We spent our last two nights in this wonderfully atmospheric town. And while our experience with the cuisine wasn't that great, the town is beautiful.
From what we saw on our walk from the train station......
To the view from our hotel room......
To wandering the side streets......
Walking though the little streets in search of a snack or a meal was fun. everything just seemed to be tourist oriented food; even what was recommended by our hotel as being "really Portuguese".
To be perfectly honest, I kind of knew this. But I wanted the Missus to really enjoy Sintra after all the day-trippers had left, when the town was at its romantic best. Which meant staying in the town. It was a nice little break before our return.
Our dinner the first night was at Tacho Real. It was nice, but really nothing special.
Though walking around Sintra after the tourists are gone was wonderful.
The next morning we awoke and had a hefty breakfast and headed on our way.
Up the hill. Where the avenue became a smaller street......
Which gave way to a gate (where admission is paid), then trails, past an ancient Moorish Castle......
It is one of those places that is vividly unforgettable.
From the colors, to the restored rooms, to the view.
And yet, you never quite get the romantic beauty of it all until you climb up the neighboring hill.
It's quite an easy task....to let your mind wander; imagining the comings and goings, the intrigue, the stories that this structure could tell. Of how Amelia, the last Queen of Portugal, spent her last night before being sent into exile at the Palace.
The views are stunning and there are many trails on the park grounds.
We were glad we visited and stayed. We got to visit the palace and the park grounds before the buses of tour groups arrived.
We spent our last evening in Portugal walking around Sintra, picking out a little Wine Bar/Tapas place off the usual tourist trail.
A couple of glasses of wine, some small bites....it was a nice relaxed way to spend our last night....
Ah yes, Sunday in Porto. Joao had told us when he gave us a short orientation to the apartment; many local restaurants are closed, of course tourist restaurants are open, but you don't want to eat in those, right?
Getting out early on Sunday, it was pretty obvious that things were going to be very quiet.....
The only place that seemed alive and kickin' at this hour was the corner coffee shop and bakery.......you still needed your morning "cafe express" even on Sunday! Strangely, after having their morning caffeine boost and pastry, there's no dallying around, folks just seemed to walk out of the shop and disappear, like a scene from Dr Who.......
We headed up the street.....empty except for just a few folks....stragglers it seemed...waiting to fall victim to the Sunday Zombie Apocalypse...
We headed off to the Minipreco Supermarket next to the Mercado do Bolhao.....which we knew was open, to grab a few items for dinner. Our cab was set to pick us up at 5am in the morning for our flight to Rome, so we decided to just have something light for dinner.
After a nice walk back to the apartment, dropping things off, we headed back up.....
Joao told us that on special Sundays, he takes his family to Matosinhos, a town located to the west of Porto....this is where the docks are....and where we were told, the fish come in and where locals go to eat it. So we headed off on the Metro, getting off at the Matosihnos Sul stop and finding ourselves in Matosihnos.....
We headed down a bit, turning on Rua Herois de Franca and after a couple of blocks things started perking up a bit. We hit a restaurant row. Each restaurant had what looked like makeshift dining areas set-up in front, which seemed to be built on wooden pallets.
You could tell that there was a bit of partying going on here on Saturday night....
There were restaurants all lined up in a row, simple looking tascas next to some pretty nice white tablecloth looking places. Most of them had a grill being primed in from of the shop.....
But which one to choose? Well Joao had told us to "walk past all the restaurants on the street, don't worry, do not get discouraged.....do not stop until you come to Tito 2." And so we did that, even passing Tito 1 on the way.
So this was the place, huh? It looked just like every other place on the street....but heck, Joao hadn't let us down yet!
We looked over and a very nice young man smiled, greeted and seated us, then proceeded to call another studious looking young man...who spoke perfect English....
You know, the pallet seating looked pretty nice, don't you think?
While we waited for our menus to arrive, I peeked around the corner where the grill action was just starting up.
The menu arrived....it was sardine season, so that was a no-brainer....I then saw something that was on my food "bucket list"....something that I just had to try.....I just knew this was going to be a great meal.
Meanwhile, the Missus had snuck off to use the restroom, coming back to tell me to check out the interior of the brick and mortar restaurant....which looked pretty nice.
Just next to the doorway were the "fresh catches"...fish you could select for your meal if you so desired.
Soon our appetizer arrived, something that I'd been waiting to eat for several years....I never thought I'd be getting it in Portugal......
These were percebes, goose barnacles, you know, the stuff you scrape off the hull of boats. Yes, they may be pests to some; but to the Spanish and the Portuguese these are delicacies...rather expensive delicacies. Our Server kindly suggested .2 kilos as being enough.
So the deal is you twist off the head of this, squirting water on yourself is mandatory......you then eat the flesh.
The flavor is intensely briney, like taking in a chewy piece of the ocean...I really liked the texture. It was a bit too briney for the Missus, but I loved the intense flavor.
The Missus wanted to give Sopa de Peixe, fish soup another try......this was really thick and a bit too fishy for our taste...like fishy glue. Not our thing.
The sardines on the other hand were fantastic.
So simply done, no messing around with a fresh product....rubbed in salt, a bit of acid, so nice. The finish was that rich oil that coats your tongue, but also very clean, without that lingering and somewhat off-putting bitter fishiness that often accompanies sardines. This was one of our favorite dishes during our trip.
The potatoes were very nice....so much flavor, so simply done; olive oil, salt, garlic, parsley....
The salad broke things up nicely....also simple.
I also ordered the Lulas Grelhadas - grilled squid with lemon and olive oil.
Perhaps not the best I've had, but nicely prepared.
What was really strange was that two parties came in after us; both spoke Portuguese...both looked at what we were eating and ended up ordering exactly the same thing (we'd already finished the percebes...), which I thought was kind of strange.
The price was amazing, all this, plus a carafe of wine and water for 36 Euros!
The service was very nice, the food very good.....if we're ever in Porto again, we're headed back to Tito 2.
Tito 2 Rua Herois de Franca 321 Matosinhos, Portugal
We stopped for some espresso before going to the metro stop. At the stop a metro police officer headed up to us. In some countries this is not a good sign...not here. He stopped to ask if we needed some help, but we already had our tickets. He smiled and look at us and asked, "how is you time here? Are you enjoying it....having any problems?" What could we say? We loved our time here....
Dinner for us was a simple deal......the Missus new "specialty", some head cheese, bread....a decent drinkable wine (and a beer to follow for me).
We had a nice night's sleep. We woke at 4am, got our act together, and our ride to airport was prompt. The way to the airport was interesting as we got to see what a sprawling city Porto was.......a city we were going to miss.
It would not have been right to spend time in Porto and not cross the Douro River and visit at least one Port Wine lodge in Vila Nova de Gaia. Port wine grapes are grown upstream in the Douro valley and come to Vila Nova de Gaia to age in the various lodges in the area. You'll see very familiar names, Sandeman, Taylor, and Kopke as you cross on over.
To get there, we walked back up to the Sé do Porto - the Cathedral and crossed over on the top level of the Dom Luis Bridge. You could just as easily walk over on the lower level, but crossing over on the "Metro level", you'll get the benefit of a very nice view.
I also enjoyed watching the metro zoom by.......
Crossing over, we got kind of turned around and a bit lost in the winding streets of Vila Nove de Gaia. When we finally made it to Taylor, they were closed for a private event. The Missus was starting to get a bit frustrated when we finally found Croft.
The rustic interior and large barrels really gave this place the "right" atmosphere.
We were going to take the tour and even bought tickets when this large noisy group of young people came in and basically took over the place. The Missus and I decided to pass on the tour, which I heard is pretty good and just had our tastings.....
I supplemented with a tasting of the 10 year old Tawny Port, which was more to my taste, not overly sweet, slightly smokey, caramelized fruitiness......
We then headed back down to the waterfromt, which was much more relaxed than Porto, though I've got say, Porto is fairly relaxed as a whole.
On a bright sunny day like this one; you got some postcard worthy views.....
We decided to head back to the apartment. We took the lower level of the bridge.....
I'd really taken to the dense, dark, bread called Broa de Avintes and we had found some at a local bakery.
Meal complete, we took our usual after dinner stroll......
Walking along the Ribeira (riverfront), I saw a place selling a variety of Francesinha.....there's just something wrong about having a veggie or tofu version of this calorie bomb of a sandwich, don't you think?
I was mentally trying to determine if I had enough room in my belly for one of these, when the Missus read my mind and said, "there's no way I'm going to let you have another one of those sandwiches". Which was probably a correct decision.......still, I was sorely tempted.
After dropping off our provisions at the apartment, we headed up to Clérigos Church and Tower.
The tower, which you can see from almost every vantage point in Porto and the church took over 30 years to build and has become one of the enduring symbols of the city. The tower stands at 250 feet tall and since it stands on a hill, the views are outstanding.
The entire structure is built in the baroque style, designed by Italian architect Nicolai Nasoni. The facade of the church is quite imposing as it stands against the clear blue sky of Porto.
The tower stand behind the church and is the main site along with the famous Lello and Irmoa Bookstore (which we didn't visit) are the two main sights in the area.
Instead of heading right in, we took a walk around the tower. We saw folks having their morning coffee, the produce stand, which also conveniently sold postcards and other knickknacks was doing a nice business. I always wonder what it's like living in the shadows of a fairly busy monument....all those tourists like us wandering around....
There are 225 stairs to the top of the tower, which start fairly innocently, but soon things start getting kind of cramped. There's room only for one at certain points....you'll have to stop and let other pass you. One woman seemed to be having a bit of a claustrophobic attack.
Looking down from above provides a view that's almost Hitchcockian, or depending on your point of view, perhaps MeL Brooksian. Either way, I'm not a big fan of heights........
There are portals....hey Porto portals, has a nice ring to it....along the way, which you can use to see the views and how high you're going. These too get smaller as you get higher.
One more thing, when you reach the top; you see that bell? Well, it does ring on the hour....it went off, quite loudly, and I almost jumped out of my shoes. It's very, very loud.
The payoff is a wonderful view of the red rooftops of Porto. Very nice on one seemed a typical, clear day in Porto.
And even if you're not a big fan of red rooftops, the others views aren't too shabby either.
The interior of the church is small, but very ornate. You'll find the tomb of Nocolai Nasoni in the church as well, as he asked to be buried here.
We wandered around a bit, then decided on grabbing lunch.
Along the way, we passed Ingreja do Carmo...Carmo Church which had some beautiful tile work (Azulejos) which depicts the founding of the Carmelite Order.
I had a place picked out for lunch, but the Missus really made me work for it......we headed up Rua Martires Liberadade, down another, and yet another street, until we hit Rua do Bonjardim and eventually Restaurante Antunes.
Noon is early for lunch on a weekend, so the rather small, but elongated restaurant belonged totally to us.
About 15 or so minutes later, the place started filling up, mostly with older, very properly dressed locals...for a nice weekend lunch I assume.
This restaurant is well known for their pernil.....pork leg, which, of course we got. It was a bargain at 15 Euros.....
This of course, was a load of food as it came with a ton of roasted potatoes and spinach which was much like esparregado. In terms of "pork pump", it was a decent dish, but a bit on the tougher side and it could have used more flavor.
The one dish that blew both of us away was the classic Porto dish Tripas à moda do Porto (8 Euros). This was so good.....
The smoked pork and chicken were basically garnishes; this was a hearty stew, thick and rich, with amazing flavor, the beans, cilantro, oh my..... The tendon was nice and tender, the tripe perfectly prepared. The Missus declared this one of Her "desert island dishes" and wants to go back to Porto just to find the best version. It is, without a doubt one of the best things we ate on this trip.
What was really funny is; our Server spoke no English, but it's obvious they push the pernil (pork leg) here. When we ordered this, he immediately protested, "no....no!" But we persisted; heck we had a kitchen, leftovers were welcome! Truly, they should be pushing this instead of the pork leg....but I guess folks are afraid of tripe, tendon, and a gooey stew. The supposed history of this dish is also quite interesting. According to legend, during the Conquest of Ceuta in 1415, Henry the Navigator commandeered all of the best provisions of Porto; which included all the best cuts of beef. All that was left was offal to feed the residents of Porto. The rest as they say, is history.
We left....fat and happy....
Antunes Rua Bonjardim 525 Porto, Portugal
Knowing that we didn't have to eat all the food (we wiped out the tripas), made things so easy for us as we headed back to the apartment to drop things off.
The downtown area of Porto, away from all the shops was very quiet except for the occasional student excursion group.
The Missus decided that it was time to cross the river and have a taste of Port wine!
After a light breakfast at Confeitaria do Bolhao we headed across the street into Mercado do Bolhão. Like the similar markets we visited in Coimbra and Lisbon, either folks get up pretty late in the day, or these places are slowly fading away.....I'm saying that because the Minipreco across the street seemed quite busy, but this older market still display quite a bit of charm.
Albeit a pretty quiet charm on this morning.....
The busiest area was the second floor where fruit and vegetable vendors were arranging, then rearranging their displays. Many were working the special grinding machines used for kale.....for folks to make caldo verde I assume.
The rest of the place was pretty sedate....not much going on at 9 in the morning.
After stepping out of the market, we decided just to wander around a bit, through Rua Catarina, very quiet on a Saturday morning.
Somehow, we ended up in a little square, which we found out was named Praça da Batalha after a battle that took place between Porto and Moors in the 10th Century.....unfortunately, the Moors won that one.
We ended up chatting with a very nice woman from the Phillipines who was attending a conference......funny who you meet during your travels!
There's a beautiful chruch on the square, decorated in the style of many churches in Porto with Azulejos....beautiful tile work.
This is the Igreja de Santo Ildefonso, built in 1739. I loved the tile work on this one.....and another eye catching chapel, the Capela das Almas de Santa Catarina, The Chapel of the Souls and Saint Catherine.
The tilework on this chapel depict scenes from the "Death of Saint Francis of Assissi" and "The Martyrdom of St. Catherine." Quite stunning.
The sun was starting to shine brighter and folks were starting to wake and hit the streets.....
It was back to Mercado do Bolhão. We had decided to make use of the kitchen in our apartment for dinner after having a big lunch (think, well, pork of course) and wanted to stop by one of the shops that was not yet opened when we first walked by.
Why did we come back......well, the window display is a carnivore's dream.....
Man do I love the smell of cured meat in the morning! Combined with the "milky-feet" smell of the cheeses and you have my version of Disneyland.....
I guess we'd call this place....a deli? Meat Market? Both??? The folks working here are very friendly, though none of them spoke English. Still, food is the international language.
This was one of those moments where I wish I was one of those television personalities, with "handlers", "fixers" and teams to set everything up so I could learn what everything was......but maybe not. There's nothing like randomly stumbling across a place like this that gives one such joy.
And honestly, cooking in an unfamiliar kitchen, I didn't want anything too challenging......
A Pérola do Bolhão Rua Formos 279 Porto, Portugal
Meat wrapped up, we headed across the street and had our second espresso of the the day to celebrate.....what, I don't know....joy over buying a sausage in Porto? That's a good enough reason for me.
We stopped by the Minipreco for some water and a couple of other items, then headed back to the apartment. I was enjoying the moment and looking forward to some "pernil de porco" for lunch. But deep inside I just knew that the Missus was going to make me earn that pork leg! The question was....how?
We'd had a pretty busy first day in Porto and I really slept soundly. As is typical for us, we awoke pretty early in the morning to stretch our legs and do some exploring. We'd found that mornings are almost always the best times to see things......you'll be in less of a rush and, especially in Portugal the streets are quiet and empty.
We headed up to the area that seems to be the heart of Porto; the Avenida dos Aliados, the "Avenue of the Allies". The street commemorates the marriage of King John (Joao)I and Philippa of Lancaster, creating an alliance between Portugal and England.
The avenue and promenade is lined with some nice examples of Art Nouveau and Art Deco buildings. A statue of King Pedro IV on a horse stands at the lower end of the street and City Hall the top.
I'm sure everything here has a story. It's a nice place to stroll on a cool morning, all the grand buildings around. I wondered about the statue to the right. I could find very little, at least in English on "The Naked Girl - Youth" by Henrique Moreira, sculpted in 1929.
This is also the location of McDonald's....yep, McDonald's. What's the big deal? Well, they call this location, "Imperial McDonald's" and it's supposedly the most ornate and beautiful McDonald's in the world. In case you're wondering....it's not Imperial by declaration. I was told that this was the former site of Imperial Cafe, which became derilict and run down. McDonald's took over the space in 1995.
Man, talk about fancy-schmancy.....I'd feel down right uncomfortable getting my McNuggets on here!
Still, this was just a McDonald's, so we headed back up to the area near Rua Catarina and the large Mercado do Bolhão. Before heading in, we decided on getting breakfast at Confeitaria do Bolhao right across the street.
A large case of pastries, both sweet and savory, a large area to have you espresso and a pastry, this was very "tipico" of what we encountered everywhere in Portugal.
We were mainly after some espresso, but also had a few other items, which were decent, but rather non-descript. The prices were very good....if I recall, two espressos and pastries for like 5 Euros.
We also picked up a Broa de Avintes for later on.....
Confeitaria do Bolhao Rua Formosa 339 Porto, Portugal
A cup of espresso, carbs in our belly....we were ready for the world, or at least a visit to the Mercado do Bolhão.
After stuffing my self with a Francesinha at Cafe Santiago, the Missus decided that I needed a walk....a rather lengthy walk. So we walked back down to the Ribeira....the "riverbank".
One quick look at the Ribeira and you instantly understand the importance of this location on the Douro River estuary. The Romans obviously understood the importance of the location, establishing the town of Portus. Though the focus has shifted from commerce to tourism, seeing the "Barcos Rabelos", traditional Portuguese boats used to transport goods, bobbing in the water, it's quite easy imagining that long ago time.
And while the waterfront is full of tourists, it's quite laid back and relaxing..... We didn't encounter various touts doing the "hard sell". It was a very low stress area, with dozens of little alleyways and arcades, lovely, colorful buildings......a very nice place for a stroll.
Across the river is Vila Nova de Gaia, home of all the Port Wine "Lodges".
You can read the signs from this side of the river....beckoning you to come on over and have a taste...Sandeman, Calem, Vasconcellos....
At the east end of the Ribeira towering over the Ribeira is the Ponte Dom Luis I, a metal arch bridge. When it was built in 1881, it was the longest of its type in the world.
The upper deck carries the metro and there's a pedestrian walkway; the bottom is for automobiles, with a pedestrian sidewalk.
The City Centre of Porto is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so there are undoubtedly hundreds of stories, like the one memorialized in the plaque to the right....The Ponte das Bracas disaster. This occurred when Porto was surrounded by the French during the Napoleonic Wars. Citizens attempted to cross the Douro on a pontoon bridge, the Ponte das Bracas. The bridge collapsed under the weight and some say up to 6,000 lost their lives. More on the disaster can be found here.
We enjoyed spending the "golden hour" at the Ribeira, but soon enough it started getting dark. We were looking for a place to have dinner; not too much after all, I'd had the Francesinha earlier in the day. I opened up the tourist map....don't you love these? We usually don't even give them a glance, but João had indicated a handful of places, some of them touristy, some places he takes his family on occasion. I'm glad I didn't lose it....it's a nice memento from our time in Porto:
One of these was a places noted on the map was called O Caracas.
So we wound our way up one of the side streets and ended up on a residential square. We had no idea where we were....I went and asked one of the women for directions, but she waved me off....she spoke no English, until I said "O Caracas"....she started laughing and pointed to the window right behind us....there was no sign, but a menu. O Caracas serves but two dishes and evening.
We entered, and ne of the owners, who are twin sisters told us they had no tables. So we turned to leave....she said there was one table, in the corner, away from everyone, next to the beer cooler....which was perfect for us, quiet, intimate....just perfect!
We enjoyed watching folks entering and leaving....most of them looked like locals. When one of the twins had to change the beer keg....she is tiny, like under five feet tall, I had a blast helping her change the beer keg. The place just kind of embraced us.
We mentioned that we'd be sharing.....which was no problem. We were told to come and take a look in the kitchen to see what "Mama" was cooking. And there mom is really cooking here......no kidding.
For me, the most fascinating item during the meal was that very dense, moist, dark brown bread. It was quite substantial, but I loved the flavor, which had rye tones. I later learned it is called Broa de Avintes and we sought it out for self catered meals.
This dinner was like many of the homestyle meals we had in Portugal, soulful and hearty.
The acorda au arroz primavera, basically a bean-vegetable stew thickened with bread and rice, was hearty and far from bland.....a very "stick to your ribs" dish.
The fried fish was simple, but very clean tasting and also quite filling. I was told we were given extra as an "offering"......for helping them with the beer keg. An offering......it still brings a smile to my face.
This is typical of the hearty food we came to enjoy in Portugal...plus it was truly made by "mom". You can't beat that. I'm glad we shared; there was no way I could have finished this myself. The price was right, under 15 euros for dinner and drinks. I'd gladly return.....
O Caracas Rua das Taipas 27 Porto, Portugal
We walked back down the winding street to our apartment, warm and happy. It had been a fun first day in Porto.
After lunch at A Grade, the Missus decided that we should take a walk along the Ribeira, the scenic waterfront....though She didn't quite have the usual walk in mind.
I really loved the vibe that Porto gave off......
There was a no nonsense feel to things, a wholesomeness, hard working, honest, "from the gut", in that way, it strangely reminded me of QingDao.
Anyway, instead of the usual walk along the waterfront, the Missus decided we should head up to the the Porto Cathedral....but not in the usual manner....nooooo. Instead, we headed to the end of Rua Infante Dom Henrique and through the tunnel...
Here the Missus ordered me up stairs.....after marching up and down the hills of Coimbra, my walking legs had gotten into shape. Still, I had on idea where we were exactly, but we kept heading up those steps, under windows with hanging laundry and some buildings that had been....well...modified to accommodate the bridge.
I'm wondering when this "modification" was done since the bridge opened in 1886......surely when the brisge was perhaps retrofitted?
Eventually....after "heading to the light" we made it top side, and found our way to the Porto Cathedral.
Much like the Cathedrals (Sé) in Lisbon and Coimbra, the Cathedral of Porto was an imposing Romanesque structure, almost fortress like in appearance. Like its counterpart in Lisbon, construction of the structure began in the 12th century and features the classic "Rose Window".
As intimidating as this building might be, for some reason I really took to it...perhaps because there was a wedding ceremony taking place at the time of our visit. I really wanted to leave....because who wants their wedding ceremony viewed by a bunch of uninvited tourists?
We quickly made for the ticket station, paid, and headed to the cloister. Like much of Porto, there's so much wonderful Azulejo work. I was told that much of it depicted the "Song of Solomon".
This is worth the price of admission.
In many ways. the medium is binary....blue and white. and yet, the textures, the shading, the expression, never ceases to amaze me.
The Sacristy was a sudden shift to what seemed an almost baroque theme, but no less impressive.
If you needed any other reason for heading to the Sé in Porto, how about the view?
And then there was the wedding....I'm not sure how I'd feel about having my vows done in front of an audience of perhaps a hundred tourists, but this couple didn't seem to mind.
And the Missus took these adorable shots.......
As we walked away from the Cathedral, I saw São Bento Station and suddenly realized....Porto was now getting a bit smaller for us.
Within the area Northeast of São Bento Station is Rua Catarina, the main shopping area in Porto...pedestrian only streets; with iconic locales like Cafe Majestic.
Fairly close to this area was the shop that João told us would make a good Francesinha, the local specialty sandwich. It seemed to me that Portugal was full of these wonderful "sandes" from the Bifana in Lisbon to the Leitao Sandes it just seemed that there was a knack for pork based sandwiches.
So we ended up at this shop called Cafe Santiago....which looked more like some fast-casual restaurant. The place was empty except for a couple of "old-timers" having espresso in the corner, watching the television.
I'd read a bit about the history of the Francesinha; which is based on the Croque-monsieur. There are three versions at Cafe Santiago; I went with the basic version.
Not much more to say......until you see what this thing looks like.
It almost looks artificial......I was told that many people judge the sandwich on the sauce, which in this case was a light, thin, tomato-beer based, with mild spice. I thought it tasted like tomato soup....the Missus hated it.
Cutting the samdwich in half reveals the true evil that is the Francesinha, in the meat department; salsicha fresca - a hot dog like sausage, linguica, bife - sliced roasted beef, mortadela, and fiambre - ham.Two types of cheese were used , melted inside and melted over the thing.
I kinda liked it in a "calorie-bomb" kind of way. The Missus was totally disgusted, She wouldn't let me have another during out time in Porto...even though I wanted one. I should have ordered the "Francesinha a Santiago", which had fries and was topped with an easy-over egg!
The service was kind of gruff, but the place was clean, and I don't recall ever having a sandwich quite like this....this is definitely not a Croque-monsieur!
Cafe Santiago Rua Passos Manuel 226 Porto, Portugal
There was something about Porto that really drew me in. It was quite subtle, I really didn't notice it, I wasn't that impressed at the beginning, but as the days......check that, the hours went by, it seemed that things just got better and better......
We enjoyed the train ride from Coimbra, it was comfortable, free WiFi, nothing to complain about. We arrived at Campanhã Station, the main train station which is about 2 kilometers from the city centre. We then got on the train to São Bento Station. It was an easy transfer, one of the gentlemen who got off with us at Campanhã took an interest in us and walked us to the correct platform. São Bento is translated as Saint Benedict and the spot on which the station is built was a Benedictine Monastery from the 16th to 19th century. Why am I going on and on about a train station? Well, within the station are some beautiful Azulejo tile work, which makes for quite a welcome to Porto.
The tile work was done between 1905 - 1916 by Jorge Colaço who was the most renown azulejo painter during that period. The tiles depict various scenes like the Battle of Ceuta to the right. It's quite a stunning welcome to Porto.
Porto itself is fairly compact and yet sprawling. The city itself has a population of 300,000, but there's a population of over 2.5 million within the Porto Metropolitan area.
Walking out of São Bento and taking a look around was a treat for me. Whenever I plan our trips, I study maps and read what I need to, I usually don't look at too many photos, there's a certain part of me that wants to be surprised. However, one can't help but have that mental picture inside your head.
As I looked around, I told the Missus, "this is what I thought Portugal would look like."
As we walked down Rua Mouzinho da Silveira toward the Ribeira (the River) I was charmed by the architecture, even with all the construction going on.
We headed down the street and met up with João, who was one of the "two João's" who took us to our apartment which located in a building a couple of hundred years old and basically located two blocks from the Douro and the waterfront.
While a bit on the dark side since it was on the lower floor, the apartment itself was huge! Full kitchen.......there was a small outdoor area since we were on the lower level....funny, there was even a bathroom located outside, a remnant from when there was no indoor plumbing.
João was fantastic; we told him our priority was, well, food, he brought out a map and quickly made a dozen recommendations, places he and his family ate at. He also gave us a bottle of wine and ticked off where the local market was; where to get a cup of espresso and other things.
We were literally steps from Praça Infante Dom Henrique.
In this park, the statue of Henry the Navigator is pointing off into the far horizon, a symbol of Portugal's Age of Discovery.
Hungry, we headed off to lunch. Located in one of the small side street right above the Douro is a tiny restaurant with four indoor tables, a couple of outdoor tables, and laundry hanging above it named A Grade.
So, we found out something quite quickly, the closer to the Douro, the higher the prices. We'd stick to other recommendations after this.
The guy serving was very friendly and there weren't serious complaints about our meal which was simple, basic stuff which we love.
It was sardine season, the Missus loves them, so ordering it was a no-brainer (10 Euros).
Which were simple and fine, though we'd have really great sardines - actually 8 really fresh sardines for 7 Euros a couple of days later.
The Octopus was quite good (17.5 Euros), though not quite up to, say Vasiliko in texture and prep. Still, it was tender and suited me well.
The rice, as with all previous meals just wasn't to our taste in terms of texture.
We also had a bottle of regional wine (not Port), which we really enjoyed. It was light and fruity, not too tannic, with a clean finish, overall a decent table wine.
Overall, a decent meal at tourist prices. At least they do serve a decent product. The dining room is quaint and cozy and the folks here are really friendly.
A Grade Rua de S. Nicolau 9 Porto, Portugal
After lunch the Missus was rarin' to go......no post lunch nap for me on this day. It would turn out to be a fun afternoon!
The area down Rua Visconde da Luz which turns to Rua Ferreira Borges is a pedestrian only area, full of little shops, bakeries, and other businesses. Yes, it's touristy, but there are also a lot of students and locals milling about. We saw students walking along, on what appeared to be a architectural tour, stopping at various buildings taking notes.
Heading toward the Mondego River, Rua Ferreira Borges ends at a square named Largo da Portagem. Like most of Rua Ferreira Borges, it's a nice place to have a seat and people watch.
The statue in the square is of Joaquim António de Aguiar, three time Prime Minister of Portugal who was born in Coimbra. He's obviously much beloved, right? I mean there's a statue of him overlooking the Mondego River......well ask any local who's statue this is and they'll say it's "Mata Frades", aka the "Friar Killer.” Apparently "Mata Frades" was the Minister of Justice during the reign of Peter IV and issued a law in 1834 which shut down all religious orders and took over their assets.
The views from across the Ponte Santa Clara are the things postcards are made of.
There are also sites to see on this side of the river as well.
After a short nap we headed back up Rua Ferreira Borges and through one of the many gateways of what was once the city walls. The most well known is the Arco de Almedina. See the square hole in the ceiling? This was used a part of the defense system; soldiers would pour hot oil through the holes on enemies who tried to breach the gate.
We headed up the hill to Fado ao Centro, which celebrates Coimbra's unique version of Fado, which I call the soul music of Portugal. Every evening there's a 50 minute show, which we loved. Each number and the history is presented in both Portuguese and English, there's about 40-50 seats, no food, it's about Fado. The folks are very laid back; they let some folks actually videotape the show!
In contrast to the Lisbon melancholic "saudade" Fado sung almost exclusively by women; Coimbra's version is sung by men and tell of social issues, college life, and the such......
The show is well worth it. Instead of grabbing some of the gratis wine after the performance we decided to get dinner. We didn't have anything in mind and just wandered around.....
And no, we didn't eat here....though it was super cheap. We found the specials sign entertaining, "Arroz Chau-Chau" anyone?
I know that diária means daily, but it sounds too much like another word to me.....
It's not surprising that we ended up back here.....
Yep, Ze Manel dos Ossos. We stood in line and waited for the place to open. The guy seated here had dinner here the night before as well.....not sure, but I think he might be a local. He also had the same thing the night before as well which is what we ended up with.
Of course, we started with the gnawingly wonderful "Ossos", simmered pork bones.
We had originally wanted the stew pork with mushrooms, but the had run out, so we went with the classic "Feijao", basically beans, in this case Stewed beans and rice....
Loved the beany flavor, didn't care much for the rice. A nice, hearty, soulful dish. This came with bread (of course) and pork cutlets that had been grilled over hardwood charcoal (I saw the bags of charcoal). I expected this to be tough, but though it was chewy, the flavor was just perfect, nice salt, good garlic flavor, smokiness form the charcoal, doused in olive oil. Simple, but so nice.
Ze Manel dos Ossos Beco do Forno 12 Coimbra, Portugal
We slept well......
The next morning we arose, walked over to Pastelaria Palmeira and had some espresso and pastries.
We went back to the hotel, packed, checked out, walked the one block to Train Station A to catch the short train to Train Station B....what seemed a bit confusing two days ago made perfect sense now! While waiting for our train to Porto, we went and had a nice cup of espresso....standing up of course!
Soon enough we were ensconced in our seats and headed to our next stop....the land of Port Wine, Porto!
Thanks for reading!
In case you wanted a bit more Fado; the late Amália Rodrigues is known as the "Queen of Fado" - you can see why here:
Here's a short video with some performers of Fado ao Centro: