Named by Lonely Planet as the top 10 European travel destination for 2013, the city of Porto in the north of Portugal “has emerged as a vibrant arts capital that’s rightfully getting a lot of buzz as a great value destination”, according to the travel guide publisher. But there is more than meets the eye in this picturesque city home to a World Heritage UNESCO site, flavourful wines and hospitable people and weather.
While the country's afflicted economy welcomes the money flow from visiting foreigners, the average tourist experience often doesn't show much of what daily life really is like for the people who live under times of austerity.
Enter The Worst Tours, “a low-rated tours agency” for those who wish to look beyond the shiny surface of Porto, the second largest city in Portugal:
Austerity killed the economy. Three out of work architects facing sudden economic destruction refuse leaving town and decide to open an unlikely walking-tours-agency – Porto, big picture, good and bad: Architecture, History, Politics, Urbanism, Slow food, and Hearsay.
We’ll show you the alleys, the abandoned buildings, the squares, the mean streets, the old markets, the cheap ‘tascas’ of spicy petiscos, the stories behind them all and have great discussions on very partial points of view.
The Worst Tours takes tourists to places that give an idea of how the economic crisis dramatically changes the lives of people in Portugal. In an interview for the Sustainability Stories blog, they say that one of their most popular tours goes into the typical “islands” of Porto, a type of collective housing that “appeared with the Industrial Revolution as a way of accommodating the cheap labour arriving to the city”. They further explain that their aim is “[to show] a city that despite being a ruin is a beautiful ruin”:
The crisis is easy to see: the city is eroded due to austerity, it is abandoned, empty, it has poverty… and it has very interesting buildings and places too. It has contrasts; it is not a postcard, not even an illustrated one. We think that tourism is a damaged and commodified word. To travel is to let yourself involve in the places you visit. To go beyond the contradictions-free, clean and shiny touristy circuits.
Global Voices author Stanislas Jourdan visited the city and was deeply impacted by the paralyzed housing market, the lack of opportunities for people as unemployment grows, and the figures of emigration (“the city of Porto has lost 65,000 inhabitants since the 1990s”, he says). After a “worst tour”, he wrote on his blog about “Porto, a ghost town in the making”:
The first hours of my stay in Porto left me a great impression of the city. I could admire the beauty of the city and its amazing bridges from the train or from the nice terrace where I ended up first before catching another bus to Lisbon. But there was a dark side of the city I only discovered the next day of my arrival.
More than anywhere else in Portugal, Porto is turning into a ghost town. In every street, dozens of empty houses with broken windows, or ‘for sale’ posters are popping up. Plenty of them have been for sale since decades, and it is not rare to find ruined houses in the city center. According to 2011 figures, 12.7% of all houses in the Greater Porto area is vacant, and it is even higher to 18.8% inside the municipality of Porto.
People of all ages, activists or not, coming from countries as diverse as Australia, Thailand and Germany who simply want to get to know the city through a different lens, have joined The Worst Tours. That was the case of Eva V., who wrote on her blog after a trip to Porto:
if you're into alternative touring and like to support these out of work architects, check out their website and book yourself a Worst Tour! Disappointment guaranteed. ;-)
You can listen to an interview in English with The Worst Tours on the audio portal of German community radios, or through this map, prepared in a hackathon-like workshop by Global Voices for German language broadcasters willing to tell more stories about creative alternatives rising in face of the European economic crisis, with special focus on the countries from the south. The radio segment was produced at the Free Radios Camp, and broadcast live from the shores of Lake Constance on May 9, 2013.