I have been lucky enough to visit some great places whilst following City, and although it couldn't match the dizzying sights and smells of say Gillingham or Middlesbrough, Porto really stole my heart on this trip. Football has provided me with a unique opportunity to travel to destinations I wouldn’t otherwise dream of visiting with the kids in tow (Poznan isn’t high on the family summer holiday wish list).
Arriving on the Wednesday lunchtime, I was immediately surprised by how temperate it was, the warmth clinging to you like a favourite cashmere jumper. But it was the spirit of Porto that enveloped me the most, from the old women sweeping the pavement outside their “casas”, to the bakery shopkeepers & bar tenders, the “tripeiros“ are a proud and welcoming host.
Portugal’s second city and capital of the north lies astride the mighty Douro river on the Atlantic coast. Most City fans congregated in the Ribeira area – Porto’s waterfront – and we were surrounded by small houses, restaurants, bars, refurbished dockside warehouses and port wine lodges. Upon raising our glasses to our good fortune in briefly escaping the UK weather, and above the froth of the Super Bock the skyline is dominated by a huge army barracks, and the famous Gustav Eiffel designed Maria Pia bridge.
When I’m planning my European jaunts I’m often greeted with quizzical looks when I say that the result is the least important part of the trip. For those at home, working during the day, then settling in front of the television 5 minutes before kick-off, the match and the score are the be all and the end all. It’s the focal point to the week and is how success or failure is judged. When you are there though, especially if you are privileged enough to spend a few days abroad, the game is but a brief (if important) deviation from the business of exploring, meeting new people, trying new experiences (more of that in part 2) and getting hammered on the local drop.
We’re having a party at the top of the stairs
The American travel writer Tim Cahill wrote “A journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles.” Meeting fellow blues is always a pleasure, and when there are over a 1000 to mingle with, its easy to spend the day moving from group to group, beer in hand, chatting City and getting slowly but pleasantly leathered. The day before the game was a little quieter – those on the day trip’s would be arriving on the Thursday, but the smaller numbers were more than made up for by the great atmosphere generated by The Blue Alliance lads – a constant theme on all of the euro trips. Sometimes misunderstood, you will never meet a more committed bunch who from my experience live and breathe City with an optimism and passion that never strays into aggression.
Having *ahem* “rose late”, it was my pleasure to share a bottle of red wine with perhaps City’s best blogger: Simon Curtis, author of “Down the kippax steps”. Simon lives in Portugal but his passion for the Citizens remains undimmed. It’s great to meet people who you admire, and having shown me the press pass he had wrangled for the game, my respect for the man rose several notches when he texted me after the game to say had even grilled Roberto personally in the press conference!
Into the Dragon’s Den
I won’t go into too much detail about the match, needless to say though that defeating Porto in the impressive Estádio do Dragão is a fantastic feather in our cap. I believe it to be our finest away performance in Europe and on another day we may have come away with a more flattering scoreline. After a shaky start we dominated the game, and in my view Lescott and Nasri were the stars of the show. Thursday night did underline how important our gargantuan Ivorian is to us though. Interestingly a few hours earlier I caught up with 4 members of City’s coaching staff out for a stroll, and they mentioned that Ya Ya had returned from the ACON having lost half a stone in weight – it was felt this was a good thing and big things were expected of him. Nicely prescient.
Returning to the port after the match we found ourselves in an underground bar, serenaded by a combination of 80’s cheese and The Smiths. It was here that I switched to drinking Sagre, a great drink without the gassy and chemical overtone of the mighty Super Bock. Chatting with a Portuguese pal, Antonio and his partner, I was informed this was almost a heresy – Super Bock is the drink of the North and Sagre belongs to the hated South. To smooth the waters, I was bought a “Caiprinha” – it’s cachaça, sugar cane and lime juice poured over crushed ice (delicious, if lethal) and taught a new song:
To the tune of Yellow Submarine – “We want to see, Lisbon on fire, Lisbon on fire, Lisbon on fire” repeat x 50. Catchy, don’t you agree?
Antonio, was a generous host, fiercely patriotic and charming. At the end of the night as we left our subterranean bolt hole i asked him where he lived? He said a 30 minute drive away! Surely not – you’re completely pissed? “It’s ok Mike, don’t worry. I can drive like this!” and grinning from ear to ear, he gripped an imaginary steering wheel, closed one eye and explained how this simple technique allows him to drive in a straight line! With that, they were off. It’s a different country all right.