A quick drive down the Douro Valley and we arrived in Porto. It was a bit confusing dropping off the car at the Campanha Train Station since there was no sign directing us into the parking garage, but after Cynthia discovered the EuroCar office on the train station platform, the drop off was quick and painless. Total mileage was about 3000 km or 2000 miles. We really got our money’s worth on that rental. We hopped on the metro and when we emerged at the Sao Bento stop, it was raining.
We were able to find IMPAR cafe across from the main train station that would let us sit under their umbrellas while we waited to check in. Warren ran around the corner and bought a couple 3 euro umbrellas. At the second cafe, we were able to WhatsApp the place and we found out our apartment at Market Place was ready a bit early. It was a nice studio apartment right in the middle of things, but it was on the third floor with no elevators and 65+ steps to get to our place which had a “lovely” view from the balcony of the abandoned building about 10 feet away.
With all those stairs, we made extra sure we had everything before we left for the day. Since it was still mid-afternoon, we decided to stretch our legs so we walked down to the river, crossed over to the south side (where all the port wineries have setup shop), we marveled at the gondola lift over this side of the city and found some coffee beans (although finding a Starbucks later which was much cheaper and more to Cynthia’s liking since the roaster felt “dark roasting” was just a way to hide a bad roast!). Not really wanting to taste the port at this time (and finding out you had to buy a tour), we headed back to our neighborhood, did some food shopping, and had dinner in our apartment.
The next morning the rain continued so we stayed in a bit and rested and caught up on the blog. When we ventured out for lunch, we came across Marianus Burger House, and decided to give it a try. We thought, “How good could a European burger be”; we were hoping it would at least be palatable. It was amazing. The chef would put American burger chefs to shame. Thick, perfect medium rare, juicy and tasty. Energized by the great lunch we wandered a bit north west into an area we really didn’t have on the proper tour we would be doing when the rain cleared. We ended up stumbling upon a very long pedestrian street / shopping mall, Rua de Santa Catarina. It was very nice strolling along the street people watching. Cynthia found very cheap makeup and a light jacket at Decathlon (that she was able to stuff into the jacket pocket so small it was about the size of her fist and fit into her tiny backpack purse). Wandering back to the apartment, we discovered a brewery, Fábrica Nortada, which we stopped in for a few samples. We giggled as they pronounced IPA as “ee-pah”. The beers were surprisingly good for such a new concept in Europe. Again, the weather put a bit of a damper on the evening so we called it an early night.
Saturday started out cloudy but no rain (Hooray!). So we packed up the day packs and headed to the Sao Bento main train station, put the correct fare on our train cards by selecting “change title” and settled in for the 1 hour 15 minute ride to Guimares. Guimaraes is regarded as the birth place of Portugal and this extensive history is reflected in the variety of national monuments and historic buildings found within the city. We walked from the train station about 1 km or so passed an imposing church through a really neat garden area to the old part of the city. We got a map from the tourist office and headed up to Largo hill which contains the Castelo de Guimarães, the Braganza Palace and the Capela de São Miguel do Castelo.
The castle is a partial ruin we explored on foot, then visited the chapel (where the first king of Portugal was baptized) then the Palace ( a medieval estate and former residence of the first Dukes of Braganza). Nothing like Versailles but still a very interesting visit. Touring done, we wandered the streets of the old quarter and ate lunch at a restaurant overlooking one of the squares.
Arriving back in Porto we realized that we had a very nice afternoon to play with so we hopped the trolley car at its starting point below the Igreja Sao Francisco (good thing, since it was too full after that for anyone at other stops to board), to the beaches to the west of Porto called Foz do Douro. We enjoyed walking through the park (Jardim do Passeio Alegre), out to the lighthouse at the mouth of the river and along the sandy beaches. Our destination that day was the “Pergola da Foz” built in the 1930s. As the story goes, the wife of the Mayor of Porto had been so enchanted by the pergola of the “Promenade des
Anglais” in the French town of Nice that she simply had to have the same in Porto. Aiming back towards downtown there was not an easy way to get back by transportation so we hiked the 6km along the river, saw a Pizza Hut on the water (bet they have the best spot of all Pizza Huts in the world!), stopped to have a beverage at a cafe near the bird observation point and watched a guy in the muddy rocky area at the bank of the river scraping and digging for something – hoping it was worth it because our backs ached just watching him.
Continuing on, we stopped to listen to an open air concert then back to our favorite burger place and decided to get the signature Porto sandwich the Francesinha. It was an earned reward after a day of non-stop walking.
The last day in Porto was devoted to seeing the Porto sights and touring the city. We started the morning wandering around the Crystal Palace Gardens enjoying the grounds, great city views and a very nice rose garden.
Next we found ourselves at the Livraria Lello & Irmão bookstore where JK Rowling spent time when she was teaching English in the 90s. A quick look inside from the street you can see the very ornate, but small interior (probably providing some inspiration for her upcoming works). The crowds, the 5 euro entry fee and the line forced us to move along to the Torre dos Clérigos which was the tallest structure in the city when it was completed in the 18th century. Continuing through the Praça da Liberdade we made our way up past the Igreja de Santo Idlefonso (a neat church that had an entire front facade of blue and white tile) up to the Porto Cathedral. We crossed over the top of the Luís I Bridge for some spectacular views of the city before our last stop, The San Francisco Cathedral. We paid the entrance fee and we immediately amazed by the lavish baroque interior with its ornate gilded carvings . Everything from the altars to the statues to the columns are covered in more than 400kg of gold leaf. They also have a very neat catacomb area to visit.
Tired and wanting to rid our fridge of any leftovers before our flight to Madrid, we grabbed some short ribs and sausage from the hot food section in the grocery store and had a nice dinner while we packed up for the flight.