Adventure Awaits: Traveling the World with Alex and Ani

Welcome back for the next installment in Adventure Awaits: Traveling the World with Alex and Ani! This week, Rachel recounts her trip to Porto, a gorgeous city in Portugal that’s rich in culture and stunning architecture and home to friendly people eager to share their history with visitors.

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I spent a whirlwind of a week in Barça after returning from Spring Break. One of the highlights from that week was being able to tour the inside Gaudí’s famous catholic church: la Sagrada Familia. Sagrada Familia was something that I walked by nearly every day on my way to and from the metro. I was lucky enough to live about two blocks from this famous and beautiful monument. Every time I walked by, I would look up, take it in. and usually notice some new detail. The church still isn’t completed, but Barcelona is hoping to finish it in the same year as the 100th anniversary of Gaudi’s death.

Instead of spending 20 euros for a tour inside la Sagrada Familia, my host mom was able to score a few free tickets. The tour was in Catalan, another language spoken other than Spanish in Barcelona, so it was a bit difficult to understand. However, I got the gist of everything and had help from my host mom to explain what I didn’t pick up. The inside of the church is nearly more impressive than the outside. The walls are made of beautiful stained glass and every side seems to be another mix of colors. It is insanely tall and seems to consume you. I felt really small in the moment as I gazed around! Each side on the outside of la Sagrada Familia holds a different meaning as well. Some of those sides include: the nativity façade, passion façade, and the glory façade. It was a real treat to be able to have the chance to go inside and learn more about this tremendous structure.

When the weekend came, I set off traveling again with one of my good friends that I had met in Barcelona. This time, Alicia and I headed for Porto, Portugal. Portugal is a beautiful country, but what made this trip extra special for me were the people we met. Porto is the second largest city next to Lisbon in Portugal and is full of rich history. It is a city snuggled into the hillside and has beautiful architecture, not to mention it is the home of many famous Port Wine Houses. My calves definitely got a workout from all the walking we did!

Porto is also a city in which a lot of rain falls. The rain during most of the year with the exception of the summer is very sporadic, and we were caught in downpours several times during our trip. We didn’t allow for the rain to bother us. We had little time in Porto and one of the things that travel teaches you is to make the most of what you have. Even though it may rain, you have to go out and explore so that you don’t miss out. That’s just what we did in Porto.

We stayed at a hostel called, yes, “Porto” which was located in a very good area and right down the hill from one of Porto’s famous and tallest landmarks, Torre dos Clerigos (Clerigos Tower). Our first stop in Portugal after checking into our hostel was climbing the tower to get a 360-degree view of the city. It seemed to be a trend of something I liked to do whenever I took trips outside of Barcelona. We could go up to the top of the tower for 2 euros (about $2.75) and get a beautiful view of the city. The rain seemed to hold off until we were making our way down from the tower.

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The main lobby of our hostel had a mural of the city.

The Clerigos tower is over 250 years old and is a famous Baroque bell tower. It was designed by a famous Italian architect and painter, Nicolau Nasoni. It’s 76 meters tall and the view is very impressive from the top. The climb became steeper and more challenging as the steps grew narrower but it was so worth it to get a good idea of how the city of Porto was laid out. I loved seeing the beautiful red latched roofs and different styled houses that the city had to offer. It wasn’t the most ritzy city that I visited, but it was very colorful and beautiful in it’s own way. I would return in a heartbeat.

After the tower, Alicia and I set off on a free walking tour that was organized by our hostel. Throughout the tour, it rained on and off. Our tour guide was awesome and was very animated about the city. He loved to talk and even offered us umbrellas to shelter us from the pouring and cold rain. He brought us to places such as one of the most famous McDonalds’ in the world, known for its fancy crystal and chandeliers. The guide explained to us about the history and culture of the city, where we learned about wars that had taken place in Portugal as well.

The city of Porto also was very important to JK Rowling. It was a very funny coincidence for me to travel to two cities back to back in which the city provided so much inspiration for JK Rowling. She lived in Porto and worked as a professor before she moved to Edinburgh with her young daughter. Our tour guide took us to a famous bookstore called Livraria Lello. The building itself is absolutely stunning. Inside is a red spiral staircase that inspired JK Rowling for the moving staircases in Hogwarts. When I stepped on it, I half expected it to begin moving. The city also is said to have inspired JK Rowling for the house where Sirius Black grew up, 12 Grimmauld Place. In Porto, it is the smallest and skinniest house in the city located in between two churches. It was said that two churches couldn’t be side by side, a house was built in between them so that one didn’t have to be knocked down.

The churches were both decorated in the famous blue and white tile that Portugal is famous for. We went inside one and it was made mostly of gold. Our tour guide joked that the city liked to use the gold they got for architecture and put it inside its churches instead of using it as money. There were a lot of buildings designed with beautiful gold. Also in our tour we went to the Jardim da Cordoaria, a beautiful garden lined with cancerous unique looking trees that are now healthy. From the garden, we learned about an old jail turned into a photography museum and also saw the narrow streets of the Jewish quarter before we ventured down to see the Rio Douro.

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Liveraria Lello.

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Excited to see where Rachel’s journey takes her? Be sure to check back next week for more Adventure Awaits: Traveling the World with Alex and Ani!

This post was written by Brendon Cunha