Dr. Hoffer's Travel Site This site was last updated 08/04/10
IBERIA2001 #27 Porto Poor Oporto
Driving into this city is a nightmare worse than Napoli. The entire streets are being torn up and almost everything is one-way. After several circlings and being prevented from going down the final street by some jam up, we go the wrong way on a one-way and reach the Mecure Hotel in Praça Batalha (bah-tahl-ya). What a dirty filthy decaying city this is. To me this is a pig sty only a bit better than Catania in Sicily. I find nothing nice about any of it. After checking into the hotel so late, I do my run down the steep Janiero Street past the São Bento train station around the main Praça on Avenida Aliando straight down to the Douro River. Everything is dark, dirty and depressing. Even the river front, Ribiera District, which according to the guide books is where the restaurants are, is absolutely horrible. It all made me a little nervous out there by myself late at night but I climbed all the way back up to the hotel. Since we were tired and it was late, we followed the recommendation of the hotel guy and went to a depressing little flea-bag place in town. We thought we would get sick eating there but we ordered Frango (Portuguese roasted chicken) and it was absolutely fantastic, one of the best meals on the trip and it cost practically nothing. We hiked our way back to the hotel and got to bed about 1:30 AM.
The next morning, this city had me so down, that I laid in bed and spent 2-3 hours laying out the plan for the rest of the trip on my Palm unit. I've scheduled it so that we should be able to see just about everything. I finally got out of bed and ran straight down to the river this time and guess what, the city didn't look any better in the sunlight than it did at night. I kept looking for buildings that I think should be spared from tearing the entire place down and only found a few. This place is incredibly horrible. Am I glad I didn't come to the Porto IOL meeting last year. I couldn't stand it here for a whole week. I did find a hotel (Carlton) near the river that actually made a real cappuccino. I took a cab to the main square and after hunting for an hour found the Internet cafe. There were over 30 computers and every one was busy. I took my number, but couldn't understand when they called it out. This one actually served coffee but I skipped it since I already had one. I got online and after clearing out 197 emails I sent my letters. First chance since Baiona. I caught a cab back to the hotel and Marcia and I took a cab across the river to the other side which is called Vila Nova de Gaia. Back in the Middle Ages, the Bishop of Porto barred the King from collecting taxes on the ships coming into Porto, so the King decided to thwart him by building a city across the river to compete, that is Vila Nova (new city). The contention went on for many years until they had a truce and split the revenues from both sides. We crossed the huge double decker bridge across the Douro that was built in 1886. I wondered whether things would get better in the new city, but I was wrong, it was just as bad if not worse. We were heading for a Port wine tour in one of the 30 or so wineries located here. The cab driver couldn't find the Osborne we were looking for so when we spotted Rozes, we got out. There they were very nice and from the bleak street you enter this ultramodern facility which is very fancy inside. They take us downstairs to tour where they store the huge barrels which must age for 10-20 years (photos). There we saw how they make the port. What they do is stop the fermentation process by using brandy. This makes the wine sweeter. It is all done in the Douro Valley then shipped here to age and be bottled for sale.
How this all got started was during the war between England and France, wine sales from France were cut off, so industrious English businessmen came to Portugal and pushed heavy wine production. Here they gave us the opportunity to sample six different ports from white to tawny to red. Most were very good. We left there and walked down one block and found the door to the Osborne we were looking for. They gave us a similar tour and a couple of samples. Good thing we weren't driving any place. There we met Donna Harvey, a lawyer from Santa Monica, who is now working in the southern tip of Texas. The three of us left there and walked down the huge hill to the river front and had some coffee. We then brought her with us by cab back across the bridge. Since we ate in a fleabag last night we had made a reservation at the fanciest restaurant in Porto called Portucale. We caught a cab there which was way out in the high rent district we were told. But to me it looked just as bad as everything else in Porto. There are practically no green areas in this city. Here we had an upscale dinner looking out over the skyline from 13 floors up (still didn't look nice.) I tried stewed Kid (goat) again and this time it was very good (even with all the bones). We got a cab back and I was looking forward to getting the H out of this place.
The next morning I got up early and headed straight to see all the sights, Marcia didn't want to traipse with me so she relaxed at the hotel.
I first walked to Igreja (ee-gray-zha = church) Santa Clara. Nothing from the outside, but inside (photo) the entire altar and walls are covered with wood carvings, absolutely amazing. From there I went to the Se Cathedral (Se = Doumo = Main Cathedral) overlooking the Douro. I went through the cloister and saw the beautiful azulejos on the walls. From there I walked down to the São Bento (San Benito) train station (built in 1916) where the walls are covered in fabulous azulejos done by Jorge Colaco (photos). I ran to the next Igreja which was covered in gold brought back from Brazil (photo) and then climbed the hill to the Igreja Clerigos. I went in and paid the man for what I thought was to see a museum and discovered that it was to climb the Torre Clerigos, the highest tower in Portugal. I get to the top and got some pretty good photos of the ugly city and then climbed down the 239 steps and saw the circular church. From there I walked to the center, took some pictures and went to the Internet cafe again, this time having a couple of espressos. The whole thing cost me $1.25. I caught a cab back to the hotel and we got packed up and checked out. At last we could shake the dirt from Porto. In defense of the city, the Euro Union declared it the city of Culture for 2002 and they have funded all the tearing up of the streets. I should come back in 10 years to see if its any better. Right now I feel very good leaving here and heading for Coimbra.
KJH Go To -> NEXT DIARIO #28
Kenneth J. Hoffer, MD
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