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World

Portugal Beckons With Back Alleys And Boarded-Up Businesses

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Now to a story about a new kind of tourist attraction in Portugal. The country's second-largest city, Porto, is famous for its port wine houses and blue-and-white tiled cathedrals that made it a UNESCO World Heritage site. But now a new guided tour is taking visitors through the city's back alleys and boarded-up businesses to show them the effects of Europe's economic crisis. Lauren Frayer joined the tour.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Portuguese fado music blasts from the tourist info center in downtown Porto. Foreigners pick up zoomed-in maps of the city center, but a few blocks away a different type of tour takes you off that map.

GUI MARGARIDA CASTRO FELGA: So I'm Gui. I'm one of the non-guides of the Worst Tours.

FRAYER: The non-guides.

FELGA: Yeah, we're not guides. We're architects.

FRAYER: Gui Margarida Castro Felga is an unemployed architect who co-founded the Worst Tours, showing tourists the worst of Porto.

FELGA: Does anyone have one of those awful maps they give out?

FRAYER: Gui leads us off that map and into an area behind dilapidated row houses where residents are using every scrap of land to grow their own food.

FELGA: Spinach, some trees for fruit, all the cabbages you might imagine, broccoli - you see? Unimaginable from the outside, wasn't it?

FRAYER: Incredible, we're the middle of the city.

FELGA: Exactly. Even in the steep slopes around the highway, there are cabbages growing everywhere because the general income of the normal family must have dropped like 20 or 30 percent in the last few years through heavier taxation, cuts in pensions, cuts in wages. That's what's called austerity.

FRAYER: Portugal was already Western Europe's poorest country even before the economic crisis. Over the past five years, a third of a million young people have left Portugal in search of work. That's a lot for a country of only 10 million.

FELGA: This area lost a lot of people to immigration also - a lot. And most of the commerce is dead. So in this context, 20 shops a day closing in the region and six or seven only in the center is very visible. We can see that along the tour.

FRAYER: But I see here, like, it looks like there's some empty windows, broken windows.

FELGA: Yeah, whenever you see a broken window, there's nobody living in there.

FRAYER: We pass boarded-up shops in the pouring rain. On the tour today are about 20 German college students, including Marian Burk.

MARIAN BURK: I just have never visited like a - I never saw something like the garden. I knew somehow, like, Southern European countries - the cuts and everything. It's just, like, you see normal people in the streets suffering.

FRAYER: So is it a big difference from Germany?

BURK: Yes.

FRAYER: The Worst Tours co-founder is Pedro Figueiredo. He disputes the idea that this is poverty tourism, like favela tours in Brazil or township tours in South Africa.

PEDRO FIGUEIREDO: I don't go there, say look at the poor people. I'd be very ashamed of it. I just talk about the spirit of the thing. Sometimes we must just talk about ideas and not just objects.

FRAYER: The Worst Tours started at the height of Portugal's economic crisis. Two years later, the economy is now out of recession, though Pedro and Gui still can't find work as architects. Austerity continues and along with it, urban decay, so they believe they'll be running this tour for a while longer. For NPR News, I'm Lauren Frayer in Porto. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.