It seemed like months since we had taken a train somewhere with our big backpacks on, even though it had been a little under 4 weeks. But it was as easy as ever, if somewhat annoying as we were stuck in seats where the window blind would not open.
We got to our hotel in the early afternoon. And it was hot. Stiflingly hot. And after changing our room for one with a balcony, we explored the area around before having an early night to rest up for the next day.
We had discovered while we were in Lisbon that this weekend was the biggest on Porto’s annual event calendar. Not only was there classic car racing around a street circuit less than 2km from our hotel, but in the evening there was a street party. Not any old street party, oh no. The largest street party in Europe!
We wandered down to the race track in the morning. We were expecting to pay €50 or so for tickets, but fortunately as it was situated around the outside of a park there were numerous spots to sit and watch completely for free! And the cars were ecxuisite…1950’s F1 cars, CanAm cars, and a plethora of Porsches, Escorts and BMW’s. All going past about 2 metres away from our noses.
After the races we headed to Festival Sao Joao. Essentially it is a street festival celebrating Saint John, and we had heard that everyone in the city attends for drinks, street food, dancing and hitting people with blow up hammers. The latter was a tradition started in the 1970’s and has evolved whereby you hit as many passers by on the head as a means of saying “hello”. At first it felt a bit odd hitting strangers, but after a few beers and hundreds of squeaky hits on our heads we properly got into the spirit!
When they said the whole city turns up, they really meant it. Every street was jam packed with revellers of all ages. We had heard figures of 200,000 people, but after wandering and partying for nearly 8 hours around dozens of narrow laned city blocks, each with countless bands, music, food and drink on offer, that number seemed conservative! At midnight there was a fireworks display along the river. Everyone attended either at the waters edge on both sides, or up the steep streets to get a good vantage point. The display was great, but better was to come.
Once back at one of the main squares, we found 2 stages set up. The first stage was playing traditional Portuguese music, the other dance music. We were dancing away at the second stage when suddenly we heard drums. We wandered to where the sound was coming from and found 20-30 drummers going hell for leather. Us, and several thousand others spent the next hour or so following them through the streets, totally caught up in the rhythm.
The rest of the night is a bit hazy in the memory.
Our last day in Porto we did a little exploring around the city in the daylight. It certainly looked a lot different than it had under the moonlight. A truly beautiful city with steep narrow lanes and gorgeous buildings everywhere (I seem to be saying that a lot in Europe!).
Although we didn’t get a chance to explore even half of the city, we found it to be a fantastic city with so much to offer. Definitely on our go-back-to list!
But for now we head north to England, where we will pick up our Spaceship camper for 6 weeks to explore the UK and Ireland. Should be quite a change of pace!