Saturday, October 06, 2007

Full day in Porto

Day 2 in Porto, the first full day, started with a complimentary breakfast buffet at the hotel, which offered a selection of cereals, fruits, cold meats, breads and hot dishes.

At 9:00, we were picked up in a minivan for a half-day city tour. We first drove to some parts of the city outside the city center, which has UNESCO World Heritage status. We saw the new diamond-shaped Casa Musica, which was designed by a renowned Dutch architect and features several acoustically-tuned theaters.

The 5 m Avenida Boa Vista is the longest continual street in the city and features million dollar villas alongside the major businesses. The Avenida leads to the Atlantic Ocean where there are several nice beaches and some new clubs and restaurants in development. The beaches are all lower than street level to help you feel that you have escaped the city.

We followed the coast for a few minutes until we hit the mouth of the Douro River, which led us back to the city center. Once parked, we visited the Igreja dos Carmelitas, two adjoining churches. The one on the left was built in the 17th century in Baroque style while the right half was built in the 18th century in Rococco style.

Next we headed to Torre dos Clerigos, which features the highest tower in Portugal, rising 76 meters in the air. We paid 2 Euros each for the privilege of climbing the 225 steps to the top. Although still cloudy, the views were very nice.

Our next stop was the city's main Cathedral located on the hill overlooking the river - an excellent place, of course, to look out for invading armies. The inside of this cathedral was fairly plain.

Our final tour stop was across the Douro in Gaia where the port-making companies moved their warehouses centuries ago to avoid paying taxes to the Porto bishop. Grapes harvested in the Douro Valley are brought here to be turned in to port wines. After a tour of Graham's, established in 1820, we were afforded the opportunity to taste four of the company's ports - two whites, a late-bottled vintage, and a 20-year port. All had very unique characteristics and boasted an alcohol content of 20%.

That was the end of our city tour, however, we stayed in Porto's city center and strolled down Rua de Santa Catarina - a pedestrian only shopping area. In the midst of all these small shops, one door opened to a three-story mall.

Our day also included a quick metro ride to Dragon Stadium - home to Porto's soccer team. The stadium opened in 2003 and is very state-of-the-art. Unfortunately, they wanted 7 Euros per person for a tour and another 5 Euros to take a picture. We didn't want to see it that badly.

Dinner was at Majestic Cafe back on Rua de Santa Catarina. This was my opportunity for cod fish (bacalhau), a favorite of Portugal. Mine was served with thinly sliced onions atop eggs and potatoes. Dinner for two came to 37.25.

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