Portugal: Porto

There are so many hills in this country. SO MANY. I heard Lisboa called the city of seven hills, and I joked it should be seventy, but ALSO SAME FOR PORTO. I somehow saw even more churches & monasteries while I was in Porto, and I’m hella excited about it, so read on for more cloisters and some surprise bones.

Day five: March 23
Sé do Porto, Paço Episcopal do Porto, Igreja e Torres dos Clérigos

What an event. After not sleeping well because I kept waking up feeling paranoid and checking that the nightstand was still in front of the door, I was up earlier than planned and had a lot of time to kill, but I’d already packed my bags, so I mostly just putzed around the Airbnb waiting for 9AM to arrive. My Uber ended up picking me up around the corner rather than at the bottom of my stairs, but I got in safely, he was super nice, and the drive to Entrecampos was smooth. The train station was a bit of a maze, and everything was in Portuguese, so while I could understand it, my stress was high, and I would have been staring blankly at it even if it was in English. I ended up asking the ticket person where to go, and I was not convinced that I was at the right line right up until the last second, when I finally heard Campanha over the loudspeaker. As I’m writing this, I’m on the train, so I’m safely away from Lisboa and that hellish last night, and I am very excited to be en route to Porto and another leg of the journey! I really wish I had headphones, especially because I’m now realizing I could have used cheap ones on my laptop, but it is what it is. I’ve got a book to read, and ginger chews to help settle my stomach if that’s not possible. I’ve also got Wifi, so I’m going to search out some locations near my Airbnb to visit for the afternoon.

I am really getting the hang of this, and I’m so damn proud of myself. Got to my Airbnb after absolutely drenching myself in sweat climbing up the seventy hills from the train station, and my host was waiting outside for me. She’s so sweet and nice, and she works in the shop below, so she’s right there if I need her for anything. I will say, so far, I’m loving this Airbnb way more than my Lisboa one. The one in Lisboa was fine, but it was up a lot of stairs, the bedroom was literally right next to the front door, and, well, someone followed me home and cornered me in an alley, so I’m liking this one a lot better for many reasons. One, it’s big and roomy, and there’s a door to the bedroom so I’m at least farther away from the front door. There’s also a balcony that I can sit on, and have already while eating gelato. Two, the shower is bigger. The one in Lisboa was fine, again, but it was kind of a little box, and I kept hitting myself on the walls, so I was really stoked that I could move around in the Porto one. And three, it’s not up four four separate flights of stairs before I even get inside in an alley. This one is right on Santa Catarina street, in the middle of everything, and the door is next to a café, and don’t worry, this post is going live when I’m no longer there.

I had a lot to do, though, so I quickly dumped all my things, jumped in the shower, changed, and went downstairs to find something to eat because my anxiety got the better of me on the train, and I couldn’t convince myself to walk through the carriages until I found the food one, so I was starving by the time I got to Porto. I ended up at the little café right below my Airbnb, Bico Doce, and I just got a margherita pizza, and y’all. I can’t believe I am about to blaspheme like this. I think Portugal does pizza better than the States. It was SO GOOD. I mean, I was hungry, but holy moly. And though I’ve been trying not to repeat places, this might be a repeat for me on Friday when I’m doing my lazy morning in, get breakfast late thing because it’s right there, and they had croissants, and I really want one, so.

After that, I was on a mission. Later that night, I found out that my hike for Friday got cancelled–the guide messaged me last week to ask if I could change it to tomorrow, but I’m going to be in Coimbra, so I said no, and then today he lied and said it was going to be “bad weather & adverse conditions” despite the weather showing as 65° and party cloudy, but I digress–but I didn’t yet know that, so I had big plans. There were at least three places that I wanted to visit, and I didn’t think I was going to have an entire day in Porto, so I boogied on down to the water and set my sights on the cathedral first.

I don’t know why I keep thinking that I’m prepared to witness a cathedral. Castles & palaces will always knock my socks off, but there’s just something about cathedrals that’s going to make me weep every single time. When the bells started going off at 4PM, I was overjoyed that I got to experience them while inside the cathedral. I was right in the cloister, too, standing under the blue sky, and my heart just opened up with hope and love. There’s something about church bells that get me every time, and the majesty of the architecture around me is incredible.

Sé do Porto was all kinds of magical, too. The cathedrals that I visited in Lisboa were all ruins, Batalha is incomparable no matter what, but has a very specific Gothic style, and Fátima is still in use, so Sé do Porto is very different. Not only was it not damaged by the 1755 earthquake that absolutely decimated most of Lisboa, it’s currently undergoing restoration, and so it’s in really good shape. All of the rooms have been preserved and carefully roped off, and it was just incredible to see all the gold gilding. It was not as bright as it might have been in the 1400s, but it was in remarkable condition, and the details kept taking my breath away.

I will say that the cloister was definitely my favorite part, but I’ve got a thing for cloisters. There’s just something about the big archways open to the sky with all the pillars looking into the halls of the cloister that gets to me. However, remember last week when I was linking a scene from Fellowship of the Ring? I was having that same feeling when I walked into the nave of the cathedral. I don’t know how to describe how big the nave is. The ceiling is so far away, you have to tip your entire head back to see even a portion of it. The pillars are the kind of thing that took years to build. The size of the altar would mean that I would need probably an hour just to stare at it to see everything, and that would only be the main altar, not even the others. There’s so much inside of these old cathedrals, and I feel so blessed that I’m getting to see so many of them. Cathedrals are truly works of masterful art, and it’s miraculous that they’re still standing and so well preserved and open to the public!

Wait, I’ve got to get on my happy soapbox about Portugal loving its citizens again. I can’t actually remember if I did this for Lisboa, but I think so, about how they do free public Wifi & bathrooms? Well, let me hop on about museums and public transportation. First of all, their train stations are gorgeous. They put literally everything in the States to shame. There was a full tiled mural inside of São Bento. Second, their trains are on time, comfortable, and very affordable. You know what else is affordable? Every single place I’ve been to! To get into the cathedral & the adjoining palace cost me €6. That’s it. And I had full access to the entire thing. Last week, when I went to Batalha, the nave of the monastery was free, and the rest of it was only €3. Like?? It’s absurd. I don’t even want to look up how much it costs to get into the MFA. The museums here are so inexpensive because Portugal cares about its history, and they want it to be accessible to everyone.

After that, I hopped over to Paço Episcopal do Porto, the bishop’s palace, and I am just continually amazed by the ceilings in palaces. A piece of art that was likely so rarely looked at because what noble just stands with their head tipped back gawking at the ceiling, and yet, they are so often as intricate as possible. The palace was, admittedly, a pretty quick stop for me, but definitely worth the joint ticket to visit it & the cathedral.

And to top off the day, because I just thought that, after all the stairs in Lisboa and the endless hills in Porto, I should probably climb 240 steps up the Torres dos Clérgios. Why am I like this? And the tower is at the top of a hill! So I had to climb a hill to get to the tower so I could catch my breath in the church so I could then lose it again climbing up the tower. And I later learned this thing is pretty small, and I’ve got a hell of a set of stairs to climb come Saturday. Still, being able to see the city of Porto from such an incredible height was both terrifying and wonderful. I’m really glad for both the stone guards and the modern steel ones because whew boy, no matter how few steps in comparison to Saturday’s church, I was pretty damn high up.

And lest I forget the beauty that is literally visible from my window, the last image below is Igreja de Santa Catarina. My street is named after her, and this beautiful church is such a wonder to witness every time I walk back to the Airbnb. A quick note of pride to myself, too, because I had to figure out a self-service laundromat after all that activity, and I freaking did it. For dinner, I went to Elee’s at one of the intersections on Santa Catarina, and it was so damn good. I did accidentally order a beef burger, but I just scraped everything off and had a sandwich kind of thing with the best cole slaw I’ve ever had in my life, mushrooms, caramelized onions, lettuce, and tomatoes.

Day six: March 24
Pálacio do Buçaco, Mosteiro de Santa Cruz, Biblioteca Joanina

I feel like we should get the unfortunate part of the day out of the way before we dive into the wonderful parts. I booked a private tour for today. Admittedly, I didn’t really know that that meant I was going to be alone on the tour, particularly given that I now know a group was out with another driver, and my driver specifically asks for women who are alone because he “prefers” it. (I’m sure he does.) At the beginning, my driver was very nice, perhaps a little too charming, and he vaped in the car when I wasn’t in there, so it reeked, but he seemed excited about going to Coimbra, and he had a lot of knowledge of the surrounding area. If you’ve watched my Insta story, you know this didn’t last long.

It was a lot of things. He kept touching me without my consent–rubbing my arm, setting his hand on mine, brushing his hand down the side of my face, and, at the end, when he unexpectedly hugged me, he kissed the side of my head. He kept telling me how beautiful I was in varying ways, all of which made me very uncomfortable. I am a woman traveling alone, an hour south of my Airbnb, in either an unfamiliar city or on a highway in the middle of nowhere, and my guide kept saying things like, “Your eyes are so gorgeous, they just sparkle.” and “A beautiful woman, alone in my city and my car.” and “Are American men blind? Why are you not married?” He kept asking me if I would eat lunch with him, to the point where it felt like refusing would put me in a bad situation, and when we sat for lunch, he wouldn’t let me see the menu, he ordered for me, and he pressured me, for the entire meal, to drink. He said that he was going to make me take a sip of his wine, and told me I hadn’t lived yet when I kept refusing, and if my water had arrived in anything but a sealed bottle, I wouldn’t have drank it. When we finally got up to the university in Coimbra, he was even more forward with his touching and his words, and I seriously considered calling an Uber to take me to the train station so I could return to Porto without him, and I am so mad at myself for not doing that. I shouldn’t be mad, though, because I never should have been put in a situation where that felt necessary.

I wanted to trust in the third party & local company that had paired me with this tour, though, so I got back in his car after I was done touring the library, and after he mocked my choice to only visit the library rather than the whole of the university, he got onto the highway, where we drove in silence for twenty minutes as I kept myself busy on my phone until he said, “I have a surprise for you. Don’t tell my boss, but I’m going to take you somewhere.”

I’ve never felt fear like that. I genuinely thought I was being kidnapped. I texted Erin, Jen, and my mom so they knew that something was happening. Jen pulled up my location to track me, Erin stood by in case I needed her to call me and pretend that something awful was happening, and I needed to get out of the car, and my mom kept me calm and level-headed as the situation played out. My guide kept asking if I was okay and touching my hand and my leg, so he clearly knew that what he was doing was not alright. I promised my people that if we stopped in a town, I would get out and run for the nearest shop to ask for help. We finally turned into Aveiro, where he drove through the town and described it as the Venice of Portugal. I tried to look as though I was interested in this stop, but I spent the entire drive constantly texting my people to let them know where I was and what was happening. When we finally got back on the highway, I told him I was very tired and would like to return home, and thankfully, that was the last of our stops.

When we arrived back in Porto, I got out of the car as fast as I could, tried to walk past him, and was grabbed by him so he could hug and kiss me. I tried to walk normally back down the street, but I know I started running when I got around the corner. The second I was inside my Airbnb, I started crying. Not only was his behavior predatory and unprofessional, all of that was sexual harassment, and I’ve since reported him to his local company and to GetYourGuide to make sure that it does not fall between the cracks. Both companies are aware that if he tries to contact me, I will call the police, but I don’t even know what to say at this point. I don’t have any advice. I’ll never go on a private tour with a man again, and I certainly won’t get back in his car after the first instance of harassment, and I really, really don’t need to hear how I could have handled it better, but I don’t have any takeaways of “how to travel safely” from this instance. It was scary, and it’s made me even more hyper-aware of my surroundings, and I hope more than anything that no more women fall prey to his inappropriate and dangerous behavior.

Tudo bem, moving on. Our first stop was Pálacio do Buçaco, and it was such a pleasure to visit. After days of city views, I was really excited about the walk down through the forest. The palace isn’t visible until you’re right on it, which means that it felt like a nature walk for about ten minutes. The park that it’s located in could easily be somewhere that you spent an entire day just walking around the trails, and I do wish that I’d had more than 45 minutes to visit everything. Since you’re deep in the mountains, the air is so fresh and crisp and lovely, and I had such a wonderful time walking through the trees.

The palace is now a hotel, which means that you aren’t able to visit the inside, but I was more than happy with visiting the surrounding gardens, and the architecture of the façade is absolutely stunning. There are several fountains dedicated to saints along the way, and there’s a small chapel at the back of the palace that I didn’t go inside because I had already glimpsed the gardens, and I was really excited to check them out. If, like me, this is your first stop in the morning, there is a bathroom on the grounds, and it’s at the back of the gift shop that’s opposite the palace. Because let’s hear it again for Portugal consistently providing well-kept public bathrooms everywhere.

Despite the fact that there’s a literal palace in the mountains, the gardens of Buçaco hold the true beauty. I would love to visit the palace again when the flowers are fully in bloom because I can’t even imagine what this fantastic trellis walk looks like. It was such a joy to see so much nature, too, and getting to walk on petal strewn pathways was something out of a fairytale dream.

After that, it was back in the car to head to Coimbra! The plan was to stop in the lower part of town for a little exploring–I’m sure everyone is shocked at what I found–and lunch before we headed to the upper part of town for the university. I stopped in a little bakery, Doce Meu, while I was wandering around before lunch and got three recommended pastries, and I have no idea what they are or what’s in them, but they’ve all been delicious so far.

I really do love that I went to Portugal for writing research and heritage and came away with, like, eight different church visits in the first week. But is anyone surprised at this point that I found another church? Not a single one, I know. Igreja de Santa Cruz is the first thing you see when you walk into the old part of Coimbra, and I was already going in because duh, a church, it’s my vibe, but then I realized there was a monastery attached, and well. We all know what’s coming. The monastery is way older than most of the ones I’ve visited thus far, and the first two kings of Portugal are buried in here. I’m still more excited about John I in Batalha, but this was an enormous piece of history to witnes.

Also, can we take a moment to talk about that pipe organ? I’ve either already talked about the pipe organs in old churches, or I’m about to, but can you imagine what this must sound like in real life? I love organ music in general, but this think is monstrous, and I think it would just about knock me flat if I heard this live. I did find a video of it being played, and while this absolutely doesn’t do justice to what it would sound like from the pews, at least we can experience a small portion of it.

I think they’re only played during service on Sunday, but my goodness, it’s definitely now a bucket list item to hear one of these organs played in person.

A cloister! I’m always going to be excited to see a cloister, and I’m honestly kind of sad that there wasn’t one at the church I visited on the following day, but at least I got this one. There was not a single other person visiting the monastery at the same time as me, so I had the cloister entirely to myself, and it was delightful. I didn’t see a bell tower attached to the church or monastery, so although I waited for the bells to ring in the cloister, that didn’t happen, bummer.

This was also my first instance of some of the creepier aspects of Catholicism, like keeping reliquaries of dead people. I can’t remember what this room was called, the bottom left picture, but there were some bones and ashes in each of the statues, and it was definitely something I didn’t notice right away and then was like ohhhhh. The monastery ended up being the perfect amount of time for a visit before it was time for lunch, and then, it was up to the university, which I planned to fully ignore, because one of my biggest reasons for visiting Portugal was to see the Joanina.

Much like the monastery in Batalha, I was very excited to visit the Joanina for writing reasons. A couple years ago, in the height of the pandemic, I had a dream about a character named Freddie, and all I knew about him was that he was a researcher–one of my friends, Chelsea, asked me if that was a real profession, and I honestly don’t think so, but we carry on–in the occults, was obsessed with discovering how to summon a demon, and was definitely going to be anti-church. I knew that I wanted to write in “modern” day Portugal since Andrew was set during the time of the monarchy, so I chose the 20s on a whim and started searching for where I’d put Freddie and his chaotic research.

I can’t honestly say how I came across the Joanina because I don’t really remember. All I knew was that I was in love with the grand portrait of John V, and the library looked exactly like the atmosphere that I wanted to put prestigious, absurd, over the top Freddie. There were very few pictures aside from the giant portrait of John V, and so, my mind created a library that was a vast, several story, with wings and endless reading rooms, and just way more enormous than the library actually is place, and I set Freddie’s duology in Coimbra, Portugal. Out of 65 total chapters, I can probably safely say that at least half of those take place in the library, if not more. The Joanina has been my life blood for over a year now, somewhere that I’ve built up in ways that it could never live up to, and this is not me getting ready to say that it didn’t live up to it, even though that is what it sounds like. It is, however, much smaller than I realized.

There aren’t a lot of pictures of the Joanina aside from John’s portrait because that’s pretty much the whole library. There are three grand rooms–halls is probably a more accurate word because the ceilings are so high, and there are two levels of books–with reading tables on either side of a red carpet that leads up to a grand piano beneath John’s gilded portrait. And this room is in my version of the Joanina. It’s just set back behind a reception desk in the center of a grand hall with a huge stone staircase that leads up to the second of three floors and that opens into several different wings. John’s room is through the stacks behind the reception desk and meant to be an honorary place rather than the single place of study.

And yet, I’m not disappointed in the slightest. I’ll definitely have to put a note at the beginning of Freddie’s duology to state that the Joanina is nowhere near as big as I’d imagined it, and the library featured in the story is in honor of it rather than based solely on it. This room does exist, and there are a few scenes with Freddie playing the piano beneath John’s portrait, but the Joanina in the rest of his story is very different, and I don’t feel too obnoxious saying that I think the library would be proud of how I’ve given it even more grandeur and presence.

Truly, though, getting to see the inside of the Joanina, to walk up the front steps to those massive wooden doors that Freddie does every morning, was like walking in the footsteps of a beloved ghost, and it was such a fantastic experience.

The day, after I managed to get back to my Airbnb, ended with much needed pasta and tomatoes at BBGourmet because I just wanted some comfort food, and then it was off to bed because I had a day off of adventures in the morning!

Day seven: March 25
Igreja Monumento de São Francisco & Pálacio da Bolsa

I’m so glad that I’ve scheduled in days off at each of my cities (except Madeira, sadly) because I definitely need them. Thus far, i’ve spent my days off in both Lisboa & Porto working on my blog, visiting the city’s churches (duh), and taking some much needed space for rest in the afternoon. After sleeping in for a bit, I went to Esquire Coffee for breakfast, where I had a mushroom and avocado omelet that, despite not having cheese, was really good, and a waffle with strawberries. The one food thing that’s bummed me out in Portugal has been tea because either the mugs or tiny or the tea is in a bag, but Esquire gave me a huge mug with a pot of Earl Grey tea, and I was living.

I had a COVID test scheduled for 10:40AM, so I hiked up the never-ending hills of Porto to SYNLab, where I paid €80 for a test in order to fly into the Açores, and then it was back down all those hills toward Pálacio da Bolsa. I didn’t realize that the tours were mandatory to explore the palace, and the next English one was at 2PM, so I bought my ticket and headed back down the stairs to the church that’s right next to the palace.

The gold gilding inside. of this church was truly insane. I don’t even want to think about how much gold is actually present inside of the grand churches of old like this, but whew boy, it must be a heck ton. The church itself was a pretty quick visit, though I did spend some time just marveling in awe at the incredible wooden sculptures on either side of the nave. There was also a museum attached, and and I had two hours to kill, so I went over to the museum, and y’all, I was not ready for what I was going to find inside.

Most of the museum was pretty chill, but there was a stairway that led down toward the catacombs, and I just didn’t know what the Portuguese meant by that. Italy or France, sure, I know exactly what I’m getting into, taking my life into my own hands by walking around skeletons, but I didn’t know that Portugal also did creepy catacombs! It didn’t even occur to me at first, either, that the floor was made up of tombs. I just thought, oh, what an interesting design, all these long wooden rectangle planks held together by stone, I wonder why they’re numbered and creak a bit, OH BECAUSE IT’S A FLOOR OF TOMBS.

Not only was the floor made up of tombs, so were the walls, and it just gets better from there because there’s an ossuary, and it looks really lowkey at first because it’s just a box of bones covered by a cloth, and you can’t see inside, but then you walk around the corner, and there’s a window in the floor to an entire basement type room of bones, and you can see all of them. I didn’t take any pictures of this underground cavern of bones because I was too busy going “I’m going to dieeeeeeee” what with the creepy choral music happening in the background making me think I was on the set of As Above, So Below, but I did save all my Insta stories as a highlight on my page, so go check that out!

All told, the church was really freaking cool, and I know I’m odd, so you don’t have to say it, it’s not normal to be excited about catacombs, but I had a great time. By the time I got out, though, it was still pretty early, and I didn’t have it in me to climb back up the hill to visit Santa Clara, so I hung out in Praça do Infante D. Henrique for an hour, which was a much-needed rest. And I don’t have a ton to say about Pálacio da Bolsa. The grounds were given over to the people sometime during the monarchy, and it became the place for the Stock Exchange, so the tour was mostly about the business of Portugal, and all of the artwork is now devoted to the presidents, so ehhhh, not that interesting for me. I was amazed by the ceilings, though, which were somehow even more intricate than anything I’ve seen so far, and the grand ballroom was still intact from the time of the monarchy, and it was giving me some serious Anastasia vibes.

And because I can’t let a day pass by without talking about all of the food, I went to Lavoratta for dinner. They were a little impatient with me because it was loud, and they couldn’t understand my English, but I did my best to just shout what I wanted in Portuguese and not ask any questions, so I kind of got what I got. I ended up with a caprese crêpe followed by three scoops of dark chocolate gelato, in which they kept asking me if I was sure, and I just kept saying that I was ready to put myself straight to bed after. It had caramel drizzled on it with little caramel bolls, and it was divine.

Day eight: March 26
Santuário do Bom Jesus do Monte, Sé do Braga, Castelo de Guimarães

Today is my last full day in Porto! I won’t lie, this first week has certainly felt like a vacation, but more like a very we’ve got things to do vacation, and while I’ve slept well and enjoyed everything, I’m excited for the second half. I also won’t lie and say that I’m not missing home and my cats big time, but I’ll start crying if I think about it too much, so we’re just going to move onto the churches! (I was about to say we’re moving away from the churches after this, but we all know who I am, I’ll spend my days off in Ponta Delgada & Funchal visiting a church.)

First up is probably one of the most well known sanctuaries in the world. I’ve seen countless pictures of Santuário do Bom Jesus do Monte, but actually getting to seeing it in person didn’t even come close to what I thought it was going to. It’s so much more massive than it looks. I know I’ve said it before, but one of my biggest takeaways from this overseas trip has been how big everything is. It’s wild. It’s unimaginable. I can keep telling you how big everything is, and you still won’t get it until you’ve walked into one of the cathedrals of old and had to tip your head all the way back just to see a portion of the ceiling. They’re endless.

My guide for today, Francisco, was absolutely wonderful, and the perfect person for Braga & Guimarães. He had so much knowledge, and he was such a showman that it really made the tour even more enjoyable. He kept matching his music to his facts in the car, so as we were approaching the Bom Jesus sanctuary, he put on Hallelujah, and it just cracked me up. What’s really incredible about this sanctuary, though, is that you don’t see it, in full, even when you’ve arrived at it. It hides behind the trees and other buildings until you’re, like, oh hey, there’s a giant church right there. And even then, you still haven’t fully grasped the magnitude of it.

While we were inside the church, the guide told me to just wait when he saw me marveling at the pipe organ, said we were going to see something even more majestic in the cathedral. Admittedly, I was a little skeptical because I’d already seen some pretty incredible pipe organs, but just you wait.

The sanctuary is setup as a pilgrimage. There are 577 steps in total, though 376 of them are not visible from the terrace of the bottom of the 201 main steps. They wind throughout the mountain, and they’re mostly hidden by tree coverage. The 201 one steps that you see above are ones that we climbed, though, and it’s not until you get to the bottom of them that you can truly grasp how big the sanctuary is. It’s insane. You can no longer see the sanctuary in full, but you’re still blown away by the incredible size of it. Like, humans built this. They spent years toiling over the work of this. Not even that, an architect dreamed this up and saw it through to fruition. It’s monuments like these that really make me marvel at human ingenuity.

The stairs are also interesting because they’re meant as an act of purification. The whole pilgrimage is meant as one of penance, and pilgrims used to do it on their knees, and that’s about all I’m going to say about that, but the stairs have three different sections to them. The first, at the bottom of the halfway point terrace, are two snakes spouting water. Obviously, the snakes are meant to represent sin, and the water is meant to represent the purification that the pilgrim is about to go on. Up the sets of zigzagging stairs are not only monuments to the different feelings that we experience throughout life, but scenes from Christ’s crucifixion. There are also fountains along the way that the pilgrims can continue to use as purification. I have some thoughts on the fact that the Catholic church only ever represents Jesus either near death or in death, and usually in the most gruesome way possible, but that’s for another time.

Braga is considered the most holy city in Portugal for a few reasons, but one of its most notable is that–and I may be forgetting some of the numbers here–there are 200 chapels, 55 churches, three monasteries, and one cathedral. Before we got to the first of these, we visited a set of gardens that woke me right up. It’s been an interesting and beautiful week, but a really long one fraught with some not fun misadventures, and to be able to walk into this floral garden and just smell all the flowers was such a delight.

And after that, it was off to the only cathedral in Braga, and my goodness, the pipe organ did not disappoint. I mean, look at that thing. My guide knew so much of the history of both Braga & Guimarães, and from a writing perspective, this was an exceptionally enlightening day for me because I learned so much about John I, who is a main figure later in my current novel. And getting to hear all that knowledge while surrounded by the Baroque & Gothic influences in Sé do Braga was just amazing.

For some reason, the cloister is glassed off, which was mighty sad for me, but I took it in stride and just marveled over the pipe organ instead. Someday, I’ll have to visit a cathedral like this one on Sunday so I can actually hear it played, though our guide did pull up a video from earlier that week of the organ being played.

Obviously, I was struggling to stop taking pictures of the pipe organ. There was also a tomb of Infante Alfonso, but it was pretty lifelike, and it felt strange to take a picture of it, so you’ll have to trust me on this one. I really don’t know what the church life is like in the Açores, but something tells me that this was the last big cathedral I’m going to see while I’m here.

We paused for lunch in Braga, and I ran off to find something familiar and quick because I had to call the airport. As it turns out, flights to the Açores start boarding way sooner than international flights do, and maybe this is so there’s no delay, but it meant that my train was arriving a half hour before baggage check was closing, and I still had to get from the train station to the airport, which was about a 25 minute drive. In my defense, I didn’t know there was an airport in Porto because I’m used to Logan just being the only airport that people go to, so I thought it was the same way with Lisboa. SATA Airlines was way easier to deal with than any other airline ever has been, and though it did cost me €143 to change my flight to depart from Porto, I have way more time now, and I feel much less stressed out.

Also, because we always talk about food, I had homemade raviolis again at La Porta, which was right at the very beginning of the main streets of town. I also stopped at Tibias for a raspberry cheesecake pastry and a little lemon square because ya girl was not feeling too hot, and I needed either fruit or sugar, so those did the trick.

I was starting to drag, but we still had an entire town to conquer, so we headed to Guimarães to visit the castle and do a walking history tour. My guide was all oh this isn’t that big and it’s mostly ruins now about the castle, but I was like, my dude, it’s still a castle, we don’t have those in the States, I’m going to be excited about it every time. You could walk along the upper defense wall, too, and it was amazing to feel the fresh air breeze and the sun while wandering around a castle. Like, truly, how can that get old?

The exhibition in the tower was closed, which bummed me out, but I was also ready to be done walking before we even started the walking history tour part, so it was probably for the best. Although I have really enjoyed visiting the mainland in Portugal, I am very much done with cities, and I’m excited to be headed out into the archipelago for the next week so I can just see some trees. We walked around Guimarães for probably a half hour before our guide let us hang out at a café for a bit while he went back up and got the car, thank all that is holy, and then it was home!

I was a bit in shambles by the time we got to Porto, I won’t lie, and I was not only very hungry, but very ready for bed. I got all the way back up to my Airbnb so I could collapse for a bit, realized I’d walked straight past the restaurant that I wanted to go to for the night, walked back down to discover that they didn’t open for another half hour, went to sit in the nearby square while I waited, and then came back around a little after 7PM to see the fechado sign still on their down and actual gang of delivery drivers on motorbikes that just shot my nerves straight to hell, and I marched back up the hill and into my Airbnb to order takeout. I ordered two sets of nachos with guac, pico, cheese sauce, chipotle salsa, and caramelized onions, a veggie burrito, and Mexican cole slaw because I was hangry, and it was all the smallest portions in the world, so I ate everything in bed while watching Locke & Key.

My flight isn’t until 7:15PM tomorrow night, but my Airbnb host has been truly fantastic, and not only did she let me check-in an hour early, she’s letting me check-out four hours late, so I’ve got a mostly full day left in Porto in which I’m honestly probably only going to leave my Airbnb for laundry & lunch. I plan on doing some blogging, maybe my first yoga since I got to Portugal, and just relaxing before I fly two and a half hours out to São Miguel and begin the second leg of this wild adventure.

5 responses to “Portugal: Porto”

  1. Emily Avatar

    Stunning photos 😍

    Liked by 1 person

  2. March Wrap-Up – Mary and the Words Avatar

    […] I’m not going to rehash Portugal, so here are the posts for Lisboa, Porto, and São Miguel. Madeira will go up in three days, so keep your eyes peeled for it. And I’m […]


  3. Zezee Avatar

    So happy to be able to get back to your posts about Portugal. I’m vicariously visiting the country through your posts and am enjoying it. Glad you have a comfier Airbnb this time but omg! Wtf is up with some of those dudes in Portugal?! I’m sorry you had such a horrible experience with that guide. That was awful of him and I hope someone kicks him in the nuts one day.

    I’m glad the rest of your time in Porto was wonderful. And, gosh! I’ll have to add the bishop’s palace to my bucket list just to see those ceilings. And Pálacio do Buçaco too! Love the grounds. I also appreciate your emphasis on how Portugal has great public restrooms, lol! It made me giggle, but that is a really good tip that folks sometimes overlook when giving travel advice.

    LOVE that pipe organ at the Igreja de Santa Cruz monastery. It’s stunning!

    Pálacio da Bolsa — surprised that the floor is made up of tombs. There’s a Jamaican superstition about walking on people’s graves, or maybe my grandma made it up to scare me, anyway a small part of me will always think the dead will haunt me if I walk on their grave (although I know that’s not true). But I’d love to visit the palace. It’s beautiful. And Santuário do Bom Jesus do Monte too. The pipe organ! All stunning places.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Mary Drover Avatar

      Thank you so much for reading! It was such a joy to be able to go back and write these posts so I could reflect on everything.
      There was so much that happened each day that I’ve already forgotten pieces of it, and having these posts is helping me remember it all.

      The Airbnb in Porto was so wonderful, I’d definitely stay there again. And yeahhhh, it wasn’t great. I’m glad that it wasn’t the very first thing I did in Porto, and also very glad that I was able to get away from him.

      The ceilings everywhere were just incredible. I can’t even imagine how long they must have taken, and to be somewhere that’s so infrequently noticed just astounds me. And yes, the bathrooms! I couldn’t get over how many there were! It’s next to impossible to find public restrooms in Massachusetts, so to see them so frequently while I was out & about was honestly pretty amazing. It made going out into the city much more enjoyable.

      I still can’t believe the catacombs. Tombs literally everywhere. I’m surprised they weren’t in the ceiling, though the mechanics for that were probably beyond them at the time, and I’m sure the decay wouldn’t have been great if they were stored above. But yeah, that was an experience I was not ready for and am still a little shocked at. Very interesting to witness, but the creaking of the tombs was a little unnerving.

      Highly recommend the Bom Jesus. I’d seen so many pictures of it on Pinterest, and I knew it was a huge tourist attraction, but there’s just so much to witness there, and it was really incredible.

      Liked by 1 person

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