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We spend four days in Porto - seeing cathedrals but mostly enjoying the wine

Updated: Jun 10, 2023

Cyn and I booked a lovely AirBNB on the first floor of a historic building on a busy but fabulous pedestrian walkway in Porto called Rua Flores. She got the big room overlooking the street because I had the choice room in Lisbon, but my smaller sleeping nook in the back of the Porto flat was darker and more quiet (so maybe I got the better of the deal.)

We dropped off our bags and went exploring.

Porta is just as hilly as Lisbon, but older - because it was not levelled by the 1775 earthquake - more folksy, and in many ways more beautiful with its tall, narrow, pastel buildings and terra cotta rooftops.

The downtown was absolutely crowded with people, most of them tourists but also Portuguese citizens who had descended on the city to take part in a four-day festival honouring the Portuguese navy. There were three military ships in the harbour that allowed tours, and there were demonstrations with helicopters and motorized dinghies all weekend long.

The thing that struck me about Porto right away was the amount of live music. There are buskers on every corner, and most of them are wonderful.

We crossed the Douro River to Gaia and met up with Cyn's brother Robert at the Calem port company where we took a tour of the cellars before enjoying a tasting.

Then the three of us strolled over the bridge back to Porto in search of dinner. We stopped at a place on a narrow alley called Chama that is very highly rated. They said they were fully booked until July. But Cyn convinced them to let us have four appetizers and wine. And then the chef relented and let us stay for an entire meal.

You don't get to choose your dishes at Chama, you get what the chef sends out. And it was five courses of fish, veal (yah - I can't eat veal) beans, veg and dessert. It was really good, as far as Portuguese food goes, and the drinks were wonderful.

We then walked what seemed like a long way up a hill and over multiple cobbled streets to see a Fado show. They offered us port on the way in, and of course we said yes. The fado was so beautiful- mournful and melodic.

On Friday, Cyn and I took a terrific walking tour with a history expert named Carlota. We started with a walk around the outside of the incredible Cathedral, perched high in a hill, parts of which date back to the 12th Century.

Then we went up and down Porto's hilly streets, seeing parts of the medieval town.

And we ended up at one of the more modern additions to the Porto landscape - this incredible 19th Century train station.

On Carlota's recommendation, we had lunch with some of our tour companions at a traditional Portuguese place near the station. It was ok.

I am gonna be honest here, Portuguese food is not my favorite. It's heavy on canned fish, salt cod, pork and tripe - all things that, well, I would not eat by choice. But the Portuguese do make good potatoes.

After lunch, Cyn and I went back to see the inside of the Cathedral.

We then walked across the upper bridge to Gaia again and wandered through a craft market. We took a cable car to the bottom of a hill and then walked a bit more before stopping in at a riverside bar for a glass of wine. It was a great place to watch some of the naval exercises - we saw a jeep being lifted off and on the ship by a helicopter ... over and over again.

We searched out a Tapas place for dinner, where Robert joined us. The restaurant had loads of atmosphere, and was highly rated, but I was getting tired of canned fish and salt cod. The best thing on the menu, besides the wine, was the hummus.

The next day, realizing that we really had not had enough alcohol, the three of us took a wine tour of the Douro Valley. I cannot put into words how beautiful it is.

We stopped at a winery called Da Foz, where we saw the cellar and tasted a white, a red, and a port, I bought a bottle of the port.

Then we took a cruise upriver in an electric boat where we were treated to the port and tonic drink we had had in Lisbon, along with some charcuterie.

And finally we arrived at a winery that has been in the same family for centuries - and where an ancestor is a hero for figuring out how to stop grape vines being killed off by a bug imported from America. We sat down to a multi course meal with multiple glasses of wine. The wine was delicious, and I loved the cheese and the soup ... and the potatoes. This is our excellent guide, Jo, explaining the tasting notes in the 23-year-old bottle of sparkling, that retailed for 8 Euros (yes, we bought some.)

Back in Porto, we freshened up and then met Robert and four friends for dinner. We went to Cervegaria Brasao which was highly recommended for its Francesinha. These are Porto's famous sandwiches with piles of different kinds of meat and cheese floating in gravy. I just could not handle the massive meat overload so I made the mistake of ordering half of a vegetarian version. It was not great. And the noise from the other tables was grating. Below is the sandwich - the egg was initially on top.

Then Cyn, Robert and I walked through town and found a nice outdoor spot for drinks - I had wine and they had aperol spritz.

That was followed by a visit to a local gay bar - which was kind of fantastic. But we stayed out way too late for people of our advanced age.

On Sunday, our final day in Porto, we got up late and Cyn and I set off on our own walking tour of the city.

Our first stop was a 19th Century palace known as the Stock Exhange which still operates as the local Chamber of Commerce. It is opulent in the extreme. And there were gasps when our guide opened the door to the ballroom which was decorated as an homage to the country's Moorish roots.

We had lunch at a restaurant on the waterfront which was ok. It is hard for me to get enthused about a Portuguese menu, but the smoked chicken salad was passable.

We visited the Church of Sao Francisco, which is both unspeakably beautiful for its ornate gold carvings, and also brutal.

The scenes of torture and decapitation of Christian martyrs are everywhere.

And, in the basement are catacombs of wealthy Porto residents who died in the middle of the 19th Century.

There is also an ossuary of bones of those who, presumably, could not afford a more posh spot in the floor or on the wall.

We returned to the flat for a quick nap before heading back out for our last walk in the city. We went to chocolate shops and a market, and strolled through a park before arriving back at Rue Flores where we had dinner in the Italian restaurant that is just below our AirBNB. I had lasagna - not the best I have ever tasted, but better than salt cod, tripe, or canned fish.

The restaurant was full when we got there but we just went back to our flat, opened the window, drank wine and played cribbage until the owner yelled up from the street that he had a table for us. And we got to listen to more of the fabulous busking while we enjoyed our meal.

Today, Cyn, Robert and I are off to Lisbon where we will pick up a car and drive to Coimbra. The long vacation is coming to and end but there is still some fun to be had.





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