Bem Vindo ao Porto.

Welcome to Porto. We have been living here for almost a month, and we love it.
Porto really is a magical city. It is right up there with Venice, Italy, San Francisco, California, and New Orleans, Louisiana, among my favorite cities in the world. I could say that it is something of a mash-up of San Francisco with its hilliness and New Orleans with the old buildings and ironwork, but it is really unique. The Azueljos tiled buildings are beautiful, stunning, and numerous in the city. The architecture and artistry is a feast for the eyes.

When we moved to Portugal, we chose to live in Vila Nova de Gaia because it was a lot cheaper, near the beach, and a 15-minute car ride from Porto. The reality of it was that while Gaia is physically just across the river from Porto, it is so close and yet so far, as they say.
Gaia is a world away from Porto in mentality. In fact, the city of Gaia’s motto is Todo um Mundo, meaning, all a world unto itself. That it is.

The locals have a saying here, Porto is Porto and Gaia is Gaia. After living in Gaia for a year and a half, I fully understand this saying. Porto is a world-class city, and Gaia is more like a small town or village. This, even though it is physically bigger than Porto in size. Both have their pros and cons.
We may be nearing retirement age, but we still want to be closer to the action of the city, as it turns out.

Sculpture in the Boavista Rotunda with Casa da Música concert hall in the background.

Now instead of having to take an Uber or walk for an hour to get to the metro, we are a 15-minute walk or metro ride from nearly everything. Including the above.

And exploring we will go. Stay tuned.

On the Road Again…

After a year and a half of living in Portugal, we are finally buying a place in Porto. Talk about an ordeal. Buying real estate is a big deal under any circumstances. But doing it in a foreign country and during the biggest pandemic since 1918 adds a whole new level of stress to the process. And I should know, I sold and taught real estate for 20 plus years in the states.

I have owned many properties, but never have I had such a hard time finding the right one. We must have seen 15 or more apartments before we said, this is the one! Of course, our parameters made it a challenge. We needed more space than our bank account could really afford. Oh, and wanting to be centrally located and preferably in Porto added to the challenge.

So True.

We have been in Vila Nova de Gaia for the past 1.5 years, and it is nice enough, but it is as expensive as Porto and a lot more rustica, shall we say. We are talking farm animals here. And excessively barking dogs everywhere. I guess if you don´t mind roosters, chickens, and geese, incessant dog barking shouldn’t bother you.
When people think of cities in Europe, they generally think of old buildings. And there are certainly plenty of those. However, new construction is booming in Portugal. So, our pad is all new inside, completely remodeled, and the outside of the building is being resurfaced as well.
It quite a bit smaller than we are used to, but being in the city is worth it. And we lucked out and got a great deal on it. So, it’s good bye Gaia and hello Porto. And, there will be some delicious local bubbles in our future.

Sparkling Rosé from Piano Wines, Portugal

We just have to survive a week or so in an Airbnb that is a fourth-floor walk-up since our psychotic land-lady won´t give us two more days, and the movers couldn´t accommodate us on the day we should be moving out. Bugger. No problem. At least, we will be in Porto away from the constantly barking dogs. With fresh territory to explore, it will be nice to be back in the city.
So, onward and upward, Porto, here we come.

Famous Wines

Portugal is famous for its Port wines and Vinho Verde. Port wine is an entire subject unto itself. Port is a fortified wine which means that it has a higher alcohol content than most wines. Usually, around 20% alcohol by volume. Generally speaking, Port is considered a dessert wine. However, vintage Ports can be had like unfortified wines and paired with meals.

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The Vineyards at Quinta do Montebravo.

An authentic Port wine must come from the Douro Valley in northern Portugal. The Douro is one of the most stunning wine growing regions in the world. And, it is one of the only regions in the world where foot-stomping is still used to press the grapes. Port wine is versatile and delicious. You should try it if you have not already. It is not just for old rich guys anymore.

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White Port at Porto Cruz in Vila Nova de Gaia.

A recent trend in the Douro is the making of quality table wines. Here is where Portuguese wines are the underdogs of world wines. They have quality and diversity that is remarkable. However, most of the world is unaware of this. I am here to tell you that Portuguese red and white table wines are fantabulous.

And that brings us to Vinho Verde, which literally means green wine. Green meaning young in this case. Vinho Verde is historically a light white wine that has a little spritz to it and can be a little on the sweet side. It has become more and more popular in the US as a crushable summer white. Here’s a little secret, Vinho Verde comes in a variety of styles, including dry and red! Most of the red Vinho Verde stays in Portugal and it is too bad because it is delicious.

So, your first step in getting to know the wines of Portugal is to get yourself some Port and a good Vinho Verde. Since it is nearly summer, may I suggest a dry white port to start, which you should use to make yourself a port and tonic. Garnish with a slice of orange. Enjoy!

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White port and biscuits at Quinta de Noval porthouse in Vila Nova de Gaia. (Delicious!) White Port makes an excellent aperitif.

New World Order

How about that Covid-19 virus?! 

This means you!

Here’s some of what I’ve been reading in the news from the states:  38% of Americans are avoiding Corona Mexican beer because of the name!  Also, people are avoiding Chinese food because of the connection between the virus and its country of origin.  WOW! 

Some of the things I’ve seen online have only reinforced the contention that the level of stupidity has gone off the charts stateside.  Here are a couple more headlines out there right now: Why America’s Virus Response Looks Like a Patchwork, this from the New York Times, mind you.  Well, Captain Obvious, could it be that America is a patchwork of states that all have different rules?  And if you don’t know this, you might want to go back and study your American history.  Just saying. 

Also, Infected People Without Symptoms Might be Driving the Spread of the Corona Virus.  This one from CNN.  Yup, you heard right.  Now, I am not a science type by any stretch of the imagination but, if I was a betting person, I would bet big that people who are infected and not showing symptoms are driving the spread of this new virus. 

Think about your basic cold viruses. Just from personal experience, I know that when I start coming down with a common cold, I am in denial about it.  Oh, I’m just tired…   Meanwhile, I’m out and about probably infecting every other person with which I come into contact.  I guess only time will tell if this is the case and the big CV is transmitted similarly. 

In the meantime, people are reacting like the dumb, panicky, dangerous animals that they are. Buying out basics at the grocery store so that people who might really need said basics can’t get them.  Amazing and sad, but true to form, people are reacting with a panicked herd mentality. 

Important Safety Tip!

But enough of CV-19 and the blatant stupidity that is a rampant contagion worse than the virus.  It is funny how ahead of the curve we are, already working from home.  We have been homeworkers for over a year now. And have become used to our own company for the most part.  We still have to walk the dog but now taking walks is our main entertainment outside the house.  It’s not so bad, really.  It helps if you have a hermit kind of mentality, to begin with, I guess, which I do. 

Wisteria Blooming in Canidelo, Vila Nova de Gaia.

It is almost spring, and all of the trees are blooming here in the Porto area, and the air is redolent of the white Jasmine that grows in the area.  Nature says, silly humans, life goes on.  And so should we, albeit with the utmost caution. Stay well, everyone!

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! 😉

Buckle up and travel light.

After traveling for the better part of September, we are now about 75% of the way toward our goal of moving to Portugal.  I went solo since it was much cheaper that way, and someone had to hold down the fort and watch the Jiver, our precious soccer paws.

I spent ten days and about $1,800 for airfare, food, and Airbnb to accomplish three goals: find a place to live in Porto, get an NIF number, (which is a Portuguese tax ID number) and open a bank account.  So, here’s the thing: getting the NIF number is not easy.  You must have a reference in Portugal and if you don’t know anyone there, good luck with that!  And when I say reference, I don’t mean someone who’ll say you are OK (though you will need that too), but someone willing to be financially responsible for you should you default on anything.  What you need is a procurador fiscal or financial guarantor.  (I learned these details as I went.)

After two days of spinning my wheels, I started to freak out.  How in the hell was I going to do any of this?  Finally, I found a couple of sites online for the sale and rental of apartments.  Idealista had plenty of offerings, most of which were out of our price range. But I found a few that might work, so I sent messages asking if I could see them.  While I waited for a response regarding seeing some apartments…

I went to Santander bank, which is recommended for ex-pats, and they told me I would need the tax ID number and an address before I could open an account.  So, the next morning I went to the financial services office.  They told me that I would need a reference in Portugal and an address there before they could issue me a NIF number.  Ugh.  Frustration is my business.  I had a reference in my friend who let me use her address in Lisbon to apply for a visa online, but that was not enough.  Add to that the fact that she is moving back to the States in October, and I am now seriously S.O.L.

The funny thing was that I got words of encouragement whenever I was dejected all along the way.  After striking out at the financial services office, I went to breakfast at a place called Mesa 325.  A great place to go if you are ever in the Bonfim neighborhood of Porto.  Which is where I was staying.  There was a sign on the wall that read:  Everything is going to be OK.  EGBOK, thanks, I needed that.  And the overnight oats served with yogurt and fruit is delicious.

Over the next few days, I looked at three listings.  The first was in a neighborhood in Porto called Casa da Musica.  Which is where the concert hall of the same name is located.  I thought I like the sound of that.  I took the metro over and, sadly, the place was a dump for $850 Euros per month.  (My friend was not wrong, Porto is expensive.)

Gaia.Porto
The view from Gaia to Porto

Then, I lined up a couple of showings in Vila Nova de Gaia.  Gaia is across the Douro river from Porto.  It is where they store the port wine for aging.  It is about a fifteen-minute walk from downtown Porto and is beautiful.  The first apartment was it.  Three bedrooms, 1200 square feet, and a km from the beach for 650 Euros per month in a nice quiet neighborhood.  Now we’re talking.  The entry has wallpaper that looks like a bad 70s acid flashback, but that can easily be changed.  Otherwise, it was a good deal compared to what I had seen in Porto proper.  The Remax agent that showed it to me has become our fairy Godfather.  Since we couldn’t even sign a lease agreement legally without the NIF number, he got on the phone until he found someone who could get it for us.  He took a picture of my passport, and I got a picture of Joe’s for him, and he said we’d talk the next day.

He texted me the next morning and said, “Great news, you both now have NIF numbers.   He got the Re-max company’s attorney to agree to be our fiscal guarantor, and overnight we got our tax ID numbers.  Mind you, it will cost us 100 Euros per month until we get our permanent ID cards.  He assures me that it won’t take more than a couple of months and will help us when we get there.

The housing market is so tight in the Porto area that I had to agree to pay a year in advance and sign a three-year contract to secure the place over other applicants.  I was perfectly happy to pay a year of rent in advance.  And, having worked in real estate myself for many years, I know that everything else is negotiable, so I signed the lease agreement.  At which point, I was informed that after a year, we can renegotiate the deal.  Once I left Rui’s office, I went to Millennium BCP bank, which he recommended, and opened an account.  Armed with the NIF document and an address, I could now open an account.

Gaia.Port
White port and biscuits at Quinta de Noval Port house in Vila Nova de Gaia. (Delicious!) My reward for missions accomplished.

Now, I could return to BFE, USA, and finish preparing for our visa appointment in San Francisco.  Whew.  That was a wild ride.  Many thanks to my Airbnb hosts for guiding me, and helping me out when there was a taxi strike the day I returned to Lisbon to catch my flight back to the states!  The Portuguese people are wonderfully friendly and helpful, and I can’t wait to live there.  But we still have a long way to go.

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.

Nor.beer.1
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.

 
Fran.1
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?