Weekends away are good; weekends away with friends are better. But weekends away with friends when it's 20+ degrees and sunny really are the best kind of all and add a birthday to that mix and there's not much that can be done to beat it.
We left at a very civilised hour from London (where it had snowed overnight) and arrived in sunny Porto just in time for lunch. After quickly becoming transport experts and finding our lovely hotel our first stop was Graham's port house. G had kindly sorted this for us before we left and our guide certainly gave us birthday treatment.
The evening was spent wandering the river at sunset, trying unique beverages such as port & tonic and 85 euro cent beers before getting a little lost walking home, and then having port and cheese at the hotel until the stragglers arrived. As they arrived rather late dinner was a unique, and European mix - kiwis, living in London, in an Italian restaurant in Portugal where a combination of Spanish and French were the common languages.
Saturday, G's actual birthday started in a very lazy fashion with coffee and Portuguese custard tarts on the terrace. By the time we eventually made it into the centre of town it was lunch time for the port houses so we took a boat ride in one of the old port boats to absorb more of the sunshine.
As the port houses were still closed when we returned we meandered around before finding a sunny spot on a side street for lunch. Again, with little in terms of common language we muddled our way through. Although there was no real menu we tried local produce of Bacalhau (dried salted cod fish, which when deep-fried is more appetising than it sounds!), salami (which appeared to be supplied directly from the market next door), olives and bread, and ate like kings. The owner was very excited when he worked out that it was someone's birthday and kindly gave us all a port for on the road.
The port houses were open now so, for the benefit of the stragglers who arrived late on the Friday and on Saturday morning, we visited the houses of Ferreira and Sanderman. We are now universally expert in the manufacture of port and hope that it is a question that comes up in all future quiz nights.
The evening was again lovely and warm so we spent a few more hours along the river and doing tourist things like the cable car and crossing the iron bridge before finding more cheese for another pre-dinner hotel picnic. Unfortunately as it was Valentines Day we struggled to get into a highly recommended restaurant so ended up at a wee bbq restaurant near the hotel for what was possibly the best bbq food any of us had had in a long time, let alone from an indoor grill, all served with lashings of yummy sauce, and in Graham's case loads of chips as he declined the rice.
You wouldn't believe it, but by Sunday morning we were still able to eat! After a sedate start on the terrace with more coffees and pastries we took a tram ride along the river to the beach, for lunch. The tram was very cute and although we don't have photos of them there were a few young boys who latched on to the outside and took a free ride along the waterfront also. The tram ride certainly felt like we'd gone back in time, or at least gone to the Auckland zoo.
While not the best or cleanest beach in the world, it was really lovely to be able to sit on the beach after lunch, walk on the sand and paddle in the water. Oh, and have more port and ice-cream.
It was a fabulous weekend and I thing we all have very high expectations for Graham's next 30th birthday.
PS. When not eating or drinking, we did note that Porto really is rather beautiful It has lots of old buildings and many of them are tiled with bright ceramic tiles. It certainly feels like a poorer place than other European cities we've been to but that is no doubt part of the charm.
PPS. Turns out that historical Porto is a World Heritage site, so on top of a lovely, warm, calorific weekend, we can take one thing off the to do list!
One of the older vintages
Inside Graham's (sorry, not smart enough to move this at the moment)