Sunday, December 7, 2008

Porto, Portugal

I visited Porto with a couple of friends from work during the Veteran's Day weekend, from 8 - 12 November. A month before the trip to Porto, we were discussing where to spend four to five days for a short break. Paris, Athens, south of France, and southern Spain were a few places considered. Porto won out. The inexpensive airfare via Ryan Air, the warmer clime and the fact that none of us has been to Portugal before (my trip to the Azores earlier this year and my two hour layovers at the Lisbon airport flying into and out of the Azores do not count) sealed the deal for Porto. I was looking forward to the visit because it was a place to eat seafood. Wiesbaden is nowhere close to a sea or an ocean. There is not much fresh seafood selection to find around here. I really haven’t tried that hard looking, but if the twice weekly market in Wiesbaden is any indication, you would really have to put an effort to find fresh seafood around town. Anyway, I had the hankerin’ for some good ol’ seafood. Porto was one place to go to satisfy the hankerin’. Porto is also the primary place to find fine port wine. Port is wine fortified with brandy.

Porto is the second largest city in Portugal. It is located in the north, close to the border with Spain. The city is decaying with many buildings needing major renovations. I got the impression that the city has grown further out, beyond the old city, and the development seemed to focus on these outlying areas while the city center is left to deteriorate. The European Union has helped to build up and upgrade Porto’s infrastructure, including a new mass transit system with its above ground tram lines, and a considerably refurbished airport. It will take a lot more investment to revitalize the old part of the city. The historic center of Porto has been declared a UNESCO world heritage site. This may mean that it will be harder and more expensive to renovate the buildings since they would have to be restored to its original design. A lot of the buildings are condemned and abandoned.

I thought I would at least get by with my little knowledge of the Spanish language. Not!!! Written Portuguese is fairly close to Spanish; the spoken Portuguese is very nasal and harsher sounding than Spanish. Portuguese has the resonance and tonal quality of an Eastern European language being spoken. So in essence, written Portuguese as in menus and signs I was able to understand for the most part; hearing it being spoken to us was another thing.

We explored Porto mainly by foot, but we also saw more sights outside the old city via bus and boat tours. We enjoyed the seafood. The meal prices were decent. We toured and tasted the products of four port wine manufacturers. I was not able to sample one of the traditional dishes of Porto – Tripas a Modo do Porto, tripes Porto style. The dish is probably similar to “rakrakipa,” a Filipino tripe dish. Although not fond of eating animal innards, I was willing to try it especially after eating haggis on a trip to Scotland earlier this year turned out to be not so bad. That doesn’t sound too positive, does it? Okay, let’s say I would eat haggis again.

You probably only need two full days to see the sights of Porto. We were there for four days. For the most part, the weather was fine for the time of year. It was nice to see a new place and be away from work. Would I visit Porto again? Probably not, but it was still nice to discover a new city, learn a little bit about the city’s history, eat fresh seafood, and drink port wine. It was a good trip. I would not mind seeing other parts of Portugal – Lisbon, perhaps, or the southern coastal areas.

Another note about Porto, especially to the Seattleites – we visited Casa da Musica, a recently built concert hall, designed by Rem Koolhas, the same architect who designed the new Seattle Public Library.

Here are a few photos from Porto (click on the photo to see entire shot):

The nicer part of old town Porto, including the riverfront:




Porto - Blue Tiled Church

Porto City Center

Porto at night:


Grilled sardines for a great lunch – the grilling, the meal, the empty plate, and the end result:


grilled sardines



The bridges crossing the Douro River:

Porto Bridge

Porto Bridge

Porto Bridges

Porto Bridge

Port wine tours and tasting:



Port Wine tour

Port Wine Tour

Port Wine Tasting

Sandeman Port Wine

Casa da Musica, outside and in:

Casa da Musica

Casa da Musica

Casa da Musica

Inside the Casa da Musica

Outside the old city:

North Porto


Beach north of Porto

Port of Porto

Arroz de marisco (seafood rice), and a dish similar to seafood rice but with bread instead.


Market scenes:

Porto Market

Porto Market


Porto Market

Porto Market

1 comment:

  1. Your last photo of the pigeons lined up above the ladies bathroom reminded me of a San Francisco story.

    I heard that all the public BarBQ grills had been removed from the parks because homeless people were roasting - yep - pigeons.