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Trip to trip to Porto (Oporto) and Lisbon (Lisboa) Portugal

April 5-12, 2016


We have never been to Portugal, so this seemed like a good destination. Several friends recommended it as a nice place to visit with reasonable prices, etc., so when we found an $1,150 airline ticket we were off!

Getting There - April 5-6

Travel: Many of our trips are close to 10,000 miles, this was about 5,500, so it seemed like no big deal. Austin to Dallas leaving late morning Tuesday, then Non-Stop on American Air to Madrid Spain, then a commuter plane on Iberian Airlines to Porto. We arrived mid-day Wednesday. After a quick stop at Vodafone in the airport to buy a sim card a sign up for a one-week data plan, we took the metro to our hotel.

Porto has an "upper" city on the hills overlooking the river, and a "lower" city near the river. We chose a hotel in the upper city. It turned out that the best deal in what we considered the ideal location was a Quality Inn for about $80 per night, plus an option of $8 each for breakfast.

Near our hotel was this church covered with the characteristic blue Portuguese tiles.

Not too far from our hotel was this tower, connected to the "Clérigos" church and monastery. We later climbed the tower, as required of all tourists.

The cathedral with attached Gothic cloister, built in the 14th and 15th Century, was much like a classical fortress. You can see more of the blue tiles through the opening to my left, in the covered ares.

The current cathedral was started in 1110, but there is record of a bishop seat here since the 5th-6th Century. Over the years it has had many modifications (of course) in various architectural styles.

We found a path down towards the Douro river. Actually a stone stairway. Each time you seemed to reach the bottom of the stairs, it turned, became narrower, and continued for another flight of stairs. We probably spent a half hour walking down the stairs.

Finally we reached the river and had a great view of the two deck metal Dom Luís I bridge. The designer had worked as a partner of Gustave Eiffel (of Eiffel Tower fame) on the nearby single deck Dom Maria Pia bridge, then 5 years later did this bridge while Eiffel went off to Paris to build a tower.

The upper deck carries a metro line plus pedestrians (giving a great view of the port industry, city, and river), while the lower deck is open to general vehicular traffic and pedestrians.

You can see the packing of the houses on the side of the hill.

Along the waterfront the houses were decorated - in this case by painting the railings of each house a different color.

Most Port Wine is grown and made into wine in Douro Valley, North of Porto, but that area is too hot for aging and storage. The spring after harvesting, wine was then brought to Porto for aging and blending by small boats such as these. Later trains were used to bring the wine to Porto, but now it is moved by tank trucks in hours rather than days. Port is constantly mixed and blended (several times per year), so that now a "10 year old port" may be a blend of 5-15 year old wines, working towards a consistent "10 year" taste. Many types are no longer aged in the bottle with the traditional sediment, but are filtered and treated to stop aging before bottling.

Most Port Wine is not produced in the city of Porto, but in Vila Nova de Gaia, the town across the Douro river from Porto. You can see a dozen or more port "houses" from Porto or from the bridge. You can see the Taylor center we visited, ¾ of the way up the hill, just right of the large hotel.

Throughout Porto the bicycle racks had an unusual deslgn. Clever, huh?

Thursday April 7 - day 2 in Porto

Everyone going to Porto has to take a Port Wine tasting and tour. Lots of choices, priced from free to $15. We chose Taylor since as port amateurs, we at least recognized the name.

The grapes are harvested and wine is made in the Douro valley, then brought here by tank trucks in the spring and stored temporarily in the large wooden tanks.

Port barrels are much larger than we had previously seen. The barrels are made from any available wood, and are reused after cleaning. The port is transferred to the barrels to age.

Several times per year the barrels are blended and mixed in the large tanks, then returned to the barrels. The aging is based on temperature and humidity (the gravel floor is flooded to cool the warehouses and add humidity) rather than taking flavor from the barrels (as with whisky). Angel's share is as high as 10% per year but the barrels are refilled in the frequent blending process.

After sampling three very different Port wines (including a dry white port that seems like it would be a great aperitif) we took a taxi to the Stock Exchange Palace (Palácio da Bolsa) and reserved a place in the English language tour. We had time to tour the Adjacent São Francisco Church and Museum before the English language tour was available.

The São Francisco Church has an entrance that was almost lost by the encroaching building ...

but once you were inside the church it was "over the top."

The museum entrance was across what may have once been a small plaza, and had one time housed the cloister.

The chapter room (committee room for the monks or nums) was as highly decorated as the church.

The crypt was the traditional cemetery in the church... sort of. Along the walls were "burial" places for wealthy or well known people, but the wooden panels on the floor covered the graves of parishioners. Rather than having names, they just had numbers.

When the full size grave was no longer needed (or the family stopped paying the rent or whatever), the bones were dumped in the ossuary, visible through a floor grate, and the grave in the floor was reused.

The stock exchange was moved from Porto to Lisbon, then that stock exchange was closed, as trading became entirely electronic. The Porto Stock Exchange Palace (Palácio da Bolsa - Purse Palace) has been maintained as an elegant meeting place for private and government events.

This was a trade guild room, with multiple two person tables around the room, and one three person table at the center for the apparent boss. All the carvings and trim above the chair level were plaster, painted to look like wood or metal; only the lower part of the wall was actually wood. The fake was so good it was hard to identify even on close examination.

This was a judicial room, mainly involving trade. Notice the barrel of port being loaded in the picture behind the "judge." And, of course, notice the "woodwork" and ceiling.

The so called "Arab room" was the most "over the top" decorated room I have ever seen. It is often rented for weddings. Notice the detail that even extended across the ceiling, and the stained glass windows.

Okay, we can't put off making the obligatory 240 step climb up the Clérigos Tower, shown in the second picture of this travelogue. Well maybe we will tour the church first! (Impressive, but I show too many church pictures).

A view of Oporto from part way up the tower. Yes, we did go all the way to the top.

We stopped by the São Bento commuter train station, known for the tile panels depicting the history of Portugal

The scale and quality of the wood carving in Porto was amazing. This was real wood, not painted plaster.

Jenny got a big kick out of this statue outside a cafe

Friday April 8 - day 3 in Porto

A very impressive town hall building was at the end of a park that we explored.

In Warsaw Poland we saw buildings supported by muscular men; In this town hall it is equal opportunity for two men (just above the stairs) and many women (near the top).


Then on to the market, including many fish dealers, this one with a wide variety. Others had a huge volume.

A wide variety of flowers were available both as plants and as cuttings.

Would you like some fresh chicken? Really fresh?

Or perhaps some bread? Pretty loaves?

Then we went on to the top deck of the metal bridge, for a great view of the harbor. The first couple days we spent a half hour or more getting from the river to our hotel. We discovered it was only a couple short blocks from the end of the top deck of this bridge.

We were also near the old city wall.


We explored the wall including one of it's towers

And the access stairs on the inside of the wall.

Saturday April 9 - on to Lisbon

The inter-city train station in Porto, Campanhã is a way out of town, so we took a 12-15 minute taxi ride there. If you buy the tickets on-line, direct from the railroad (Comboios de Portugal) a week or two in advance, there are bargains that brought our price down to €15 each, compared to the €24-42 offered on the Internet. In about 2½ hours we were in Lisbon, and chose to arrive at the almost in-town Santa Apolónia station. We took a taxi to our hotel.

Our Hotel Lisboa Tejo (recommended) was a half block from a plaza, with a half dozen streets leading to the beach about 8 blocks away. At the beach was a statue of José I, King of Portugal in the 1700s, in a "commercial park."

One side of the park was a token beach

But at least enough water to support sailboats.

We found the Lisbon Cathedral and planned to attend the 7pm Mass in a couple hours.

Similar to Porto, Lisbon is pretty hilly.

At the appointed hour we walked back to attend mass, and to our surprise found it almost over. Finally we realized we were at Santo António Church, directly in front of the Cathedral. Having attended the second half of the Mass at one church, we went a half block away to attend the first half of the mass. To our amazement, there were only about 25 people at each mass.

Back to the commercial park, then out to dinner.

Sunday April 10 - first full day in Lisbon

Calouste Gulbenkian was a businessman who collected art, and "hid" from World War II in Portugal. He was so indebted to the city that he gave his entire collection to become a museum. The artifacts, pictures, sculpture, and furniture were amazing, extensive, and displayed wonderfully.

I had a hard time choosing which piece of furniture I should use to represent their collection.

This carving is amazing, but doesn't do justice to all the sculpture they had, in various materials.

After a couple hours at the Museu Calouste Gulbenkian (we could have spent longer) we took a taxi to Belém (pronounced Bah LENG as one or two syllables, depending on who is talking) - a suburb of Lisbon where we visited the Jerónimos Monastery. Google Maps suggested we try Uber, and after a disappointing taxi experience getting to the Museum, we did try Uber, for the first time ever, in Portugal. We are now Uber fans.

The monastery is huge and the lines to get in were long so we started with a tour of the church.

Vasco da Gama is buried at the back of the church. This is where he and his men spent a night in prayer before the start of their voyages of discovery.

The baptistery in the church was an amazing work of art.

The two story cloister was elegantly decorated.

The meeting hall for the monks is now occasionally used for civil meetings, such as international treaty signings.

The Belém Tower was a municipal fortress to defend the river, a block or so away. The only connection with the Jerónimos Monastery is joint ticket sales to the tourists.

The 17 canons covered the river, and together with a similar fortress previously on the other side of the river, controlled the river traffic.

There was a great view from the tower deck, but there were four more floors to climb to the top of the tower. Yes, we did it.

Portugal is known for it's explorers, who found routes between the continents centuries ago. This monument to the explorers, shaped to suggest a sailing ship, is between the Monastery and the Tower. Different explorers are on each side of the monument.


Monday April 11 - Second full day in Lisbon

Rossio Train Station is in the city, but only used for a few lines. Once going through the historic entrance you take a LONG escalator ride up to the actual station; the trains come into the station through a tunnel - the hills continue above the station.

Throughout Portugal (and in many areas of Brazil) there are black and white tile sidewalks. Despite the illusion of waves in this park, the pavement is perfectly smooth.

Lisbon is certainly on hills. Note the two story set of stair a person climbs to ascend the switchback road, before having to trudge further up the hill.

To help the locals, there are special conveyances such as this funicular/trolley that goes up and down this one hill.

In other places there are elevators, with a ramp on the top to reach ground level at the top of the hill. This elevator is next to a convent that was largely destroyed in the 1755 earthquake, but us being preserved as a monument to the quake (estimated 9-9.5 magnitude), tsunami, and fire that largely wiped out lisbon and killed half the population.

This church was reconstructed after the quake. Note how many pieces were damaged but are being reused.

If Portuguese "one time" colony can have a Cristo (Rio, Brazil), then the mother country has to have one, too.

Of course, we had to visit the Castelo de São Jorge, on the top of the hill with the best view. The view was for troops to protect the city, not a royal residence.

I don't know how historic this entrance is, but you know you will soon have to buy a ticket!

The views were amazing, as was intended. Beyond the bridges is Belém

I didn't know peacocks flew, but there were five in this tree. They wouldn't line up and pose as a group.

Would you choose to eat at this restaurant? Would you eat here if it had been strongly recommended?

We did. Shared a table under the wall-hung fire extinguisher, where we could watch the grill at the back of the dining room, and see through the serving window into the kitchen. The waiter in the red plaid shirt was the grill man. The waiter in blue with the paper table cover managed the dining room. Momma was the cook in the kitchen, but they all did everything. No credit cards, a hand-written bill (in Portuguese), and an excellent meal.

Tuesday April 12 - Return

Our flight from Lisbon to Madrid left at 6:55, too early to take the metro to the airport, so we used Uber again (Great).

Beware of Iberian Airlines. Our flight was in a regular Airbus 319 Jet, but the coach class seats have a 28 inch pitch rather than 31 inches or more. Simply put, I am too tall and don't fit. The kind (petite) lady ahead of me was in the seat behind business class with lots of leg room, saw my problem, and traded places. I will be forever indebted to Sarah.

Once in Madrid we switched to American Airlines, where we had an upgrade to Business Class to Dallas, and on to Austin arriving about 6 pm.

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