Porto, Part 1

March 2012

We enjoyed our first half day in Porto by starting with the Clerigos Tower.  It is atop a climbing street, can be seen from everywhere in the old centre, as an orientation of where one is.  The Clerigos Church is built in 18th century (Baroque style) by an Italian architect, Nicholau Nasoni.  The best of visiting the church is to climb the tower to enjoy an awesome panoramic view of the city.  It's best to come in the late afternoon, gentler sunshine shining throughout and best shots allowed.

Browsing around the city, going up and down of the streets in the centre is a pleasure. The different styles of houses, various tile panels, striking colours, contrast of new and decadent buildings, darkened alleys.  All as beauty in the eyes.  A sense of melancholic but happy in the heart.

Strolling towards the river comes the Unesco site Ribeira.  Clusters of building, bars and restaurants dominate the waterfront.  It is the most favourite place for people.  Walking, passing by, drinking, chatting, resting....  You will never miss Porto's landmark here - Ponte de Dom Luis I. It is a double deck metal arch bridge that spans across the Douro River between the cities of Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia.

Walking along the Riberia waterfront or across the Ponte de Dom Luis I, no one will overlook or miss the Mosteiro da Serra do Pilar, the architectual landmark of Gaia.  The terrace is opened to the public to admire the beauty of Porto next to the Douro.  The convent is closed and guarded by military.  Top secret!

The view from Cais de Gaia to Porto is perhaps one's ever-lasting impression of the beautiful city.  It is impossible standing there and not wow about the skyline of Porto.  Strolling a bit longer, particularly beautiful under the evening light.  Boats parking randomly along the shore, vessels moving along the river, decadent buildings, mightly Ponte de Dom Luis I. The pictures ever stay on one's mind.  Those were the days......

Cais de Gaia has its own appeal, home of many Port Wine brands.  Along the shore are the numerous signages of big and small names of Port Wine.  You can pop into any tour to learn about the production and taste the port wine.  Just we did not have the luxury (time) to try one.


Porto - Practicalities

March 2012

Porto is my first door to Portugal.  It is the second city after Lisbon and located more on the north of the country.  We were blessed with sunshine, in March which is normally chilly and raining.  Porto is a hilly city. Streets are up and down. Take a pair of comfortable shoes.  This article aims to share some practical information for planning a trip.  I'll talk more on the city separately.

We were blessed with an excellent apartment and a landlord. Our apartment is at Rua dos Caldeireiros, near Sao Bento Station, the Clerigos Tower for a panorama view of Porto and key sightseeing points. Wifi internet access is free.

Our apartment is quite big and well equipped. It is colourful too, different colours for different rooms. Our landlord, Cesar, welcomed us warmly with a bottle of white wine and 5L water. Basic cooking ingredients were provided. Cooker, utensil, toaster were available. What a blessing! Our one week's stay was pleasant and delighted. Check it out at here

One can reach the town from the Porto Airport by Metro. Follow the signs for the Metro. You will see a few ticket machines and staff preparing to offer assistance. Airport is at zone 3, a ticket costs €1.8. But one needs to pay €0.5 deposit and don't expect to refund it easily. Every 30 minutes serves a train. The journey lasts about 30 minutes. Make sure you have validated your ticket before you go on the train. You can recharge your ticket for further metro rides. So, don't flow the ticket away.

Trindade is a major transit point to connect with other metro lines. Be sure to validate your ticket again when transit.

There are two railway stations: Campanha (national and international trains) and São Bento (sururban trains). It is free of charge between São Bento and Campanha if you have a valid ticket for routes going further.

The suburbano is a cheaper alternative to trains, €3 to Braga and Guimaraes instead of €10 by IC trains. An one way journey takes about 1 hour 10 minutes. The suburbano ticket also requires €0.5 deposit, rechargeable and refundable.  Suburbano departs from São Bento Station.

Porto centre can be visited mostly on foot. Bus ticket costs €1.8. Cost of metro will depend on the distance. A zone 6 ticket, the furthest, costs €2.45. Taxi price is reasonable, with a surcharge if you call one in the night.

If you have a car, no worry, car park is everywhere. Going to cities nearby is not a problem if you don't drive. A few coach companies offer regular service to Armarante, Vila Real, Viana do Castelo, etc. But bear in mind that the coaches are usually 20-30 minutes late. Here are two companies for reference: Rodonorte at Rua Ateneu Comercial do Porto 19 and Santos at Centro Comercial Central

Similar to Italy, cafe and bar everywhere. Most bars offer burger and chips. Coffee is either Italian (Sergfredo being the mostly seen) or local (a sweeter version). Don't expect good quality hot chocolate or gelato like in Italy. Ice cream is only packed and from a few manufacturers.

Our restaurant experiences varied. One fine dining was superb and unforgettable, O Paparico. Kool, restaurant of Casa da Música, was OK but not great. Grilled fish at Matosinhos (our landlord's recommended restaurant was closed down) was bad.  However, a small and humble bar Miss Opo offered good food at unbeatable price. A cafe at Braga sampled bread as good as Germany. Its lunch charged at €4, drinks excluded. Portuguese are very family oriented. Recommended restaurants can be closed on Sundays. So, check the opening days ahead.

Supermarkets found in the town centre are very small but can still satisfy basic shopping needs. Shop between 9am and 8 pm. One on the neighborhood may be opened on Sundays. Wet markets also scatter the city but become quiet in the afternoon.

Portuguese are wonderfully nice and helpful people. They are please to offer help. A man in Braga proactively asked us if we knew about Bom Jesu and advised us not to miss it. A taxi driver, not fluent in English, took us to the street at the exact street number. Another driver was passionate about our positive views on Portugal. Portuguese love their countries and are zeal to tell you about it.

Although Portugal is among as one of the poorest countries in Europe, Portuguese music is melancholic, people I saw were happy and optimistic. Most service staff can speak very good English.