Porto: Birthplace of Port Wine and Beautiful Beyond Belief

Let me start by saying I had never heard of this place before. Sure, I had heard of Port wine (hello, wine is amazing), but I had no idea that it came from a little city in Portugal named Oporto (or Porto in English). Before going on the trip, I was lucky enough to get some great advice from my host family on where to go and what to see… and Porto was high up on their list. They advised us to take the train one night from Lisbon, stay the night, then spend all day the next day exploring and take a train back. They insisted i was such a small city that you didn’t need to spend more than a day.

Thank God we gave ourselves two days instead of one.

It’s about a 3 hour train ride from Lisbon, and as we approached this little city my jaw dropped… literally. The train passes over the bridge and gives amazing views of the city and the Douro River. It was one of those times when you see something just so beautiful you can’t believe it (which was nice after about 3 hours of seeing nothing out the window on the train).

From the train station, we took the short trek up the hill to our hotel (the entire city is located on various hills). Up at the top, there was this beautiful church called Igreja de Santo Ildefonso. I have seen many churches in my life, but this one was unique in that it had this beautiful blue and white tile work all across it.

Igreja de Santo Ildefonso

We walked down the hill in search of a good place to eat. Everywhere you looked, there was something beautiful to admire. There weren’t all too many people around, either, which I liked. It was like we had this beautiful city to ourselves.

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We found a small, cheap restaurant just to the left of this statue. Food and drinks here were extremely cheap, especially compared to the other cities we had been to on this trip. When I was researching things to try in Portugal, a little delicacy called a Franceschina popped up. People insisted that it didn’t look all too appetizing and it was basically a heart attack on a plate, but that it was definitely worth trying. And I must agree! It was surprisingly delicious, I could taste the calories as I ate them. It is basically a sandwich filled with various meats and then covered in melted cheese and a sauce of tomato and beer… YUM! We got this franceschina for about €4, one hell of a deal! Washed it down with a €1 wine. I know it doesn’t look like much, but trust me… I ended up practically licking the bowl.

Even after having an incredibly fatty meal, my mother and I were attracted to a little pastry shop on the corner. There were so many things to choose from! I had heard of pastel de nata as I was researching, so I decided o give it a try. It was fantastic! Perfectly sweet and creamy. I could have easily eaten 3-4. I also bought another random pastry, just to give it a try. It was good, but I definitely would stick to the pastel de nata.

A while later, high on the sugar rush, I decided to try yet another pastry I had seen in all of the store windows… I’m not sure what it’s called, bu it looked interesting. It was gross. I had to throw it away. I was basically a partially cooked egg inside a flavorless crust (or a least that is what it tasted like).

As we were walking around, we noticed a group of singers in old, traditional clothing. That day, we saw at least 2 or 3 of these groups going around singing. I have no idea what was happening, but it was interesting to see!

We wandered over to the other side of the city to see the Lello Bookshop, famous for being one of the inspirations of Harry Potter. Unfortunately, it was a big disappointment. The store was very full, for one, and they didn’t allow pictures at all. And for a place so famous and well-known, you’d think they keep the place in shape… the famous stairs were all scuffed up and the whole place looked a bit dreary. And the shopkeepers were extremely rude. Here are some pictures regardless that you can find on google images, and I promise you it looks better in the pictures. 

From there, we wandered down the hill towards the famous Douro River. It is such a beautiful city with so much to explore! Like this strange park with floating disco balls.

Many of the buildings seem very run-down, unfortunately. In fact, a few of them had signs up saying that it was unsafe to occupy the building. However, once you get closer to the river things brighten up with vendors selling their wares and lovely, brightly-colored buildings. Oh, and more restaurants than you can count!We ended up arriving right on time to take a river cruise at sunset, the last of the day. It was €10 and well worth every cent! The views there are just unbelievable. Seeing all of the lovely European buildings spread out carefully over the hills and the handful of bridges connecting both sides… it was just magical. I’ve also never seen so many giant bridges in my life. I’ll shutup for a bit… the pictures speak for themselves.

My first west coast sunset in months! West coast, best coast.

After seeing so much beauty that we didn’t know what to do with ourselves, we decided to grab dinner at a small restaurant right along the Douro River. We got their famous assa chouriço, a sausage that cooks right in front of you on fire. It is such a fun thing to order! (read more about it here). And the view at night couldn’t be beat.

Right along the river they also had many vendors selling cheap items like table cloths, little bottles of Port wine, and various souveniers with the famous lucky Portuguese chicken on it. We ended up buying a few little bottles of Port to try them out and keep us warm 🙂 When in Porto… drink Port! And Ginja, a strong cherry liqueur.

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Weekend Getaway to Lyon, France, Part II: Markets, Sweets, Chocolate Waterfalls, and Optical Illusions

We were in Lyon for 3 days, and Lyon is kind of divided into 3 parts, so we figured it’d be perfect to explore one area per day. Friday, when we arrived, we explored the west side to the left of the Saône river called the Vieux area (read more about it here). On Saturday, we decided to explore the middle section of Lyon, in between the Saône and Rhône river. Our hostel was located right in the center of the city, so it was perfect. Nearby was the Opéra de Lyon and the Hôtel de Ville, or city hall, of Lyon. Such beautiful buildings!

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Hôtel de Ville, with beautiful gold accents.

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Opéra de Lyon

Nearby the Hôtel de Ville, we met a group celebrating a bachelor party (even though it was only 10am). They saw us taking pictures and begged us to take a photo of them, and then got a picture of us with them as well.

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La Fontaine Bartholdi in Place des Terreaux

We headed north to visit La Croix-Rousse, the portion of Lyon that is situated up on a hill. We decided to walk it instead of using public transportation so we could explore, but it did take us at least an hour to finally get to the top. It had a different vibe to it than the center of the city; more graffiti (although some of it was pretty artsy, I must say) and my friends thought it seemed a bit more run down. But when we finally got to the main street of La Croix-Rousse, we really enjoyed it.

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This area is also famous for it’s Traboules, little secret passageways that the silk weavers and soldiers use to use way, way back (I also mentioned them here). We found one as we were walking because there was a big group of tourists at the front, so we decided to go check it out. We followed some vague signs (one had an arrow and a picture of a lion, another an arrow in the opposite direction with an eye) but we really couldn’t find anything of much interest… we just kept wandering around in circles through various apartment buildings. I really wish we had invested in a guide for this part of the trip, because there were no signs anywhere to explain anything. You really do need to know where you’re going to find these!

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When we finally reached the top of the hill, we found ourselves at Rue Hénon, one of the main streets. We were super lucky because there was a big farmer’s market going on there which was really nice to see. There were hundreds of vendors selling fruits, vegetables, cheeses, soaps, various meats, flowers, etc. We ended up buying some beautiful pastries that were to die for!

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Where are all of the people?! The city seemed nearly deserted at certain points.

We were getting quite hungry at this point, so we began searching for a cafe. We came across this lovely square with a merry go-round, we wish it was in use… so pretty!DSCN3199

We found a nice looking cafe on the corner with a decent meal option: an appetizer, entree and drink for about €16. And the food looked great, so we gave it a go. Inside, everyone was a local so it seemed like a good choice.

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Delicious smoked-salmon salad. Underneath the salmon was a large mound of creamy dill sauce.

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My friend’s Lyonnaise salad, topped with a poached egg.

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Our fantastic main entree: chicken, the plate of the day. It was very tasty! I know, chicken seems like a boring choice… but we couldn’t really read what anything else said =X We saw another person order raw ground beef… so it seemed like a safe option to order the chicken.

DSCN3202After our delicious lunch, we went out in search of a chocolate shop that people had raved about online. On the way, we passed by this amazing little sweets store and had a local French woman tell us that we absolutely had to go inside, that it was famous and was on TV. We heeded her advice and bought some macaroons – they were delicious! I couldn’t leave France without eating a macaroon… or 3. I tried caramel (per the ladies recommendation), raspberry, and violet. The place was called Bouillet, and it turns out that it is connected with the place we were trying to find, Chokola.

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It turns out that the main reason you should go to Chokola! is to see the chocolate waterfall. It was so cool to watch! It made us hungry. However, here there is less sweets in general and more random things made from chocolate. I also think it was a little bit pricier, but definitely worth the visit for that waterfall!

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About a 10 minute walk from there was the Mur des Canuts of Lyon, Europe’s largest fresco and optical illusion. When you look at it, it looks as though there are steps going up through the building with other buildings and people behind… but it is, in fact, just a painting. So trippy to look at! DSCN3223 DSCN3225     DSCN3230 DSCN3231 DSCN3232In that area, that was pretty much all we had came to see so we started wandering back towards the center of the city. I know I’ve said this before, but it really was amazing just how few people were out and about on a weekend. We stumbled upon this church which appeared to be under construction. It looked a bit creepy from outside, but we decided to check it out anyways. When we got into the small antechamber, we couldn’t figure out how to get inside the actual chapel… when we opened one door, there was another similar door right behind it. It was super trippy. We ended up power-walking quickly away from the church thinking it was haunted when we heard an old lady calling us from the doorway, asking us in French if we wanted to go inside… Super creepy, but it turned out to be absolutely gorgeous on the inside. DSCN3235 DSCN3237

After that, we just wandered around aimlessly a bit more, got some drinks, and then met up with the people at the hostel later to go to a club.

DSCN3242 DSCN3244 DSCN3246  DSCN3250 DSCN3251 DSCN3252  DSCN3255 DSCN3256   DSCN3263That night, we ended up going to Ayers Rock, an Australian themed club. It was actually pretty fun in the end, but it started out rough. It took us at least 30 minutes to get our drinks (crazily ridiculous), and some of the mixed drinks they served were disgusting. They also played some weird music for a bit, but it was a very fun atmosphere with people dancing on tables and the bartenders spraying water into the crowds during some really intense songs. It was good fun!

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Delicious Eatery: Restaurant la Donzella de la Costa

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Gorgeous, right? This was our view as we were eating. I was in heaven!

A colleague and I decided to make a change and have a nice lunch out somewhere during our 2 hour break. We always eat the food the school provides, which is sometimes very good (for school food) and other times… meh. Someone recommended that we check out Restaurant la Donzella de la Costa, right on the beach and overlooking the water. We decided to try it out.

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It’s nothing too terribly fancy on the inside, but the view more than makes up for it. You’re surrounded by the gorgeous teal blue water, who needs fancy decorations? And a major bonus was that, for lunch, it was very reasonably priced. We paid about €13 each for a 3 course meal of the day, which was delicious and very filling. It also included wine! And not just a glass… they brought me a jug!

They started us off with a complementary bite-sized treat with cod fish and romanesco sauce, which was tasty. The crust was perfectly baked so it melted in your mouth.

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For our first course, we ordered the vegetables in Romanesco sauce. They were delicious! It was topped with a perfectly crunchy noodle that complimented the flavors and textures perfectly.

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For our main course, we ordered the seafood rice. The rice was very flavorful, and seafood is always a winner in my book. The crab was more for looks, I think… there wasn’t really any meat to be had. But the green sauce along the sides was very delicious!

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And lastly, I ended with Tiramisu… a favorite dessert of mine. It was delicious, but not the best I’ve ever had. But hey… for €13, I’m not complaining! I left feeling completely satisfied, it was an amazing lunch and I will definitely be back.2015-03-05 14.32.33

Mirablau: A Club Overlooking Beautiful Barcelona

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Upstairs restaurant and bar. Photo Cred http://www.mirablaubcn.com

On Friday, my friend took me to a club called Mirablau. It has an amazing location on Tibidabo mountain overlooking all of Barcelona. The views were unbelievable! When you enter, there is the restaurant and bar portion. We arrived very late, so we didn’t see anyone with food, but they had a nice drink selection (expect to pay around €10-€14 per drink). I ordered a Gin & Tonic with strawberries and orange slices which was pretty tasty. Pricey, yes, but hey… enjoying a drink was nice while admiring the beautiful views Barcelona has to offer. Plus, there was no cover charge!

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Downstairs Bar & Disco. Photo Cred http://www.mirablaubcn.com

Downstairs is the dance floor, another bar, and also a small outdoor terrace. It isn’t all that big, but it seems that no tourists really come here (it is too far out from the city center to be noticed by many visitors). Everyone there (besides me, of course) was a local. The dance floor also has fantastic views of the city, and they played a variety of good dance songs. We went on a Friday night and there weren’t as many people as we would’ve liked, but I hear on Saturdays it is fantastic. I will definitely be back!

The amazing view. Photo Cred gastronomictalent.blogspot.com

The amazing view. Photo Cred gastronomictalent.blogspot.com