Archive for the ‘Porto’ Category

Last days in Porto

November 18, 2017

Initially we planned to stay in Porto for 3 nights but ended up staying 8 nights in total, it really is a lovely place which was particularly enhanced by the fact that we had clear blue skies most days. Now that I was feeling a lot better we had a couple of things we wanted to either go back to do, or to see, before we departed.

We had a trip out along the coast to Matosinhos, on the northern side of Porto across the Duoro river, with a long stretch of white sandy beach it is popular with surfers and beach goers alike.

We came across some interesting sculptures, the first an homage to the fishermen who made their living in this area. The sculpture is a flexible stylised fishing net with the mesh net billowing in the breeze. At night it is floodlit with changing colours which must make a spectacular sight.

Further along the beach is a poignant statue of a group of wailing women and children all looking out to the sea. The statue is a tribute to the fishermen of Matosinhos and their families. the victims of a tragedy when 4 fishing boats were wrecked in storm on December 2 1947, a total of 152 men lost their lives which greatly affected the area leaving over 200 orphans and 71 widows resulting in serious economic and social problems in the region.

We were surprised to hear that there is a direct connection between New Zealand and Porto, lining the foreshore in Foz is a stand of Pohutakawa trees. They must look spectacular when they flower in the summer.

The beach sweeps around to the exit of the Duoro River and we travelled along the river edge back toward the city. We passed fishermen packing up their nets for the day

Boats moored in the river

Looking across the river to a castle and grounds

Heading back into town, a traditional boat cruising down the river

Last but not least we went for a ride on the funicular which takes passengers from the river bank up to the old part of town.

passing another carriage on our way down

looking back up at the funicular

the funicular showing it’s clever leveling system

The single track funicular uses a central loop system that is nearly 300m in length, allowing it to descend the 61m with the steepest gradient below the passing loop. Due to the slope along the line, the cars have self-levelling platforms allowing the car floor to maintain its horizontal position no matter the incline. You exit at the top near the Dom Luís I Bridge, and the lower level exits along the river edge along the Ribiera.

We also went back to the local market to pick up a couple of souvenirs for ourselves, we didn’t stay too long as the smell of the fish at the market was a little too much for my still delicate tummy to handle!!

So that’s the end of the Porto segment, there is so much more we could have written and lots more photos of places and things we have seen and done but it’s time for us to move on.

Obrigado Porto.

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While the cat was away …..

November 17, 2017

Well it had to happen some time. We have been very lucky in our holidays abroad to have had no real health issues. This time it finally caught up with us and one went down. However that is not the “it” that I was referring to, no, “it” is the fact that I am writing a blog (after a period of prompting).

Whilst the boss was laid low I made my usual excursions around the town and now have to report on them. Early on the first day I was making my way to an appointment at a certain bookstore when the clock on this building began to chime and doors under the clock opened and these four characters paraded to the front. Each hour they undertake a routine of coming to the front pirouetting bowing and otherwise performing before doing an about face and returning home.

Following this I made my way to an area of the city I was not familiar with and found my way to a somewhat famous bookstore. Here I found myself confronted by a large number of excited adults (some children, but they were in the minority) queued to enter said bookshop.

Once inside, after having to purchase a ticket at a store two doors away and leave all my worldly goods locked away, I found a veritable host of people milling around taking multiple photographs and generally ignoring the books and only showing interest in one particular author.

Some may well recognise the setting!!

Or perhaps the ceiling!

In my experience of visiting this bookshop I believe they have now given up selling books as they are obviously making a good fortune out of the number of people visiting. Not only do they charge an entry fee to go into the bookshop, in the shop they have set up as a ticket office they also sell souvenirs and memorabilia, not only of Harry Potter books but also other popular books and TV a series including Game of Thrones.

Next door there was a very old store with all of its features preserved and repurposed.

Early the next morning I went on my usual wander and found a section of the original city Wall and with the early morning mist it made quite an eerie scene.

On the way back to the market I came across one of the more amusing aspects of the narrow streets in Porto. Next to the market there is a bus stop and the buses turn out of the Main Street into a much narrower street. As the photo shows it pays for both pedestrians and bus drivers to coordinate their activities.

At the market that morning there just happened to be a group of 7 or 8 music students performing.

I learned later in the morning that this same group had serenaded Bernice as they performed in the street immediately below our apartment.

Wandering a little further afield I found this shop which should be of interest to you in particular Christine!

And obviously the person who created this mural on a wall only metres down the road also had an interest in the shop.

And just to finish off, here’s another attempt by a bus driver to play the local game of “pin a pedestrian”.

This may have been claimed as all my own work however frustration set in part way through and as I am a damn sight better dictater than writer, Bernice took over secretarial duties!

Bernice here…I think that should be dictator!!

Porto and a change in plans

November 15, 2017

It’s just as well that we are not tied to a schedule and can pretty much plan where and what we do from day to day, we were so enjoying Porto and its environs that we decided to stay another three days. And just as well we extended our stay as you will find out later on!

There is plenty to see and do in Porto, and as our apartment is right in the centre of the old part of town, there is always something going on outside in the streets.

views from our apartment; top pictures taken late at night -cobbled street pattern, men putting up Christmas decorations, university girls singing traditional songs

We went on one of the hop-on hop-off bus trips around the city to orient ourselves and to see what was around and about. We’ve used these buses before and they are good value as our two day ticket also included the river trip and the port tasting, all for €28. NB to buy individually the river cruise was €15 and the port tasting and tour €10.

Sights around Porto.

On the street corner just down the road from our accommodation are a couple of interesting buildings with statues on the top – he’s looking at her and she’s pretending not to look at him

Just along from the apartment on Santa Caterina Street is a wine shop/bar that offered tastings of local wines as well as tapas tasting plates of local produce. We seemed to gravitate there each late afternoon on our way home from our days exploring, for a glass of wine, a plate of tasty tapas and some good company as well. We met other travellers but also the owner and his son whom, after a couple of nights, started to greet us with a hearty Olà and a handshake for Roy and a kiss on both cheeks for me. We had some great wines, ports, cheeses, meats, pates, olives and breads over the next week including trying lots of new things.

the ‘green wine’ was particularly delicious and a new experience for us.

We thank Ramiro for making us feel so welcome, and part of the local scene, it really made our time in Porto very special and wish them every success with their business, Saboriccia.

The Majestic Cafe is also located in Rua de Santa Caterina, it’s famous for its Belle Époque vogue with ornate timber interior featuring carved wood, mirrors and chandeliers. The staff are dressed in old style black trousers with white jackets and brass buttons with the senior staff in all black suits and white shirts and black ties. We sat and people watched whilst we had our coffee, apparently JK Rowling spent a lot of time here whilst she wrote the first Harry Potter book.

The outside of the cafe before the umbrellas and chairs are put out for the day

Scenes from inside the cafe

Oh and another aside about the Harry Potter connection to Porto and JK Rowling (she lived and taught in Porto for 10 years) is the dress worn by university students here. It’s all part of a tradition that started back in the 14th Century when the new students are initiated by older students in a ceremony known as Praxe. Every university has its own traditions, but garb worn after initiated is similar – the women (as seen in the first picture above) wear black skirts and jackets, white shirts, black ties, black stockings and flat black shoes whereas the boys wear black suits, white shirt, black tie and they both wear black capes. Hence the Harry Potter connection with the capes.

There is another Porto connection to Harry Potter but that’s for the next blog!

Now back to the change of plans, as I said previously we had already extended our stay by another 3 nights and it was just as well as I got a terrible dose of food poisoning! I ended up being bedridden for three days and took another day or two to gain my energy back. We are not sure what caused it as Roy and I had mainly eaten the same except for the night before this started when I had a salad but we also suspect a sangria that I had when we were down at a riverfront cafe, as it did taste very odd! Anyway, whilst I languished between bedroom and bathroom, Roy went out doing a bit of solo exploring which is why he will be writing the next blog about his explorations!

We also ended up extending our stay by yet another 2 nights to make sure that I recovered well enough before we moved on. And yes, 5 days later I am nearly back to my usual self.

Douro River and Port

November 14, 2017

The Douro River empties into the sea at Porto, it is around 900kms in length originating in Spain with the navigable part of the river mainly in Portugal. To give you some semblance of comparison, Porto sits at a similar latitude as Nelson in NZ so the temperatures for this time of the year (autumn) is very comfortable with daytime temperatures between 18-20C.

After spending a day gaining our bearings and scoping out the town we put aside a day or two to explore the river area.

view of the river from one of the many bridges crossing the Duoro.

We took a ride on the river in one of the traditional Rabelo boats, Portuguese wooden cargo boats. These boats are unique to Portugal with its history closely linked to the production and transportation of Port wine. The name Rabelo means “little tail” on account of the long timber rudder at the stern of the boat.

a traditional rabelo with the historic district in the background.

Our trip along the river took us downstream under some of the six bridges that cross the river linking Porto with Gaia on the north bank. The Luís I Bridge was designed by none other than Gustav Eiffel and is a double-deck single arch bridge constructed between 1881 and 1886 with rail running across the top of the bridge and road and pedestrian traffic on the lower level. At the time it was the longest metal arch bridge in the world.

view of the bridge from the water

interesting bricked river bank

Another bridge just 1km from the Luís Bridge is a very similar looking bridge called the Maria Pia Bridge. The arched bridge is a railway bridge and also attributed to Gustav Eiffel and was built in 1877.

the Maria Pia Bridge with the new Infante D. Henrique Bridge in the background. The Infante bridge was, until 2003, the longest single span concrete bridge in the world.

The river journey starts and ends in the famous Ribeiro area of Porto with its UNESCO Heritage site colourful buildings.

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laundry hanging out along the building frontages.

a selection of views.

Church along the route, built in 1391

further downstream, new apartments built in keeping with the historic area

The historic walls of the city could easily be viewed from the water

At the end of the tour we enjoyed lunch in one of the cafes lining the Ribeira,

After lunch we took the water taxi across the river to Gaia as this is where the Port Caves and tastings take place. And you thought that the Port in the title alluded to a sea Port? No, it’s the Port wine that you drink!!

looking from Gaia across to Ribeira

The port company flags lining the riverbank

boats loaded with casks

We had a tour of the Calem Port cellars and their museum, which is a very informative tour as well as innovative in its techniques for displaying material as well as being interactive. We were told about all the differences between types of port i.e. Ruby, Tawny, White and Rosè as well as the differences between vintage, reserve, late bottled vintage, colheita etc and then the 10, 20 and 30 year old vintages.

The following small cask of vintage port took my eye, being a very good year I thought!!!

We enjoyed our tasting as we sat at a large table with a veritable United Nations of people (NB. all of these people were on the English language tour) from Italy, Sweden, England, Germany, Netherlands and of course us Kiwis. After the tastings got underway, everyone relaxed a little and as the port flowed, so did the conversation.

happy tasters!

Lucerne – Geneva – Porto

November 12, 2017

Yet another train trip for us, this time from Lucerne to Geneva, leaving the Alps and travelling through rolling green countryside in a journey that will last just under 3 hours. The trains leave Lucerne every hour on the hour with this train taking us north as far as Olten (half way between Lucerne and Basel) then south west toward Geneva via Bern.

the countryside was very pretty with views of typical Swiss chalets dotting the landscape, as well as cows with bells around their necks.

Swiss Chalets

Into Bern

rolling landscape

Lausanne

The trip seemed to take no time at all, either watching the countryside roll past or watching people getting on and off the train made the time go very quickly and we were soon at Geneva Airport. A short walk from the train station and we were at the airport through security and time for lunch before we boarded our flight to Porto. Yes, we are off to Portugal where hopefully the weather will be a bit warmer.

view from the plane to snow topped hills of Geneva.

After two and a half hours we were ready to land in Porto.

the view of the Portuguese coast.

Warmth and sunshine greeted us on landing and we were soon stripping off our scarves and jackets before finding our way to the Metro ready to take the train into town where we have an apartment booked in the centre of the old part of Porto. As we stepped off the escalator rising from the Metro we were met with a noisy, busy, vibrant street scene landing right at the top of Rua de Santa Caterina, one of the main streets of the old part of Porto, and this amazing sight in front of us

This church is covered in around 16000 tiles depicting scenes of Saint Catherine and Saint Francis of Assisi.

We arrived just on dark but we can check the Church out later. The street was alive and buzzy with street traders selling everything from art works, to souvenirs to roasted chestnuts and people everywhere out enjoying the evening. Musicians seems to be on every street corner and there is always something going on.

We picked up the keys you our apartment, which is in Rua de Santa Caterina. We are up on the 4th floor above the Main Street and is perfectly located for us to explore the city.

the Main Street in the early morning before the crowds appear. It appears that traffic is allowed down the centre of the street, one way, until mid day and then it’s pedestrians only and it seems to work very well.

We have booked in for three nights but we may just extend that, depending on our explorations tomorrow. The apartment is lovely and has a kitchen as well as a washing machine, which gives us a bit of freedom to eat in occasionally as well as catching up on laundry. A good nights sleep is in order before setting out to explore this part of Portugal.