Pals, port, and pastéis de nata in Porto

With six weeks to go, restlessness is starting to set in. Actually, it’s not starting at all; it’s simply reaching previously unseen levels. I am counting the days down more avidly than I did even during those last weeks in France. I am quite literally wishing my life away, but I can’t help it. Equally, I can’t believe it’s over: I look at photos from last summer and marvel at how long ago that was and at how much has happened since then.

Anyway, enough of my ramblings. I know that the time will fly; I’ll soon be touching down at Stansted whilst asking myself where the past ten months have gone.

As I mentioned in my last post, I spent the weekend in Porto with Matt. It was glorious.

Look. Glorious.

Matt took full advantage of my visit to go into full-blown tourist mode himself: he’d pre-planned a route for the first afternoon which we started almost as soon as I arrived. Not that I was complaining after having been sat on a bus for the previous four hours. I won’t bore you by going into detail, but that first afternoon included a visit to a huge park from which one can take in the wonderful view pictured above (“the best view in Porto”, apparently), walking past the library that inspired J.K. Rowling (which was, sadly, almost totally obscured by scaffolding), and wandering down through the city’s narrow streets to the port. Then, in the evening, we went out for some (very) well-earned burgers, and I had what was possibly the best veggie patty I’ve ever eaten. Let me tell you, the hunt for a decent veggie burger never ends. We washed it down with a large jug of sangria. More sangria followed in a bar with some of Matt’s friends and I was the most drunk I’ve been in quite a while. Whoops.

The next day, we were up relatively bright, early, and hangover-free and, mercifully, the sun was shining. In terms of the weather, I could not have chosen a better weekend to visit. Granted, the wind at the beach, which we visited in the morning, was bracing – as, I suppose, is to be expected from a beach popular with surfers – but it was worth it for the sea views and expanses of golden sand.


Then, after having lunch at a snack bar (where I got a lush salad for €4.50, what a win!) we headed down to the riverfront for what may have been my favourite part of the weekend: port wine tasting. I didn’t realise this, but apparently fortified wines labelled as “port” or “Porto” has to be produced exclusively in Portugal’s Douro Valley. We tried a tawny wine – maybe the equivalent of rosé in the world of normal wine? – and it was delicious. The chocolates that were served with it were the icing on an already very well-made cake.

That evening, we met up with some of Matt’s friends (who were lovely) and headed to one of the city’s main squares. Midnight marked the beginning of Queima das Fitas (literally “Burning of the Ribbons”, but basically an “academic” week of partying preceding the beginning of the last exam period of the year) and, as such, there was a concert (of sorts) put on by the students. It was, in a word, bizarre. The music was all fado, which is the name for a type of Portuguese music known for being melancholic and not the easiest to dance to. All of the students were dressed in suits and wrapped in long cloaks (Matt has christened them “the Harry Potters”) but I still can’t give a decent explanation as to why. From what I understand, many Portuguese universities have a tradition called praxe (pronounced “prash”) which seems to involve little more than humiliating new students and forcing them to join in. Basically, a relation of the Bullingdon Club’s seems to be fairly prolific across the whole of Portugal. But maybe I misunderstood.

The next morning, I was sad to leave but very, very happy to have visited. Porto is a great, vibrant city and it would have been a wasted opportunity not to go now that Matt’s there. On my way to the bus station, I stopped at a bakery to buy something that I’d been told not to miss by several people: pastéis de nata. Basically a custard tart, but so much better than a custard tart.

Pasteis de Nata
Image taken from Wikipedia

I bought some for my housemates too and we ate them together that evening. Sprinkled with cinnamon, they were divine, and that’s coming from someone who isn’t usually a fan of pastry-based baked goods.

So now I’m back in Santiago and the sun, miraculously, is shining here as well! This evening, I’m going to the language exchange that I go to every week: it’s really good for meeting people and, seeing as it’s an ESN event, it would be borderline rude not to go. And, this Saturday, I’m supposed to be going on a day trip to the Islas Cíes, once named as the world’s best beach by The Guardian, but it’s supposed to rain so it might well be postponed.

Six weeks left of my glorified gap year. Six weeks is nothing compared to the number of weeks that are already behind me. I can do this.


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