Text Ilkka Sirén
This summer me and my family decided to spend the midsummer in Portugal. It’s usually a period when I really prefer to stay in Finland but the weather here can be a bit of gamble. So, we packed our bags and took literally the first flight out of Helsinki Airport which just happens to be the only direct flight to Portugal.
Like usual our connecting flight from Lisbon to Porto was cancelled and we suddenly had six hours to kill. Don’t know about you but there’s no way in hell I’m spending six hours at the airport by myself let alone with a 3-year-old kid. Instead we took a taxi and headed to the Lisbon Oceanarium. I just saw from Google Maps that it wasn’t too far from the airport and thought it would be something my son would like. BINGO! We came there just as it was opening up in the morning and avoided any queues. My son was so excited as was I. We don’t have a proper oceanarium in Helsinki so it was a nice experience.
When we finally did get to Porto I had a quick visit to the wine cellar of Ramos Pinto. I never visited their cellar in Vila Nova de Gaia so it was on my to-do list. The history of their house is interesting, especially from a marketing/brand point of view. Plus their wines are pretty kickass too.
Then some food. Oh yes! A must dish to try in Porto, “Amêijoas à Bulhão Pato”. A beautiful set of clams in oily-garlic stew. You just want to take that bread and dip, all day long. Attach a glass of Vinho Verde in your hand and you my friend will be happy.
One of the reasons for our midsummer visit to Portugal was to spend the São João in Porto. The festival of São João particularly in the city of Porto is known throughout the world. I have never experienced it myself but let’s just say that it has a reputation. People grilling sardines on every corner, beer is literally flowing in the streets and all sorts of concerts and parties are happening all together. How I explained it afterwards to Finnish friend of mine that the São João in Porto is like if you would combine New Year’s Eve, 1st of May and Finland winning gold in ice hockey world championship. It’s that crazy. But obviously incredibly fun at the same time.
After a day of overdosing with sardines we headed for dinner restaurant Vinum which is located in Graham’s lodge. Partially for the food but most definitely also for the view. The restaurant has a perfect view to the Dom Luís I bridge. To eat we had some more sardines, of course, but that steak though. A beautifully cooked bone-in rib-eye steak. Delicious! After we had stuffed ourselves with some proper food it was almost midnight. As every dinner should the night ended with big fireworks above the Dom Luís I bridge. Afterwards we stumbled down back to the ribeira where we literally got hammered. The tradition on São João is that people have these noisy plastic hammers and you hit people over the head with it as they walk by. And yes, the garlic flowers. Those goddamn garlic flowers. As we were walking towards the bridge to cross over to Porto we noticed that the bridge was closed. We waited about 45 minutes in this massive beer-drinking, hammer-hitting herd of people while getting our noses shoved with garlic flowers. It was a long 45 minutes let me tell you. When the police finally started to let people cross the bridge it was a bit scary. The bridge was swinging because of the amount of people on the bridge. For a moment I thought the whole thing would come down but luckily it didn’t.
The next day we rented a car and drove to Vinho Verde for some rest and recuperation at Quinta de Covela. Sunny days of teaching my son to swim, walking in the vineyards and enjoying some tasty Avesso. Perfect!
Since my family was there I wanted to show them around Douro. Driving in the narrow roads was getting a bit too scary for my mom but it was well worth it. Anyone who has witnessed the beauty of the Douro don’t mind spending a couple hours in the car holding on to their seats for dear life. We stopped for lunch at Niepoort’s Quinta de Nápoles and tasted a few wines.
My kid especially enjoys to visit the barrel rooms. He is really interested in the big wine barrels and calls them “giants”. We left Douro with a big smile on our faces towards Porto. I was so happy to see that my family enjoyed Portugal as much as I do. How could they not? Great food, great wines, friendly people and nice weather. It’s pretty much all we Finns need.
It was the last day of our trip and we had to return our rental car. But not before a quick pit-stop in Matosinhos to eat some insanely delicious percebes (goose barnacle). The last taste of Portugal; fresh salty sea and wine lingered in my mouth when our airplane took off. What a great trip!