Solo in Porto
A city battered, yet so unbelievably beautiful, she displays decrepid elegance in abundance. I am exploring Portugal on my own and feel like I am seeing the world with new eyes. While taking in her eclectic reverie, I find it impossible to not become infatuated with her charisma and charm. She is unique, unpretentious and will forever remain the place of my first trip to Europe. It's amazing how travel can awaken you, regardless of how much you love where you live. What's so enchanting you ask? The food, the fashion, the architecture, history and culture... I could go on. Below are a few of my most memorable moments during my stay in Porto.
The blue and white hand painted tiles called azulejos spoke to me the second I saw their ornate artistic qualities. Their historical significance is tangible everywhere you tread in Portugal, regardless of composing complete murals or simple repeating patterns. Not once did I tire of observing their many designs.
Igreja dos Carmo Church, Porto, 1756.
Several other stunning azulejos that caught my eye...
The vestibule of the São Bento Railway Station in Porto, 1864. The illustrations tell a chronological timeline, depict the seasons with various portraits of women, and the founders are represented on a mounted plaque.
Views of and from Torre dos Clérigos church. After a steady 76 meter climb up, it's time to scale the same extremely narrow spiraling stone stairs again.
Another highlight was the Livraria Lello Bookstore. Famed as the most beautiful bookshop in the world, I would have to agree without argument. Complete with bronze busts of great writers in the Iberian Peninsula, Portuguese authors and the founding brothers, your eyes don't stop there. The wood carvings, Art-Deco details, 26 foot by 11 foot stained-glass skylight, intricate columns and Gothic facade pull you in. But then there's the alluring crimson staircase. It takes the cake.
The romantic, medieval city of Porto offers colorful streets, centuries-old sights, Roman ruins, nostalgic plazas, Baroque, Neo-Gothic and Romanesque architecture and monuments at every turn. I exaggerate not and painfully refrain from sharing far too many photos... or at least too many more. Although I do feel that there's no turning back now.
Porto Cathedral, 1737. And my extremely knowledgable and personable tour guide, Andre. Behind him is Vila Nova de Gaia, the city he grew up in.
A view of Porto from Gaia, across the Rio Douro.
I toured Poças Junior in Gaia, the only multi-generational (four and counting) family owned winery that produces Port wine and is a whole century old as of this year. Touring their facilities and learning about the variations of white, tawny and ruby Port was an absolute pleasure and palate pleaser. There were barrels and vats of 100 year old wine, and some so old that their dates could not be determined.
The Tortoiseshell cat that crossed my path more than a few times in Porto. Alike the theme I see in her city, she's battered. A clipped ear, cropped tail, deformed chest and misaligned eyes make her all the more beautiful. She was friendly and curious, so I can only hope she hasn't purposely been abused, just a hard life on the streets. Her appearance reminded me of the Ribeira Negra, a stunning mural I saw while in Porto. It's a magnificent depiction of how hard life had been for this population, their misery and grandeur was documented so artfully.
While sitting on a bench and taking in the view of Gaia from the Porto side of the Douro River, this motorcycle came into focus and inflicted pangs of longing for my husband over 5,500 miles away... how I wished he was here with me. What I wouldn't give to explore the city with my arms wrapped around him on the back of his motorcycle.
A few sightings while walking through the Ribeira neighborhood. This block of housing looked particularly cheerful to me with its blush, blue and white triangle tiles and bright yellow painted exterior. Laundry hanging in a line to air dry could be seen from every direction.
This is the artist I purchased an original watercolor piece from while walking a street market. Her name is Carla. She also creates sculptures out of trash using discarded bottles by covering them in paper-mâché to create repurposed works of art. She was beyond kind and after we got to talking, she insisted that I have an additional painting of hers - my choice.
Views along the Rio Douro while taking a cruise underneath the six bridges - Luis I, Dom Henrique, the Maria Pia bridge, Freixo, São João and the Arrábida bridge. All are prime examples of spectacular engineering in Portugal throughout the years. Other sightings included a ceramics factory, a fisherman village, various churches, parts of the original rubble stone masonry wall, wineries and more.
The same evening I took the river cruise I sat along the Douro as the sun slipped away. Restaurants filled up and people were strolling along the granite streets. A musician sang just mere feet from me filling the air with his tender voice. His American love songs cut me to the core. City lights gracefully danced on the water. The air was chilly, but I didn't mind. It looked something like this...
Ceramic swallows, or andorinhas, were first designed in the early 1890's by a Portuguese handcrafter. They can be found throughout souvenir shops, restaurants and on the walls of private homes year-around in Portugal, even though they are migratory birds. Swallows are known to build their nests in the same place they have previously inhabited and have only a single partner throughout their entire lives. This earned them powerful symbolism for love, faithfulness, family and home. And in days when communication wasn't easy, these swallows were exchanged to show how one felt for their lover. The second I saw them my heart swooned as I scooped up a few to bring home, even though I learned their meaning after making my purchase. I don't think a better souvenir from Portugal could exist - just look how stunning this installation is that I spotted at a local shop, A Vida Portuguesa!
As many photos as I took, there were still so many moments that went uncaptured, yet I will always remember from my trip to Porto. The Siamese cat that visited my hotel room as I was getting ready for my day, the authentic cuisine at Restaurante Pirâmide do Egypto, watching a young woman asking to play a song on a street musician's guitar and how he happily let her, the peacocks wandering at Taylor's cellars, taking in a birds-eye-view of the city in the black of night, and seeing textile production happen right before my eyes at a fabric mill. But one moment in particular still stands out in my mind...
I was watching a man walking with his two dogs. The golden one was leashed while the other, a large shaggy solid black dog, was not. The black dog was lagging behind as the man called to pick up the pace. And just as they were crossing the street together, the man looked down, smiled as big as he could at his canine friend, and pat the dog on its head now that it was at his side. This caused the dog to become quite excited and it began to jump up and down while softly mouthing the man's hand that was clasped around the handle of the leash. The man laughed, as did I in observance. And I watched as he surrendered the leash to the black dog who was now thrilled that it was leading the golden dog in a brisk trot down the granite cobblestone street, leash in its mouth. The trio disappeared behind a building, but my smile remained and it still stays with me.
Portugal, you were and you are pure magic.