Just gotta go? Oh Porto

Days: 6-7 (10 March 2017 – 11 March 2017)

Total distance travelled: 18,503.52 kilometres (11,492.90 miles)

If you’re from outside these fair shores of Australia, the title is most probably lost on you (these a fast food chain Oporto which markets itself as purveyors of Portuguese chicken and my title was a play on their jingle), but nevertheless, the sentiment is fair.

The why however, well I’ll hopefully cover that with our words that shall follow.

Anyway, enough crapping on!

It was late afternoon by the time we got ourselves into Porto, Portugal’s second largest city.

First impressions?

Damn it’s hilly isn’t it!?

We’d booked ourselves a relatively cheap room in a tired looking neighbourhood, our host clad in a nanna like knit if I recall correctly.

By the time we’d begun our hunt for food, the afternoon was late and it was not long before twilight began to bathe the city in its cool but beautiful light.

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A gorgeous autumn evening (left) & The impressively tiled facade of the Igreja Paroquial de Santo Ildefonso (right)

Our explorations took us well down into the heart of the city, ever downhill and slowly into areas seemingly frequented by a more touristic crowd and therefore seeing more dining options.

The issue was, Sarah wasn’t all that hungry by now and I, well I’d guess I was ‘hangry’ enough (you know, ‘hangry’ where you’re hungry enough that you’re a little angry) that I couldn’t settle on anything.

It didn’t really make for the most enjoyable evening…

Morning at least, provided us with a new day.

Being in Portugal also brought with it the temptation of something delicious for this mornings treat.

Our first Pasteis de Nata (Portuguese Custard Tarts) certainly did not disappoint and started a dangerous but thankfully (for our waistlines) short few day love affair with Portugal’s sweet baked treat!

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Our tired looking pad on it’s tired looking street… (left) & The new breakfast of champions (right)

So what of the city?

Unsurprisingly, it wasn’t long before we were to be found inspecting a church (ingreja) or few, the Sé do Porto (Porto Cathedral) a nice place to start the day.

The usual prime religious real estate gave us lovely views of the neighbourhood, and continued the seemingly Porto trend of churches bedecked in gorgeous painted tiles.

Within, it was somewhat disappointing so we savoured the views from its terraces a little more, before continuing our descent into the city.

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The Sé do Porto. Great city views from its prominent perch…

Built as it is on the relatively steep sides of the valley, I’m assuming carved centuries ago by the river Douro that now dissects the city, it seemingly feels like the deeper you head into the old heart of the city, the further downhill you descend (a great workout for the calves I guess).

A few areas are served by trams (again I guess, but these seemed primarily for tourists), but despite the effort required, on foot still felt the best way to explore.

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The colours of Porto above the steep banks of the Douro

It is always with some pain that we shell out cash to inspect any church or cathedral, but do just that we did, in this case the Igreja de São Francisco. At €4.50 a pop (per person), it felt pretty steep…

Purportedly the birthplace of the San Franciscan monks, it was touted as the best (or was it grandest) “Gothic monument in Porto“.

Perhaps it was the price we paid, but it was frankly a disappointment (the ticket also allowed us access to some old offices and a cemetery, but they did nothing to add to the value of the ticket cost).

Maybe it was time for a sandwich for lunch?

Hey, we’re in Porto. Perhaps it’s time to indulge in one of the more famous sandwiches in the world?

Have you ever heard of the Francesinha?

We found a bit of a tourist trap, but it had outdoor tables with river views, and grabbing ourselves a couple of beers (all that walking can be thirsty work) placed or orders, complete with the obligatory serve of fries.

So what is the Francesinha?

Feast your eyes on this!

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The Francesinha! Not wanting to stand out from the crowd, we made sure we had a beer with it as well…

A steak and ham sandwich, covered in melted cheese and a tomato (apparently there’s also beer in it) sauce!

It was a beast of a thing, a plate full of artery clogging goodness.

Really, what we would call a “sometimes food”!

As we were indulging in our quite tasty plates of food (although the fries were fairly cold), the need to visit a restroom struck me.

Now the Douro river is fairly wide at this point, for as the cities name suggests it is indeed a port, placed as we are right on the Atlantic.

Now if you’re familiar at all with the sea, generally what comes with the territory are the seagulls.

What followed was a moment of horror.

Mere seconds after standing a beginning to stride towards a bathroom, one of these opportunistic avian predators had swooped in and taken off with most of my sandwich!

During all this, Sarah had managed to bravely defend (read eat) her own sandwich.

That’s correct, I returned to effectively no sandwich (Sarah was kind enough to share the remainder of hers) and even colder fries…

Possibly for the best (not that it seemed such at the time). The sandwich possibly would have killed me anyway with all of that fatty goodness!

Now even more obviously, this port city lends its name to another product, however to sample it we were going to have to find a way across the river.

Seemingly not all that large a challenge, as the large iron Ponte Luís I (Luís I bridge) cast its long shadow from high above us.

To cross it, we’d need to find a way up to it, an endeavor that could easily have been done by funicular, but why take the easy option when we have legs?

The long climb up a series of stone and concrete stairs gave us some cool views of some old ruined buildings, at this point being reclaimed by a leafy green creeper plant, and a glimpse at some pretty cool street art.

Atop the bridge itself, which we shared with trundling tram (streetcar) traffic, we had a great look at both banks from a wholly different perspective, before selecting, fairly randomly one of the many cellars that dotted the southern bank for a tour a Port sample (Port wine being the product to which I was earlier referring if you hadn’t cottoned on).

Now to be clear, we’re not really the biggest Port drinkers, its sweet nature not really being to our tastes, but hey, ‘when in Rome’ (or in Porto)…

€12.00 later, and we were booked on a visit to the Ramos Pinto cellars, the tour interesting enough but not truly earth shattering in its information.

As for the Port, the price included a couple of samples (there were a few rare vintages on display with prices as high as €5000.00, but we couldn’t taste those), so had the chance to sample a Port in Porto (we’d obviously drunk no Shiraz in Shiraz, but had in the past had a Pisco Sour in Pisco and drunk Tequila in Tequila).

We got through it, but it remains a drop that is far too sweet for our tastes.

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Barrelled in the cellars of Adriano Rampos Pinto (left) & “Any port in a storm?” Sampling the wares (right)

Gazing north from this side of the river, we had a great view of the colourful buildings that dot the banks of the UNESCO listed old part of the city (I’m actually not sure if the southern part of the city falls under the same listing, but it seems quite likely), complete with the classic vessels moored nearby which apparently brought the barrels of red and amber nectar that down river from the vineyards further inland.

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Postcard Porto: The Douro River

With only a couple of days in town, we had never anticipated we’d squeeze too much in, but by now we’d pretty much exhausted the small hit list we had created, so it was now onto an afternoon of meandering and taking in whatever gems we could find at random.

More of the seemingly trademark tiles of the city decorated the ornate interior of the São Bento railway station, although it didn’t have the same level of hustle and bustle inside that seems so common in most major terminus… maybe it was just the time of the day?

By now the patchy cloud had largely dispersed, and it was a lovely Spring afternoon, although despite the sunshine, the cool touch in the air remained.

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The beautifully tiled Porto São Bento Railway Station

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Rua dos Clérigos (where it meets Porto’s grand Avenida dos Aliados, ) with the iconic Torre Clérigos in the distance

Porto we’d found to be a gorgeous city (well it was my first visit, but not Sarah’s), and despite the first theft we’d endured on the road since six beers went missing in a Costa Rican hostel (damn that pesky Seagull), way back in 2015.

An afternoon of sunshine meant we got a lovely evening sunset, our time in Porto finished, as the following morning it was on to the Portuguese capital.

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Porto going full circle. The same places, seen in a different light (literally)

 

Notes:

* Our bus from Salamanca to Porto took just under 6 hours and set us back €40 each.

* Entrance into the Igreja de São Francisco cost us €4.50 per person, with the entrance fee also allowing us access to the adjacent old offices and cemetery (which was a waste of time)

An English language tour of Adriano Ramos Pinto cellars cost €6.00 per person, including two port wine tastings at the end of the tour.

 

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