Vila Nova de Gaia

So, we now live in Canidelo, a neighborhood in Vila Nova de Gaia, which is across the river from the city of Porto. Gaia is where port wine is stored and aged. The views from either side to the other are fabulous!  We have been here almost five weeks, and we have not yet cracked the surface of all there is to see in Gaia, much less Porto.  All I know for sure is that we really need to prioritize our travels. Because we are way too old to see and do it all!  We could spend a year exploring different routes to the beach or the river from our apartment! 

We do have a few landmarks to keep us centered.  In the unfortunate department,  Mc Donald’s and Burger King are way too close. About a 20-minute walk away.  No escaping US influence anywhere in the world, I’m sorry to say. And these are probably two of the worst offerings from the states.

In the it’s a wacky world department, near Mc Donald’s is a round about that has a 20-foot-tall strawberry in the middle of it.  Now, that’s a landmark!  Vila Nova de Gaia has an agricultural history. It has an ear of corn and strawberries in its coat of arms.  And yes, they are delicious, the strawberries, that is!

Gaia is also well known for its beaches.  There is a 14-mile boardwalk that starts in Espinho a little north of Gaia and runs through Gaia along the beach.  The beaches are beautiful and there is a 17th century chapel towards the south end of the boardwalk.  The Chapel of Senhor da Pedra is practically in the ocean on the rocks. During high tide it is in the water!

4 Caminhos Brazilian Steakhouse. Yum!
Senhor de Pedra Chapel

Bairra is a tiny hole in the wall owned by a local celebrity chef, Pedro Sanches.  The tables are set with champagne glasses and Pedro suggests a glass of the local sparkling wine to start.  You don’t have to ask me twice!  It was as good as any champagne.  We never saw a menu, we just took his suggestions and said, bring us whatever you think we’d like.  This is my kind of place!  The bread, cheeses, and sausage were outstanding and, the roast pork we had for an entrée was one of the best dishes to be had anywhere.  It paired perfectly with the local white blend wine that he suggested for us.  The chocolate pot de crème dessert was choco bliss.  Everything was made in-house and, with dessert we had a local cinnamon honey whiskey (also made in-house) that was dangerously delicious at 100 proof.  But wait, there’s more!  Then our gracious host poured us some of his 30-year-old tawny port.  Holy mother of wow!  Nectar of the Gods, I tell you!  Oh, and Bairra is an eight-minute walk from our place.  Pretty much everything you could possibly need is within easy walking distance.  Yes, I think we have chosen wisely!

The Longest Day Continued.

Jiver simmered down once we got off the plane in Newark.  Ok, I thought, we’re almost halfway there.  Our bags were checked all the way to Porto so, now we could check-in for the flight and relax.  The check-in agent looked over our dog papers and issued our boarding passes.  No problem.

As we waited to get through security, a fire alarm started going off, and it was LOUD!  Jiver did not like it at all.  He started to growl, and threatened to start barking when, after about ten minutes, it finally stopped.  False alarm, thank God.  We made it through security without incident and went to find our gate.  We had about three hours to kill, and we found a Vino Volo near our gate.  Perfect.  We stopped to have a drink and a nosh. 

Vino Volo is a great concept that serves good healthy-ish food and good wines to go with them.   A great place to hang out at the airport, a dreadful place to work.  Yes, I worked for Vino Volo at DIA in Denver for about a year.  It’s ok if you are willing to cook food, serve wine, bus tables, and wash dishes by yourself for up to 40-50 people at a time.  But that is another story.

Jiver sacked out by the table, and after some food and drink, we made our way to the gate, hoping that this plane ride would be better than the first.  I had overheard a gate agent say that the plane was not full and that there were about 40 empty seats.  That should help.  We got on the plane, and the row in front of us was almost empty so, we agreed that after take off, Joe would move up to that row, and we would let Jiver have the seat next to me.  He whined and panted for the first 45 minutes but, once we were at cruising altitude, we put his blanket on the seat, and he laid there through the flight.  Finally, he was ok.  We figured that he did not like the vibrations of the plane when he had to stay on the floor.

It is stunning how different the attitudes are between US and Euro airlines.  Everyone is so uptight and stressed out on the US flights and so much more relaxed on the European flights.  The TAP Portugal flight crew was great.  They loved Jiver and were fine with him sitting next to me.  Also, the food is so much better on the Euro flights.  Oh, and no charge for wine either.  We had a delicious baked cod in cream sauce with spinach with mashed potatoes, and a nice white wine to accompany it.  We weren’t even there yet, and already I preferred my new country of choice to my country of origin.

When the plane started its descent, Jiver got nervous again.  This time, he only whined and panted for about the last half hour.  Whew. We made it to the ground and arrived in Porto.  Now, we just had to get through customs, passport, and vet check.

I took Jiver to find a doggie rest area but couldn’t find one.  There was an area with some planters, and he christened the Porto airport right there.  After cleaning up after him, I found the veterinary office.  The doctor was waiting for us there, and it only took about ten minutes for her to sign off on us bringing Jiver into Portugal.  Now customs.  We presented our box of spirits and wine from Colorado, and they opened it.  The officer examined our stash and asked, to drink with friends?  And, I said yes.  He said, ok and we were off.  It took about 30 minutes to get into the country, through customs, and have Jiver checked in by the vet.  Portugal, what a country!  It might have something to do with the fact that we arrived at 5:30am.  There was a cab driver waiting outside arrivals, and he transported us to our Airbnb.  After a year of planning and waiting, we finally arrived in Porto.  Ha-le-freakin’-lu-jah!

View from our table at Adega Sao Nicolo, Porto. (A fantastic seafood restaurant.)

We should get a prize for all we’ve been through.  Oh yeah, being here IS the prize! 😉

Hold, please.

After our visa appointment in San Francisco and some breakfast, we headed back to the airport.  Joe flew back to Denver, and I went on to L.A. to see family there.

I texted our realtor in Portugal and asked if he would be willing to be our reference, and he responded that he would be glad to.  It’s a good thing that he agreed to help us, once again, since we don’t know anyone else over there!  Thank you, Rui Castro!  You are our hero!

It was fun to catch up with friends and family and be reminded of why I wouldn’t want to live in L.A. again.  An hour to get from the west side to the valley during rush hour.  Really, it takes an hour to get just about anywhere in a car in L.A.   Pass on that action.  At least, the weather was nice.  The wining and dining were great, and it was a nice distraction from knowing that we would be stuck in the US for at least another probably eight weeks.

I was warned about the snail’s pace of government bureaucracy in Portugal but, when I returned to Denver and FedExed the last documents to the consulate, I tried to email them as well.  All emails have been returned as undeliverable.  There is a phone number on the website that states that the Portuguese consulate is currently not taking phone calls or returning messages.  There was an SOS email to which I sent a note saying that I had FedExed documents to them and would they please confirm receipt of said documents.  I received a reply that my email was received and nothing else.  Ugh!  They did warn us, but the complete lack of communication is disconcerting, to say the least!

On the heels of all this, a hurricane hit Portugal on October 13th.  The first one of this magnitude to hit in 176 years!  Awesome.  Luckily, by the time it hit landfall, hurricane Leslie was downgraded to a tropical depression and did the most damage to Lisbon.  where a beachside restaurant was destroyed and the roof of a stadium blown off.  I texted our fairy Godfather, Rui, and he replied that Porto was OK, just a lot of wind and rain.  So, our place is vacant but still standing.  Hallelujah.  Thank God for small favors!

So, now we wait.  The Portuguese consulate has our passports, and I guess that is about all we can do.  That and cross our fingers and pray to God!  I’m also guessing that it will be December before we get our visas, at the rate we’re going.  And I wanted to be out of here before last summer!  Haha.  Now it looks like we will have to endure half the winter in BFE, Denver, Colorado, USA.

Here’s to hoping for a mild one courtesy of El Nino.

Our gracious host/landlord is hosting Thanksgiving and has invited us, which is so nice and, obviously, we will attend, but have I mentioned how much I hate turkey?  Why do Americans think it is so great?  Oh, never mind.  There are many things that Americans love that I don’t care for, which is one of the many reasons we have got to get out of here!  Holding.  And dreaming of Portuguese food!

Grilled cod dinner at Churrasqueira Kinay in Porto.

Love Me Some Porto.

Admittedly, with a two week visit to Portugal, we have barely scratched the surface of places in the country where we would like to be.  But between Lisbon and Porto, we really liked Porto the best.  They even have a few craft breweries.  They remind me of where Denver was with microbreweries 20 years ago.  Cool spots, good beer, and so much potential.  Nortada was our favorite.  It reminded me of The Rock Bottom Brewery when it was new.  Nortada is new, and if you like craft beer you should check it out if you are ever in Porto.  It is located right in the center of the city and not only are the brews good, but the staff is very friendly and knowledgeable.  Portuenese Beer Factory is its formal name, and it is located at 210 Rua de Sa da Bandeira, 4000-427, Porto, Portugal.  Their website is:  https:// loja.fcpornuenese.pt.

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Nortada Portunese beer

Did I mention our criteria for a place to relocate?  Great food, wine, and weather are foremost.  So, we add beer, and we are there in Porto.  But what about the city’s namesake drink?  Port:  it’s not just for after-dinner anymore!  Port is a fortified wine that is amazing in its versatility.  Not just a sweet after-dinner drink, it comes in many forms, and white port is one of them.

We visited Barros port house and got to sample a 30-year-old white port.  Dangerously delicious is a phrase that comes to mind.  A little sweet with a plethora of flavors that go on for days.  Floral peach nose with flavors of caramel and lightly nutty flavors.  Wow, it was so good that even though we were tasting many ports vintage and otherwise we had to drink this one.

Tasting Cellar at Barros Port Winery.

As beverage pros, when one tastes a lot of alcohol, one spits so as not to get deliriously drunk.  And Port is no slouch in the ABV (alcohol by volume) department coming in at 16-20% alcohol.  It is fortified with brandy.  This came about to preserve it on the long trips overseas to Britain, where it became popular in the 1700s.  It is the third oldest protected wine region, after Tokai in Hungary (1730) and Chianti in Italy (1716).  In 1756 the General Company of Viticulture of the Upper Douro or Douro Wine Company was founded to guarantee the quality of the product and fair pricing for consumers.  The making of and history of Port is a study unto itself.  Check it out on that Google thing.  I hear it is catching on.

Back to the drinking part. Dry white port makes an excellent aperitif.  On the rocks, with a twist, it is super refreshing in the summer.  There are plenty of great port cocktails to try as well.  See any good bar book for recipes.

Our VIP tour of Barros was fabulous, fun and informative.  In addition to the white port, we got to try several vintages and single-vineyard ports, all of which were outstanding.  Because they are fortified, a good port will age well for decades.

White Port at Porto Cruz

By the time we finished our tour, it was lunchtime.  Our Uber driver had recommended Porto Cruz as an excellent option.  They have a beautiful 4th floor dining room with a view of the city of Vila Nova de Gaia, which is across the river from Porto and is where all the port houses age their wines.  Once we were seated, a server came over with a bottle and asked if we were driving?  We answered no, and he poured us a glass of chilled white Port.  Again, off dry and a perfect aperitif.  Is there no end to the magic deliciousness?  I hope not!

Quinta da Foz Port house boat with view of the bridge to Porto.

Francesinha

Our first full day in the city of Porto was a Sunday.  So, we followed the lead of the locals and went looking for a place to have brunch.  One of the regional dishes is the Francesinha.  And after scouting out a few possibilities, we landed at a place with an inviting patio that offered some good-looking food.  The funny thing about restaurants in Portugal and other parts of Europe is that they have pictures of all the food outside instead of a simple menu like we do in the States.  It strikes one as fast food like, because that is where we see it here, but all the restaurants do it over there.  Makes sense, especially in towns where people visiting from all over the world.  So, don’t let that throw you. Even the better places have pics of their dishes posted outside.

Wikipedia lists the Francine, (as I like to call it for short) as a “sandwich” originally from Porto.  But it is really a unique dish all its own.  It translates to little Frenchie, and if you are vegetarian or, vegan you might want to stop reading now!  Here’s what it is:  a large slab of bread topped with wet cured ham, Portuguese Linguiça sausage, steak or roast meat, and a copious amount of melted cheese.  But wait, there’s more!  The bread, meat, and cheese are served swimming in a tomato beer sauce and served with French fries to dip in the sauce.  The Francesinha is a gut bomb extraordinaire.  Perfect hangover food.

 
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Francesinha, waugh!

I should mention that in most cases, I would not touch food like this with a ten-foot cattle prod, being something of a health freak, but of course, we had to try it, since it is the signature dish of Porto.  Yeah, it was awesomely delicious.  I can’t believe I ate the whole thing, that’s how good it was.  We tried the Francine another time during our time in Porto.  They do vary from restaurant to restaurant.  For me, the secret is having really fresh, crisp fries for the sauce.  As crazy as it sounds, it was magically delicious and didn’t weigh me down as much as I expected.  Could have something to do with all the walking we did.  In any case, when in Porto:  try the Francesinha or little Frenchie, Francine!

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Blue Tile Building Art.

After such an excellent brunch, walking is certainly in order.  One of the most beautiful visuals in Porto is the tile work on some of the buildings.  There are entire scenes depicted in blue and white tile all over town.  One of the best examples of this tile can be seen in the Sao Bento train station in downtown Porto.  The lobby of this station is a masterpiece of tile art.

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Tile work on the building of our Airbnb.
 

Between the historic buildings and the tile work, just walking around the city is like visiting a museum!

On to Porto.

After four days in Lisbon we took the train to Porto.  We did have a little miscommunication with our cab driver, who thought we wanted to go to the aeroPORTO.  When we realized that we were almost to said airport, we told him that we wanted to take the train, trem, trem!  To Porto, muito obrigada. (Thank you very much.)

This was one of my first blunders with the language. Train, as in train station, is estação de comboio. Trem, is another word for a train.  Little did I know.

No biggie, only about 15 minutes lost there.  We stopped for um café (a coffee.  Must have coffee in the AM!) and made our way to the gate for the train to Porto.  It is about a three-hour trip on the express train which is very pleasant and comfortable.  Plenty of time for a good read, some study or, a snooze.  They serve coffee on the train, we soon found out, and it was quite good and a screaming deal for one Euro.

What is that chick doing in the Porto sculpture?

By the time we arrived in Porto, we were hungry.  So, after we checked into our Airbnb, we took off to tour the town on foot.  Our hostess gave us a map with a list of the best places to eat, and we were off to seek delicious internal nourishment.

Porto is quite hilly and reminded me a lot of San Francisco.  Oh, and beautiful, beautiful, wish I was still there.  I had done a little research myself (Thank you, Rick Steves.) and, we set off to find Casa Guedes, famous for its pork sliders.  It was a bit of a hike, but we found it, and of course, there was a line out the door.  We were tired and hungry and almost blew it off to go elsewhere, but there were only four or five others ahead of us, so I insisted, we’ve gotta suck it up and try these.  After about ten minutes, we reached the counter to order.

The place is TINY, and when you get to the register, you had better know what you want.  This is what you want: pork slider with cheese and a glass or bottle of the house sparkling rose, which was not on the menu, as near as I could tell.

We sat at the three-seat bar and waited for our food.  Behind the bar was a man with a giant side of pork swimming in roast pork juicy deliciousness.  We were getting high on the fumes.  This was going to be good.

Magically delicious!  Casa Guedes pernil sande with Serra cheese.

Holy mother of the best pork sandwich you have ever had!  And the rose wine with it, heaven.  There were only about three or four small tables inside.  Most of the seating was outside on the patio.  It was a little chilly, but we sat outside and enjoyed our gastronomic bliss.  Joe had a Super Bock beer, which was good with the world’s best roast pork sandwiches that melted in our mouths, but the sparkling rose really was the perfect pairing.  This was one of the best meals that we had on our entire trip.  A simple, taste treat sensation and all for about 17 Euros for the two of us.  This is what I’m talking about.  Welcome to Porto!   When do we move in?