Thursday, December 5, 2013

Why Porto?

Earlier this year, there was a post describing why we chose Portugal for TerraPlana (Why Portugal?).   The post does a good job of explaining our thought process, but it does not explain why we settled in city of Porto.  Portugal is a small country (even in European terms) but it's big enough, and there are a few cities.  The largest, and most well know city in Portugal is the capital city Lisbon.  Porto is the second largest city, but by most measures it is still only about half the size of Lisbon.  There are other cities in Portugal, but they are mostly significantly smaller, so for us, the choice really came down to Lisbon vs Porto.

Ribera, the old city center of Porto

 Among the Portuguese, most people hold a strong preference for one city over the other (Lisbon or Porto) and they are very different in geography, architecture, and in general 'feeling'.  In some ways, the rivalry between the cities is not unlike that between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

The two cities are similar in age (that is, they are both ancient; pre-Roman) but Porto has a slightly older feel, and this is probably because Lisbon was completely leveled by a major earthquake in 1755, and subsequently rebuilt.  Porto has streets that retain a slightly medieval feel.   Whereas Lisbon is full of broad avenues, the old city of Porto is a warren of tiny cobblestone streets.

The river is a central, defining feature in both cities.  Lisbon has the Tagus (Tejo in Portuguese) and Porto has the Douro.  The Tejo meets Lisbon on a broad flat estuary, whereas Porto perches on steep cliffs over the Douro.  Lisbon has a very characteristic (and beautiful) light that results from the sunshine over the Tejo river, and the amphitheater  created by the city's hills.  Porto always feels a little more dark and medieval.  Lisbon's many fans never fail to point this out, and they usually highlight the warmer weather in Lisbon too.  There is only 300 km distance between the two cities, and they both have a southern European climate, however Lisbon is normally a few degrees warmer (which can be a problem in the hot summers).

Porto as seen from the far side of the river.

So why did we chose Porto over Lisbon?  Partly, the choice was economic.  In the last few years, Lisbon has become more of a tourist and economic center for Portugal.   While that may seem a good thing when choosing to locate a bar, there is one significant downside.  Property prices, and expenses in general are substantially higher in Lisbon.  Additionally, a small house like the one which is to become TerraPlana would be very hard to find in Lisbon.  The buildings in downtown Lisbon are generally bigger which magnifies the higher price and would make our project more difficult.

Another reason to chose Porto is the young artistic feel of the city.  Although both cities have large universities, the University of Porto has more of an impact on it's city for two reasons.  First, the relative size of the university compared to the overall population is larger, so it appears that there are more young people around.  Second, University of Porto is one of the most common destinations for foreign students in the Erasmus Programme  (a unified European foreign student program).  Consequently, there are not just a lot of young people around, but there are a lot of young foreigners.  Foreign students are by definition far from home, so they tend to focus a bit more on creating and enjoying a social circle.  For this reason, they are a little more visible and active in the city.  This has a very positive impact on the feeling of Porto.

Finally, and probably most important for us is the proximity of Porto to the sea.  Although technically Porto does not extend to the seafront, it has grown into the surrounding towns and fishing villages so that there is really no break in the urban area right down to the sea.   Lisbon is just a little bit farther from the ocean, but it makes a huge difference.  From the center of Porto, 20 minutes on a bicycle will deliver you here:

The stunning seafront.
There are some fantastic beaches near Lisbon, but even the closest will take more then 30 minutes by car.  During the summer, getting to a good beach from Lisbon can easily take more then and hour.  Sometimes the beaches in Porto get crowded, and the sea breeze can be strong, but you don't have to go far to find an amazing beach, and if you go just a short distance outside of the city, you can always find a quiet spot.  And the surfing is great too!