Category Archives: Porto

Portugal, Guimarães – a day a trip from Porto

On a very rainy day I took the suburban train from Porto Sao Bento to Guimares (the place where Portugal first began to exist – allegedly). If I thought it was rainy in Porto I was about to see a lot more of it in Guimarães.

Like all old towns – at least the ones I grew up with in the UK – this has a proper castle and a palace that used to belong to the Duke of Braganza (one of the most powerful nobles of the town).

Even though it was raining it was quite fun to clamber around ramparts and castellated architecture – kind of like some of the school trips I used to do (including the rain).

It is actually a “real” castle of its time and so I thought I would play around with the photos to show it off in different ways.

The Duke’s Palace was again typical medieval – large halls, heavy furniture and lots of stairs!

There used to be a very old and large chestnut tree by the palace which came down recently in a storm, so the authorities asked a modern sculptor to repurpose it for posterity. I think he did a brilliant job – it was my favourite thing that I saw all day.

The old town was what I was expecting with more rain – yes I am whinging a bit!

Finally I noticed that one of the good things about rain is that flowers look especially lovely afterwards and certainly Spring has sprung here so I discovered a few new tricks with my iPhone camera and took theses which I am quite proud of!

I think Guimarães is a perfect day trip from Porto – just over an hour away and Euros 7 return but because a lot of it is about being outside choose a sunny day!

Next stop my 104th country!

Portugal, Porto

It’s been four years since I was last in Porto so I did fewer of the obviously touristy things but instead enjoyed wandering about and seeing some art museums and taking a couple of easy day trips from here (Aveiro and Guimarães – see separate posts).

Last time I stayed a couple of kilometres out at a lovely palace hotel along the river: this time I stayed in the centre of the town in a great apartment (strongly recommend Leftheshomes if you are thinking of coming).

The city retains its charm and is very colourful.

The bridge below connects the old town to the port wine cellar area. Didn’t visit any this year but if you haven’t been port wine tasting while sitting outside and surveying the old town on the other side of the river is a must.

Like Lisbon there are plenty of old style trams and fabulous tiles everywhere you look. Coffee shops abound tempting me to enjoy far too many pasteis de nata and pretty green squares.

The building below is officially one of the worlds most beautiful book shops Livraria Lello. Thankfully I visited last time I was here. Why so popular that you have to pay Euros 5 to get in? It is supposedly the bookshop that JK Rowling used as a model for parts of Hogwarts – they urban myths abound as she lived here for a couple of years before she became famous. Still even from the outside it is gorgeous.

This the beautiful Sao Bento station interior with spectacular tiles – this is a place I never get bored of visiting.

The week I arrived happened to be student graduation week when the city goes a little crazy with celebrations and lots of different outfits warm on one day when thousands of students walk down the hill on their knees in the costume of their college. On the Sunday which was calmer I snapped the more formal – with parents – grad day. The colours and badges they wear relate to the nature of the course they have taken. The urban myth is that JK Rowling took these as inspiration for the clothing worn by Harry Potter and others in the four houses of Hogwarts. Could be …..

As usual I took an evening food walking tour which involved a lot of wine and a speciality chicken sausage. Not my favourite but interesting to me because it is based on the sausage the “converso” Jews used to make and hang outside their doors during the inquisition to prove they had truly converted to Catholicism- apparently back then no-one has the imagination to believe that a sausage could be anything other than pork!

Loved the coffee grinders in the old style grocery store we visited. Locals come just to grind their coffee in these machines.

In the 1930s Guyana cafe the artwork was cool and there was a local poet doing his thing as apparently he does every day. Loved that.

I also visited Serralves – a museum/garden that I’d never heard of before. I especially loved the art nouveau house and garden.

The interior was mostly empty except each room had one feature left from photographs from its heyday. I really liked that idea and it gave the opportunity to appreciate the architecture.

The gardens (and it was raining by then) are lovely in their own right but also had an excellent exhibition of giant sized sculptures by Joanna Vasconcelos whose world enjoyed – especially the giant stilettos made out of saucepans and lids!

Inside the museum these sculptures made me smile. Two made from irons, an adult roundabout (that you can ride on) made from old office chairs and a telephone switchboard.

Portugal, Aveiro – a fun and easy day trip from Porto

Today I took a local train for just over an hour to visit Aveiro (a bargain at Euros 3 return!) which is known as the “Venice of Portugal” as it has canals in its centre. Aveiro used to be a fishing port and most of the people who lived there were fisherman. Funny sculpture just outside the station – maybe a take on lost tourists?

One of the reasons I enjoy travel is that once in a while you get to connect the dots. Last year I was in Greenland and Newfoundland where I learned all about the cod fishing done there which was then shipped to Spain and Portugal. I never gave much thought as to who did the fishing – actually, it turns out that for 6 months of every year the men of Aveiro went to those locations plus Norway to fish, salt and pack their catches for shipping back to Portugal and for the rest of the year they fished for local fish eg. Sardines.

Two bad things happened. First as most people know, cod was overfished and this meant they were no longer allowed to spend nearly as much times as they used to fishing in those parts of the world and their income stream collapsed. In addition to that the area is surround by sand dunes – over time they had become blocked up making local fishing all but impossible and creating a lot of swampy ground causing a lot of unpleasant diseases. As a result for many years there was not much fishing to be had locally either and as a result they dredged for salt and collected seaweed to use as a fertiliser. Things are a bit better now but this is not a wealthy part of the country. Nevertheless it has a lot of charm – starting with a pretty town centre including some pavement mosaic art – I picked the Gemini from the 12 zodiac mosaics.

And the original fish market dating back over 100 years still exists but is quiet. Fish looks good though.

There is a smattering or Art Deco buildings in town as well as a small Art Deco museum – not that much inside but the building itself used to be a home and I loved the architecture

The boats that take tourists around the canals are brightly coloured and often have saucy paintings on them with appropriate slogans – these were the boats that used to be used to dredge for seaweed and they made them so bright to cheer themselves up.

The local food speciality (aside from sardines in colourful cans) is called ovos moles and is a lightweight wafer casing filled with egg yolks and sugar – delicious with a strong coffee.

Headed 10 minutes down the coast to the very cute seaside town of Cosa Nova which has colourful striped houses along the seafront. These buildings originally belonged to the fishermen and were used to store their fishing stuff while they were fishing overseas. Once the market collapsed they had no further need of the properties and they were sold during the 30s and 40s and converted into houses. The stripes are a reflection of typical bathing attire of the time. Pretty – but very windy there!