A walk through Porto

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.

garrafeira

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.

quiet lane

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.

azulejos

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.

renovation 2

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.)

lavandaria pública

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.

stairs of truth

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!

jungle

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.

river view

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.

port wine cellars

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.

descent

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.

Ponte Luís I

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.)

end of the line

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.

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About Fletcher DeLancey

Socialist heathen and Mac-using author of the Chronicles of Alsea, who enjoys pondering science, politics, well-honed satire (though sarcastic humor can work, too) and all things geeky.
This entry was posted in Portugal, travel. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to A walk through Porto

  1. MJ Valente says:

    “We saw almost no cars.”

    I’m still amazed we saw any! (Given the Medieval sizes of the streets.) And they were NOT the Smart kind.

    Note to all on the best way to travel in Porto: leave the car nearby a Metro station (target the ones with free parking around, like Parque Real or Pedro Hispano) and then use the metropolitan as a way to travel into the center (e.g. metro stop: Aliados).

  2. No visit to Dragon Stadium? It’s like to visit Boston and not going to Fenway, lol

    • oregon expat says:

      Ha! Were I to go to Boston, the last place I’d visit would be Fenway. Actually I was intrigued by the Dragon, until I was informed that no, it wasn’t a giant glasshouse garden. Drat.

      • It’s most beautiful stadium in Portugal, seamless settled in the surrounding, way more nice than Luz or Alvalade. Also, it was the first stadium in Europe to receive an GreenLight award, given by the European Comission because of the rational use of energy and quality of the illumination. The rainwaters are used to feed the sprinklers systems and the roof is covered with solar pannels that give plenty of electric power to the stadium.

  3. Power Wench says:

    Lovely photos! Thanks for the tour! Now I *really* want to visit.
    A question: in the first photo of the wine shop facade, what are those big bags stacked outside against the column? Corks, perchance?

  4. M. says:

    Thank you for so nice trip 🙂

    Oh, I think that leaving inner core of a city to decay does not happen in Europe at all.

  5. restlessjo says:

    Thanks for the tip off about the Stairs of Lies.

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