Because of limited time, vacations often become like a fun list of errands. I have to go to this museum and eat at that restaurant and sightsee downtown and have a drink at this cocktail bar. I decided to vacation like Europeans do, so I came to Portugal for a good long while. It’s my third time in Porto, and I’ve been here for two weeks, so I’m not in much of a rush to see or do anything. Instead I got to experience what it’s like to have a vacation day with nothing to do.
In truth, I’m sort of on vacation and sort of not. This is my first day off in three days. If I get tired of walking around, I might even go home and work a little while I watch TV. I don’t have a TV at home, so that’s a little bit of a vacation, too. I could have taken a day trip or gone to the beach, but that seemed like too much effort. Since it’s around 70 degrees today (after a couple days of hellish heat), I decided to venture out in Porto with no destination in mind..
I started off my day at Fabrica de Nata, because I’ve been here long enough to know that’s the best nata in town. Turns out they also have an incredible veal croqueta. With a ham and cheese croissant and a latte, that’s more than enough energy to take you walking up and down the city for a few hours. The upstairs dining area also has a nice view of Rua Santa Catarina. If they had outlets, I would bring my laptop and work there. But they don’t, so I left.
With no plan and no particular place to go, I ventured down to Rua da Flores in search of my favorite Porto street performers, a father playing a rolling organ and one of his children, who sits with a bird on his shoulder. I saw them for the first time a year ago and again last week near the Douro Bridge. I found them at Rua da Flores almost immediately. They greeted me with two of my favorites, La Valse D’Amelie and Bella Ciao. At the risk of turning my aimless day off into a purposeful work day, I asked the father if I could interview them for GnomeTrotting. He said he might not have a way to contact me because he hates society, and that’s why this is his life’s work. And that’s pretty much all the interview I need, really. If you’re ever in Porto, their street performance should be one of your top things to see.
Then I walked down to the riverfront, stopping at the Church of St. Nicholas, because I had never been inside before and it was right there. It was small but beautiful. Then I got down to Ribeira, where people were waiting in lines to get on the river boats and water taxis, running around taking pictures of all the beautiful sights. I’ve seen all these things, have the pictures, and I didn’t even bring my camera. So I found a bench with shade and enjoyed the view of the river and listened to a busker play Brazilian songs on the flute. When the crowds got to be a bit too much, I escaped through the arched alleyways under the storefronts, beautiful in their own right but less busy. I walked all the way to the bridge, where I sat and people watched for a bit before continuing my day.
Then I went up a long staircase I discovered just last week that takes you from the bottom of the bridge to the higher part of the city. I had seen it at the end of the day and the view of the bridge was washed out by the setting sun. But this time in the middle of the day, it wouldn’t be. So I went up the neverending stairs, taking my time because I had nowhere in particular to be, just so I could get a better picture from the top.
I was already up there, so I stopped to catch my breath at Guindalense, a small cash-only terrace bar that overlooks the river. It’s the kind of place where you have to get your beer at the counter before sitting down, and all the tables with the good view are always taken by eager tourists with backpacks and big cameras. The good thing is that they leave quickly. They get a beer or a water and take a few pictures and move on, because they have other places to be. But I didn’t. So I took in the view and the breeze and a beer, and then another. Because I earned it after the hike up, and because I can’t think of anything more enjoyable on my vacation day with nothing to do.
That is, until I got hungry. Like any creature of habit, I have my Porto food favorites. It’s actually quite hard to get me to stray from them. But I had yet to have a francesinha on this trip, so I went straight to my favorite one at Cafe Santiago. I walked at a leisurely pace, listening to the Amelie soundtrack along the way because there’s no better music for strolling past fragrant fruit stands and parks full of old guys playing cards and slightly run down buildings with chipped tile facades and rusted window bars.
When I sat at the bar, the guy shrugged knowingly when I said I wanted the Santiago Francesinha, as if there’s no other reason to go there. Halfway to drunk, I dug into my spicy sandwich. It has an egg on it, so it’s like second breakfast, which is my favorite meal of the day. I smiled to myself when the guy next to me ordered a pingo, an espresso with milk with a very vulgar Spanish translation. No matter how many times I hear it, it never gets old.
After my late lunch, I considered going to one of the wineries on the other side of the river to get all the way drunk, but feeling sluggish after eating, I walked the long way home, where there was an ice cream bar and a nap waiting for me.
When I arrived home, my plan to nap got derailed because I turned on the TV, which is precisely why I don’t own a TV. I ended up working for a couple of hours while I watched Criminal Minds, because just watching TV seemed like a waste. Then feeling all the way sober, I started learning to play La Valse D’Amelie on piano. Got so wrapped up, I accidentally skipped dinner. Which is fine, because I’m on vacation, and as it turned out, I had a lot to do today.