Whew! It’s been another long travel day but it’s definitely turning it to be worth the hassle! Our train from Salamanca, which was supposed to pick us up at 1am local time, didn’t show up until 3:30am. Rumor had it the train company had forgotten to assign a driver to our train and had to taxi one into Madrid to get the train in the first place, then he had to drive it all the way to Salamanca (3 hours when we did it) to pick us up! But we finally got on a train and tried to get at least a little sleep. The conductors will wake you up when you get close to your stop, which is very helpful, but unfortunately the train just isn’t a comfortable place to sleep anyway and we only got a little bit of rest.
The one nice thing about being awake ridiculously early on a train was the beautiful sunrise! This was just over the border in Portugal where the land was primarily mountains and forests. With a bit of misty fog and the pastels slowly coloring in the world around us, we could almost forget we were working off maybe only 2 hours worth of sleep!
We got extremely lucky and made our train switch in Coimbra in record time; we had to buy the second set of tickets at the stop, and we were just barely off the overnight train when they started announcing the train to Porto was coming in! We spent a grand total of about 8 minutes in Coimbra, just long enough to buy the new tickets and run to catch the train. Good thing too, or we would have been stuck there for at least an hour waiting for the next train! The ride into Porto was surprisingly short, only about 30 minutes, and we finally arrived at 8:45 local time (which was actually 9:45 on our watches; we’ve traveled so far west at this point that we’re now in a different time zone from Paris!)
Porto did not immediately make a good impression on us; the train station was small and didn’t have many of the normal resources we’ve come to expect at train stations, and the Metro stop we got off at wasn’t any better. We were very uncomfortable searching for our hotel – until we found it. The staff here is extremely helpful and kind, giving us maps, water, and all kinds of help even though we had arrived well before we were able to check in. They pointed us in the direction of the best attractions and told us to go explore while they finished preparing the room.
And once you know where to look, Porto is beautiful! As the name suggests, it is in fact a port, with both ocean beaches and a huge river running through the the city. It is very warm and sunny here, with ocean breezes to cool us off and lots of seagulls. There are lots of flowers and other greenery soaking up the sun, and while folks here are not as over the top helpful as they were in Salamanca, they are still fairly friendly and very multilingual – we’ve heard plenty of Portuguese, of course, but also quite a bit of English, Spanish, French, and German. Which is good, because between my husband and myself we only know 5 phrases in Portuguese!
Our first visit was to the Cathedral just a few blocks away from our hotel. This medieval church seems very unassuming from the outside, but don’t let it fool you! This picture is just one of several grand hallways and chapels it’s hiding. This main sanctuary is home to some pretty cool things, including a statue of Mary that used to belong to the King of Portugal and a secret passageway hidden behind one of the chapels the locals could use to escape if the city came under attack.
But the cathedral is also home to some ancient cloisters which have been largely turned into museum space for all their historical artifacts. Even the walls here have a story to tell; these blue and white decorative tiles, called azulejos, are a world famous Portuguese tradition! Many cultures made tiles like, these including the Spanish, Dutch, and Italians, but they all have subtle differences such as how the tiles are finished (glossy, matte, etc.) and what kind of patterns are printed on them. These azulejos are still being produced and used as decorations on buildings here in Portugal today!
After a bit of lunch, we were finally able to get into our hotel room – which is also surprisingly beautiful! – and took a short nap. Not super exciting for you all, I know, but it felt great after not being able to sleep on the train! We’re getting ready to head back out for the evening soon though so don’t worry, you’ll still get to see a bit more of Porto today!