Details and Street Art in Porto

“Maggie?” I had to run to catch up with our fast-talking and fast-moving guide. “What does this mean?”

Showing her a photo I’d just snapped, she held her head back and roared with laughter. “Why, Rui Rio is the mayor of Porto, and this person has said he’s a son of a bitch!”

Lauren and I arrived to the Sheraton Oporto hotel in the city’s business district, Boavista, only a few hours before, running to catch a taxi and check in before the free tours and workshops started at the Travel Bloggers Unite conference. She got into a photo editing workshop, whereas I was rushed through the Oporto Cool tour. I imagined I’d have time in another moment to see the UNESCO World Heritage sites that crown the Duoro River, but blog conferences offer little time for anything more than social media.

No matter, though, as our tour of Fundação Serralves and the artsy backstreets of one of Iberia’s hippest cities provided the glimpse into tripeiro life I was looking for – the graffiti and details of urban living said it all.

Maggie, a native Angolean who has resided in Oporto for the better part of her life, had us disembarking in front of a stone house, once used as a farm house for a wealthy family. This was the Portugal I already knew – the exploration that gave way to commerce and a small yet fiercely proud people.

Thankfully, a quick pivot to our left and we were on Rúa Miguel Bombarda, a street with galleries every two steps and graffiti resting in between them.

Elders silhouetted the bright graffiti, hunched and making their way to nearby Alimentação for onions and water, and we followed suit. The stuck out just as much as we did, clustered next to graffiti depicting poetry and Oporto’s famed heart symbol. The warm day’s morning clouds had cleared, making us squint as we moved along the rúa.

The tour led us to a small mall, the Centro Comerção Bombarda, with bonsai gardens, chalk drawings on the floor and windows and artsy cafés. Used to the regal districts of Lisbon, seeing a city so alive with art and off-beat culture was refreshing. Named for a revolutionary who led a resistance against the long-standing monarchy, Rúa Miguel Bombarda is slowly starting a revolution of its own.

The street art even took the form of laundry, which Maggie pointing out as a way of life in Iberia: “We even think our garments are art. can you see? No secrets here. We are starting something new out of something old.” For someone who hangs her own laundry out to dry (both literally and figuratively), I had to laugh.

The rúa is also home to a number of interesting shops, displaying everything from rare sports cards to out-of-print books and even a curious shop with recycled goods. We sifted through old tiles, shoe horns and corsets. Hidden treasure was just begging to be found, but Maggie moved us right along, up towards the university and its nightlife hot spots.

Maggie led us past bookstores and bars carved out among government havens, speaking of the students’ revolution and their quest for all things bohemian. We tucked inside one of Porto’s oldest shops on Rúa Galerie da Paris, converted from a textiles mart into a gift store. I ignored everything on the tables and instead ran my hands along the worn wood of the old postal office and admire the crown molding on the second floor before being hurried out and onto a franchesinha sandwich. Old meets new when it comes to food, anyway.

Have you ever been to Porto? What were your impressions of the city?

If you are looking to rent an apartment in Porto which feels like home try MyFriendsRoom Vacation Rentals in Porto.

Places with Encanto: Casa Hernanz Alpargateria

Calle de Toledo stretches from Madrid’s crowning Plaza Mayor all the way down a hill past La Latina’s churches and bars to the Glorieta de Toledo, where I first spent the night a weekend in Madrid. Alvaro and I hiked up and down that weekend as he took me to his favorite places for a cañatapa.

I’ve spent countless days around the Plaza Mayor, snacking on bocadillos de calamares, browsing souvenir shops. In the quest to spend a few hours before the Novio came to meet me in Madrid, I climbed up Calle de Toledo, on my way to Mercado San Anton in Chueca. Remembering an article about shopping in Madrid, I was delighted to stumble across a Madrid institution, Casa Hernánz.

Wedged into a small workshop space just a block of Plaza Mayor, I peered in the windows showcasing the dozens of raffia-soled shoes, a popular folk style called espadrilles or alpargatas. Standing on my toes, I found a pair of beige ankle-strap sandals with a broad pink strap across the toes.

“You should take a picture to show at the mostrador,” the black-clad woman behind me said to her daughter. “This line is so long, you won’t even remember the style you want by the time you’re attended to. My company in line were two Americans with suitcases, a Crocs-wearing priest and an endless array of older madrileñas. I sighed and pulled out my smartphone, settling in for what was sure to be as long a wait as the bank.

The line inched along. To pass the time, I looked into the display windows immediately next to door which were lined with a rainbow of linos, the thin thread that used for the superior part of the shoe. The soles are made of esparto, a coarse, vegetable thread that is woven together and glued onto another thin rubber sole. The lino is then hand-sewn onto the sole, called the plantilla. This type of shoe is typical in many regional costumes, come in colors as diverse as salmon or turquoise, and are often made with ribbons that lace up the calf. I myself swear by them during the Feria, as they keep my feet cool during the long nights of dancing.

As I inched closer to the shop doors, the woman behind me tried sneaking in to sit on a long wooden bench opposite the counter, which stretched from one end of the workshop to the other. The priest put up his hand, a look of anger on his face. “Senora, I’ve been waiting in line all morning. Do. Not. Pass.”

She shrunk away, probably clutching a rosary, and cursed the priest. I couldn’t help but laugh. Now that I was within the door, straddling the hot street and the even hotter workshop, I was surrounded by shoes, fabrics and the plantillas, stuffed into bookshelves behind the counter. Some were bare, while others, separated according to size, already had the fabric attached. Shoes climbed up the wall, from finger-length baby sizes and on up. Even more styles than I’d seen outside were showcased in wire cases, and miles of different types of rope snaked across the counter. An old fashioned phone called in special orders por encargo and a woman attended to them, scribbling notes and measuring soles for whoever was on the other end of the line.

The priest was there for new alpargatas in a simple black style (good, throw those Crocs away, Padre!) and a white twisting cord for his robe. The two Americans opted for simple lace-up styles in royal blue, and I suddenly had Rosary Lady pushing me to the end of the counter.

The lady on the other side of the mostrador smirked at me. “Que querías?” I fumbled for the words, wishing I had snapped a shot of the sandals I’d been eyeing. I pointed to the baby shoes just behind me. “Um, my friend has a baby. He’s small. I want some of the shoes for him,” I managed.

“Well, how big is he? How old?” I can barely remember my own shoe size in Spanish, let alone Baby Jack’s, who I had never met. I got him Cubby Blue to make his parents happy and motioned to a white pair of strappy heels for my sister. When it came time to explain the ones I liked, she knew immediately and went to fetch them.

Phew.

In the end, my wide feet wouldn’t make it into the shoe, and I knew I couldn’t cram anything more into my bag. Between my sister’s tacones and little Jack’s shoes, I paid a mere 34€  – far less than the priest and his miles of cordón!

Casa Hernanz is located on Calle de Toledo, numbers 18-20, nestled just next to the sprawling Plaza Mayor. Hours are 9:00am -1:30pm and 4:30 – 8:00pm Monday through Friday, and Saturdays 10am – 2:00pm. Lines can get long, so be sure to arrive early. Products and services can be consulted on Casa Hernanz’s website.

I’m looking for ideas for two new categories for Sunshine and Siestas – Typical Espaneesh (think, the mid morning cafelito, carrito de compras or finquillo) and Places with Encanto. If you’ve got a place to suggest or are interested in guest blogging about it, leave me a message in the comments, or write me at sunshineandsiestas @ gmail . com.

Spain Life in Photos: SIMOF

Do you ever have any of those, “How the HELL did I end up here?” moments? I do frequently. They usually happen in the morning when I see how teeny my counterparts are. How did I go from being set on pursuing a serious journalistic career to wiping away snot and entertaining with the Hokey Pokey?

But recently I had a good one of those moments. Kelly and I went to SIMOF, the Salón Internacional de Moda Flamenca, a yearly exposition of flamenco dress fashion held in Sevilla.

The lights dimmed and Kelly and I sat up in our seventh-row seats. A singer broke out into a copla dedicated to the designer’s hometown and the stage flooded in red. The silhouette of a flamenca, peineta perched on her head, appeared in front of the screen and the lights went up. Kelly and I let out a collective “Ahh!” and continued to marvel at the designs Loli Vera presented. We turned to each other frequently as if to say, “How did we end up here?”

Pastels, brocade and lace took the place of the ever-present lunares, though the models looked bored and talk on stage. Always true to Sevillana style.

here’s a bonus:

Is it Feria yet?

A few weeks ago, I was telling Kike that I wanted to buy a traditional gypsy flamenco dress for the Feria de Abril. But, given my body type and budget constraints, I didn’t know where to find one. He enlisted his friend Susana to help me, and she assured me that I’d have no trouble at all finding something.
Last night, she picked me up at 6pm and we drove just outside the city to a huge factory specializing in flamenco dresses. The wide space was crammed with dresses in every color, style, length, pattern and material imaginable, from traditional trajes, or one piece, to skirt and corset sets. Susana and I spent 20 minutes scouring the racks, not knowing my size. Like a good shopper, I picked out anything that I might remotely be interested in (thank you, Nancy Gaa) and soon both of our arms were piled with flamenco dresses. All of them were for me. I picked out a pink one-piece dress with white polka dots. Very traditional, yet stunning. For the first time ever in my life, something fit me so amazingly that I didn’t want to take it off. Nothing has to be done to the dress – it needn’t be taken in or out nor lengthened. I gasped when she zipped it up and I turned around.
Despite having a lot of body in many places, the dresses was snug around my butt, around my hips and around my chest. It actually made me look really thin and curvy. I was just about decided when she encouraged me to try on other skirts and dresses, but nothing fit me like the pink lunar (pink with white polka dots). The price tag, at 99E, was much more favorable to the 500E trajes I’ve seen elsewhere. Susana told them woman helping us to get me complementos to try on – big white hoop earrings, a white shawl, a pink and white flower for my hair. All together, I have to say I looked Spanish. And all Susana could say was, “Kike va a flipar cuando te vea” – Kike is going to go crazy when he sees you. He asked later about whether or not the trip was successful. I said yes, but you’ll have to wait until Feria to see me dressed up like a Sevillana. For now, I’m off to Cadiz for the Carnaval – a full week of drinking, singing, partying in the streets and fireworks.
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