Winding Down an Adventure in Portugal
By: Charles Giuliano - Dec 03, 2017
Porto, located astride the estuary of the Douro River is the second largest city in Portugal after Lisbon. The metropolitan area, some 150 square miles, has a population of 2.4 million inhabitants. It originated as an outpost of the Roman Empire and was populated for centuries by Christians and Moors. It has a rich, complex history and culture.
Following the TAP Gala that ended a Wine Tour of Portugal on Friday morning there were still a few journalists at the breakfast buffet of Vila Gale Porto. They were on their way to the airport. We opted to stay through Monday morning.
My Berkshire companions, Phil Kampe and Maria Reveley, as well as Brad Smith, left the hotel for rentals through Airbnb. Phil dropped by to leave a suitcase in my room. Then we walked around the corner to their apartment.
It proved to be a short stroll to a pristine, newly renovated, fabulous apartment with magnificent views. They dropped their bags to return later.
We walked a couple of blocks to the Metro. A young woman who spoke English walked us through purchasing passes and depositing money for a round trip. With a transfer and a few stops we exited on the south or Vila Nova de Gaia side of the Ponte de Dom Luis 1.
They were looking for stairs to descend to the promenade below and its renowned tasting rooms for port where they had an afternoon appointment.
It was lunch time and we parted company. Truth is I was utterly exhausted from the grueling pace of the wine tour. It had been morning to midnight tasting of up to 30 wines a day, as well as pairings of five wines each for lunch and dinner. Visiting an average of four yineyards for each of three days entailed bus trips and flights. It's a pace that takes getting used to.
So I opted to wander off on my own by walking back over the bridge toward the Porto side. There, of all things, I found a large Chinese restaurant for lunch.
Back at the hotel by late afternoon I went up to the pool and spa on the 19th floor. The hope was to unwind with a bit of aquabatics. I caught up on e mail and was thrilled when Astrid called my room. It was the first time we spoke since I parted.
When walking back from the Metro I passed through a busy neighborhood with cafes and shops. There was a promising restaurant, Triunfante 2, literally across from the entrance to the hotel. It was dark inside with a sign indicating that it opened at 7 PM.
I was there by 7:30 PM on a Friday night. By 8 PM it was packed with locals. Other than me there was not a tourist in sight. I settled down for a superb, simple meal that, cash only, was affordable. I invited Phil and Maria to join me on Saturday and returned solo on Sunday night. Clearly, I would have enjoyed more nights to explore the menu of meat and fish.
Olives, two kinds of cheese, and bread were placed on the table. Thinking they were complimentary I tried them all and was charged a modest fee. I should have known better being familiar with the Italian “bread tax.” A generally inedible basket is dropped on the table and you are charged whether or not you indulge.
A general rule of thumb is the further north from Rome the worse the bread becomes. By Venice it's a round rock with cotton inside.
Each night I started with soup which was delicious and just a couple of Euros. Maria tried to figure out the greens in the soup. We were told it was a variation of cabbage, I particularly enjoyed steak topped with an egg and wine reduction as a sauce. It came with fried potatoes.
On Saturday morning Brad e mailed and I joined him for an Uber drive to a museum then on to the wine caves. I have reported on Hanging Out With Brad separately.
On Sunday morning, my mother would be so proud, what else, I went to church. Today, actually, Igreja de Sao Francisco is more of a museum than house of worship. The museum side, what had been a rectory, displays religious art and artifacts. There were many vintage manuscripts and prints related to Sao Francisco. Below I explored the crypt with vaults for deceased dignitaries of the church. Through a grill in the floor one gazes down on the dimly illuminated, chaotic array of bones of the monks. It was a grim memento mori.
The nave of the church was stunningly ornate in the Iberian mode of excess. Every square inch of the interior was decorated with carved, gilded relief. It reminded one of when Portugal was rich through the slave trade and from colonies including Brazil, Africa and Asia.
From there it was a walk downhill to the festive and busy Cais de Ribeira on the Porto side of the Douro River. I was checking restaurants as it was lunchtime.
Then, what are the odds, I ran into Phil and Maria racing by on their way to board a river cruise. Catching up I bought a ticket and joined them in the bow of the boat.
Although it was a few days before Thanksgiving the sun was glorious. There was summer-like weather in the mid-seventies. What a perfect day for a sail through the heart of the City of Bridges.
High on the Gaia banks we passed the enormous warehouses where port has been stored for centuries. It was sent down from the Douro region vineyards on colorful vessels. They had to be small enough to navigate the river yet large enough to have a payload of precious cargo. One wondered at the labor of hauling casks up the cliff.
We glided past priceless waterfront property in varying stages of renovation. There were even recent luxury developments.
When we docked they took off to rejoin their bus tour. Maria later described the beach area and gorgeus parks.
In the walk from Sao Francisco to the waterfront I had passed what looked like a good local restaurant. Darting in and out of a small café the chef was tending to a charcoal grill in the narrow alley. At ten Euros for a lunch special it proved to be an excellent choice.
The waiter was working both sides of the road at Gomos de Sauda de Taberna. The moderately scaled room had a couple of window tables with a view of the river.
Lunch started with a version of squash soup. The grilled salmon was simply sublime. There was a nice charcoal, smoky char and soft, buttery texture. With a squeeze of lemon it was simple and delicious.
Wandering around a bit more in late afternoon I returned to the hotel. There was an early dinner and at 6:30 AM my cab collected Phil and Maria for a short drive to the airport.
When I turned the key in the door, at 6 PM, there was dinner on the table. It was a thrill to be back with Astrid. Travel is wonderful but there is nothing like home.