Porto is Portugal's second largest city and also a so-called "secondary city" - a city outside the capital that has economic and social growth that is important for the country's well-being and economy. In Sweden, we have two "secondary cities" - Malmö and Gothenburg. Porto is Portugal's only "secondary city". Maybe that's why I expected something different. My sister was in Porto a few years ago and described Porto as a tired city with blown out houses and renovations everywhere. That's roughly how I would describe Porto today. Sure, even a beauty has its blemishes – but how many?
We spent the days on foot. The largest part in Porto's old quarter Riverside, with the famous houses that seem to flow down the hills. We also spent a lot of time in Foz do Douros slightly more luxurious residential area where the Douro River meets the Atlantic coast and i Fontainhas untouched blocks between the bridges. Although the various areas are completely different, there is one thing in common. It is incredibly worn.
Many houses had no roofs. The house next to our hotel had fixed its entire roof with silver tape. I wonder if there was even any roof tile left under all this tape. Other houses had been blown out for renovation for so long that three generations of pigeons lived here. Some houses were held up by sturdy scaffolding to prevent them from collapsing, but people still lived in the houses. We walk in an alley between two streets, it scents strongly of urine and there is a syringe on the ground. I wouldn't have felt comfortable here if I walked in the dark.
One of the few places in Porto that doesn't need a longer presentation (or renovation) is the double-decker bridge Dom Luis I. It is quite easy to recognize the architect behind the 130-year-old architectural masterpiece. Gustave Eiffel. Push the bridge together at both ends in your imagination, and you've almost created a new Eiffel Tower.
We walked over the bridge on the lower road and looked out over the city. The postage looked almost a little fragile. Like the houses were almost standing on top of each other up the steep slopes. Those who live in Porto must really have strong knees to be able to walk up and down these slopes all the time. I can still remember the old aunt in knee socks almost marching past us up one of the hills. I blame it on us stopping and taking photos on the way, otherwise she probably wouldn't have caught up with us.
Riverside is the heart of the city with some of the city's oldest houses. The colorful tiled houses are located right on the edge of the Douro River and have been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1996. Despite the number of restaurants that line the streets and the number of tourists, it doesn't feel like the area has lost its soul. Freshly washed clothes hang out of the windows, the satellite dishes are aimed at the sky and the football flags cover the windows against the sun.
Ribera is as charming as a muddy puppy in the spring sun. You can't help but smile, but you want nothing more than to shower off that dirty surface. The area is a dream for anyone who likes photography, without a doubt. But beautiful? I really do not know.
We pass a demolished house completely covered in ivy and a blooming purple climbing plant. The plants are like a carnivorous amoeba all over the block. How has this whole house in the middle of the center been allowed to fall into disrepair like this for so long?
One of the buildings in Porto that I appreciated the most was undoubtedly the Central Station São Bento. It's not that often that I usually recommend a train station as an attraction, but this is an exception. The blue and white paintings on the tiles at the entrance are magnificent. It is said that there are over 20 tiles with paintings here at the central station. The over a hundred-year-old paintings show everything from war scenes, boats, to kings and agriculture.
Another building that has amazing tiles in blue and white is Porto Cathedral Porto Cathedral and its monastery. The cathedral began to be built in the 12th century, but today is a mix of styles from all centuries. All renovations have given a new style. The most beautiful part is the monastery from the 14th century.
The monastery in Porto Cathedral gives me everything I expected from Porto. History, architecture and the blue-white tile. Beautiful, quiet and filled with well-preserved medieval times. We were almost alone in the monastery. Most of the tourists seemed to make a quick visit inside the cathedral and skipped the visit to the monastery. Maybe it's because of the entry, maybe it's out of ignorance. I feel bad for those who miss this. The monastery is undoubtedly Porto's gem.
We took a taxi back to the hotel to change for the evening's fine dining in Foz do Douro. Oddly enough, taking a taxi is cheaper than taking the subway.
It may happen that in the taxi I finally started to soften a little for Porto. Not so that the heart started beating faster with love, but more like a feeling of a long friendship. Porto has its charm. All the colors, all the narrow little houses that individually lean more than the Leaning Tower of Pisa, all the decay. No matter how shabby Porto is, is this honestly what I want to experience when I travel? The feeling that nothing is arranged. Everything is really like this. For real. This is no fancy Disneyland. This is life in Portugal's second largest city. Life.
Porto – you didn't have me at hello – but I think you had me at good bye
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Travel blogger, gastronaut, photographer and family adventurer with over 55 countries in his luggage. Eva loves trips that include beautiful nature, hiking boots and well-cooked food. On the travel blog Rucksack she takes you to all corners of the world with the help of her inspiring pictures and texts.