We were up at 6am to catch the 7am train to Porto. It’s about 3 hr each way from Lisbon and our car was luckily pretty empty so, we all got to sprawl out on the seats. Christina and HyeMi passed out immediately after ticket check and, as the guy came back around a short while later to check for new passengers, he momentarily paused to look at us and chuckle. 4 “proper” Asian girls with limbs sprawled out, 2 of us completely knocked unconscious. I’d laugh, too.
The São Bento train station featured blue-tiled artwork (also known as azulejo) depicting key events in Portugal’s history. According to a free walking tour guide, the widespread usage of tiles on buildings was for the same reason why your bathroom has them – to shield from the effects of humidity. Blue was the most accessible ink color. (Photo credit: HyeMi)
HyeMi read about a free city walking tour on someone’s blog that was to meet here in the Praça da Liberdade. We had some time to kill before meeting time so, we went to check out the historic bookstore, Livraria Lello, which JK Rowling frequented in her early days. The 4 euro entrance fee turned us away. (Apparently, you get it back if you buy a book, though.) Back at the square, we met the main guide and said our hello’s to the 3-4 other people also waiting. Then, another 50-60 people showed up and we were split into two groups of 30ish and told the tour would last 2-3 hr for the old part of the city. It was hard to hear because the group was so large. Our guide was thoroughly entertaining but, we didn’t make it past the first 15 minutes. We did manage to chat up an Aussie guy, a solo traveler in the midst of visiting friends and family, whom Jenn was initially suspicious of, whispering to us “Haven’t you ever watched Taken??”
There was a church or cathedral at the end of almost every block that the guide joked that if you ever felt the need to pray or confess, you’ll always have a church nearby to do so. Laziness could never be an excuse unless, of course, you got sucked into a Netflix hole and only left the couch to grab another bag of chips. (Pictured above: Igreja dos Clérigos. You can climb the tower there to get a panoramic view of the city.)
Up the block, the Igreja do Carmo. The planners of this city clearly played a round of Settlers of Catan with church pieces.
And, up the hill from the train station is the Sé do Porto (Porto Cathedral).
The Gothic cloisters of the Sé, adorned with blue tiles galore.
The terrace in front of the cathedral gave way to this awesome view of the city. I must say, Porto has no shortage of locations that provide amazing panoramic views.
And, yes, more building facades, a lot of which had laundry hanging off the railings. I often wondered if there was a community rule that every occupant must do laundry and hang them out to dry at peak tourist photo-taking times. I suppose the dryer market would never progress here.
Travel tip: We had planned to visit the Palácio da Bolsa but, it was closed for a bit due to private events being held there. So, make sure it’s open before you go.
Heading towards the Cais da Riberia.
We booked a 6 Bridges River Douro boat cruise at a nearby tourism office and had time to grab a quick bite to eat by the Cais da Ribeira. Knowing that “quick bite” isn’t really a well-known thing in Portugal, we came upon a cafe by the river with a maître d’ who had the look and attitude of a Real Housewife of New Jersey. We stressed to her that we had a 1:30pm boat cruise and only about 30-40 minutes to eat. She said “okay, okay, okay,” ushered us inside and sent a waiter to bring menus almost immediately. She then rushed us to choose what we wanted to order and even came by to check on us later on to make sure we had everything in good time. This is a woman who gets shit done. No doubt.
We took one of these babies out to see the 6 bridges, one of which is the Ponte de Dom Luís I (pictured above), a bridge designed by Théophile Seyrig, a partner of Gustave Eiffel. You may know Gustave from something called the Eiffel Tower.
The white Lego block at the very top is the Episcopal Palace.
The neighboring Ponte Maria Pia was also designed and built by Seyrig & Eiffel.
After the cruise, we took a funicular to the top level of the Ponte de Dom Luís I which is for the tram and pedestrians to cross. On the walk to the funicular, we passed a sign advertising bike rentals and featuring photos of bike paths without any city views.
Me: “Nice of them to include several photos of the actual paths and views of nothing scenic.”
Jenn (pointing to one photo): “And, here, you can ride a bike on the road…to nowhere.”
Bike rental company, I hope you fired the intern that put this together.
After the sky went back and forth between sun and clouds, the sun finally won its spotlight. Yep, delightful.
From the bridge, we took a cab to Graham’s Port Lodge in Vila Nova de Gaia for lunch and a Port tasting (well, we only had time for one, haha).
Vila Nova de Gaia
Cheers to us!