A number of those in our group did a “land only” package, booking our own travel because some arrived early and some, including us, are staying longer than the actual tour. Fifteen of the group are supposed to come in early this morning from Newark, NJ to start the tour. Those already in the hotel early met in the lobby for a welcome dinner. So far, those traveling with us seem very nice.
In the morning, we were ready to go on our tour of Porto. However, the others arriving this morning didn’t arrive. It seems that the Porto airport was fogged in and there were some engine issues regarding their flight. Once we realized that we would not be touring this morning, we took a taxi into town to see the train station, which is one of the most photographed buildings in Porto. We took a taxi to the train station, in the middle of town. It is a lovely building, with painted tile paintings on each side of the lobby,
We took a lot of pictures of the train station and then walked toward the water through beautiful winding streets, many of which have gorgeous wrought-iron balconies. There are many shops along the way, requiring at least a peek to see what was in the store. Once we arrived at the Ribeira along the Douro River, the gray skies didn’t keep anyone from taking a little cruise on the river, enjoying the food at one of the many restaurants along the water or walk across the bridge to the other side of the river. As the day warmed up by the river, we saw many water taxis and smaller boats ready to take folks down the river for a short cruise.
It must have been a little early for lunch because there were plenty of seats at most of the restaurants. We settled on one and ordered a typical Portuguese dish, francesinha (frances-een-ya). This dish is something that really must be shared, as it is huge and filled with so many good things. It is a sandwich, kind of, filled with pork, ham, beef, and cheese, topped with another piece of bread and a sunny side egg, then covered with a tasty, slightly spicy sauce! It is not for the faint of heart…
As you can see, there are many building cranes for ongoing construction projects throughout Porto. The boats await tourists and there are buskers playing music to entertain the visitors.
More walking around in town and we saw some beautiful buildings lining the squares in el Centro. There are many statues and building cranes everywhere, which contradicts the theory that Portugal is a poor country. We stopped into one of the most elegant McDonalds on the ground floor of one old building, too.
When we returned to the hotel after lunch, we found out that the folks who arrived late were taken on a tour of Porto. We missed the tour by less than 15 minutes, allowing us to return to the center of town and continue looking at this beautiful city and eventually get some dinner later.
We passed parks and shops, many of which I couldn’t pass up visiting. There were souvenirs of embroidered hand towels, cork purses, wallets and hats of all kinds. There were ceramic tiles typical of the area and pottery. Keeping in mind weight and size in your luggage, my choices were limited. Somehow, I managed to find a beautiful apron that I will use a lot.
After the enormous sandwich for lunch, dinner had to be tapas and not much more. We found a charming place and enjoyed delicious crusty bread, olives, and beans, then a cod salad in a jar and a fabulous tapa of ham, goat cheese, covered in honey and raisins. After this light repast, we followed it with the most famous dessert in Portugal, pastel de nata.
This treat is a small tart, filled with cream and then caramelized in the oven. They are everywhere in the country, from $.35 to $1.50 EU each. Just down the street from our tapas restaurant was a shop that only makes pastel de nata and we were fortunate to get a couple still warm from the oven.
Now it definitely was time to head back to the hotel and await tomorrow’s adventures…