5-8 September 2019
06.09.2019 - 08.09.2019
Thurs 5 September: Up and away from Coimbra bright and early on the road to Porto. Stopped for a swim at a nice beach, Aveiro, on the way.
Porto has been a highlight of our trip, and certainly a contender for ‘best geographical’. ….And the nominees are.. Now here’s an idea: We could have awards place of the trip, meal of the trip, host of the trip, beach of the trip, attraction of the trip; even disaster of the trip! There are a few candidates for that. We’ll come back to that.
Our accommodation in Porto was booked through Air BnB. Again, we were staying out of the city, about 20km south in a suburb called Lourosa. Host Carlos and wife Sylvie welcomed us and provided a great orientation. We had the upstairs and majority part of a two-storied house, with Carlos’s mum living downstairs. We struck a few teething problems involving hot water, air con and the location of the resident iron. Some were due to our own stupidity and all were sorted quickly with the help of the English language ability of Carlos’s son.
Not for the first time we wondered about the arrogance of English language speakers, expecting people to pop up who will understand our language, while we have little or none of theirs. We try to learn the basics: Please, hello, thank you, yes, no, 1,2,3 etc. If this is Monday, thanks must be Obrigado (Portugese), or is it Merci, or Gracies (Catalan), or Gracias (Spanish). Come next week it will be Grazie!
Fri 6 September: Getting into the centre involved a 15 minute car journey to a ‘Park n Ride’, then a four-station light rail journey (from St Joao 2 to San Bento, across the River Duoro over the renowned St Lui iron bridge) to the tourist heart of the place. Worked well.
We struggled to understand how to use the ticket machine but were saved by a very helpful local who gave us quite a bit of time to help us out. We realised this was typical of the Portugese, who were extraordinarily Kiwi-like in this respect. Brought to mind something MC’s dad used to say about NZ; You ask for directions – in other places they’ll tell you, in NZ, they take you!
MC had planned a walking route around the historic area of Porto, which turned out to be a bit more complicated than it looked on Lonely Planet! Porto’s Railway Station, like elsewhere in Portugal, was decorated with tile panels depicting the city’s history. We found some magnificent views of the city across the river; found more grossly OTT churches filled with gold, including Santo Idelfonso and the adjacent landmark Clerigos tower after wandering more winding narrow cobbled streets. Noticed huge queues for a mysterious attraction; it turned out to be the house that inspired Harry Potter, or in which JK Rowling, or something Potter related. We passed.
We were fascinated by these shops. This one in Porto but we'd seen them in other places. They looked like cans of sardines in fancy packs, at exorbitant prices. Couldn't work it out, and forgot to ask
After lunch, more walking was decreed and we found another church (San Francisco), more cobbled streets and a delightful wander along the Douro’s city waterfront, doing the market stalls (Phil’s bracelet collection grew further), enjoying the vista and concluding with a light fish supper.
Some of those photos were from a museum associated with one of the churches. We had a bit of a giggle at this one, which Phil named "the first Gay wedding" - actually supposedly a couple of saints!
But we need to talk about lunch!! Having tolerated a couple of hours of walking, Phil’s agenda then took priority. We were aware, both through Lonely Planet and Si and Nic’s travel blog from their Porto visit 10 years earlier, of the local culinary masterpiece, the Francesinha. The story goes it was created by a Portugese chef who had spent time in France and wanted to design something to put the French Croque Monsieur - the fancy toasted cheese sandwich - in its place. Though we subsequently realised many restaurants did it, LP had nominated a particular restaurant as the best, so the mission was on. All historical sites were off the agenda until this Taonga was found and MC noted with bemusement how energised Phil suddenly was for further walking
It took some finding, and careful study of the map over a beer but we eventually found the famed Santiago restaurant and joined the queue which was way shorter than, apparently, it can be. Shades of Fergbergers in Queenstown! It was worth the effort! This enormous toasted sandwich, incorporating at least five different types of meat and sausage, covered in a cheese sauces, topped with an egg, and served with chips. Mary Clare had a salad!
Sat 7 September: The next day, we headed back into Sao Bento station at 8am to take a train journey 2hrs inland along the Douro to Regua, mainly so we could take a cruise along the Duoro back into Porto. Really enjoyable. The weather was perfect and we could soak up the scenery along the river whilst relaxing in the sunshine, chatting with a group of Americans with whom we shared a table over a simple lunch. The riverbanks were covered in vines planted on terraces. There were two dams/locks on the river. The first was 35 metres, the latter a 14 metre drop; lots of photos taken.
Sun 8 September: Day 4 in Porto.
Our host Carlos offered to share the day with us and using our car show us around places he thought we should see, and meet Phi’s desire to have a seafood lunch somewhere. Together we visited some beach spots north and south of Porto. Espinya, and another beach with a little chapel close to sea, where miracles – Lourdes-style - are purported to have occurred. Then to Montesinho , a fishing village, for an al fresco lunch centred on grilled fish and squid, with Carlos guiding the choices. The tour continued, with local knowledge gaining us access to a super-flash, historic hotel with infinity pool we’d noted as a landmark on the previous day’s cruise. Way beyond the duties of an Air BnB host!! We returned satisfied, grateful and tired and ready to head north and out of Portugal.