Porto

Following an “interesting” stay in the mountains in Portugal, where the hotel resembled the one described in “the Shining”, we headed back to civilization, namely Porto, via the Douro Valley, famous for wine, mainly Port, production.  The Port barrels were famously shipped via river barge to Porto, for transport all over the world.

We stopped at Peso du Regua, where we talked by phone to Ash, and then investigated whether the steam train was running, as per Michael Portillo’s Great Railway Journeys.  At the station, the helpful clerk advised that the next train would be “in June”.  Okay, we were a bit early, or late.

We drove on to Porto, pic-nicking along with way with the Nazare peri-peri chicken.  We love the fact that the car overnight is colder than a fridge, so your food is perfectly safe to eat the next day.

In Porto, we met our Airbnb host, and got the keys to a great apartment.  The car was safely stowed in the underground park, and we set out on foot for the central historical centre.  Porto is, like many Euro cities, built on hills and let me tell you these were H-I-L-L-S.  We wandered through the Crystal palace gardens and down to the river, where the tram runs alongside.

Yelp had assisted us in picking out a restaurant to eat at, a local joint, which opened at 7.00 pm – Taberna Sant Antonio https://www.facebook.com/tabernastoantoniovirtudes.  Yelp advised, to get there early or be prepared to wait.  Yelp has been a godsend for us, and has never let us down, so thanks Yelpers.

 

We were in the first wave to be seated, and a gorgeous homecooked meal was to hand.  Steve had pig cheek, simmered for hours and hours, which took pride of place in his TOP 5 MEALS OF ALL TIME THAT HE HASN’T COOKED HIMSELF.  Three courses and wine set us back a princely sum of 30 euro.  A Funny moment, as the TV had been set up and tuned with great precision, and loads of advice by the patrons.  Suddenly all lights went off, and there was silence for just a second, when a wag in restaurant started to sing…”happy birthday”….  We all cracked up, and lights were reinstated and another wave of dedicated tuning for the TV resulted in the equilibrium being restored.  Ashleigh commented that the comedian must have basked in this comedic victory for the rest of the evening.

Despite flat phone batteries, we managed to find our way home, which was closer than we thought, ready for the next day’s exploration.

Sunny Sunday, and all were out and about. First stop was Livraria Lello, the bookshop famous for being J K Rowling’s inspiration for the Hogwarts’s staircases.  Said staircases were predictably packed with people so a photo minus tourists was a challenge to say the least.   The bookshop itself has become, unfairly, as it was gorgeous, a bit of a secondary attraction, as they charge 4 euro entry, which is credited against any purchase.  Fair enough, as the throng was incredible, but we did like the uber-cool door bouncer, with his Dali-esque moustachio.  Many Potter-heads are in attendance, and you will see some Slytherins, and a lone Gryffindor there.  Noticed they were hosting a Hogwarts dinner (unfortunately sold out) which would have been an absolute hoot.

https://www.livrarialello.pt/en/jantar-potterheads/

On to the Porto railway station, as you will note we have a bit of a crush on a good railway station.  This one has featured in Michael Portillo’s series, so we had to visit ourselves, and it did not disappoint.  The magnificent tiles adorning the walls were spectacular, but I always love the sense of people going places in a railway station….

 

Across the river from us were the wine warehouse/cellars, all bearing their brands.  You can see the various brands illuminated.  We headed over there to explore and do a port tasting.  Neither of us know much about wines, and you can see our response, but the Blanco Port won, in both our views.  Actually a white port.     Porto is quite small, and therefore very easy to negotiate on foot, which we did, crossing one of the nine bridges over the Douro, the Dom Luis Bridge.  Two levels, the top one having the train and pedestrians, the bottom one cars and pedestrians.  We did both, and next to it the funicular railway runs, with its hydraulic levels.    Bit downtrodden area there, but loving the life on display, such as the washing being checked for dryness….

 

Many and varied street performers were on show, for a sunny Sunday afternoon draws a crowd.  One ensemble of folk musicians, including flag throwing and tambourine playing resulted in a toddler being hit in the face by a wayward flag, but no lasting injuries were involved, so they played on.  We took the tram out to the mouth of the Porto river, the Douro, called the Douro Foz.   Apparently many shipwrecks have been discovered there.  Fun fact, the city is called Porto, but a grammatical necessity sometimes calls for it to be Oporto.  The English pronunciation has evolved to Oporto.

Steve was all for going back to our restaurant, but I couldn’t wait, and we ended up at another place, not nearly as nice.   Back to the apartment to ready ourselves for the return to Spain.

but not before…..

 

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Is it too late to have a gap year in your late 50s? To take back some time from our day to day working life to travel - unplanned, unescorted, unfettered? To take that leap? It was a defining year - liberating, challenging, humbling, scary. It was many things, but it wasn't a holiday.

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