Porto Introduction – February 2020

This February we decided to spend the month of February in Porto, Portugal.

Many of you know that I like to learn the history of the places we visit. Last year we spent the month of February in Lisbon and in that blog I wrote about the history of Portugal. So, this time, I will focus on the history of Porto and the Douro area of Portugal where we will be spending our time.

The following is mainly taken from “Wikipedia”.

“History books refer to a settlement in the Porto area dating back to 4th century and Roman times. The Roman period established Porto as a strong trading partner with Lisbon and Braga. This trade came to a halt when the Muslim Moors invaded the Iberian Peninsula in the 700’s. In the late 800’s, the Moors were expelled by a Christian warlord who took over the land from the Minho river to the Douro river. The Minho river is north of Porto in Spain and the Douro river runs east into Spain. The county of Portugal was formed at that time. In 1093 the county was transferred to the rule of Spain through a royal marriage.

Wines from the Douro region were being transported down to Porto for local consumption and for trade with England in the 1700’s. When England was at war with France, this became very important, as the English access to French wines was blocked. This is when port became very popular in England.

In the 14th and 15th centuries, the shipyards of Porto spurred on the development of the Portuguese fleet. In 1415, Henry the Navigator, sailed from Porto to invade the Muslim ports in Morocco. After this assault, further expeditions were made down the coast of Africa.” I wrote about Henry the Navigator in my Lisbon blog last year.

As an aside, the people from Porto are often referred to as “tripeiros”. This comes from the fact that better cuts of meat were given to the sailing ships for their crew on the long exploratory voyages and the “offcuts” such as tripe were left behind for the locals….thus the name “tripeiros”. Not sure if they are still referred to this today; almost sounds derogatory.

” During the 18th and 19th centuries the city became an important industrial centre and saw its size and population increase. In 1820 the Liberal revolution started in Porto. The people demanded the return of a constitutional monarchy. Miguel of Portugal took the throne in 1828 but ruled as an absolute monarch and a civil war took place. After the abdication of the King, a liberal constitution was re-established. In 1920, the Portuguese republic was formed.”

As of 2019 the city of Porto has a population of 237,559 and metropolitan area has 2.4 million people; making it the second-largest urban area in Portugal. ” Porto is also known as Oporto as a result of linguistic mis-interpretation, as apparently when the Portuguese referred to the city of Porto, they would precede it with an article “O” meaning “the”, and foreign traders therefore assumed the actual name of the city was Oporto.” Still referred to as both names. “

The historic centre of Porto is a Unesco World Heritage Site…..another one for my list. Porto is mainly known for two things – its location along the Douro River (which has become very popular for cruises) and port. The town of Vila Nova de Gaia, which is across the river from Porto, is where vast quantities of port wine are blended and stored in the port houses.

From the “Britannia Encyclopedia”

“Porto has mild humid winters and generally fertile soils which have helped with agriculture including winter and summer cereals, vegetables, and tree crops (cork, oak and olive). Timber and its associated industries and the production of vinho verde (an effervescent wine) are also important.

A sizable proportion of the population is engaged in manufacturing, and fisheries and tourism is also important. 

We arrived in Porto on January 31st and our plane had to circle for about 1/2 hour due to rain and misty/foggy conditions. We stayed in a hotel the first night as we took possession of our apartment on February 1st. Jet lag has to be the worse and one has to keep going and get on a local schedule.

Once checked in to our hotel, we ventured out and our first task was to go to Vodafone kiosk to get a Portuguese SIM card for our cell phone. This makes the most sense when in a different country for a period of time. Still mist in the air and the atmosphere is interesting…grey and overcast. This makes for great “moody” pictures. Our hotel and apartment are both located in the historic centre of Porto. We continue to wander along the streets and find our way around some of the famous landmarks…..the University, Carmo church, Livraria Lello (famous book store) and the Clerigos Tower. We will visit all these places at a later date during our stay.

It is late afternoon and we are feeling very tired and decide to find a wine shop and somewhere to stop for a glass of wine as well, before we head back to our hotel. As we are walking down one of the streets, Robin spots some wine bottles in a shop window….oh….its a religious store…..sacramental wine. My comment is, that if we can’t find a wine shop, we can always come back here!!!!

Next door, is an actual wine shop. A great selection of local wines. A conundrum….is there a wine opener at the hotel? All the wines here have corks. I ask the young gentleman if he can open the wine for us, thinking this may be a very odd request. He doesn’t bat an eye. He takes out a corkscrew, opens the wine, puts the cork back in just enough so that we can open it, puts it in a bag and wishes us a good day.

A few more steps and we come across a lovely little shop which serves snacks and wine. We decide on one glass of wine before we get back to the hotel. We sit down and next to us is a couple from Germany enjoying a weekend away in Porto. We are always so envious of people living in Europe who can just fly for a couple of hours and be in a different country; they have so many options. We find out that he is Greek and she is Slovenian, but now live in Germany. They both spoke three languages and they told us that their daughter spoke six languages and that she had a gift in learning new languages. We feel so inadequate when it comes to languages. Although I speak French and Robin speaks a bit of Spanish; we have a long way to go when it comes to other languages. We enjoy chatting with them for about one hour and decide its time to make it back to our hotel before we fall asleep.

View from our hotel

We simply can’t even fathom going out for dinner. We have the hotel order us a pizza and we are in bed by 7:30 pm local time……think we have been up for about 30 hours or so. I wake up about 1:00 am, read for a while but able to go back to sleep.

Our landlord meets us at the hotel at noon on Saturday and takes our suitcases and we walk about 2 blocks to the apartment. I had chosen the hotel as it was close to the apartment. My brother would say “I’m smarter than I look”. Never can figure it if this is a complement…..I think not! Oh my, love the apartment. Nice and open with lovely large windows looking into an inner courtyard, so not too noisy. We are just a block from the Sao Bento train station. Fred (our landlord) explains everything we need to know about the apartment and even advised us where to go to buy groceries; nothing near by as we are in the historic area. The apartment still needs to be cleaned, so we leave our suitcases and head off for a couple of hours. It starts raining, so we decide to take the hop on/hop off bus to pass the time and to get a quick overview of the City of Porto. Although not necessarily our favourite way to visit a City, we are here for a month, and the tour gives us a general idea of where things are located. A great way to get ones’ bearings.

After our tour, we stop for a lunch at a little local restaurant. We enjoy a glass of local port with our lunch. The prices on the menu were 1 Euro more for each dish if you ate out on the terrace; we ate inside due to the weather.

We find our way back to the apartment and Fred has left us a bottle of red wine, a bottle of white wine and a bottle of port…..oh my gosh! We get unpacked and decide we need to get to the grocery store before it closes, as it is late Saturday afternoon by this time. Remember we are in Europe, shops close earlier and sometimes even mid day. Also, most shops close on Sundays. We get our grocery bags, call an Uber and make it to Pingo Doce. This is a local Portuguese grocery store and we used them when we spent the month in Lisbon last year. We find everything we need, including some prepared meals. You are probably wondering why I had to name the grocery store…I just like the way it sounds….Pingo Doce! I know that ” doce” means “sweet” and I looked up “pingo” which means “drop”. Nice name for a store…Sweet Drop. There you go!

On Sunday, February 2nd, I had arranged for a three hour private walking tour of the City. We meet our guide Diana at the University campus of science and engineering at the Praca Gomes Texeira. There are many other campuses around the City, but this is the main campus. The name of the square, Praca Gomes Texeira is in honour of one of the famous professors at the University. She tells us that locals refer to this square as the “Lion Square” because of the fountain which has statues of lions on the top. She says if you ask a local where Praca Gomes Texeira is, it might take them a while to make the connection. Locals normally refer to a square based on some type of sculpture or piece of art and not by its given name. She tells us that this area is the main meeting square of the historic district.

Praca Gomes Texeira (taken on our first day when it was raining)

Fonte dos Leos circa 1886

When the locals celebrate St. John’s day ( Festa de São João do Porto) on June 23rd, the Lion Square is where the action takes place. An interesting tradition among the people of Porto during the festival, is to hit each other with soft plastic hammers. This is the most important festival of the year in Porto and dates back to the 14th century when it was a pagan ritual. I forgot to ask Diana about the plastic hammers, so needless to say, I looked this up. One of the local web sites tells me that in the early 20th century, a gentleman who owned a plastic factory, came up with the idea of introducing plastic hammers to be used as a “fun” implement when University students graduated. It eventually found its way into the St. John’s festival……I think this is called “marketing”…..right Christine! (Our daughter works in marketing!).

Diana has a bachelor’s degree in tourism and is now working on her Masters degree in sustainable tourism. She speaks six languages fluently…..yes….six! She tells us that at times she comes home and starts speaking a different language to her husband as she has been conversing in another language all day.

First a little history of Portugal, Porto and area. She tells us that Porto is the 3rd oldest city in Portugal. After the “Carnation Revolution” of 1975, when the previous military dictator Salazar was overthrown, Porto underwent cultural, social and economic changes. The city made more of an effort to preserve its monuments and historic buildings. The historic centre of Porto became a “Unesco World Heritage Site” in 1996.

Diana tells us that Porto has two symbols. One being the “Azulejos” tiles. The decorative tile work dates back to the 15th and 16th centuries. I did read however that the Moors brought this craft here in the 8th century. Whatever…..it’s an old craft! In the 19th century, locals started using the tiles on the facades of their homes here in Porto. At this time, only one small factory survives. To protect this art, there is a law in this area which prevents people from removing tile work from the facades of their homes.

The second symbol of Porto is the “Calcada Portuguesa” (Portuguese pavement). Portuguese pavement is a traditional-style pavement used for many pedestrian areas in Portugal. It consists of small flat pieces of stones arranged in a pattern or image. We were familiar with this as we saw some beautiful patterns in Lisbon last year. Here are a few we came across today.

Across the “Lion Square” we stop to view the Carmo (on the right below) and Carmelitas churches. These are two separate churches but connected.

The Carmo church belong to the Third Order of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Brothers (that’s a mouthful) and was built from 1756-1768. The front of the church is in a Baroque and Rococo styles. Beautiful tiles on the side of the church. We did not enter this church but may visit at a later date.

The Carmelites church (left on picture above) belongs to the Convent of the Carmelitas Descalcos built between 1619 to 1650. A much simpler church from the outside, but lovely interior.

Convent Church of the Carmelites

We then walk through the Jardim da Cordoaria. There are come wonderful works of art on the far side of the garden which I want to see, but we are headed in a different direction. Diana tells us that outdoor works of art abound in Porto. This is why it is known as the “culture” capital of Portugal. Huge plane trees throughout the garden and two of the three tram lines start/stop next to the park. I must come back to take pictures of the sculptures.

She tells us that the several of the streets near the University are full of bars and restaurants and this is where a lot of the locals come for drinks and petiscos (small bites). They usually come here most weekdays except on Wednesdays when they frequent bars along the Douro river. She didn’t really know why…just because! She recommends that on a sunny day we try a “Porto Tonic”. Just like it sounds, a cocktail made with white port and tonic water. Add a slice of lemon of a garnish of mint and there you have it. Hope to try one before we leave, we always love trying local food and drinks.

Diana points out a building which is today the Photography Museum. She asks Robin what he thinks the buildings was previously used for. He answers “a jail”….yes….he is right; but no prize this time!. She goes on to tell us that the famous 19th century Portuguese book called ” Amor de Perdição was written here. The story is based on a true episode of the author’s life. The author tells the love story of a young couple, Simão and Teresa. Although they belong to enemy families, the lovers find themselves drowning in a passion that knows only the limits of tragedy and fate. They are sent to prison where she is housed in a cell for the poor and she eventually dies there and he stays in a cell for the upper class and gets out of prison in a couple of years. Apparently this book is mandatory reading in school. The book is part of the “Lucky 13” list of books by the Livraria Lello. I will refer to this later.

A bit further on our walk, Diana points out the Torre dos Clerigos. The tower was built in 1763 by the Italian architect Nicolau Nasoni. He is the individual who brought the Baroque style of architecture to Portugal. The tower is 75 meters above the city streets and when it was built it was the tallest structure in Portugal. It is said that this is the best place to get sweeping views of the city. Unfortunately you have to walk up 200+ stairs to get to the top viewing point. With Robin’s sore knees, I don’t think we will be doing the climb.

Torre dos Clerigos

In ancient times, women who were waiting for their husband’s to come back from fishing in Norway, would climb the stairs to look for their return. Their husband’s fished for cod and would salt it to preserve it for the long way home. Diana tells us that “salting cod” goes back to the days of the Vikings. In every grocery store and market in Portugal one sees “salted cod”.

Our next stop is to see the “Livraria Lello”. People are waiting in line to get into the shop. One needs a ticket at a cost of 5 Euro. If you buy a book, the 5 Euro is put against the price. We will come back to visit on a weekday afternoon when not too busy. The bookstore was established in 1906 by the Lello brothers with a Neo-Gothic exterior and an Art Nouveau interior. It is said that J.K. Rowling (author of the Harry Potter series) spent lots of time here when she lived in Porto and even worked at the bookstore for a few months. Apparently her inspiration for many things”Harry Potter” came from the bookstore and surrounding area. As an example, Diana tells us that students of the University wear capes with crests of what faculty they attend….sounds like “Hogwarts” different houses and the crests they used.

Livraria Lello

I will write more about the store once we have visited later during our time here in Porto.

We visit the Fernandes and Mattos store which is housed in the old post office. It has a Neo-Gothic exterior and an interesting interior as they have kept the old post office wickets. The store, Fernandes and Mattos, has been in existence since 1886 and sells all sorts of different items….trendy socks, large model cars, purses, t-shirts, etc. All very different and not a tourist shop. The kind of shop you would buy something for yourself as a gift. So interesting to browse but I did not buy anything….this time!

Several jewellery stores in the area and one sees beautiful filagree work (rings, necklaces, etc.) This area of Portugal is known for its filagree work.

Diana also points out that the architects of buildings place their names somewhere on the exterior, interesting!

Our next stop is a “sweet” stop. We go to the famous Manteigaria – Fabrica de Pasteis de Nata, This shop is known as the best maker of Pasteis de Nata here in Porto. The shop is very small and you can see them making the tarts. You order the tarts at the counter along with a drink. They offer tea, coffee, Ginjinha liqueur (tasted this in Lisbon last year) and of course Port. Too early for liquor this early in the morning. The tarts here are a little different than those of Lisbon. Here they add lemon juice, cinnamon and more butter in the pastry. Very, very good!

Manteigaria – Fabrica de Pasteis de Nata

We continue our walk and enter the Mundo Fantastico da Sardinha Portuguesa shop. We had seen a few of these type of canned fish shops last year in Lisbon. The interiors are always quite decorative; but the items I like the best of the various decorative sardine tins that are for purchase. Now they also sell other types of tinned fish.

I quickly spotted some tins that depicted the Festival of St. John which depicts dancing and plastic hammers….love it!

We make our way to Praca da Liberdade and looking up Avenida dos Aliados one looks onto the Camara Municipal do Porto (City Hall). Diana tells us that as a young girl she would meet her cousins here and they would play on the grassy areas along the boulevard. Unfortunately years ago the green spaces were ripped up for the metro construction. She tells us that there is a move towards refurbishing this area back to “what it was”.

Looking towards the Camara Municipa do Porto (taken our first day in Porto)

Along Avenida Dos Aliados one sees many beautiful Neo-Classical buildings. Diana tells us that these were once the residences of the very wealthy. A lot of them left when Salazar took power. This was not a good period in Portugal’s history. Salazar closed the borders and many people starved. (Refer my Portugal blog from last year if you want to read more about Salazar) Some of the buildings are still empty but most are now owned by large multinational companies.

The statue in the middle of the square is that of Dom Pedro 1V, who is a hero of the Liberal wars (royal succession wars). The statue dates back to 1866. At the base is a replica of a heart. This is said to represent Dom Pedro giving his heart to the people of Porto for their loyalty. Diana tells us that his heart is said to lie in the Lapa Church in Porto. Every four years it is brought out of safekeeping and on display for the people to see. Not sure I would run right out and see that!

At the end of this avenue we come across the O Ardina statue depicting an old newspaper seller which were commonly seen in this area.

Diana tells us that we are about to see a building with beautiful art deco designs. We turn around and we are looking at a McDonald’s burgers.

She tells us that before McDonald’s took over the building it has been abandoned for many years. Not sure the last time that Robin and I would have crossed the threshold of a McDonald’s, but I can assure you it was not to eat, just took pictures.

We talk a little about the port industry. Diana touched on the fact that the port is one of the oldest “controlled” wines in the world. We will visit some of the port houses while we are here.

We see many churches during our walk and Diana says that there are 76 churches in Porto. Some like Church of Congregados, pictured below, only open on very special occasions.

Church of Congregados – dates back to 1703

We then cross the street and enter the Sao Bento train station. We had come here on our first day in Porto as I had read about the beautiful tile work and it is located very near to the hotel we stayed at. It is only about two blocks from our apartment. Looking out our windows, we can see the clock towers. The train station was completed in 1916, although the first train arrived in 1896. It is named Sao Bento as it was built on the land where once stood the Monastery of Sao Bento de Ave Maria. It was demolished to make way for the train station. The completion of the railway system in the valley allowed for easier transportation of the port from the Douro valley.

Sao Bento Railway Station

The interior of the railway station is decorated with some 20,000 azulejos tiles by the painter Jorge Colaco. These show various scenes from Portuguese history, the history of transport and every day life such as harvesting, the transportation of wine and holy events. This place is simply stunning considering it is a train station.

During our time with Diana, she tells us about local dishes that we must try while we are in Porto. The most famous, which I had read about, it called a Francesinha “little French thing”. This is a sandwich which is made with a big piece of steak, sausage and ham between toasted bread. It is covered with melted cheese and a peppery tomato and beer sauce. It was invented by a Portuguese cafe owner who had lived in France. He got this inspiration from the Croque Monsieur. We told Diana that we have seen this advertised in most restaurants but that we simply can’t fathom eating this. She insists that we must try, but warns us to share one and only eat it at mid day as you will need to walk a lot to get rid of the calories. She said she made her first Francesinha at home for herself and her husband. She even shows us a picture of her masterpiece. Her husband told her it was the best Francesinha that he had ever tasted. Did I say they have only been married for one year!

The other dish she tells us to try is “Tripas a moda Porto”. This is one of the most typical dishes of Porto which dates back to the 15th century. Earlier in this blog entry, I referred to the people of Porto being called Tripeiros (tripe eaters). Well yes, this stew has tripe, various types of meat, sausage and white beans. There is even a fraternity “Confraria das Tripas a Moda do Porto” and they meet once a year to celebrate this dish. It is classified as on the seven wonders of Portuguese gastronomy. We might actually give this one a try. Diana gave us recommendations on where to find the best Francesinha and the best Tripas a Moda Porto.

The other famous dishes are of course grilled sardines. Diana tells us that the best sardines are seasonal and to wait till June. The other is Bacalhau (cod fish). We ate a lot of cod fish in Lisbon last year and always so good. The Bacalhau specialty here in Porto is called “Bacalhau a Gomes de Sa. The codfish is cooked in the oven with olive oil, garlic, onion and is served with olives, parsley and hard boiled eggs. This is definitely on the list to try.

We cross the road and look onto the Se (Cathedral). It really looks like more of a fortress that a church. We had seen it on our first day in Porto. One guidebook referred to the Se as “a great hulk of a building” and I can certainly understand why. It sits on the eastern high point of the city above the Douro river. Construction started in the 12th century not long after the Moors left and just a few years after Portugal had become an independent country. It has been expanded over the years incorporating Gothic, Romanesque and Portuguese styles. On a walking tour you often just see the exteriors of buildings; but this is fine as we will come back to visit the interior later.

Nice views of the city of Porto from the Se.

View from the Se looking back to Torre dos Clerigos and Carmo Church

We continue our walk through one of the Santa Ana area of Porto one of the poorer areas. Diana tells us that the City of Porto has a program to help people in need to refurbish their houses in this area. That way, they don’t have to move and can stay in the city centre. We wind our way down towards the Douro river through these narrow streets. We see the “seashell” symbol of the route of the Camino de Santiago which passes through Porto.

I love coming across interesting signs… I especially like the one that refer to “wine”!

We finally make our way down to the Douro river along the Cais da Ribeira (meaning riverside). This area is full of restaurants and is probably the most people we have seen. It is of course Sunday, so lots of tourists abound and one of the most popular tourist spots is along the river. Many boat tours along the river and the port houses are just across the river in Vila Nova de Gaia. The Praca de Ribeira is also known as the “cube square” as one of the fountains has a modern cube sculpture. Once again Diana reminds us that locals do not refer to squares by their proper names….they call them by a landmark such a Lion square or Cube square.

Diana points out the Ponte de Dom Luis 1 bridge which stands just beside us. This is Porto’s iconic bridge which was designed by a colleague of Gustav Eiffel. Many pictures are taken of the bridge and from the bridge as it give great views of both Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia. One can walk across the lower level of the bridge over to the port houses. Traffic also runs along this lower level. The metro travels across the top level.

I love the picture below….the tourists eating and drinking in the restaurants along the Douro and people’s laundry hanging from the windows just above! Great juxtaposition!

It is the end of our tour with Diana and we have learnt so much about the history and the sites of Porto. Lots more for us to see in the month ahead. So nice to get such a good overview from a knowledgeable local.

Robin and I decide to stop for lunch. Diana warned us that the restaurants along the river have high prices…..pay for the view! We walked back up one of the alleys and shared cod fish cakes and a salad for lunch accompanied of course by a glass of wine and a cold beer for Robin. The temperature reached 18 C today and we were blessed with beautiful blue skies. When we first arrived, we had met two women staying at our hotel who had spent the last week in Porto and they told us it had rained every day. Looking forward we have a pretty good forecast coming up.

On Tuesday we walk over to that Sao Bento train station to buy our metro cards for the month that we are here. Once this is accomplished we decide to visit Fundacao Serralves, the “Museu de Arte Contemporanea”….Contemporary art museum. To get there we must take the 2 separate metro lines, then transfer to a bus. The instructions tell us to catch the bus on the corner of the roundabout once we get out of the metro station. The stop is just as we get out of the metro and we have to wait about 10 minutes. As we get on the bus, I realize that we are going in the wrong direction. Robin asks the bus driver and the good news is that we caught the right bus number…..but in the wrong direction! We get off and cross the road and get back on the right path. I think this happens to us at least once if not more during our travels…..all part of the adventure.

I will say that in our modern world it is certainly nice to be able to buy tickets on line and simply show the electronic version once you arrive. Fewer line ups and quicker to get in to your attraction. We did this to enter the Serralves Museum and for tomorrow at the book store.

In 1986 the State acquired the Serralves estate with the aim of creating this contemporary art museum and park. It is run by a foundation made up of the state and several large corporations and private donors. The estate is made up of 8.6 acres of land and several buildings. The main museum building was built by a Porto architect, Alvaro Vieira and is in the minimalist style. White facades and rounded edges with protruding balconies; very impressive. Oops, forgot to take a picture of the outside of the building.

There are no permanent art exhibits here, rather the exhibitions are changed on a regular basis. I think that Robin and I are pretty open minded when it comes to art, but I have to tell you that this really wasn’t to our taste…..but hey that’s art. Like music different types of art appeal to different audiences. Below is a montage of some of the art from the main exhibition.

By the way, three floors of this artist’s work! Oh well, one has to keep an open mind.

One of the guide books I was reading said “If the exhibitions aren’t to your taste, you miss nothing by just visiting the expansive, surrounding park”. I think that pretty much sums it up for us!

We make our way onto the grounds. Beautiful sculptures in the gardens. Winding gravel paths and beautiful rose bushes and camellia trees that are still somewhat in bloom.

The original Serralves Villa was refurbished and is also used for art installations.

We then venture into one of the outer buildings which features films as works of art. The guard lets us into a dark theatre; a little disconcerting at first to get your way around. There are several rooms featuring different short films. We watch a few of them but the funniest one had to be about two men and a priest who are trying to exorcise the evils spirits from a bottle of Coca Louca. Hilarious!

A recent addition to the Serralves estate is a “tree walk”; a boardwalk that is above the trees, looks down onto a small lake and their farm in the distance. Very serene and quiet.

Back home by bus and metro……and took the right one….and yes, going in the right direction!

Late afternoon and we decided to enjoy a glass of wine at a small nearby cafe before heading to our apartment for the evening. Listened to a musician playing the guitar, people watched and thankful that we can enjoy life. By the way, 2 glasses of wine cost us 5 Euro. More expensive in other places, but this was a nearby cafe in a small alleyway. We will be back!

Another day arrives and no need to be in a hurry as we have a full month here. We brought along our exercise bands, so our daily routine includes exercising a little each morning before we head out to explore more of Porto.

I had bought tickets on line to visit the Livraria Lello this morning. One of the must see locations when one is in Porto. We had walked by the bookstore on our tour with Diana. It is recognized as one of the world’s most beautiful bookstores. Oh my, what a delight when one first walks in.

The Lello brothers had a publishing house dating back to 1881 and in 1894 they bought the assets of the Livraria Chardon bookshop and on January 13th, 1906 the new Neo-Gothic style Livraria Lello building opened. The opening of the bookstore had a major impact on the city’s cultural scene. For over a century they have showcased Portuguese literature in Portugal as well as in the world at large. I love one of the dedications in their visitor’s book on the opening day back in 1906. “In a country of so many illiterate people, building such a beautiful temple to the divine worship of Emotion and Idea is a great act of merit”.

On the facade of the building there are two painted figures representing Art and Science. As you walk in you see the magnificent wooden spiral staircase. An ornamental ceiling, carved wood everywhere you look and a beautiful stained glass skylight. Carved pillars with busts of great writers. Along the carved bookshelves you can see small plaster bust of writers. They carry books in all languages.

On their 114th anniversary this year, the bookstore displayed 13 rare first editions.

– Pride and Prejudice, Le Petit Prince, The Adventures of Oliver Twist, Madame Bovary, Amor de Perdicao, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Le Avventure di Pinocchio, Os Maias, The Picture of Dorian Gray, The Jungle Book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Mensagem and Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens.

They are selling these books (of course not the originals) and I could not resist and bought the english version of Amor de Perdicao after hearing our guide Diana tell us the story. Robin, an avid reader, bought two books. He also wanted to buy a third, which was a tome (very large book) and I reminded him we only had carry on luggage and it certainly would not fit and would be very heavy!

Robin in his “happy place”

My purchase. Can hardly wait to read it!

The famous staircase in Livraria Lello

After our visit to the bookstore, we stop for a coffee/tea in the Parada de Leitao and sit outside at the Cafe D’Ouro. We chose this coffee shop as they had glass barriers to stop the wind, a little cool this morning, but later it is going to be 18C. Well, I realize that this coffee shop was one that I wanted to visit based on some reading I had done. It was the first coffee shop in Porto to acquire the famous Italian coffee machine La Cimbali. The coffee shop is also know as “Piolho” which means “lice”. Although the origin of the name is not really known, it is said that it might relate to the large number of students crowded in a space that they say is never big enough. Lucky for us, no students here today! The coffee shop is right across the Parada from the University Campus.

We see that a tram stop is on the Parada. Two of the three trams have a stop here. We decide to catch the tram to the Batalha area. We walk to the Se (Cathedral) and decide to visit. As mentioned earlier, I felt that the exterior of the church looks more like a fortress than a church. The building of the church dates back to the 12th and 13th centuries and is Romanesque in style. Later additions were built in a Baroque style. A beautiful interior with flying buttresses and a beautiful rose window.

All of the cloister walls are filled with azulejo tiles, simply beautiful.

We wind our way down some small alleyways and are looking for a cafe/restaurant for lunch. We try to find out of the way places that are reasonable priced. We come across a very tiny and cute restaurant, Portuguesa de Gema. We shared a chorizo sausage and Bachalau a Bras (cod fish, onions, potatoes and scrambled eggs). We had a lot of this cod dish in Lisbon last year and loved it. This restaurant did not let us down, very tasty. Loved the atmosphere as well.

We must be getting into the Porto way of life. We have usually eaten lunch about 2 in the afternoon, so needless to say, eating a late supper as well. Mainly cooking in for dinner.

More to come!

2 thoughts on “Porto Introduction – February 2020

  1. I know we have said it before [probably many times] but I can not help say it again – you two are simply amazing and fill us in with your great travels and lovely pictures, with most interesting facts of all the places you go to, that it is indeed a joy to read.
    Additionally you do it the right way, not on a jump on jump off tour, but actually staying in the one major place and really absorbing the local culture and history.
    You are right, Porto is a great place for wines and especially the Ports.
    Not allowed to use that name anymore in Australia, so they are called “fortified wines”.
    cheers Tim & for Gail


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