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Europe: Portugal

A Wet, Cold, but not entirely unpleasant Weekend in Porto

by Alan Thomas

We arrived at the Gatwick South Shopping Mall, which doubles up as an Air Terminal, in good time for our flight to Porto. Having checked-in online, we found at the B.A. desk passengers have to check in and tag their luggage using the new automated machinery. Not having attempted this before, we naturally failed, and had to ask for

Mixed first impressions of Porto. The taxi driver to Hotel was either having a bad day or was just a
permanent misery. He spoke at length in heated tones on his mobile, but barely said more than two words to his passengers. Contrast with staff at Mercure Central Hotel, who were extremely helpful and spoke perfect English.

Most places, particularly cities, look different depending on the weather. We were not lucky. The weather was cold and wet. The immediate location of the Hotel was dismal, but turn the corner, and you enter a long avenue of smart looking shops, and cafes. Close by was a shop advertising Sightseeing Bus Tours. For 28 euros you may take a two day tour of the city, including a boat trip port cellar wine tasting and tour. An offer too good to refuse.

Porto is hilly, some of the streets are narrow and cobbled, plus drivers have a cavalier attitude towards parking.
All this made for an adventurous bus ride.

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Day two we took the long bus ride to the coast, and walked a few kilometres along the beach. The local authorities had sensibly built a wooden walkway along the full extent of the coastline. Apart from not finding anywhere to have lunch this was enjoyable.

We visited the 17th Century Castelo do Queijo and fort, both on the smallish size, and I did wonder, just how effective they were as a first line of defence even a few hundred years ago. Fortunately the Castle served great value for money coffee and cakes.

By the time we returned to the Centre of Porto for a late lunch, the rain had started, and it was cold.
Finishing lunch we took the long uphill walk to the Cathedral . Most Catholic Churches are impressive, and Porto’s Cathedral did not disappoint. They are working buildings, and a service was in full swing . Having a tiring day we rested for a few hours, and had dinner in the Hotel.

With the sincere intention of wanting to visit local restaurants, we found both our dinner on the first night, and lunch following day were not good, so we took refuge in our base camp. This proved to be correct decision. Dinner both Saturday and following Sunday night were excellent.

Day 3. Back on the bus, and found ourselves going round in circles, seeing the same places at least three times.
We finally arrived at the boat embarkation point, on the banks of the river Dourro.

It was Sunday, and with plentiful riverside restaurants, and a street market the place was buzzing with locals and tourists. There are high cliffs either side of the River, and 6 bridges, all of which are spectacular, spanning the river from a great height.

Porto has seen better days. Many of the old buildings on the river front are empty showing signs of decay and neglect.

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After the boat trip, the Calem port cellar visit. The guide had a lot to say for himself. He probably lost his audience with too much repeated information. Or maybe it was a cunning ploy to make us all desperate for a drink. That worked, as we all sat down for our ration of two glasses, one white one red.

Final day, which was the best weather wise, and we decided to stroll around the City, at our leisure. There is a smart looking place called “The Majestic Café” in the main shopping area. During all hours there was a queue outside. We never got to enter. Not only the queue, but the prices on the Menu board were enough to deter a visit. It looked ornate, and full of mirrors, reminding me of the cafes in Paris which emanate from the days of Can-Can late 19 th Century. Every table was occupied throughout the day, despite charging 20 euros for scrambled eggs. As it is so popular, and prices contrast sharply, with the many other places to eat and drink, one wonders why there are no other similar outlets around.

Elsewhere, I found the most likeable aspect of Porto was the cafes that specialised in cakes and pastries, at most reasonable prices. A leisurely lunch and final walk around the Main Square, before the journey home.

The reader will form the correct impression that food and drink, are high on the authors list of priorities.

Porto does have its charm, and the people are mild mannered helpful and friendly. As a tourist attraction, it suffers in comparison with other great European cities. Maybe I would have thought different with better weather.