Porto: the River, the Wine, the Views

Porto is one of the loveliest cities I’ve been to. Colorful buildings topped with orange roofs tumble down a hillside to the Duoro River, upon which rabelos and modern boats bob gently. The Ponte Luis I arches over the water, reaching from the main city to the many port wine cellars of Vila Nova de Gaia. When I was there, the sky was never anything but blue, and the river sparkled in the sun.

Porto Portugal

Porto, Portugal

I arrived near midnight and took a cab to my Airbnb. The driver was chatty, and he made a great joke. He asked where I wanted to visit, and I mentioned the bridge and the cathedral. He said something about a palace and I said that sounded good. “Well it’s really another kind of church,” he said, and chuckled. It wasn’t until the next day that I realized he was talking about the Palacio da Bolsa — the extravagant stock exchange building from 1850. Another kind of church, indeed.

Palacio da Bolsa Porto Portugal

Palacio da Bolsa

I had planned to visit the Sé cathedral, but as I arrived, a police escort guided a line of black cars out to the main road, and I found the cathedral closed. When I inquired at the tourist kiosk, they said that the bishop had died just a few hours before, and as the building next door to the cathedral is the bishop’s house, everything would be closed for at least the rest of the day. As I heard a tour guide spin it to his charges, “You’re here at a historic time!”

Porto Portugal

Se Cathedral, Porto, Portugal

The port wine cellars are the places that port is actually made. The grapes are harvested in the Duoro River valley and made into wine (as with champagne, you can’t call the drink port unless the grapes are grown in this specific area), then immediately shipped downriver to Vila Nova de Gaia in Porto. The fresh wine is fortified with brandy (which all the port wine companies make themselves), and then it’s fermented either in giant vats (for ruby wine) or smaller oak barrels (for white and tawny wines). Some of the barrels are later re-used by Scottish companies to age whiskey in. Port wine is about 20% alcohol and sweet; you drink white as an aperitif (before dinner), ruby with dessert (especially chocolate), and tawny as a digestif (to end your meal most perfectly).

It’s a relaxing city to sightsee in, as most of the places you want to visit are pretty close to each other, and any time you have to climb a particularly steep hill, you can stop off for a quick drink at a cafe to recover. The way you wander about town is integral to the experience of being there — climb to lookouts around the city, walk across the bridge on the upper level for the views, glide along the Nova de Gaia side of the river in the teleferico, take a boat tour under the bridges of the city.

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Enjoy this short video I compiled of Porto from various points around the city.


Have you been to Porto? What was your favorite part?


Destination: Brooklyn

New York City. It’s one of the capitals of the world, a city teeming with sights to see, performances to take in, restaurants to savor. Of course, when we think of all the wonders of New York, we think of Manhattan. While there are certainly many years’ worth of things to see and do there, other boroughs have their own, less frenetic, charm. Since my sister lives in Brooklyn, I’ve spent a good portion of my two New York trips there, and I’m here to tell you it’s easy to make a whole visit out of Brooklyn alone. Here are some ideas:

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Prospect Park

Saturday was the first nice day in a long time, and we went for a walk in Prospect Park, which stretches along over twenty city blocks, topped by a giant statue in Grand Army Plaza. The whole park was full of kids and their families playing catch, flying kites, and riding scooters all over, and we strolled along past cyclists and joggers on our way to the farmer’s market. A perfect afternoon!

Cocoa Bar

I whiled away an hour or two at this Park Slope café, drinking a tasty hot chocolate and eating a divine piece of cake called Death by Chocolate. It involved cake, pudding, AND mousse, and no, I did not perish (but I didn’t finish it either). They have a garden backed by a colorful mural, which makes it even more appealing in warmer times.

Park Slope Food Coop

(No, I’m not sure why they don’t hyphenate.) One of the most established co-ops in the country, this place is highly organized. You can’t shop there unless you’re a member, you can only visit if you sign in and wear a visitor’s badge, and if you’re a member, you have to work at least one shift a month or find yourself no longer allowed to shop there because you aren’t contributing your part. The rules make sense for a small place that has over 14,000 members, but it is a bit daunting. Pro tip: don’t go at 5pm on a Sunday. It’s a little scarring. But! The food is cheap, and so much of it is local and organic, and it sure does beat giving your money to a giant conglomerate. Plus, just this week they were raffling off a classic Schwinn, so, y’know, hipster cred is always maintained. So find a friend who’s a member and head on in.

Brooklyn Bridge and Original Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory

Back when I visited during the summer, Emily took me to Brooklyn Heights, where we had delicious ice cream at the Original Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory while strolling along the pier right under this giant bridge that I hear is being sold for a really good price. (Aw, poor NYC, maybe we shouldn’t make Brooklyn Bridge jokes when their mayor is renaming other bridges nearby.)

Coney Island

Just take the F train all the way to the end of the line and ta da! You’re at the beach, complete with an old-timey carnival and boardwalk. When my flight was delayed on my summer visit, I spent a couple hours sunning in the sand, eating a hot dog, and peeking at the Ferris wheel at Coney Island. This place was a resort destination as early as the 1830s, back when it was still an island and landfills hadn’t connected it to the mainland. Nowadays it’s a bit run-down, but you can still buy an ice cream, a useless souvenir, and an amusement park ride ticket for under $20, so what else could you ask for?


Outpost seems to be one of those places that can be a little bit of everything for everybody–café, bar, restaurant, gallery, performance spot. When I visited during Gay Pride Weekend in ’09, a queer party group called Banned threw a delightful fête here with cupcakes, dance music, and burlesque performers who stood on tabletops and set their tassels on fire. It was pretty exciting. Also, there is a charming garden in the back with cozy seating to share a beer or three with your friends.

Park Slope shops

This neighborhood has a well-deserved reputation for being full of yuppie parents steamrolling over the sidewalks with their giant strollers, but as long as you stay nimble and avoid getting run over, there are a lot of neat shops to see. Emily and I walked along 7th Ave and poked our heads in many independent stores, places built up by locals and supported by the same. I think after a few hours I’d find it all a bit precious, but until then, the many stationery, framing, book, jewelry, and boutique pet stores are a fun way to while away an afternoon.


Emily found out about Re/Dress through a friend and knew it would becomeo an immediate favorite of mine. It’s a used and vintage store for women sizes 14 and up, and unlike most thrift stores, it’s huge. (Puns!) The staff is friendly and affirmative, the décor is zany and bright, and the clothes are affordable and good quality. Emily found me the perfect LBD there, and I stocked up on summer dresses in ’09 that get me compliments every time I wear them. Highly recommended if you’re in the size range and in the neighborhood (which I think is Brooklyn Heights?).

I know there’s much, much more to see, but next time I visit Brooklyn I’m sure I’ll have even more suggestions to bring back for y’all. In the meantime, enjoy!