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.
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.
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.
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.
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’!
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.
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.
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.