Sunday, August 22, 2010

Porto days 2-4

So, must finish the Porto trip before work starts (tomorrow! However will I get out of bed!) or I'll never do it.

Saturday morning I was up earlyish to do a bit of sightseeing before Carolyn arrived. She wasn't sure where her bus from Spain would drop her, so we were pretty much winging it on meeting up, with me expecting a text from her once she arrived at about 1.30. Basically, my sightseeing can be summed up with churches and the riverfront. As with every day I was in Porto, it was hot but not insufferably so, blue skies without a cloud in them (there was a bit of haze on the horizon - you could see the wildfires burning flying in and out, although they didn't seem *huge*. Hard to know, I suppose, I don't have much experience in assessing the size of wildfires from the air.) Anyway, the churches were much of a muchness. I almost didn't go into St Francis's, since I hadn't heard anything about it, and because it's actually a state-owned monument rather than an active church, so there was an entry fee and I kinda thought "why pay when I've already seen a bunch of churches for free?" It didn't cost much though and I had nothing else to do, and glad I did go in - as I said below on the photo post, it really was magnificent. You have to imagine all those carvings gilded and gleaming, fabulous. I will miscellaneously note also that I walked up a flight of stairs from the riverfront to the town above, and it is STEEP! There's a reason there's a funicular up there! I had an icecream but could barely eat it for panting. It wasn't a big loss, I thought from the description that it would be Europe's answer to the Choc Bar (mmm), but it wasn't as good. Miscellaneous note #2, I saw a woman of about 80 do a big hocky spit in the street, disgusting! It's bloody bad enough when feckless hooligan types do it, lady!

Anyway, after a while I headed into the centralish bit to hang about and await Carolyn's text, since the hotel was a little bit out of the centre (only about 5 mins' walk though, but wanted to be ready for action.) 1.30 went by, 2 pm went by, and eventually I decided to go back to the hotel, since I was tired and hoped that if anything had gone wrong on her end, she would at least turn up there. Just when I was getting worried, there was a knock on the door and there she was! Looking just the same as the last time we hung out in Krakow/Prague 2 1/2 years ago. Turned out her bus had been delayed and her phone stopped working as soon as they crossed into Portugal. That would be a Spanish cellphone - ridiculous!

After a spot of freshening up, we headed out across the Dom Luis bridge to the Villa Gaia Nova side of the river, where the port houses are. For some reason, there was a big parade with bagpipes and drumming and so on going on, which was sort of cool for about 5 minutes, but went on for at least an hour and would have made any relaxing riverside drink impossible. Luckily, we ducked the parade by going into Sandeman's, one of the port warehouses, for a tour and a tasting. It cost about 5 euros, I think there are free ones, but I would rather pay anyway and not get the hard sell and feel obliged to buy something. To their credit, there was no 'sell' at all, hard or soft (there was a gift shop, but no-one made you feel you had to buy anything).

The tour was quite interesting, I learned that port is strong because during the fermentation they add pure alcohol to it, which obviously in itself bumps up the alcohol content, but which also stops the fermentation process in its tracks, so the alcohol doesn't keep evaporating off (this is to be taken as a very loose explanation from memory please!) Normal port is then aged in barrels (steel for white, large wooden casks for red and smaller casks for tawny). The tawnies age longer than the reds and more air can get at them through the casks, which is why they end up lighter in character (and supposedly with flavours of spice and chocolate as opposed to red berries, although I can't say I can ever taste these sorts of things in wine, such a dunce...) Once they are put in the bottle, they are ready to drink and don't improve with age, except the vintages, which do age in the bottle. All port (I think except the vintages) is blended from different batches, the trick being to try and make the same stuff every time, working from different raw materials.

After the tour, we tasted a white and a tawny (I was disappointed we didn't get a red, that sounded the nicest to me). Carolyn and I were amused to see a woman on the next table had knocked both of her glasses back before the tour guide had even told us about the characteristics of the first glass, quelle lack of sophistication ;) I found the white a bit sweet, of course I don't usually drink whites, but made an exception for the tasting. The tawny was nicer, definitely a bit drier (not very dry though) and more complex - I can't do better than that on the flavours though!

After that, we headed across the river for a snack, neither of us having had lunch. We ordered what the menu claimed was a red port, but got another tawny, oh well, lost in translation I suppose. It was served VERY warm (they said at Sandeman's your tawnies ought to be served at 16 degrees, get your thermometers out), but it was okay. I never did wind up tasting a red, which was a bit disappointing, but I'm not about to rush out and start quaffing the whites or tawnies on a regular basis, so maybe I wouldn't have liked it too much anyway. We snacked on the flame-grilled chorizo pictured below - we had already started to divvy it up between us, not realising it was raw, before the waiter came back with the lighter, oops! Very fatty of course, but quite nice.

After that, we moved from the back alley café we were at to the waterfront for a couple of very pleasant hours drinking sangria and people-watching in the sunshine. This is the life! Once we felt it was time to move on, we headed inwards and upwards, trying to track down the bars in the area the hotel dude had circled on my map.

We must have walked around for at least an hour, I swear. Every little narrow back alley (and they were pretty much all narrow back alleys) was deserted - no people, no signs of any bars, screaming brats in every first-floor apartment, I swear to god. Someone had told me when he lived in Porto they would just go to 'secret' bars with no signs, that just looked like apartments, but surely they weren't the only option? *Finally* we came across an area where there were no real bars, but at least there were people, and had dinner (was probably about 9 pm by this time) at what seemed to be a very typical, untouristy Portuguese place, very cheap, long family-style tables etc. We ordered 'francesinha' even though we didn't know what it was, because it seemed to be a Portuguese speciality, and cod, and split the dishes. I think the menu described francesinha as something like 'meat and bread and special sauce'. Wikipedia describes it as 'a Portuguese sandwich originally from Porto, made with bread, wet-cured ham, linguiça (sausage), fresh sausage like chipolata, steak or roast meat and covered with molten cheese and a hot thick tomato and beer sauce served with french fries'. On first bite, it was quite nice, but that's a lot of meat! Add in the cod, the fact that the waiter had earlier brought us some little pastries along with an apology for the wait (the spinach and cheese pastry was divine - but be warned, these turned up on the bill!), and the late lunch, and we most definitely could not finish our meals and probably left feeling more than a touch bloated. I'm glad we got to try some local specialities in a non-tourist neighbourhood place, though.

When we emerged from the restaurant, we found that there was now a crowd of people outside watching Sex and the City 2 on a big screen. I think we lasted about 5 minutes before concluding that yes, it probably is as bad as everyone says it is. A little bit of wandering later, we finally found a bar. A bit of an odd bar, since it was tiny and everyone was just hanging around outside the bar sitting on walls and standing about drinking from plastic cups, but a bar nonetheless. More sangrias.

We eventually decided to make our way in the general direction of the hotel, as we were quite far away, but on the way we stumbled across what I think is the street the internet had informed me was good for bars. We visited two, a fancy cocktail bars (with the chaise longue pictured below), where we had margaritas, and a bit of a club featuring cheesy 80s music (yay!) By the time we finally jumped in a taxi (and wow, taxis in Porto are CHEAP. So are drinks by the way, I think the most I paid was 5 euros for the margarita, the rest of the drinks, including cocktails, were 3-4 euros. The sangrias maybe even cheaper, for a whole cup! Yay for Portugal!) and got back to the hotel, it was about 4-4.30 am and we had been out partying it up (intermittently) for a good 12 hours.

Unfortunately, Carolyn had to catch her bus back to Spain the very next day, duty calling. The bus stop was way further away than anticipated, it took us a good 45 minutes to walk there, in a somewhat fragile state as far as I was concerned... After dropping her off and getting back to the hotel, it was probably about 2.30 and I went back to bed I'm afraid to say. Got up later and went and had dinner, but a bit of a waste of a day in Porto really! Well, never mind, I had planned to go to the beach, but I probably wouldn't have really been able to after taking C to the bus station anyway, and there wasn't really anything else I especially wanted to see in Porto.

Up early the next day to allow plenty of time to take the metro back to the airport. There was about a half an hour delay on the runway, they said something about strike action in France, which I hadn't heard anything about, but you know, you can never surprise people when you put 'strike' and 'France' in the same sentence... Other than that, things went smoothly. They played their little Ryan Air triumphal on-time fanfare when we landed, which can't have been right. I don't know what time we were meant to land, but we must have been late... Maybe they maintain their position as 'Europe's most on-time airline' by just straight up lying about it. People applauded both times when we landed, which I think is odd. Yeah, it's a damn sight better than I could do, but people don't die if I don't do my job right. I suppose maybe that's why they applaud, but I think not killing people should be its own reward.

Anyway, nothing else to report really. Am not looking forward to getting up for work tomorrow! Can't believe the three weeks have flown by and it's time for work again already! I hope some stuff will have built up in my absence and I can have a cruisy couple of first days back, because I know I will be tired and cranky...

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