“She has no pants!” an old man exclaimed to his friends. I turned around, startled by the sound of someone else speaking English and found myself the object of the group’s fascination. My friend who was walking next to me laughed and pulled me along to catch up with the rest of our group, the soccer team we’d traveled from New York with.
We were in Porto, a city in the north of Portugal and I was wearing a knee length pink pea coat I’d purchased earlier. It was our first day there, having just stepped off our TAP flight (http://www.flytap.com/Portugal/en/Homepage/) and I had worn shorts, mistakenly assuming it’d be warm, despite it being the middle of February. I must have looked a sight to those old Portuguese men, since it seemed I was wearing nothing but the coat and my sneakers. After an entire day I hadn’t found anyone with the same mixed up fashion sense as me, but I had quickly come to appreciate the beauty and culture of the city.
The small crooked streets between rows of houses where the women hung their laundry from the rooftops were filled with life. Stray dogs whose skin hung from their skeleton-like bodies prowled around, their appetites whet by the smell of bucalhau (codfish) and chorizo that wafted from many of the apartments. Men sat in the bars, drinking as they celebrated their football team’s recent win or watched the current game. In the parks couples rested on the benches to eat lunch, and women sold their goods at the open-air markets (Mercado de BolhÃ£o on Rua SÃ¡ da Bandeira). As we continued into other parts of the city we began to see more of what we were used to in American cities. There were malls and shops everywhere, but there was one important difference.
Nowhere in the city could you find a cup of coffee to go. There were multiple cafÃ©s on every street, all packed to the brim, but you had to sit down and take the time to enjoy your coffee and pastry. Everywhere we went, from the new areas where young people were hanging out and doing their shopping (Centro Comercial Cidade de Porto on Rua do Bom Sucesso), to the neighborhoods populated mostly by older people, the cafÃ©s, called pastelerias, were the same. And everywhere they were full. This connection between the old and the new faces of Portugal was incredible. Despite the increasing pace of the world today everyone slowed down for a while to simply sit back and enjoy their coffee break. The culture of old Porto had not been relegated to the older nieghborhoods; it still existed in the way of life of all its inhabitants.
Our group stopped at one of the pastelerias and I decided I absolutely loved this tradition. There were tons of pastries to choose from, and several types of coffee. My galao (coffee with hot milk) was good, but the pastel de nata (a small custard pastry) was heavenly. While we enjoyed this snack, it gave my friends and I the chance to rest our legs and recollect on everything we’d seen that day. From my clothing mishap to the peek into traditional life, and finally to our awesome food, I realized how much I liked the city. I definitely will be returning to explore further, hopefully a fluent speaker of Portuguese!
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