After a lazy lunch we headed back out onto the sunny, cobbled streets of the historic centre of Porto. We had not made any real plans for the afternoon and strolled through the town turning into random streets that took our fancy. We strolled along busy streets with Saturday shoppers, shops with signs that looked like they were stuck in the 1950’s or 60’s. Jerome was curious about many of the small shops selling anything from books, sweets, treats and local produce.
We stumbled onto another small church, the Capella das Almas, which was covered in striking azulejos tiles. The magnificent details of the mural were even more detailed than the two churches we had seen that morning.
Not far from there we entered the Sa Bento train station, which was also famous for its tiles in the ticket hall and has been known as one of the world’s most beautiful train stations. Jerome went out onto the platforms, curious to see what Portugese trains look like. We watched a few arrive and depart.
We then hiked opposite hill to the Church of Clerics. When we got there we saw a wedding moving inside the opulent church. We did not want to disturb the wedding ceremony and therefore headed straight for the tower of the church instead of going inside.
One of the highlights of many trips for us is to see a place or town from higher up. It gives a better feel of the size and layout of a place, and it is always interesting to look down on buildings and streets from a different angle and perspective. Despite Chris sometimes having a problem with heights we bought tickets and started ascending the 72 metre high “Clerigos” tower. First we got a glimpse of the wedding from the balcony, the bride and groom were well immersed in the ceremony oblivious to tourists looking in on them. There were also some rooms exhibiting items of historical value from the church, including priests robes and regalia. Jerome pushed us on to climb further straight away, the rest of the 225 steps.
We were quite out of breath when we reached the top. We had the room almost to ourselves and therefore could gaze at the view without being rushed. This made great spot for birds eye view photos of the terracotta coloured roofs, the colourfully painted houses, some of them completely covered in tiles, and we got a prime view over to the famous Luis Dom I bridge. The Duoro river sparkled in the afternoon sun and we could see many people walking across the bridge.
The Dom Luis I bridge was next on our list of places to see. The bridge was built by one of Gustave Eiffel’s students and is like the Eiffel tower on its side, constructed entirely of steel. It had replaced an old bridge made of old port boats. The old pontoon bridge had been dangerous to cross as the river at the time had not been dammed and therefore was more like a raging ravine than the calm flowing river it is today. The new bridge’s arch held the world record for the longest iron arch until it was overtaken 10 years later. The bridge can be accessed on two levels – the top one is reserved for pedestrians and one metro line these days – while the bottom road is busy with cars and pedestrians alike.
We were on the top level, walking along the west side, looking down onto steep steps that I remembered climbing during our last stay. Some of the houses there were now complete ruins, while others appeared to have been renovated. Locals were busy hanging their washing out and someone was repairing part of the stairs amongst the overgrown plants. We walked on towards the middle of the bridge, and every time a tram passed we could feel the bridge sway under the weight. From the centre of the bridge we had a great view of Porto and the river in both directions. We could see some rowers flowing downstream, some port boats anchored on both riversides and the promenade heaving with people enjoying their strolls along the riverfront.
We were headed for the gondola, Teleferico de Gaia, that we had spotted going up and down on the Vila Nova de Gaia side of the river. Chris and I definitely could not remember the gondola from last time and instead of walking down the winding street to the riverfront we bought tickets for the short ride on the cableway. Despite the bridge being full of tourists no one else seemed to want to spare the few Euros for the ride. We got a gondola immediately and descended gently down to the cobbled streets of the famous Port district warehouses. We could see the roofs and buildings of many famous Port cellars, including Sandeman and Calem.
A trip to one of the wine cellars should be mandatory for all adult visitors to Porto but unfortunately this is not possible with a child in tow as these tours usually include wine tasting. Chris and I had experienced a tour of Sandeman during our last stay and therefore we were not too sad to miss this experience this time. Instead we sat down on the riverfront and enjoyed a calm moment of watching the people and boats float down the Duoro. Jerome liked the look of the wooden port boats filled with traditional wine barrels, but we were too late for a ride.
We watched the sun set behind the hills and then made our way back to the hotel. First we crossed back to the other side of the river on the famous arched bridge, this time on the lower level. We went down along the pedestrian promenade as far as we could head down river and then walked along the main road to the hotel rather than hop on a tram. That evening we had booked a table at the restaurant O Paparico where we enjoyed a set menu for dinner, in this authentic rustic restaurant. Jerome was not taken by the food at all, as it was a fixed menu with no choice, but we enjoyed it all the more.
It rained when we got up on Sunday morning and having promised Jerome a ride on the tram to the coast we wavered but then decided to go anyway. The tram was already packed when it stopped at our station and we had to stand the whole way, while it made its way through the suburbs of Porto towards the end stop at Foz do Duoro. The tram reminded us a lot of the one running between Soller and Port Soller on Mallorca, except they were probably in a less good state. Foz do Duoro is a sleepy little beach town, on a sunny day locals and tourists flock there to enjoy the beaches. That day there was barely anyone around, unlike us braving the steady misty rain.
The grey clouds and the Duoro river seemed to merge into one. We strolled through the park, where we stumbled up on a crazy golf course. Naturally no one else was mad enough to play a round of golf in this weather… but Jerome had always been a fan and talked us into playing despite the drizzle. The golf course was covered by large, mature trees, which provided us with some protection from the rain. We played all 18 holes and had surprisingly a lot of fun, despite the bad weather! I won in the end, the ink on the score pads was almost illegible at the end due to the damp. The rain had taken its toll on us and we were rather wet at the end.
We walked further into the local centre, passed the lighthouse and some seagulls who did not seem happy about the rain either. The beach was pounding with waves and apart from a few brave fishermen there was no one around. We got to Restaurant Oporto, where we were lucky to get a table, a hot soup and warm up. We played a few rounds of cards that we brought, as we knew we could not spend all day outside in the rain. Then it was time for us to get back onto the tram, this time we got seats and rode back to the hotel, where we rapidly picked up our luggage before heading back to the airport.
We had a great weekend in Porto and we want to return as there were so many sights like the Palacio Bolsa and places that we did not see during our brief stay in town. The short flight and time zone makes it an easy short break destination from London and also most of Europe.