A Tad Bit of Madrid & A Little More of Porto

A revisit is refreshing, literally and metaphorically. I had a few extra hours in Madrid before flying out to Porto. Not taking advantage of this would be plain lethargy. But, lethargy is non-existent at the beginning of exciting trips and I headed into the heart of Madrid.

My first visit to Madrid some four years ago was quite a milestone. Under the supervision of my sister, I had my first ever beer. What followed after were all possible extremes of alcohol-induced behavior, largely inspired by “college”. And now having graduated, there is no real excuse to let alcohol take control. So, to come back to Madrid, actually enjoy a beer and not drink it just to lose my wits is refreshing. The other interesting part of Madrid was eating some typical spanish garlic prawns that my dad was obsessed about and spent a whopping three days trying to explain to mum how to cook it. Three tries later, mum nailed it and I now know exactly why my dad was so adamant about it all.

Porto is the most offbeat city on my extremely conventional euro trip. And that’s not saying much. The irony of evaluating the first destination is that there is nothing to compare it with. And, the joy of holidaying makes everything seem more dandy than it is. One thing I can affirm through experience is that the hostel I lived at in Porto, Yes! Porto is the best hostel I’ve ever stayed in. And that’s saying a lot. Besides being friendly, socially encouraging, party-promoting and tours-providing, they offered a 10 Euro home cooked Portuguese meal which included a soup, a starter, a main course, some desert and 5 alcoholic beverages. Not only was it cheap, but they also got the whole hostel together and gave us a taste of some local food. Brilliant. And I could go on and on about the hostel. I really could.

I walked around the first day breathing in all the localness I could. Porto is so beautifully tiny that it didn’t take long to get an idea about the pretty city. Porto is officially the only place in the world where port wine is made, much like champagne and France. So, I undertook a day trip into the port-wine-producing paradise that is the Douro Valley. Not only was the valley stunning, but the vintage wine that we tasted was absolutely sinful. I’ve never had any form of alcohol that was as smooth as the vintage wines I tried there. It’s only for the best that I cannot currently afford it. This day also included trips to smaller towns close to Porto including Aramante and Larego. This port-wine tour was slightly expensive so I was the only backpacker among some older, well-to-do people. But, the fellow tour-members were a fascinating bunch and included beer/restaurant owners, and a technologist who was traveling with his family in a mobile home across Europe. Someday, I will dare to do the same. Someday.

The second day left me Porto-ed out. I did two city tours back to back, one was a walking tour and the other was on a Segway. Yes, a Segway. While the former was more insightful, the latter was more fun. Segways look awkward for sure but the concept is pure genius. The ease with which you can maneuver yourself uphill, downhill, left and right is so delightful. It’s effortless, fast-paced and so bloody fun. I’d buy one as soon as I have excess amounts of money. Or, maybe I’ll just stick to doing tours, that seems a little less socially awkward.

I had to switch hostels my last night in Porto. The super hostel I was in was booked because of a music festival that SXSW and ACL would laugh at. So, I moved further out close to the beach to this other hostel called Peste. I didn’t expect much because it was a whopping 30km away from the center, but it was a delightful little house which was more of a friendly home than a paid-for hostel. Again, the people I met there were so wonderfully nice and so eclectic. They included animators, PHDstudents, film-makers and students. But, what brought us all together was that we were all travelers and well the fact that we could all also speak English. We drank and dined in Portuguese style which seemed not that different from what everyone does. The steak we had after was heavenly. It was rare and moist, dipped in some serenely delicious garlic cream sauce. The meat was tender and the whole experience was superme, despite being my second dinner of the day. Now, that’s a sign of some good food. Once we were all buzzing, a bunch of us headed to the city to enjoy the nightlife. Like most European cities, the night didn’t get started till 1am. Plus, you can drink on the streets so everything was Vegas/Nola style. We were actually buying beer (illegally) from these aunties on the street for a Euro that our host knew oh so well. There is this added advantage of partying with locals – they know so much more. But, the worst part of Porto was the nightlife. Yes, it was buzzing and lively and the crowd was great, but there was just way too much smoke. Everyone smokes in Porto. And when everyone is drunk and out, everyone smokes even more. Additionally, smoking indoors is allowed so that didn’t help. I must have consumed over twenty cigarettes worth of passive smoke. My clothes, considering the slightly larger surface area, must have consumed several more. Everything on me smelt of smoke, even my underwear. There was a point when I found it kind of hard to breathe. Yes, it was bad. Worse than Dubai and Dubai is bad when it comes to smoking. I remember one of my tour guides was complaining about the same thing. Apparently 2020 is when they’re going to ban smoking in Portugal. Right, I’ll make a trip after that.

All in all, go to Porto. It´s not too touristy which is a massive positive and has some delightful sights to offer. The people are not too bad either.

P.S. Portuguese Beer = Super Bock = Super Indeed.