As I've said before, I didn't know what to expect from Portugal. I did get a preview in Up Magazine, TAP's in flight publication as I
eventually flew to Porto, though. Well-written articles with a Portuguese focus were laced with creative references to art, architecture, cuisine, and design. And accurately so.
What I found was that among the sometimes tragic beauty of "old Porto", there are modern galleries, innovative restaurants, and boutique hostels that tell a more optimistic story. These were my favorite venues:
hike stroll through the city (photos here), I intended to retreat to that hostel of mine. Then I realized I'd misplaced the key. The "key" was, in fact, a white and inconspicuous card I'd placed in my coat pocket alongside my iPhone. I'd noticed it seemed to jump out each time I reached for my phone throughout the day, but apparently I hadn't realized the one time it'd fallen on the ground. So, I retraced each step. I also went through my iPhone photos and paid special attention to the ground at each spot I'd photographed. No luck. Please note: I was in the city center at rush hour. And it's only when I was just about to give up, leaning against the same wall I'd leaned on at least two hours before, that I noticed it, at my feet.
On my first day, by the time I got from the airport to my hostel, I was more than ready for lunch. Lucky for me, Bugo Art Burger was right down the street. Made with local ingredients in very creative ways, these burgers--beef, fish, black bean, chicken, lentil, etc.--are served alongside fresh sides like roasted julienned vegetables, green mesclun salad, and hand-cut french fries. I ordered the chickpea burger (prepared with feta cheese, onion, and fresh coriander) with the yogurt and mint sauce, the sides described above, and a Super Bock (a standard Portuguese beer). Fresh bread with an olive oil & vinegar dip came, too for a small price.
So small, in fact, that even with a black espresso for dessert, my bill was just shy of eleven euros. This kind of price "discrepancy" was true throughout the country; beneficial for budget visitors like me.
Relief swept over me. A celebration was in order! ...if only I had someone to celebrate with. Since I didn't, at least not at that time, I headed back in the direction of my hostel. That is, until I saw Linha 22.
It just oozed quaint-contemporary cool. There was a sign outside inviting passer-bys in for a glass of Portuguese wine or a snack. I wanted the former. I walked in and sat down at the first table. A women came up to me with a smile, and asked me what I'd like, first in Portuguese, then in English. I told her I preferred dry reds but didn't know Duomo wines well. No, thank you, I didn't want anything to eat. She returned with a delicious 3-euro glass.
Hard Club, a bookstore, exhibition space, restaurant, patio bar, and concert hall (pictured above), in addition to the Center of Photography. Un/fortunately, I didn't make it to the latter due to two exceptionally sunny days that kept me from most indoor activities. I got my art-fix by window-shopping at the galleries along Rua Miguel Bombard instead.
It's no wonder my choice of lodging, located on that same street, was called Gallery Hostel. Situated within a renovated early 20th century building, the space itself hosts more than just backpackers in dorms, it features a bar, cinema lounge, library, garden, karaoke nights, football match parties, wine tastings, and tours. At the time of my visit, they also had a collective exhibition by Rita Stravinsky and Aurelia Brysch on display.
One of the biggest appeals to the hostel (for me as a solo traveler) was that it was best "for meeting people." I'm disappointed to say that I didn't find that to be true. The other women in my 6-person dorm were nice enough but hardly friendly, and the groups I met at in the dining room pretty much kept to themselves. By my third morning in Porto, I was painfully aware of how lonely I felt. Thankfully, I had a train ticket to Pombal that evening, not to mention the most lovely company in a tour of the Duoro Valley before then. Stay tuned...