Color, Charm, and a Few Fine Ports Along the Douro
Porto undoubtedly reminded me of the romance of travel— even when traveling solo. Sure, I was only on my own for less than 24 hours, but brief as it was, the adventure of exploring a new city heightened my senses to the point where it was all I needed. I crave the feeling of being so present in my surroundings— so aware of the the life around me, that as “alone” as I am, I barely realize it.
That first evening I searched like mad for Bacalao, the restaurant recommended by my Airbnb host. Along the Ribeira, but slightly removed from the tourist congestion, I at last found it. The server opened a bottle of Vinho Verde for me as I waited for a table outside to open up. The half dozen tables, all with a romantic sunset view of the Douro River were filled with couples. Wine in hand, I sat down confidently amongst them.
Solo dinner may not be on my list of favorite things, but as I discovered sitting down alone after my first Camino, at the famous Restaurante Botín in Madrid, they can be enjoyable.
On this late May evening in Portugal, without conversation to keep me company, I became absorbed in the crisp sweetness of my wine mixed with salty bites of flaky cod, and finished off with the creamy caramelized goodness of a pastel de nata, that put Lisbon’s most famous to shame.
Behind me, the Luis I bridge reflected the last strokes of light and seagulls dropped in dramatic gestures, all as if I were caught in a snow globe. The scene became increasingly more romantic when a violinist began entertaining the diners with passionate crescendos and decrescendos, seemingly in unison with the swooping birds overhead.
After dinner, feeling lighter, both myself and the bottle of white wine, I sauntered towards home stopping every so often to breathe in the scene. My heart melted when I paused to watch a little girl joyfully letting loose to the sounds of a street band.
During the following days, joined by one of my Madrid amigas, Porto proved to live up to all its hype. We chased its charming colorful tiles along buildings and churches, and stood in awe of the historical scenes regally unfolded in blue and white upon the walls of the Sao Bento train station. There, travelers and tourists shuffled about, draped in the romantic light of the magic hour. Even my first Portuguese mass was enchanting with a man breaking in to a fado-like performance after communion that left me with chills.
We took a tram to Foz do Douro, the town where the Douro River meets the Atlantic and filled up on fresh fish amidst a strong ocean breeze. Later, we mingled with the masses, all mindlessly snapping away at Livraria Lello, the unique bookstore where J.K. Rowling may have been inspired to write Harry Potter.
And most charming of all was our day spent on the Gaia side of the river, learning to appreciate fine reserve, tawny, and vintage ports at Graham’s Lodge.
Before we crossed back over the mighty Ponte Luis I, we stood eating a bag of fresh cherries, admiring the radiant Portuguese treasure across the river— and I was reminded yet again why I travel.