Had a fun albeit steamy week. The temperatures reached into the 80s and without an air conditioner we took the advice of Vasco, our Airbnb host and became “best friends with the fan”. There were only two days when we considered finding s hotel room for the evening but in the end a cool shower and our best friend nearby we were able to make it through.
On Wednesday we were up bright and early (what’s that? Oh crap it’s the alarm clock) to be at the train station by 7:45. We road west for about two hours where we boarded a tri leveled scenic cruising boat (looks like they can do large dinner cruises) for the ride back down the Douro to Porto.
The valley is known for its wine production and the hills were terraced with grape vines everywhere.
We were served a nice lunch aboard (in air conditioning!) so Mike and I spent a good bit of time there enjoying the cool. We were seated with a nice Swedish couple and had a great time discussing everything from healthcare and education, Trump and IKEA.
The trip downstream was broken up at three places by dams with locks. The highest is over 34 meters tall. The others are under half of that.
We also went under a slew (it’s a scientific term-look it up) of bridges including the ones closer to Porto. Other than the iconic one in all the Porto pictures, there was this one designed by Eiffel. The most amazing thing about all of them is how tall they are-well except one very low one.
We finished our day by walking across the big bridge and enjoying a cocktail in Gaia. This is the town where port was traditionally aged (cuz it was cooler???). Now all the port companies have tasting rooms and tours. We elected to enjoy our White Port & Tonic and Ruby Port Fruity cocktail (with some Olive Tampanade and Octopus toast) while people watching and lookin across the river to Porto.
After laundry day on Thursday, we rode the metro/tram 20 minutes or so out to Matosinhos, a suburb on the coast. We enjoyed walking through the market-the first floor is all seafood while the mezzanine includes stalls with vegetables, flowers and live chickens, turkeys and rabbits. I thought it interesting that there were no men selling or cleaning fish. I suspect this is a remnant if the old tradition that the men caught the fish and the women made sure to make some money from them!
After a coffee and roll stop, we walked through the town towards the wide beach here passing many restaurants across the street from the municipal marina getting ready for lunch by firing up their grills. Unfortunately it was rather early so we weren’t able to partake.
We were impressed with the beach and it’s promenade and saw several places that we thought would make a great retirement place. Especially because Matosinhos is FLAT! There is an interesting sculpture at the beach memorializing 72 fisherman lost during a storm. It is based on a painting of those left behind agonizing for those lost. I found it interesting that the artist included the Portuguese widows cankles.
We continued along the waterfront south towards the mouth of the Douro passing a fort as well as an interesting artwork over a huge traffic circle. It is made out of netting based on the inspiration of the Portuguese fishing nets.
Eventually we reached La Foz de Douro. This town is located where the river meets the Atlantic and is where Porto’s wealthy had (have?) second homes. We entered Foz through its Pergola along the water.
We stopped and had a delicious lunch across from the promenade. As usual we split everything. We started with a Caesar salad (meh), our final grilled octopus-tasty but not as good as some others, and risotto with asparagus and shrimp-it was incredible!
We then continued towards Porto along the riverfront until we finally decided it was time to get off our feet. We got on the bus and after a change in the center of town we’re dropped just down the street from our apartment. So only had one small hill that day but we got in 5.5 miles!
Porto’s big festival is held for St John (The Baptist) day. All week long we saw people setting up stages, banners, flags for it and noticed souvenir sellers had lots of plastic hammers and florists had these really tall stalks with an onion at the bottom and a huge purple flower sphere at the top. Turns out these are two of the three traditions of the Sao Joao Festival-the other being grilled sardines of course!
After some research we learned that the evening of June 23rd each year is the biggest party night of the year. Everyone gets together and eats sardines, heads toward the river “blessing” you with their leek (that flower) and bopping you on the head with the plastic hammer. By midnight both sides of the river and everyplace with a view is packed with partiers and at midnight there is a huge fireworks display from the bridge and from barges in the river. It is like New Years Eve and Fourth of July in New York City all rolled into one.
After the fireworks there is a concert and then everyone heads to Foz along the riverbank stopping to drink, eat and dance with the goal of being on the beach at sunrise.
Well, your faithful correspondent knew that sunrise was impossible and that if he made it to the fireworks at the riverfront that he would be arrested for public sleeping since he knew there was no way he was going to walk the 2 miles all uphill from the river to the apartment. Where else do they name stairs???
look closely in the picture below for the stairs….and the poor girl climbing them!
So our plan was to go down earlier in the evening, take it all in and leave early enough to catch an Uber or the bus back up the hill. So we slept late, had lunch at home and left about 7 pm with the idea that we would find some food trucks (we are tired of grilled sardines) and have a bite to each. Unfortunately unlike Valencia and Lisbon where every intersection or small park becomes a carnival, it appears in Porto that EVERYTHING happens at the river. The only food available was in restaurants and they all had lines of folks waiting to get a table and eat…sardines of course. Additionally it was still very warm and had turned humid (it looked like it was going to rain all day but never did-intercession of St John I guess!). So after 30 minutes or so of downhill wandering we turned around and headed home. It felt like we were salmon going the wrong way. Everybody, kids, millennials, middle aged parents and the elderly were all moving downhill.
During our walk however we did get bopped but never leeked. My most memorable bopping was from the youngster in the picture who motioned me to bend over and then said yada yada yada selfie…hmm I tried to figure out what he was saying when he suddenly looked at me with the “you big dummy” look in his eyes and said Selfie Selfie Selfie!
After we got home we watched the parade (didn’t know about it) and fireworks on TV. It was a hoot watching the anchors calmly carry on while being hammer bopped.
After our lovely day seeing Matosinhos we decided we owed it to ourselves to see another beachside suburb so we went to the end of the metro line to Povoa de Varzim. The metro took almost an hour (5.60 euro roundtrip) and the second half of the trip was mostly through farm land with some villages here and there. Póvoa though is a larger town and it obvious is a popular beach resort in summer. But it still has a great square (half circle actually) in the older part of town-the bandstand reminded Mike of Stars Hollow for any fans of the Gilmore Girls. The smaller streets in the older part of town are pedestrian mostly and are lined with local shops -and a United Colors if Benetton of course but not a Starbucks in sight!
I had checked Trip Advisor before we left and as it was Monday a lot of restaurants were closed so we had to pass up the top three but I’m glad they were cuz #4 was great!We have been in Portugal for 4 weeks and this was by far our most memorable meal.
When we arrived at Piexiaria Barca we were a little concerned that we were the only patrons at 12:30. However, we shouldn’t have been worried-I think the cool overcast day and it being the Monday after a big party weekend in Porto meant there weren’t many diners. And it meant we got GREAt service and attention.
Amerigo greeted us warmly and we laughed our way through trying to communicate without speaking each other’s languages. After reading reviews we knew we were having seafood rice and thought we would have the monkfish. But Amerigo suggested the sole as being better that day so that’s what we ordered. We passed on starters as we have been disappointed in Portugal in the past when we can’t finish our entrees due to the large portions. We asked Amerigo to select a half bottle of wine for us and it was delicious. While we waited for our rice we enjoyed part of a delicious basket of bread and some processed cheese (the only flaw in an otherwise great meal). Suddenly Amerigo appeared with a plate of meat for us. OMG, delicious. It is called Salpicao and while often a mix of pork and beef, this was all beef. It is smoked and very wonderful. And it was complimentary! We tried to pay and he wouldn’t let us.
But the main dish was the star! While the sole was cooked perfectly and the rice tasty, it is (as another reviewer noted) the broth that is so incredible. Not fishy (at least in a bad way), salty, hint of saffron I think…anyway, we each had four bowls!Needless to say, no room for dessert.
We really enjoyed our meal and our time at Barca and will definitely go back if we make it back to Northern Portugal…which I hope we do.
After lunch we walked to the beach. It is very wide and has a wonderful promenade along its length. The street is lined with Cafes and other retail at ground level and mid rise apartment after mid rise apartment above and along the length.
We both agree that Póvoa is worth considering as a permanent residence. We could live there off season and rent it out during the hot summer when we want to be someplace cooler anyway. After strolling always, we headed back towards the metro arriving home around 6 pm. A fine day for our last day exploring Portugal.
Today we have been lazy except for packing our bags for our flight tomorrow to Copenhagen. We leave here at 2:30 and arrive there at 10:30 via Lisbon. You may recall that we are making this trek in the wrong direction in order to pick up our cheap biz class flights to Miami on our way to Ecuador.
So rather than lounging in a resort in Santorini for his birthday Mike gets to spend his schlepping luggage and sleeping in an airport. We have to check in for our flight (back to Lisbon) by 5am so we figure getting a hotel room for 4 hours is a waste.
As my brother Steve said, Mike needs to fire his travel agent and I agree with our friend Peggy, he now holds the “Golden Ticket”.