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Portugal, Porto First

April 27-29
Edited and done May 19

Dear Friends and Families,

d130427_02_map.jpgOn Saturday morning (April 27) we started our drive to Portugal, our farthest-from-home destination.  The start was not going well with rain and a bit of traveler stomach; however, the weather forecast for Porto was sunnier, so we had hope.  The two-hour drive itself was uneventful. 

We learned the Portugal rules-of-the-road by observation: rule adherence is not common.  This was particularly evident as we navigated through Porto in search of our hotel, the Eurostar das Artes.  Pedestrians, particularly, seemed oblivious to the color of traffic lights so Marianne did have to be careful!  In the end, the hotel was found by luck perhaps, but we were thankful for the on-site parking and the chance to stop driving.

d130427_10_dessert.jpgWe followed the hotel clerk's recommendation for lunch at "Ze de Braga" ("Joe from Braga") and were treated to good home cooking, roasted chicken for Marianne and feijoada, Brazilian beans, for me.  We ate so enthusiastically that we could only manage a single picture, of a half-eaten dessert.

After lunch, we walked in the neighborhood.  The buildings were a mix of elegant restorations and projects-in-waiting, many more of the latter.  We hopped on street car #22 for an impromptu tour of part of downtown and noticed that this mix of restored and waiting was common throughout.  And no, we are not interested in another project, but if we were ... .


d130427_40_dinner.jpgAfter this exercise, we returned to the hotel for a room-service dinner of strawberries and champagne. Travel is hard, but someone has to do it.  It had not taken us long to feel more comfortable with Portugal than we had been with Spain.  Maybe it was the language, thanks to a Brazilian life decades ago, or to the rough and homey look of Porto, but we like it.

d130428_02_breakfast.jpgOn Sunday morning we started slowly, as usual.  No plans.  The hotel breakfast is quite generous, so it is hard to move into the real day.  It's just too easy to lounge over coffee and just-one-more-thing.

d130428_04_walking.jpgEventually, we did leave the hotel to start our day.  Even this start was cut short by another problem with traveler-tummy, but a little more rest and a tiny pill seemed to fix the problem.  Then we started our walk through the city, down to the river harbor.  Throughout the walks, we saw hundreds of old buildings that continue to fascinate us with their style or their potential.  Some were little more than building fronts, but the past glory was clear.  With a few(?) million dollars/euros/pounds, places could rise again.  We could not help but take too many pictures.
As we approached the river, things got busier.  Crawling traffic made us appreciate being on foot.  I would not like to drive much in this town!  We stopped in the Palacio de Bolsa, Treasury Palace, to get our piece of culture.  Nice palace, still in use by the local trade and commerce society.
The river front itself was jumping.  It is a gorgeous place, filled with color (and more rough buildings). Gustav Eiffel's Ponte D Maria bridge, with trains up high and cars on the lower deck dominates the historic waterfront, itself another UNESCO World Heritage site we can cross off our list.  We also were treated to a street festival that included kids dancing, charities singing, crowds milling, and everyone generally having fun.
Walking back UP to the hotel would have been beyond our capability or interest, so we took a funicular on the steep part and the tram across the hills of downtown.  By now we were getting hungry and had been discouraged that many of the restaurants did not open on Sunday.  At the end of our day of walking, we were getting worried, but found Churrasqueiria Domingos a block from home.  The grilled chicken and pork were perfect and the grilled potatoes definitely led us off any low-carb diet we might have considered.  Good thing we walked 12,000 steps

Monday, the end of our third week of travel, two-and-a-half weeks to go.  Despite our relatively slow daily pace, we're tired.  We walked 15,000 steps today, roughly seven miles, a fair amount on gentle hills.  (We used public transport on the steep parts.)  I'm sure this is not much for true pilgrims or wanderers, but it is several times more than our daily distance at home.  Hopefully this will blunt the effect of our added eating!

Speaking of eating, we had both lunch and dinner, although we often skip one of the main meals. The first cost 6 euros, with tip, the second, 100 euros.  Lunch was a pair of tasty sandwiches at a sidewalk cafe out on the river front, toward the mouth of the river.  Good food, amazingly cheap.  Dinner was at Artemisia, a Michelin-reviewed restaurant near our hotel that had been recommended by the desk guy.  I would say this was great food at an appropriate price.  Not only the food was first class, but also the setting and the service.  The splurge was well above our daily budget for food, but a nice memory.

Here are the pictures of the day.  Some repeats of building shots, but that's because most of our day is spent just wandering around the old center of Porto, a UNESCO World Heritage site from edge to edge.
Walk through a nearby park, complete with football fans.

More buildings.  Several out along the river were really quite nice.  One as being carefully de-constructed, hopefully to be rebuilt without the curving outer wall. 
The blue-trimmed villa had an expensive set of cars parked outside.  Not everyone in Porto is poor!  The pink villa is for sale, in case you are interested.  The small alley had shacks that would seem at home on any remote beach.  Somehow fitting.
One last trip up the funicular.
Two Churches that share a wall.  Both amazingly ornate.  We had seen them earlier, during services when the lights were on, and these pictures do not do justice to the gilded opulence.
We stumbled into the "Banco de Materiais", a government service for recycling the old tiles and building details found throughout Porto.  The service offers free replacement tiles for homeowners needing a few to repair their historic walls.  The oldest on display date from the late 16th Century, although most were "modern", from the 1930s and 1940s.  A colorful history lesson.
Dinner at Artemesia - ambiance, steak, and dessert  -- all perfect

Now it is Tuesday, starting week 4.  We will be off to the wine country.  It's tough work, but someone has to do it.

John and Marianne


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