Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Porto, the best couple holiday

One of the few ways in which boyfriends can be useful is that they make easy holiday partners. In the words of Earnest 'yeah, if you get bored you can just hold hands or have sex'. True. Plus there's the practical benefit of knowing you have a partner in crime who will follow you into an idea that you're excited about without having to do the herding cats dance to get people to book. (By the way - totally fine and reasonable for friends to not want to commit to holidays that they're not 100% on until there's significant traction.) I've been talking about going to Porto for the best part of a year and, having come a breath away from booking after doing all the availability admin, it all fell apart and I gave up on the idea with a sigh. But then my new boyfriend-not-boyfriend, another largely straight girl, stepped in and saved the day and I have to say, this is the best couple holiday I've been on. We didn't hold hands or have sex even once and didn't get bored after 3.5 days!

We did, however, miss our outgoing flight. I don't want to bore you with the story of how it's not our fault but it definitely wasn't because we were drinking prosecco in a Wetherspoons like wankers, it was down to easyjet failing to meet our reasonably formed expectations about boarding times and trust me when I say I'll do a Bennett Talking Heads style modern day Lady of Letters thing until I get the money back or I get sent to prison. But, we handled it like champs on the day, and got to Porto only a couple of hours later with some BA luxe to help to help swallow the 'oh God what the fuck what real life adults miss flights?'

As we got to Porto, it turned out our Airbnb host actually thought we were arriving 12 hours later (in the middle of the night) and wasn't in the city. At this point, I got a sense of dread of 'shit, missed flight, can't get into apartment, what if this holiday is doomed?' But, to pass the time, we went to Casa Guedes to get their famed pork sandwich. For around seven euros, we got two of the most delicious pork stuffed sandwiches I've had. I don't know what they did to this but it was gently flavoured with fennel and so deliciously fatty that the drips on the table congealed almost immediately. Sounds gross but was amazing. It was a strong contender for the best meal of the holiday and set the pitch in terms of great, inexpensive food.
So, we ate a pork sandwich then ambled out to the beautiful Harry Potter bookshop. Now you will see the theme of the holiday: ambling, mild culture (35%), food and wine (65%). The ideal balance. We walked through the town with the intention of going to the Casa da Musica to see some film music, not realising that, much like the Barbican, there is not much going on around it and we were stuck in a City-esque dead zone. But a search later ('restaurants near Casa da Musica) and we ended up in Casa Agricola that seemed to be full of locals. We both went for the special, prawn panade, and by the end of it, think we were both happy to never ever see any prawn or garlic or bread or food ever again. I felt completely out prawned . Yet we found room for pudding - pillows of puff pastry filled with almond custard. And, in true couple holiday form, by the end of it, we had lost all appetite for bar hopping and decided to go home and lie down instead.
The next morning we were still full. But a long old walk down to the Serralves museum and its well put together garden, we wanted both lunch but also were happy to revisit prawns. We stumbled upon Casa Marlindo which we chose for its well designed logo. Inside, we got several small plates including prawns, squid, chickpea salad and tomato rice. That bread! And pink bubbles. Despite what I said about being prawned out, I could (and did) soak up that garlicky prawn juice with that bread until the cows come home. (Side note - the Serralves garden farm has an idyllic set of farm animals just hangin' out together, it's very cute.)
After that, we went for a fun cable car trip down to the port cellars. Missed the port tour, but had three delicious Taylor's ports. Can't tell you anything about their origins or what make them ports though. Some time, many drinks, a debate about vomiting and a red bull altered night's sleep later, it was Sunday. Everywhere on my offline map was closed and we  ended up in Nata, a Portuguese chain, where we had the perfectly structured hangover lunch: fresh juice, salty sardine and red pepper sandwich, custard tart and espresso. This lunch served as a reminder that there's no need to be listy because even the worst thing (missing flight) is fine and not planning means unexpected fun which has its own value. Equally, it could just mean that Porto is a great place to eat and drink and you can't go wrong. A vertiginous tower climb that tipped me back to 'ergh so hungover please kill me' meant that we wandered home to give me an opportunity to nap. We went via a charity shop where we both got great new coats.
A nap, a visit to the Cathedral and a walk along some stairs later, we went to the river front. This is where the tourist traps are - but still, the tourist trap we settled on had great service and I had the first salt cod of the trip here in little balls and they hit the spot like the right on emoji. Then came the low light of the trip of a horrible man getting all gross on our walk to find a bar. The bar we eventually found that I can't remember the name of but could probably navigate back to was very date and way too expensive to consider in London. Yet here we had two very refreshing Porto tonics for ten euros.
And then we ambled home to a very traditional Portuguese restaurant which was full of nandos chicken. And by that, I don't mean peri peri chicken - I mean little trinkets of the Nandos logo which, as it turns out, is just some sort of Portuguese emblem. We went full hog here - salt cod to start, veal, pudding. The pudding, a crème caramel and a panacotta were where this won. I think the restaurant was called O Escondidinho but I can't be sure. Anyway, it was a short roll away from home.
We were very keen to get a francescinha, Porto's specialty sandwich, before we left but we were more keen not to miss the flight. But, as a francescinha is a cheesy, meaty sandwich, we figured that not having the best example of a cheesy meaty sandwich was a fine compromise. So in the airport, we chowed down on a slightly bitter but still delicious gravy soaked cheese and many meat layered sandwich. And we didn't miss the flight!

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