Paulo, our Airbnb host, advised us that the first thing we should do in Porto, Portugal’s second largest city, was to take the metro across the Rio Douro on the Ponte de Dom Luis I, and then walk across the bridge for views of the city. That’s exactly what we did on our first Sunday evening after enjoying a glass of wine on our sunny porch. Our Airbnb, called Secret Garden – Art & living, had a certain Zen feel to it, and we weren’t in a rush to abandon it.
After being deposited on the top deck of the bridge, shared by pedestrians and the yellow metro line, we admired views of the Rio Douro and the Ribeira district on the north shore, as well as Vila Nova de Gaia on the south. Honeyed coral light poured over bell towers, baroque churches, and beaux-arts buildings cascading down the hills. As it was getting dark, we spared no time in walking uphill through the medieval city past azulejo-covered churches and the São Bento train station. We stopped for baguettes and beer at A Fabrica da Picaria, a brewpub, as we made our way back “home.”
Baguettes & beer at Fabrica Brewpub: vegetable soup, asparagus, codfish cakes & wine for lunch at Restaurante Large San Domingo, codfish & Francesinha at Vaccarum, & homemade pasta in our Airbnb.
On Monday morning, the only sunny day we’d enjoy in Porto, we walked downhill into the city from our Airbnb apartment. We passed street art, ubiquitous throughout Portugal, and the the Cámara Municipal do Porto at the head of Avenida dos Aliados, lined with beaux-arts façades. We wound our way west through convoluted streets and colorful tile-covered buildings to the azulejo-faced Igreja do Carmo, where we wandered inside and out.
The magnificent 1912 azulejo panel on the side of rococo Igreja do Carmo illustrates the founding of the Carmelite order.
The crazy maze of Porto’s streets hindered our progress to the mid-1700s Torre dos Clérigos, a 76-m high tower that looms over Porto, but we found our way after numerous detours. We visited the interior of the pink-hued marbled church and museum and climbed up the tower’s 225-step staircase, built by an Italian baroque master, for views over the city.
We enjoyed amazing views from Torre dos Clérigos.
We popped into the azulejo-covered Igreja de Santo Antonio dos Congregados and then into the São Bento train station, where trains were braked and awaiting passengers, and then made our way to the Ponte de Dom Luis I on foot, where we had blue-sky views of the meandering river and the hills of Porto.
We enjoyed more views as we took the cable car down to Vila Nova de Gaia on the south side of the Rio Douro. The cable car people gave us a ticket to a free wine tasting, so after sipping red wine at the winery, we wandered the streets and came face-to-face with huge rabbit made of trash. As we strolled along the waterfront in Vila Nova de Gaia, we admired the Cais da Ribeira, the waterfront nucleus on Porto’s north shore, as well as barcos rabelos, flat-bottom boats, on the Rio Douro.
We strolled back across the bridge to Porto’s Cais da Ribeira, charmed by the adorable shops, colorful buildings, and laundry hung on lines across balconies. I was hungry and it all looked so inviting and romantic, people sitting at outdoor cafes overlooking the river. But it seems we’re always too practical to partake. We always want to avoid the touristy places, and Cais da Ribeira is nothing if not touristy. Instead, we walked past the Igreja de São Francisco uphill to a square until we found a cozy cafe, Restaurante Largo San Domingo, where we had a delicious lunch of roasted asparagus, codfish croquettes and pureed vegetable soup, along with glasses of wine.
Retracing our steps to Igreja de São Francisco, we explored the most prominent Gothic monument in Porto with its dazzling Baroque interior. Signs were posted for no photography but all the visitors were snapping away and there was no one telling them not to, so I joined in. It was quite dark so the photos didn’t turn out well anyway.
Igreja de São Francisco was originally built by the Franciscans in 1245; it was greatly expanded between 1383 and 1410 and remodeled in 1425. It is estimated that over 300 kilos of gold dust were used to decorate the church’s eight altars in the 17th and 18th centuries. It has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
The exuberant interior of Igreja de São Francisco is stunning.
By this time, it was getting cooler and cloudier, so we hopped on the red line of the City Sightseeing Portugal bus which took us in circles through parts of town we’d already walked. Finally, we escaped from the congested center for a loop past the Teatro Sa da Bandeira, the Casa da Música, and the Estádio do Bessa. I had wanted to hop off at the Museu de Arte Contemporânea and Casa de Serralves, but by then we were quite comfortable on the bus, so we stayed put, passing the Forte de São Francisco Xavier (Castelo do Queijo) at the northern end of Praia dos Ingleses, the beach that fronts the Atlantic Ocean. At the southern end of the beach, we rode past the Castelo de São João da Foz, and finally along the Rio Douro back to Porto.
After hopping off the bus, we stopped at at Igreja de San Nicolau, an 18th century Baroque and classic church with Rococo carvings.
We wound our way uphill through Porto’s web of medieval alleys and stairways, past a group of men playing cards on the steps, to the 12th century Romanesque Sé do Porto, a Roman Catholic church located in the historical center of the city. Sadly, it was going through a major renovation and much of it was inaccessible. The only part we could see was the 14th-century Gothic cloisters with their azulejo-covered walls and some adjoining museum exhibits.
Sé do Porto
Streets of Porto
We stopped to admire the amazing Capela das Almas (Chapel of Souls), also known as the Chapel of Santa Catarina. The exterior blue and white ceramic tiles depict scenes from the lives of various saints, including the death of Saint Francis of Assisi and the Martyrdom of Santa Catarina. Though the tiles mimic the 18th century classical style, they were actually created in the first half of the 20th century.
On our way back uphill to our Airbnb, it started raining. We searched for a place to eat and finally ended up at Vaccarum, a cozy but expensive restaurant. We were happy to be out of the rain but I found my dinner of codfish topped with cornbread stuffing disappointing. It had bones throughout, and every bite was torture to eat. I wanted so badly to trade meals with Mike. He had a delicious Francesinha, a Portuguese sandwich made with bread, wet cured ham, linguiça, a fresh sausage like chipolata, and steak; it was smothered with melted cheese and a hot thick tomato and beer sauce. So decadent, but oh so delicious. Though he shared a couple of bites with me, I was left to struggle through my cod and its millions of tiny bones.
On Tuesday, rain was forecast all day, so we escaped Porto to drive to Amarante. Meanwhile, someone on Facebook asked if we’d seen the famous 1906 Livraria Lello, a Neo-Gothic bookstore that is said to have inspired J.K. Rowling when she was writing Harry Potter. It was practically next door to Igreja do Carmo, which we’d visited on Monday morning, so it was annoying to go back. Though the bookstore’s stained-glass atrium and deep-red sweeping staircase are beautiful, our visit was ultimately disappointing because of the swarms of selfie-taking tourists. We didn’t stay long as it was impossible to take any decent photos, much less to move around.
The packed Livraria Lello, inspiration for J.K. Rowling.
Final view of Porto in front of Igreja do Carmo.
After that wasted visit, we climbed back uphill to our Airbnb, stopping at a small wine shop for some cheese snacks, and then returned to our apartment. There we chopped broccoli and peppers, which we sauteed and served over pasta for dinner. We toasted each other with Kopke Douro wine. It was lovely to enjoy our last night in our Airbnb apartment, as we would leave Porto the next morning.
*Sunday, October 28 – Tuesday, October 30, 2018*
Steps 10/28: 18,292 (7.75 miles) ~ 10/29: 22,746 (9.46 miles) ~ 10/30: 14,940 (6.33 miles)
“PROSE” INVITATION: I invite you to write up to a post on your own blog about a recently visited particular destination (not journeys in general). Concentrate on any intention you set for your prose. In this case, one of my intentions for my trip to Portugal was to pick five random verbs each day and use them in my travel essay: 1)
chop, 2) hinder, 3) spare, 4) trade, 5) brake. √
It doesn’t matter whether you write fiction or non-fiction for this invitation. You can either set your own writing intentions, or use one of the prompts I’ve listed on this page: writing prompts: prose. (This page is a work in process.) You can also include photos, of course.
Include the link in the comments below by Monday, April 22 at 1:00 p.m. EST. When I write my post in response to this invitation on Tuesday, April 23, I’ll include your links in that post.
This will be an ongoing invitation. Feel free to jump in at any time. 🙂
I hope you’ll join in our community. I look forward to reading your posts!
the ~ wander.essence ~ community
I invite you all to settle in and read a few posts from our wandering community. I promise, you’ll be inspired. 🙂
Thanks to all of you who wrote prosaic posts following intentions you set for yourself. 🙂
I am traveling from April 4 to May 10. If I cannot respond to or add your links due to wi-fi problems or time constraints, please feel free to add your links in both this post and my next scheduled post. If I can’t read them when you post them, I will get to them as soon as I can. Thanks for your understanding! 🙂