The Douro River divides Porto into the city and the port-tasting zone. There is a long tradition of making port here (Porto, get it?). Whether you like port or not, it is part of the experience to taste some. We didn’t trek across the bridge to the lodges because Jonathan found a place where you can taste port without the hike, Vinologia, on a main street just a couple of blocks up from the shore. We had lunch overlooking the water as you see, and then tasted away the afternoon. We tried some very deluxe ports up to 40 years old.
The tasting was very enjoyable, the staff person was knowledgeable and we really felt no pressure to purchase the product (We didn’t). With only a week to go in Portugal, there doesn’t seem to be time to drink an entire bottle. That was before we found out that a good port should be consumed immediately. You should invite friends and drink the whole bottle. After 24-48 hours in an open bottle, good port is already past its best flavor. I recall bottles of port on my parents shelves for years after first being opened. Granted, these may not have been the most fragile varieties, but now I know that good port is to be drunk all at once by a group.
Our stroll through Porto revealed a city in flux, with many structures in the process of renovation and others falling to ruin. Many people tour the Palacio da Bolsa (commercial exchange) to look at highly decorative rooms. Most museums in Portugal are similar, private collections of art works in restored personal spaces, so we passed up that stop for the San Francisco church that is located adjacent to the Bolsa. Another gilded church? Yes, also catacombs, though most of the catacombs are closed. There is only a small window that shows an array of disarticulated bones that was probably what most of the catacombs originally looked like. The space is a bit macabre now as each group of tombs is topped with a skull, but it is all painted white and each tomb is labeled with the name of the person inside. The San Francisco church itself is highly gilded with numerous statues in polychromed wood and plaster. No photos are allowed, so all that wild baroque (or is it rococo?) curvature I must leave to your imagination. (Let it go wild.)
The church exterior I enjoyed the most was the Sao Nicolau. The exterior is covered with blue and white tile that looks purplish from a distance. There are also a lot of spires on the roof. You can see about half of them here. Sao Nicolau is just around the corner from the San Francisco church, and has a completely different look.
On our stroll we passed the Iglesia de Misericordia, sandwiched between buildings on the Rua da Flores, a shopping street, and the Igreja Dos Clerigos, a church whose tall tower can be climbed for a view over the city.
The Igreja do Carmo and the Igreja dos Carmelitas were built side by side, the former a monastery and the latter a convent. The church had rules at the time that forbid structures housing monks and nuns to share a wall–who knows what can happen along a common wall! The side by side structures had to be separated by another, and thus, one of the narrowest houses in the world was built. Claimed to be just one meter wide, its green door separates the two buildings, with a single window on each floor. What is remarkable about the house is that it was occupied until the 1980s. I imagine it would still be rented if the church were interested.
Down the street from our hotel is yet another church, Nuestra Senora de Lapa, that is not special from the outside. We were told at the hotel, however, that Lapa is home to the third largest pipe organ in Europe, with 5000 pipes ranging in size from a few centimeters to many meters in length. Some notes are so low that you think it must be what elephants hear in the range beyond that of humans. We stopped in and found an organist was practicing, so we spent a pleasant half hour listening to the fabulous organ.
This handful of churches is just an example of all the churches there are to visit in most cities in Portugal.