Friday, November 2, 2018

The Ribeira District, Porto

We are no longer in Portugal. However, I wanted to write about our visit to Porto in northern Portugal. We went there after visiting Sintra and stayed for two nights in the Ribeira District. This is the old section of Porto along the Douro River. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and it is very picturesque.

We stayed in a hotel located right on Praça da Ribeira, the old town square down by the quays. We had an amazing view onto the square and the river. Because vehicles other than taxis are prohibited in  the old town centre, we had to park the rental car in a shopping centre parkade several blocks away, and parking the car there for two days was fairly expensive. However, that was balanced out by having very walkable streets with little traffic.


View From our Room

As you can see in the photo above, we had a great view from our room.

A Boat Tour on the Douro River

The first day that we were there, we went on a 50 minute boat tour up and then down the Douro, and saw the six bridges over the Douro that join Porto with the city across the river, Vila Nova de Gaia. It is said that the name of the country, Portugal, derives from the Roman name for this settlement at the mouth of the Douro, Porto Cullis, which may be a derivative of an even earlier place name.


Picturesque Porto Along the Douro River

From the boat, we were able to get a great view of the colourful neighbourhoods along the river, as well as the bridges, skyline, and many significant buildings and monuments.


Enjoying the Boat Tour

It was fun to be out on the water on the Douro River, after having been a longtime fan of wines from the Douro Valley. Also, I admit to being a bit of a geography geek. It somehow seems really special to actually see and travel on important rivers around the world. (I have been similarly awed by the Mississippi, the St. Lawrence, the Thames, and the Stikine rivers, to name a few.)

Walking Across the Dom Luis I Bridge to Vila Nova de Gaia

Later, we walked to the Dom Luis I Bridge and rode the funicular up to the top level of the bridge. This bridge, built by the same company that built the Eiffel Tower in Paris, has a lower level for cars, and an upper level, 60 meters up, for light rapid transit trains. It is possible to walk across the top level of the bridge, which we did. The views from up on the bridge were fantastic, and the height did not bother me too much, except I did hang on to the railing when the trains rushed by and everything vibrated.


Looking Down into Back Gardens From the Bridge

As we started walking across the bridge, we could look down onto the buildings, streets, and gardens on either side.


View of the Douro River From the Bridge

The photo above shows the view from the bridge looking downriver at the Ribeira quays (Cais da Ribeira).


Dom Luis I Bridge seen from Vila Nova de Gaia

I took this photo from the far side of the bridge, looking back at the bridge. If you look very closely, you can see tiny specks on the bridge. The specks are people, which gives some perspective of how high the bridge was.


View of Praça da Ribeira from the Bridge

This photo from the bridge shows the buildings around the square. Our hotel was the pale yellow one on the far right, next to the deeper yellow one. I can even see the windows of our room.

Visiting the Port Caves in Vila Nova de Gaia

After crossing the bridge, we rode the Telecabin (gondola) down to the river level and explored sections of Vila Nova de Gaia. This area is famed for its port cellars, or caves. Being on the north side of the river, the caves dug into the hillside remain consistently cool as is needed for aging the port, which can take decades.


The Boats that Tradtionally Transported the Port Down the Douro River

The photo above shows the type of boats that were used for transporting the port from the vineyards of the Douro Valley down to the port caves where it is aged, bottled, and then shipped all over the world. The port no longer comes down the river on boats, but rather by truck and train. The traditional boats (rabelos) are now used for racing on the river, each boat sponsored by one of the port houses.


At the Port Tasting

We did a tour and tasting at one of the port cellars. The photo above shows the three ports we tasted - from the right, a white, then a ruby and then a tawny port. As you may know, Port is a wine that is fortified with aguardente.


In Front of an Oak Barrel Used for Aging the Port in the Caves

The port is aged in barrels of different sizes, some very large. It was an interesting tour, and I enjoyed tasting three of the types of port made by the Calem port house.

Then we walked back across the bridge, this time on the lower level.

We were glad that we included a visit to Porto in our tour of Portugal.