Inertia is quite real in my life. All it takes for me to stick by my new year ‘workout’ resolution is to take the first step. Once I begin, I’ve very little trouble continuing it for days. On the flip side, once I do hit a week or two of curling up on my bed, I tend to vegetate on that mode forever.
For someone like me, traveling comes with a perk that is often misconstrued. Call it my desire to keep moving or just being on a budget, I chill a lot less when traveling. In fact, given that I spend a significant amount of time on my laptop at work, I’m always yearning for physical activity when I’m on a break.
To that extent, Porto was exactly the nature gym I needed. Instead of gaining notorious ‘holiday weight’, I shed a good 3 kilo in just 5 days without a single gym session. Not to mention, the pot belly that was beginning to pop its head out of my shirt quietly squished back inside.
The Two Levels Of Everything
Life in Porto unfolds at two levels – the river level and the town level. At the bottom where the river runs are the wineries, the fun markets, the cruises, and a buzzing nightlife. At the top is the historic old city of Porto with its marvelous architecture, ancient houses, and medieval churches. Between the two levels lies most of Porto’s life – restaurants, bookstores, shops, and cafes. This multi-level system ensured that we were always climbing uphill or tumbling downhill every other hour.
From our house to the metro station, we’d to walk at least 100 steps uphill. To go down to the river, a good 50 steps downhill. Even the public transport system is designed to ensure you have to climb a few steps and walk at least a kilometre to get anywhere relevant. To wrap our heads around the rich history of Porto’s bygone era, we took a few walking tours. Cars won’t get everywhere, even if you want. Over the course of 5 days, we clocked a total of 70 km of walking, most of which involved altitude.
When we weren’t walking through the streets of Porto, our bums were on the saddle.
To encourage more people to ride their bikes to nearby areas, the authorities have also built a beautiful cycling path that stretches all around the Atlantic coast of Porto. On a fine afternoon, we biked 36 km around the coast with dreamy coastal views and the ocean breeze for company.
Along the route, we stopped by the Afurada fishing village where we shared a fresh grilled seafood meal with an elderly couple who spoke no further English than ‘Goa’. We drove past a national park wherein migratory birds had come down in droves and ended the day on a beach where a fair was unfurling. Even though our bums craved for a massage upon our return, every bit felt refreshing.
Almost as if the hilly terrains aren’t quality instruments, Porto is a mecca for adventure lovers. The Atlantic coast of Portugal has recorded some of the highest waves on our planet – a surfer’s mid morning dream. The quaint river running through the city is tailor made for kayaking or stand-up paddling. Lagoons to swim in, stunning national parks to hike at, gushing rivers to raft in, every ounce of adventure one can conjure up is a stone’s throw away.
But, as I type this, I can almost see some of you smirk at me with the question of ‘What about the food mate? Aren’t the Portuguese famous for their beer drinking and languid meals?’. Oh well, they most definitely love their food to bits. Families laze about in restaurants for hours, ordering meal after meal, sipping on port wine, and delving into their desserts.
However, every restaurant has tons of healthy options, in a majority in fact. Two of Porto’s most famous dishes, the pastel de nata (an egg pastry) and francesinha (a cheesy meat sandwich), are not the best proponents of healthy eating. But, menus at restaurants in Porto keep it simple – select your choice of fish or meat and get it grilled/ baked. No deep frying or roasting, no oil-based cooking, just plain grilling with fresh olive oil topping and salads. My stomach hasn’t felt as cleansed as I did in Portugal, or as satisfied. Of course, wine will be consumed. But, you’re likely to burn that on your way back from the restaurant.
Porto wasn’t love at first sight. It didn’t quite have me at hello, or when I stood transfixed at the marvellous architecture, or when I was charmed by its Hogwarts-esque bookstores, or when I was astonished at the powerful history, or even while partying up on its streets. It had me when I got back home to India and saw myself in the mirror full length.
I’ve not once subscribed to a gym, knowing fully that I would flush that investment down the drain. But, Porto turned out to be a free membership I didn’t quite plan for, gladly enough.