Portugal 2006: Porto

Tuesday, 30 May 2006

We are reluctantly leaving the Pinhão area today for our last stop in Portugal – five days in Porto. The unseasonably hot weather that we have experienced for the last four days seems to have ‘broken’ – it is a very nice morning here.

After a pleasant drive from Pinhão, we are safely ensconced at the very nice Hotel Eurostars Das Artes in Porto. We had a rather longish orientation walk (about two hours); bought a few supplies; scouted a likely spot for morning café; checked out a couple of restaurants for dinner. We made a good choice for dinner and had a nice meal of frango no churrasco just down the street from our hotel, which is so very convenient!

And, after the few days of uncomfortably hot weather, we had a perfect day (3.0) on the weather front.

Wednesday, 31 May 2006

Today was our first full day in Porto and most of it was spent just wandering around. It’s great to be able to get a lot of walking in again after the heat wave in the Douro. We started by visiting the posto do turismo to buy transit passes and get some general transportation information, as we would like to take a side trip or two while here.

Lunch was our usual picnic in a very lovely park, Palácio de Cristal. The spot we chose had a great view of the port lodges in Vila Nova de Gaia which is just across the Douro. From where we sat we could see Taylor’s, Dow’s, and Croft. After lunch we wandered around some more. Our tendency to slow travel seems to be improving – we’re getting slower all the time!

Someone else who stayed at the same hotel we are in, and reviewed it for TripAdvisor, mentioned that they had eaten at O Assador Típico and recommended it highly, so that’s where we ate this evening. We were not disappointed. We shared an excellent arroz de marisco washed down with two half bottles of vinho de casa – a vinho verde (mostly consumed by Susan) and a tinto (mostly consumed by Steve). In addition to the wonderful meal, the service was excellent and since the restaurant is very convenient to our hotel, we will eat there again before we leave.

Another absolutely gorgeous day – 3.0 on our scale.

Thursday, 1 June 2006

Several weeks ago we had decided to travel to Braga from Porto by train while we were staying in Porto. Our research had indicated that this would be relatively inexpensive and fairly straightforward. The research was right on both counts.

The express train from Porto only took 45 minutes and went through some interesting countryside. And, the total cost (round trip for two) was 7,60€. Braga itself was somewhat different than we had expected. But, the most important thing was that one of the semi-finals of the UEFA Under21 competition was being held that afternoon (France vs the Netherlands). So, since the price was right, we decided to go to the game! Actually, we could only attend the first half because of connection times back to Porto, but it was scintillating action in the initial 45 minutes, with the Netherlands leading 2-0 at the break. The second Dutch goal, by Klaas Jan Huntelaar, was particularly impressive.

The second half (which happened as we travelled back to Porto) saw France mount a comeback and even the match at 2-2, which forced extra time. But, the Netherlands eventually prevailed 3-2. Great game! And, the stadium is a beautiful facility.

We had a so-so lunch (actually, it was quite boring) in Braga at the Café Vianna prior to the match. And, dinner was at O Assador Típico for the second night running, which was first-rate once again.

Friday, 2 June 2006

Today was a very busy day. We started off by walking down to the closest metro station and taking the subway to the south side of the Douro. Interestingly, just before the bridge across the river, the subway train emerges from underground and becomes a tram. We had noticed previously that the subway trains looked exactly like the trams in Bordeaux and now we know why. The tram crosses on the upper level of the Ponte Don Luiz I which is the most famous bridge of Porto, inaugurated in 1886. There are several interesting bridges crossing the Douro at Porto including the Ponte Maria, designed by Eiffel, and the Ponte Arrábida which is an interesting concrete structure to the west.

After wandering around the Vila Nova de Gaia side of the river, we walked back over the bridge and explored the Ribeira area. Behind the colourful buildings right on the river is a maze of twisty little streets, alleys and staircases in which we almost managed to get lost. Eventually working our way out we refreshed ourselves with café and pasteis – we’re going to miss that habit.

Next up was a tram and bus ride out to Foz do Douro which is where the river Douro meets the Atlantic Ocean. By then it was time for lunch and we found a small place where we had a very tasty version of fish (filetes de pescada) and chips, accompanied by the almost inevitable arroz and of course some wine.

After lunch we walked down on the beach to dip our toes in the Atlantic from the eastern side (a first for both of us). The beach looked quite sandy from a distance but proved to be very coarse sand and hard walking (at least for Susan’s tender toes).

Susan decided that she wanted a feed of amêijoas so we had dinner tonight at Gambamar, a marisqueira not too far from the hotel. She had amêijoas á Bulhão Pato which served the purpose nicely while Steve had caldo verde followed by a tortilha de marisco.

Another absolutely gorgeous day – 3.0 on our scale.

Saturday, 3 June 2006

Our last full day in Portugal took us to Parque Serralves, a beautiful converted estate in western Porto (north of Foz). Our Travelzine friend, Helena, had alerted us to a special display of Art Deco furnishings at Casa Serralves (itself an Art Deco structure), which is what drew us to the park in the first place.

Coincidentally, it was Serralves em Festa! this week-end, so admission to everything was free (nice bonus). The Art Deco display was wonderful (we are both fans) and the house was stunning. We had packed our ‘standard’ lunch, so after touring Casa Serralves, we found a spot to picnic and then spent considerable time just strolling through the estate grounds.

For our last dinner here we returned to O Assadoro Típico, where we had another great meal: frango no churrasco for Steve; picanha for Susan. We had tried both dishes previously in Portugal – these were the best versions.

It actually got a little too warm for a while in the afternoon, so only 2.5+ on our scale.

Sunday, 4 June 2006

Today we bid a very fond farewell to Portugal after three wonderful weeks here. Our last morning started, as usual, with café (bica for Susan; pingo for Steve) at Campo Pequeno. As we pay for our café (0,50€) we also purchase two fresh pãozinhos (0,10€ each, which are baked upstairs) that we eat for breakfast in our room along with yogurt and fresh fruit (usually cherries). Total cost for a very yummy breakfast (including coffee): about 1,25€. Our hotel is very nice, but breakfast is not included, and they charge 9,00€. Plus, by going out, we get excellent fresh café, which you seldom find in a hotel.

Speaking of food, may we take the opportunity to recommend the Knowmark Portuguese Travel Diet. Collectively, we lost five pounds (2.2kg) in the last three weeks. See earlier posts for meal ideas and wine choices 🙂