Friday, 26 December 2008

Porto

After two days in Portugal it was time to head into the heart of Porto, Portugal's second city and home of countless wineries dedicated to producing port wine (this is the only part of the world where port is made)

Porto didn't strike me as a very big place when we walked out of the train station. It was a beautiful view though: narrow brick paved streets stretching all the way to the river Douro, on both sides a single wall of very old Portuguese style buildings which didn't leave much room for the sunlight to come through, giving the city an almost medieval look.

As soon as we stepped on to the city's brick streets we headed for the Porto Cathedral, atop of a hill and seen from most parts of the city centre. What from outside looked like a castle actually housed the cathedral and a museum of sorts which had very few but interesting things on display, including samples of ancient hand painted tiles, and a reproduction of two pages of the first book ever printed in Porto, in the early 1400s. It was ancient Portuguese and I was struggling to even read the first line.

We didn't linger for too long in there as it was very cold and most of us (apart from Isabel!) were very unprepared for it. So we headed out into the sun towards the river for a Portuguese latte (meia de leite)

Beautiful view from down there -- it is definitely the image of Porto that I will take with me. All the charming old houses are very colourful and well looked after, and there are lots of cafés and restaurants where you can relax and enjoy the view while having a cup of coffee or some bacalhau à moda da casa. The whole area along the river's edge is kind of touristy but still nice.

Along the opposite edge of the river sit all the main caves (or wine caves) where later that afternoon we went on a wine tour and tasted a couple of varieties of port (the tour/tasting costs €3.50 which you can discount off the price of one wine bottle at the end -- should you choose to buy one). All the grapes and most of the port is actually produced elsewhere, upstream the Douro, but all the main wineries keep cellars and shops in the city centre where they are conveniently within reach of the tourists's pockets.

We then took a bus tour around the city which was okay but a bit too rushed for me. I need time to walk around the buildings, look at the shops, people walking by, and take photos. But I went back to most of the same locations the following day when I was by myself and could take my time.

Halfway through the bus tour we stopped at the beach for a delicious lunch by the sea (I had bacalhau, of course), then back to the city centre for the wine tour, and straight home to warm up!

The thing that struck me most about Porto though were the hand painted and patterned tiles which are everywhere and give the city a beautiful, uniquely colourful look. But apart from the more touristy areas, the buildings are very poorly looked after. Many look or are abandoned, with broken doors/windows, and I was shocked to see that people still lived in them.

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