Porto - Wow, simply wow!

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April 19th 2018
Published: April 26th 2018
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Porto. Wow! What to say? Porto, or is it Oporto? Well it would appear that the latter pronunciation is both English and Spanish, but the former is Portuguese. The success of the local football team, FC Porto, has led to much greater usage of the shorter name, so that's what we will use!

This was such a cool city that we actually abandoned the plans to visit another friend on this trip and extended our stay for an extra day. The bus down from Viseu was plain sailing and it wasn't too bad a walk from the bus station to our hotel. Our initial thoughts on the Vera Cruz Hotel were very positive. So much so in fact that we thought immediately about staying an extra night. We asked at reception and were given a pretty high price but one we decided to consider. By the time we had unpacked, rested and decided to stay on, the price had gone up fifty per cent. Apparently there had been more availability for a Thursday night room two hours previously. So, we had to go elsewhere for our final night in Porto. We were so lucky to find the Cale Guest House and, despite it being a little costlier than we would like to have paid for a guest house, we wish we had stayed there all the time and we will certainly stay there next time we visit Porto. They couldn't do enough for us and we felt so at home there. Ironically, after checking in, we checked the last minute price for the Vera Cruz and it had come down to below what we originally paid. Their loss!

Just wandering around the city we knew instantly that we were captivated by its magnificence. Around every corner was another visual treat waiting to hit us, and we even forgave the admittedly unforgiving hills and cobbles! If you're not so mobile, you would probably end up using public transport a bit. We had a nice wander from the hotel down to the river and back to orientate ourselves but left the hard core sightseeing for a day without a bus ride down from the mountains.

We managed to book a boat trip along the river to see the six bridges and the colourful cityscape from the water. We found one agency offering the excursion with a free port tasting session in one of the cellars. That set us back €15 each and it was money well spent. The boat was a traditional wooden one which presumably used to ply its trade on the river. Either that or it was a very comfortable replica! We began by going up-river underneath the Luis I bridge which Mr Eiffel himself was originally co-architect of, but he didn't want to share the glory with someone else so he quit! Further upstream, past the Infante road bridge, is the Maria Pia bridge which he did design and take the credit for. It has since been superseded by the modern Sao Joa railway bridge but it still stands as an architectural monument. The cruise continued towards the giant road bridge, Ponte de Freixo, before retracing its steps all the way past the Arrábida bridge to the mouth of the Douro River. There giant waves crashed against the barrage sending plumes of water high into the air. All along the way we listened to the English commentary through headphones, although they were not distributed until some ten minutes into the tour when the staff suddenly realised that the majority of passengers were not listening to the Portuguese version!

Back on dry land we walked past the richer diners and made our way over the lower section of the Luis I bridge to the Gaia side of the river. The riverbank is lined with cafes, bars and restaurants all underneath the cable car which takes less mobile tourists along the length of the port warehouses and cellars. We stopped off for our free tasting at Porto Cruz but port wine just isn't to our taste. Still, it was an interesting place to visit and they had some very good informative videos as well as a stunning restaurant and bar on the roof. Sadly the 360 degree virtual view wasn't working. So much for technology! After walking all the way to the boatyards at the far end we had worked up a bit of an appetite. We ate at the Golo Sports Bar which houses an FM radio station and has an amazing rooftop terrace overlooking the promenade and the river. For just €6 we got a three course lunch and a beer! A long uphill stroll back to the hotel beckoned, and a siesta was much needed when we got there.

That evening we discovered just how international the cuisine of Porto can be. We began in El Argento, a spin-off from the Argentinian Belos Aires restaurant just around the corner. Here we were whisked back to Argentina as we ate some delicious empanadas with a glass of silky malbec wine. Just up the hill from there we ate Mozambique curries in Tia Orlanda. The decor was amazing and the food was absolutely incredible. It was a shame to leave but they wanted to close!!

The following day we walked and walked and walked! First of all we changed hotel and then we went to Sao Bento train station to buy our onward tickets to Lisbon. The station is a work of art with blue tiles covering most of the main concourse. Having bought our tickets, we then fought with hundreds of tourists to try to get a view of the tiles! Next up we went to prison. Well, an old one, and it's the home of the Portuguese Photography Centre. It's free to go in and worth it just to look at the building. On the ground floor there's a grim display about the abolition of the death penalty. Portugal did this way back in 1867! In the cells off the courtyard are a collection of photography exhibitions, but we were disappointed that none were about Portugal. We didn't go there to see pictures of New York City! On the first floor are more photography exhibits and on the top floor is a museum of photography housing a massive collection of cameras.

Nearby there were some strange statues around the university grounds. We walked through the gardens which once housed a Crystal Palace but now house a green dome which is currently undergoing renovation. The highlight of the gardens were the peacocks, and they were not particularly bothered by human presence. We then weaved through some narrow alleyways as we descended towards the river looking for the Electric Tram Museum. Whilst we were interested in visiting, we didn't realise it would cost €8 each to get in. Instead we took a nice stroll along the river back into the city. If you are looking for a cheap lunch on the Porto side of the river, follow our footsteps to Churrasqueria do Infante. Avoid the set menus and order the super cheap individual plates. They were fantastic. The usual pattern of a siesta then empanadas and malbec followed (!) before we managed to get a table at Taberna d'Avo. If you are looking for Grandma's Portuguese kitchen then look no further. We were so happy that we had the patience to wait to get in.

There was still so much left to see in Porto so on our final morning we left the guest house looking after our bags and walked up the narrow cobbled streets to Sé, the city's main cathedral. It was full of military and police personnel, and the car park was full of their vehicles! From there we walked over the upper part of the Luis I bridge which gave truly spectacular views over the river. From the park on the other side we walked down to the riverside admiring some of the murals on the steps as we descended. Along the way we popped into Offley as a friend had recommended their port. This time we asked for a dry white and we were not disappointed. The cellars were wonderful and we didn't even have a tour, just a tasting. Nip to the loo and you get unrestricted views of the cellars!!

Our final stop was to have some coffee at 7G Roaster. We had sampled some wonderful stuff by the river and felt a full cup would be in order. Well, this was delightful, and what a cool place to hang out for a while. It's a great cafe, and they also have apartments if you wish to stay longer.

All too soon it was time to collect our bags and say Tchau to our new favourite Portuguese city. We'll be back. There's no doubt about that!!

Additional photos below
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2nd May 2018
Porto - empanadas

You have a good life!
Full of great experiences and foods! cheers.

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