Porto – Before and After the Camino! Part 2: After

We thought we would be returning from the Camino bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. We were wrong. All three of us had foot issues. There wasn’t a non-limper among us. But we were still up for continuing our adventures in Porto. Maybe just a little more slowly…

The Half Rabbit! Little ole’ me at the Half Rabbit, R. de Santa M.nha 5-39, 4400-290 Vila Nova de Gaia, Portugal.

Checklist:

  • Vila Nova de Gaia
  • Half Rabbit
  • Port Wine Tasting
  • Eat With
  • Livraria Lello
  • Burmester
  • 6-Bridge Douro River Boat Tour
  • Douro Valley Wine Tour

One of the first things on this nerd’s list was the HALF RABBIT! I just had to see it! In person!

We walked across the bridge and entered the world of Gaia. The Douro separates the city of Porto from the city of Gaia. And we quickly found out that Gaia was just as happening a place as Porto! It was in Gaia that I needed to find my half rabbit.

If you look at the pic above, you’ll see just how huge this sculpture truly is. I can hardly see myself in the photo. I wanted it for perspective. This rabbit is HUGE. Ever since I first discovered the Half Rabbit, it has fascinated me. It’s made from trash and recycled goods collected by the city of Gaia. Created by Portuguese artist Bordallo II (animal art out of repurposed materials is their thing), the Half Rabbit serves as a critique of society’s wasteful ways. I think it’s fair to say it’s also a call to sustainability.

Makes you think. It’s beautiful, but it really makes one think about the amount of trash we accumulate, the landfills filling up all over the world.

The Half Rabbit is in the same neighbourhood as all the Port wine companies that dot the riverside on the Gaia side of the Douro. Our next stop, of course, was a quick tasting…

You can get tastings at various different restaurant patios in Gaia. This one we had was 5 for 5 Euros deal, which, come on…is exceptional value. You really can’t beat that. And the Port was fantastic.

On to the next thing! Wherever you go in the world, do yourself a favour and check out what’s happening there on EATWITH. Eatwith have everyday people in the cities you visit offering to host you at their house for a meal. It’s also a great place to check out other eating related events in the area you’re staying, like food tours and special offers, etc. I’ve been excited to try them for a while now. I was not disappointed! We booked an evening called THE PORTO STORIES: ON CITY, COD AND PORT with hosts Manuel and Jelena. Our hosts were entertaining and gracious. They made a fabulous meal and told wonderful stories about their city, cod, and much more. It was a thoroughly entertaining evening, accompanied by wonderful food and drink. So glad we booked it! Wherever you go, if EATWITH is available in the area, you will find so many interesting things to do. Check it out!

My only wish is that we had given ourselves another day to recuperate from our recent travels prior to booking this evening. We were all walking zombies by the time we arrived at Manuel and Jelena’s house. We thoroughly enjoyed it, but the exhaustion had us dragging a bit at the end of the evening.

The next day…drumroll please! The moment I’d been waiting for! Livraria Lello! Such a beautiful interior in this historic bookstore. And I had only been able to see it on Instagram and YouTube. I’m a huge fan of bookstores in general, and if you’ve read any of this blog you will know I have a favourite and that it’s in Paris and a stone’s throw away from Notre Dame. But this one? I’ve been dying to get inside.

Even if you book a time online prior to your arrival, you’re going to have to wait in a line. The frenzy to get into this one is even more grand scale than it is at Shakespeare & Company.
An historic plaque outside the bookstore.
The stained glass ceiling. “Decus in Labore”, which means “Dignity in Work”

The store, as seen from above at the top of the staircase.
It was almost impossible to get a shot that wasn’t a little bit blurred. It was constant motion in that store. Such a different vibe than Shakespeare & Company. People are here to SEE the store. People are at Shakespeare to FEEL the store.

Bookstore selfie!

It was a wonderful store and I grabbed a couple of books. One for myself as a souvenir and one for the grandboys because that’s what I do…I buy them books.

I got myself a special Livraria Lello edition of one of my favourite books, Gatsby.

After the bookstore, we decided we were not yet finished with Gaia. We had a Port wine tour booked and we needed some lunch. The riverside on the Porto side is filled with restaurant patios. But it’s good to remember that so is the riverside on the Gaia side. We had seen some nice restaurants over there and wanted to give them a go!

First! It was time to once again attempt to save the world. I did this in Lisbon in 2019 and nothing seemed to happen. Thought I’d try again…

Off to Gaia!

A quick stop at the FANTASTIC WORLD OF PORTUGUESE CAN made me realize maybe us Canadians don’t put enough stock into our canned goods?

Oh, and did I mention the Casa Portuguesa Pastel Bacalhau? Once you’ve had one of these lovelies, you will understand the need to have a huge emporium erected just to showcase their yummy goodness. Step inside and have a bite! There’s a LOT to see in Gaia!

For lunch, I highly recommend Faberninha do Manel.

I’m not going to suggest which of the plethora of Port cellars in Gaia you should visit. Do the research and decide which one you should go to. Or go to two or three or many. It’s up to you. We chose Burmester, which is the first one you come to after you cross the bridge from Porto (it’s right at the foot of the bridge if you cross over on the bottom span). The tour guide was lovely and we had a great time.

We arranged our Burmester tour with the 6-bridge Douro River boat tour. Get both together in a package with a discount.

The 6-bridge tour was next and we had to return to the Porto side for that. It was nice…I’m glad we did it. It wasn’t the Seine, but it was well worth it for the experience.

The last planned event on our itinerary was an all-day affair. We booked a tour of the Douro Valley that included lunch, a vineyard tour and tasting, and a boat-ride. Before we even set out, I have to say I was feeling a bit over-vacationed. I think we were all feeling a little exhausted and warn out, but we kept on trucking. This was to be a highlight of our trip.

Only, it wasn’t.

Don’t get me wrong, it was great. We just didn’t anticipate how mind-numbingly over it we were when it came to travelling. By travelling, I mean…we spent a lot of our day in a bus. Do the tour. It’s great, really. But be prepared for bus time.

The Douro Valley is beautiful, and worth seeing. Maybe do it at the beginning of your trip when you’re still fresh.

Photos from our day in the Douro Valley:

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For all intents and purposes, that was the end of our Porto (and beyond) adventures. We had the next morning, but then we were off. It was time to return home to Canada.

These were just a few of the things you can do while in Porto. It’s an amazing city and it shouldn’t be overlooked when planning your European vacation.

 

Porto – Before and After the Camino! Part One: Before

As the city of Porto is one of the beginning points of the Caminho Português, we decided to stay a couple of days here prior to setting out on our Caminho. We would check out the city a bit while getting over the flight and adjusting to the time change. We stayed at Hotel Peninsular. It seemed to be in the heart of the city, but far enough away from the river that we wouldn’t be gauged for the views.

Checklist:

  • São Bento Train Station
  • Porto Cathedral
  • Sandemans Free Tour
  • Francesinha
  • Livraria Lello
  • Dom Luís I Bridge
  • Centro Portugues de Fotografia

 

Turned out it was about three minutes away from one of the places on our Porto bucket list. The São Bento Train Station was just down the street.

The station’s walls and ceilings are covered with 22,000 tiles – azulejos – by Jorge Colaço, painter, caricaturist and potter. It has a reputation for being one of the most beautiful stations in the world.

It was a nice surprise to accidentally stumble upon the station immediately after leaving the hotel.

It really is quite stunning. And finding it just like that gave us hope that the rest of the city would just as easily open up to us. And it did.

Once we oohed and awed over the gorgeous tile work inside the station, we were ready to continue our First Day walk. And right outside the doors of the station, Porto Cathedral (Sé do Porto) came into view! It was just another short walk away. This historic cathedral is the starting point of the Caminho if one is starting in Porto (you can actually begin the Caminho Português in Lisbon). There’s a rough and confusing history of the Roman Catholic Cathedral itself, but if you dig for it you will find that they broke ground on it in 1110 and it was completed in 1737. But you will also notice that there were changes well into the 1700s, the 1800s, and the 1900s. Not quite the work in progress at the Sagrada Família in Barcelona, which has literally been under construction since the mid 1800s and is not yet completed. Porto Cathedral is more of a fixer upper project that has undergone changes. Whether you’re in Porto for the Camino or as a tourist specifically to see the city, you shouldn’t miss the cathedral.

A quick heads up, though. This is not your typical cathedral. It would not be difficult to get turned around and find yourself lost in and around this sprawling cathedral.

We toured around the periphery for a while, climbing stairs, coming out into courtyards, finding room after room to explore. We even found a tower to climb up into, where we discovered the first of many perfect locations to find the breathtaking views of the city we discovered on social media prior to our visit.

We arrived in this location from a series of walkways and stairs found within the cathedral.
The cathedral quickly became a series of arches, stairs, and passageways…each opening onto something new and exciting. Finally, we found a tower to climb…

The views from the tower made us excited to get down there, and into the city…into the lively riverside neighbourhood we already knew to be bustling with excitement… but we hadn’t even seen the ‘church’ part of the cathedral yet. Where was the narthex, the nave, the transepts, the apse, the ambulatory, where was the ‘church’ in all of this rambling architecture?

A few more twists and turns, and we were there. And then is was time to continue our walk throughout the city. Our First Day walk of discovery. The city was opening up and letting us in. It was so much more than a starting point on an adventure that would have us walking away from it. I was glad we had decided to spend a few days here AFTER our Camino was over. You can tell at first glance that a day or two wouldn’t be enough time to give to Portugal’s second largest city.

We quickly got ourselves down to the river, where we knew we would find places to eat. We were famished.

It was time to finally try the sandwich created in Porto and made internet famous on YouTube and Instagram. It was francesinha time! After watching YouTubers diving into this sandwich for months on end while researching the city, it was finally our turn! 

What is the francesinha sandwich? Ham, steak, two types of homemade sausage, bologna, and cheese between two thick layers of bread. It’s often topped with a fried egg. THEN it’s smothered in a beer gravy and served surrounded by fries. Basically, it’s literal heart-attack on a plate…and worth the trip to Porto for. I don’t even like steak!

Plus, whatever outdoor patio you choose to eat at…you’ll have a great view of Dom Luís I Bridge and the Douro River. Built from 1881 to 1886, this double-decker bridge is a gorgeous work of art…and the views from the top are stunning (just be careful when you get up there–the city metro line crosses through the centre of the open top span…right beside the pedestrians…without a safety barrier between them)!

There is a lot to see in Porto. Having just arrived from our trans-Atlantic flight, though, we were ready to call it a night. One more day of discovery ahead of us before waking up the following morning and heading out on our journey along the coast and up into Spain.

Does every city in the world have these signs now?
Just a quick walk past Livraria Lello this time! We would save the inside for after our Camino, when we were back in the city for a longer period of time!
Clérigos Tower. We never did go inside, but quite the sight to see it.

It was in this neighbourhood, near the Clérigos Tower, that we found a fun free museum. It was a building just standing there with the door open. I had to walk inside, I had to see what it was…

Centro Portugues de Fotografia

It was the museum of photography, and it was absolutely free to enter. The Portuguese Centre of Photography is found inside an old prison, and it has a spectacular collection of cameras dating back to the 19th century.

It’s rather foreboding as you enter in past the reception, all cells and iron bars and repression. But it opens up into several floors of fascinating photographic memorabilia! If you love cameras, it’s a MUST SEE stop on your Porto visit. FREE!

Wherever we are in Europe (Brussels, Lisbon, Madrid, Paris, etc), we plan for at least ONE Sandemans tour, the FREE one. We’ve never been disappointed. It gives you a great sense of the city you’re visiting, the tour guides are ALWAYS spectacular, and they give you an overview of the paying tours that they have on offer. Please note that the FREE tour is technically free…but that tipping the guides is encouraged. Once you finish your tour, no matter the city, you will happily tip your guide. PORTO FREE TOUR.

The guide walked us throughout the city, entertaining us with historical facts and showing us some of the awesome little side-streets and architecture.

We enjoyed the FREE tour so much, we booked for another tour immediately following it with the same guide. This one cost a nominal fee, and took you through a different part of the city. We always want to see as much as we can!

We ended our second day by the river, with food and drink…

In the morning, we would leave for our Camino adventure. We had a really good sense of the city we would return to after our Camino adventure was over. We still had a huge Porto bucket list, but it would have to wait a couple of weeks for our return!

 

 

 

 

Senda Litoral Route – Caminho Português – September 2022 – Day 1

The first step!

After walking down the hill from our hotel, we found our first arrow and began day one of our rigorous ten day journey!

On Saturday, September 10th, 2022, we three (Myself, Michael, and his sister Jenifer) began our walk on the Senda Litoral Route of the Caminho Português. We would do this 280km route to the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela in 10 days.

Day One was to be our longest day of all! We marked it in our notes as 33.9kms, from the Camino Ninja app, knowing full well the distance is always inaccurate no matter what resource you refer to. NEVER is the KM count correct. And the actual walking distance is ALWAYS longer than the promised count in the apps and books. And, yes, this includes the sainted John Brierley and his constantly updated Camino guides. At least in my experience. Whatever route you plan, keep in mind that you may find yourself walking a KM or two more than you planned on. Our day one was Porto to Vila do Conde.

I call this one our LITTLE DID THEY KNOW selfies. We were fresh and new and unaware of the arduous day ahead of us.

Before setting out, I had heard so many people suggest taking public transportation to the outskirts of Porto. But I couldn’t fathom NOT walking out of the city. We were going to begin in the hub, by the Luís I Bridge, and we were going to see every inch of the river as it made its way to the Atlantic.

Streetcars passed us by as we made our way along the river, excited for it to meet up with the ocean. Sure enough, the streetcars carried backpacked pilgrims choosing to transit out of Porto and begin their walks further along where the river met with the Atlantic.

Let me add here that there is no shame in beginning the journey after taking transit out of the city. I’m glad we walked the stretch, as it was beautiful, but I could definitely see the advantage of starting further along.

The last of the 6 bridges in the Porto 6 Bridges Boat Tour – We passed under it on our walk out of Porto.

There was certainly a lot to see on our way out of Porto. It really is a beautiful walk. Depending on where your first day’s rest stop is, it’s definitely worth the walk. But, if like us, your first day ends in Vila do Conde, it really does add a lot of extra steps to an already long day.

Just before reaching the ocean, we came upon this statue. A patron saint wishing us well on our journey? Bom Caminho, they seemed to whisper, hand on heart, as the sun warmed his angel wings. A blessing? We’ll take it…

In no time, we reached the YouTube famous lighthouse!

It was really something to see how powerful the waves were as they crashed in and hit the rocks beneath the tiny lighthouse as we reached the ocean. There are two side by side lighthouses here. It was well worth taking a break to walk out on the catwalk of the first and bigger lighthouse and view the second (smaller and prettier) lighthouse beside it.

We were soon in Matosinhos, which, if I remember correctly, is sort of still considered Porto. Or, rather, Porto District. I’ve yet to come to terms with the way cities and districts and towns are divided in Europe. At any rate, Matosinhos is listed in Wikipedia as “a city and a municipality located in the northern Porto District of Portugal, bordered in the south by the city of Porto.” Sounds confusing, right?

Since deciding to do the Portugal route, I’ve been excited to see this little building with the cool Camino wrap! It’s a bit Instagram famous…

There were some really great views on our first day. Back home in Toronto, we’re pretty far from any ocean. It was pretty amazing to walk beside one for most of the day. Just to hear the constant breathing of its shoreline as we made our way along it was quite spectacular.

At one point we met up with a mother/daughter pilgrim duo and we exchanged the courtesies of capturing the moment on film for each other!
Our DAY ONE happy faces of our 2nd Camino together (Frances, 2019)! We were, by this point, already feeling the tingling hints of what was to come of our impending foot troubles.

Day One out of Porto and into Vila do Conde was a mix of terrain. There was boardwalk and cobbles and sidewalks and sand. Nothing too rigorous. But too much of anything takes its toll. We gave ourselves a super long day and it was to set the pace for our overly-exuberant 10 day schedule. It wasn’t impossible… because, in the end, we did it. But I wouldn’t suggest doing the Senda Litoral route in any less than 12 days.

Just one of the many terrains found on the first day of the Senda Litoral route. Cobbles would eventually pose a problem as we were able to feel every edge and bump as the blisters began to take hold…

There was definitely no end to the ocean’s beauty on that first day. The boardwalk was gorgeous and offered such incredible views, while giving us such ease of walking. Navigating this path on sand alone would have been a little bit of a nightmare.

Mimi on the beach… (excuse the 80s Jane Siberry reference, but I will always be an 80s music person. And that person in the surf is forever Mimi in my memory, whether it’s their real name or not.

It was a LONG first day. I don’t know if I actually said this enough times. PORTO to VILA DO CONDE is a LONG HAUL day, especially if you choose NOT to take public transport out of the city centre. Here’s the step-counter from hotel to alburgue…

You will notice the difference in KM from the projected to the actual. And this is something that happens every day on the Camino. No matter what Camino you are on.

We saw some pretty things along the way.

Day One ended at HI Vila do Conde – Pousada de Juventude. The link is directly to the accommodation, but we booked everything through booking dot com. If you’re looking for your accommodation in Vila do Conde, you can’t go wrong with this place. It was clean and pretty. And it offered a free breakfast.

HI Vila do Conde – Pousada de Juventude

Breakfast in Vila do Conde.
First day stamps, from our Hotel to our hostel…

END OF DAY 1 – Vila do Conde, Portugal.

I’m also an author. One of my novels, a young adult story, is set on the Camino Frances route of the Camino de Santiago. THE CAMINO CLUB. It follows six teens on their journey from Ponferrada to Santiago de Compostela. The teens walk with court appointed counselors in a juvenile delinquent program that will see them free of their records once they make the journey to Santiago…a clean slate. Think of a more diverse The Breakfast Club, but on the Camino de Santiago over two weeks instead of in a school library on a Saturday. Give it a look! It’s available wherever books are sold. Here’s the Amazon USA link.

 

See You in September…

I think we’ve established that I write about my September every year. For some reason, it seems to be my busiest and/or most exciting month. Thinking about this, I just realized how many songs there are about September. Like, A LOT of them! It’s even possible it’s the most sung about month of the year.

See you in September. Do you remember the 21st night of September? You were my September song, tell me where have you gone? Come September, everything wrong gonna be alright.  Oh, I watch myself depending on September when it comes. Ring out the bells again like we did when spring began, wake me up when September ends. It’s going to be September now, for many years to come, every heart adjusting to the strict September drum.

Perhaps, as Leonard Cohen sang, my heart is adjusted to the beat of September’s drum.

At any rate, here’s my annual September post! It’s a busy one this year!

⊗September 13th, I complete another trip around the sun. Hard to believe I will be turning 56 this time. I guess this puts me somewhere into the September of my life. The weather is still beautiful, but you begin to get the hints of the passing of the season. It’s the crispness in the morning, the tang of leaves realizing it is soon time for them to let go, the burning sun lighting up the sky with a special brightness even though its heat is not quite as severe as it once was. There are a million signs that appear in September, warning us that the calendar is slowing drawing its curtains on another year. Even the official end of summer lands in this month. Not to mention, it’s the first BER month.

Like the year on a calendar, we all wind down. I think 56 in human years is a good estimation of the September of one’s life. Right? Things are still good–still great–but you’re getting hints of the impending changes.

Even though it goes against everything that would make sense, September might in fact be my favourite month. SUMMER is my season. Hot, hot, hot…that’s my favourite temperature. And September comes in with the knowing and dreaded whisper, “Summer is dying. The halcyon days will soon be over.” September prepares me, against my wishes (and better judgement), for the coming ugliness of winter. And yet, it’s still the most magical of months.

⊗SEPTEMBER 7th. Let’s rewind a few days! The 7th is the beginning of this year’s magic! That’s the day we board a plane for Portugal. We fly into Lisbon and then take a second flight to Porto, where we will begin a truncated version of the Senda Litoral Route of the Caminho Português (Portuguese Camino, The Portuguese Way, Camino Portugués)! Due to time constraints, we cannot start at the customary beginning point in Lisbon. Here’s our itinerary, which begins on September 10th after a couple of days in Porto:

We will be travelling with John Brierley once again. I think a LOT of pilgrims travel with Brierley’s guides. It almost feels de rigueur at this point.
Porto – Vila Do Conde – 33.9km
Vila Do Conde – Esposende – 26.4km
Esposende – Viana do Castelo – 27.3km
Viana do Castelo – Caminha – 27.1km
Caminha – Baiona – 31.2km
Baiona – Vigo – 26.8km
Vigo – Ponte Samaio – 24.5km
Ponte Sampaio – Caldas de Reis – 33.3km
Caldas de Reis – A Picarana – 28.4km
A Picarana – Santiago de Compostela – 16km
Santiago de Compostela back to Porto by bus.

I’ll wake up in Viana do Castelo on my birthday, and make my way to Caminha. As we walk this leg of the Camino, something else will take place. The release of my 8th novel!

Book of Dreams drops on the 13th of September as we’re walking somewhere along the coast of Portugal having, hopefully, the time of our lives!

The Book.

We don’t come back to Canada until September 25th. The better part of my September this year will unfold in Europe, as we walk the Portuguese coast up into Spain and into the city of Santiago de Compostela. I’ll be arriving at the Cathedral for the 3rd time (previously, I arrived there from the Camino Frances in 2014 & 2019). From there, we will spend some time in Santiago before returning to Porto for a few days. Much is planned, from a Douro Valley Port wine tour, to gastronomical adventures in and around the city.

My September stops quietly back in Toronto, where I will be preparing for my October 1st BOOK OF DREAMS book signing event at the Oshawa Centre Chapters-Indigo bookstore(click this link to learn all about the details of the event)!

If you haven’t yet read the book I wrote after my first experience on the Camino de Santiago, you can read more about THE CAMINO CLUB here(it’s the first book on the Books page of this website).

2 books, 2 years apart!

Now we just have to wait for the calendar to flip over another page!

Come September, everything wrong gonna be alright.  Oh, I watch myself depending on September when it comes...

 

Our Camino Portugues – Senda Litoral Route

We are all set to go forth into the world again, once September comes.

This time, we will be doing the Senda Litoral Route of the Caminho Português (Portuguese Camino, The Portuguese Way, Camino Portugués). And, for the first time, there will be 3 of us walking! Can’t wait for this one… to walk along the coastline of Portugal up and into Spain and make our way to the city of Santiago de Compostela!

Credencials or Pilgrim Passports. These ones were issued for the Holy Year (which is 2021 with a special extension to 2022).

Our walk will be broken down as below, as far as we have it planned so far.

Porto – Vila Do Conde – 33.9km (we are thinking of shaving some of this off by crossing through Porto.)
Vila Do Conde – Esposende – 26.4km
Esposende – Viana do Castelo – 27.3km
Viana do Castelo – Caminha – 27.1km
Caminha – Baiona – 31.2km
Baiona – Vigo – 26.8km
Vigo – Ponte Samaio – 24.5km
Ponte Sampaio – Caldas de Reis – 33.3km
Caldas de Reis – A Picarana – 28.4km
A Picarana – Santiago de Compostela – 16km
Santiago de Compostela back to Porto by bus.
 

We will be walking this Camino in mid-September of 2022. The best place to live-follow our adventures will probably be on my INSTAGRAM ACCOUNT. I usually do daily updates there and then condense into a travel blog post after our return.

We will be travelling with John Brierley once again. I think a LOT of pilgrims travel with Brierley’s guides. It almost feels de rigueur at this point.

I know some of the days may seem a bit long in this itinerary. I’m hoping it’s doable as is. This Camino is definitely less mountainous than the Camino Frances, but there is also a little less infrastructure in places. We shall see.

Now, we wait for September to come as we dream of walking along the coastline of the Atlantic Ocean and eventually walking inland and reaching the Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela once again. This time… it will be for the 3rd time for one of us, for the 2nd time for one of us, and for the 1st time for one of us. #CantWait!

 

 

While you’re here, I wrote a novel set on the Camino Frances route. You can check it out at Amazon here: THE CAMINO CLUB

THIS CAMINO IS NOW IN THE RECORD BOOKS! Senda Litoral Route – Caminho Português – September 2022- 280km in 10 days! PORTO, PORTUGAL to SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA, SPAIN.

Here’s a rundown of our 10 days on the Senda Litoral:

DAY 1 LINK

DAY 2 LINK

DAY 3 LINK

DAY 4 LINK

DAY 5 LINK

DAY 6 LINK

DAY 7 LINK

DAY 8 LINK

DAY 9 LINK

DAY 10 LINK