I finally left the US. For my first trip abroad since the start of the pandemic, I was able to go with the whole family to Porto. I love Portugal, which, for us, is as expensive to get to as anywhere in Europe, but once there, a real bargain—and the people of Portugal are wonderful. Great wine, fish, murals, tiles, colors, architecture, museums, clean air, sea, and mountains.
We flew out of Boston on Air France, and because of frequent flier miles, I was lucky enough to have access to the lounge and able to enjoy some quality snacking, drawing, and prosecco before heading across the Atlantic. We made it to CDG in France but missed our connecting flight to Porto by five minutes. This dropped us into a different Air France lounge with another opportunity to draw and chow down (super lucky to have access to this stuff). Once we landed in Porto, we dropped the bags at our Airbnb and headed right out to walk, take photos, and have some coffee.
Out and about with Jenn, Blaize, Lorna, and Laura, I saw a great door that looked like it might have been designed by Cleon Peterson. The tile on almost every building, cut stone in plazas, and glorious architecture always pull me in—there is so much to see in Portugal. We walked through a park with a handful of Laughing Men sculptures and trees that had giant exposed root balls at their base. From our balcony, the first night of our trip, there were dozens of seagulls flying about around us and the moon yelling for a couple of hours… super neat. I had to make a drawing on the spot.
Morning came and we made one of many stops at Fabrica Coffee, where I needed a big cup (well, a couple of smallish ones). We headed towards the river to walk the bridge between Porto and Gaia over the Douro River, where the views are epic, postcard material.
On the other side of the Douro in Gaia, we had a quick Port Tonic (local port wine mixed with tonic water) and wandered the streets, shot photos of dozens of doors (for the paint and the knockers), and headed back towards Porto. Off the bridge, in Porto, our first view is a bronze sculpture that leads through a tiled tunnel wall covered in murals, so again, no shortage of visuals here. We walked all day and into the night with occasional snack and drink stops. We ended it all with a notable dinner at the Wine Club restaurant, which does a super job.
The next day we got up and went to the Museum of Contemporary Art, where I especially loved the Leonilson collection, not to mention the museum building itself. There’s a surrounding farm, the grounds filled with livestock and a greenhouse, an elevated tree walk, and a well-kept mid-century home-turned-museum full of some lesser-seen Miros. We made our way back from the museum and grabbed some food, coffee, and drinks at a diner that spun vinyl called Bop. As usual, we do about ten miles a day on foot, and it’s the best way to see the city. Leave the house early and break the hours up with meals, coffee, and drink, and drawing stops. On this day we finished up the Douro River at a spot called Casa Douro for pizza (more on the artisanal side, haha) and drinks, on the water, of course, for sunset followed by a walk home.
We did two-day trips, the first, a wine trip and tour, with just our family joined by a private travel guide from “Your Tours,” named Pascal, who was amazing. We got a complete Portuguese history and linguistics lesson. He was a total sweetheart, hilarious too, as took us through the old Duoro Valley where we ate and drank port wines all day together. One of the spots in Quinta da Avessada there were just shy of a dozen sleeping dogs lying about. They were outside pups, a bit wild but sweet, and as Pascal said, “They belong to nobody and are taken care of by everybody.” It’s a beautiful area and worth the trip if this is your sort of thing.
The next morning found us up and about for more Porto exploration at Fabrica Coffee, then off to Jardins Do Palacio of Cristal. On the way, I shot a bronze to which someone had added some face paint, very much an improvement from my point of view. In the park, there were about a half dozen peacocks on the ground and in the trees, all talking and showing tail feathers, some of the best views we had all trip. The park, which is free, wasn’t too busy and also just a little wild, not so pristine that it felt unnatural. I took time to sit in the sun and draw some of the things I saw throughout the morning, from the park to my family and Pascal, from our Duoro Valley trip the day before, just a general brain dump.
We headed out to a cafe for food and beverages at Epocha, coffee, and drinks if you need those, and epic food like French toast with lemon meringue, and pistachios… so good. I made a drawing of Jenn and Lorna sitting together in the park on one of the S curved cement sculpted conversation spots while we were there. The seagulls are everywhere, and I kept shooting photos of them on statues and dozens in the sky together jamming. We finished this day off with dinner at a place called Mito, which is a delicious modern Portuguese food spot, then headed back to our house. Back at the Airbnb, I made a quick cityscape and crowd drawing of folks from one of the bigger intersections on our way down from the park and cafe.
Day trip number two was a quick bridge crossing to Gaia and a longer walk along the Duoro waterfront path to the ocean, with a stop midway at Sao Pedro Da Afurada for a lunch of fresh caught sea bass, cod, fries, and wine. Hard to get up and go but we continued on foot to Villa Nova Gaia to peek at the surf and walk on the beach. We had a long walk back to our house and ate next door at Monteen for some new Mediterranean cuisine and super service from the owners and wait crew, one of the best meals of our trip. After dinner, it was time to pack and head to bed for the next day’s trip home.
Every time I go to this country I leave thinking that I could live there and wondering how long it will be before we can make our way back. Obrigado Portugal! —Russ Pope
This story was originally published in our Fall 2022 Quarterly.