The Douro-ron-ron Tram and cheese sandwiches

Being Friday the 13th, I watched every episode in the film franchise back to back, which took up all my waking hours. The End.

OK, OK, maybe not. I’ve done that 3 times before, so perhaps I’ll do something different this time round – like, wake up to the sound of a herd of elephants upstairs, except elephants wielding drills and vacuum cleaners and stuff. Damn it. Do I actually have noisy upstairs neighbours, or is there a poltergeist about 10 feet above my head permanently?

Anyway. Helen took a shower while I blogged, and caused much peril by flooding the bathroom due to an impressively bad design of the room. I just about managed to avoid the same fate, and we set off to go source breakfast (being too late for the free hotel one).

The seating area in the hotel bar is so inviting.

First though we stopped off at the reception desk to buy tickets to a tour bus. The woman practically begged us to pay using shrapnel rather than large notes. As we approached the outer door we saw evidence of something going on opposite, there being a large group of people congregated for some reason – and as we stepped out onto the street, they all burst into a round of applause. Um, thank you, thank you all! Wtf?

A quick detour to the ATM next to the Majestic Cafe, which is a “must do” that we’re not going to do, then back to the place next door to where we ate on Thursday evening. We’ll have a ham and cheese baguette, a “one of those” «points at menu», a “one of those” «points elsewhere at menu», a coffee and two orange juices please.

What do you mean it’s only €10? Blimey. And all very nice, especially the custard tart. Portugal loves its pastry, loves its ham and cheese, and loves its sweet stuff. Nom.

The hotel receptionist told us to go two blocks up, turn right, and find the bus tour stop opposite the intercontinental hotel. We couldn’t spot the hotel but the bus being at a stop waiting was handy and on we got, upstairs in the open air. I appreciated one of the instructions.

Terrible, terrible headphones got plugged into the voice tour and away we went, immediately going back the way we’d walked. Here’s a cinema, here’s a church, here’s a square, here’s the road our hotel is on which is apparently one of the most important roads in the city. Go us!

It’s warm enough to be comfortable but the sky is grey, meh. We’re not actually sure what bus we’re on, because this “Yellow Bus” has two routes, orange and blue, and in this part of town they both do the same thing. We keep the unwieldy map out to try and keep track.

Very shortly we’re in parts of town we’ve yet to see, what with only having been in the city about 18 hours. There’s Aliados, the wide hilly street leading up to city hall, and next to there is the boozing district where you should expect to find groups of people wandering around clutching small beers. The architecture changes from building to building and it’s pretty fascinating.

Medieval churches mix with random bits of art deco stuff. Some parts are crowded, then it opens out and there’s fountains or statues of men on horses or some brutal hospital or something.

There’s a giant tower which the voice guide told us stuff about, but I forgot it all because I was busy just gawping at the giant tower. The voice did get my attention when excitedly explaining the one-metre wide building between two churches, built at a time when it was illegal to build consecutive churches. What kind of weird law was that?

After a loop around a park next to a hospital, the bus heads down a long straight road towards the river and doubles back towards Ribeira and the bridge. We’re on the orange route, this means, and we get off at the next stop. It’s the opposite edge of the district to where we’d reached yesterday, and after winding through a couple of narrow alleys we come out next to some religious thing with a really shitty Jesus behind glass.

I mean maybe it’s not Jesus, but whoever it is is shit. The dogs at the bottom are more entertaining. We pop into a couple of shops predominantly selling tiles and stuff made out of tiles, and being unimpressed with all the owls and cats I’m constantly imploring Helen to “buy a Jesus” instead. She doesn’t, so I start threatening to buy a Jesus myself.. It’s an empty threat, mind.

We’ve got a ticket for a boat tour but don’t know which one, and also could do with a tactical piss beforehand. But there are no public loos and we’re not really in the mood to go sit down for a drink or food yet. Eventually we find the correct boat and are told there will be a loo, so join the large queue. About 10-15 minutes later Helen’s suggesting we give up, which naturally kicks the staff into shape and we board our vessel, taking up seats next to the bar which sadly never opens.

The trip starts off directly opposite a port cave to which we also have tickets.

A little backstory here. The reason I chose Porto for the Christmas present this year is because Helen loves boats and I wanted to buy something with a decent amount of time on the water. Originally I spent weeks umming and ahhing about buying a 3 day cruise from Southampton to Bruges and Amsterdam, then discovered this here River Douro with tons of boat rides way up river where it’s meant to be picturesque as hell. We were going to take a full day on a boat, stay somewhere, then get the train back.

I failed to book such a thing because I couldn’t find a single website that would actually sell me the damn ticket, everything was just enquiry forms and my enquiries went unanswered. So, crestfallen, I booked the Friday night in the same hotel where I’d already booked Thursday and Saturday (thus causing confusion at check-in the day before), and considered the whole trip a failure in present-buying quality.

Turns out Porto is an attractive destination in its own right, and Helen didn’t fancy spending 8 bloody hours on a boat. So this 1 hour “six bridges” boat trip will do just fine, thanks, and my present is a glorious success about which I can now insufferably humblebrag. Hurrah!

Anyway. Six bridges, they said. Count ‘em.

There’s audio in three languages, piped over speakers and each episode preceded by an annoying harmonica jingle. It’s also quite hard to hear since it’s somewhat faint, and everyone on the boat (including us) is chatting away. I think they don’t really say much more than “here’s a bridge”, “here’s another bridge”, “here’s another bridge”, and so on.

On the Nova de Gaia side there’s some interesting non-bridge stuff.

Numerous things look derelict, and this angers Helen. “Why don’t they fix their shit?”, she says, repeatedly. Also, the sun comes out.

This makes a massive difference to how pretty everything is, but not to how derelict all the inexplicably-non-fixed-shit is. But it’s a faux bad mood.

It doesn’t take much to make a skyline look nice; mostly uniform buildings have a great apperance just through being painted different colours. Britain never does this kind of stuff, does it?

Most of the bridges are upriver, and all quite close together. The big one was built by Eiffel’s mate, the other metal one was built by Eiffel himself before he went and made a tower somewhere. It’s not in use, so they built another one out of concrete about 10 yards away from it in the 90s.

The last bridge, however, is way downriver up near the coast. So we get to cruise past Ribeira again, as well the stuff we’d zoomed past on the bus like a couple of museums (wine; communication and transport).

We get to see the waves crashing repeatedly over the sea wall.

It was a fun trip, short and sweet, and now the weather was properly out. We’re back at Ribeira and want to go to the bric-a-brac shop up the way. Well, one of us does.

Up the hill past another couple of Jesus vendors, we go past numerous public loos which would have been useful earlier. There are more tiled churches and narrow stairwells and we tread a narrow pavement right next to the tram line.

About 10 minutes on we arrive at Armazem, the bric-a-brac shop. It’s a bona fide tourist place, not just a second hand place, and I have to admit even I was impressed by it. Maybe even gobsmacked. Wandering around inside there’s very few people around and just tons of expertly arranged and presented stuff, most of which Helen would love to buy. Actually I suggest to her she’d rather just move in.

Bringing our UK sensibilities with us, we refrain from taking photos. Except for pondering a couple of shoe-making shoe inserts Helen buys nothing, not for want of anything desirable but as a disappointing exercise in practicality. To drown her sorrows we sit in the beer garden out front, and the friendly waiter brings us beer.

The sun is now properly out, like really actually warm and stuff. There’s barely anyone else around. It’s ace, this. We’re right next to the “this bit is for dogs” sofa, but sadly there are no cute dogs to entertain us.

Drinking my beer out of a jam jar, subscription paper notebook in front of me, and date-appropriate t-shirt on, Helen accuses me of going “full hipster”.

With a second beer comes a plate of cheese and a basket of bread. This could hardly be better.

And then it gets better, because we’re serenaded over the speakers by Bee Gees hour.

When the empties are collected I ask if it’s OK to take photos inside and am told yes, of course. So while Helen waits for the bill I rush round with my phone, dodging all the other photographers who have arrived while we drank.

The ceiling is great.

There’s another bar inside, with loads of port and stuff.

Nearest the bar are large items like pool and billliard tables, plus scooters and vehicles.

In the netting above the car are some noisy budgies.

The door is €650, and seriously tempting, but we’re not sure it would fit in our BA baggage allowance.

No-one needs that many old tennis rackets. But there’s an area dedicated to old sporting stuff, with heavy brown leather footballs and lots of boxing equipment.

Surrounding the inner bit are individual retailers who semi-specialise in certain things, like old typewriters/office equipment and lighting. There are a variety of big safes.

I’m in love with the piles of randomly sized and shaped luggage that looks entirely like it’s out of a film.

Shelves full of old technology at the back, plus more luggage. Everything is so immaculately presented it’s as if buying anything would spoil the place.

It’s almost a shame to leave. No, in fact, given the beer garden and weather combo it’s an actual shame to leave, but leave we do.

The weather also makes us not want to get back on a bus to go visit a cave, so we change our plans and decide to get the tram to Foz. First though, we do a bit of that “people’s washing as tourist attraction” stuff that everyone visiting here does.

Back up at Infante/Ribeira is the start of the route for tram #1. There are only 3 tram routes in Porto, numbered 1, 18, and 22. Err, what? Anyway, this is the big hitter, which hugs the river along to Passeio Allegre a short walk from the beaches of Foz.

We missed one and that was good, because they get every bit as busy as the trams in, say, San Francisco, and we wanted to sit down. Sit we do on the next service, facing inwards but at the front behind the driver. It gets full and we set off, past the pavement cafes and ringing the bell to get pedestrians to move out of the way.

What doesn’t move out of the way is the one of the cars that’s been in an accident, and ended up smashed to bits and prone across the tram line. Oh. Police are already in attendance but it doesn’t seem like this thing is getting towed away in a hurry, so we get off to walk the rest of the way.


Turns out it’s a nice walk along the estuary here.

You can observe birds, which basically means staring at seagulls and pigeons. It doesn’t keep us for long.

“These are the best swings in the world!”, proclaims Helen. It’s hard to argue that the view is pretty good. Across the river is some imposing castle on a hill that I kinda want to live in.

Whoever this statue is of, Helen wants to have a long ol’ chat with them.

Towards the sea we come just a little bit inland, into the park which has fountains and mini-golf.

It also has historic toilets, including one in the ladies that’s so bloody historic no-one’s allowed to use it. Helen pops in and is so impressed that she takes photos. Behold, interior photos of historic ladies loos. I know that’s why you’re reading this.

Around this time we receive word from home about the cat.

“We’re best friends again!” exclaims the cat sitter. This is an enormous relief. Hello, Buster.

All along the river walk we were watching waves crash into and over the sea walls on both sides of the river, and now we’re at the sharp end there are police barriers warning about the dangers. Plenty of people are ignoring them, including us as we duck under.

There are people all the way up the pier, and we’re not that daft. But it’s loud and fun to watch.

In fact, we watch for about 10 minutes. It’s a bit hypnotising. The Atlantic isn’t really known for lapping onto docile shores, is it? I’d made such a claim on the boat earlier. Are there any tranquil beaches on the west coast of Ireland? Aren’t Cornwall’s Atlantic beaches mostly for surfing? Etc.

Where we are is called Foz. It’s an upmarket Porto suburb and all these noisy beaches have bars and restaurants on them. It’s still warm, and we wander past a few until finding one that takes our fancy. We get nice seats directly facing the beach, at the front.

Those are the empties of the previous incumbents.

It takes us about 15 minutes to even get a menu, but it’s a little busy so perhaps that’s OK. Mind you, plenty of other tables seem to be having grief getting served. Eventually we catch a waiter’s attention saying we’re ready to order and he says “just a minute”, and fucks off. We pack everything up and put our coats on, giving up, and get served. Well, OK then. Sangria, imperial stout, pimetos and some croquetes please.

It’s all very nice, but we continue to observe the useless service to the tables around us. Never mind. As we try and figure out how to get back to the hotel the English family next to us ask the same question, and we tell them the options. Setting up to leave I do that “swig the last bit of beer” thing, which I immediately regret because it’s 8.5% and should not be swigged, just sipped.

Up to street level, we wait for the 500 bus, which arrives exactly on time. Quite early we watch a man taking photos of a seagull.

Two stops later the English family get on. The bus makes its way along the same route as the tram and further, eventually depositing us at Sao Bento station which supposedly has a nice interior. Let’s take a look.

Oh, this is just taking the piss.

It’s impressive alright.

Briefly we pop into the bit where the trains are, and discover that this station seems to be just some suburban/commuter station with only a handful of platforms running local trains. So like Wimbledon or something, it doesn’t seem to warrant such an impressive forecourt. Also what’s this weird machine on the left?

We come out the side and want to complete the route back to our hotel on foot. It’s not far, but at one junction I request that we walk just a little further so that we can get our bearings for a future visit to the brewery up the way (actually, I don’t think they brew here because it’s the second venue, the original is about half a mile away). Aha, here it is.

Perhaps we’ll pop in just for a drink now? Yeah, go on then. Life doesn’t start until late in Porto so at 7.15pm it’s easy for us to get seated, but it does feel a bit more restaurant-y than beer focused. The staff are really lovely though and happy just to serve us drinks and throw some bread and olives our way. Dry stout and a ludicrous sangria please!

The menu does look great so we’ll finish our evening here, ordering when we take a second drink. Helen downgrades to wine and I move to mai bock, which I did not expect to be 7.5%. Oops, again. I should get the hang of this. Anyway, we order food: Helen goes for fried onions with a black garlic mayonnaise, and meat and cheese croquettes. I go for the big hitter of Porto/Portuguese cuisine, the francesinha. Basically a ham and cheese toastie, right?

Oh it’s a bit more than just a ham and cheese toastie. I mean, for a start I went for the bonus egg on top option. The francesinha is also covered in a kind of beer-gravy-ketchup-sauce, and the whole thing is enormous and looks so wonderfully dirty. I’m immensely proud of myself for buying this, before I’ve even tucked in.

Once I tuck in I can feel my life expectancy dropping with each mouthful, but I don’t care. It’s lovely, and I implore Helen to try a bit. She cuts some and goes “oh, there’s beef in here?” To which my reaction is “oh, there’s beef in here?”. Having only attacked a slight corner to begin with I’d only found the ham, but once I was knee deep I found it had 3, maybe four kinds of meat. Ham, beef, some kind of sausage, I mean just look at this. LOOK AT THIS.


It’s the most magnificent sandwich I can remember eating this side of a liverwurst bonanza in NYC. Maybe it’s even better. It really is utterly amazing, and I’m perfectly willing to accept the immediate headache that it brings forth. The “half portion” of fries that came with it are too much for me to finish. Across the table, Helen has been defeated just by onions.

OK, quite a lot of onions.

We’d ordered at the right time, as the waiter had told us. 40+ people were late for their reservations, but seemingly everyone turned up while we ate and the wait time was now much longer. All around us were tables full of people eating francesinhas. We’re offered the dessert menu but I sincerely doubt anyone ever goes for it if they’ve had a main.

Waddling back to the hotel Helen says we should eat there again on Saturday and Sunday. I’m inclined to agree, but our GPs might not. We’re both totally bloated now and a coma seems imminent. Nonetheless I decide to pop up to the 3rd floor of the hotel to see if I can’t get some diet coke out of the vending machine, and discover the roof terrace.

Alas, I can’t convince the machine to serve me diet coke because it needs coins only and we have none. Never mind, at least I got to prove my legs can still cope with stairs, and also witness the range of corridor decoration throughout the venue.

Back in the room and tiredness hits me like a hammer, as my body uses all the energy it can muster to process that francesinha. It needs to get used to them, since I found a vendor in London.

Created By
Darren Foreman

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