Sunday, October 4, 2015

Porto Portugal

I always find it interesting (and maybe funny) what images and stories I remember from childhood. Some are mere flashes like when I was probably two or three years old walking up the steps where we lived at the time. Nothing particular, just steps and the the front door opening. There are others like when my dad would take me and my friends to 7-Eleven for Slurpees that I can remember in much more detail (down to the car we went in). And then there are others that I recognize aren't even a particular event but rather what are a bunch of memories combined into one like how I wrote recently about my parents buying Cava to celebrate New Year's or even how they used to eat Port-wine cheese on crackers.

I hadn't thought about Port-wine cheese in quite a while but it flashed back when Diana told me about a conference she had to go to near Porto, Portugal. Never wanting to miss the chance to go to a new place, especially when it's in a new country and possibly the home of Port wine cheese(!), I booked some tickets and an apartment right away! Gotta' go!

Looking for cheese out over Porto and across the Douro river towards Vila Nova de Gaia:

Other than maybe four stopovers on the way to and from Philadelphia, I had never been to Portugal and really didn't know much about it (other than that damned cheese). I have a Portuguese friend here in Barcelona that lived for a while in Porto and another guy from Spain who had been to Porto quite a few times so they gave us quite the to-do list.

One of the many curiously blue-tiled churches I saw in Porto:

The old town part of Porto's just inland from the (Atlantic) coast of Portugal. The wine from the region got its name from the city around the 1700s when trade was booming in the area. Maybe it was later when cheese came into the picture.

The city of Porto to the left and Vila Nova de Gaia to the right:

I was pleasantly surprised by the great weather during our stay. It was a relatively quick trip but the weather reminded me a lot of San Diego with its cool nights and warmish days. Hmm...sounds good for some wine growing, doesn't it...?

The interior of Porto's main train station, Sao Bento:

As always, there are huge benefits when you know someone who lives in the place you're visiting or, like my friends, have lived there in the past. They recommended a bunch of places to see and, more importantly, some great places to eat.

Porto's known for the Francesinha sandwich, which is quite the gut-buster. There's bread, beef, sausage, ham, and it's all topped off with an egg, some cheese, although not the Port-wine type, and thick sauce. Have two, they're small.

We finished off our first day at an amazing hole-in-the-wall-dinner place and a nice walk along the riverfront. Porto is very scenic with hills going up from both sides of the river. The view from the Porto side up towards the Serro de Pilar Monastery:

True to most of our trips, we walked. And walked. And walked. We covered pretty much the whole city over just a couple of days but while managing to stop to visit everything that looked interesting or that we had been told about.

We saw this cemetery and spent some time checking it out. The most interesting thing was that there were lots of mausoleums and that most had glass doors where you could see the coffins stacked up inside. All the above-ground graves reminded me a bit of cemeteries I had seen during trips to New Orleans (sorry, no links!) where they "bury" people above ground due to the city being below sea level. That's not the case in Porto so I'm not sure why the tradition.

Like some celebrities, certain places become famous just because they've become famous. It kinda builds on itself as more and more people find out about it making them want to find out more. Our stop at the Lello & Irmao bookstore is one such example. This bookstore is famous for being a supposed, although completely undocumented (as far as I could find), influence on J.K. Rolling of Harry Potter fame who apparently used to live nearby. The beautiful but crazy wooden stairs and interior are impressive and do have a Potter-esque look to them. Who knows, right? We went anyway and had a look.

We also took a quick trip out to the beach. Porto's beach very much reminded me of the Los Angeles beach area around El Segundo including the nearby airport and oil refineries. It was lovely and there was even an old fort, which you can see just to Diana's left in the photo below.

Our final stop was at the friend-recommended Croft Port house, makers and distributors of Port wine. We took a tour, which included a few Port samples and some excellent cheese (but, Port-free, unfortunately!), and got to walk through the dusty old store house. The whole Vila Nova de Gaia hillside is full of Port houses and is fun to walk around.

And so ended my quick hop. Diana, on the other hand, went on to her conference and had even more fun. Thanks to Bruno and Pablo for the great recommendations and, until next time, ve lo novamente em breve Portugal! Oh, and about that cheese...

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