You knew it was coming! The final post on my visit to Porto. Just one more time I’m going to take you there, and try to capture the impact it had on me.
I’m not sure if it’s because it’s a northern city that I felt such an affinity with Porto. At home I’m used to the north/south divide and the differing attitudes of the two. Being “from the north” confers a kind of backward status, despite us having some beautiful cities of our own. I felt a little of the same in Porto. Like us north-of-Englanders, Porto is far from feeling inferior. It’s proud of its past, and fighting for its future.
In Roman times, the twin cities at the mouth of the River Douro were known as Portus, on the right bank and Cale, on the left. During the Moorish occupation, the entire region between the Minho River, to the north, and the Douro, was called Portucale. When Afonso Henriques founded the new kingdom in the 12th century, and became its first king, he named it Portucalia after his home province. So you see, Porto and the Douro are an integral part of the Portuguese nation, and have every right to be proud.
They’re quite feisty too. Porto is known as A cidade invicta, “the invincible city”, because of its unparalleled resistance to Napoleon during the Peninsular Wars. In modern times too, the city was the centre of opposition to Salazar’s right-wing dictatorship.
One of the best things I did in Porto, and I would recommend it to anyone relatively fit, was the free walking tour with Pancho Tours. I had in mind that the person we would be meeting beside the Dom Pedro IV statue in Praca da Liberdade would be a guy sporting an orange t-shirt emblazoned with the company logo. Wrong! A small, dynamic, curly haired bundle of fun by the name of Iris was our guide. She proceeded to entertain and enthrall 24 of us multi nationals for two and a half hours!
As you can see from the photo, there are many ups and downs involved in a walking tour of Porto. It wasn’t an historical tour, but gave you a real insight into the city and an appetite to come back and see more. At a brisk pace most of the important sites were pointed out, with essentials like the cheapest places to eat good Portuguese food, and where to buy the best cakes. (everywhere!) Believe me, in Porto you’d soon burn up the calories.
One of the high points of the tour (literally) was the upper tier of the Dom Luis I Bridge. The Metro rumbled past perilously close behind us, but the views were staggering.
We wound our way down the steps to the quayside, and, tour over, indulged in a meal in Iris’s company.(our feet needed a rest and it seemed a good opportunity to try the Francesinha– a chunky spicey meat-filled toasty smothered in cheese and served in a piquant sauce)
Back on my feet again, I couldn’t resist a ride in the cable car over on the Gaia side of the river. I love a bird’s eye view! My only complaint, the ride was over too quickly. I compensated later by riding the funicular up to the clifftop. It’s only as it glides into the old city walls that you realise how solid they once were.
Still chasing views, and with a fresh pair of legs the following day, I undertook the 225 steps to the top of the Torre de Clerigos. This six-storey granite tower was built in the 18th century as a landmark for ships coming up the Douro. Well worth the climb!
For a change I found myself looking up when I visited the Palacio de Bolsa, the former Stock Exchange. The palace can only be seen as part of a half hour organised tour, but I was keen to see the famed Arab Salon. Loosely based on the architecture of the Alhambra, it was without question built to impress, and it did.
Not all of Porto is quite so perfectly preserved, and it’s part of the gritty reality of the place that the ramshackle lives side by side with the chique. The indoor market at Bolhao was decidedly shabby, but for the people selling their wares in the little kiosks it was their whole life. Iris informed us that it was soon to be another casuality of the city, as there are simply insufficient funds to restore it. I was glad I saw it when I did.
One of the shinier, newer parts of the city came as a real surprise to me. I had little idea what I would find at Foz do Douro, other than the river mouth, so I mounted the tram with real excitement. It trundled out along the shoreline with wonderful views to either side- the houses tumbling to the water on the one, and the ever widening river on the other. The tram ends at Passeio Alegre, and from there you can stroll and stroll.
Suddenly I was at the seaside, with the tang of the salt air, and the snap of the waves. The sunshine was radiant and I collapsed at a bar to feast on the sparkling water.
I wished I could have spent more time in this lovely spot, and if (when!) I return, I will certainly do so. The tram has two routes and after I’d struggled up the steep incline to reach the gardens of the former Crystal Palace, I discovered that one of them bypasses the gardens. It’s a peaceful spot, and I guess the views down to the river were compensation for the climb.
You’ll notice that I haven’t even mentioned the “A” word once? Azulejos, that is. The reason of course is that I went to town on them in my Simply Beautiful Blue and White post. If you didn’t see it and are thinking of coming to Porto, please take a look. It might just convince you. I still haven’t managed to fit everything in. It’s probably a capital offense but I didn’t even mention port-wine tasting! Well, you know I do my share of that anyway.
For now, I’ll leave Porto, with lots and lots of beautiful memories. Many thanks to Julie Dawn Fox for giving me the opportunity to post this in My Personal A-Z of Portugal. If you haven’t already seen her A-Z Challenge, click on the banner below. It might give you some ideas.