Porto: late posting, extraordinary experience

Indeed, some of our more avid readers will ask “WTH” (hi, mom)? This is about Porto and these jokers are supposed to be in the Caribbean!?! But I never got around to writing up Porto, and it was such an amazing city to visit. The architecture. The people. The Food! The WINE!We stayed in the marina near the head of the Doura river, which is the very heart of the city. Porto rises on either side of the Douro, and the two halves of the city are connected with 7 bridges, including one designed by good old Gustave Eiffel himself.We were blown away by the sheer quantity of old buildings, literals overlapping and leaning on one another, many of which are absolutely falling down, in spite of the fact that they are gorgeous and would make the most wonderful modern habitations if renovated. We were on the right bank of the river, and from there, we took an old ferry across to the other side to take the ancient trolley line into the old district, Cais de Ribera, and from there, walked into the labyrinth. Up and down dark alleys and sunny plazas, I suspect you could spend a lifetime in this city and not know every passage, nook and cranny. I bought a beautiful pencil drawing of the left bank from the talented young man in the photo below. I should have purchased several as gifts and to frame and for home. Mostly, I should have asked his name. Everything on the wall behind him is his work, and all of it, photos, watercolors, charcoals and pastels, are of his home town of Porto.

Naturally, none of you will be surprised that Peter and I enjoyed some wine while we were there! I had no idea about the red wines of the Douro valley, which are now my favorites. I don’t think I’v ever tried a Douro that was less than “very good”, and very good bottles go for less than 10 euros, though I’m sure you can spend much more if you’re a true connoisseur.

We also took advantage of our visit to see a few of the impressive Porto wine cellars. Did you know that the famous port wines are not actually made in Porto? They are all grown and elaborated in the Douro valley, then shipped to cellars in Porto, which has given them the familiar appellation of Port wines. Many of the cellars are centuries old, and we stopped into several of them just to enjoy the coolness and the incredible smell of the rock cellars with their damp walls. Graham’s, Burmeister, etc.We then took advantage of the marina’s offer for a free official visit of the Churchill’s cellars. The cellars are actually quite new and the visit was entirely virtual but the tasting was entirely real! Holy Moly! White port, ruby port, tawny port, and all of varying ages. Aperitive ports, digestive ports, and their wonderful, velveteen Douro red wines… Truly delicious, and you can see what it did to Peter! We came away with a few great bottles! Wish we’d taken twice as many.

After our morning at Churchills, naturally, we were hungry, so we headed back to the place we’d discovered the day before, the Taberna, a restaurant that had just opened up on the ground floor of the family home in what was once the family’s mini-market. The service was so sweet, Here is our lovely waiter serving us a typical sandwich, I believe it had egg, ham, and some sort of sauce. It sounded and looked wonderful, but was pretty heavy. The wine was, as you may have guessed, delicious.

We loved that the tables at the Taberna are set under shady stone arches, and lead to a dark covered passage! Dark places for dark deeds? The cool air underneath is intoxicating, and a welcome relief from the stifling heat outside. I wonder how long people have been walking through this passage?

After lunch, we headed down this cool, dark tunnel and out into the light on the other side. It comes out right where Porto’s most famous bridge spans the Douro, and you can see the exit in the gorgeous pencil drawing below.

The famous Dom Luis bridge, where the young artist must have been standing when he drew this, has two levels. Young boys spend their summer months egging one another into jumping off both the lower and the much, much higher level reserved for pedestrians and the tramway.

Sadly, the day we were there, a young man met his maker, and everyone was gawking as rescue operations began! The shopkeeper I spoke to said he must have been from out of town, as the local boys know where and when to plunge, depending on the tide and currents.

Before leaving, we also took a sunset cruise all the way up the river and under all 7 of Porto’s bridges, then had a super dinner of grilled fish in a local restaurant. One of the remarkable sights down by the marina is an old-fashioned washing house, with stone basins of varying temperatures and clarities. The locals come here to wash by hand, and hang everything on very makeshift-looking lines. I’d never seen anything like it, unfortunately, I don’t seem to have any photos!

There’s also a wonderful little fruit, veg and fish market open on Saturdays and Sundays just a short walk from the marina. I bought one of the best chickens I’ve ever eaten for 3€ at the butcher, and plenty of squid to make lots of Peter’s favorite chiperons (tiny fried squid)!

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