Weekend trip to Porto
Last year, we had this first huge trip to Marseille over Easter. It marked our first long distance trip, which was also really successful. Then we had another trip to France, this time to the Pyrenees, after which I saw a steady decline, and at one point I even declared an end to the weekend trips. This year, however, my birthday happened to fall not only on a Saturday, but also on an Easter weekend. As I felt the need for an extra large event this time, I decided to organize a trip like the one in Marseille last year. It took me some time to find a good location, as the famous places, such as Greece or Italy, were difficult to reach, or there was no suitable apartment available. In the end I ended up choosing Porto, because I have never visited the Iberian Peninsula before, but also because many voted for Porto.
This made me a slightly problematic situation for me, as I never fly for fun. However, there was this one promotion campaign from last year for the Interrail pass, where they were selling 1-, 2- and 3-month tickets for half the price. Shrijal and I decided to get the 2-month one without thinking much about how to use it. So far I hadn’t managed to find the right occasion, but it appeared to me like a perfect one if I have to travel to Porto.
Prologue: Travelling to Porto
First about the Interrail ticket: it allows you to take “in principle” any train inside Europe. “In principle”, because in reality in some countries, most notably in France, Spain, Italy and Portugal, the long distance trains require a seat reservation on long distance trains, which is not directly included in the Interrail ticket, so that it has to be done separately.
But it also offers a website where you can book all the necessary trains. There was one really good thing that I should have known beforehand: The bookings can be cancelled free of charge. And in principle you have to specify the dates for travelling with the Interrail ticket, but until the date of the reservation, the Interrail ticket does not get activated. In my case, I planned my trip only a few weeks before the trip, fearing that I might not be able to change the reservations if something pops up. And with this in mind, I could first book a trip to Paris, and then to Barcelona.
However, Spain turned out to be trickier than I thought: It is actually not possible to book a seat from the Interrail website. Apparently the only one possibility is to do so inside Spain. This huge constraint makes me wonder: what is Interrail good for in Spain? Anyway, I got all the ticket up to Barcelona. Then I had to leave my destiny to luck in Spain.
And so, in the morning of March 31, I left rainy Düsseldorf. I didn’t take my rain jacket, and it was really cold. And I was really disappointed when I realized that in my first stop, Strasbourg, as well as in Paris, which was the final stop for the day, the weather was just as horrible. However, there was one miracle: Both of my trains this morning, from Düsseldorf to Frankfurt, and Frankfurt to Strasbourg, did not have a delay. And so the 4 hours that I planned for Strasbourg just in case were used for sightseeing, even though I have been there quite a few times. Great thanks to Siham for hosting me!
I had very much nothing to see in Paris, so I took a train early in the morning for Barcelona. This one takes 7 hours going through the Rhone valley and the Mediterranean coast to reach Barcelona. Compared to German trains it’s still blazing fast. But still at some point I found it really cumbersome to stay in the train. I guess it would be fun if you are travelling with people you know well.
I spent one night in Barcelona, because my former colleague is now living there. There was a small house party.
Next day, I took a train to Vigo, which is a city right next to the Portuguese border, where I stayed for 3 days. From what I understood, that’s the only one point of contact between Portugal and Spain for the railway.
And so in the morning of Apr. 6, I moved to Porto, and so did our trip start.
Day I (Apr. 5, Wednesday)
The Easter weekend starts on Friday and ends on Monday. This time, since the flight tickets were very expensive on Friday and Monday, many people decided to come on Thursday and leave Tuesday. So I simply extended the booking. Right after my train arrived in Porto some time past 10am, I joined Julien, who had arrived very early in the morning, to walk around the city.
This city, Porto, is a port city, as the name obviously suggests. Wherever you go, you can see the coastline nearby. It was a bit reminiscent of Marseille from last year. Indeed, I also had the huge success of Marseille in mind when I first started looking into Porto for a weekend trip.
There’s a large river, Douro, that goes through the city. We walked to the river first, and took a few photos of the area. When I was leaving my apartment in Düsseldorf I was almost freezing in my jacket. In the same outfit, I was quite badly sweating in Porto. The sky was totally clear. It was really just like vacations you’d imagine in a movie.
Julien and I went to a café in the city center. As I was not so sure about my Brazilian Portuguese, I ordered my food in English. As it turned out, the waiter was Brazilian, and of course I could talk with her without a problem in Portuguese. She told me that Brazilian Portuguese would be understood by everyone, although the vocabulary differs slightly.
I didn’t write it above, but on the way from Barcelona to Madrid, I forgot my hat on the train. I realized it still inside the train station, and probably the train was still there, but as the train stations are made in the way in Spain that you cannot go to the platforms freely, I could not get it anymore. So here in Porto, I got a new one in the market. The one that I’m carrying on various photos is the one that I bought. Apparently it’s called Panama hat and is of really good quality.
At 3pm, I went to the apartment to get the keys. The owner was a really nice person. And to be honest, I was not expecting such a nice apartment for just over 200€ per person. There was even breakfast included.
Julien and I then stayed in the apartment to wait for Rohith and Aseel to arrive, who took the same flight to Porto. In the meantime, Patrick also arrived.
There’s this super famous dish called Francesinha in Portugal, which is a sandwich which contains only meat and a lot of cheese. If you are badly in need of energy it might be a great food. I was almost suffering while finishing it.
We then walked around the city again and went back home. Since there was everything for the breakfast, and even a bottle of port wine, we didn’t need to buy anything. The port wine disappeared obviously in the first evening.
Madhuri arrived in the evening. I was honestly still full from Francesinha, but she wanted to eat out, so Patrick, Madhuri and I went to a nearby restaurant, in the hope to find some fish. It was around half past 9 and they didn’t have it anymore, in addition to the fact that almost everything was closed. Right after Spain it appeared somewhat strange to me. Since we had no other option, we went back to the city center to go to a Bangladeshi restaurant. According to Madhuri, who’s from Bangladesh, there’s hardly any Bangladeshi restaurant in Germany, so she was already really excited about it. And as it turned out, she was even more excited about the food, which I can understand to a certain extent, but if I can be honest I might prefer my favourite Indian restaurant in Düsseldorf (Jaipur).
Day II (Apr. 6, Thursday)
According to my plan, we were supposed to go to Lamego by train to hike to Régua. As Shrijal and Miriam were arriving in the morning, we had a super relaxed breakfast. After they arrived, we slowly moved to the train station – only to realize that train got cancelled… I thought it was a major problem only in France, but there was apparently also a wave of strikes here in Portugal, and there was hardly any train for a whole day.
Since we were totally deprived of long distance train options, we decided to take the metro to go to the farthest station possible and started walking from there. It turned out to be a rather bad strategy – there was still a long way to go to reach the nearest forest. In the meantime, Madhuri, Julien and Aseel gave up and went back to the city center. In fact, it was just after they left that it started getting interesting. While going up the hill the view over Portugal got better and better. Then when we reached the peak, there was even a café, where we stayed for a really long time.
There are not so many trees around Porto, but this particular area was fairly green. This being said, the terrain is very different from the solid dark soil in Germany: it was fairly sandy and going down a hill was quite a challenge. Local people, on the other hand, seemed to have no problem and there was even a motorbike passing by on a slope where we were struggling on foot.
At some point, we joined a small stream and walked along it. I would say the water quality was just somewhat better than the Ruhr, but it was still fairly different from the beautiful clean water you’d imagine in the mountains. Nevertheless, Shrijal, Rohith and I decided to enter the water. After all we were having vacations, why not.
We then walked farther along the river to the end of the forest. There were several weird domesticated animals on the way. They seem to enjoy their freedom in this nature :).
There was a bus stop right after the forest. Well, there was one, but there was no bus. I still don’t really know whether the strike was going ahead or it was just like this in Portugal. Anyway, Patrick ordered an Uber, which was surprisingly cheap in Porto.
It was around 8pm when we got back home. We first went to a nearby grocery store to get some stuff to make sure that we have enough drinks and some pasta, as Miriam was telling it’s now apparently part of the tradition to eat pasta with pesto in our weekend trips :D. We then went to a nearby restaurant. The food was great, but the service was really extremely unfriendly. No going there anymore.
Day III (April 7, Friday)
There were multiple people who recommended this area called Gerês, which is a national park in the north of Portugal, right before the Spanish border. As there was no possibility to get there by public transport, I had booked a lift with a local company. It was 250€ per car for the day. As we needed two of them, it cost us 50€ per person. I was really not sure if that’s an amount of money we can easily spend, so I had asked it in the Telegram group ahead of the trip. As there was no opposition, I just simply went ahead with the plan. After all, it was great not to have to plan anything.
At 9 am, the drivers arrived right on time. We rode on and the day started. Our driver was a nice guy explaining the surrounding area on the way. Well, not that I could get much as I was in the third row of the car.
The trail was originally prepared by Rohith. I changed it slightly, to include a bit more nature. We were essentially supposed to climb up a mountain, then go down to a river and walk along it till Campo do Gerês (which is a different location from Gerês). I was extremely skeptical about the going down part, but since Komoot suggested it I decided to trust it. The drivers also checked the track, and told us it was an easy track.
The drivers called it “Gerês village”, but it was so crowded with tourists. Some of us also stayed there longer to buy something to eat or to get a cup etc., actually delaying the start significantly.
As I didn’t have enough time to properly create the map this morning, I decided to install Komoot on my phone for the first time. I then actually realized that it works also with my Apple Watch. And so I could simply follow what it told me to do. Amazing.
As we climbed up the hill, I could see that the view was also getting better and better. At the same time, we were also densely surrounded by trees. Between the trees, there was sometimes the river that goes along The Valley, or the lake much farther away.
When we reached more or less the highest point, we had a somewhat longer break, because I could see on the map that there weren’t many trees after that point and therefore it would have been more difficult to find shades. Yes, it was very hot again.
The transition was really abrupt: indeed the landscape became extremely rocky all of a sudden, with hardly any tree. It was a lot more like a landscape you would see in the Mediterranean area.
Julien, Patrick and I started deviating from the group at some point, as we were walking much faster. At the same time, it was getting more and more difficult, and I was also afraid that people might start complaining, so I also didn’t really wait for the others.
The part I was skeptical about was indeed just as horrible as I had imagined. It looked like the path barely existed, although we could see the indication made with stones that there should be a path. It was one of those moments, where I painfully had to realize, that I shouldn’t trust Komoot when my instinct tells me a something different.
It was quite some effort to go through the bush with my long trousers. Some girls were carrying short pants. They suffered a lot more than me. Good job.
We were supposed to go to Campo, but as soon as we reached the river, I called the taxi to fetch us there where we were. There was also a small stream, where I entered the water for a few seconds. It was freezing cold.
As we still had some time, we also walked up to the “famous” water fall site. Of course for someone like me who comes from Japan it was not that impressive, but it was nice to have a nice Instagram photo for my birthday.
Everyone fortunately made it till the end today. Fortunately no one really complained. I mean, what could they have done after the hike :D. I guess everyone was quite badly tired.
Still, we had enough energy to prepare some pasta and salad. Actually I was hardly involved in the cooking, because I had to plan my trip back to Germany, as my train from Paris to Düsseldorf got cancelled. Great thanks to Shrijal and Miriam for preparing the food. Madhuri, who was really fascinated by the Bengali food, ordered dinner one more time. She was saying she could eat there everyday, but it was really going to happen.
Some time during the dinner, we decided to have a relaxed day the next day. Rohith was anyway organizing a wine tasting session in a port wine factory, so that was essentially going to be the program.
Day IV (April 8, Saturday)
By this point, I started realizing how long this trip really was. So, I was really glad that there was a day, which I didn’t have to account for. We also got up fairly late in the morning and had really slow breakfast. I guess from there was exhaustion remaining from Gerês.
There was just one item in the program today: wine tasting at 5pm. So Rohith, Shrijal, Patrick and I decided to walk to the beach to swim, which means to the other side of the Douro river.
To be honest, it was not a particularly good idea, because other than the city center, it’s neither beautiful nor pedestrian friendly. But this walk allowed us or actually me to have the first Pastel de Nata, which is a very famous Portuguese sweet. With all the stuff, it cost us something like 6€. Things are so extremely cheap in Portugal…
As we were nearing the lunch time, we decided to go to the bay from there, where there were supposedly a lot of seafood restaurants. This path was again not quite the most impressive one.
This being said, the restaurant was just great. It was inside this touristic area, but there were also local people having lunch there. I had this plate of grilled shrimps. Frankly I could have it everyday.
Since the beginning of our stay in Porto, I really got used to drinking for lunch and dinner (+ in the evening). We also had a pitcher of white wine and I was super sleepy after lunch. We still held together and walked along the coastline towards the beach where we were supposed to see the other people. As that one turned out to be too far away for us, we simply stayed at the beach which looked good enough.
We’ve had a weekend trip to Marseille, but the Atlantic Ocean is a totally different number than the Mediterranean Sea: it was much less about swimming, but we really had to fight to not taken away by the waves. I also quickly realized to keep carrying my glasses, even though I was not swimming at all. Shrijal, on the other hand, lost his goggles.
While Shrijal was making more plastic waste, I saw a soccer ball washed up by the waves, but not totally. So I went there and ran as the waves were coming and going, to look for the right moment to save the soccer ball. As I managed to get it after a few min, people started clapping. Apparently I had large audience while trying to get the ball.
We then took another Uber from the beach to the wine tasting place. Public transport was not really great, but again it cost us only 1,5€ per person…
The wine tasting place looked super classy. I wasn’t really sure if I should enter the place with my hiking outfit, wich visible traces of sweat (or sea salt I don’t know) on my trousers. At least they didn’t say anything.
At first we just went to the garden, because some people thought the guide was 75€ per person. We quickly figured out that it was 15€, so some of us went for the guided tour and others stayed for the wine tasting.
The guided tour (which was just an audio guide though) took around 1h, with explanations of how the port wine was made and shipped to other countries. Here’s one important aspect of the port wine: the fermentation is stopped at mid-point and they then add grape spirit to make it strong. So the port wine is strong and sweet. I was wondering why they started doing so. I mean, why should the fermentation be stopped halfway?
I asked this question to the waiter afterwards. His explanation: Brits liked it. That doesn’t really explain anything… But fine, I accept it as such, even though I wholeheartedly prefer normal wine, for the simple fact that normal wine is not quite as sweet, and doesn’t stink of grape spirit.
Then we walked back home. The city is just horrifyingly filled with people, most of whom were probably tourists. There were a lot of restaurants on the way back home. We simply stopped at one of them and I had seafood again. And again, it was just great. And again, I paid maybe something like 10€.
Due to some miscommunication, two groups went buy stuff for breakfast in the evening. There was already quite some amount of food available from the beginning, but all of a sudden there was even a lot more.
Drinking obviously went ahead in the evening. Just like in Marseille and the Pyrenees, there was every evening everyone involved. Perfect.
Day V (April 9, Sunday)
As the trip is not quite short, it’s not surprising that some people start to feel the need to have a break. That was apparently the case for Sarah. As Miriam also needed time to do some things at home, we went for a vineyard hike without them today.
Today, the trains were running correctly. For Shrijal and me it was free, and for the others it was also only a few euros. It was just not very easy to get a ticket because it was not so clear how to use the vending machine, but fortunately the ticket counter was not so crowded, and we had enough time to get tickets there.
Also the trains were very punctual. I mean, so far everywhere I went in my life, the trains were punctual except for Germany, but just for the fact that I’m so used to the German train system, I’m always amazed how punctual the trains elsewhere are.
This trail was fully organized by me, so I was not afraid of having unforeseen difficulties. I was more worried that there would too much civilization.
This aspect might have been slightly true at the beginning, but it got better very quickly. Actually there was really a great mixture of forests, vineyards, other fields and small villages today. Together with the great weather, just like everyday, it was such a perfect occasion to take Instagram photos.
This was also the area that the guided tour of the wine cellar was mentioning several times. So we were essentially getting the knowledge first, and then visiting the area. How perfect is that.
I also wanted to talk to the locals more often, but throughout this trip, I got the feeling that in Spain and Portugal, it’s not as common to talk to strangers in the street, as in France or Italy. So not only during this hike, but also in general I couldn’t really talk to the local people.
On top of the hill, there was a small place where we could have a break in the shadow, and with a great view over the surrounding area. It was such a perfect spot that it appeared to me like a wonder that there was no one else there. We had a really long break there, with a nap for me, and a beer for Julien and Patrick. It’s vacation, and that’s how it should be.
There was also a platform to take more instagram photos. Again, it’s a wonder that there was no one there.
We then went down the hill to reach a nearby village. There, we went to a café to get local sweets, including Pasteis de Nata – not so great this time, but with coffee and multiple sweets per person, it cost 16€ for 7 people, so I really cannot complain.
In that moment, we realized that we were walking very slowly, and was on the course of missing the last train. In order to be able to catch the last train for sure, we decided to rely on Komoot to make an easier track.
And again, this turned out to be a rather bad idea – twice it sent us through a private property, and we had to climb up a fence to get out. After the second time, the owner actually complained. We explained the situation, and it was all fine. But he somehow insisted we go along the street to reach the train station, while we wanted to go through the nature. He then told us that there’s an ancient path that might still exist, but he himself didn’t see it since his childhood, so he didn’t really know whether it still existed.
Luckily, it was still there, and it also allowed us to reach the train station fairly quickly. And even more luckily, there was a small shop right next to the train station, where we could buy ice cream and beer. More alcohol for me. I’m already looking forward to being sober again in Germany for some time.
The train we took went perfectly. Highlight: the door was always open. I thought it would happen only in India.
In the evening, the others wanted to eat at home. Patrick, Rohith and I decided to eat out, and started looking for a place in the city center. However, apparently due to Easter, almost everything was closed. We then had to rely on the Bengali restaurant again.
Day VI (April 10, Monday)
In addition to Gerês, that was recommended by multiple people, there was also Viana do Castelo, which is a coastal city next to the Spanish border. I kept it for the last day, maybe for the highlight of the trip?
Well, the plan started falling apart when we learned early in the morning at the train station that our train got cancelled.
With no public transport available, we decided to take yet another Uber. It was around 15€ per person.
Apparently Patrick put a random location in Viana, and our Uber driver was confused when we arrived there. I explained that it didn’t matter where she’d drop us because we would anyway walk around the city for sightseeing. At the beginning of this conversation, she first asked me if it’s ok to keep speaking Portuguese, in Portuguese. I wonder what she would have done if I had said no, because it was quite obvious that she couldn’t speak any other language. But in general I have the feeling that in this area people tend to think they have to switch to English when they are speaking foreigners. That’s totally needless for me, but ok if they want to, I also wouldn’t say no…
In the city center of Viana, we had yet another very long warm-up time, where people started ordering quite a few things. I have the feeling that I have a fairly different rhythm these days…
Then we climbed up to the top of the hill, to reach the cathedral that looks over the city. It looks a bit like Fourvière in Lyon, but the view was quite different: there’s a very long coastline that goes towards the horizon. I’m sure it would have been really impressive if the weather had been better. As the weather forecast looked fairly good some time later, we first made a tour around the mountain. It was a round trip, so we were coming back to the cathedral anyway.
You can see that the trail is right next to the sea, so I was expecting to be able to have a great view over the ocean. Unfortunately, it was not really the case – most of the time it was covered by the surrounding trees. It was a rather dense forest. This being said, it was still a nice trail.
We made a small stop somewhere on the way and came back to the cathedral. Frankly after a series of rather challenging programs, I think it was the right length today. And indeed the weather got much better when we came back – clear blue sky over the beautiful coastline. It was such a vacation feeling to buy local sweets nearby and eat them right next to the grass area at the cathedral.
Some people decided then to take an early train to go back to Porto. I stayed with Patrick and Shrijal in Viana, to see more of the city center. We first wanted to get something to eat, but at 3pm, most of the restaurants were either having a midday break or simply closed the whole day because of the Easter. We found one restaurant, which had a 1.6 star rating, and indeed it looked more like rip off. So we kept going and got some beer, instead of having lunch. But then somehow we bumped into this really nice restaurant which offered seafood. We then shared seafood risotto and feijão. It was just really great.
After lunch, we went to the riverbank, which looked more like a real beach, and chilled some time, until the train departure time.
And once again, the train was cancelled. We got a Uber and got back home.
As many people were taking the plane at 6am (meaning they had to leave the apartment around 4am), they went to bed very early. I stayed somewhat longer, but by midnight we all went to bed.
Epilogue: Porto to Düsseldorf
My journey to Düsseldorf was more or less the backward one of my initial trip. I first got a train from Porto to Vigo, then on the same day went up to Madrid. I stayed there for one night, and the next day, I took a train up to Port Bou, which is the last station before France. And from there, I hiked to the first French town, Cerbère, only to learn that the last train to Perpignan got cancelled, due to strike. It was also too late for a hitchhike (although I still managed to get one to go one city farther) and I got a taxi to Perpignan, which cost 120€. Then the next day, I took a very early train from Perpignan to Paris, then from Paris to Luxembourg. Finally, I got a German railway train from Luxembourg to Koblenz, and I’m writing this text from the train that is going from Koblenz to Düsseldorf. My train just arrived in Cologne now. Just 30 min more, and I will be back in Düsseldorf.
This Porto trip was by far the longest trip that I organized in my organizer carrier. It was by far the longest, and maybe also the most challenging one. Yet, to be honest I’m not really sure the effort was really worth making this time.
I guess the biggest problem is that there was always Marseille in my head as a comparison. The environment, season, length – any of these items can be straightforwardly compared to the Marseille trip. A year passed since the Marseille trip, and I guess I really wanted to turn a page in this story, because I didn’t want to stick to one legend. And I ended up failing to do so.
The planning of this trip was I think fairly ok – there were a few candidate destinations. They were easily accessible by train and it was also fairly cheap.
The apartment was far better than any apartment we’ve had so far. And cleaning and organizing things went so well, that I really wholeheartedly want to thank all those (which means most of the people, if not everybody) for contributing to it.
I think there are two factors that made it fail to convince me. One is the fact that Porto is simply not Marseille. While Marseille is a “cool” city, which offers so many different possibilities, Porto is just a beautiful city. So we didn’t have real interactions with local people or local culture, and even if we had had them, it’s unlikely that I would have been truly convinced.
The second factor is, I sort of understood, what it is like when the things do not work out. There were essentially two moments that demoralized me a lot. The first one was when the train got cancelled on the first day. The second time is when I didn’t explicitly ask the taxi drivers where the “famous” waterfalls were. On both occasions, I was badly criticized by some people for not having plans. Something in me died in that moment. Not only I practically didn’t talk with them for the rest of the trip, but also I understood what a thin glass I’m walking on when I organize events. That is to say, people might thank you for doing it well, but it doesn’t mean you can accumulate trust, because it doesn’t matter how much more difficult it is to have the same success in a country that I had never visited before, a failure that I cannot possibly be accounted for becomes a reason for me to be blamed.
To be honest, from that moment on, I didn’t care much about my birthday anymore. I just wanted this trip to finish safely. So except for the moments where I knew the things would be fine, like when we were having dinner at home or drinking, I could hardly enjoy the trip anymore.
So, in a way I guess this put the final nail in the coffin of long distance weekend trips. I hand over the job to someone like Rohith, and I’ll probably stick to normal hikes, and maybe to some nearby weekend trips, or maybe not.
Well, I’ll take my time and think about it for some time.