It’s a strange place, kinda attractive but nothing like as busy and bustling as I expected, trader-wise. Some of the aisles were empty, and the whole building has seen better days.
Upstairs seems to be where the real grocery happens.
The lower bit is mostly tourists.
Learning fuck all, the bus is a little less fun than it might have been. Other than traffic, all we really hear is the loud German repeatedly shouting frau! and then laughing heartily.
This bus goes across the river, to the city on the Douro’s south side call Vila Nova de Gaia. Crossing the river on the lower tier of the Ponte Luiz, it then immediately goes up, and up, and up, because the banks on both sides really are quite steep. The interesting buildings we’d seen from the river are interesting, and the views back to the north are quite spectacular.
Beneath us is the Jardin do Morro, which I repeatedly call The Garden of Tomorrow!
It probably doesn’t mean that.
We’re next to the hoofing great monastery. If you visit, your tour guide is an active soldier.
Ribeira looks great.
From another aspect there’s a view of the funicular.
Enough viewing, we still want to be down the bottom. At the garden of tomorrow I ask Helen to hold on just a bit while I poke my head onto the bridge. I feel pretty comfortable despite my own historic fear of heights – the barriers look high enough to make me feel safe – so I stride confidently on the pavement a few tens of yards over the river.
There are two reasons to come to Gaia: to look back across the river, as we’ve already done, and to visit the wine lodges/caves. This is where port wine is produced – well, more accurately, it’s where it’s stored and matured (and sold). Up the river in the Douro valley are a vast amount of grape growers, and all their produce makes its way to here. No-one makes port in Porto, but only in Gaia, historically shifting it across the river in a fleet of barrel carrying boats. The reason Gaia is where everything happens is because it gets way more shade than Porto and this makes it much easier to control temperature.
We learnt all this stuff in Calem, the nearest cave to the bridge and one to which we had free tickets for a tour. In reception at 2.15pm they said it was good timing, we should go into the self-guided bit for half hour and an English guide would come call us at 2.45pm. Well OK then.
At the first barrel she projects different heights and years, telling us about floods that have occurred and how on each occasion they managed to rescue all the wine. Phew!
We’re told the life cycle of a barrel: when first made they get table wine, then they’re used for port. At the end of their useful port life, they are sent off to Scotland, France or Cuba for the barreling of whisky, cognac or rum respectively.
The biggest barrels hold 60,000 litres. That’s quite a lot of port. White port is fruity, red port is more nutty or chocolatey. Depending on how long they are matured they can actually end up looking the same colour but retaining their different tastes. Don’t judge a port by its colour, I guess.
We’re repeatedly led to believe that this is a working cave and all the labels and stuff are legit, but there doesn’t obviously seem to be any logistical way they could shut the place down and actually ship any of this stuff out. But what do we know?
On long benches in the tasting room, two glasses of port for each person is arranged. But we’re at the back and there’s no wine for us, because two late-comers who’d joined us towards the end had not been accounted for.
Oh my god, you have no wine and that’s a problem, right?
Definitely a problem, but one which was rectified quickly. A glass each of fine white and tawny reserve, and Isabel guides us through tasting them. White port is meant to be had as an aperitif, the tawny stuff after food or with chocolate/cheese. Much to our surprise and delight the samples are a proper serving.
I nip into the first cabin, sharing it with a nice American couple who’ve been in Portugal for 2 weeks and still have 2 weeks to go. They initially think I’m Australian and mistake the Texas flag on my jacket for a Cuban flag. We talk weather: apparently this is the first day they’ve had with nice weather in their whole visit.
Up above the streets and houses, it’s loud when going over the party terrace but otherwise serene.
At the top there are yet more picture postcard views of that bridge.
There’s nothing to keep us in #3maisarte for very long, truth told, so we skirt through more of the side streets while debating how to get back across the river.
There’s a bit of a problem. The sightseeing bus has stopped by now; the metro goes from up top; there are no river taxis nor regular buses. Helen was not feeling up to walking across the bridge, but in the end we find that the lower tier is much less fraught with vertigo inducement than it could have been. If anything, the worst part of walking across was the immense traffic jam that had formed.
Back through Ribeira, yet again, we’re going into every single art and craft/souvenir shop because Helen’s yet to find a suitable purchase. I’m pointing out, repeatedly, that she should face the fact that she just doesn’t like Portuguese art/craft and maybe just give up and buy a fucking Jesus, but no, we persist. About 20 minutes later, in a posh shop away from the madding crowds she buys a rug for the bedroom. Are we done now, please?
Yes, we’re done. I promise to lead us back to the hotel without consulting a map and this I successfully do, though admittedly via a much, much steeper hill than before. This does mean it was a shorter route though, and in the room it’s almost time to check in for our flight home. BA seems to have redefined what “delayed” means since we last checked the dictionary.
Checked in, boarding passes saved, it’s time to go to my kind of art(isan)/craft shop: Armazem de Cerveja, or “beer warehouse”. It’s, um, up another steep hill but a worthy trip. There’s only about 4 other customers and they sell, like, well over a hundred types of beer.
Oh it’s excellent. The barman seems really nervous and shy, but I get a smile out of him when I wield my own bottle opener telling him it’s something I never leave the house without. Most of the stouts are well north of 7% and I’m thinking going Imperial might be a bad idea, but there’s plenty of nice beer at sensible ABV as well. Helen absolutely loves her orange witbier, and I’m a big fan of both my smoked milk and beet stout and smoked witbier.
This place doesn’t do food though. They actually put the phone numbers of local takeaways on the menu, but we’d been thinking for a long while about going back to the brewpub that we’d walked past in the morning - not only for the booze, but because way back then Helen had spotted “deep fried gouda” on the menu. Oh go on then.
By now it’s raining and cold and I’m wet and cold. This is unpleasant. Nortada brewpub is a 5 minute walk and busy, with Man City vs Tottenham on the big screen, but there is a table for us at the back.
I get the brown porter, and it’s really not all that. Harumph. We order deep fried chilli cheese cubes, “egg fries”, and fish croquettes with garlic mayo. Hadn’t really considered what “egg fries” might be, turns out it’s “a shitload of chips with three fried eggs and some bacon strips”. Porto really does do food right, I think, at least if you’re an omnivore. Do vegetarians or vegans have any supreme decadence equivalent meals available to them?