After descending from the Torre dos Clérigos and picking up my wife (who had wisely stayed at a sunny café table, drinking water and enjoying the church tower bells from a safe distance), we began our walk to the river. The intent was to make our way down to the Ponte Luís I (Luis I Bridge), cross it on foot, then find the cellars of Taylor’s on the Vila Nova de Gaia side.
The first thing that caught my eye on our walk was the garrafeira, or wine shop, taking up a street corner near the Igreja dos Clérigos. It had everything, and at very good prices, too. We entertained thoughts of buying a few bottles, but common sense stepped in. It’s a long walk to the other side of the river and back.
I wanted to see the real Porto, not the main thoroughfares that tourists would use to get from Point A to Point B quickly and efficiently. So we made our way through narrow, ancient lanes, twisting and turning, checking our map and then twisting and turning again. Porto is full of streets like this, and they’re mostly quiet, used only by residents walking home with their shopping bags. We saw almost no cars.
Every now and then we’d come upon a spot with a view, and what views they were! My eye was drawn by the five-story building in the center of this photo, covered from top to bottom in bright blue azulejos. If I owned that building, I’d convert the top floor into one large loft/office, lit by all all those dormer windows. What a creative space that must be.
One of the things I love about Portugal is the compactness of the towns and cities, which is aided by renovations such as this one. Rather than continually expanding a city outward while the inner core decays (a common American problem, because it’s cheaper), the renovation of existing buildings is encouraged. It’s not cheap, but it keeps the core active and vital. In this example, the entire building has been torn down except for the front façade, which was carefully kept intact. (For perspective, the yellow in the center of the photo is the construction vest of a worker, who is standing at the front entrance.)
Public laundries are a common sight in the country, relics of the Salazar era when Portugal lagged far behind the rest of the developed world, and only the wealthy could afford washing machines. While the washing machine has become far more ubiquitous, the lavandarias públicas are still used, as you can see by the towels hanging to dry in this one.
Porto is a riverbank city, and walking to or from the river is great exercise. The streets are steep, and studded with staircases to help pedestrians cut off some distance. According to our map, the Escadas das Verdades (Stairs of Truth) would lead us directly to the near end of the Ponte Luís.
We went down several flights before turning a corner and seeing, to our utter dismay, that the stairs continued almost down to the river level before turning and climbing straight back up again to the level of the Ponte Luís. Having already climbed the 225 stairs of the Torre dos Clérigos, I was decidedly unenthusiastic about a second major climb — especially a totally unnecessary one. We cursed the map, turned around, and retraced our steps. At the top, we saw this sign for the first time and had a great laugh. It confirms the name as Stairs of Truth — but the fine print underneath says that in the old days, they were called the Stairs of Lies. Of course they were.
Sadly, we had already gone too far downhill to avoid a major stair climb to get back to the bridge level. After winding our way around the back side of the Bishop’s Palace, we climbed one last flight and finally stepped onto the top deck of the Ponte Luís. This was a highlight for me: an entire bridge deck reserved solely for public transit and pedestrians!
Making our slow way across, we couldn’t help but notice the jungle taking over entire buildings on the Porto side of the river. These are Morning Glory vines, with their bright purple flowers providing a cheery punctuation to their utter vanquishing of walls, sheds, and old houses.
Further along the bridge span, the beauty of Porto comes into focus. Stair stepping down the river bank, from the Bishop’s Palace to the quays, it’s a photographer’s dream.
On the south bank of the Rio Douro, the view is dramatically different: wall to wall port wine cellars, all of them beckoning you to come check out their tasting rooms.
On the other side of the bridge, we opted against climbing back down to the river level and instead splurged on the one-year-old Teleférico de Gaia, a short cable car ride that cuts off a whole lot of walking distance — and provides spectacular views in the process. It’s not cheap, though: five euros per person, one way.
Totally worth it.
Looking back through the glass of our cable car, we had a lovely view of the bridge we’d just crossed, and the distance our poor feet would not have to walk. (Though we did on the way back.)
Mostly, though, we looked forward, scanning all of the port wine cellars for our target. Taylor’s, it turns out, does not join its brethren in advertising its name with giant signs. I decided to be optimistic and believe it was simply too classy to need gauche advertising.
Happily, I was right. After disembarking and exiting the teleférico shed, we found a tiny street sign directing us toward the cellar, which was high up the hill and tucked behind several others. Taylor’s has a unique history, being the only port house that has never passed out of the hands of its original family owners. And it produces my new favorite port wine, which I’ll blog about tomorrow.