Tag Archives: Azulejos
Like all public buildings in Ovar the train station is decorated completely in blue and white tiles with scenes depicting the railway and regional life from a hundred years or so ago. This is quite a regular thing to do in Portugal.
In our haste to get to the hotel at Furadouro we had missed them when we arrived three days earlier but we had a fifteen minute wait now for our train to Porto so we had the opportunity now to take a proper look. They are a bit damaged, chipped and cracked and faded and in urgent need of repair in some places but they created a nice little diversion while we waited which was a lot more interesting than standing around reading the train timetable.
It took no more than forty minutes to reach the city of Porto and on our final approach to the rail terminus at São Bento the train crossed the River Douro close to the Ponte Do Maria Pia a railway bridge (no longer used by trains) built in 1877 and with a design attributed to Gustave Eiffel. If we thought the Azulejos at Ovar station were impressive then we were simply in awe of the tiled main entrance hall of São Bento where there are approximately twenty thousand azulejo tiles depicting various historical scenes from Portuguese history.
Late morning in Porto it was hot and busy and I now faced the moment that I had been dreading for the last hour or so when I would have to break the news that the Alvares Cabral Guest House was about a mile away from the railway station. Kim was not impressed and her mood didn’t improve any when we started to climb a steep hill away from city centre. There was a lot of complaining and I confess that I had forgotten that Porto can rival Lisbon for being rather hilly.
The situation improved no end when we found and approved the accommodation and with long walks, heavy baggage and endless hills forgotten we stepped outside and made our way to the city after taking a detour to find a recommended restaurant for later and a stop for a drink in a busy little market square still some way from the city centre.
Our plan was not to try to do too much today, after all we had been to Porto before, twice, so we didn’t feel that we needed to rush our return visit. Despite this we found ourselves being drawn ever further down towards the River Douro and before we knew it we were at the main tourist area – the Ribiera, once a working class area of Porto but now a thriving tourist honey-pot!
Here there are small shops and traditional bars and cafés side by side with derelict and decrepit buildings with rotting timbers, peeling paint, rusting balconies and tired facades trying in vain to disguise years of neglect and so many washing lines that laundry could almost be a national pastime. The road channels were grubby and the buildings were grimy but it wasn’t without a certain charm and the defiant message from the residents seemed to be “Come and visit us if you like, we know it’s untidy but this is the way we like it!”
Having almost by accident found ourselves by the river we now faced a long climb back to the hotel. Next to the most famous bridge of all in Porto, the Ponte Dom Luis I, designed this time by a student of Gustave Eiffel we chanced upon a set of steps which took us back to the top, near the Cathedral and very close to São Bento station from where we would now need to reprise our trek back to the hotel.
Later that day, after we had sat for a while in the garden and rested we made our way to our chosen restaurant. It was an out of the way sort of place but busy with local people so we were encouraged by that and although it seemed quite full the staff hastily rearranged the furniture and found us a table in a cramped but private corner that we shared with some Italian visitors.
The menu was difficult to interpret and the staff struggled to explain it so I resorted to annoying fellow diners and enquiring of them what they had chosen and what they were eating. I forget what we selected but I do know that we enjoyed it.
Unlike the Italians that is because what we didn’t select was the local speciality of Porto, the Francesinha, which is a massive sandwich made with toasted bread, wet-cured ham, smoked sausage and steak and then, if all of that isn’t enough, covered with molten cheese and a hot thick tomato and beer sauce all of which contains an average persons calorie allowance for an entire month – and then some. I think they had chips with it as well!
Francesinha means Little French Girl in Portuguese and it is said to be an invention in the 1960s of a man called Daniel da Silva, a returned emigrant from France and Belgium who tried to adapt the croque-monsieur to Portuguese taste. It doesn’t look very much like a croque-monsieur to me, I can tell you!
I rather like a good croque-monsieur but it has to be in France and it has to look like this…
I tried a Francesinha once on a previous visit to Porto and I vowed then that I would never ever do it again! Quite frankly the only time that I would be forced to consider it is in preference to being tortured by the Russian Secret Service or if I had to make a choice between Francesinha from Portugal or Poutine from Canada.
Which would you choose…?
Other than Francesinha or Poutine which food dish would you nominate to avoid?
Here are some prompts…
The plan for our three days at the seaside in Furadouro was to take a break from travelling and the trains, the drag-bags and the packing and unpacking and to spend some time relaxing on the beach.
Unfortunately our plan was scuppered by the weather because when we woke the next day there was a thick sea mist which would have challenged anything that the North Sea can throw at us back home.
Trying as best we could to be optimistic about the situation we hoped that it would be blown away by the time we had finished breakfast but it was still there like a damp shroud when we left the hotel and ventured onto the streets. By mid morning it was getting even worse and our clothes were getting damp so we finally admitted defeat, took our swimming costumes and towels back to the hotel and tried to think of some alternative entertainment for the day.
Then I remembered that the nice lady in the Tourist Information Office next door had yesterday tried to persuade me to take a walking tour of the nearby city of Ovar on a trail of the ceramic tiles. This didn’t seem too exciting to me at the time but it was now getting rapidly more appealing. It was only €2 each which seemed rather a bargain so we quickly made a return visit to enquire if there were still places available and there were so we signed up.
We considered ourselves fortunate about that because there is only one official tour like this every month and this was the last of the season.
Now we had to make our way to Ovar so being too mean to take a taxi we walked to the bus stop and when it arrived we were glad to be going inland away from the sea mist and we were encouraged to see some welcome brightness in the sky.
To be honest there isn’t a great deal to do in Ovar, at midday the street market was beginning to close down and we didn’t want to explore the streets in case this was the route of the tour and we might spoil it so instead we found a pavement café, ordered a drink and counted down the minutes to the start of the walk.
This seemed to take a long time, the pace of life in Ovar is rather slow, not nearly as fast as our consumption of beer and wine so we had a second drink and then made our way to the assembly point at the Tourist Information Office where we were separated into two groups, those that spoke Portuguese and those who didn’t.
Our guide was proud to begin the tour with an explanation that Ovar is considered to be the City Museum of the Azulejo since it has a rich collection of tiles on the facades of the buildings, more so than anywhere else in Portugal apparently and for this reason the Museu Nacional do Azulejo in Lisbon has declared Ovar to be a city of historic national importance.
Azulejos first came to Portugal in the fifteenth century, when parts of the Iberian Peninsula remained under Moorish rule. Although many assume the word is a derivation of azul (Portuguese for blue) the word is Arabic in origin and comes from az-zulayj, which roughly translates as ‘polished stone’.
Nowhere in Europe has tiles like Portugal, not even next door Spain, they are everywhere and have become one of the iconic symbols of the country and are used to clad buildings both internally for decoration and externally as an essential component of construction for insulation in winter and for reflecting away the heat of the sun in summer.
It seemed to me that Ovar is a city desperately seeking a tourist identity, every town needs tourists after all and Ovar is exploiting the heritage of the Azulejo. The walk began with a pleasant stroll through the streets of the city centre with frequent stops for information from our tour guide and took forty minutes or so.
I liked Ovar and I hope it succeeds.
Overflowing with unexpected new knowledge we walked now to a ceramic factory on the edge of the city where we were invited to have a stab at painting our own ceramic tile. We applied the paint, tried to remove the smudges (unsuccessfully as it happened) and then left them behind for the oven baking process and a promise that they would be delivered to us later in the day. It was all rather like being back at school.
Now there was a bus trip to the nearby village of Válega and the church there which is a true masterpiece of tile painting art and surely one of the remarkable churches in all of Portugal. A golden temple that sparkles with amazing tiles of many colours especially now that the sky had cleared and the sun was illuminating the towering facade.
Actually I found it to be overly showy and gaudy in its appearance but the tour guides seemed to like it and we spent a few minutes inside and out.
We were beginning to wonder what was happening next on the itinerary when we were driven to an artisan workshop and museum and I began to sense the commercial part of the tour was fast approaching. I was wrong to be sceptical however because this was where the €2 was going and some enthusiastic ladies in traditional costume baked for us and then served up the local specialty of orange loaf bread which was quite nice but to be honest I found a bit stodgy, a touch under baked and rather too much of it.
This was the end of the tour, the coach took us back to Ovar and we caught the bus to Furadouro where the sun was belatedly shining and we hoped for better weather tomorrow so that we could revert to our original beach plan.
Later we went to the Tourist Information Office to collect out painted tiles and were surprised to find that the baking process had seemed to surprisingly improve them. We use them at home now as oversized coasters.
Is there a bluer country than Portugal?
The blue sky and Atlantic Ocean embrace the land. The blue moods of Fado, the melancholy folk music, form the national soundtrack and all across Portugal, the typically blue designs of azulejo, ceramic tiles spread across churches, monasteries, castles, palaces, university halls, parks, train stations, hotel lobbies and apartment facades.
The result is an embellished land of Christian saints, biblical episodes, Portuguese kings, historical glories, pastoral idylls, aristocrats at leisure, landscapes, seascapes, floral designs and, above all, geometric motifs.