Visiting Porto: Why Every City Deserves a Second Chance

Porto rooftops
The rooftops of Porto.

My first visit to Porto was tainted by a scary experience.

I was exploring the city one morning as Ale worked nearby. I was excited to go off on my own– armed with my camera and a pocket map from our hotel. I slowly made my way up and down the windy hills of Porto center, leisurely heading towards the water. I crossed the famous Luis I Bridge and decided I would do a port wine tasting at one of the many wineries below.

It was midday, but I knew enough to stay safe. A large group of Spaniards were on a tour and walking right ahead of me. I figured I would follow them down the narrow streets to the wharf. As I tagged along with the group of teenagers, impossible to lose dressed in their matching red Spanish football shirts, I paused to take some photos of the street cats we passed along the way.

Stray cats in Porto
These ugly cats should have been a sign!

Suddenly, a middle aged man started talking to me in Portuguese. I tried to understand, as I do speak quite a bit of the language, but it couldn’t make out what he was saying. I smiled, apologetically and said não entendo— I don’t understand.

Then, before I could register why a human being would do such a thing, the nice looking man had his pants down and was shouting things at me. I panicked, I was nervous and had no idea if he was dangerous or not. I ran down the hill. Luckily, I was only a minute away from the crowded and touristy wharf and I scanned the crowd for a police officer.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find anyone, so I ducked into a café for a glass of water to calm my nerves. I knew I was fine, but I was really freaked out and disgusted. I explained what had happened to the staff at the café and they kind of shrugged it off. The police won’t do anything, they explained.

Feeling a bit better, I headed immediately to the Sandeman Porto Cellars and took the next available tour to get my mind off of the morning events. I don’t even remember if it was in English or in Spanish, but I do recall that it was quite entertaining with plenty of tastings included at the end. It did the trick.

Sandeman Porto
Sandeman port to the rescue!

After the tour I wasn’t really in the mood to keep exploring. I made my way back to the hotel to wait for Ale to come back and go out to dinner. He was tired and we avoided the center, opting instead for dinner near the hotel.

Obviously, an experience like this one can happen anywhere in the world at any time of day. While it is important to protect yourself while traveling, some things just can’t be foreseen. Nonetheless, the experience definitely took away a lot of the charm Porto had to offer.

When I found out that the Travel Bloggers Unite conference was being held in Porto I was actually happy for the opportunity to go back and give the city a second chance. And this time, it didn’t disappoint. The Porto Convention Bureau treated us like royalty and offered us many ways to experience the beauty of the vibrant city.

River boats in Porto
The gorgeous Douro River in Porto.

I actually wish I’d had more time there because the days we spent in Porto were mostly spent inside of the Sheraton conference center. But I know I’ll be back to Porto soon to explore even more– it is so easy to get to from Madrid! My roundtrip flight with Ryanair cost 40€ and the flight time is only one hour.

Going back to Porto was the perfect example of why every city deserves a second chance. Our perceptions of a place are so influenced by factors beyond our control– the mood of our travel companions, the people we encounter on our visit, the food we try, etc. No two visits to a place will ever be the same. I’m just glad I had the opportunity to give Porto a second chance. We’ll see what I encounter on the third visit!

Have you ever had a tainted trip? Have you revisited a city and liked it more or less the second time?

Comments

  1. This totally sparks memories. A somewhat similar thing, albeit less offensive, happened to me in Dakar, Senegal. A man stopped to talk, asking, “Remember me from the airport?” I didn’t really, but also didn’t want to offend anyone, either — I could totally relate to you in the moment where you’re trying to be nice and listen. The man then handed me a “gold nugget” wrapped in a filthy piece of crumpled paper, saying this represented my bond with his newborn son. He wanted me to be the godmother, he said. About a half hour of conversation later, the request for money came. I felt torn between wanting to be open to the people and culture and also feeling taken advantage of. But by this point, I knew this was a sham, and in the end, I didn’t give any money. I did meet many wonderful people in Senegal in other situations. And the next time someone asked me that airport question, I knew what to say.

  2. My first trip to Spain was tainted by the airline and Madrid got the worst of it. I did not arrive until two days after I was supposed to. After spending one day in Madrid I did not see any reason to return.

    By the time I got to Valencia and Barcelona everything was good. I also had to skip Seville because I could not make the transportation work.

    I have since been back to Madrid two times and like it a lot better now.

  3. My view of Porto was slightly tainted by my brother who felt it was too gloomy and we were approached by odd folks at 7am, when our bus arrived and we couldn’t check into our hostel until a few hours later. It was only his 5th night in Europe and quickly wanted to return to Spain… Thankfully he enjoyed Coimbra and Lisboa. I did enjoy Porto but a 2nd visit may make the place shine more in my eyes.
    Glad you had a 2nd visit!

  4. I’d like to share how wonderful a time I had when I visited Porto, to contrast some of the other experiences.

    I spent 4 days there and had a beautiful time walking around the city, exploring restaurants around town, tasting the varieties of port and cruising up the Douro river.

    Porto is a gorgeous city with enjoyable architecture that has clearly fallen from its glory years.

    If anyone had a poor experience, I too vote for a 2nd visit. My wife and I came away with great memories of our days there (and all of Portugal, in fact).

    Jared

  5. Ahh.. what a scary (maybe funny later) story. I’m heading to Porto for the first time in about 6 weeks, but I’m sure I won’t have crazy stories like that as I have only heard good things about the city

  6. ah….Marseilles left an indelible impression on me and I doubt I will ever go back there. It wasn’t Marseilles’ fault, it was the travellers who didn’t pay attention to which train car they got on 🙁 That’s right, me and my two companions were on the wrong car and we thought we were headed to Italy. Come to find out the train ended in Marseilles and of course the next train out to Italy wasn’t until the next morning. so…onward to find a place to stay for the night. I don’t think I’ll ever get the “complet” signs out of my head!! that’s right, there was no room to be had and we took turns keeping watch while we spent the night in the train station. Talk about spooky and scared out my mind!! Luckily nothing happened to us and we were on our way to Italy (can’t recall if it was Venice or Florence that we were headed to). And I recall sitting up at one point, looking out the window at the French (or it could have been the Italian) Riviera and thinking “I wish I could stay awake to see this….” I slept through the entire riviera!!! but at least I had that one glance……and oh yea, I will never forget the French kid in our car laughing at us upon watching us learn that we were on the wrong car. not terribly anxious to return to southern France even tho that was decades ago.

    I’m glad you gave Porto another chance and that it went well!

  7. Sorry to hear about the begative experience. I used to go to Porto alot as a 19/20/21 year old fpr summer holidays as one of my best friends family owns one of the best port wine bodegas in Portugal!! I hadnt realised you were going until I saw this post the other day otherwise could have got you in for a special tour.
    You must come and see us in Xativa sometime!

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