Mastering the 21-hour Layover, Porto Style: Part I

29 July 2014 / By Julie Gargotta
Plaza in Porto, Portugal
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It was back in February, on one particularly chilly evening, that we were searching for our summer flights. After two summers in a row visiting my British boyfriend’s friends and family in England (which was lovely, as you might imagine), we were finally heading to my stomping grounds… dun dun duhh… Italy! Sure, it would be a pricey trip, but we’d get to attend a family wedding in Sicily, and spend several days playing tourist, from Rome to the Amalfi Coast. As I typed in travel dates in Priceline’s search bar, I imagined us traipsing around the Colosseum, jetting to Capri, and splaying out on the beach in Positano. I could already taste my favorite nocciola gelato now. And not to mention the pasta…

Just one minor snag: Flights from the East Coast to Rome were astronomically high and we weren’t exactly flush with cash. We would never be able to afford a Mediterranean getaway when direct flights would total two-thirds of our budget. But then, I spied it: a TAP Portugal flight for under $1,000. The only catch? It featured a twenty-one hour layover in Porto, Portugal on the way back to New York. Now, while I’ve been never one to shy away from a good deal and a measly two or three hour layover, this would be no such thing. This was the real deal, very Anthony Bourdain. This would be diving into unchartered waters for us. We welcomed the adventure.

Eurostars BathroomAfter ten days gallivanting around Italy—dragging baggage through cobblestone streets and posing for pictures on every corner—we were exhausted as we landed in Porto that Sunday afternoon. We found that the information kiosk could arrange a quick shuttle to our hotel for 6 euros each, a no brainer given our short stay. During the shuttle ride, I quizzed the friendly driver on top things to do and see in the city, local dishes and can’t-miss drinks, jotting my notes on a folded up map. Twenty minutes later we stepped into the cool lobby of our hotel, Eurostars Das Artes, and were pleasantly surprised: Not only was it elegant, modern, and marble everywhere, it was incredibly inexpensive at 75 USD a night. Score!

We ditched the bags in our room and headed to the historic district, on our way to the river. Our first impressions of Porto were mixed. On one hand, it wasn’t as picturesque or romantic as we had imagined. We’d read that Porto, the second-largest city in Portugal after Lisbon, used to be a booming port long ago based around its key export, port wine. After a series of economic downturns, many of the aged buildings had fallen into disrepair. Yet, even as we looked at the colorful paint peeling off the homes, the delicate tile work now chipped and cracked, we still found something so intriguing and charming about the winding streets. There was an indelible sense of realness and authenticity about this city.

River in Porto

Stay tuned for Part 2…

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About The Author

Julie Gargotta

Julie works as a television journalist and freelance writer for various magazines. She loves to explore new places and experience diverse cultures, sampling local bites along the way. Julie's website

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