Erasmus in Porto. Beer, little French girls and hobos
Now this is not very usual, as I am more used to writing about what is going on right now rather than taking a trip down a memory lane, but I believe that the useful information that I gathered is worth sharing with a person, who is going to visit the beautiful and intriguing city of Porto.
First of all to set off from the right foot I believe that it is necessary to give you some additional information to understand why and how did I end up in Porto. Basically, I got accepted for an Erasmus+1 exchange programme to go and study in the second biggest city of Portugal.
To go there me and L. we decided to take my car for a spin. So we drove through whole Europe2, visited a lot of places and one day this story is definitely going to become a blog post. As we got to Porto, which, by the way, was surprisingly cold3, L. helped me to settle in and had to leave two days later.
So there you have it – a guy, who is alone and in a completely new environment for him, which is completely not what he did expect4. Now in these kind of situations there is only one thing that can help a guy to sense the warmth and the happiness, to make him feel like he’s being hold tightly in loving arms, to forget all that it is bad, to cry from laughter and enjoy the life to its fullest… You know that the thing I am describing is most definitely…
… THE BEER5
I come from a land where beer sections in supermarkets are as big as small shopping malls. A place where in every bigger supermarket you can find at least 50 different beer brands.
Situation in Porto quite differs from what I have described. In the biggest supermarket in this city6 beer section is made up of two rows of racks. Most of it is filled by two local brands Super Bock and Sagres and you can buy this beer in many different sizes and in different boxes.
The imported beer like Hoegaarden, Desperados, Leffe etc. has one rack and these types are enormously expensive – often they are more than 2€ for a 0,33 bottle. So, it’s quite natural that I had to drink the local stuff.
Now if you ask a local person what does he think about their beer, he would say that Super Bock is one of the best beers in the world7 and as I remind you I come from a country which has huge beer culture. So I, personally, hated Portuguese beer – it tasted bad, it didn’t have the flavor richness that good beers have and every time you take a sip it leaves you with a some kind of taste of iron pipes in your mouth. It is drinkable if it is nearly ice cold or if you drink so much of it, that you don’t even care what you’re drinking.
As I got used to it and my stay in Porto was going to an end, it did start to feel like it is a light beer with a gourmet taste and with some sentimental value, but it changed when I finally got home.
So, trust me, if you are in Porto for a longer stay the best place to buy beer is Ukrainian and Russian stores8, where you can find Lithuanian beer and it will cost you less than French or Belgian beer, more than Portuguese beer, but it will definitely give you more joy.
I actually found an old article of a guy reviewing Super Bock, and he gave a total mark of 2,9/5 9 and, of course, that there were Portuguese people, who were not satisfied with the review their beer got and were questioning these guys ability to even rate beers, despite the fact that this blogger has tried out more than 200 different beers.
This particular user offers to try Super Bock cold, but I should remind that good beer tastes good even if it’s at room’s temperature.
Little French Girls
I don’t know how would you imagine a little French girl, but for most of the Portuguese it is a very fat and greasy… sandwich. During the first few weeks, I got to meet this Portuguese man Ricardo with a beard, who later turned out to be sixteen, who said that the number one food to try in Porto is francesinha, which eventually means little French girl or just Frenchie.
So, me and my other three friends one day decided, without a lot of knowledge what it is, to try the francesinha. What we got was something that we had never ever seen before in our lives.
It is a sandwich with 3 layers of meat, covered with cheese, a sauce10, with an egg on top and surrounded with French fries. This little French darling has 1300 calories11 itself, without counting the egg and the fries. So, when you add the rest of the ingredients and swallow it up with beer or Coke or anything else what helps for your digestion system you get almost all of your recommended calories income. And the fun part – despite the fact that the francesinha is literally swimming in this ocean of sauce, the waiter comes and offers you to have some more of this sauce – it felt like they just want you to die from a heart attack.
We ate this at Ricardo’s cafeteria and as he was already a friend of ours, we couldn’t tell him what we thought of this Portuguese gourmet dish. We told him that it was awesome and tasty, but afterwards we weren’t able to eat for upcoming 24 hours.
So, a tip for anyone who is going to try francesinha – if you do this, make sure you are doing it in one of the fancier places in Porto, which are rated good, for example, in TripAdvisor. I have tried this meal a few times more and if it is made in a way that is more suitable for tourists, I believe, that it is possible that you would like it.
And as for Ricardo’s cafeteria, despite the fact that the francesinha wasn’t impressive, they had one of the best burgers ever that you could get for 2 Euros.
Now this part of the story is mainly for those who have come to Porto with their vehicle. Once other mates from my country arrived12, their flat owner informed them they should always leave your car glove box and armrest open and empty. This should show that there’s nothing in the car and this is your way of honoring local hobos and junkies.
Of course, we haven’t paid attention to this warning, but as it turned out it was foolish and irresponsible.
Long story short, I got my back window broken and some of my belongings stolen. When I got to the Tourist Police, I’ve met some guys who were travelling through Europe with the car and left all of their belongings like passports, money, bank cards in their car. As you can already guess they got everything stolen too.
Afterwards I had to fix my rear glass, so as I went to the car service, they told me that things like that happen every single day and, I quote, oh, it’s usual in Porto.
So, for next few months I always left my car glove box and underarm open and my car was never again broken in any ways. It’s just pity that I had to learn it the hard way to do as the flat owner said.
The other fantastic thing about local hobos is that they are very enterprising. One of the main ways to earn money is to work as a live parktronic. This pleasant way of racketeering happens all around the city.
A hobo would help you to park a car even if there is no other cars around and you have plenty of space to park your car. When they see a car coming they would start to run and if there is a rival parktronic, they would start push each other while running.
Now, of course, there is nothing bad if a person wants to help for you to park your car and it’s your choice how much you are going to pay. The truth is that if you pay them less than 0.5 Euro, you will get your car scratched and another thing is that you can trust where the parktronic is parking you. My friend got to learn it the hard way when he had to run after a car trawl and paid a 60 Euros fee, for parking in an illegal space, which was shown to him by a hobo.
Overall tips from Erasmus experience
Well, this post contained mainly negative things and, of course, it’s not fair because Porto is a wonderful city, where I spent one of the best times of my life. Still I feel my duty to warn those who are going to visit or live in Porto about some threats that you’re going to face. So:
But, I Solemnly Swear, that my next piece about Porto would provide you with information about how to take the most of your time there.