Porto, Portugal


Porto is very different from Lisbon. I enjoyed Lisbon, but Porto has more of a European feel. The Ribeira is one of the oldest neighbourhoods in Porto. It is filled with narrow medieval streets that are enchanting to walk. One of the areas that I enjoyed was the Cais da Ribeira, the waterfront along the river. You will find old warehouses turned into shops and restaurants, some with music to while away a pleasant evening. From any of the restaurants, you can see across the river to Vila Nova de Gaia, where all the port-wine cellars and sampling restaurants are located. This neighbourhood is located at the lowest point in Porto. If you do not feel like walking up the hills, you can take a taxi or the Funicular dos Guindais.


To get to Vila Nova de Gaia, you can take a taxi, train or walk across the iconic Dom Luis 1 bridge. The bridge has two decks, one for trains, one for vehicles. Both have pedestrian walks. The top deck has excellent views of Porto.

Taken from the Gaia side

Looking from the Gaia side, you can see the riverside restaurants at Ribeira

Once in Gaia, you can cellar-hop at several of the lodges or do sampler at one of the many lodges’ bars/restaurants. Four of the most well-known lodges are Calem, Taylor’s, Sandeman, Dow’s and Graham’s. I spent a couple of afternoons exploring this area.

If you enjoy shopping, also across the bridge is a vast department store. El Corte Ingles (The English Court) think Eaton’s if you are Canadian. There are at least six floors, each with its specialty. There are some good quality restaurants and a big supermarket — everything you want in one.

Back in Porto, there are so many things to see and do. Watch for all the Azulejos (colourful tiles) all around the city — the most famous being the Sao Bento Train Station. The mosaics which cover the walls were designed by Jorge Colaco, which depicts famous battles.

Another masterpiece by Colaco is the façade of the Church of Saint Ildefonso.

The Palacio de Bolsa (Stock Exchange Palace) was built to be the seat of Porto’s Commercial Association. It truly is built like a palace and is very impressive on the inside. Well worth a visit.

Whether you are a Harry Potter fan or not,  a visit to Livraria Lello, one of the oldest bookstores in Portugal, should be on your must-see list. JK Rowling lived and worked in Porto in the early ’90s. It is said that she was inspired to base the Hogwarts Library and the Flourish and Blotts shop on this library. It would be best if you arrived early to get a chance to see this very busy bookstore. You need to buy your ticket – 5 E –  at the corner of Rua da Carmelitas and Armazens do Castelo.  The store will open about 15 minutes before the bookstore does. The cost of the ticket will be taken off any purchase you make at the bookstore.

Another visit should be made to MacDonald’s restaurant. That’s right, MacDonald’s. It is in a historical building. When MacDonald’s bought the building, they kept all the architectural elements, including the chandeliers. It is amazing. I think MacDonald’s should step up the design on all their other buildings.

Some of the food that Porto is known for include the Francesinha. You need an appetite or someone to share this. It is a sandwich with ham, sausage and steak covered with melted cheese and a gooey egg. It is delicious. Another dish is Tripas a Moda do Porto, a trip stew with beans and rice. I did not try that one. Another specialty is dishes made with Bacalhau, which is dried codfish. There is a restaurant across the river in Gaia called Bacalhau, where they only serve dishes made with the dried cod. I had a lovely meal there.

There are amazing little restaurants tucked away all over Porto. I had some fantastic meals and was entertained by street musicians.

This ice cream is not as big as it appears but it was delicious. You can choose several flavours and they will make it into a beautiful flower. I chose lighter “flavours” so it is difficult to see the different ice cream flavours.

A visit to Igreja de Sao Francisco is not for the faint-hearted. Beneath the church are the catacombs where the Franciscan monks and Porto’s wealthiest families are buried. There are also thousands of human bones. You can view some of these through a glass window in the floor. In the church, there is the Tree of Jesse, a wooden sculpture depicting the family tree of Jesus. 

To the right are the stairs to the church

Under the floors are the bones



Getting around in Porto is quite easy. The local transportation is excellent. Depending on where your accommodations are, it is easy to walk around, but having said that, it is very hilly. I got a lot of exercise.



Coimbra, Portugal


“It seems that the more places I see and experience, the bigger I realize the world to be. The more I become aware of, the more I realize how relatively little I know of it, how many places I still have to go, the more there is to learn. Maybe that’s enlightenment enough; to know that there is no final resting place of the mind; no smug clarity. Perhaps wisdom is realizing how small I am, and unwise, and how far I have yet to go.”  Anthony Bourdain


I was to meet my sister in Porto in a few days, so I took the opportunity to stop in Coimbra. I booked at Hotel Domas.  Their information stated that it was across the street from the train station. Perfect, I thought. It will be easy to catch the train to Porto. After a couple of hours of travel Lisbon, I arrived at the Coimbra station. Everyone got off the train. This was a good sign that I was in the right place. Wrong. I walked towards the street and looked for the hotel.  Nothing.   I couldn’t see anything that resembled a hotel or a restaurant. So, I walked a bit further to the taxi stand.  I asked a taxi driver where I would find the Hotel Domas. He said that it was downtown Coimbra. I explained that the hotel was supposed to be across the street from the train station. He said that is correct, but it is Coimbra “A” station. I needed to take another train to that location. So I took a taxi to the hotel.  It was a 10-minute ride. Much easier.

 Coimbra is home to Portugal’s most prestigious University and its first. The University is located on a steep hilltop. I decided to walk. I was not sure how far I had gone, but I was huffing and puffing my way up. I met a couple coming down and asked them if this was the right road to the University. They responded, yes. I asked them how much further. They said, “oh, you are about halfway.” Oh wow. So, I took a few minutes to catch my breath and take a picture of part of the steep road. Once I arrived, the view and the University’s buildings were astonishing. It is still traditional that students attend class in black robes and capes. They also have a set of rites and practices called the Codigo de praxe. Some of the rites and practices have been changed, such as curfew. It was 6:00 pm, but now it is set at midnight. The 16th to 18th-century buildings, all set around a vast courtyard, makes an impressive setting. I would feel very inspired if I were to study there.


View from halfway up to the university

One of the main attractions at the University is the library. You pay a small fee for tickets and wait for about 20 minutes as only about a dozen people in at a time are allowed in. It is beyond description. You are not permitted to take pictures but can buy postcards of the library in their store at the University. As for the rest of the University, you can explore on your own or with a guide. Allow time to explore the University and beyond. There is also an attractive garden down the street from there. Well worth the effort.


law student selling pencils.

the ticket office for entry into the library

Couple going into the church for a wedding

It seemed like it was a tradition to throw the capes down for the bride and groom to walk on

I always like to try local food and restaurants that are not set up for tourists.  I asked the staff at the hotel, and they recommended a restaurant only a couple of blocks from the hotel. So off I went to find the restaurant. I followed their directions down a narrow street only to find myself in an open area with a table and two chairs in the middle — nothing else. I looked around and could not see a restaurant. Upon further inspection, down an opening, I saw a meat display case.  As I got closer, I spied a restaurant on my right. This was not a tourist destination. I took a seat and explained to the waiter what I was looking for, something authentic. I got my wish! I was served this wonderful meal of lamb that had been braising all day in a  broth. Because of the language barrier, I couldn’t fully understand everything he was saying about the dish. My mouth waters just with the memory of it. The only sad part was that the portion was so big I couldn’t finish it or take it back to my hotel.

Narrow street to restaurant

Food display. You can see to the right is the restaurant.

I decided to go to a Fado concert. It was very different from any of the shows in Lisbon.  Men in black capes, usually university students, traditionally do the singing. It was very good, but I preferred the Lisbon version.

Portugal dos Pequenitos is a theme park that has doll-house size buildings that are versions of Portugal’s famous monuments and buildings. Obviously, I am not a child, but I had a fun afternoon exploring the buildings and the garden. The children I saw were having a blast. There is a small store where you can purchase drinks and snacks. 


There are quaint shopping areas and other sights to see.  But, I did not have time in my two days to see and do everything — next time.



LISBON part three


“And then I realized adventures are the best way to learn.” Anonymous

Lisbon continued to surprise me. I decided to have lunch at the Mercado da Ribeira or also known as the Time Out Market. It is a unique place to eat. There are approximately 35 kiosks of varying types of food to choose from, and the prices are reasonable. All the restaurants and bars are rated 4 or 5 stars by critics. Only the best work at the market, some being Michelin star chefs. The other part of the market has traditional booths that sell flowers, fish, fruits, meat and cheese.


I spent part of a day on Rua Augusta, a pedestrian-only street, lined with many stores and restaurants. I started at the Praca do Comercio square. To the right was the Lisbon Story Centre. You can spend 60 minutes learning about Lisbon from its pre-ancient Roman days to modern times, including the 1755 earthquake. You can see a vivid film re-enacting the horrors and the reconstruction that followed. The quake killed 90,000 people. The cost is 7 euros. However, the best value is to get a Lisbon City card which will get you into most of the museums, etc.


My next stop was at the entrance to the Rua Augusta. I had seen the lineup at the Elevator de Santa Justa, Lisbon’s only vertical street lift. With no lineup at the Arco da Rua Augusta and a small fee, I took an elevator part way up and then a spiral staircase to the top. The views were some of the best in Lisbon, overlooking the main square, the river and Rua Augusta.


Rua de Augusta

Part of the view from the top

Rua de Augusta from the top

Elevator de Santa Justa

By the time I was finished exploring, I was getting hungry, so I went looking for a restaurant on Rua Augusta. I was determined to try as many Portuguese typical foods as possible. I found one restaurant that served sardines. Yes, I was willing to try it! In Canada, our sardines are tiny and come in a tin. Imagine my surprise and slight horror to get a plate, well more like a platter, with five huge sardines on it. I ate most of them but couldn’t quite finish. I found them to be quite delicious. Afterward,  I had the energy to wander up and down Rua Augusta. I am not a big shopper, but it was fun to see the different types of stores.



Cod cakes


It is easy to wander around Lisbon and safe. I was a lone female traveller and never felt unsafe, even walking at night. There was a time where, after being at a fado concert, I stepped outside and discovered that I had no idea where I was! I had taken a taxi to the show. It was dark, and I was hungry. I asked a local where I might find a good restaurant. He pointed in a direction. So, I went in that direction. I got lost and wandered up and down various streets. I eventually found a cool pedestrian-only street, lined with busy restaurants. I chose one and sat at an outside table. I had a lovely meal and was able to do one of my favourite pastimes, people watch. Across the street was a fado bar and people were lined up for the next show. After the show finished and those patrons left, they let more people in for the next show. Fun to watch and the only disappointing thing was that I was not able to hear the music.


Lisbon is easy to explore. There is public transportation, taxis and Uber. One note on taxis – for the most part, they were good. But, I get one driver who thought he was Mario Andretti. I seriously thought I was going to die. I took Ubers after that. They were reasonably priced. I liked the idea of knowing in advance what it was going to cost, when my driver would arrive, and who, my driver would be.


There were so many places that I did not see. Yet another reason to return to Lisbon!