Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Day Tripping in the North of Portugal

While Aveiro was my primary stop and major "hub" so to speak during my time in Portugal and in Europe in general, I also had the opportunity to venture out and take in a few more destinations in the northern part of the country. 

Santa Maria de Feira

En route to our first visit to Porto, we made a stop at Santa Maria de Feira, best known for hosting an incredible series of medieval fairs over the summer.  We stopped through to visit with João's friend Edgar, who runs Oficina do Velho Oficio, creating works of iron and other materials typical of medieval times for use in museums, fairs, and other places for historical preservation.  As we visited his workshop, he bestowed on me the gift of a sword!  Which is both incredible and fairly entertaining when it means carrying the sword home on the train for multiple hours!  While in Santa Maria, we also stopped into the center of town, visiting the Medeival Historical Preservation Center and stopping for coffee with the local castle overlooking us from afar, with a view of an incredible Vhils cork sculpture right in front of us.


We made a few visits to Porto, the largest city in Portugal after Lisbon, and the home of the academy where João attended.  Two of these trips were simply to visit friends, have excellent meals, and/or pass through, but we made a final visit during my last week in town where we were able to properly explore the town a bit more.  

The day couldn't have been more gorgeous, as we wandered through the main square, enjoying the beautiful architecture under a clear blue sky.  We paid a visit to the Majestic Cafe for coffee and fresh scones, then walked to a greenspace highlighted by the Clérigos Church Tower. 

On our first visit to Porto, I had the chance to see the Clérigos Tower lit up in the evening.

In the same section of town, we visited a beautiful old bookstore called Livraria Lello (which the locals have dubbed the Harry Potter Bookstore, as it would fit perfectly inside the series), which was full of dark wood and stained glass, like a tiny cathedral of literature.  The central feature of the store was a unique wooden staircase with red painted flooring that wrapped organically almost into itself, like a 3D figure-eight in stairs.

Photo from National Geographic 

Next we walked across town, over to a large park overlooking the river, getting an incredible view of the city, the bridges, and the water below at dusk, the town's lights just starting to illuminate the streets.  As it grew darker, we walked back through a small local fair lit up with rides and carnival games, then eventually back to a spot near the tower and the bookstore for a quick snack before catching the train back to Aveiro.

Costa Nova & Barra

On one of my final days in Portugal, we took a bus out to Costa Nova to spend an afternoon wandering along the coastal town.  Costa Nova is best known for the brightly colored vertical stripes painted on the homes along the coast, done to help the fishermen identify their homes as they approached from afar.  Between the striped houses and the typically-Portuguese mosaic sidewalks, the town looks straight off a postcard. 

If you make a trip to Costa Nova, you absolutely must try this typical sweet treat:  Tripa.  It's basically a crepe folded up burrito-style with a sweet filling.  I chose chocolate, with a dusting of cinnamon on top, but ovo moles (a sweet egg filling typical of the region) is another fantastic option.

We strolled the streets on the bay side of the town, then up to the beach to take in the sunset, breathe the salty air, and watch the waves roll in.  As it grew steadily darker, we walked along the roadway on the bay side until we reached Barra, the next town over, to see the gorgeous lighthouse (the tallest in Portugal) before catching the bus back into Aveiro.  

And thus concludes my time in Europe.  It wasn't part of the original plan, but I couldn't be happier with my decision to spend a few weeks exploring and seeing wonderful people.  Next up:  the subcontinent of India...

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