Porto: Everyone I know that has been to the city loves the place. My friends who lived there constantly told me to visit. I’ve tried to organize trips to the city from London but in the end opted for other more ‘exotic’ places, because as I thought “It’s Portugal, I can’t be that great!”. How wrong I was. Porto blew me away! Yes. I am Tonito and I fell in love with Porto…
Raquel and I took the earliest bus from Fatima to Porto. The two hour bus ride was not bad at all (considering my last intercity bus ride) and as we headed further north the landscape turned more mountainous and trees were replaced with vineyards covering every inch of space. Vineyards are then replaced with housing as you approach the city and then your eye catches one of Porto’s famous steel arch bridges in the distance: We arrived.
The bus station is conveniently situated right in the city centre which is perfect for tourists doing intercity bus travel. I had downloaded a walking tour to my iPod for us to follow, but knowing my own tendency to deviate from tour routes and Raquel’s willingness to be my tour guide, I was certain the iPod would not stay out for long. We walked from the station to Praça da Batalha which one end has the São João National Theater which unfortunately is under maintenance but I did catch a photo of the four reliefs one the facade representing four feelings: Kindness, Pain, Hatred and Love.
We made our way past the theatre towards the river. We clearly looked lost as a man standing by a tram stop asked us if we needed help. Travelling abroad a lot has taught not to always trust spontaneous displays assistance so I was clearly wary of the fella. Raquel on the other knowing that when Portuguese people offer to help they are genuine asked him for some directions, in the end he gave a good tip which was to take the funicular (inclined railway) from the square to the river bank.
The funicular leaves you right by the river bank next to the base of the Ponte Dom Luis, one of the few steel arch bridges connecting Porto and Gaia. The bridge is a stunning piece of architecture and engineering which at the time of its construction was the longest of its type in the world. We walked on from here to the first grouping of sites which were all relatively close to each other. These were the Palacio da Bolsa which was built by the city’s commercial association in the 19th century. Just around the corner you have the gothic Igreja de Sao Francisco and Casa do Infante which was originally served as a customs and mint.
Our stomachs were already singing quite loudly and we decided this was as good a time as any to have some lunch by the river. Following the winding lanes border four to five storey attached housing, we made our way to what can be commonly referred to as a tourists wet dream: Restaurants interspersed with souvenir stall and an amazing view of the river, the bridge and Gaia. The one thing that I loved about Porto was the cities relationship with the river. The river has clearly has a symbiotic relationship with the city (as with most cities which have rivers) but the river in Porto’s case becomes one of its biggest landmarks (obviously all of these thoughts were crossing my mind as I was stuffing my face with Bacalhau grelhado).
With our stomachs filled we crossed the bottom of Ponte Dom Luis to the other side of the river where most of the cellars for Porto’s major wine producers. It’s actually quite funny when look at the other bank of the river all you see is the names of the wine producers over their cellars. As we were making our way towards the river bank esplanade a guy approached flogging river tours which ended with a free tour of a wine cellar (and some wine tasting) all for the outrageous price of ten Euros! Both Raquel and said a big fat yes to the guy.
We boarded the boat with a group of over enthusiastic Germans and a tour guide, who was very likely to be the least enthusiastic person in Portugal. The boat takes you up the Douro river past all the bridges that connect the two banks including one bridge which was designed by Gustave Eiffel (Yes that Eiffel!). Once the tour was over we made our way to the Offley wine cellars for our free tour. The tour was interesting as they told you how all the wines were made and how they obtain the different variations but I think everyone in the end was more interested in the free wine given at the end of the tour. We were offered a glass of red and white wine and boy were they good! So a word of advice to anyone going to Porto, do river tour for a free glass of wine!
Filled (partially filled that is) we took the aerial tram to the top of Ponte Dom Luis to catch a glimpse of the fantastic views. Crossing the bridge back to Porto we made a quick stop at Porto’s cathedral. At this point both Raquel and I were feeling tired as the sun had been beaming down all day so we decided to what the Portuguese to do extraordinarily well: Have an extended coffee break! Actually it wasn’t much of a break as it almost time to catch our bus back to Fatima anyway.
We quickly stopped by Rua Santa Catarina, the Oxford street of Porto, before making our way back to the bus station and back to Fatima. As I stated in the opening paragraph of this post, I fell in love with the city and has entered the ranking of my favourite cities in the world. What I loved most about the city was its relationship with the river and how the river was at the centre of its existence not only due to the fisherman but also due to the wineries dependence on the river to transport the grapes from the upper Douro to the cellars in Porto.
And that my friends, was my day in Porto.