Thursday, January 12, 2017

Escaping the Cold Weather in Portugal

We love Berlin.  Don't get us wrong.  There is always something to do, a new restaurant to try, or an event taking place. That being said, it's cold and the sun don't shine. Ever.  We've had visitors who came for a week and didn't see the sun the entire time they were here.  We knew that by January, we'd be in need of some sunshine and warm weather and, since Portugal had been on my to-see list, it seemed like the perfect escape!

We arrived in Porto late Thursday night after a somewhat uncomfortable plane ride for me. As I get bigger, the middle seat just gets smaller and smaller. It didn't help that the person sitting in the aisle seat fell asleep before the plane took off and woke up as we were landing.  This pregnant girl has to pee! I'll definitely be sitting in the aisle next time....

Anyways, we made it to Porto without a hitch and were ready to hit the town the next day. Mike had been to Porto before briefly, but it was all new to me.  I'm sure we looked like such tourists because we were both giddy with excitement over the sunshine and 55 degree weather.  Don't get me wrong, I still had on a scarf and jacket, but compared to the 25 degrees it was when we left Berlin, this felt like summer time.

And Porto?  It's wonderful!  It's such a cute port town with lots of character.

We found a walking tour in our Lonely Planet book and stuck to that for the first day, which allowed us to see the majority of the city.

The inside of the train station is beautiful!

We spent most of the day just walking around, enjoying the sunlight and warm temperatures.  There isn't a ton to do in Porto, which normally would leave us a little bored, but I think we were just so happy to see the sun, we could have stayed outside wandering forever. 

Saturday was our last day in Porto since we were taking the train to Lisbon that night. One thing everyone must do in Porto is port tasting! I'm not a huge port fan, so I didn't mind sitting out the tastings, but Mike enjoyed them and both of us learned a lot. Our first stop was at Taylor's.  Since port wine is made the same way at each place, we knew we only wanted to do one tour. Taylor's is one of the originals, so their tour sounded perfect for us. Plus, it's self-guided, so we could start whenever we showed up. We learned all about how port came to Portugal from England and how it is made.  The tour included two glasses two taste at the end, so Mike tried a red and a white port. It's probably one of the more expensive tours and tastings when you break it down (12euros for two glasses....not bad at all, but most of the other tastings included three or four tastes), but since it's one of the most famous, I guess I don't blame them!

At 425 pounds, I don't think we'll be buying these bottles. ;)

Our next stop was Cruz, which was casual and quick. The tasting takes place in their lobby area and once again, Mike got a chance to try some reds and whites.  The woman behind the counter was extremely helpful in telling us about the tradition surrounding port.  Since it is such a big deal, many people will buy port for someone as a gift.  For example, on your 18th birthday, you may receive a bottle of port with grapes harvested the year you were born. 

We decided to take a break and stop for lunch, mainly because my pregnant belly was growling, but also because all of that port in Mike was taking a toll. ;) We kept hearing about these amazing sandwiches called Francesinhas that are native to Porto, so we knew we had to try them before we left. 

Let. Me. Tell. You.  This sandwich was amazing. It's basically all different kinds of meat, covered in cheese and a sauce.  Ours had a fried egg on top, which was like the cherry on top.  We decided to split one because, ya know, heart disease, but we both agreed that it was incredible and worth all of the hype.  

We also split a rice and seafood dish, which didn't stand up to the francesinha, but was delicious none the less.  With all kinds of seafood mixed into a soupy rice, it reminded me of a jambalaya type dish.  Nomz nomz. 

Instead of napping like I would have liked after our lunch, we persevered and continued on to one last port tasting.  We planned to make our last port tasting stop at Sandeman, which is the other major port producers, but unfortunately, you have to do a tour in order to do a tasting.  If we had known that, we probably would have done the tour at Sandeman and then just a tasting at Taylor's.  The woman at Sandeman recommended going next door to Quinta do Noval and I'm glad she did!  We were the only ones there, so the woman really told us all about the different styles of port, her preferences and how we'll have to buy a 2017 bottle for Baby Maximus! 

We ended our port tasting tour of Porto around 3:00 because we had to head back to the hotel to grab our bags and then catch the train to Lisbon.  More importantly though, we had to watch JMU in the national championship!! Luckily, our train had wifi and I was able to follow along on the game cast, but I was prepared for some pretty high data usage and cell phone bills if not.  Totally worth it.  

The game wasn't even close and JMU showed their colors proud and true throughout the whole game!! It was so exciting to watch the clock tick down and know that we are NATIONAL CHAMPIONS!  As my brother Ben said, it's rare that you are watching a game and your team is actually winning.  I am always proud to be a James Madison alum, but Saturday my heart was pumping a little extra purple and gold blood. 

How you celebrate a national championship when you're 24 weeks pregnant. 

We had such a great time in Porto and it provided a much needed reprieve from the cold Berlin winter.  It definitely made it high on our list of favorite European spots!

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