I have been known to burst into, “I Left My Heart In San Francisco. The loveliness of Paris seems somehow sadly gray. The glory that was Rome is of another day. I’ve been terribly alone and forgotten in Manhattan. I’m going home to my city by the Bay.” I am not from San Francisco but Tony Bennett’s ballad to the power of place has become a bit of a theme song for our travels. Whenever we leave a city, I will ask, “Did anyone leave their heart back there?”
- For Max, it was Berlin, Germany.
- For Henry, it was Barcelona, Spain.
- For Bianca, it was Florence, Italy.
- For Ron, it was Valetta, Malta.
I left my heart in Porto, Portugal. I am not even sure of the exact moment or reason. Some people say it is the food, or the music, or the city size, or the museums. I fell in love simply wandering the streets of one of the oldest cities in Europe that gave Portugal its name. During Roman times the settlements of Portus and Cale were already established and by the 11th Century were combined into the name Portugal.
My love affair began when we were walking bridges, some influenced and designed by Gustave Eiffel, descending into Port Wine warehouses where time seems to stand still, as wooden barreled boats rocked on the Duoro River.
Climbing back up the winding, narrow streets, as the shadow of Porto’s Cathedral grew larger, it almost felt like we were on a movie set, yet there was a richness that can only come from day to day life happening.
As day turned to night, we stopped to watch the pigeons in the sun on Avenida dos Alidos, learned of the stories told in tile of great weddings and conquests in Sao Bento Train Station, and talked to many people who just wanted to say hello.
Our children were taken with urban legends of J.K. Rowling’s two years teaching English in Porto and how it influenced events and imagery in Harry Potter and the Philospher’s Stone. Was the Lello Bookstore we visited the inspiration for Flourish and Botts? Was the Majestic Cafe, named one of the most beautiful in the world, where this famous author spent her early days writing? Was Salazar Slytherin named after the Portuguese Dictator? Were the winged lions on the famous Fonte dos Leoes inspiration for the Gryffindor House symbol? Does the broom shop Escovaria de Belomonte remind you of a place that may sell a Nimbus 2000? Fabled or true, the hunt for these hints kept our children in a state of wonder day after day.
One thing is certain, Porto has inspired many creative endeavors and every corner of this city paints a new set of memorable images. Our eight-year-old daughter penned the following poem as we left this mesmerizing city behind, at least for now:
by Bianca Mariotti
Creative colorful city
Pinks and reds everywhere
Joyful people and sad fado music
Cold blustery bridges leading me straight to the flowing riberia
Layers of history moving beneath me