Loyal Sup-port-ers Buyers and cellars

Waking up on Saturday morning seemingly without having suffered, nor currently suffering, a heart attack felt like a great achievement. A lack of local Parkrun felt like a blessing though, and we decided against hotel breakfast in lieu of a nice lie-in. Eventually, and somewhat surprisingly, we felt hungry, so dragged our carcasses out of bed. No round of applause as we left the hotel, but there was a troupe of exuberant caped musicians performing a song that was, best we could make out, about Porto.

A whole 5 yards along the street, to the third of the trio of consecutive eateries just up the way, we sat at the back and managed to order breakfast almost entirely in Portuguese... albeit by just saying the words from the multilingual menu. The waiter was the gruffest local we’d yet encountered, but he cracked a smile when I asked for our pasteis de nata.

Two chicken pastries; two croquettes; two custard tarts; some liquids. Obviously it was nice, but nowhere near as nice as Friday’s breakfast. Still crazily cheap though.

With the sun out and the streets crowded, we set off to walk a new route down to the river and a bus stop. Before we’d gone far we ducked in to Bolhao market for a look around.

Numerous other people had exactly the same idea, presumably all attracted by the bakery with cock-shaped bread next to the religious iconography.

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.

That was a nice detour but not getting us to our bus tour any quicker. Back out on the streets and we went past a brewpub – ooh, a brewpub – on our way back to Estaçio Sao Bento and then down an interesting looking cobbled street. Apparently this was buskers and artists quarter, starting with a bedraggled looking father and son (we assume) with a chicken, a cockatiel, and one of them music boxes you crank with a handle as a long punch card goes through.

At the end it opens out in a square of cafes, and just round from there we emerge next to the big red building we’ve seen a few times but have never been sure about. It’s another market, the “urban market”.

One narrow corridor of stalls, we are interested in none of the produce. All the pictures on the walls are of rock/metal artists.

Outside we cross the square in front of some museum or other and dive into a t-shirt shop called Typografia, all of whose shirts are interesting designs but we both feel they would all be better served by not being t-shirts.

Around here is Infante, where we got off the bus yesterday and would like to get back on today. Throughout our walk we’ve been trying to spot any kind of little corner shop or newsagent, somewhere to pop in and buy a can of Diet Coke or whatever, but the city appears to have none. Opposite the bus stop is a cafe with a fridge though, so I source some there.

The bus arrives a few minutes afterwards, and a large tour group surge forwards, along with an elderly couple who execute one of the best queue jumping manoeuvres I’ve ever seen. We get seats at the rear on the open top deck and plug our headphones into the audio tour, which isn’t working at all. Oh.

20 seconds later we go past a perfect Diet Coke vending shop. Damn it!

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.

We also go directly under the cable cars.

Winding up through Gaia, still learning nothing, it’s not that interesting apart from the views behind us. Long stretches are on residential roads or motorway underpasses, until we stop for a good 10 minutes next to a large modern department store. By now we’ve realised that our desired stop, number 13, is up top when we want to be down the bottom. Bugger. But we get off anyway and see what’s what.

What’s what is a large viewing platform, higher even than the top deck of the bridge, with amazing views in east, west and south. Turns out we’ve come up here in perfect conditions, really.

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.

Helen’s having a bit of a wobble, understandably. We’re very high up here. I’m OK enough to go stand at the edge and even lean over.

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.

Then I stop to face the river and get some photos and, oh, hello wobbly legs. Not quite as confident as you thought, are you Darren?

It’s totally worth it though. The pictures may look samey but at the time it feels like one of those places where you go “look, it’s great from this new angle as well!” at each vantage point.

Returning to Helen with the good news that I didn’t die by falling off the bridge, we start making our way down.

She has no interest in getting the cable car, so down the steep steps and streets we go. It’s good for our ankles and calves, presumably.

Wouldn’t want to be a postman around here.

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.

The self-guided bit absolutely does not take half an hour. I felt quite resentful that the only thing I could do was actually read every exhibit and learn way more than I had previously been interested in doing. They show the Douro valley, the different varieties of grapes, the different colours of the types of port, facsimiles of bottles as old as 1870, and a “smell this, then reveal what it is” thing where both Helen and I scored a big fat zero out of twelve.

Orange? Oh, caramel.

At 2.45pm the English tour departs, with 16 or so of us being shown around the caves by our guide Isabel. What follows is about half hour of walking around barrels of varying sizes.

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?

Barrels aren’t completely full, as the amount of oxygen is also an important contributor to the taste. The smell of the wine in the air caused by fumes escaping is called “the angels’ share”. It’s not a particularly strong smell though.

At the end of the tour comes the free samples. Hurrah!

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.

Almost immediately, Helen is on the Tesco app on her phone wondering if they sell the fine white. They don’t. In fact, we can’t quickly find any of the big retailers in the UK which serve it. Damn it! She’s less keen on the tawny, but I love them both. We should buy port, I reckon.

Exiting through the gift shop, we buy a bunch of port, and emerge outside into the sunshine. That was a really nice tour, especially for “free”. There was no hard sell, just an interesting wander through some caves to learn about port, rather than Calem specifically. Recommended.

From the river, and across the way, we’d seen that Gaia has a nice riverfront promenade with loads of restaurants/bars/cafes and now we were on it. Very busy and a few roadworks in the way, but nice nonetheless.

At the far end, next to the cable car lower station, we sit outside a pastelaria and order a drink and some pizza – a little surprising to me, considering Helen had vetoed an earlier place on the basis of not being in the mood for Italian food.

Once I’ve eaten my half and necked my beer, it’s time for me to fuck off on a solo jaunt. See that cable car? I’m going on that. Back in twenty minutes or so, I guess.

In the ticket office, much to the amusement of the vendor I ask for a “return ... flight?”. Nine euros changes hands with a “be back before 7pm” warning.

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.

I only spend 2 or 3 minutes at the viewing platform, doubling straight back for my return flight. This time I am treated to a cabin all to myself, so I spent the first half of the journey standing up.

On the descent I’m trying to keep my cool, not only for the video but also because holy fucking shit AFC Wimbledon scored a 90+6 penalty to win a game 3-2 from 2-0 down at half time! C’mon boys, make us safe.

Ahem, anyway. Helen hadn’t moved. We pay and wander through the local indoor market, expecting it to be shops but in fact it’s just a large amount of food and drink stalls that all look excellent, much better than where we ate. D’oh.

Into the side streets we’re on the hunt for a “tiny” place called #3maisarte, an artistic/cultural collective that’s part shop, part cafe, part art studio, part cat refuge. En route we try and talk to 3 different stray cats, all of which are either distinterested in or outright scared of us. Bah.

Also, a big fuck-off art rabbit.

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?

“I think if I went there again I’d just have 4 plates of the cheese cubes”, she says. That’s when she’s able to speak, because I walk us the shorter route back to the hotel which – and this is getting to be implausible now, like Escher did the town planning – is up another unreasonably steep hill. No wonder no-one around here is morbidly obese despite the cuisine.

It’s really not a good idea to have anything more to eat or drink but I’m desperate to sample the hotel bar, so a couple of beers charged to the room and we relax on a giant leather sofa, staring at a table with way too many flowers on it.

I mean, who doesn’t love a good nightcap? That was a perfectly wonderful way to finish off a cracking day in a beautiful pair of cities, and after confirming that checkout time is the very respectable midday, all that was left to do was return to our room and fall asleep.

Would’ve been good had that been the actual end, but instead I thought I’d go to the vending machine on the third floor to get a Coke Zero. Continuing the theme of not knowing when to call it quits, I try and buy a KitKat which doesn’t vend, even after buying Oreo cookies above in an attempt to force the issue. Back in the room my last act is to consider minibar port to be a good idea. It was not.

Created By
Darren Foreman

Report Abuse

If you feel that this video content violates the Adobe Terms of Use, you may report this content by filling out this quick form.

To report a Copyright Violation, please follow Section 17 in the Terms of Use.