I decided that I had to go and see Porto when I saw a picture of an iron bridge straddling across the river from the cliffs with colorful houses built on both sides. The picturesque cityscape was unique to me – and I wondered “Where is it?”
Unlike many Europe cities, Porto is hilly. Although it doesn’t have a spectacular harbor view from the peak like Hong Kong, it has a double-deck iron bridge that spans the Douro River. Standing on the hundred-year-old Dom Luis I bridge I could view seagulls soaring freely over the body of water, and layers and layers of houses making a concerted effort to Porto’s spectacular skyline.
Porto (or called Oporto) is the second-largest city in Portugal, and the city has a vast inventory of iconic features for a day trip to Portuguese experience:
That’s what happened to me arriving in the morning…
Search for Azulejos
Not so much of searching, though, because sights of Azulejos could be everywhere. Our flight landed from Paris in an early morning (really early… we left home before the sun came out) and then we took the city light rail and headed str8 to the city center, easy-breezy, and it merely took half an hour to the metro station of Bolhao. One step outside, we have arrived the walking street Rua de Fernandes Tomas, where the Capela da Santa Catarina, (and, pigeons, too) greeted us with the impressive façade of Azulejos.
Azulejo is painted tin-glazed ceramic tiles. They are usually in blue, and it is an important Portuguese heritage used on walls of churches, palaces, school, train stations, etc. The drawings on the tile panels are mainly decorative (but beautiful) patterns or depiction of historical or critical events. Therefore, it has an enormous traditional and art value to the country where we, visitors, could appreciate the beauty and stories behind each masterpiece.
We then walked along Rua de Fernandes towards Aliados. On route, we saw lots of shopping carts and local bakeries. As we planned to return to the street later in the evening, we continued our journey to the river side. On the way to the bridge, we passed through the city center with a lot of photo-talking spots. In fact, the São Bento railway station is one of the best locations in Porto, to see Azulejos as the station lobby is filled with tile panels that depict the major events of the country in the 12-15th Centuries.
Enjoy lunch by the Douro and Luis I iron bridge
Luckily, it was a beautiful sunny day in Porto, and so we decided to look for a restaurant and had lunch by the river. A few bistros and restaurants were lining up by the river, (obviously for tourists) but at
a reasonable price. Wanna try some local delicacies? For lunch, I had Francesinha – a Portuguese “Sandwich”, originated from Porto. Nothing fancy, it is truly a simple home-made style dish made with bread, wet-cured ham, linguica, fresh sausage, steak and roast meat topped with melted choose and a hot, sticky tomato and beer sauce.
Well… I couldn’t say I “love” it, but there was something to try about. 😛
There were a lot of fun rides around the bridge. Both up and downs. We walked up, to the upper deck of the bridge – we were stunned by the magnificent overview of the city; then we took the funicular, we went down, we gasped and amazed at the architecture of the iron bridge, and we saw the “Barcos rabelos” (Portuguese boats) parking along the river.
On the other side of the river, we saw a booth on the bank selling tickets for ropeway cable card which took us right back to the top of the hill. On the ride, of course, the view was gorgeous.
We had only a day in the city, and so we didn’t spend time getting on a River Cruise tour. Wonder how they are?
Funicular dos Guindais
Douro River Boat Tour
Try Port Wine
So we were fed, we were ready to drink. 🙂
Maybe people heard about “Port wine”? And Porto is where this wine comes from. We walked across the bridge, and there were many wineries on the south side of the river. Many of them offer wine tasting, wine-brewing tours, and stores.
We ended up with two places. We joined a winery tour in Cálem (http://www.calem.pt/), which was one the most famous cellar in the area, after that we wandered around and explored the area, we didn’t join anymore tour, but we could pay a little price to try different kinds of wine. Port wine is dessert wine, and so they are sweet – for us, we prefer something dry and crispy~
See Lello & Irmao bookstore and Majestic Café
We returned to the city center, and we knew we had two places to go before leaving town – The Lello & Irmao bookstore (Livraria Lello & Irmão), and the Majestic Café.
The Lello & Irmao bookstore is in the center of Porto, and it’s one of the oldest bookstore in Portugal with over a hundred year of history. It was just a store, and it was not big. Besides, we don’t speak Portuguese so that we couldn’t read the books inside, what we could appreciate is the delicate interior décor, climb the staircase right in the middle of the store, and inhale the smell of knowledge.
Back to Rua Santa Catarina, the Majestic Café (http://www.cafemajestic.com/en/Utilities/Homepage.aspx) was another historic café in the city. The original pool of customers for this café were intellectuals, artists, and writers… back then, it was called “Café Elite.” In modern times, the classical interior décor of the golden days remained, and the food is for everyone. The afternoon we went was not crowded, so we found a table right by the window and sat down. We ordered (something like – Irish coffee with a scoop of ice cream on top) – plus some Hors D’oeuvres right before our quest to the south (to the Capital Lisbon).
p.s. Somehow I just read an article on Huffington post about “5 Totally Amazing Europe Trips Under $500”, and Porto is number 3 😛
“Portugal’s second-largest city has plenty to offer by way of wine, but the art, food, and nightlife are equally thrilling enticements. Here, we focus on the Vinho. Because tastings and cellar tours range from free to a few euros, they’re a dirt-cheap way to enjoy a port-soaked European vacation…….”