I like to travel by myself. Sometimes it is the only way travel is possible....like if my husband or friends don't have the time to travel when I do. Other times, no one else is interested in going to where I want to go :) Or don't want to see a place the way I want to see it. This week I headed out solo for a quick trip to Porto, Portugal. I landed and headed for the Metro to the stop closest to my hotel. I emerged on the street into a chaos of people and noise...and no real idea where I was going. I luckily found a place with free city maps and proceeded to...as inconspiciously as possible...take a quick look and see which direction I needed to go. I guessed wrong, but found a lively street and this beautiful church. Once I knew I was heading in the wrong direction, I changed course and headed towards my hotel. When I travel alone, I have no one to apologize to for going in the wrong direction. I wanted to get to my hotel to put my bag down, but I had no real schedule and knew if I couldn't find the hotel on my own, I could always ask for directions or get a taxi.
I originally was going to stay at a chain hotel where I have points. Free is tempting :) Although as my trip approached and I looked more into the location of the hotel, I realized it wasn't for me. I was in Porto for one full day (two nights) and staying outside the city center (even for free!) just didn't make sense. Porto has lots of reasonably priced hotel options, so that also helped make my decision. For 51€ per night, I stayed right in the city center and it included breakfast. The hotel was old (the oldest in Porto), but was full of character and antiques. This is another time when it is nice to travel solo. My trip, my stay, my decision....
I woke up the next morning to lots of variety at breakfast. I had heard that the Portuguese like their sweets and this buffet certainly showed that. There were 5 cakes, crepes, french toast (more like friend dough), flan, rice pudding and sweet, sugar dipped breads. There were also savory options, but it was clear that there is an expectation to have at least a little sugar with your breakfast (no complaints here!). Feeling fortified, I headed out to explore. I knew I wanted to see the Douro River and at least one of the markets. It was still early (around 9am) when I arrived at the riverfront and things were quiet. I was nearly alone and could appreciate the views and spy the port houses across the way. I knew the area would be bustling with people later in the day as there are stores and restaurants all along the way (they just weren't open yet). I caught a glimpse of it later in the day going full steam and was thankful I had the tranquil moments that morning.
After leaving the river, I headed in the general direction of the Balhao market. I'm not one for maps when I travel alone---I look to see generally which direction---and then head out. The sun was hitting the old marking building when I arrived and it was beautiful. One of the corner stores was a seed and flower shop. Prime real estate for seeds....not something you see in many countries. Much better than a fast food restaurant or tourist store in my opinion. The inside of the market was as old and run down as advertised. I don't mean that in a bad way. There was a little bit of everything for both the locals and the visitors. The stalls set up on the upstairs railing were all fruit and vegetable sellers and downstairs was a mixed of food, souvenirs and small restaurants. I love to see food in each country I visit....what is popular? what is different? what is the same?
Having checked off my two main sights well before noon, I started to wander. I shopped in stores, had tea at the historic and famous Cafe Majestic, and saw the figurines dance out of the nearby clock tower at noon (didn't even know about it until I happened to be walking by right at noon). I got out of the tourist part of town and ended up I'm not quite sure where. The streets are steep and turning a blind corner on a small street, you never know if you are going to be hiking up or strolling down. After some time (not really sure how long), I came across a little restaurant and decided to have some lunch. I thought about asking the waiter where I was, but decided against it. I had no where to be until my flight the next morning and figured I would figure it out....eventually. And I did. I continued to walk for awhile and came to one of the main Metro stops. I recognized the name from the day before and my feet decided it was time to jump on the Metro to head back to my neighborhood.
I feel like I saw lots of Porto in my one day and think it was a great city to be on my own. I know I saw things I wouldn't have seen if I had not decided to simply explore. If I was set on seeing a long list of attractions, I wouldn't have had the privilege to just be. Not all cities can be done so randomly. I cherish my experiences when I can just let things happen.