(I apologize for the complete and utter lack of photos in this post. I completely forgot to snap any pictures on the first day, barring a rather poor photo of the ocean. Feel free to blame it on my nonexistent jet lag.)
For my Easter vacation this year, I decided to go visit my friend Tiago in Porto, Portugal. Tiago grew up in Porto and ever since we met at the beginning of this year, he’s been telling me a). how wonderful the city is and b). that I absolutely needed to visit him there. At first, it looked like it wasn’t going to work out this year – I already had plans for Christmas and Easter – but at the last minute, my Easter vacation plans suddenly fell through. About 5 minutes after I found that out, I was knocking on Tiago’s door. “Sooooooooo…were you serious about visiting Porto?” I asked. “Umm, yes? Why?” “How does next month look?” Fortunately he was free, so I happily spent the next couple of hours researching and booking plane tickets instead of writing the essay that was due the next day. (Yes, I managed to finish the essay in time too.)
A mere three weeks later (I wasn’t kidding about the whole last minute thing), I found myself on plane heading from Gatwick to Porto. One of the awesome things about living in England is that it is comparatively cheap to fly to other parts of Europe. And, given that I generally consider plane travel to be in its own special circle of hell, I highly appreciate the fact that the plane rides are much, much shorter than if I were flying directly from America.
Beforehand, Tiago advised me to sit on the right hand side of the plane. This was an excellent suggestion as the plane circled right just before it landed in Porto, treating me to an excellent view of the river and city.
I was greeted at the airport by Tiago and his father, who both instantly apologized for the weather. I cocked my head doubtfully at the blue skies, sun, and balmy temperature, and proceeded to give them a hard time about their so-called “terrible weather.” Apparently, the weather is just so awesome in Porto that the mere presence of clouds in the sky is cause for alarm.
After unloading all of my bags at Tiago’s house, we went out for a ramble by the seaside. We took the scenic route through the Parque da Cidade (City Park) which was massive, green, gorgeous, and conveniently spills directly onto the beach. We then looped back along the ocean boulevard and went home for an evening snack. Dinner tends to be served relatively late in Portugal in comparison to America/England, so most locals eat a little something in the late afternoon to tide them over until dinnertime.
One of the most wonderful things about staying with a Portuguese family (as compared to staying in a hotel/hostel/whatever) is that I get to experience family life, and in particular the cultural aspects of dinner and eating that I might not otherwise get if I were dining in a restaurant every night. I’d never know, for example, that food is often served with both a spoon and a fork from a main serving platter in Portugal – in the US and UK, one big serving spoon usually does the trick. The spoon and fork are used to grasp whatever is being taken – fish, rice, salad, whatever – and transfer it to each person’s plate.
On the first night, Tiago and I wandered into the kitchen during dinner prep. Tiago’s mother (who is an excellent cook) was busily working on the evening meal, skillfully breaking down a whole chicken. We pitched in and made the salad, then helpfully sampled various bits of food that were being proffered in our direction (olive oil bread, some sort of soft, fresh cheese, and a semi-soft cheese). Dinner was lovely; for starters, we had a pureed pumpkin/potato soup that had a few cooked cabbage leaves thrown in at the end, then chicken, garlic tofu, saffron rice, and salad for the next course. We finished up with fruit and left over Easter candy (chocolate almonds and an assortment of confections shaped like peas, carrots, doves, and babies that Tiago says are essentially straight up sugar with a liqueur center) for dessert.
The remainder of the evening we spent curled up under a blanket, lazily watching the movie Rio before sloping off to bed around 1-ish.