Friday, April 24, 2015

Porto is a feast for the eyes and the stomach

It was an early arrival in Porto- the capital of the north and Portugal's second city. Our very friendly van driver pointed out some attractions on the way to our guest house and gave us our first Portuguese lesson, “obligado”, which means thank you if a man says it. A woman would say “obligada”. He explained that Porto itself is quite small with around 300,000 inhabitants but the whole area is comprised of five towns that make up a population of over 1.8 million.  It overlooks the  Douro river estuary, and its historical center was awarded World Heritage status by UNESCO in 1996.

We checked into our lovely old guest house in the historic part of town. What a magnificent view we had over all the rooftops with their Old World charm. It was time to go exploring. We meandered through a square that looked across to an old church that was decorated on the outside with lovely blue ceramic tiles. This was something we were going to see a lot of. The main street, Santa Caterina was filled with pedestrians. There were lots of small shops and coffee and cake shops something that we would come to

rely on, especially with all the walking we were

Now it was time for lunch.The Francesinha is a cardiologist-unapproved local sandwich of ham, mortadella, beef, sausage and cheese topped with an egg and a warm tomato-beer sauce. All this is served with chips. Our host had told us where to find the best Francesinha in town. The working man’s snack was in much demand but after a short wait we were sitting at a table waiting to be served. The Francesinha is a huge meal and I managed to eat less than half of it. My dining partner polished his off with gusto.

We continued walking along the main street before heading downhill to a vast square, where we picked up a yellow tour bus. This was a good way to get to know the area.  We saw houses with red-tiled roofs tumbling down the hills to the riverbank, prickly church towers dotting the skyline, mosaic-patterned stones lined the streets, and flat-bottomed boats called rabelos plied the lazy Douro. We passed many historic sights that we would visit later. The drive along the Douro River through Foz, a big seaside area, right out to where the Douro meets the Atlantic Ocean was quite beautiful. There were many wide, golden beaches and a few hardy souls had even had a swim.

Fish is on every menu in Porto. For dinner I had grouper, something we don't see on our Spanish menus. It was served with boiled potatoes and watery cabbage doused in rock salt. The fish itself was lovely. The rock salt was something we were going to encounter a few times even when you asked for no salt.

J. K. Rowling lived in Porto when she started to write the Harry Potter books. It is said that she modeled the Hogwarts garb on the traditional dress of the local fourth-year university students. On our after dinner walk we saw several groups dressed in their traditional garb of black suits with skirts for the women and pants for the men, collar and tie and black capes. It is a tradition at this time of year that these students go out and entertain in the town. There was lots of singing and dancing and even a theatre where the med students were performing. A few days later while walking down a rundown lane we passed a store, Voldemart!

We finished our day off with a walk down to the Sao Bento train station built in 1916. The concourse is quite magnificent with various scenes from Portugal's history depicted in beautiful azulejo (blue) tiles.

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