Slowing Down in Porto

Like most people who have googled the northern city in Portugal, I arrived in Porto expecting to see this:

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credit: Alamy
Most articles and blogs I came across while researching what to do in Porto described it as a bright and vibrant city by the sea. While the view above can be seen from across the Douro river, the striking colors laid a bit of a false narrative for me; I found the energy of the city more sleepy than lively. When we arrived in Lisbon after spending two days in Porto I felt relieved; I knew almost immediately that the busy capital was more my speed.

With six days in the warm southern city we were lucky to meet and chat with a fairly diverse sampling of other travelers–a younger couple from California, a middle aged husband and wife from London, a pair of Canadian students, studying land surveying at a school in France. One thing I love about meeting travelers in Europe is that they are usually coming from and traveling to somewhere else; you meet them somewhere in their journey and get to hear their impressions on what they have already seen, you get to learn from them.

Interestingly, what we were learning from all these other couples is that they loved Porto, many of them found it much more fascinating than Lisbon. As we heard this sentiment repeated, it started to haunt me, what had I missed? Don’t get me wrong, I liked Porto, It just seemed to me that when you were in the middle of that beautiful view, instead of in front of it, things were a bit more gray and run-down. I thought it was appropriate that there was so much rehabilitation and construction going on in the city, it seemed a long time coming. As my husband and I explored and walked different ways home to our AirBnB we saw so much beauty that had not been cared for and maintained, much of it was even abandoned.

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Oporto-abandon

When I pointed this out to our new acquaintances I got a similar response from all of them–a shrug. Something in Porto had captured them; I could see they almost felt sorry that I missed it. These conversations stuck in my mind the rest of our trip and as we traveled home and I fingered through the slideshow of our last ten days. I thought about why my impression of the city might be so different from that of other travelers.

Whenever we visit anywhere one of the questions at the forefront of my mind is could we live here? With hopes of living abroad for a year or two someday, I am always interested in the vibe of a city, as well as it’s amenities. I always consider:

  1. Is it walkable?
  2. How is the public transport?
  3. How diverse does the city feel–am I the only brown person for miles?
  4. What are the markets like–is there a lot of fresh food available?
  5. Are there lots of things to do–is there a theatre scene and festivals, and weekend markets–are there chefs who are excited about food?
  6.  Are the people friendly–does there seem to be a sense of community?

This list can actually go on and on, but the point is that these are all things we have now and would need to have in any other city we’d consider living in.

I’ve never thought it was a mistake to bring this could we live here mindset into each trip… until I started thinking more deeply about Porto.

I could never live in Porto–it was too slow for me. Some days, I get out of bed and I’m unmotivated and sluggish; it takes about two minutes for the streets of New York City to light a fire under my ass. The city has so much energy and I need that from where I live–I often rely on it to carry me, especially in the winter. I am lucky to have a partner who feels the exact same way; quite obviously our need for pace and energy in the place we live is valuable to know about ourselves. However, I wonder now if I’ve missed some of the magic in the sleepier places we’ve visited. I’ve been so busy evaluating, perhaps I should have been slowing my stride; going with the flow has never been one of my strong suits.

I believe I am always genuinely interested and respectful of the cultures we visit, but perhaps I need to focus less on whether a city “fits” me, and more on what I can learn from the people and the place while I am lucky enough to be there.

On a food tour we took in Porto, we stopped into a restaurant we NEVER would have found of our own. We ducked our heads down through the door and entered into an almost cavelike space with stone walls that must have existed for hundreds of years. Our guide told us that the restaurant specialized in slow food, everything was made in house and took significant time to prepare. She said because they offer this slow food, they offer a slow dining experience as well. They take reservations (and were booked for days so unfortunately we were not able to partake), but only one per table per night. So if you sit down at 7pm, there is not another couple scheduled for your table at 9, it is yours for the night. Sit, enjoy, savor–be their guest.

This restaurant was the one place in Porto I think I truly able to appreciate. I’m not one to sit at a table for hours for a meal, but when I tasted the pork sandwich there, it all made sense to me. The sandwich looked so simple, but with each bite, you could understand how it took 7-8 hours for it to be created. How could pork sliced so thinly, be so tender and flavorful? How could the marriage of rosemary and garlic taste so pronounced and bold, yet so clean? How could the bread be so crusty, but so doughy? As we reluctantly left the establishment, we were invited to take in the aroma of the pork cheeks being basted in front of us in the open kitchen. I wanted to stay, desperately. I wanted to sit and feel the stone wall on my back, and get lost in a trance staring at the open flame in the hearth, and be brought dish after dish of food cooked by someone who really cared about food.

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It’s not surprising that I find my appreciation for Porto through the food; in my busy life where I’m often anxious for the next thing, the one thing I will wait for is a good meal. Perhaps I can remember this the next time we get to a place that’s seems less than lively. I have to remember that life is happening at all different speeds, all around the world. Figuring out my pace, whether to slow down or speed up, is all a part of the adventure.

 

 

 

Credit title photo:Khachik Simonian

18 thoughts on “Slowing Down in Porto

  1. Wow, such a contrast of what is portrayed and what you actually see when you get there. Whenever I visit a place, I also have a mental checklist, similar to yours, whether or not I can live there. That said, Portugal still is on my list of places to check out in the near future.

    I was just on the Iberian peninsula, Spain to be exact, and I definitely think that Madrid gives NYC a run for it’s money (beautiful city, relatively cheap food, great wine, decent enough people, etc.). My only issues is that they eat way too late for me. 😉 I was a little depressed when I returned to NY from my trip.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Def check out Portugal–I would go back, I loved Lisbon and realize now how many other places there are to see.
      Anxious to get back to Spain! Was there when I was younger but excited to see it again as an adult and with my hubs. And I agree about the eating late!! We are pretty much seniors, lights out by 10pm or so, so crazy that people are often just eating dinner by that time!!

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  2. My brother lived in the Algarve for a few years back in the late 90s. He’d tried to make it as a professional golfer, but didn’t quite cut it, so ended up in Vilamoura teaching wealthy Germans to play the game. We visited several times, but never made it to other parts of Portugal, which is a shame. I’ve always wanted to visit Lisbon – it’s on my to-do list! On holiday I like to chill out, and love an old city where I can explore on my morning runs. We went to Girona, an hour from Barcelona, in April, and I just loved my morning runs there. We visited NYC in September last year for our 25th wedding anniversary. We loved the hustle & bustle of the city, but our favourite days were when we hung out in Greenwich Village, explored the Highline, and the Saturday that we spent in Brooklyn. NYC will always have a place in my heart ❤️

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    1. Will have to check out Girona when we travel to Spain for sure. I’m glad you enjoyed NY. East Village, West Village (Greenwich), and lower east side are my favorite neighborhoods in the city, and…I am a Brooklyn girl, so glad you enjoyed it! When I talk about the hustle and bustle or the city having energy, those are actually the places I am talking about. I hate Times Square/midtown, we never go there unless we have to, like if we are going to a show or something. I always try to steer visitors out of that area cause there is much more to see and so much more culture in the different neighborhoods. Im glad you branched out a bit when you visited. People who only see Times Square tend to ask, “how can you live there?” But they don’t realize that the real pulse of the city is planted throughout the other neighborhoods and boroughs.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. We stayed in a hotel just off Times Square, however if we come back we’ll definitely stay out of the centre, and maybe outside Manhattan. We spent most of our time travelling away from there! And I’ll bring my running shoes next time too…. 😉

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  3. Even Lisbon is a bit sleepy, we were visiting my friend Fernando for a few days. Though I found there were other qualities Portugal had that I liked. The food, wine, conviviality, and great heritage. I think Porto has just started on the road to regenerating itself because, living in Spain as I do, I generally feel Portuguese villages, towns, and cities, their buildings and infrastructure are more cared for better thought about.
    Spain has a habit of throwing the baby out with the bath water, whilst razing its heritage to ground. I’m sure those ‘grey, run-down’ buildings will be tastefully restored. Well… let’s say I’m more confident than if they were in Spain!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ahh, that’s so interesting! I’ve been to Spain, but I was much younger, can’t wait to go back. My hubs is anxious to go as well. I will keep your comment in mind when we go! And I agree about the sleepiness, but almost everywhere is sleepy compared to NYC, so I try to not be an obnoxious New Yorker and say that 😉. I think London is the only place I’ve been where the energy felt the same!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m a Londoner, and true there’s so much high octane stuff to do. I lived at the side of St Pauls Cathedral for many years, and was born in Tottenham Court Road. But I find life here in a, dare I say it, sleepy Spanish village of one and a half thousand people, very engaging and direct… in London if you don’t go and find your life it doesn’t come to you. Here there’s no ignoring life… it’s in your face!
        When you come don’t forget to visit Extremadura… it’s a great, great place! OMG I sound like Trump now, it’s time to go!

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      2. Oh my goodness–“If you don’t go and find your life, it doesn’t come to you.” I could not agree more with that statement. Interesting that you say that is different in the village you are living in. You are definitely confirming that my hubs and i need to go live abroad! Also, I don’t mean to sound like i need another nyc–i don’t. If everywhere were like nyc it would be exhausting. In the U.S. there is just so much suburbia–that is what I grew up in and could NEVER live in again. However I definitely think that there is so much history all over Europe that I would find it fascinating to live in SO many different places, even if they are smaller. PLUS, traveling is so easy over there–you can be in another country in a few hours–it’s so amazing.
        Anyway, I am glad we found each other, I enjoy your views :). I will make sure I keep up with your blog/journey. x

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Really intriguing post. I’ve never been to Portugal but I really want to go someday in the future.
    Most times I think about whether I would want to live in a city after I’ve come back home, enjoyed its charms and quirks and all, and can think about it again afresh. Sometimes though, cities just take me up and engulf me completely and I can’t stop thinking about how much I love them! Like NYC – we visited this February and we both came away echoing what you said here – that buzz and business is so motivating.
    I’m definitely going to take a lot away from this article next time I go travelling! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m so glad you got something from this Ellanor, thank you for commenting! Also, makes me very happy you had a good experience in NYC, I always urge people to get out of Times Square cause there’s so much to explore beyond the normal touristy stuff, so, I hope you found that 😍. Where do you live? I’ll have to look back at some of your posts. Also, you are spot on about reflecting upon the place once you come back. I do that as well but I think my personality is just too go go go at times, I am always multitasking and I am hoping to learn to turn that off sometimes! Thanks for reading! x

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I tried to get around NYC but we were only there for about 2 days so couldn’t get too much done – usually I like to stay in a city for a lot longer and take it slow but I’m from the UK so it was a long trip for me! I’m definitely going back. Any recommendations for me? 😀 My hometown where I live is Plymouth, on the South West coast of the UK. It’s nice here, but I haven’t written about it much yet! I guess travelling is always inspiring but sometimes we overlook home x

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