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 at night:
Grilled sardines for a great lunch – the grilling, the meal, the empty plate, and the end result:
The bridges crossing the Douro River:
Port wine tours and tasting:
Casa da Musica, outside and in:
Outside the old city:
Arroz de marisco (seafood rice), and a dish similar to seafood rice but with bread instead.