The year, the Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior (SSIB) held their annual meeting in Porto, Portugal. Thanks to my advisor, I was fortunate enough to attend and experience a trip that was filled with science, beauty, love, and adventure.
To minimize expenses, myself and another graduate student traveled over 36 hours to arrive in Porto, Portugal from State College, PA. After about 30 hours, we attempted to drag our heavy suitcases through Lisbon while we awaited for our train to Porto. Exhausted and hungry, we did not make it far outside the train station. However, we were able to stumble upon this marvelous wonder, which during 90s degree heat, came with a much needed splash of water.
We arrived in Porto on a Sunday night during the last game of the Euro Cup. What an experience it was to be in Portugal when for the first time ever, the Portuguese had won! We tried our best to get a good night's sleep so that we could use the next two days for sightseeing. This was not easy given that the streets were filled with people until the wee hours of the morning. Nonetheless, we were determined to get up and explore.
Our first stop was at Guimaraes! This small town is about an hour and 20 minute train ride from Porto. The train runs every hour and be sure to check the times. Otherwise, you will be sitting in the station for an hour waiting for the train to leave!
I would highly recommend hiking up to see the King's castle (Castelo de Guimaraes). You have to pay to go inside but it is definitely worth it. The views of the city were nice, but it was also a peaceful spot where you could sit and enjoy yourself. Not to mention, the history is kind of cool!
Where to eat: Although Guimaraes is not filled with lots of tourists, most of the restaurants are centrally located in the squares. We decided to just sit down and eat at one. I cannot remember the name but they had soup and salad, which is what I had for lunch. It was just okay. The options that were listed on TripAdvisor were more out of our price range. Be prepared for lunch or dinner to last for 2 hours, we definitely needed to adjust to having to wait a long time for our food .... and to ask for the check.
On day 2, we adventured to Aveiros. Although we initially wanted to visit Braga, several locals had said Aveiros was the place to see and called the town the Venice of Portugal. Given our experience in Guimaraes, we took the locals advice and headed there next. We only had a few hours to spare before the conference started so we tried to make the best of it and experience as much as we could.
Since I have been to Venice, I did not personally find Aveiros as beautiful and it was much more touristy than Guimaraes. We ditched the opportunity to ride on a gondola and headed to the nearby park (Parque Infante D. Pedro), which I would highly recommend.
Where to eat: We had lunch at a lovely spot on the river called, Tasca do Sal. This was the first time I tried Lupinos, which are salted boiled beans that are served as an appetizer. At first, the bean was very salty but the flavor grows on you. This is a very typical Portuguese appetizer that I would recommend trying. Our meal was great and it came with a lovely view of one of the canals. The restaurant was not pricey or a tourist trap. I would suggest getting the soup, rice with beans, and sautéed vegetables (if you are vegan, of course).
Note: there is a bit of rivalry between those who live in Guimaraes and Braga, therefore, make your own decision as to where to go. Looking back, we wished we went to both in order to compare.
SSIB's annual conference was held at the Centro de Congressos, which had amazing views of the Douro River. This seagull had the right idea. Together, we watched the sunset after a long day of scientific talks and poster sessions.
There was not much time to explore the city while the conference was going on. Not only were we very busy but nothing could prepare us for how hilly Porto is. After two days of walking over 120 flights of stairs (according to my fitbit), our calves were definitely hurting. It hurt more to stop walking than to continue. Remember to bring good shoes as we had to use a lot of bandaids.
Although our time to explore was minimal, we did have quite a few good meals. I would highly recommend making reservations in advance. When eating in both small (2 people) and large (4-10 people) groups, if we did not have a reservation we could not eat in any of the good restaurants. I'd suggest checking out these local spots that are also affordable and vegan friendly:
Notes: You can expect to pay about 15 euros per person for tapas and drinks. We generously ordered food, perhaps too much in most cases, and had at least 2 bottles of wine with our meals. For four people, our bill was usually around 60 euros, which we thought was a great steal.
A few other tips:
Towards the end of the conference, we had a spare afternoon and took the opportunity to go Port tasting. We ended up at Calem and Taylor's. We chose not to pay for the guided tour for either and to just do the tasting. This was not only cheaper but you got to walk through the cellars anyway. Three tastings at Calem was 4 euros, whereas to taste at Taylor's we paid 17 euros. Honestly, the port and view were so spectacular that it was worth it. In addition, there are also peacocks that roam freely through the gardens and tasting rooms, which is definitely pretty cool. Lucky for us, our conference banquet was also at Taylor's so we got to go here twice.
After the conference ended, my boyfriend Ivan came to join me on an adventure in Portugal. Although this was not our first time abroad, it was our first vacation together in three years. We were determined to make the most of it before buckling down to study and graduate our programs.
Our last day in Porto was spent roaming around through gardens and hilly streets. If you would like breathtaking views of the Douro River, I would recommend going to the gardens at the Palacio de Cristal. Plan to spend a few hours here as every corner you turn, the view changes. Unfortunately, we were on a mission to make it to this lighthouse, which was on the other side of Porto. We chose to walk and enjoy the river views but there is a tram that can take you there as well. Walking to the lighthouse took about an hour. I'd recommend bringing a light sweater as the weather is quite cooler on the coast. We chose to take an uber back because we were just too exhausted.
Douro Valley River Cruise
After contemplating about whether or not to take a boat cruise, we decided to book an all-day excursion. This required us to be at the boat launch at the ungodly hour of 7:15AM. Okay, for you morning people this does not seem to early but we were on vacation and would have liked to have slept in. On the plus side, we were able to experience watching the clouds and sun fight for space in the sky.
Not only was the trip on the river worth it, we would have liked our trip to be longer. We sailed upstream to Regua but had wished we would have booked a trip to Pinhao or further. All-in-all it was a memorable experience. For about 65 euros a person, we were on the boat for 7 hours and were fed two meals with booze. The only strange part was that in between meals, if you wanted something else to drink (even water or coffee), you had to pay at the bar. Yet, the cruise was memorable and an experience I am glad we decided to take.