Portugal in 35mm

Words: Becky Bradshaw
Images: Stephanie Noritz

May 29 2016

Two and a half months into our relationship we were presented with an unbelievably cheap deal to Porto, Portugal. It was on an airline we had never heard of, to a destination we knew nothing about, and we had met only two months prior. The trip wouldn’t happen until the spring, about six months away, so it would definitely be an investment in our relationship. We figured it would only be a slight financial loss if our new romance didn’t make it through the winter, so we jumped on the deal, and signed up for at least another half a year together.

Luckily, our romance grew and we made it through the cold months, happily and in love. Neither of us knew very much about Porto, otherwise known as Oporto, in English. It’s the second largest city in Portugal, after Lisbon, situated on the Northwest coast. It’s a beautiful and scenic city that sits on either side of the Douro River.

We arrived in Porto on a rainy Sunday morning, after a bumpy overnight flight. We flew in on a jumbo jetliner that was reminiscent of our childhoods. It still featured the classic televisions that dropped down in the centre of the aisle, showed only one film for the entire six hour flight, and served an inflight meal that was quite possibly left over from the nineties.

We booked an Airbnb for a reasonable price in the heart of Porto’s city centre. When we stepped off the Metro, entering the heart of Portugal’s most romantic city for the first time, we were graced with everything that makes Europe “European”. Narrow, weaving cobblestone streets, buildings that have seen the centuries pass, courtyard terraces that are larger than the tiny cafes they belong too. Despite the leftover grumpiness from our journey, we were bursting with excitement to explore this city, together.

I have always found that the best way to experience a city is to step out of your front door and start walking – to get lost in it. You find the best kept secrets by wandering and keeping your eyes open. We did just that. Porto is made up of what seemed like a thousand tiny hills, or perhaps we were just a little out of shape. We spent afternoons strolling through the streets, imagining what it must have been like hundreds of years ago, making up stories about who might have lived in the old apartments we would pass. It’s so easy to get lost in the history of old European cities, especially coming from North America. It’s fascinating to actually feel, and to smell history, when you’re standing in a structure that is hundreds of years old.

Unfortunately most of our trip was a mix of clouds and rainfall, although we didn’t let that spoil our good time. We decided that it made our European adventure all that more romantic. It just meant we spent more time sitting in cafes drinking delicious local Portuguese wine, snacking on tapas, while watching people run past trying to escape the rain. The food and drink in Porto was unbelievable. Being able to enjoy a glass of vinho for only two euros, or a cerveja for only one, makes it hard not to spend most of your afternoons just eating and drinking your day away.

On our adventures throughout Porto we often noticed people sitting in cafes eating these cheesy, sandwich creations. We later discovered it was a Porto specialty called the Francesinha, which is a sandwich made up of bread, three different types of meat, covered in cheese, surrounded by fries and topped with a tomato and beer sauce. We figured it would be rude not to try one, so we found a little cafe near our apartment where Stephanie could indulge. I, don’t eat meat so I could only snack on the surrounding french fries and sauce, but Stephanie didn’t leave a lick of food, so I’m assuming it was quite the experience.

There has always been something about traveling by train through Europe that I’ve found exciting. Perhaps it’s because growing up in Toronto, the closest thing to a train I’ve travelled on was the subway, and it’s simply not as glamourous. Lisbon, the largest city in Portugal, was only a three hour ride away so we decided to visit for a couple days. Traveling from Porto to Lisbon was a sight. We would stop at these old stations in small towns along the coast that must have seen decades upon decades of passengers. The one thing that stands out to me the most being  in Europe is the diversity of language, even coming from a multicultural city like Toronto. Sitting on the train, and only speaking English and Spanish between us, we were surrounded by conversations in tongues that we couldn’t understand and we found it electrifying. It was a beautiful experience.

Lisbon was quite different from Porto. She is the bigger, livelier, more touristy destination. When we arrived in Lisbon we were greeted with the first ray of sunshine we had seen all week, but it was soon hidden behind storm clouds. Considering we had only two days in the city, we hopped on one of those big yellow hop-on hop-off busses. We sat on the top,  motoring our way through Portugal’s capital to check out all the sights. Despite the cool air, and the rain soaked seats, we enjoyed the tour so much we took it twice. Lisbon is a beautiful city, filled with buildings that leave you in awe, even if you’re not an architectural enthusiast. It is a vibrant city that that you need more than forty-eight hours in, and from the moment we stepped off the train we felt welcome.

We arrived back in Porto for our final night in Portugal. We took one final stroll through the streets, slowly taking it all in for the last time. We sat on a busy terrace for most of the evening, enjoying a local port as a toast to this beautiful country.

You never really know what to expect when you take a trip with a new love, it could be a life changing experience or it could be a series of fights and annoyances. Luckily for us we flew home with new memories, stories to tell, and more in love than ever. Portugal was great to us, and rest assured we will be back.

Stephanie Noritz is a portrait and documentary photographer living and working in New York City.