first stop: portugal

Prior to beginning my journey in Copenhagen, I planned some additional European travel with my friend Sarah.

(Side note: Sarah and I attended high school together in Nashville, and although we went to college separately, we both ended up choosing DIS as our study abroad program. A very happy coincidence!)

Since we were already booking flights to Europe, we decided to take advantage of this opportunity and find another interesting city to explore for a few days before our academic program.  This way, we could have plenty of time to adjust to jet lag while also having some fun!

In order to choose our destination, I began researching up-and-coming tourist destinations in Europe.  I knew I wanted to visit someplace warm before facing the chilly fall weather in Copenhagen, but we also wanted to find a city that would be relatively inexpensive.  And eventually, we landed on Porto, Portugal.

After a long 17 hours of travel, we arrived in Portugal on Tuesday morning. Though we were exhausted from the flights, we immediately began to explore the town (mostly to keep from falling asleep)!  We wandered along the shore of the Douro River, then spent a peaceful evening sitting at the gorgeous Gordarém beach.

On Wednesday, we decided to splurge a little bit (my summer job at Nordstrom finally paying off!), and we booked a tour of the region that included a boat ride and port tastings.  This was, by far, my favorite part of the trip!

On the tour, we took an hour and a half long van ride into the Douro Valley area.  Not only was the drive stunning, we also got the chance to know some of our fellow travelers–a few Australians, Canadians, and other Americans.  It was such a lovely surprise to befriend these kind and well-traveled strangers, and they had so much wisdom to share with us about backpacking in Europe. By the end of the day, we were all hugging and exchanging contact information.

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The Douro River Valley (the region of Port wine)

On Wednesday, we got a whole new view of the city from the Torre de Clerigos.  This beautiful church is open to the public, and we climbed the two tall towers to get a bird’s eye view of the city.  It was stunning, but we were out of breath by the time we got to the top! In fact, after walking to the top of the tower and all around the hilly city of Porto, Sarah’s fitbit reported that we had walked 75 flights of steps.

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Our View from the Torre de Clerigos

On Wednesday afternoon, we went on a walking tour of the city.  This was such an amazing opportunity to learn more about Porto from the perspective of a local.  We also got to know much more about the history of the city during this tour.  For instance, our tour guide Angela took us to a beautiful historic prison (now a photography museum) near the city center and told us a legendary love story about two of the inmates.

Another highlight of the tour was seeing (what is probably) the world’s fanciest McDonald’s!  Certainly the fanciest McDonald’s we’ve ever seen.

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The McDonald’s in Porto

On our last morning, we visited the beautiful Crystal Palace Gardens (the recommendation of one of our new Australian friends).  It was the perfect end to our vacation, and we left Portugal so full of gratitude for this opportunity and excited for the next chapter!

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The Crystal Palace Gardens

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