The best word I can use to describe Porto, the second-largest city in Portugal, is warmth.
Though the temperatures do feel warm for February (50-60 degrees Fahrenheit), this coastal city exudes warmth in other ways besides climate. The people are passionate, the charismatic landmarks and peaceful parks draw you in, the sunsets are dripping with saturated reds, oranges, and pinks, the food is decadent, the markets excite the senses, and not to mention, the streets contain so many hills that you literally feel warm after walking around for 10 minutes.
After visiting the busy metropolises of London and Berlin, and experiencing the icy winter in Romania, Porto’s warmth flooded inside me like a heatwave. After one week here, I feel relaxed and content, yet eager to explore everything this city has to offer. Wine tours, river cruises, surf lessons, beaches, museums, public gardens, cathedrals, churches, walking tours, markets, theaters, cafes, live music, bar crawls, and numerous interesting day trips, Porto has it all.
Despite this endless entertainment, Porto’s vibrant energy coincides with a lazy serenity that invites you to enjoy the little things in life. I’ve spent hours reading in parks, people watching from cafes, cooking with friends, sunbathing by the riverfront sidewalk known as “Ribeira”, and admiring sunsets from the top of the iconic Dom Luiz I Bridge.
Even while doing absolutely nothing, I feel like Porto is wrapping me into an embrace and letting its refreshing beauty melt into me. In the air I can smell the saltiness of the ocean, the sweetness of flowers, the sharp smoke of cigarettes, and the buttery aroma of nearby pastry shops, all of which blend together to make an aromatic scent that is light, yet full of life.
Sitting in a public park, I can see the Portuguese culture thriving right in front of me. At a picnic table, a group of men yell at each other during an intense game of cards. Couples kiss and caress each other while laying in the grass. An elderly man sits alone on a bench, contently watching the world go by. Two fashionably dressed women walk arm in arm, talking at the speed of light. A waiter from a nearby cafe leans against a brick wall for a cigarette break. An old woman with a cane shuffles towards the bus stop. Kids with backpacks run wild through a cluster of pigeons.
At a nearby street market, tourists browse through bottles of Port wine, traditionally painted tiles, watercolor paintings, and wooden sailboat figurines. While an old woman calls to customers from her small stand selling roasted chestnuts, a man kneels down and begins shining and polishing a customer’s shoes. In the distance, I can see the land on the other side of the river, where the mess of houses with their red-tiled roofs appear to be falling down the tilted earth, about to drop into the crisp, calm waters of the Rio Duoro.