Went via Vigo from Santiago, I don’t need to tell you by bus, to Oporto to drop in on an old friend from Bristol for a couple of days. Haven’t seen Marco for years but he hails from Porto (the names seem to be interchangeable) and moved back three years ago. What better excuse to drop in for some chill time? Armed myself with my best Portuguese – ‘obrigado’ and ‘tu da bom’ – in honour.
It was fresher’s week on my arrival and this curiously sees all the older students dressed in Hogwarts-style capes, marching the new intake around in an array of silly outfits and making them do humiliating tasks throughout the city, steadily driven by increasing volumes of booze. Fun!
Obviously the city is famous for sardines and port, so these became the focus. First, to the sardines.
It’s breeding season at the moment so they’re all good and fat and have a sack of roe in them. Yakkety yak, but you don’t have to eat that bit. No, there is an art to eating sardines, Portuguese style. First, take a chunk of bread. Second, lay your sardine across the top. Rip out the dorsal fine and peel back the top layer of skin. Take the chunk of flesh from the tail area. Eat. Pick the flesh from around the innards and brain-bit. Turn the fish. Repeat. When you’re done: a) if you’re old, suck the heads clean, b) if you’re not, eat the goodness-soaked bread. Deeeee-lish.To begin, I was rubbish. Remember the mango eating back in the Philippines where they told me I eat like a toddler? This was the fish equivalent. Got the hang of it by the end of five fishies though.
Had a night out on the tiles to sample the local beers and ports too. It would be rude not to, especially since Friday night conveniently swung by.
Those of you who have ever been to Rio de Janeiro might be reminded of the Lapa district by night. It’s not at all dissimilar, which itself is not surprising given the Portugal-Brasil links. Wondrous night out, even if they do like to smash bottles everywhere on their way home. Mediterranean style of drinking long and slow too. This is good. This is a welcome and enjoyable recalibration of British habits. Plus beer is bargain basement at just 50c a half in some places. Giving it away.
In between basking and laying down more fat stores at the neighbourhood bakeries, I took myself off to explore the town. Very pretty, historic place that is often overlooked as tourists beeline for Lisbon. Understandable, but Porto has a pleasant, laid-back vibe to it, with a river stretching out along to a long, craggy Atlantic shoreline at the outskirts. Locals just love to spend their time walking their dogs, promenading, running, cycling and skating down here. Just have a look at the snaps, yeah?
A brief Portuguese break from the Spanish norm before hopping a nightbus to Madrid. Special thanks to the mother who changed her son’s nappy at 2am. And to the gypsy skanks who decided that 3am was the best time for a heated discussion.