19/07/2010 by etiennefish
From the first half of my trip (written in the car on the way to the south of Portugal), now that there is internets freely available:
So thus far, I am in love with Portugal. Me and my parents have been hopping from city to city in a mad attempt to see as much as humanly possible in far too short a time period. As I’ve got far too many places to be and things to do, I’m going to keep it short and sweet and just sticking to the highlights:
I arrive in Bordeaux. So prior to arrival, I’d heard all sorts of negative things about Bordeaux. People said it was boring, people said it was ugly, people said it was industrial. I found all of this to be untrue. Bordeaux was absolutely charming and amazing. So after arrival at the airport I took the bus into town and met my parents in the city. We had a nice reunion in our family’s typically understated way. My parents were bursting with excitement to show me the town, so I dropped my bag at the hotel, grabbed a cappuccino and quick lunch with them and we were on our way. I was also given the camera my parents had bought for me so many months ago. My dad was a little sad to see it change hands I think, but all was made well when the realisation hit that our little group would have an official documenter. I took my duties seriously, and the documentation started immediately and in great quantity (if possibly not quality). As our day progressed, there might have been some definite shopping involved. My mother has become enchanted with French fashion on this trip, so she was stocking up for lean times, but there was also a lot of wandering and visiting of various sites. After very little time at all, I fell in love with the city. Bordeaux apparently has recently undergone some major makeovers in order to bring tourists and people in. I loved it. It was lively and young, and there were outdoor cafes on every corner, people hanging out outside in the evenings by the water, and I found myself thinking about how a summer spent in Bordeaux sounded like a great adventure.
Day 2 involved and comfortable and enjoyable continuation of the first day, the highlight of which was stumbling upon an open-air market while trying to visit a huge catherdral. The market was bustling and fun, and we found a nice Argentine man willing to sell us delicious empanadas, which were perfect for the warm day. That afternoon we took a typically Ryanair voyage to Porto. Porto was not nearly as hot as expected, which was nice, and I immediately took to the town’s mysterious, yet lively atmosphere and I enjoyed walking around the cobbled and hilly streets that evening. We had a wonderful supper at a fairly large, and clearly well-known restaurant, where we could not only watch the Germany- Uruguay match, but also listen to some Fado music (which did not get any higher up on my list of music I enjoy listening to after arriving in Portugal), and sample our first port wine of the adventure (I love port). My dad sampled the traditional cuisine, while my mother and I stuck to the more ‘vegetarian’ fare, getting omelettes. It was really weird to hear Portuguese spoken by everyone, and it was indeed nice to be able to comfortably relax into a language that doesn’t make my brain tired after prolonged exposure. Porto was a comfortable city, that I could definitely spend some time hanging out in. I think one of the things that struck me immediately and most about Portugal was the fact that the past just didn’t seem that far removed. It’s sort of hard to explain, but Portugal feels old to me, and yes, it is old, but only old in the way that the rest of Europe is old. I mean that unlike many other countries I’ve been too, it just doesn’t take that much imagination to picture the streets full of carriages, or the people wearing clothes from centuries ago, going about their daily tasks in much the same way. I don’t know, maybe it’s just a feeling I had, but the echo of the past is strong here, and for me, that’s a characteristic that I found more than slightly irresistible.
Another thing that was immediately interesting to me about Portugal was the fact that I could instantly see all these connections with it and Brazil. I mean, things like the inspiration for Brazilian architecture and church design, and all these other little things were so clearly apparent, and it was fun to make little mental comparisons between things to understand what was similar, and what was different.
This day was characterised by some visits to some Port caves/cellars, riding on a boat, the waterfront district (Ribeira), and the World Cup final. We started our day by leaving our cute apartment-like hotel room and indulging in a quick (and free) hotel breakfast (the best kind). We spent the first part of our meandering adventure wandering the old streets of the upper part of the city, which included a visit to the ‘Imperial McDonald’s, some churches, some monuments, and a growing fascination with the large number of wedding shops found on every street. If Lausanne is the ‘San Francisco’ of Switzerland, well I’ve found the Lausanne of Portugal! We also climbed a church tower, which overlooked much of the city and offered spectacular views. We were almost deafened on the way down however, due to timing our descent perfectly with the tolling of the bells in the tower stairwell. Afterwards, we stumbled upon another market that I had glimpsed from the tower and had loudly lauded as being an art market. Well, it was a market. It had nothing to do with art however, and was actually mostly birds. We found some goldfish for sale there too, and I contemplated getting some new Portuguese friends for my office goldfish back in Geneva, but figured the fish wouldn’t find the journey to Switzerland all that comfortable and gave up my plotting. A woman with fuzzy bunny rabbits caught my eye next, and I fell in love with this tiny and adorable angora lop. The woman selling them tried to convince me I needed one, a sentiment I fully agreed with, but which my parents didn’t find amusing. They were just so soft!!! Part of my brain wondered if my housemates would like bunny rabbits better than cats, but once again Senhor Realism shot in, and I said a sad goodbye to the fuzzy and the woman holding her.
Next, we headed out in some sort of circuitous path, our goal being down and therefore towards the water and the ribeira. On the way there I made friends with a cat tied to a doorway with string, was befriended by a woman holding fish in a bag and who insisted that they were pregnant, and I got a short lesson from one of the fisherman near the riverbank on the type of fish one can catch in the Douro, but have no idea about fish in this region save a few, so his information passed in one ear and out the other. Once in the Ribeira area, we had a nice lunch at a bar, and my parents found some pretty embroidered fabrics. We then decided to take a river cruise of the bridges in the area, and thus spent an enjoyable hour or so going up and down the river pretending to learn about bridges. The boat let us out on the opposite bank, which was actually perfect for us, because it meant we were next to all the Port caves, which was an important next step in our day. We went to Sandeman first. This is a more corporate Port producer, but as I tend to choose my port like I choose my wine (at least until I’m familiar with what’s good and what’s not), you know, based on the label (it had a Zorro-like one), we had to go there. We didn’t take a tour, but we visited their little museum, where I learned it was one of the first Ports to be produced in Porto, and the first to have an advertising campaign. There, we also tasted two 20 year olds; a vintage tawny, and a ruby. Both were delicious,, and I realised I probably just like Port indiscriminately, even though I appreciate different ones for their different tastes. We wandered around a bit after that, allowing ourselves to be a bit more discerning with our Port caves, as we now had a bit of alcohol in our systems. My dad was interested in a couple types that he had heard of or tried before, but we couldn’t seem to find them. Eventually we wandered up the hill/mountain towards some of the caves up there. The first one we went to, Taylor, looked absolutely gorgeous. It also looked quite English in the gardens and interior design of the main buildings. Unfortunately, they were closing for the day, so we didn’t get the tour we’d hoped for. Instead we walked back down the hill a little ways until we came upon Croft and decided to stop there. They greeted us immediately with some free Port (a tawny) and welcoming words (Sold!). We sat down at the homey tables and waited for the next tour. Croft was a bit of a smaller and a more family-run seeming operation (although I believe it was bought up by one of the bigger manufacturers in the 90’s). They have gone back to crushing all their grapes with their feet (yum.), and the trip through their caves was both informative, and interesting. I marvelled at the enormous oak barrels they used to store their ports in. The tour ended with another free tasting, this time a ruby, and we made the excellent decision to buy some chocolates to accompany it. By this point my mother might possibly have been quite tipsy, and I was required to finish her glass. A job a took on with the utmost responsibility and seriousness. It was getting late as we left Croft, so we headed back down the hill, crossed the long bridge spanning the Douro, and took a funicular up the other side to get to food and World Cup watching much quicker.
A quick question of one of the hotel workers sent us to a small restaurant nearby that had televisions, zero tourists, and a friendly staff. We tried Francesinhas, an almost indescribable dish of toast, various forms of meat, gobs of cheese, and egg, drowned in a hot sauce. It was good, although too much meat for my taste. We also had some good vinho verde. We left the restaurant only to quickly head over to a fan zone in order to watch the rest of the match. The crowd was mostly supporting Spain, and it was a fun match to watch, with a lot of lively crowd enjoyment. With Spain’s victory, there were parties in the streets all night long.
(okay, so I clearly put too many photos in, and now this post is far too long. I may have a difficult time with moderation, although considering I took over 1700 photos during the course of this trip, I feel like I’m doing all right. Anyway, I’m going to continue Day 4 in the next post).