Three things I love about Porto

Porto, seen from the water

Porto, seen from the water

A great sight, whichever way you look!

A great sight, whichever way you look!

Challenged recently to come up with three things I love about my favourite city, I barely hesitated before my thoughts turned to Porto, in Northern Portugal.

Accor Hotels are inviting bloggers to create a post (or a video) illustrating their three favourite things about any city they love.  In return, you can win a three-night stay for two, in London, Paris or Amsterdam.  Something nice to look forward to at this dreary time of year?  But you’d better get your skates on- last date for entries is Monday, 26th January at 12.01pm.  Sorry I couldn’t give you more notice.

The quayside at Peso da Regua

The quayside at Peso da Regua

So, why Porto, you might be asking yourself.  If you were around when I came back from my trip two years ago, you might remember that I was totally besotted.

1.  The city lies at the mouth of the River Douro.  Step into a boat (or catch a train if you’re a landlubber) and you have before you one of the most beguiling landscapes you could ever imagine.  As you depart the city, the hills ripple away on either shore, swathed in vines that change hue with the seasons.  Utterly tranquil, yet with the frisson of a huge lock or two to navigate, and ruggedly wild beauty as you penetrate further along the river.

2.  Porto has a beach!  Crucial for someone who could never envisage life away from the sea. Nothing could be more delightful than hopping on the tram and rattling out to Foz do Douro.  Or perhaps you would stroll it, but save some energy for when you get there.  There’s a long promenade after the last tram stop.  An old fort sits on the headland and there’s Seaworld if you prefer your fishes in a tank.  Bars and restaurants abound for a lazy toasted end to the day.

A restaurant with a view, at Foz do Douro

A restaurant with a view, at Foz do Douro

3.  It’s all in the name!  The home of port wine, there is no better setting for sampling a glass or two.  Three if you’re going to try Ruby, Tawny and White port.  No need to rush it!  There are numerous wine lodges, beside the river or up on the hill with magnificent views, if you can handle the climb.  You will amble home with a smile on your face. That’s for sure!

Barcos rabelas at ease in their moorings

Barcos rabelas at ease in their moorings

If you’d like to spend a little more time in Porto with me, try Simply beautiful blue and white.  It’s a feast of azulejos! But then you should decide which is your favourite city, and visit A tale of three cities for details of how to enter the competition.

Thursday- Lingering look at Windows- week 21

I’m determined to be on time with this challenge.  Truthfully I don’t have much choice because tomorrow I’m off to Nottingham, to attend a Steampunk book launch with my daughter.  You can imagine what fun that’s going to be!

Last week I shared a few Polish windows with you, so it’s only fair that this week I do the same for Portugal, don’t you think?

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You can pause the gallery to read the captions if you hover over it.  Clever, huh?

But my very best Portuguese window has to be this one.  Anyone who has walked through this gate and looked up will recognise it- fabulous Porta da Vila, in Obidos.

It's in the town walls of Obidos.

So what do you think, Poland or Portugal?  I really can’t choose because I love them both.  Many thanks to Dawn at Lingering Visions for hosting this challenge.  Don’t forget to check out the other entries, and maybe add one of your own.

I guess it’ll have to be English windows next week?  We’ll see.


I very much like to frame a subject, so when I spotted East of Malaga’s challenge for this month, I had two responses:
1. I absolutely love these photos,
2. If I can possibly squeeze out a little time somewhere, I shall make a submission. After all, a monthly challenge does give you quite a bit of leaway. So, here I go!

What did you think?  Too many?  I do love the drama of them.  Click the first shot to see them in gallery form.

“Less is more”!  Another of those expressions I never quite took to heart.

Speaking of hearts, there are some very warm ones in our blogging world. Simply Charming is just such a person, so if you haven’t yet met her, make just a few minutes of time to go and say hello. If you have, pop by anyway. You’ll get a warm welcome.
Marianne likes us to share two bloggers whose posts we have commented on in the past month.  It’s never easy to choose, but I’m sure Paula at Lost in Translation won’t mind me spreading a little love in her direction. She spreads lots in mine. Paula has a very individual and beautiful style. Go take a look.

That’s me worn out and it’s still early!  Worse yet, I’ve been so engrossed that I haven’t noticed it’s snowing wildly and I’m travelling up to Northumberland today to meet Viv in France. (is that 3 introductions? oh, never mind!)  Wish me luck!

Many thanks, Marianne. Visit East of Malaga to admire and take part.

Jakesprinter’s Sunday Post : Captivating


Can’t resist having a little fun with this week’s subject Captivating.  So many things in life can be captivating, including Jake’s Lucky Snake logo with it’s hypnotic eyes.  It captures my imagination, holds it, and makes me smile- that’s a great definition of captivating.

Me, capturing "me"

Me, capturing “me” and an elephant

I loved this elephant clock, proudly displayed on the mantelpiece at Thrumpton Hall.  I had just waved Lisa off on honeymoon and was speeding through the building, trying to capture as much as I could of this most captivating of venues.  Posh frock packed away, and not expecting ever to visit the Hall again, every click counted.   I didn’t mind being caught on camera.  It was one more bit of evidence that I really was there.  It wasn’t just a fairytale, though it well might have been!

This is how it looks without me

This is how it looks without me- even more captivating!

I find this photo rather captivating too.  All of twenty years ago.

Lisa and James, 20 years ago

Lisa and James, in Nottingham marina

Sentiment set aside, today I’m feeling much more mischievous.  Is this a captivating image?  Who is captive here?  We were sitting on the seawall at Lagos watching the water dogs perform- a very captivating sight.

Which one is me?

Which one is me?

Held captive by the camera!  I’m developing a liking for this kind of shot, though I suppose it belongs more to the subject of shadows.  Just for today, I’m calling it a captive image.

The prisoner, in his pretty jail

The prisoner, in his exotic jail

I found this little fellow somewhat captivating, and his happy friend below.  The gnomes of Wrocław were endearing in the extreme, and I expect I’ll have to return someday to track down a few more.

Friendly, or Wellwisher

Friendly, or Wellwisher gnome

But the photo I find most captivating of all, has to be this one.  I will never forget the moment that I stood stock still and simply stared. Porto, with all it’s crumpled and faded beauty, is a memory that will stay with me forever.

Hauntingly lovely Igreja de Santo Ildefonso, Porto

Hauntingly lovely Igreja de Santo Ildefonso, Porto

I know that Jake’s Comments box is going to be packed full of captivating images this week.  One of my Sunday pleasures, when the chores are done, is to admire the other Sunday Post entries.  Come with me?  Just click on the lucky snake logo or the links.

Cee’s fun foto challenge : wood

When it comes to the elements, I’m definitely drawn to water the most, but I’m also quite a tactile person.  I can never resist stroking a gleaming wood carving, in a park, or museum.  Tree bark often attracts my finger tips, especially the coppery hue of the Tibetan cherry. Cee’s fun foto challenge this week has me looking at photos related to Wood.  It surprised me to see just how many uses we have for it.

Click on any of the photos to start the gallery rolling, then head over to Cee’s page to see the many different interpretations of the challenge.

Sunday Post : Architecture

Architecture : what a huge subject that is!  It’s Jakesprinter’s theme for this weeks Sunday Post, and already I’m struggling!  I mean, how many of you know a song with “architecture” in the title?  The following will be a silent, contemplative post.

What does architecture do for us?  Shelters us, gives us a place to work, to be educated, to worship, to shop.  It enables us to cross from one shore to another.  It expresses both our practicality and our creativity.  Formidable, constantly moving on.  Old and new, both are capable of amazing me.

The battlements and reconstructed “old town” in Warsaw- both old and new

The prettiest of patios in Cordoba

The rooftops of Porto

Thatched housing in the north of Madeira

How about a nice place to work?

Wonderfully elaborate Town Hall in Wroclaw

Or to study?

University buildings- Wroclaw wins again!

Starting out at the “smiley” local school

Where would you prefer to worship?

The tiniest of Greek Island churches?

The cathedral in Porto

Or Wroclaw’s Ostrow Tumski- stunningly ornate!

Shopping- as important to some as religion.  There’s no lack of choice here either.

Lello’s amazing book store in Porto

A simple shop in the Polish suburbs

Or a trendy new shopping centre in Warsaw

I can’t choose between these bridges.  Tradition or modernity.  Can you?

The beautiful approach to Cordoba and the incomparable Mesquita

The Infinity Bridge, Stockton-on-Tees

It seems we are only limited by our imagination.  That doesn’t seem to be a problem for Jake.  I was sold from the very first time I saw the flying dragon logo.  Click on it, or any of the links to see his interpretation this week, and maybe join in yourself?

I’ve been amazed already by some of the entries this week:










P is for Porto

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.

Looking out to the river mouth (Foz do Douro)

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.

Barcos rabelos below Dom Luis I Bridge

The lovely Porto skyline

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.

You can’t get much closer to the river than this cafe

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!

Our tour group, captured by my husband, Michael

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.

Michael’s again. The steps or the funicular?

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)

Riding the cable car over Vila Nova de Gaia

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!

The tower has some interestingly shaped windows

The view from the top

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.

The internal courtyard in the Bolsa Palace, decorated with heraldry

Just like my ceiling at home (er, not quite!)

The stunning Arab Salon- courtesy of Wikipedia

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.

Bolhao’s indoor market- courtesy of Michael Bradley

Cherubs on a peeling wall, Rua de 31 de Janeiro

Renovated, and not, opposite Sao Bento railway station

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.

The lovely old tram, complete with lady driver

The view back towards Porto

Forte de S. Joao Baptista da Foz

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.

The waterside world in Foz do Douro

Squishy loungers were severely tempting

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.

The Jardins de Palacio de Cristal- Michael does distance shots much better than me

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.

Sunday Post : City

When I was 18, all I wanted was the city.  And what a city it was!  London- fun, fashion and the centre of my universe.  Jakesprinter has reminded me of that, with his theme for the Sunday Post this week, City.

Covent Garden, where the entertainment’s always good

The Fan Museum in Greenwich, such an unexpected treat

The skyline with it’s newest addition, The Shard, climbing upwards

As I grew older, it didn’t seem the place to raise a family.  I returned to my northern roots.  But the city was never too far away, whether I needed culture, or just a place to crane my neck to look up at the sky.

Note Newcastle’s moody northern sky

Still, you couldn’t want a finer cityscape than Gateshead’s Millenium Bridge

A city with more serenity- Durham, clad in its Autumn colours

But not lacking for a spectacular, and cultural event- Lumiere 2011

Life can be quixotic, and for me this came in the form of my Polish family, rising from the embers of the past.  The cities it brought me to explore were survivors, and especially beautiful for that.

Coach and horses in Krakow’s mighty Rynek

All of Krakow’s history is on display on Wawel Hill

Talking of survivors, where better than Warsaw’s Stare Miasto?

Or the Rynek (market square) in Wroclaw

Wroclaw has cultural humour too, with its army of gnomes

I don’t truly consider myself a city person any more, but just sometimes I lose my heart to a city.  (You knew there was a song in there, bursting to get out, didn’t you?  Yes, I always did want to see San Francisco, but I haven’t made it there yet)

I expect you know the city I’m talking about.  I’ve talked about nothing else since I got home.

It’s a city full of colour







Amazing churches

And azulejos, of course

So yes, I have lost my heart to a city by a bay, but it’s not San Francisco.  It’s Portugal’s fine northern city, Porto.  As usual, I have Jake to thank for allowing me to share these memories, old and new.  What does a city mean to you?  Jakesprinter’s bound to have lots of great examples.  Follow the links or click on the flying dragon logo to share.

More blue and white, with a splash of gold

It’s no secret that I love the gentle blue and white of azulejos.  But gold?  That’s where the River Douro glides onto the scene- a golden river.  When I looked out of my bedroom window that first morning in Regua, I was so excited to see the mist swirling delicately at the end of the garden.  I could barely wait for breakfast to head down to the riverside path and the gleaming water.

Sunlight glistens on the water, from the riverside path

I love a stroll- don’t you?

I planned to see as much of the river as I could, but was thwarted at the outset.  The boat to Barca D’Alva at the Spanish border was not running.  It was low season and there was no longer a demand.  I resigned myself to following the river upstream on the train- no real hardship as, from Peso da Regua to Pocinho, the tracks hug the river bank.  First stop, delightful Pinhao, sleepy in the morning sunshine.

A barco rabelo awaits passengers at Pinhao

Of course, you know what else I found, don’t you?

A railway station covered in azulejos- perfection! (Michael’s photo, this one)

And then you have the splash of golden yellow, too

I so love these boats- one day I’ll have these tiles on my Tavira home

The wine harvest

More boats- what else?

I couldn’t resist a sashay through the fabulous Vintage Hotel, and even an expensive glass of wine on the terrace. (Michael blanched at the price, but you only live once, don’t you?)  Couldn’t afford twice!

The Vintage Hotel, Pinhao

Just to prove I was there

A novel ticket sales office

The occasional boat disturbed the peace

Time to get back on the train for the ride up to Pocinho, through increasingly rugged territory.  Apologies for the blurry images out of the train window.  I had to try.

At Pocinho we hopped off the train and back on again, as the sun was starting to sink.  Just time to capture a quick azulejo on the platform.

On Pocinho platform

Regua, as the sun sets on the Sandemans figure on the hillside

Azulejo, Peso da Regua-style

With a train strike in the offing and a shortage of boats, I wasn’t sure how I was going to get back to Porto.  Luck was on my side, however, and Tomaz do Douro came to my rescue.  On the quayside the crew were readying the “Via Douro” for departure.  She was unbelievably beautiful!

Via Douro with tiny Porto Cruz moored alongside

All aboard!

Porto Cruz pulls away and we’re ready to cruise

Those last 3 photos are Michael’s.  I seem to have done something strange to my camera in the excitement of the moment, and launched into landscape mode!

Never mind!  The next 6 hours will forever be etched on my memory.  In the company of a young American couple (who later revealed that they were on the last day of their honeymoon!) we dined very nicely indeed, and exchanged travel tales, while gazing out at the sublime scenery.

The deepest lock in Europe provided hoots of laughter as we were briefly splattered with water in passing underneath.  Then the wonderful moment of sailing into Porto itself.  The sun sparkled on the quayside, and Porto rose majestically above us.

Sailing beneath Dom Luis Bridge, the walls and funicular

Moored at the quayside, the former Royal Barge, Spirit of Chartwell

What a journey!  What an ending!  I hoped you enjoyed sharing it with me.  For yet more blue and white, my previous post focuses on azulejos in Porto.   https://restlessjo.wordpress.com/2012/10/16/simply-beautiful-blue-and-white/

Simply beautiful blue and white

One of my earliest memories is of the blue and white Willow pattern plate that sat on a shelf of my grandmother’s Welsh dresser.  It was side by side with a heavy glass plate, with The Lord’s Prayer etched around the rim.  Commonplace in those days, I expect, but I loved them.

I don’t know if it’s that memory, or my lifelong embrace of the sparkling colours of the sea, but I’ve always loved the simplicity of blue and white.  Imagine then, my response, on arriving in Portugal and finding that so many of it’s buildings have been lovingly clad in blue and white tiles.

Porto?  Well, that was just the icing on the cake!  Stepping out of Bolhao Metro, I turned down Rua de Santa Caterina.  Immediately in my vision, the Capela das Almas, a solid wall of blue and white.  It was late evening and dark, so the church was floodlit.  What a welcome!  I knew right then that coming to Porto was going to be all that I had hoped for.

The road dips gently down, passing famous Cafe Majestic (pinch me, I really am here!) and into Praca de Batalha.  I just stood and stared, and stared.

Hauntingly lovely Igreja de Santo Ildefonso

After a night’s sleep, it just got better and better!  Well, you’ve all heard of Sao Bento railway station, haven’t you?  It was just around the corner.

I wasn’t so sure at first about the Se, or Cathedral.  It has the Rose Window and the sturdy pillars of my own Durham Cathedral, back home, but step into the cloisters and you’re in a magical world.  Climbing to the Royal Apartments and viewing terrace, I couldn’t imagine ever attending to the affairs of state with such a view on hand.

The view from the terrace above the cloisters

Stepping in to a fragile and wonderful world

Those courtly days

A cherub or two

A few more?

And one by the window, ready to steal a peep

A room fit for a king

Even the ceiling is gorgeous

But nothing surpasses blue and white

Of course, it doesn’t end there.  There’s the Carmo Church in the University Quarter,  a tile wall that I adore in Rua das Flores, and many others.

Just a glimpse of the Carmo Church, behind the Lion Fountain

Lovely Rua das Flores

But I don’t want to wear you out.  We still have to travel up the Douro together.  There was no shortage of azulejos there either, and the most stunning scenery I’ve seen in some time.  So do come back, won’t you?  I’m looking forward to it.