There is a famous ‘Chinese proverb’ – ‘Ye who carries the custard tarts back from Porto, gets to eat them’. This first remark is addressed to Howard!
Woke up to blue skies and sunshine – hoorah! After breakfast, we set off on the bus to Porto, Portugal’s second city. The ride in itself was quite interesting. At the stop after ours, a family of four alighted – mother, father, two little boys carrying eight enormous bags – two gigantic suitcases holdalls, and laundry bags crammed with clothes. It was as if they had all their possessions in tow. We wondered if perhaps they were moving house. The bus wound it’s way initially along the Atlantic Coast, past little resorts of white holiday homes with bright orange terracotta tiles. The beaches were sandy with massive waves, no doubt good for surfing, but the whole area seemed to lack character, unlike the rugged charm of the Galician coast we had seen the day before. We passed a huge refinery with gas storage tanks, and then passed the docks with thousands upon thousands of stacked containers. At this point, our family of four alighted. So we were left completely bemused as to where they were going with all that luggage.
The bus dropped us off by an attractive park at the top of Porto, with strange trees with bulbous trunks, and a profusion of modern statues. We walked downhill to the attractive Ribiera area of the city, sitting on the banks of the Douro River. All was good with the world as we sat and had our morning coffee in the sunshine, watching the crowds of people wander along the Cais de Ribiera, the waterfront promenade. As it was a Sunday, many families were out enjoying a bright, but chilly amble along the banks of the river. Howard sampled one of the local delicacies, a sort of cod rissole.
Refreshed, we continued to wander along the promenade, taking in the stunningly beautiful old buildings, many covered in brightly coloured tiles or Azulejos. It is clearly ‘the thing’ in Porto to festoon your property in these gorgeous ceramic tiles, and we noted that even many of the modern buildings had their walls adorned with them. Many of the Artisan shops appear to be selling tiles also, along with many textiles covered in fish and cockerels.
Further along, we crossed the famous metal Pont de Dom Luis 1 bridge, built by a student of Gustave Eiffel, which spans the Douro, and leads you into Vila Nova de Gaia, the riverside area renowned for it’s port cellars. All along the riverbanks are huge warehouses with names such as Graham’s, Taylor’s, Croft’s and Calem. Attractive gondola type craft are moored on the banks, most loaded with large port barrels, presumably as a form of advertising for their cellars. Boatmen tout trips along the river, with port-tasting, but at this point, something more interesting had caught my eye. Porto and Lisbon are famed for their Pastel de Nata, a type of cinammon flavoured custard tart – and here was a stall selling hundreds of them! We bought two, a plain custard one, and an almond one – both absolutely delicious. I pleaded for more, but Howard insisted we walk further before I could be rewarded with more sugar! Needless to say, on the way back we bought four to take back to the campsite, two for our dessert, and two to keep in the fridge for ‘emergencies’!
We then followed the walking tour from our guide book up through the city, taking in the cathedral, the famous statue of Henry the Navigator (who sponsored Portuguese exploration) and the most amazing railway station, the walls of which are covered in the most beautiful tile collages. It was really strange to watch passengers disembarking from their trains, stop in awe at the works of art before their eyes, and then take a quick photo on their phones before carrying on with their journey. Our final stop of the day was to climb the Torre dos Clerigos, a 225 step tower that has unrivalled views over the tiled rooftops of the city. Howard was keen to invest in some port, but the booze shops all seemed to be closed, so we will save that for another day.
Now back at the campsite. Had tasty frittata with ratatouille for tea. Howard is washing up while I type the blog. Pudding will be one of our delicious Pastel de Nata – hurry up Howard!