Tag Archives: Porto

Portugal, Porto to Vila Do Conde

Vila do Conde Santa Clara

The following day we were leaving Porto and taking the metro to Vila do Conde.  We thought it might be a good idea to hire a car so I used the Internet and booked a vehicle through Europcar , who in my experience are usually quite reliable and efficient and arranged to collect it from Porto Airport on our way north.

We had a final couple of hours in the city so we took a walk around the local area near to the hotel, a park, a convent and a church, quite different to the busy centre and then approaching midday we made our way to Trindade metro station.

It took about thirty minutes to travel to the airport on the Bombardier Flexity Outlook low-floor dual-carriage ‘Eurotram’ and it stopped every few minutes to pick up and drop off more passengers and it stopped fifteen times before we reached our destination.

I thought using Europcar with an office in the airport arrivals hall would be easy but I was about to be disappointed.  There was no office, just a reception desk and after waiting around for an eternity while the desk clerk dealt with a difficult customer we were directed to a shuttle bus to drive us a mile or so off site.

When we got there the office was ram-jam full and there was a forty-minute wait to get to the front of the line and during this time my patience tank was completely drained dry.  Eventually it was my turn to sign documents and pick up keys but I became uneasy about this simple process when the clerk began to shake his head and sigh.

It turned out that I had reserved a car using Europcar.com when I should have used Europcar.co.uk so I had made a reservation that is only for people from North America.  OK, so what, I suggested that he just amend the booking and we could take the keys and be away.  So he tapped away at his keyboard and scratched his head and told me the price would be higher, almost 50% higher and he was unable to explain to me to my satisfaction why citizens from the USA and Canada could get a better rate for hiring a car in Portugal than those from Europe.

I was so angry that I told him to poke it, reported the news to Kim who was unhappy about this unilateral decision and then we made our way back to the metro station where we queued for thirty minutes to get a ticket to get to Vila do Conde.  Kim was beginning to overheat.  It was like waiting for Vesuvius to erupt!

Cathedral Vila do Conde

Another thirteen stations later we arrived in Santa Clara and negotiated a steep climb up a pot-holed cobbled street to our hotel, the Santana Hotel and Spa. We had been here before so we knew all about it and we especially liked the restaurant but bad luck hadn’t finished with us today and the fine à la carte that we were looking forward to had been replaced by a tourist buffet menu and I began to sense another disappointment coming our way.

As I didn’t have a bucket of cold water to hand it was probably best that we spent some time apart right now so while Kim stayed in the room and went to the spa I took a walk down into the town.

My plan was to climb the hill on the other side of the river to the Santa Clara Convent which was once the largest in all of Portugal but is now no longer used for its original purpose and after spending some time as a prison is now rumoured to be being converted into a Pousada hotel, which is the Portuguese equivalent of the Spanish Paradors.

Next to the convent and snaking north away from the town are the extensive remains of the Aqueduto do Convento, a sixteenth century structure that was built to supply water to the Convent.  At four kilometres long it is claimed to be the second largest in Portugal after Lisbon but I have been to Tomar and their aqueduct is measured at six kilometres.

I am not taking sides, I am just saying!

Vila do Conde Aqueduct shadows

To put things into perspective the longest Roman Aqueduct served the city of Constantinople and was two hundred and fifty kilometres long.  The largest existing aqueduct in the world is the Thirlmere Aqueduct in North West England built between 1890 and 1925 and running one hundred and forty kilometres over and through hill and dale of the English countryside in pipes, streams, tunnels, dams and aqueducts.

The United States has the largest ‘water tunnel’ with a storage capacity of five hundred and fifty billion gallons and providing fresh water to the New York City’s eight million residents. Also in the US, the Central Arizona Project allows passage of water from the Colorado River to central and southern Arizona and at five hundred and forty kilometres it is the largest aqueduct ever constructed in the United States.

I admired the views from the Convent, walked a section of the aqueduct, found a mini-market for supplies and when I judged it safe to return to the hotel I walked a weary walk back up the hill to the Santana.  Oh how I wished that I had got a car!

Evening meal didn’t turn out to be too desperately disappointing and over an overflowing plate and a jug of cheap wine we made plans to go to the beach in the morning.

Vila do Conde Portugal

Portugal, Porto Washing Lines

Only Mad Dogs and Washing Lines Go Out in the Midday Sun…

Porto Washing on Balcony

The clothes now wave that hang upon

the tired old line that stretches from

a leaning pole to a rusted hook

left here now for folk to look.

 

Every garment pegged and spaced

each shirt and sheet carefully placed

along the line the socks will run

until they dry in the scorching sun.

 

Porto Washing

Portugal, Porto People

Porto Street MusiciansWelcome to PortoSardinesPorto Balcony

Portugal, Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia

Porto Douro Postcard

We were beginning to wonder if had been a good decision to stop over in Porto, we had been to the city twice before a few years ago so we were only really going to do the same things again and after breakfast we stepped out and started to do exactly the same things again.

It was rather cloudy and there was a mist off the river, everyone was wearing jumpers and top coats and I confess that I was a little chilly in shorts and polo shirt as we walked to the centre again following more or less the same route as the day before.

Our route took us to a busy square in the shadow of the Torre de Clorigos, the tallest tower in Porto and  likely to remain that way for some time because there is apparently a building regulation that prevents anything in the city being built higher.

Porto Portugal

This is rather like the city of Budapest where no building is permitted to exceed ninety-six metres which may seem a rather random number but is due to the fact that this number has symbolic status in the country because it was in 896 that Magyars first came to the area and the Hungarian Kingdom was begun.  Also like St Louis in the USA where no building can be built higher than the Gateway Arch.

In the shadow of the Tower were two rather interesting shops, the first was the ‘Fantastic World of the Portuguese Sardine’ where visitors can buy a can of fish in a tin which is gaily decorated with their birth year.

They looked good, I took a picture but didn’t buy one because they were about five times more expensive than in a simple tin in a supermarket back home and for something that is only going to end up in the recycling bin anyway.

Sardine Cans Portugal

Next to the Sardine emporium was a small café which sold only two things, port wine and fish croquettes which turns out to be a specialty of Porto and on account of that priced accordingly.

The historical centre of Porto is a declared UNESCO World Heritage Site and we were now approaching one of the six bridges across the River Douro, the Ponte Dom Luis I, which is an iron bridge, designed by a student of Gustav Eiffel and built on two levels. From the top elevation pedestrians wander dangerously along the tram tracks scattering periodically when one approached from either side.  There were unbeatable views of the river, the old town and Vila Nova de Gaia, a sister city to Porto on the other side of the river.

On the other side of the river we took a cable car from the top of the bridge and then walked through narrow streets of near derelict houses where some families were hopelessly hanging onto impractical occupation that must surely end soon and down to the riverbank that had good views back across the other side of Porto.  We were now in the city of Vila Nova de Gaia, which is where the city’s famous port lodges all have their cellars and sit side by side next to the river.

Rabello Boats Porto

On the water were flotillas of Rabelos, which are traditional sailing boats that used to transport the wine in barrels from the vineyards up river and now redundant these little boats are left here bobbing up and down in the water simply for the benefit of the tourists.

Our cable car ticket included entry to a port lodge and a glass of port and determined to take advantage of anything that is free we made our way to the lodge.

We sat and tried a white aperitif port and then not wanting to wait half an hour for the English tour joined a party of Portuguese for the twenty minute walk through the barrels of ruby and tawny port and the cellars full of bottles special reservé and vintage wines.

We learned that under European Union guidelines, only the product from Portugal may be labeled as Port and it is produced from grapes grown and processed exclusively in the Douro region. The Douro Valley was defined and established as a protected region or appellation in 1756, making it the third oldest defined and protected wine region in the world after Tokaji in Hungary and Chianti in Italy.

Porto Port Wine

The wine received its name Port in the latter half of the seventeenth century from the city of Porto where the product was brought to market or for export to other countries in Europe.  Actually there are no port lodges in Porto but an after dinner Vila Nova de Gaia just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

This was all very interesting stuff but what we really wanted was to get to the tasting and we weren’t disappointed when at the end of the tour we were given three generous glasses of port in the hope that we might buy some more from the shop.

I call this picture ‘A study in Denial’!

Port Wine Lodge Optimism

And so we made our way back across the river, stopped for a while at Praça de Ribiera and then climbed the steep hills back towards our guest house stopping frequently along the way to sometimes observe the architecture, sometimes to admire the washing lines but always looking for a picture opportunity.

Porto Street Sign RibieraPorto Washing Line

Eventually we stopped in a small palm fringed square filled with sunshine and a garden of remembrance and I was interested in the statue of a soldier and a roll call honouring Portuguese war dead in the First World War.

I didn’t know that Portugal fought in the First World War but is seems that they came into action in Africa where they were in conflict with countries that were at that time part of the German Empire.  I had learnt something new today.

Portugal World War 1 Memorial

Later we returned to last night’s restaurant but it was closed (there was a pattern starting to emerge here) so we found an alternative which although not as good was quite acceptable and we reviewed our two days in Porto.

On reflection we agreed that although we had enjoyed it we had perhaps squandered two days because in that time we could perhaps have gone somewhere different.  Aveiro perhaps?

A shame that we were thinking like this because next we were off to another place where we had been before – Vila do Conde.

Portugal River Douro

Portugal, Rustic Doors

Coimbra Door 1Coimbra Door 2

Portugal, Doors

Portugal Doors 3Portugal Doors 2Portugal Doors 1

If you like the doors then you may be interested in some more from a post in July 2014…

Doors of Portugal

Portugal, Ovar to Porto and the Francesinha

Ovar Railway Station

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.

Alvares Cabral Guest House Porto

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!”

Porto Street Sign Ribiera
Porto Ribiera District

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

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…

croquemonsieur

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…?

Poutine

Other than Francesinha or Poutine which food dish would you nominate to avoid?

Here are some prompts…

Bad Food


Portugal, Balconies

Furadouro BalconyBalcony PoemPorto Balcony 2Porto Balcony 1

Portugal, Travel Plans, Research and Arrival

Portugal Postcard Map

We generally take our main annual holiday in September. Sometimes we go to the sea, usually the Greek Islands which are our favourites and sometimes we travel.  This year we decided to travel and we chose to go to Portugal.

There are organised guided tours available for this sort of thing but we prefer to make our own arrangements and not be restricted by a holiday company schedule and inevitable stops at shopping centres and outlet factories that suit the Company but not the Traveller.

We had decided to use the Portuguese railways so we plotted an itinerary that started in the capital Lisbon and then worked north through the town of Tomar, the city of Coimbra, the seaside at Ovar (Furadouro) and then finished in the second largest city in the country at Porto, a couple more days by the coast at Vila do Conde, visits to the cities of Guimarães and Braga and then back home.

Portugal Tiles Ajulejos

In preparation for travel I carried out my usual research and used my favourite benchmarks to try and understand the country that I was visiting.

I started as usual with the Human Development Index which ranks countries by level of ‘human development’ and the statistic is composed amongst other criteria from data on life expectancy, education and per-capita gross national income. Portugal is ranked forty-first which is quite low, especially for Europe but it is improving and is up two places from the previous year.

Although it is in Western Europe (in fact it is the most western mainland European country) Portugal did not begin to catch up with its neighbours until 1968 after the death of the dictator António Salazar, the Left Wing Carnation Revolution of 1972 and eventual entry into the European Community in 1986.

Egg Custard Portuga

Unhappily, the European economic crisis has had a negative effect on Portugal’s position in the Europe Happiness Index and it is rated at only fifteenth out of thirty which is one place behind the United Kingdom.  Finland is the happiest and Albania (no real surprise) the least jolly.

The Country has fifteen UNESCO World Heritage Sites and our travel itinerary was going to take us to six – The Tower of Belém in Lisbon, built to commemorate the expeditions of Vasco da Gama, the National Palace of Sintra, the Convent of the Knights Templar of Tomar, the University of Coimbra, The Historic town of Guimarães and The Historic Centre of Porto.

Portugal is famous for its Atlantic beaches which stretch for one thousand, one hundred and fifteen miles and along this coastline are three hundred Blue Flag Beaches which is the fifth highest amongst all participating countries but looking at the statistics in a different way they get even better and dividing length of coastline by number of beaches, Portugal is way out in front and storms into first place with one proud blue flag flapping away every three and three-quarter miles or so.

When it comes to wine,  screw caps have all but completely replaced the cork. Interestingly 35% of the World’s cork forests and 50% of World supply comes from Portugal so there for the time being the cork stopper still reigns supreme.

Furaduero Beach Portugal

My next measure is always the Eurovision Song Contest and Portugal has participated in the annual contest forty-nine times since its debut in the 1964.  Up until recently the country held the unfortunate record for the most appearances in the contest without a win but they put that right in 2017 when they won in Kiev with Salvador Sobral’s entry, “Amar Pelos Dois”.

In my research I have discovered some more impressive statistics: Portugal is ranked third in the Global Peace Index, just behind Iceland and New Zealand.  The index gauges global peace using three measures – the level of safety and security in society, the extent of domestic and international conflict and the degree of militarisation. Portugal for example was one of only a few European countries that escaped involvement in the Second-World-War, the others were Spain, Switzerland (only in theory of course because they did a lot of Nazi banking and gold trading), Sweden and The Republic of Ireland.

On the subject or war and peace, the Anglo-Portuguese Alliance (Aliança Inglesa) ratified at the Treaty of Windsor in 1386, between England and Portugal, is the oldest alliance in the world that is still in force – with an even earlier treaty dating back to the Anglo-Portuguese Treaty of 1373.  England (UK) and Portugal have never been on opposite sides in any military conflict which is a very impressive statistic when you consider that in that time England (UK) has at one time or another been at war at some time or another with almost every other European country.

Lisbon Tram Postcard

We arrived at Lisbon Airport early in the afternoon and took the metro into the city centre. A rather odd journey as it turned out because the automated on board information system curiously announced arrival at the stations one after the one we were stopping at next so we had to be careful not to get off one stop too early.  Anyway we negotiated the journey and then after a bit of map confusion which we sorted out over a beer at a pavement café walked the final half a mile to our accommodation.

We had selected a studio apartment for our four nights in Lisbon and it turned out to be most satisfactory. The Travel and Tales rooms were situated in a domestic block of apartments so we were going to spend our time in Lisbon rubbing shoulders with real locals and we were happy about that.

We were allocated the Fernando Pessoa apartment who according to Wikipedia turns out to be… “a Portuguese poet, writer, literary critic, translator, publisher and philosopher, described as one of the most significant literary figures of the 20th century and one of the greatest poets in the Portuguese language”.

I apologise immediately for my ignorance in this matter but I have to confess that I had never before heard of him.

Fernando Pesa Poet Travel and Tales

Blue Pictures From Portugal

Lisbon Urban ArtVila Do Conde Urban ArtPorto Street Sign RibieraVila Do Conde Portugal

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.