I recently made the bold choice of going on holiday just two weeks before my 6 month sabbatical. I had annual leave to use up and a flight voucher from British Airways to redeem, so it made sense in that respect, even if it didn’t financially! I also wanted to continue to mark the fact that I turned 30 at the end of February (stretching out the celebrations makes it easier to come to terms with my diminishing youth).

Outside the university

I corralled two of my best Judys, Ross and Mitch, and between us we decided to visit Porto in Portugal. I was looking forward to several aspects of the trip; the fact that Portugal was likely to be much warmer and sunnier than London, that it would likely be pretty good value, and of course, getting to spend quality time with some of my besties before I go off gallivanting around the globe (I have to write that because I know Ross is going to read this). I also have not visited Portugal as an adult, so it’s a country I don’t know all that well. I was excited to learn more about it.

Mitch, Ross and myself
The Douro River

Despite my journey out to Portugal being plagued by misfortune, I finally arrived in the city on Sunday afternoon (after an 18 hour delay) and met up with Ross and Mitch in the Airbnb. We were staying a short walk from the centre but just a stone’s throw from restaurants, shops and bars. I want to say the city is highly walkable – but any short walk through the town will take you down (and unfortunately in equal measure, up) steep cobblestoned streets. Great for getting sweeping vistas of the river, not so great for your knees. The centrepiece of the city is the beautiful Luís I Bridge, which is famously longer than the Eiffel Tower is tall, a fact not lost upon Ross who won a drink off me when we bet on it.

Luís I Bridge
Ross and I with the aforementioned bridge

As you’d expect, a proliferation of bars have sprung up all along the riverfront to capitalise on the stunning views. We spent several pleasant sunny afternoons drinking reasonably priced beer, aperol spritzs and port & tonics in these bars while we rested our sore feet. The old town near to the waterfront was a delight to wander through, with intriguing shops, trendy restaurants and beautiful architecture in spades.

Views from the tallest tower in town

We visited a few cultural institutions while here, including the Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art and the National Museum Soares dos Reis. The former was more impressive; spacious galleries containing frankly quite bizarre art as well as stunning grounds to wander through kept us occupied for a happy couple of hours. Our visit to the National Museum was quite disappointing as the majority of the exhibits were inexplicably closed. We inspected what looked like some university student’s biology notes and a couple of big and unexciting stone cornices before swiftly returning to the riverfront bars for more drinks.

Highlights from the art museums and gardens
Ross and I observing some art

After shivering through another miserable British winter, one of the highlights of the trip was probably just wandering around in the sunshine, which we did at the Crystal Palace Gardens, by the cathedral and along the Atlantic coast in the nearby neighbourhood of Foz. Seeing the powerful waves crashing against the sea wall as the sunlight glimmered through the storm clouds was particularly beautiful.

Crystal Palace Gardens
The Sé and views from
The sun over the Atlantic Ocean

Finally, I couldn’t wrap up this post without mentioning the food we ate while in Porto. I’m no gourmand, but even I appreciated the delectable and reasonably priced cuisine, including seafood (I ate many octopuses), francesinhas (ham and cheese sandwiches drowned in gravy and melted cheese) and lip-smacking glasses of wine. As a birthday gift to Mitch and me, Ross took us for dinner at the splendid In Diferente, a Michelin recommended restaurant where we indulged with a 7 course meal and wine pairing, that took four and a half hours to get through. It was an absolute treat and hands down the fanciest and highest quality meal I’ve ever had!

Pulvo – octopus to you and me. Looks a bit grotesque but was so damn good

Our trip to Porto had been a success; we’d caught the sun, tasted the port and absorbed a small amount of culture (just enough). I’ve been recommending Porto to every London based office worker I know – as a city break destination I’m not sure it can be beat. Portugal – I’ll be back.

Sunset over the Douro

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