Fortifying in Porto

We wandered up the steep hill to the mirador at Mosteiro da Serra Pilar and gazed over the River Duomo and its iconic bridge at the Old Town. We could hear lots of singing and cheering and thought that perhaps Jigsaw’s InstaCat fanbase had surprised us but alas, we’d happened to time our visit to Porto with Glasgow Rangers match versus local side Braga. Crossing the Ponte Luis I bridge and working our way down underneath, the impact of the bridge build being evident, we fortified ourselves for what we are about to become a part of! We came across hoards of blue attired folks waterside, the bar owners must have thought Christmas had come early. Yes, as you can imagine the sunburn and drink were already evident and the game wasn’t until the following evening….

We didn’t know what to expect in Porto, alchoholic beverages aside. Lot’s of people have remarked a preference over Lisbon, not wishing to join the world of the “comparables” as there’s no point, we just found it different. We were surprised to see how run down many parts were, lot’s of fantastic graffiti and some plain daubs. More for Nick’s dereliction category. In general, for such a key city, it felt tired and neglected, especially in the Old Town. Run down buildings, shops and residential, mixed with grand maintained architecture (generally public buildings) Bustling though, it was charming and in a way, would be massively spoiled by gentrification, as ever, what’s the right balance?

In the centre of town is venue Mercado Ferreira Borges, a great example of repurposing an old market into a fabulously designed music and entertainment space. Not far from there are the quirky churches joined together by ‘the tiny hidden house’. Planning laws at the time of building said churches couldn’t be next door to each other so the house was built to overcome them. Igreja do Carmo was spectacular (no change there eh?!) We also toured the tiny house where the tall one regularly bumped his head. As a result, we needed to do some wine tasting and that was it, end of the day already… 🙂 We felt like we were being watched though…

Being a city that sits at the mouth of a river and is surrounded by hills there are 1) lots of hills to walk up 2) lots of towers to climb and 3) lots of fantastic views. Looking across to the south side of the river, the many Port distributor warehouses, with their names emblazoned on the roof or sides command their places dockside. Several riverboat cruisers were moored (it’s still off season) but there were plenty cruising a well rowed path with blue passengers among the touristas!

Porto Cathedral has a fabulous situation but Sé do Porto lacks the normal wow factor of others we’ve seen, and we’ve seen a few. It’s plain interior was offset by an ornate alter but it was generally narrow, small and imposing as a space. In start contrast the cloisters were gorgeous, Tiley and his team had been majestic in their creations and it was a wonderful space. We whiled a way a fair amount of time there. Continuing winding our way around the tiny backstreets we came across more churches, as you would! Santa Catarina with its beautiful tiles, Igreja da Trindada with its purple penance colours evident and the lovely Igreja de Santo Ildefonso knocked the Cathedral into the proverbial touch (as did Barga to Rangers!)

Having exhausted ourselves with our wanderings and thankfully, the fans having deserted the waterside for the out of town match we were able to afford ourselves a waterside drink without being sung to by some fat bloke hanging off a balcony! We did have to endure a busker murdering some Beatles tunes though. We jigged back to the van in full voice laughing at the wall art!

It’s a good job we’d done so much in two days as the third required us to be in ‘the right trousers’ and coats and hats…. it absolutely tipped it down all day. We fortified ourselves once more and headed out, telling ourselves that two outta three ain’t bad! We were nearly blown off the bridge as we crossed it, heading to Sao Francisco a gothic church with a baroque interior. There but for the grace of god do we (and lots of others) take shelter in a church! To be fair it’s a fascinating one for its Catacombs and haunting white marble statues (Ossuaries) and their Paso’s ready for Easter. The church itself is over the top gilt! We’d never seen however, such an incredibly different and thought provoking carving that was The Tree of Jesus Christ (according to St Matthews Gospel) Completed in 1718 as a genealogical representation.

Squirreling our way through more of the back streets we found a fab little late lunch spot so took root in there for a while, chatting to the locals and drying off. It didn’t stop raining while we in there so we resigned ourselves to getting wet again and headed back for a hot shower! Just one of those things, the weather this year has been very odd!

Leaving Porto we skirted the River Duoro valley along the N222. A long and winding road through the stunningly beautiful countryside, the hill sides dropping down into the water, a serene calm blue we stayed near the Carrapatelo Dam, with the deepest lock in Europe at 110ft. Spotting a tourist cruiser we walked down to watch the spectacle that is the lock in action. Yes, nerdy we know but it’s interesting to see the boats squeeze in, within inches either side and then either drop or rise in the cavernous space. There must be some good deals to be had on those boats, there were hardly anyone on them! It’s a great bike riding area, we did a loop on empty old roads, over just about stable bridges, past small waterfalls and an array of very modern or very dilapidated buildings, and the aromas of tangerine blossom. The Portuguese builders have been busy in the valley, lots of modern concrete and glass homes.

Continuing along the valley we eventually arrived at the wine making area, c. 50 miles inland. All of a sudden the vines were on an industrial scale and there were Quinta’s (estates) of varying size, everywhere. We stayed at one Quinta da Estrada which was a unique spot, with an owner who gave us two bottles and a lot of hospitality! It was still raining! Chaves was a pit stop that turned out to be a small bustling town with a great feel to it, be it the schools Easter decorations, pride of place in front of the town hall or the medieval walls, towers and larger than expected church Santa Maria Maior where we narrowly avoided gate crashing the service. Next stop Leon and their Semana Santa Processions. I’ll warn you now, I don’t know how we’ll edit the right photos for the blog!

The Jigsaw Blog Spot

Having been abandoned for hours at that Porto place I, through my cat rain dancing had managed to summon some, which meant they stayed home for a bit! Even though I had cat neighbours to torment as they were locked into a hut, I was still a tad bored so enjoyed being a pest! It wasn’t a bad place but they learned their lesson and the next couple of spots were great for me, plenty of the green stuff for me to lie in and pretend I was mousing. I’ve trained the tall one really well, he comes and regularly checks I’m OK, he thinks I’ll catch something and bring it to the tin again, ha ha! My only issue is I’ve heard them talking about going to see a Lion or something, I’m not sure I like that idea. We’ll see!

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