jn82’s Epic Adventure

Day 19 [17 Feb 09] – Porto

Posted in Porto by jn82 on February 17, 2009

Today, we decided to tour the city of Porto on a sightseeing bus ride. There were a couple of options for this, all costing €10, so we just went with the one by the Porto public operator STCP. This was the better option in our opinion because it covered more ground that the more well known “hop-on-hop-off” bus tour.

The first route we went on was the “Historical Porto” route, supposedly showing off the historical centre of Porto.

Torre dos Clérigos, where we visited yesterday.

Torre dos Clérigos

Igreja do Carmo.

Igreja do Carmo

Casa da Música.

Casa da Música

This was a very interesting route as it brought us past nice houses, many designed in Art déco and Art Nouveau styling as they were built during those periods. Upon reaching the coast with the Atlantic ocean, we got off the bus and decided to walk around Farol Sra. da Luz (lighthouse).

With the Farol Sra. da Luz and the Atlantic ocean in the background.

Lighthouse

After walking around a bit more, we went for a quick lunch before hopping on another bus line, this time the “Porto Castles” route, which brings you to three castles which were part of Portugal’s coastal defences for centuries.

Forte São João Baptista.

Forte São João Baptista

Forte de Leça.

Forte de Leça

Castelo do Queijo.

Castelo do Queijo

Besides the castles, there were also other sights along the way.

Farol da Boa Nova.

Farol da Boa Nova

Igreja do Senhor do Bom Jesus.

Igreja do Senhor do Bom Jesus

“She Changes”, by Janet Echelman.

She Changes

The final bus route we took was the “Porto Bridges” route, which brought us around to see a few of Porto’s bridges. This was the least interesting of the bus routes, but maybe because we were a bit tired by then.  In between the bridges tour, we stopped off at Estádio do Dragão, home of the mighty FC Porto. As my luck is with visiting football clubs, there was no tour scheduled for today, so all we could was walk around the outside of the stadium.

Estádio do Dragão.

Estádio do Dragão

Me at FC Porto.

FC Porto

Oh yes, the bridges…

Ponte do Infante.

Ponte do Infante

Ponte de D. Maria Pia and Ponte de São João.

Bridges

Ponte de São João.

Ponte de São João

What a view back on Ponte do Infante of Ponte Dom Luís I!

View

Once we were done with the bridge tour, before heading back to the hotel, we stopped by the famous Café Majestic, Porto’s best-known teashop is packed with prancing cherubs, opulently gilded woodwork, leather seats and gold-braided waiters who’ll serve you an elegant set breakfast, afternoon tea or any number of snacks and beverages (description courtesy of Lonely Planet). Of course we could not actually afford to eat or drink anything there, so just grabbed a picture.

Café Majestic.

Cafe Majestic

Link to today’s full gallery of pictures available here.

Day 18 [16 Feb 09] – Porto

Posted in Porto by jn82 on February 16, 2009

Woke up late today as was extremely tired the night before. Think the traveling is starting to make me feel really tired some days. Had to make the most of the day as we were only in Porto for two more days. Our first two stops today were the main (and usually only) two sights listed in most guide books for Porto.

The first stop this morning was Clérigos Church (Torre dos Clérigos). We did not know much about this church except that the view from the top of the bell tower was supposedly the best possible view of Porto city. After a painstakingly tiring 225 uneven stone winding staircase up a narrow stairwell, we were indeed rewarded with a good view of the city. Too bad the glare from the strong sun prevented the view from being any better.

View from the top of Torre dos Clérigos.

View

View

View

Apart from the tower, within the church itself there were some amazing carvings and statues, but check the gallery for those pictures.

The next stop was to the Oporto Cathedral (Sé Catedral), where the Wikipedia page for it provides 100% of what I now know about the Cathedral. This is because there is not a single description in English at the cathedral, if there is a description at all. This is a big difference for us compared to previous sights in London, where every exhibit had at least four languages explaining it. All we gathered was that it was built in the 12th century and is the main cathedral in Porto. The insides of the cathedral were beautiful with extremely detailed carvings on the walls and roofs. Within the coilsters, the walls were decorated with the signature church tiles in Porto which had a drawing in blue on a white background. I do not know how to describe this better so I will let the pictures speak for themselves.

Blue tiles

Tiles

Corridor

Wall

Apart from the very beautiful walls, the church itself on the inside had amazingly ornate carvings and statues.

Church

Church

Again, check the gallery for the rest of the pictures. After the cathedral, we grabbed lunch, and then headed across the Douro for… Port wine tasting! You cannot come to Porto and not head to a few of the world famous port wine cellars for tasting. For those of you who do not know, port wine is a sort of fortified wine from the Douro Valley in Portugal. It is very sweet and usually served as an apéritif or desert wine.

The first stop was to Croft Port, a company with Port shopping activities dating back to 1678!. Here, we were brought on a tour of the vault, an area where the wines were aged in huge oak casts or vats.

I could only finish around 1/2 of the contents of the oak cask.

Too much port

Analysing the aged port.

Port analysis

Each of these vats contain~60,000 litres of port wine.

Vats

Smaller oak casks which contain around 600 litres.

Oak casks

After Croft, we headed up the road to Taylors, the largest and one of the oldest port houses today. No tour here, just some quick tasting.

Taylors

Walking back from Taylors, I managed to get a couple of nice pictures of the Ribeira district.

Me and the Ribeira.

Me

The Ribeira district.

Ribeira

Ponte Dom Luís I

Ponte Dom Luis I

The rest of the afternoon was spent on a one hour cruise down a short portion of the Douro river around the area of the six bridges which link central Porto to other districts and cities across the Douro. Again this is pretty picture intensive, so click the gallery link at the end of this post and look at all the pictures there. Pretty interesting to see so many massive bridges in such a short span of river, and also so much slummy and shabby accomodation (along with pretty decent newer ones) along the river.

Pretty ugly shacks.

Slum

Shack attack.

Shack 2

Three of the six bridges.

Bridges

Ribeira district (again).

Ribeira

Bridge and Boat.

Bridge and Boat

Finally, as mentioned in the previous post, here is a picture of the hostel room at €26 for a twin ensuite (€13 per person a night!!!), what a steal (compared to London accomodation of £17 a night in a shared room of 8 to 12, without ensuite)! The name of the place is Pensão do Norte and they can be booked through HostelWorld.

Pensao Do Norte room

The link to the full gallery of today’s pictures is available here.

Day 17 [15 Feb 09] – London to Porto

Posted in London, Porto by jn82 on February 16, 2009

The trip from London city to Gatwick started badly when we missed the 10am shuttle bus from Victoria Station. Well we did not know that they had a once per hour frequency anyway. So instead of paying £7 for the 90 minute bus ride, we had to pay £17 for an express train which took 30 minutes only. No choice really as the 11am bus would have made us only barely in time to board the flight.

The very expensive Gatwick Express.

Gatwick Express

Inside. Normal train carriage.

Carriage

After taking our seats and once the train started moving, I started to talk to the guy beside me and found out we were taking the same flight. After a while the guy opposite him started talking to us. It turned out that the guy sitting opposite was a sculptor, and had done a bit of work in Singapore including a massive statue at The New Majestic Hotel and the Botanic Gardens. Only after reaching Porto and googling for the statue did we realise he was a very famous sculptor Zadok Ben-David.

The flight to Porto was pretty uneventful, and lasted a total of around 1 hour and 40 minutes. We flew by TAP (the national airline or Portugal and also a Star Alliance member) on an Airbus 737-200.

CS-TNN “Gil Vicente”, an A732,  today taking us to Porto as TP333.

CS-TNN

Getting to the hostel from the airport was very easy, and we jumped on a light rail metro system and reached the designated stop in around twenty five minutes. The “hostel” was actually a small hotel, much to our surprise, considering the €26 (S$52) for a twin ensuite we are payinga night (picture tomorrow).

After dumping the bags and resting for a bit, we decided to use the remainder of the time that the sun was up for to explore the area around the Ribeira district, a water front area in the city centre facing the Douro River. The first (and only) sightseeing stop was on the Dom Luís 1st Bridge (Ponte Dom Luís I). This is an arch bridge that spans the Douro River between the cities of Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia. At the time of construction its span of 172 m was the longest of its type in the world. On the top of the bridge, only the light rail metro passes on two sets of tracks, while cars and pedestrians use the lower part of the bridge. The view from the top of the bridge is amazing, and you get a bird’s eye view of the Douro and Ribeira district.

Amazing views from the bridge.

Bridge View

Bridge View

Bridge View

Me

Once the sun went down, we decided to have dinner along the Ribeira although it would be more expensive (think Boat Quay dining). Being in Porto, of couse we would have a seafood option, so we both had cod prepared in what I think was pan-fried, and tons of potatoes.

Pan-fried Cod.

Cod

The night time view of Ponte Dom Luís I.

Night View

Link to full gallery of today’s pictures here.