Our drive into Porto is, thankfully, uneventful and we find our accommodation relatively easily. We are staying at 6Only (so called as they had only 6 rooms, but I believe they have now expanded) in the City centre (http://6only.pt). Unprepossessing from the outside, it is lovely inside and it is owned by the extremely helpful and pleasant Mariana, who gives us a warm welcome. We leave our luggage in her care, and after parking the car in a car park around the corner we set off to explore the historic centre, which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1996.
Manuela, at Quinta de Tourais, had said to us upon leaving that Porto was a large city but a small city, and we understand what she means immediately. Although the city sprawls, the old part, where tourists congregate, is very compact. The map Mariana provides us with is deceptive, as although it looks as if we have to walk some distance to get to the main sights, they are in fact all within easy walking distance (albeit up and down a few stairs and hills).
We are taken aback by just how many tourists there are, and, how many police are on the streets. It turns out that the tourist numbers have been swollen by Chelsea football club fans as tonight Chelsea plays Porto (which we think may also explain the police presence).
Porto is an incredible town architecturally, as cheek by jowl is a variety of different styles, from Art Deco to Baroque to Art Noveau to Tiled facades to decaying wrecks. Every where you look there is a church, usually adorned with beautiful hand painted blue & white tile work (azulejos). We wander in amazement, camera constantly in hand:
The streets are narrow, crowded with buildings, and in the main tourist areas, crowded with people. But, off the main areas you can wander with virtually no one around. Every where you look renovations and restorations are underway (and renovator opportunities are for sale in every street).
As we walk, all manner of things catch the eye. I love the washing hanging on the front of the buildings; the tiled religious icons and there is graffiti and street art throughout the old town:
We are craving seafood for dinner, so select a seafood restaurant in the Afurada area from the Lonely Planet guide – Taberna Sao Pedro. Sarah from 6Only kindly makes a reservation for us, and organises a taxi. Off we go through the crowded streets to the other side of the river, and down towards the mouth of the Douro River.
The fish is straight off the fishing boats a block away. You choose what fish you want and it gets put on the outdoor coals, and is on your table within a few minutes of ordering. Every table also gets a salad, some boiled potatoes and some very heavy corn bread. All washed down with some local white wine. Perfect.
The next day is overcast, and starts off quite chilly (not something we are used to). We are woken by the sound of the seagulls, followed by the anouncements being made at what we think is the bus station around the corner. Breakfast is a veritable feast: cereal, fruit, yoghurt, breads & pastries, scrambled eggs. Replete, we hit the streets again, making the nearby Mercado Bolhao our first destination (via another azulejo covered church, Capela Das Almas). The market is huge but has fallen into disrepair, although they are obviously undertaking restoration work on it, so I assume in the future it will be a thriving produce market once more.
We keep wandering, visiting shops that take our fancy along the way. We are aiming for the Palacio da Bolsa in Riberia but it takes us some time to get there (stopping as we do for a coffee and our continuing search for the perfect Portugese tart, or pastel de nata as they are known here – found a pretty good one at Bella Roma cafe, in Rua de Sampaio Bruno, 19/21).
Along the way we spy a variety of street art that takes our fancy, and are beginning to recognise some of the artists (one is Hazul, the other signs with a devil symbol):
Followed by Igreja de Sao Francisco, where you can visit the catacomb underneath as well as the church ( but photos are not allowed inside the church, which is completely covered in baroque gold leaf wooden carvings):
We then part company, with Hazel & Darryl jumping in a taxi to take them over the river so that they can visit at least one of the Port Wine Cellars. Pete and I head to lunch, using Lonely Planet as our guide. We end up at A Grade, a small family owned restaurant serving traditional Portugese food. We enjoy a cod fish cake each, and some grilled octopus snack size, before having a salad, and of course, a glass of wine.
Pete and I then part ways – he heads off to some gardens he has spotted some 2km in the distance, while I join the 3.30 tour of the Palacio da Bolsa. After seeing the glass domed roof just past the entry, the tour is slightly underwhelming until you get to the last room, aptly called the Arabian Room – which is stunning (impossible to capture in the photos):
I then head to the Cathedral, but even I am churched out so don’t bother to pay the entrance fee into the cloisters, and the Cathedral itself doesn’t do anything for me. But, I did love the artwork I saw on the wall just around the corner:
The four of us regroup for dinner around the corner, at a restaurant recommended by Mariana – Casa de Pasto Ribatejo, 219 R de Alexandre Herculano. We are served by a charming Portugese waiter, with an American accent. Turns out he worked the cruise ships out of Texas and Florida for years! Great value, well cooked local food, and a couple of interesting local red wines. All up ( with bread, olives, 4 main courses, 2 desserts, 2 bottles f wine and a bottle of water, the bill is 80 Euros. Can’t complain).
We stagger round the corner into bed, still to the sound of seagulls. Our plan is to leave Porto by 10.00 am tomorrow, heading for Obidos via Aveiro and Coimbra. Thank you Porto, it’s been grand.