotland, the final score was 32-21 to France. Regardless of the result, it was a great experience! I actually left a few minutes early to try and beat the crowds because I didn’t have that long between the end of the match and my train.
And brings this trip to an end! I had an absolutely fantastic time, particularly in Lisbon, but it was nice to end what was a very busy trip with a few chill days in Porto and getting to see my family in Paris. With that trip out of the way, it also brought me into the final stretch of my time as a lectrice. As I’m writing, I’ve actually finished teaching and am enjoying my last few weeks in Mulhouse so there will be some blogs coming to wrap up my time here before some exciting things in the summer!