Steve and I have just about completed our first week in Porto, Portugal. It’s Portugal’s second city, located on the west coast where the Douro River meets the Atlantic Ocean. It’s the home of port wine, and a lot of good regular wine, too. We are staying right on the banks of the Douro, in the old historical city center, close to the Dom Louis I Bridge. On our side of the Douro, the waterfront is full of shops, restaurants, buskers, boats and tourists. On the other side, which is technically another town called Vila Nova de Gaia, are all the port wine cellars. The rest of the city on our side of the river is very much uphill from here. It is a seriously steep climb to go anywhere else in Porto, so we are getting some good cardio.

Our apartment is really nice, but there is no heating in the building. Somehow I missed that in the Airbnb listing, but in my defense, who knew you had to double check whether an apartment in western Europe has a heater? It’s like a meat locker in here, which is great for sleeping, but not so great for hanging out. It’s a good incentive to venture out, climb the steep hills and steps, and explore Porto.

Speaking of exploration, we are continuing our tour of hospitals, medical practices and pharmacies in Europe, because apparently, that’s our thing. On our third day here, Steve woke up with a kidney stone, his fifth or sixth (we have lost count). We did some quick internet research, selected a private hospital and hopped in an Uber. Long story short, as a kidney stone former, Steve has turned pro. Unlike its predecessors, this stone was too large to pass on its own and in the wrong place for lithotripsy (shock wave treatment), so it had to be pulverized with a laser and removed by a urologist in a surgical suite under general anesthesia. We spent our first Friday night in Porto in the hospital. Enough people there spoke enough English to help us out, including the surgeon, thank goodness, although I think I only understood about 70% of what was said. The hospital did have heat, so that was a plus. I’m happy to report that Steve is doing well. He still has to go back to have a follow-up procedure in a couple of weeks, but we expect that will be ambulatory surgery and fairly quick.

So, Porto is visually very interesting. There are lovely old buildings and churches, parks and green spaces (which we haven’t yet visited), twisting cobblestoned streets and alleyways, ancient-looking stone staircases connecting the riverfront with the rest of the city and lots of amazing views. It’s called the City of the Bridges, and there are several impressive ones spanning the Douro, the most famous of which is our neighbor, the Dom Louis I. There are huge sandy beaches on the Atlantic coast. In addition to Baroque and Neoclassical-style buildings, I’ve seen a surprising amount of art deco and very cool modern architecture, as well as some of the most beautiful tiled façades you can imagine. There are churches, apartments and other structures here that are literally covered in painted ceramic tiles – thousands of them. They are incredible works of art.

There is a great indoor/outdoor market, sort of like Eastern Market in D.C. meets Whole Foods. It’s very clean and modern, and a great place to get meat and fish, produce of all kinds, flowers, oils, spices and some textiles.

Porto is also a little bit shabby in places, with some buildings in ruins, others circling the drain and some just kinda unattractive. There is a not-insignificant population of unhoused folks. There’s a lot of graffiti and rusting ironwork, and the fabulous tiles are falling off some of the old buildings. There are riverfront properties that have been abandoned. On a more positive note, I think it’s infrastructure week here. There are construction cranes and big and small construction/renovation projects everywhere you look, so I hope they will revitalize and repurpose the other sites that are falling down.

In the meantime, Steve and I will try to keep ourselves in one piece.