Putting the Port and Gal into Portugal – Sao Joao de Madeira to Porto, Friday 10 April , 39km, 637m climbing
The purpose of the long previous day was to allow an easy trip into Porto and see Maggie when she arrived by plane about midday. We got the easy trip okay; but a leisurely breakfast, flat tyre, steep trail section, views worth stopping for over Porto [Portu] from the Gaia [Gal] side of the river, and stamps at the cathedral meant we arrived at our ‘Yoga Palace’ airbnb accomodation, with hosts Aurora and Alberto, at a tardy 3pm – just as the others rocked up! [Our street rendezvous was tempered with sadness though as the emergency services were attending a suicide in a house a few doors down.]
Afternoon tea was taken in the ‘jardin’ – Maggie and her friend Rosie had brought halva and Turkish delight from their Easter trip to Istanbul; complemented by fresh naval oranges from the tree above us. Alberto recommended a local restaurant with authentic mountain Portuguese cuisine, and we went off to chatter the night away.
“Porto, Porto, Porto” – Porto, Saturday 11 April
Billy and I took to the streets on bikes while the rest of the crew walked. Amazingly, we always seemed to be at the same place at the same time thereafter! First stop the market – more fish of a hundred varieties, than anything else, which posed the question… ‘is it all sold, and what happens to it when it isn’t?’ Then a council-ran building advisory place that held recycled tiles, stuccos and friezes for free use by locals keen to renovate their facades in the appropriate historic style [Porto’s historic centre is UNESCO heritage listed]. It’s a fascinating building, and not in the guide books. Sit-down lunch at a specialised tea-house and backyard, leafy eatery with a ‘Brunswick feel’. Nearby botanical gardens had million dollar views of the city and river, though I doubt any home in Porto costs a million dollars. Then it was back home to meet up with Jordy and his new Portuguese ‘friend’ Madalena, to drive 30kms to Vila do Conde and watch Portuguese professional soccer club Rio Ave battle their more famous and richer opponent – Porto FC. Supporters of the latter outnumbered the former, and together may have only just outnumbered attendant police and security?! But a riot never seemed likely as the continuous Porto chant and drums inspired a comfortable win – 3 goals to 1. [Porto’s bigger challenge will come later when they take on German giants Bayern Munich in the Champions League finals.] Jordy was happy – one European soccer league match ticked on the list, with the added bonus of an interpreter for all the cheeky crowd comments!
Everybody was happy when we got home; Elly and Jen had enjoyed their dinner of vinho tinto, accompanied by food, and the kids already had a night on the town planned.
Allah protects the Queen – Porto, Sunday 12 April
Another walking day around town in sunny weather, initially without a lot of joy as the Photographic Museum was ‘close-ed’ for lunch when we arrived, and Alberto’s café suggestion appeared to have disappeared off the map. All made up for when we entered the Bolsa Palace, purposefully built as the stock exchange and Chamber of Commerce in the mid-1800s on the direction of the Queen. It is the most visited attraction in northern Portugal and easy to understand why. The interiors, fittings and furnishings are superb without being ostentatious – until you get to the Moorish styled drawing room. Pictures tell a thousand words here, except they will not translate the three Arabic inscriptions repeated throughout the ornate painted plasterwork: Praise to Allah, Allah Above All, and Allah protects the Queen. In this ultra-Catholic country almost two centuries ago ecumenical tolerance was expressed most vividly… if only we could live it today. God-adherents and non-adherents alike. That’s why we cycle for Doctors Without Borders – no favour, no fear, no motive except respect for all in their humanitarian work.
We crossed the river to the famous brand port caves for a tasting; fittingly our last ‘tourist’ activity in Porto, especially as Maggie and Rosie had never tried Port before. ‘Calem’ was the closest house with a detailed explanation of port wine production and ageing as part of the experience. For an instant we were experts on the styles, serving temperatures, food accompaniments, keeping times etc etc…then promptly forgot it all as we sat down at the sampling table! Oh well, I don’t really like the stuff much anyway! The hilarious moment of the day came later when feasting on our home-made salad for tea, as the girls, recalling the information for Elly and Jen, kept blithely referring to the characteristics of ‘Tony Port’. The accent of the tour-guide had led them completely astray!
“There’s only one thing I like more that wine tasting…” – Douro River, Monday 13 April
On the ball again with his frugal tourist tips, Alberto recommended a train trip up the Douro River to Pinhao, rather than an expensive boat trip. [Suited us – 20E pp instead of 60-80E pp.] It is a spectacular trip, following the broad, winding river upstream through a continuous valley of ancient, terraced vineyards. Right hand side, water-viewing window seats were at a premium and the graffiti-ist bad-boys had the respect to only paint the windows on the left side. Two hours later our entourage – boosted by Maggie’s Canadian friend Maggie [no typo] – disembarked and headed across the river to the nearest winery tasting house ‘Real Companhia Velha’. Several tipples and comments later we all selected the same red table wine as worthy of a takeaway. All much to Jordy’s disinterest and disdain for wine notes! But for the record, try ‘Porca de Murca Reserva Tinto 2012’; it’s a winner.
Staying awake on the journey home was a task beyond us, but that meant on return, packing was done quickly and efficiently so we could vacate our accommodation and have dinner out, while Aurora and Alberto ran their evening yoga classes. Back to our nearby ‘mountain restaurant’ recommendation, for a sizzling served-at-the-table beef loin, rabbit stew, and pork schnitzel complemented by spuds, chips and salad. [Oh, and did I say, soup?] Can you believe 8 people ate like Portuguese kings and queens, for less than 10 bucks a head. Maaate!