11th & 12th August 2015
The days are running in-together now, savouring this totally out-of-the-blue unexpected holiday with Joel. It was only just over a month ago Joel messaged me to join him for a week or so in Spain. And now it's almost over, leaving a whirlwind of happy memories and exhaustion ( holidaying with a fit young man haha) and contentment. It's been a hard few years recently and this I hope, is the symbolic end to that and start of new things good.
We did a walking tour of Porto, with a local lady. She gave us a peek into the thoughts and lives and lanes of the ones who live here.
One place was the most beautiful book shop in the world, and indeed it must of been as there was a scrolling line waiting to buy a 3 euro ticket just to get in. There were views, fountains, and court yarded coffee ships with high doors to the bishops graveyard. There were churches and arrows to the Camino trail. There were music shops and walking on the top part of 45m high
Dom Luís I Bridge the graceful iron bridge that we have crisscrosses a dozen times below.
We walk up the hills on the other side of the river, past ancient buildings and between high stone walls to Graham's, a Port cave. The Douro valley further upstream is known for its production of mainly port wine grapes and Graham's is the home of two families who came together in marriage and formed what turned out to be a dynasty of wine makers, using the local valley to grow their grapes, boating the new wine down the river and storing it here in Porto.
This Douro valley is a harsh place, steep sided up from the river with only one row of grapes between each terraced drystone wall climbing upwards. It's hot dry summers, freezing cold winters and the ground is a rocky schistic and granite soil which force the vine roots to reach great depths to find nutrition and water. And this harshness produces the sweetest most perfect of wines.
That's so interesting on so many levels. Such sweetness from harsh conditions. The vines just doing what they had to do despite, or maybe because of the circumstances around them. And a winemaker who grows the grapes in that position on purpose and who can bring out the best of the grapes, maturing them to perfection - bringing incredible flavour and depth to the world of wines. Apparently putting these vines in perfect positions, nice weather, irrigated produces an abundance of growth and leaves but the vine does not produce the excellent fruit required for this wine.
We went through the caves, big cool stone buildings with timber barrels stacked, each coded with dates and grapes and other mysterious information. A few of them over 100 years old.
And if you do happen to track down a rare bottle in of my vintage/ birth year it's well over $200 and has " vibrant amber fragrance with hints of caramel and nuts, complex flavor with hints of honeycomb and candied orange peel".
There are a million rules to follow making and storing port wine which led to more questions which will now remain unanswered. At the end we were given sips of flavours to roll around in our mouths - superbly smooth - and admired the views across the distinctive buildings to the beautiful river below.
We ate fresh sardines baked over coals, and octopus, one enormous pink suckered leg curled through potatoes and garlic and drenched in flavoured Spanish oil. Explored more here and there, tantalising glimpses into a beautiful town from river to hills. Vintage shops piled high, tiny grocery shops I could only admire, the range of produce and prices. Fruit and vegetables are not perfect here, they are bruised, all sizes and have marks and the flavours are beyond comparison to Australia's perfected standardised and often bland stock.
Evening came and Joel chooses a local recommended mum and dad restaurant and we go there for dinner, it's all white linen and elegance a contrast to the street eats we have been doing. The room is creamy white and two huge windows open up on the river scape. The colours out those windows change through the evening from palest blues, mauves to the deepest shades with sparkling lights. The owner- waiter is a sweet heart - quickly moving us to the window table as soon as it became free and recommending well his wife's delicious cooking. And in front of me is one of my children, grown up, funny, friendly, intelligent , communicating well in another language and a joy to be with. Breath deeply wendy - these are precious moments.
Next day was travel day, arriving at Porto train station and able to catch next train, in 10 mins in first class - oh yes please! And we sped through Portugal along the ocean front at times to Lisborn in comfort.
We seem to be going to beautiful city after beautiful city. Lisborn is a hilly capital, and the ancient buildings are all in pastels of creams yellows greens blues - the streets are cobbled and the pathways are white shiny mosaic stone. A little slippery and bumpy but also reflecting light and gorgeous to look at. Some have designs mosaic-ed into them and again I am in love.
Trams are going everywhere but we walk down to the waterfront port and drink cold apple ciders feet dangling over the ocean/harbour edge wall. The tides lapping on small rocks and the it smells of salty air and delicious foods and views are over water and boats to the incredible just-like-golden-gate bridge on the horizon.
We walk back a street so steep it's stepped all the way and has its own cable car running up and down and built on the angle. And our home stay host takes us to the best dinner place around. So busy it's a crowd waiting outside but he dives in and in half hour "Joe" is called and we squeeze in, people moving their seats for us to reach our table, which is jammed between another table and the wall. Already meats olives cheeses and breads are set up for us to eat (or decline - but who would?) and we eat the waiters recommendation and beautiful tender meat is brought out on a slab of timber with a scorching hot stone to cook it. Melts in your mouth with 6 different flavoured butters to cook it with. Our airbnb is in the middle of everything, on a narrow lane, Bliss.
Tomorrow brings my last full day here in Europe.