More than Port in Porto!
There were lots of things I was looking forward to when I started planning my trip to Porto. Sunshine, historic medieval streets, beaches, markets, finally improving my Portuguese to improve and, of course… lots of yummy port! I hadn’t expected to also fall in love with the rolling hills of the city, the hub of activity along the river Douro, the quirky honest locals and… above all… try tripe (the local specialty) and sort of like it! I had a fantastic time in Porto!
I loved skipping out of my Portuguese school every day to find myself right there smack bang on the banks of the Douro river, in the heart of the city ready for a hectic afternoon of meandering through the beautiful cobbled streets, idling in local cafes with my classmates and practicing my Portuguese or heading out of the city to the beach and busy afternoon of relaxing by the sea.
Porto really did have a little bit of everything I could have wished for.
There was a fantastic shopping area in the heart of the city where I could indulge my retail urges to my heart’s content, there were winding medieval streets that transported me back in time, there were local cafes and eateries galore where I could sample the local meats, cheeses and wines, there were beautiful squares with monuments and churches, not to mention a fantastic and youthful nightlife if you have the energy to stay up beyond midnight! Porto had all of the fantastic things that you could expect from an historic Iberian city. Yet I found that there was something a little different about Porto. It really did have a character of its own. It is Portugal’s second largest city yet never felt too big or too flashy the way that big cities can.
Of course, it had all the amenities you would expect but felt truly unique. The quirky locals were always very direct and proud of their city and wonderfully friendly but different to other similar cities I had visited. The landscape of the city was so fantastically varied. I have never before seen medieval streets, alongside modern steel bridges, next to Mediterranean style whitewashed walls with terracotta roofs, next to impressive cathedrals! It felt like 1000 years worth of life and culture and character piled layer upon layer, all that history yet Porto seemed to retain a lovely humble charm. I fell in love with the place!
After 7 weeks in Porto I had started to feel like it was my home, rather than a city I was visiting. I met so many great people at my school and sharing the study abroad experience with made them not only classmates but great friends. I hadn’t expected it, but my time in Porto came to be about so much more to me than sampling Port, practicing Portuguese and taking photos of the pretty buildings! I learned so much about the local culture, ate local food, drank local drink, used the local transport, and made local friends. Despite being a big city, Porto felt like a real community to me. I real felt at home there, as I did at the school, with friendly teachers and an amazing bunch of classmates! It was incredible to feel so immersed in a way of life different to my own. I hadn’t expected it, but my language course was an awesome life experience that I will never forget!