A nice morning greeted us and we made our way into Porto on the bus with a full schedule of sightseeing on the agenda. As had been, and would be the case in the future, the bus stop was not far from the campground providing a ride into town, about 20 minutes with a final stop at a bus terminus pretty central to things. We disembarked and walking down the first block away from the station, stopping in at an inviting shop with a window full of treats.
Through a combination of rudimentary Portu-Spanish and the fine art of pointing, we ordered two café con leite’s, a plate of assorted pastries, and a ham sandwich. As someone who rarely consumes meat in the morning, I’ve completely converted over to the habit, at least while here and find these stops we make when we get into town usually provide enough fuel to last us through the afternoon.
A few blocks away was the TI office and after getting some questions answered, we walked back down a block to engage one of the three competing hop on hop off bus companies (Red, Blue, and Yellow) in town, an effective way, depending on the town and what you want to see, to cover quite a bit of distance. At 13 Euros apiece, they can be a cost effective way to get an overview of the town and a ride in between stops. We chose the Red Line, as it provided the longest continuous tour.
Our first destination was the Mercado do Bolhao, Porto’s Central Market. Porto is described in the guidebooks as being a gritty, unpretentious town full of hard working people and the market was certainly a reflection of that observation. It was smaller than we expected, and many of the storefronts were shuttered. Much of the interior courtyard was displaced with scaffolding, a first impression their being there for restoration but further observation would suggest there to just hold up an old building.
Never the less, there was much activity and all types of vendors, from personal goods to bakeries and butchers. We picked up an inexpensive liter of water (hydration an ongoing problem in a warm climate and you are out being a tourist all day) and a one Euro dishtowel for camp. A short walk brought us to the next stop on the Red Line and we proceeded to wait quite some time for the next bus. While hanging out we heard music playing down at the end of the long plaza we sat in, and so walked down to see if a live band was playing.
Of course, no sooner did we walk down to discover that it was essentially a large DJ system, we turned around to see the bus we wanted turning right off the plaza a block or so up from us. We walked back up to the bus stop, found a shady spot on a park bench to wait, and then fortunately, given the inconsistent nature of the scheduling of the buses, another came along not afterwards and we hopped on. Our plan at this point was to ride it all the way out to the beach and then when it looped back down into city center jump off for a visit to the Stock Exchange.
Did I mention it was a gorgeous day? Mild temperatures, light blue skies with nary a cloud in sight, the perfect time to be seated on the top of a double decker bus as it toured parts of the city. As we made our way to the ocean, we traveled down a four lane street with a median in the middle, lined on each side by nice houses, so very reminiscent of a ride down San Vicente Boulevard in West Los Angeles, a ride we’ve made many times on our bikes.
We disembarked as planned just shy of the Ribeira, Porto’s main social scene, and walked up to the Stock Exchange. The tour in English would run in an hour or so and we walked down to the riverside, checking out this unique area seemingly designed on purpose to attract folks to linger. We stopped to grab a quick snack, eating a problem for us when out on the town. Often we’ll go far too long without eating or drinking, and it catches up to you. So we stopped at a tourist joint and had an overpriced ham and cheese sandwich with two Coke Zero’s, but it was money well spent as it provided fuel for the rest of the afternoon.
We returned to the Stock Exchange for our tour, a short 30 minutes but well worth the visit as we went from room to room of this former building devoted to the business of the city, with decorations and furnishings that made for a rich experience. Most spectacular was the final room, the Arabic Hall, where construction began in 1862, and was completed in 1880, where what appears to be tile work is actually all hand painted.
Finished with the Stock Exchange, we walked down to the Ribeira and then crossed the river Douro on the Dom Luis I Bridge, headed for the Port houses located on the southern banks of the river. Our intent was to hit a couple of locations, taste a few ports, and then head back to camp for dinner. Our first couple of stops, at Porto Cruz and Sandeman went nowhere, as it was the end of the day and they were fullso we backtracked and entered the Kopke shop.
It was crowded downstairs, and our initial impression was that this was where we would taste, standing at a bar, an informal interaction. A clerk approached us and when we indicated we wanted a tasting, he directed us upstairs where “an associate would assist us”. At the top of the stairs a young woman greeted us and directed us to a table and two seats at a window overlooking the river. We perused the menu she’d handed us and ordered three samples at about 2.5 Euros apiece, a young ruby, and two different tawnys, a reserve and a ten-year old.
When she returned with our order she also brought a plate with six pieces of chocolate, four dark and two milk. She explained in detail which ones to eat with which sample, how the characteristics of the ports would interact with the chocolate. We would spend a good hour in those seats, sipping on the port, enjoying the view from the window, discussing our plans. We decided to ride our bikes into town the next day. We figured out a route that would take us from the campground over the Dom Luis Bridge, then up the river to the coast and back up that long street that resembled San Vicente.
Planning to make the long walk back to the bus terminus for the ride to camp, we walked outside Kopke to discover the short tour version of our red bus waiting outside. So we jumped on board and as luck would have it ran up the hill in back of the port houses to some view spots of the river and Porto in the distance. We wound back down and got off at its final stop, just a few short blocks away from the bus terminal.
Back in camp we made our way over to the bar/restaurant to give the food a try. Joanna ordered the fried cod and I had a pork tenderloin. Upon arrival the serving sizes were substantial, Joanna’s, as is typical here, presented with a whole fish and freshly made potato chips. My thin slices of pork came with very nicely cooked French fries, large green salad and a portion of rice. With one glass of wine and two bottles of beer the total came to 18.60 Euro, a bit over $20.
We very much enjoyed our interaction with the waitress, who worked hard on practicing her English with us. When she gave us the tab she dutifully explained the charges, including the one for the bread and butter we’d consumed, thinking I might complain about that one. When I mentioned the word butter, she rolled the word around in her mouth a bit and we practiced saying it. It just reinforced for me how your first impression of a place can run in one direction, and your actual experience can go another. This place that had depressed us upon arrival had won us over in the end.
Looking forward to a good ride the next day we went to bed to awake numerous times to howling winds, buffeting the tent. Upon arising the next morning the winds were still strong, and checking in with the front desk confirmed they would blow for at least the rest of the morning. We sat around for awhile debating options and concluded that we’d seen as much of Porto as we needed to, so might as well head to Lisbon and buy an extra day of travel for down the road.
We broke camp efficiently and within an hour were on the road headed south, Porto in the rear view mirror, wondering if we’d run into Portuguese law enforcement out to catch tollbooth scofflaws. Would we make it safely to Lisbon? Only time would tell.
Porto City Sightseeing: http://www.city-sightseeing.com/tours/portugal/porto.htm
Mercado do Bolhao: http://pt.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mercado_do_Bolh%C3%A3o
Palacio da Bolsa (Stock Exchange: http://www.palaciodabolsa.pt/
Ribeira Square: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ribeira_Square
Dom Luís Bridge: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dom_Lu%C3%ADs_Bridge,_Porto
Kopke Port: http://www.kopke.nl/