Please don’t call the city Oporto, even though that’s the name of their airport. Some random, international miscommunication landed that name, locals prefer Porto. We took a whole week to explore this hilly, foggy, port town. With average rainfall that exceeds both London, England and Portland, Oregon, we managed to avoid the rain. We did experience the thick, billowy fog, however. It comes & goes at random hours of the day, shifting the blue warm skies to a mysterious and moody ambiance.
The fog, the rain and summertime humidity create a rough climate for soft sandstone buildings. These centuries old buildings
still stand (or barely stand) thanks to the addition of delft tile. Portugal, rich in cobalt, makes tile, a pretty solution to their construction needs.
We’ve planted ourselves just outside the historic district of Porto. Here, it isn’t pretty. It has a communist, or maybe I should say fascist, feel: grey, functional, box-like apartments stacked one right after another. But it’s changing: one “box” has been torn down across the street, there is a 4 star high-rise hotel next door, and the economy/tourists are allowing local businesses to thrive.
Walk two blocks, and you enter a part of Porto that is very old.
The fabric has been woven for over a thousand years, with continuous settlement and rebirth. Actually, you can go back even further, there is archeological evidence showing Phoenician trading ports dating to 8BC. Today, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, affording Porto additional capital to revitalize.
Generalizing the Portuguese
Crosswalks are for sissies. Espresso goes with breakfast, lunch and dinner (and everything in between.) And, traffic signals are a suggestion. We have been told by a local, the Portuguese have their heart in their mouth. In other words, they are quick to have an opinion – without a lot of thought behind it – then they will fiercely defend it.
Also we have been “warned” to double check the directions you’ve been given by a local, invariably they will have “the” answer, whether they know it, or not – mostly because a Portuguese knows “everything”. Lastly, they are saudade, which apparently doesn’t translate well into English, but loosely means, nostalgic, sad or homesick…. listening to Portuguese Fado music is probably the best way to translate this word.
We rented a tandem bike (first time ever!) and were told to go to the BFF district.
That would be Best Fresh Fish district. Not in Porto, but a little north in Matosinhos. The town transports you to the roots of street food. You check out their catch of the day, sometimes still twitching, and point to what you like. They put it on the coals and serve it up family style.
So, we walked up and down the street and then opted for this burly dude’s “Q”:
I’ve never had sardines prepared like this – heads & tails in tact – drenched in a heavy salt which seems to burn off, but still coat the skin lightly. The squids were tender, and probably the best we’ve ever had. They even gave Woody a moment at the grill for a photo op:And, we’re taking the habit of having an espresso or café after our meals. This time a new experience awaited us: we were introduced to aguadente, or as we determined later, Portuguese firewater.
Talking About Food
We like to go where the locals go – after all, isn’t that the point of travel? We also like to look for places that have a hand written menu because that generally means they are serving items which are fresh that day.
Restaurant Flor de Bragança met that criteria, and we found it in a narrow alley in the heart of historic Porto.
We explored the working class department, to the department of disposable income: the land of Port wine, or vinho do Porto.
Only a true Port wine comes from the Duoro Valley of Portugal, and has a culture of its own. Growing grapes in this valley is tedious work. To gain a sophisticated introduction we went on a Port wine tour.
Interestingly, we were the only Americans on our (English) tour of about 25 people. My take away: it’s sweet, can be expensive, makes a nice desert, and a drink to cherish after a festive meal, like Thanksgiving or Christmas.