I had breakfast in a cafe this morning, trying out one of the local specialities called ova moles. It wasn’t very impressive. The size of an egg, the outer casing was like polystyrene and the filling like lemon meringue pie filling without the lemon and with a lot more sugar. Luckily, I had also bought something that was between a brioche and a croissant to go with it, so I didn’t starve. (Not that there is any danger in that!)
I walked the few minutes to the station, where I met Carolyn for the short train ride to Porto. Once at Sao Bento station, we went our separate ways to check into our respective accommodation. I was literally around the corner from the station in, what proved to be, an excellent location. The first room I was given was in the old part of the building. There wasn’t any internet in the room, after a chat with the receptionist, I was offered another room that had obviously been refurbished and was much nicer.
After a short time in my room, I went out for a walk. Porto is beautiful with a real mixture of buildings side by side, although all with the red roofs. There are also blue tiles on hundreds of buildings, including churches and train stations.
I wandered around the Cathedral area and then up and down through the narrow streets to Ribeira, which was really tourist central. It is right on the river front, full of cafes and restaurants, and is where all the boats start for the river cruises. I meandered along and then took random streets back up towards my hospedaria, stopping at a supermarket for lunch and breakfast supplies.
Once I had managed to gain entrance to the guest house (I have obviously not got the right technique for the door bell and have had to wait for someone else to come and ring it before I can get in), I had a quick bite to eat and then went to meet Carolyn at the Majestic Cafe, which she had read about in her guide book. This turned out to be something like the Ritz on a lesser scale and was somewhere people came for Afternoon Tea. I had a very nice Earl Grey, but all the food was too expensive.
Afterwards, we strolled up to a well known bookshop called Livraria Lello, which is particularly famed for its architecture and staircase. Well, there were so many people I couldn’t cope! There was a non stop line of bodies going into the shop, up the staircase, down the staircase and out again. I lasted 5 minutes before I had to come out.
We continued to wander the streets at random, having a look at a small market in one street and, once we had returned to the area in which Carolyn was staying, we found a small restaurant and sat outside for dinner.
I fiddled around in my room for quite some while this morning before setting off for the National Museum. However, once I arrived, I found out that it is only free on the first Sunday of the month and I didn’t want to see it enough to pay €5.
After consultation with the map, I realised that there was a cycle/walking path right out to the river mouth, from where a number of beaches stretched to the north, so I decided to make my way to the river and follow it.
I zig zagged down through the streets until I was at sea level again and reached the cycleway, which, it being Sunday, was being quite well used by both cyclists and walkers. Next to the last of the 5 bridges of Porto, I stopped for coffee to give my feet a rest and then continued on, passing lots and lots of fishermen as well as the aforementioned walkers etc.
When I reached my target, there was a somewhat unappealing beach set between two piers, one of which I walked on to. However, the wind was wild, as was the sea, and the fishermen at the end of the pier were certainly risking life and limb to be there, as the waves splashed and surged over the walls. I didn’t even make it to the end as it was too windy. I certainly wouldn’t have wanted to be in any of the sailing boats that were out on the water.
I decided (or rather my feet and legs decided) that I didn’t want to walk any further up the beaches, so I turned round and started walking back towards the city, stopping at a couple of benches, one in a park and the other along the promenade, for a rest and to people watch for a while. It was certainly very pleasant, out of the wind and yet with a gentle breeze blowing and a much more comfortable temperature than the heat of the city.
I arrived back in town at about 5pm and tried to find a supermarket that was open but to no avail, so I had to make do with the food that I had already got in my room for my evening meal (not that that was too much of a hardship!).
Today I met Carolyn at 8.45am at Sao Bento station, a 5 minutes walk from my hospedaria, to catch the train to Pocinho, which is at the end of the line on the Douro Valley line. The trip took 3 1/2 hours and passed through beautiful scenery and along the river.
As far as Regua, which is where a lot of the cruise passengers alighted, it was mainly verdant countryside and not much view of the river. However, from then on, the train track hugged the river bank, stopping at many small stations along the way, most of whose buildings were covered in the typical blue tiles of the region.
A number of people got off the train at Pinhao, but we continued on for the last part of the line, where the scenery became far more rocky and rugged, although the steep hills were still covered in vineyards and olive groves. We had half an hour in Pocinho. Here, we stepped out of the train into a temperature that resembled an oven on a hot fan bake. There was very little in the village, apart from a few houses and a couple of cafes, in one of which we had a much needed cup of coffee.
The train left again promptly, and we retraced our steps back to Pinhao, where we then stopped for 4 hours, catching the 18.20 train back to Porto. Pinhao was a small town with one main street in which some fairly hideous music blasted from loud speakers throughout the town. We discovered that a festival for the local saints had finished the day before and this was a relic of that. We had wondered if some sadist enjoyed inflicting such noise on to unsuspecting tourists normally!
We spent an hour in an air conditioned cafe (it being like an oven in Pinhao as well), and then ventured out again into the heat. Having strolled through the main street and across the bridge, we wandered along the promenade where a number of boats offering cruises were tied up. We found one that did an hour trip for a reasonable price, so we had a very pleasant ride, travelling up the river on an old port carrying boat, with only two other people. I would hardly have thought it was economic for the owner! It was interesting to see the vineyards (all owned by large port houses), from a different perspective.
Afterwards, we adjourned to a bar on the quayside for a very welcome beer and then it was back up to the station (inevitably up a hill) to catch the train. There was quite a crowd waiting, as there are many companies that offer cruises to/from Porto with a train ride in the opposite direction. These were way beyond our budget, however, and we were very pleased to have taken the train and gone to the furthermost point of the line.
We arrived back into Porto at about 8.40pm after a long, but very enjoyable day.
When I awoke this morning, it was to the sound of dripping water. Yes, it was coming through the ceiling but, luckily, into the shower and not on to my bed. I felt obliged to get up and tell the owner.
Afterwards, today was a much needed lazy day. The weather turned a little strange, being gloomy to start with, then sunny, then a fog seemed to drift over the city and then it was back to blue sky from lunch time.
I pottered in my room in the morning, went for a coffee and then did a little trying on and shopping in C&A, which is conveniently located around the corner. I have inadvertently picked a very good place to stay here. Sometimes it is hard to tell what a hotel is going to be like until you get there and you win some, you lose some. This one is definitely a winner in terms of the room itself, price and the location.
In the late morning, I wandered down towards the river with the intention of walking across the most well known bridge in Porto, which was designed by the same engineer that did the Eiffel Tower. The top part is for the metro and pedestrians and the lower part for vehicles (and pedestrians).
I walked along the top, observing Porto through the gloom and, on the other side, wound my way down and through the port warehouses and shops. Although I didn’t stop to taste any port, I did have another coffee before strolling back along the river, where there was a great deal of renovating/refurbishment/repairs underway. By this time, the blue sky was back and it was hot again.
After making a few essential purchases (fruit, bread and wine) at the supermarket, I returned to my room, where I spent the rest of the day being lazy. Carolyn, who has now moved to the same hospedaria, came in for a chat for a few minutes later in the evening but otherwise, it was a quiet night.
It was a very full day today, as I had decided to go to both Braga and Guimaeres, both of which are north of Porto. I caught the train to Braga first, leaving at 8.45am. The journey lasted about an hour and went through some very pretty countryside, where, as I have noticed before, there is a lot of very healthy (irrigated) maize growing alongside the vines.
On arrival, I walked up to the town centre from the train station, stopping for coffee at a small stall/cafe in a park. Portuguese cafes are very impressive in that even the smallest one has an expresso coffee machine and they make the coffees exactly the way I like them, with regard to size and amount of milk. They even have a name for it, which is two of the three Portuguese words I have learnt!
Afterwards, I strolled through the very attractive, historic centre of the town. It wasn’t too busy and there weren’t a huge number of tourists, so I whiled away a very satisfactory 2 1/2 hours, wandering the streets and going into one or two churches, including the Cathedral where I had hardly got my camera out of the bag before a Portuguese equivalent of Mrs Overall (pink one) wagged her finger and instructed me “no fotos!”. The building itself was an extraordinary mix of baroque, renaissance and modern, so there was some spectacular gilt, especially round the organ, as well as some fairly plain stonework. The town seemed to be full of churches and, I suppose not surprisingly, there was a corresponding abundance of shops selling religious ornaments etc.
I then caught the local bus to Guimaeres, a much larger town and a Unesco World Heritage listed site. It was packed with tourists and all round the centre were cafes, bars and souvenir shops. I should know by now that this is what it is going to be like and not to visit one of these listed sites. After my picnic lunch sitting in a park, I had quick look round the centre. You would be forgiven for thinking that you had landed in France or Switzerland with the window boxes and balconies. However, it is unlikely that you would be allowed to hang washing from the windows in an equivalent site in those countries!
Having noticed there was a cable car going up the hill, I decided that it would be an excellent idea to escape the masses up there. What a good decision, as the funicular was scarcely being used and at the top, where, unsurprisingly, a church was perched, there were a lot of Portuguese, who were mostly at the extreme ends of the life span i.e. very old or very young. The young were racing around, shrieking and playing amongst the large rocks in the park and the old were generally sitting under trees or cafe umbrellas watching and waiting (presumably for their buses or families to reclaim them!)
Back in the town, I thought I’d better look at the Cathedral, which was now open (all churches are now becoming a bit of a blur!) and then had another coffee before heading off for the train station, which was a little way away.
Trying to buy a ticket seemed to be a problem that required a phone call but it turned out that, unknowingly, I had bought a day return to Braga from Porto and the ticket man was just checking if I could use it from Guimaeres. Given that the fares are very cheap anyway, I had expected to buy another ticket. It meant that the grand total for my rail trips today was €3.60. I couldn’t get much better value that that!
The trip back was about an hour and a half so it was about 7pm by the time I was back in my room after another most enjoyable day.
It was a very grey and miserable day when I woke up. I was intending to have coffee with Carolyn this morning, as she was returning to England today, but she didn’t wake up and I was catching a train at 9.45am to Barcelos, so I had coffee on my own at the station.
The trip took about an hour and a half, with a prolonged change of trains at Nine. Barcelos’ main claim to fame is a very large outdoor market, reputedly the biggest in Europe. I arrived at the station about 11.30am and had to walk some distance, following the signs to the town centre and then the trail of people carrying full shopping bags, before I found the market (although it wasn’t actually that difficult).
The market was certainly very large and, apart from the usual fruit, vegetables, flowers, bread and clothing, there was also a wide variety of souvenirs and household goods, some of which one had to wonder about!
Having had a wander, I then strolled into the historic part, which was OK but nothing special and was wondering why I had bothered to come. I dithered about going onto Viana do Castelo, which is a little further along the train line on the coast, and decided that as I had come so far, I would.
I was glad that I did as it was a very attractive town and, with hindsight, which is a wondrous thing, my time would have been better spent if I had just gone there and spent the day rather than bothering with Barcelos.
Viana do Castelo has a castle perched high on the hill above and, apparently, also has some lovely beaches extending further up the western coast towards Spain. However, I didn’t see either of those. Instead, I walked along the river towards the its mouth, where there were a lot of fishermen, as well as a fairly active looking fish market. (At least, that is what I assume it was as there were a lot of white vans and people with crates moving around.)
Afterwards, I walked through the old part of town which, whilst not particularly stunning or historic, was very appealing (and there weren’t too many other tourists!)
I caught the train back to Porto at 4.30pm, changing again at Nine, and was back in the city by 6.30pm, where the blue sky had made a miraculous reappearance.
I was very tired again today, so it was a very slow morning. The weather didn’t help as it was a lot cooler, very grey and threatening rain. I sorted out some things in my room and then went in search of an internet place, so that I could print my boarding pass. A mooch around one of the main shopping streets just around the corner from the hotel, completed my morning.
In my mooching, I chanced upon a covered market in which there were some thronging cafes. However, the stalls around them were mostly closed. I assumed that this was because it wasn’t a particularly busy day but found out afterwards, when I did The Worst Tour, that it was because the Council was trying to privatise the market and was attempting to block traders from going there.
Having observed the bustle for a while, I decided to have lunch, as it appeared that the cafe staff were running off to the fish stall to get supplies, almost with each order. I ordered salmon and watched proceedings, whilst I waited for it to arrive. And very entertaining it was too. There were quite a number of tourists, particularly French, so it must be in some guide book or other, but there were also a large number of Portuguese which, to me, is always a good sign. Unfortunately, whilst very tasty, the salmon didn’t seem to agree with me and, as this had happened the last time I ordered it, I must try and remember to choose something else in future!
This afternoon, I had booked on The Worst Tour, which was set up and run by 3 unemployed architects, who wanted to show tourists what Porto was like away from the tourist area or ‘Bermuda Triangle’ as they called it, into which tourists disappeared never to emerge in another part of the city.
I met the tour leader, eventually, by a fountain in a square at the beginning of the poorer area. I had to wait awhile and realised I should have asked what an unemployed 30 something architect looked like as there was nobody obvious! I was joined by a young couple who happened to be sitting on a park bench where we started but who hadn’t booked on the tour at all!
We all had a very enjoyable afternoon, starting in a squat (the only legal one in Porto), which was home to a community centre, visiting a community garden, hidden away behind the facade of a large run down house and going to an old ruined hat factory that had been taken over by artists, mainly graffiti ones. We also went to some ‘islands’, which are houses within houses built in the time of the Industrial Revolution to provide homes for the workers that were pouring into Porto at the time. These are scattered around the city and were 4 metre by 4 metre boxes, some of which have now been extended and many of which are still occupied. Lastly, we passed through a large cemetery to visit an old disused shopping mall where young musicians practised.
Our tour leader was a young activist of the extreme left, who is horrified at the poverty now in Porto, concerned about the welfare of older people in particular, and the fact that large amounts of E.U. money is being spent to build 5 star hotels when there are 50,000 unused and derelict buildings around the city that could provide homes and businesses for people. Politics aside, the extent of the dereliction is certainly horrifying and there seems to be no life on the streets away from the central tourist area.
At the end of the tour, we went to a small bar for a beer before going our separate ways. We all felt that we had been shown a part of the city that we would never have found on our own and it was excellent to obtain an insider’s, if somewhat radical, view of the socio-economic and political view of the place at the moment.