Addicted to Port
Trip Start May 31, 2006
170Trip End Ongoing
Map your own trip!
Show trip route
The fancy churches and ornamented domes from civil buildings have left a permanent mark on the skyline of Porto, its crown being the Torre dos Clérigos. You can see this impressive tower from anywhere in the city, sticking out like a triumphant granite beacon, reminding everyone and everything of the wealth and power that Porto once had. All we had to do was look up and follow it.
For a discounted price of 1€ each, we were granted permission to climb the 240 steps to the top and be awarded with the incredible 360 degree views of Porto. It seemed a little too early for such an ambitious plan, and it definitely felt like it when I reached the top, out of breath and feeling as if death was coming for me. But from the top, a sea of trapezoidal rustic red roofs inundated the city, its larger buildings commanding over all others.
As we climbed back down the narrow or otherwise claustrophobic staircase we stopped on the level where the church bells were to photograph the hundreds of bells ranging from tiny to monolithic, all connected by small cables and wires. I was waiting for Ed to take his last shot when it occurred to me: "Hey wouldn't it be funny if the bells started playing right this second?"
Sometimes I wonder why I even open my mouth, because as I finished saying this, the church bells started playing. Ed and I jumped back frightened, instinctively covering our ears but at the same time laughing hysterically at the coincidence. There's something scary about being next to a sound that was designed to reach even the farthest corners of the city. We applied pressure to our ears but it was still a deafening sound, so as much as I enjoyed the spectacle, I cherished my hearing more, so I grabbed a still amused Ed and ran down the stairs away from the evil bells.
Back down on the ground where it was quieter, we entered the church to wich the Clérigos Tower belonged to. This was a remarkable example of Baroque secular architecture: an oval floor plan and exquisite gilt wood carvings of the retables, pulpits and pelmets all in Rococo ornamentation. The Italian artist and architect who was commissioned for this job, was brought over by the dean of the Cathedral, but ended up never leaving Porto and was buried in his greatest creation.
The day was getting hazy with that same fog-like sky that was there when we arrived. It may not have been the best time to do it, but we decided that after the church we would go for a river tour. We crossed the bridge to Gaia and found a boat tour with discounts to a port lodge. The tour took us under the main bridges of Porto, all amazing works of engineering. One of them was even designed and constructed by Mr. Eiffel himself, with his trademark iron beams. One of Porto's many names is appropriately "city of bridges".
We were able to see the old port cellars and warehouses with the name of the wine producer painted on the roofs, which put us in the mood for some more port tasting. As soon as the tour ended we explored the cobblestone uphill streets of Gaia in search for a port cellar. We found the port house of Offley and Croft right next to each other, but with it being Sunday they were starting to close for lunchtime. Fortunately we were able to have a taste of ruby and white port from Croft's oak decorated tasting room, whose open windows revealed magnificent shards of Porto from in between the brick tiled roofs.
Next was the port House of Sandeman whose mysteriously caped Don Sandeman logo was inviting as well as intriguing. Turns out the black cape represented the traditional capes of Portuguese students. Their cellars were fascinating and Sademan boasted having a 101 year old Vintage port costing €3,000, around €500 a glass. Only six glasses would come out of the bottle, the tour guide explained, because of all the sediments that would have to be decanted before pouring. Once uncorked, the bottle has to be drunk that same instant or the oxidization will alter the taste and color of the port considerably.
The thing about port wine is that its so sweet and sensuous, that you keep wanting more and more of those chocolate and berry flavours. But it also opened our appetites so we crossed the river once again to find a nice shady table under the now imposing sunlight. Our seafood salads of octopus, tuna and shrimp went very well with the icy pints of Bock beer for the late lunch.
Alas, our time in Porto was over as we had to head back to London. We still had a million things left to do in Porto but had not had enough time to do them (or perhaps spent more time in the port cellars!). Overall, Porto had been easy on our pockets and had surprised us incredibly. This seemingly quiet and unimportant city has much more to offer than anyone really knows. A weekend was not enough...
Where I stayed
Black and White Porto Hostel