After being back in the UK a whole 10 days it was time to pack our bags and head off to the airport again. This time for a long weekend in Porto which was a treat Karen bought for my birthday back in May.
The 10 days in the UK had been crammed catching up with people, chores and events, and but crazy as it sounds we were ready for another break. What with hosting BBQ’s, sorting the garden out (Mrs Mole was back with a vengeance), a long day in London having tea in Buckingham Palace and seeing the Les Miserable Anniversary Concert, Golf Lessons, Holkham Food Fair, Cinema, Blickling Hall, we had had barely enough to breathe alone plan and book some other holidays. Karen would want to add washing to that list, but I think bunging a few clothes in a machine barely counts!
This trip was timed for the International Break in the football as we knew that we wouldn’t miss any City matches as well as the fact Karen was unlikely to be required to work at the start of the new academic term. We won’t get home until the early hours of Wednesday morning and rather foolishly she has made it known that she is available from Wednesday onwards. Despite this we think it will be another week or two before actual work offers start to roll in.
So off to Porto we went. We had never considered Porto until we watched the '48 Hours in’ series with Richard Ayoade (who we like despite him originating from Ipswich). The place looked really interesting.
The Ryanair flight was at 4.10pm so we had a leisurely morning and left home around 10.40am. Traffic was light and we headed towards the Short Stay car park we had booked as a treat. Karen was not happy as she thought it was still a fair distance to walk to the terminal and suggested she thought it would have been quicker to park on the Medium Stay and get a courtesy bus. She was wrong as usual……
As we had already checked in and had no bags we went straight to Security and the queue looked worse than it was. After a fruitless stop at Boots to try and get Karen some mousse for her hair (whatever that does) we headed to the Lounge and were promptly refused entry as they were full. I was grumpy about that but nowhere near as grumpy as many of the other people being turned away. The problem is that Stansted only has one Lounge and everyone with the ‘free’ Priority Pass like ourselves cannot book in advance. Unsurprisingly everyone who had paid real cash and booked in advance took real priority. We were told to come back in 45 minutes so we went and sat in Starbucks for a while to pass the time (Karen also had a coffee whilst we waited). We then back to the Lounge where we were allowed to queue and were let in within about 10 minutes.
The Lounge itself is not that great which is a common theme we have found in our year of using them with the free passes. This was quite crowded and the food selection was poor. But it was free as was the bar and we availed ourselves of both. These Lounges are definitely not worth the money if you have to pay to get in. The cost is £25pp and you would have to eat a lot of cheese and drink considerably to get your monies worth. You could get a lot of better food from Wetherspoons in the rest of the airport for less money. It does amuse us that the Prosecco is on tap here whilst the beer is in bottles which kind of shows the people who go into these Lounges.
Whilst there an old friend and colleague from work saw my Facebook update and said that he and his wife were also at the airport, but by then we didn’t have enough time to go and find them before our flight.
The flight was uneventful. Karen and I had both been randomly allocated aisle seats just two rows apart which worked well especially as I have always refused to pay extra to guarantee sitting together. I read my kindle the entire journey which literally just flew by.
Porto airport was nice and new and empty. Within minutes of disembarking we were through customs and made our way to the Metro station. We have some minor confusion buying tickets but having resolved that we were soon winging our way to the centre of Porto. We had decided to walk from the main station to the Hotel as it didn’t seem worth the hassle of changing lines for the walking distance saved.
That was until we realised during the walk that Porto is built on the side of some very very steep hills and our Hotel seemed to be at the top of one of them. Google Maps took us the quickest route which also was up cobbled streets and quite dark and dingy. Karen who had been instrumental in picking the Hotel, and being the laid back easy going patient person she is, never moaned once about the almost vertical 1 mile climb we had, along what seemed to be Magdalen Street. It was not the best of starts. We passed no open bars, restaurants or shops, which didn’t bother Karen either. Once at the Hotel we were told it was a long walk back down the hill to find anywhere open and so as it was now quite late we just went to our rather nice room and retired for the night.
Over breakfast the next morning, which was down in what was called The Cave we realised that Karen’s phone was still showing 'No Service’. This set off more than 26 hours of me contacting Sky trying to get it to work. In the meantime breakfast was fine by Continental Standards. No scrambled eggs but cold hard boiled ones which were acceptable. We then got ourselves ready for a day of ‘doing Porto’.
At a leisurely pace we walked down the Main Street to the Old Town. Karen was even more pleased with our Hotel’s location when we passed a Holiday Inn Express at the bottom of the steep hill. I reminded her how much money we were saving by the uphill walk which I think went down well.
The main shopping drag was really quite pretty although many of the shops were closed as it was a Sunday. We made our way to the meeting point for the free walking tour we had booked. There were about 100 other people waiting for the tour and so we were split into 3 groups. How unbelievably fortunate we were to be allocated to Daniel’s group. He was another jobbing actor (and the Portuguese voice on many PS4 games), who made the whole 3 hour tour a joy. He was so good that when we caught another tour up, their guide just stood and listened and laughed along. He was animated, passionate, knowledgeable and very funny. He even maintained my interest all the way through (apart from when I was being distracted by messages from Sky to try various things on Karen’s phone that I had already tried earlier in an effort to get it working). The tour ended in some locals kitchen who then provided chocolate cake for everyone (bar me).
By now we were down at Porto Riverside which was a hive of activity. It was so pretty with the wide river, magnificent Ponte Dom Luis Bridge and stunning blue sky and sunshine. Against our better judgement we sat at one of the touristy cafes overlooking the river and ordered a toasted sandwich and a drink. The setting was much better than both the service and the sandwich which was made of that plastic bread which is full of air. It didn’t dampen our spirits though and we then decided to stroll over the bridge to the other part of Porto (although officially called something else) . On the lower level of the bridge there were some young men preparing to dive the quite considerable distance into the River below, but not until their mates had collected enough ‘tips’ in a hat. We waited a while as Karen was keen to watch but I reckon they stand for about a hour building up the crowds and tension before the jump, so we kept walking.
This side of the river is famous for all the Port Wine Caves. Every famous brand has a building where for a small price you can do tastings. Port wine gets its name from Porto but in reality the vineyards are 120 miles north. The only part Porto played in its production was that the name is stamped on the barrel as they were loaded on the boat to show where they boarded the ship. The name then stuck.
We thought we would try Sandemans Port first of all. Not because of any knowledge or affiliation, but because they had an outside bar in the sunshine with some nice background music. I had a Port mixed with sparkling wine, whilst Karen went for a much more complicated Port cocktail. We both enjoyed our own drinks but not each others, which worked out well. We sat there for a good while before moving onto the Ramos Pinto caves, this time selected simply because the guide had recommended it this morning. The drinks were served inside which actually was a welcome relief from the sunshine and heat. I had another Port on its own this time (2 Euros) whilst Karen tried some of their wine.
By now we were feeling quite mellow as we finished our walk that side of the river and walked back over the bridge. We decided to treat ourselves to a ride up the first steep hill on the funicular railway. This was pleasant but quite short. At the top we lost some of the benefit by walking back down some of the way to get to Karen’s first Starbucks of the trip.
We then decided to consult Trip Advisor (otherwise known as The Oracle) as to where to eat tonight. It showed that only 400 metres away was the No 2 ranked restaurant in all of Porto. So we put it into Google Maps and followed the route. Of the 400 metres I reckon most of it was actually vertical, not that you would have known from Karen’s happy demeanour on the way. Eventually and without the need for oxygen we arrived and were soon seated. It was well worthy of its high praise on Trip Advisor. It was essentially a Pizzeria run by a small family. Service was impeccable and the food even more so. We both had Pizzas and left full but happy.
We didn’t get far before to Karen’s delight we came across a Costa and so we ended up in there for a nightcap as we had no drink making facilities in our Hotel room. This was a great Costa as it served alcohol as well.
It was a long walk back (even I admitted it) but we got back tired but really pleased with our first full day in Porto despite the fact Karen's phone still wasn't working.