PORTO - Part 2
Our last couple of days in Porto were centred around water. The first one was the river Duoro. Originating in Spain, it flows for almost 900 km before emptying out into the Atlantic when reaching Porto. Along the way there are 5 locks and 15 dams, 5 of which are in Portugal. Prior to 1968 - and the construction of these locks and dams - wooden boats, named Rabelos, were used to transport both cargo and people. Having a shallow draft, these flat-bottomed boats, used for centuries, were needed to navigate the water, which was shallow and fast-flowing in many areas.
As time passed, their main cargo became the Port wine which was stored and shipped around the world. Due to a trading treaty between England and Portugal in 1386, equal rights were given to merchants in either country to trade equally. From the mid 17th century English and Scottish merchants living in Portugal received special privileges and preferential custom duties….. Port was the commodity of choice.
To reach the river we walked downhill from our apartment to the waterfront area - the Ribeira - a UNESCO World Heritage Site. With winding medieval streets and alleys, this scenic area is lined with restaurants and cafés and it's a natural destination for tourists who gather there for the scenery and ambience. There's often street musicians providing entertainment. With many boat tours along the Duoro on offer, it's a popular spot, both day and night.
After enjoying the Ribeira side of the river, we walked across the Ponte de D. Luís bridge to Vila Nova de Gaia. Made of wrought iron and 300 metres in length, it spans the Duoro and is impressive. At this time it's under renovation, so pedestrian traffic is limited and views are restricted. Less busy than the city side and classed as a district in itself, Gaia is also a good place to stroll along the river. Along with a few shops, there's also little booths selling tourist souvenirs, plus more cafés and restaurants. All of the major brands of Port are represented, offering various wine tours and tasting. It's popular - and having done it previously - an interesting and worth while activity!
It's been 6 years since we were last in this area of Porto - and although not much has changed physically - there seems to be more of a "commercial" feel to it. We experienced a little of that when we entered Casa Portuguesa do Pastel de Bacalhau, where the traditional codfish or Serra cheese "cake" can be bought. These icons of Portuguese food are now on offer for take-out. To say the the interior decoration of the building is flamboyant would be an understatement. We both opted for the Serra cheese, which combined with mashed potatoes, parsley and olive oil is very tasty…but the whole setting is somewhat "Disney" like. The option of glass of port can also be added.
In order to see some of the older part of Gaia, we decided to leave this part of the riverfront and head west along a lovely boardwalk that hugs the river Duoro. This path is also popular for cyclists and electric scooters - both are available to rent by the minute or the hour. We passed a small docking area, where riverboat cruises such as Viking, park the boat and passengers travel by bus to whatever area is on that day's agenda. While walking we saw many old and crumbling buildings - one of which is a huge old stone property that's being renovated into a high-end hotel. There's also evidence of a few tourist rentals popping up….more signs of the renewal and tourist expansion on this side of the river.
After a very long day of walking, we headed "home" ....first making a stop at Mercado do Bolhão, a traditional market in the heart of the city - and fortunately quite close to our apartment. Established in 1839, the current building dates back to 1914 and has 2 floors. The market is divided into different areas - fishmongers and butchers, florists plus fruit and vegetable vendors. In addition to locals, it's become popular with tourists. There are some stand-up cafés and bars + areas selling bread and pastries. It's open Monday to Friday 7am to 5pm, Saturday until 1pm and closed Sundays. There's a great vibe, and everything we ever bought was tasty and inexpensive…we were often there past 5pm and it was still going strong!
Our last day in Porto we went to the ocean. We intended to take the tram Line #1, which is the most famous in the city, but as many people find out, it's also the most popular. Making frequent stops, it runs alongside the river from the Ribeira area to the mouth of the Duoro, ending in Foz. A short trip of about 20 minutes, it's often interrupted by cars and pedestrians crossing the tram lines.….or someone who jumps on in order to hang onto the outside step! For anyone who would like to experience this tram trip, my advice would be to get in line early....we didn't and decided to walk instead. There's also the alternative of taking the #500 city bus which follows the same route and is used regularly by locals as it's cheaper.
At just over 3 miles, the walk along the river from Porto to Foz, follows a scenic path which is used by walkers, joggers and cyclists. In addition to the ever changing views of the Duoro, the route passes parks, gardens and small fishing harbours. There's a selection of cafés on the street side and a few on the water side. This path also passes under another of Porto's 6 bridges - the Ponte do Arrábida, which is 70 metres high and has a long, high arch.
Foz do Duoro, is a lovely and expensive area to live. It's the closest beach to the city and the point where the river empties out into the Atlantic…and that alone is a sight to see! At the point where the river and the Atlantic meet there's a large sea wall that channels and controls the incoming tide. This "taming" of the Atlantic creates some very big waves that crash up against the wall ….it's a good place to take a rest and watch "the show."
In addition to a lovely promenade for walking, there's lots of small coves, separated by rocks, with blue-flag beaches for sunbathing and relaxing. With cafés facing out to the ocean - some almost on the beach - it's an attractive and popular spot for both tourists and locals. One section of the promenade is covered by a pergola, built in 193O, that has a bit of a story. It seems that the mayor of that time had a wife who was impressed by one she'd seen in Nice, persuading him to have one built in the area they lived. This upscale neighbourhood of Foz do Douro received their pergola and named it "Promenade dos Anglais."
Foz has an enchanting feel to it and a romantic ambience…we spent a long time walking and then sitting in a café staring out at the ocean. Just as the sun was going down we gave the tram another try for the return journey …but again it was beyond busy. The walk to Foz had taken quite a while, so we joined the locals and caught the #500 bus. It was a perfect day to end our time in Porto.