The solo part of this journey is coming to a close as I meet up with Carolyn in Porto. I hesitate to say “she’s joining me,” because I am actually crashing the trip she planned to Morocco. Almost six months ago, she told me about a yoga retreat happening in Marrakesh. I booked my reservation the next day. Portugal is directly north of Morocco, which is part of the reason I’ve been gallivanting about the country most of February.
As I drove to Porto from Fatima, Carolyn arrived from her connection at London Heathrow. We met up at our super cute Airbnb in the heart of the city. I was greeted by twice the number of steps as my Lisbon thigh-burner apartment, but at least they were wooden (not stone) and uniform. The effort was worth it; sitting in the cute little floral chair with a knit, white pillow and looking out onto the very first street of Porto. It was like a scene out of a movie with the lit street lamp out the window, a view to the alley-shrine with six actively glowing candles, ancient window boxes with flowers that likely bloom year-round, the sheen of recently-wet cobblestones, the pealing of a church bell in the distance, and the clack-clack-clack of travelers en route to their next destination. Cracks of sunshine peek onto the narrow street through the overlapping tiles of the roofs. This place is the definition of charming. Oh, and freshly baked croissants are delivered to our door each morning.
We didn’t do much in the way of preparation or planning for Porto. However, there was one tourist site we were eager to visit: Livraria Lello. It is one of the oldest bookstores in Portugal and, according to Lonely Planet, the third best bookstore in the world. When J.K. Rowling was teaching English in Porto, she often visited the bookstore and it’s easy to see how it may have inspired some of the Hogwarts environment.
Normally, I am all about people doing what they need to do to get a cute tourist pic. However, in this bookstore, there was only one way up, which happened to also be the one way down — along the grand, ornate staircase. People would stop to take a photo halting traffic both upwards and downwards. I could maybe be okay with that if it were just a quick snap but they’d have their “Instagram boyfriend” snap four or five pictures, only to have the next person on the staircase repeat the same behavior. Finally, American-Josie came out and I pushed through, past the tourists who were horrified that I was ruining their photoshoot… on a staircase. Harumph. Pro tip: take a cute photo with the staircase in the background and stop no traffic.
On the hilly streets of Porto, we observed entertainers of all varieties, including a man painted head to toe in bronze paint sitting amidst cobblers’ tools at a workbench. It was one of the first times a ‘statue person’ actually made me do a double-take. I didn’t snap a photo because I covet my Euro coins. Later, we walked by a church with a man carved into the wall. As I contemplated which saint he was meant to represent, I momentarily questioned if maybe he was also a street performer statue. But, I guess it would be hard to collect tips up there.
Carolyn is a fan of bubbles, in the sense of sparkling wine. So, we found a balcony restaurant and enjoyed a bottle as we watched life on the Douro River roll by. English names spot the hill on the opposite side. The Brits were responsible for the trade of port wine and still maintain warehouses there. We’d be doing our own port winding on the river, soon. But that’s another day and a different blog post.
We continued our wandering and happened upon a craft fair. I intentionally didn’t pack any rings for the trip but had found myself subconsciously aware of their absence. The first booth had interesting geometric rings. I really liked them and one stood out. Normally, I would look at the rings for 10 minutes then compare with each subsequent stand’s offerings. Not today. I picked up the one I liked, inquired about the price, put it on my right hand ring finger and pulled out my credit card. Carolyn has known me for over two decades and has never seen me make a decision so quickly and confidently. I’ve known me for 38 years and haven’t either. They say travel helps you to know yourself, I guess that must be it?
We finished off our Porto evening with a decadent dinner at the Michelin-starred restaurant adjacent to our quaint apartment. Not a shabby way to spend a day.