Porto and the North of Portugal
Porto – the little sister of Lisbon – how this town is also called. We have spent ten days here and can say: Yes, there is some truth to it. Porto is the little sister but does not need to hide behind the capital at all.
The position is similar. At a mouth of a river. And it also has a lot to offer.
The old town still exists entirely; at least all the houses are still there. Some are old and deteriorate. But on the other hand there is a lot of construction work and renovation going on. Take a walk along the alleys and streets and stroll between the small houses. Our tipp: Walk along one side of the street and take the other back. So you can see the wonderfully decorated facades. They are so nicely and lush decorated and you won’t see them by walking near by. Only from the other side of the street you get the whole picture.
Many shops still have the old cover panels. And you still can see the glamour of od times. At the harbour there are houses that are so tiny that you can hardly imagine somebody living in there or how the look inside. In the alleys with all the stairs and steps and corners you can get lost. So suddenly you stand in front of a door and can’t get further. But then you have to walk back to the next corner. It is worth the try.
In Porto there seems to be a very active graffiti scene. You might come around a corner and discover a colorful piece from one or the other artist. Or you just enjoy to dive into Portuguese live. Through the open doors you can hear the television play. The laundry hangs right to the house wall for drying. In front of the entry door somebody sweeps away the dust. Or neighbors are having a chat.
Another tipp: Don’t stick to the printed map. It is only a rough plan and does not show all the ways and alleys. If we would have walked according to the touristic map we won’t have discovered the one or other nice place. For example the nice cafe at the water. The passage between the house and the quay wall leaves just enough space for a small table and two chairs. But we very much enjoyed the view to the Douro with all the coloured touristic boats and the goings-on on the water.
Also in Porto there are very many churches. At one place there a two side by side. All are opulently decorated. They have tiles outside or inside. Or they are lushly decorated with gold. Taking photographs is forbidden in most of them unfortunately.
The tile decoration or the tile pictures – the Azulejos – you will find at many many places in Porto. It is unbelievable how good this material stays in shape during all these years. The coulors are still glowing and even the salty waters won’t harm them. Even in the entrance hall of the station you find huge plates. There are also some coloured pictures. Not only those white and blue ones.
In Porto there are small recreation parks. Many people use the lawn for a pick nick or a nap. If you don’t want to walk through the town you can use the tram. It goes through the smallest alleys. Along small streets right to the people in pavement cafes, through parks and uphill and downhill.
Not only the facades of the houses are preserved. Sometimes even the interior decorations are more than a hundred years old. One famous example is Cafe Majestic, in which you only can go in if you want to eat something there. Curious onlookers are frowned upon. Inside you can see the original furniture and and fittings.
The same goes for for the bookstore Lello. Here they found a solution for the problem of the sightseeing. You buy an entrance ticket for 3 Euros and can wander around and admire everything as long as you want. If you buy a book 1 Euro will be deduct from the price. Fair enough. The fittings with the split and spiraled staircase is really worth a visit. They say that J. K. Rowling got inspired by it for her novel Harry Potter. You easily can imagine that.
Apart from the well known and famous points of interest we discovered some nice cafes and shops that are also preserved completely and give you an idea about former times. This is the Confeitaria Serrana near the main station for example. Or the delicatessen store A Perola do Bolhao.
Talking about delicatessen. Try at all costs the cakes and pralines. Portugal has very many sorts of cakes and pastries. A good chance to try many of them are the miniatures. Those are tiny versions of the filled doughnuts, pasteis de nata and co. You can eat them with one bite and in case you don’t like the taste… so what. Nothing is left over.
What we also tried were Francesinha. These huge toasts filled with sausage, meat and ham are topped in the special form with a fried egg and scalloped with cheese. Alongs comes a bucket full of tomato sauce. It is really a bucket. In case you empty out the jug with the sauce the waiter will bring you immediately a full one. The dish is supposed to be from the war times when there was no time for eating. So they put everything together. it is big and opulent and filling. Nowadays you can also get variations with chicken or the vegetarian or even vegan style.
We also have visited the market hall of course. It was under construction – which is really necessary. So the offer was not as profuse as normally. But you get an impression and can discover a lot of things that you might not know. And you will ask youselve what it is and how you prepare it. There are also souvenir shops and you can eat in small taverns.
In case you get enough of the town life you can easily find quiet places outside of Porto. The whole coast line is just one long beach. There are boardwalk over the dunes that are gladly used. Joggers, cyclists, hikers and even pilgrims share the footbridge with beach lovers, swimmers and walkers. It is kilometers long and you can feel the sea breeze in your face.
There are restaurants and snack bars everywhere so you even can spent the end of a day there while watching a beautiful sun set.
Some beaches are more for sun lovers others are for swimmers and on some parts of the each surfers gather or fisher have their boats stored there. Here everyone will find its place and won’t get in the way of somebody else.
We took another tour to Aveiro. It takes about 40 minutes to drive by rental car from Porto and is a nice village. It is called the Venice of Portugal. And yes with its canal in the middle of the small town and the colourful boats in front of the old and lush decorated houses it has some similarities with the Italian touristic center.
Aveiro seams to be built right into the water and you can watch storks nesting right next to the highway and flamingos looking for food. In the village there is a historic quarter with old tiles houses but there are also modern places and promenades along the water. A beautiful mall with international brands and shops as well as cafes, pubs and restaurants can be found.
A speciality here are Ovos Moles. Figures made out of a kind of edible paper filled with a mixture of eggs and sugar. We did not really like it. But you have to try everything once. The Portuguese love this and even put the egg and sugar mixture on top of crepes or into another speciality called Bolacha Americana. This crispy snack comes with all kinds of fillings. Cheese and ham, but also chocolate bars or chocolate cream.
We tried Bolacha at the promenade at Costa Nova in Aveiro. This is a quarter which funny enough exists of mostly striped houses. This has a nice an fresh look and is inviting and colourful.
So Porto and surrounding is worth a visit and hase a lot to offer to everyone.
All photos © Waltzing Meurers