Any Porto in a Storm

Port is not for the very young, the vain and the active. It is the comfort of age and the companion of the scholar and the philosopher. – Evelyn Waugh

We are back after our re-entry back to the States. We’ll have a number of updates and a few recaps of the year but look out for a few posts on Portugal where we spent September.  Here is our take on Porto.

We spent most of September in Portugal. It is a great month to visit as the weather is perfect. And although it tends to be a busy tourist time, it is not too hard to find plenty of spots away from the hot spots. Porto, for example, has a number of neighborhoods with hotels that are  only a kilometer or so from the city center but provide a bit more of a local experience.  We spent the better part of the week over two different visits in Porto (an easy 3 hour train ride from Lisboa) and enjoyed the city.  There is a lot of history, port wine production and waterfront to keep things interesting. The small streets with their colorful buildings, tiled mosaics and street art make exploring the back alleys a lot of fun. And the city is also extremely photogenic providing endless vantage points with unique views of the water, its six bridges and the historical monuments and buildings.

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Portugal’s cities are known for its tile work and Porto does not disappoint here. Tiles are used everywhere and are very popular on the sides of homes and buildings.

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Of course, one can not visit the city without tasting some of the port wine that is produced there.  Most of the grapes are grown in the Duoro Valley, and one can take a boat ride up the river to visit the vineyards as a day trip from Porto (our schedule did not allow us to make the trip this time). Grapes are barged down to the city to a number of port lodges that blend, bottle and age the wine.

img_4968img_4969img_4971img_5180img_3732Like many wineries, many of the port lodges (wine making facilities) are quite spectacular and designed to host visitors, Some include hotels and restaurants.  Here is a good list of some of the top ones. We visited Graham’s Port lodge for some tasting and a tour of their facilities.  Graham’s is one of the oldest lodges in Porto and blends some very good port; and was a favorite of Sir Winston Churchill.

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Port wine is a perfect way to start or finish a good meal. Production is quite different than most wines as it blended using up to 135 different grape varieties and then fortified with alcohol.  Out of the three types of port – ruby, tawny, and vintage – vintage tends to be the best and will age quite well. Port is available around the world, but it is worth grabbing a bottle during your visit here as the selection and pricing is quite good if you avoid the tourist shops. (Tip: once open, store your bottle in the fridge. Ruby will last for 6 weeks and the others up to 4 months).

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The Livraria Lello bookstore is a worthwhile stop while in Porto.  It is said to have been a source of inspiration for J.K. Rowling during her writing of the Harry Potter stories.  She lived in Portugal for some time and was said to visit this book shop often. Its architecture as well as many of its student customers, donned in their school uniforms complete with capes, are familiar images to readers of those stories. (Note: the shop can get busy and due to its size it often requires waiting in a line outside).

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Navigating the city center is easy on foot, but streets can be hilly. It is definitely worth getting out of the center for a look around.  Directly across the river is the neighborhood of Vila Nova de Gaia, where there are a number of restaurants and port lodges and its location provides some great shots of Porto city.  Further afield, west along the river and north on the ocean provide some interesting perspectives of the city that are much less touristy.  You can take a tram out to the lighthouse to check out the beach or rent a bike and head along the boardwalk and chat with the local fishermen found up and down the coast.  We put on our running shoes and ran out to the coast along the river a number of times, and it was a great way to experience local life.

img_4883img_4898There are plenty of good eats in Porto, and we enjoyed a number of dishes.  Our favorites included the vinho verde – a young, bubbly green wine perfect for the hot days; bacalhau – salt cod that is prepared in many different ways including some tasty stews (the fish mostly comes from Canada and Norway nowadays, but the Portuguese now how to prepare it); and tripas a moda do Porto which is a bit like the Portuguese version of cassoulet.  Get out of the city center and off of Trip Advisor for eating in Porto. Take a walk down side streets or head west a bit and look for a crowded local taverna for a bite. (We found Uber the most efficient way to move about in the city).

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We would not recommend eating at McDonald’s here or back in the States but their location in Porto needs to be visited.  Zoning laws in the city require that the outside facade of original structures must be left as intended, and details inside historical buildings must be retained.  During a tough time during the city’s history, McDonald’s was able to purchase an old art decco building (there are a lot in the city) that was a very popular night club in the past.  The resulting restaurant is one of the most opulent McDonald’s you will ever visit anywhere in the world.

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The hype on Portugal in the travel industry right now is extreme and you can most appreciate it’s impact in the two large cities- Porto and Lisboa.  Development is booming. Historical renovations, public transport projects, boardwalks and waterfront land development projects are everywhere in the two cities.  It will be quite interesting to visit in 3-5 years when a lot of these projects will be complete.

 

Colombian Cuisine: Arepas, Lechona and Bandeja Paisa

We are less than a couple weeks into Colombia and have already spent some time in Bogota, Santa Marta, Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta and Medellin. The cities, beaches, mountains and jungles have been great, but the food has been fantastico! Colombia’s treats, while heavily influenced by the Spanish, certainly have a style of its own that reflects the local fruits, vegetables and spices.  They embrace the pig down here which always makes for some interesting and tasty dishes. Local supermercado’s bake their own bread fresh every night. And the fruit is just off the charts.  Fruits are picked from the tree or bush ripe (and are not grabbed green so they can ripen in the back of a truck for 2 weeks). And there are so many  varieties that are not found in the States.

We spent a morning in Bogota exploring the local market in Plaza de Mercado Paloquemao, where locals buy a lot of their produce, meats and fish for the week or month. The market is a frothy mix of wholesale buyers, locals, and tourists muscling their way through the tiny corridors to find the best fruit, meat or other goods. It is also the site of a giant flower market where an incredible number and variety of flowers are sold every morning.

 

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#nofilter

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We arrived early in the morning so it made sense to sample the local breakfast.  We sampled pan de yucca which is a staple for breakfast here and washed it down with some avena, another local favorite. Pan de yucca comes in all sorts of shapes and sizes but is generally a sweet bread with some warm fruit compote in the middle and queso (cheese). Avena is an oat-based drink that is a rich and creamy (with a touch of cinnamon) and simply delicious with the pan. Also common for breakfast is arepas which are typically fried maize flour with some cheese or sweets (like chocolate) in the middle.

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Pan de Yucca
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Sue digging in to some pan de yucca and avena.  Perfecto!

 

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Grilled arepas.  Muy bueno!

Fruit is a main staple in Colombia. Throughout the cities, vendors are selling fresh fruit and juice. Out in the jungle and on the trails, we constantly ate fresh watermelon, mango, and pineapple. At the market, we tried so many different, delicious fruits including mangostina, uchava (a sweet ground cherry), higo, pitaya (similar to jackfruit), freijoa, lulo (which they often juice), and the king of the fruits – gunabana.

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Purple Mangostinas
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A blurry higo.
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and a blurry freijoa.

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Gunabana from the outside
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Gunabana from the inside

 

The fruit sampling at the market was fantastic, and we have been eating these exotic varieties all week.

While not a fruit, the star of the market visit was the lechona, a dish made by stuffing a whole pig with pork, rice, peas, and spices and then slow cooked for typically 8 hours. It is served with crackling on top. This could be one of the best pork dishes we have EVER had. For sure, it will kill you, but sooo tasty.

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Another dish which we enjoyed in Bogota was ajiaco, a hearty soup of chicken, potatoes and corn served with giant, ripe avocados, monster capers, and some sour cream.  We have actually been making this dish in Seattle for years (Food and Wine recipe) but, of course, it was much better here in Colombia.

In Medellin, the specialty is bandeja paisa, which is a platter of food usually including pork, rice, beans, chorizo, a fried egg, and avocado.  Sopa de mondongo,  a hearty stew of pig or cow stomach also seems to be popular here in Medellin (it is also popular in the Philippines) . We have had it at restaurant named Mondongo where there is only a handful of dishes but all of them are capable of quickly putting you in a food coma.  We have limited our ingestion of these dishes to lunch where we can follow the feeding with a light dinner later in the evening.

For desert or just for an afternoon street snack,  obleas are popular. They are a thin waffle or crepe stuffed with cheese and jam or chocolate.  Every street corner in Bogota had someone selling them from a cart and more than a few were leveraging the Rolling Stones and Mick Jagger’s recent visit to Bogota for some additional marketing.

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Beer seems to be the way to wash all these dishes down.  Club Colombia is a popular brand. It is a pretty standard pilsner but is perfect for the heat and humidity of Medellin and Santa Marta.

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We will be eating here in Medellin for a few more days and then we are off to Cartagena for some sun and seafood.  For our other ramblings on Colombia, check out our posts here.