Day 9: Sunday, September 17

So Long Lisbon, Hello Porto!

Time to leave Lisbon! We got up this morning at 7:30AM to shower but there was no hot water! Not the best start to the day. We packed what luggage we could, then went down to another satisfying breakfast in the hotel’s dining room.

 After breakfast we went back up to the room to get ready and finish packing. We gathered up our suitcases, went down to the Reception desk, then checked out of the hotel. We had paid for the room in full when we checked in last week but upon checkout we had to pay €10.00 to cover something the Portugal government and hotel industry calls “sticky tax”.

What Is Portugal “Sticky Tax”?

I found out later that the correct name for this tax is “Tourist Tax”. The Tourist Tax is a fee charged to all guests staying in tourist or local accommodation in cities where the tax is in effect. Basically, an extra amount is charged, per night and person, on top of the room rate. The tax first started in Lisbon and is currently applied on overnight stays in the following Portuguese municipalities: Lisbon, Cascais, Sintra, Vila Nova de Gaia,  Mafra, Vila Real de Santo António, Portimão, Santa Cruz (Madeira) and Óbidos.

The goal of this overnight stay tax is to raise funds so that the municipality can invest in infrastructures that support tourism in the city, from public spaces such as roads and sidewalks to preserving the city’s environment, traditional commerce, etc. Since tourism brings more people to these locations, and therefore more wear and tear, many municipalities justify the application of the tax as a necessity to cope with Portugal’s increase in tourists. The amount collected from the Tourist Tax –  usually between €1 and €2 per person per night – is added to the price of the room/accommodation and then allocated to the municipality.

At about 8:45AM we walked to the corner of Rua São Nicolau and Rua dos Sapateiros, just outside the hotel; there I booked an Uber to take us to Oriente Station to catch our train to Porto. The Uber arrived in about five minutes (I love Uber’s efficiency, especially when travelling in Europe). The driver’s name was Marcello; he was exceptionally quiet but got us to Oriente Station safely and in good time. The journey to Oriente seemed to take a long time and I was glad we didn’t attempt it on the Metro with all our suitcases (like our initial arrival in Lisbon). In actuality the trip to the train station took about a half-hour.

We arrived Lisbon Oriente at 9:20, with a cost of €8, plus €2 tip for Marcello. After ascending what felt like miles of stairs with our heavy luggage we reached the Departures area  (at this juncture I stand by my earlier statement about escalators in Portugal: there are damn few of them). Checking the Departure board we could see that our train information was not yet up as it was still a little early, so we found a little waiting area with a café; Vince ordered his customary Americano.

Oriente Station, seen from the waiting area:

Today’s train to Porto is #182 on one of the Alfa Pendular high-speed trains, departing Lisbon at 10:09AM:

The departure platform was finally posted at 10:00 so we made our way up to Track 5 to meet the train; it arrived after a 10 minute wait, then boarding proceeded:

As beautiful in design as the station and the train were, though, it was an utter fiasco boarding this train: so many people with huge cases/luggage, ourselves included. Initially I had planned on stowing our large cases in the train’s lockable luggage storage, but it was overflowing with suitcases. Suitcases also blocked the aisle. There was overhead storage, but it was way, waaaaaaaay up, incredibly high. A kind American guy behind me took pity on the situation and helped me lift our heavy cases up to the overhead bins near the ceiling.

When I booked this train journey for us months ago, I did so in “Conforto” class which is Comboios de Portugal’s version of First Class. Looking around the car I found it hard to believe this was even a Third Class car: no food service, spartan seats, kind of dirty, and a bathroom so disgusting it rivalled “Scotland’s dirtiest toilet” in Trainspotting:

For the journey to Porto we were in Car 1, Seats 34 and 36; Vince had the window seat and I, the aisle. The train pulled out of Lisbon’s Oriente Station right on time at 10:09AM:

These high-speed Alfa Pendular trains go like the wind, which is why I had booked it in the first place. Our speed was displayed on an LED screen at the head of the car; the top speed in the journey was 221 kilometres per hour. At that speed we could actually feel the train leaning into the corners, as it’s designed to do, when it hits a bend in the track travelling at its top speed.

Here’s a little video about the Alfa Pendular trains in Portugal:

Hello Porto!

It was a pleasant, uneventful trip from Lisbon to Porto, although we paused and stopped several times at various points along the way. We arrived at Estación de Porto-Campanhã (Porto Campanhã Station) at about 1:30PM, 30 minutes late from our scheduled 12:58 arrival.

Porto’s Campanhã Station

We lugged our suitcases off the train and found the exit of the Station. Our arrival in Porto was worsened by the pouring, incessant rain. As we had to go out into the maelstrom to catch a cab to our hotel, we needed our rain coats which were buried somewhere deep in our suitcases. We dug them out in preparation for use, and I called an Uber from the dryness of Campanhã’s waiting room. Frustratingly, the Uber app would not automatically find our current street address at Campanhã, so I entered the address manually and booked a car anyway. To make a long story short, the Uber driver could not find us so he cancelled the trip. In the pouring rain I then flagged a regular cab, who took us to our hotel – the Eurostar Porto Centro at Rua de Sampaio Bruno 77 –  for €8.40. He was a good driver – quiet and kind – but didn’t speak any English. My Portuguese language skills were non-existent, so I initially showed him our destination in my notebook and we were on our way.

We arrived at the Eurostar Porto Centro and checked in at about 2:30 PM. What a great hotel this proved to be! The wonderful (and very funny) woman at Reception checked us in and assigned Room 118 to us. We located our room – nice, very modern, lots of stainless steel, marble and glass:

If you’d like to read my TripAdvisor review of Eurostars Porto Centro, click here.

Lunch Time!

We dumped our stuff in the room preparatory to seeking out some lunch; by this time it was about 3:00PM and we hadn’t eaten since breakfast early this morning.

For lunch we settled on a nice, stately-looking restaurant across the street from the hotel called A Brasileira; as we found out later this was also a five-star hotel. The food was very good, if not a little on the expensive side; the restaurant is in a five-star upscale hotel with an 115-year history. They make a great Francesinha! We each had one of those wonderful and delicious Porto specialties; I went all the way with mine and ordered the egg on top. Vince had a glass of white wine and I had a Coke Zero. We decided to go all out to celebrate our arrival in Porto, so we both ordered dessert: Vince had a Condensed Milk Mousse (which he says was very sweet, but delicious) and I had a Chocolate Mousse. All in all, an excellent (and big) lunch!

If you’d like to read Vince’s TripAdvisor review of A Brasileira, click here.

What Exactly is a Francesinha?

Invented in Porto, a Francesinha is a Porto staple. This Porto classic is a Portuguese sandwich containing cured ham, steak, and linguiça (a Portuguese sausage) stashed between thick slices of bread, though other fillings such as turkey or tofu are also used. Coating the sandwich are layers of melted cheese and a secret sauce that contains beer, tomato, chilies, and, apparently, even more meat. If that’s not enough, you can add a runny egg on top and a side of french fries for dipping.

Francesinha translates to “little French,” which gives away a piece of the story behind Porto’s Francesinha. In the 1950s, Daniel Silva was a Portuguese immigrant living in France. He was allegedly inspired by the French dish Croque Monsieur and brought its inspiration back to Porto.
Inspired by the French hot sandwich, Daniel adapted this dish into the Francesinha by replacing its main ingredients with traditional Portuguese products. His Francesinha was much simpler than the one seen today with bread and baked beef.
He first brought the Francesinha to Porto when he first made the sandwich in 1953 at a restaurant in Rua do Bonjardim called A Regaleira. Quickly, the Francesinha became a local favorite and spread all over the city and in the rest of the country.
Throughout the decades, it has been adapted, and more ingredients have been added, such as the beer sauce. It is also now common for Francesinha to be served with french fries on the side or a fried egg on the top. Some places have even invented vegan versions so that plant-based eaters can still try a version of the Porto Francesinha.

Here’s a short video covering the basics of the Francesinha:

Feeling stuffed to the gills, we left the restaurant and walked around Porto a bit. Everything was very quiet as it was Sunday and this part of Portugal still observes Sunday store closures. At least the rain had stopped. After our spin around the direct neighbourhood we returned to the hotel and finished our unpacking. We rested for a while then went out for a more extended exploratory walk of Porto.

It was about 7:00PM and neither of us felt much like eating, thanks to the monster Franceshina earlier. We knew we should have something minimal to eat, though, just to keep our routine on track so we walked down to the Douro riverside in search of a light meal. We settled on a place called Restaurante Mercearia. Vince had a Vegan Casserole served by a very friendly waiter. I didn’t order anything to eat as I was still so full from lunch, but I picked at portions of Vince’s casserole. During our meal the heavens opened up and we experienced another furious deluge of rain. We were seated on the outdoor patio, so we had to move close in to the awning of the restaurant to avoid the downpour. The outside tables got thoroughly soaked so the customers ran inside the restaurant for cover.

Nighttime Along the Cais da Ribeira

After our light meal (and rainstorm), we started to slowly wend our way back to the hotel, first exploring the Douro riverside, also known as the Cais da Ribeira. As Lonely Planet’s website describes it, “this riverfront promenade is postcard Porto, taking in the whole spectacular sweep of the city, from Ribeira’s pastel houses stacked like Lego bricks to the barcos rabelos (flat-bottomed boats) once used to transport port from the Douro. Early-evening buskers serenade crowds, and chefs fire up grills in the hole-in-the-wall fish restaurants and tascas (taverns) in the old arcades”.

It’s pretty here at night and the scene along the riverside is quite active:

Here’s a panorama video we shot that night on the Cais da Ribeira:

Unfortunately we only came upon this singer near the end of her number, but she was absolutely nailing Lana Del Rey’s Video Games:

On our way out of the Cais da Ribeira, we spied on these dancers in a nightclub somewhere down below us:

Enroute to our hotel we wandered down some interesting (and safe!) alleys of Porto:

We reached the Eurostar Porto Centro at about 9:00PM. We rested and read for a while then were off to bed at 10:00 PM.

It was an exhausting, long travel day but we’re so glad to be in Porto! The Portugal adventure continues! 😊

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