Our trip to Portugal began in Porto. Porto is a city perched on several high hills near the mouth of the Douro River and the region is famous for producing Port wine. We reserved an apartment using Airbnb and the apartment was exactly as described on the site. The concept of Airbnb is that individuals rent out their apartment, home, or rooms to tra-
velers. We are big fans of renting apartments rather than staying in hotels when we travel. The apartment we rented was a 15-minute walk to
the old city and we found Porto to be quite easy to navigate on foot.
The weather was perfect, not too hot, but very sunny, so we spent almost all of our time outside. We wandered through the narrow cobblestone streets and admired the beautiful azulejos, the decorative
mosaic tiles that adorn many building façades throughout the country. Another lovely feature throughout Portugal is the sidewalks. Practically all of the sidewalks and pedestrian areas were covered in Calçada Portuguesa, black and white stones laid out to make an array of different patterns. There were waves,
checkerboards, stars, swirls and many other variations.
Porto is a city constructed on several fairly steep hills and the view from Vila Nova de Gaia, the city on the opposite side of the Douro, is quite spectacular. We strolled along the waterfronts on both sides of the river to take in the views. On the Gaia side, there is a gondola that passes above all of the caves do vinho do Porto and connects the waterfront area to the vertiginous upper level of the Luís I bridge. Unfortunately we didn’t make time to visit the caves, but we did get the chance to sip glasses of Porto over a few meals.
Throughout our stay in Portugal we ate a lot of fish and seafood. The most famous and abundant is the bacalhau, which is codfish, and we had it served many different ways. Laurent is a big fan of octopus and squid and they both found their way to his plate several times. Freshly pressed orange juice also abounded. When I saw oranges in the grocery store they were dirt cheap,
0.50€/kilo, and orange juice was the perfect thirst quencher after walking up and down the warm cobblestone streets in the hot sun. We also had the chance to taste the pastéis de Belém, which is something like a mini crème brûlé tarte sprinkled with cinnamon. I’m not a big fan of things that taste like crème brûlé as I always feel like I’m eating a sugary omelet, but the pastéis de Belém were a nice afternoon treat and didn’t taste like eggs. Eating out was relatively inexpensive most of the time and the servings were always quite generous.
Other than just drinking in the sun and the sites, we did a few touristy during our stay in Porto. We saw the exhibits at the Centro Português de Fotografia, which had a few temporary exhibits and a permanent collection of old cameras. All of the guide books recommend having a drink at the the Livraria Lello, which is a magnificent bookstore with an unbelievable staircase growing out of the middle of it like an ancient tree, however, the café part of the Livraria Lello was closed. Photos were not allowed inside, but it was definitely worth the detour to have a look.
We also had a look inside the train station, Estação de São Bento, which has beautiful blue and white mosaics. We crossed the upper level of the Luís I bridge on foot, which was very frightening. The railing is barely waist-high and it is all that separates you from a very long fall into the Douro. On the Porto side of the Luís I bridge is the massive Sé cathedral. One of the unfortunate things about Porto and other places we saw in Portugal was that many many of the buildings are in an abominable state of repair. At first glance, the buildings are magnificent with the azulejos, but when you look a little closer you see that the windows are broken or boarded up and that the buildings have been abandoned.
A few days after our stay in Porto, we were visiting a friend of Laurent’s in Caldas de Rainha and I asked her about it. She said that that is just the way things are in Portugal. The golden age has passed and the Portuguese are now implementing austerity measures.
I took over 800 photos during our trip and put quite a selection on my picasa site. I haven’t yet figured out the best and most aesthetically pleasing way to manage the photos in the wordpress gallery, so you can see additional photos here.
The story and photos of our Portuguese trip to be continued…