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krisek Porto - A travel report by Krys
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Porto,  Portugal - flag Portugal -  Porto
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krisek's travel reports

Oh, Porto! What a place. The sun and port wine.

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Porto (aka Oporto) is the place where the fortified wine called porto (eng. port wine) came to life to fix the problem of wine not travelling well. Its UNESCO-listed historic centre is magical. And porto tastes exceptionally well.

The general view of Porto
The general view of Porto
Porto, which might have some etymological connection with Portugal but has most definitely given the name of the world famous port wine, or porto. It is seriously a lovely place with great atmosphere and perhaps the largest riverfront party in the country on the longest day of the year - the Sao Joao (the St John Festival).

I have been cooking the weekend trip to Porto for a couple of years. There was always something landing on the critical path of this journey that it has taken this long to finally realise it. But a day had eventually come, Ryanair came up with reasonable prices for their dubious quality of flights, so I booked the trip and firmed it up in the calendar for the 21-23 June 2013 weekend break.

The flight landed about 35 minutes ahead of schedule, which is always welcome. The immigration check was quick. I think I spotted a cash machine still before the customs border. But there were two other cash machines in the arrivals hall. One from the Millennium Bank and the other from Santander. Both machines accepted most of the cards.

To get to the metro station, one had to descend one floor, and pass under the road. The station had ticket machines operating in a couple of languages, but there was also helpful personnel, who could give advice.

There was also a local bus station and a taxi rank right in front of the arrival hall.

Porto is a rather large city, which is spread across large area. The northern part of the city was partially industrial, with a large port in the west, and partially residential. Between the airport in the north and the old town, there was also a sort of a business district. Then further south, a bit more residential and commercial and then, finally the historic centre. The old town was divided by the river, and the southern back was actually called Villa Nova de Gaia. This is where the famous port wine warehouses are located.

Favourite spots:
The view from the top of the Ponte Don Luis I
The view from the top of the Ponte Don Luis I
The top of the famous Ponte Don Luís I was perhaps my favourite spot. It offered views of the very photogenic Ribeira Quay of Porto, the intriguing long porto warehouses in Villa Nova de Gaia, the once-monastery-now-military-barracks (Monasterio da Serra do Pillar), the Douro River, the Eiffel Bridge (it is actually named after a Portuguese queen), and the breeze on those heights was blissful. It was also thrilling to feel the vibrations of the metro trains running just inches from one's shoulder.
I think my other favourite spot was the panoramic garden next to the courts of justice. This was another great vantage point. The garden was not unkept at all. It must have been just a hanging out spot for fellow trouble makers (waiting for their mates). I found empty bottles of all sorts and other items stereotypically used by those with relaxed attitude to laws and regulations. But the view of the historic centre of Porto from there was definitely picturesque.

What's really great:
The view from the top of the upper station of the cable car
The view from the top of the upper station of the cable car
I liked the variety of creature comforts geared to commuters and travellers alike. Porto had a cable car; a funicular; a vertical lift; and a historical tram - all to beat the hills. It had a metro linking all transport hubs, including the airport. And boat trips to admire the riverbanks and bridges.

I guess the most important thing, however, was the safety. It felt comfortable and safe to walk about the city, also at night. The fact that my large camera was swaying from my shoulder did not bother anyone at all. I also hit the town for the nightlife extravaganza and started partying at about 1am. The city was packed with people, who were really friendly.

One of the greatest things about Porto were also the taxis. Their ranks were scattered around the old town nicely and they were rather cheap. For a touristy place like this, one would have expected a bit more drama about the taxis. But not in Porto, where the drivers were friendly and honest.

Se Catedral
Se Catedral
The historic centre of Porto was relatively compact, but there is still quite a lot to see. Plus, the city is located on the steep banks of the river and there are a few up and down hikes around. Here is a selection of the most prominent sights on both sides of the river.

In Porto (the north bank): Casa da Musica, Igreja das Carmelitas, Torre dos Clegicos, Estacao de Sao Bento, Se Catedral, Palacio da Bolsa, Mercado Ferreira Borges, Igreja de San Francisco, Igreja de Massarelos, Muralha Fernandina.

In Villa Nova de Gaia (the south bank): Camara Municipal de Villa Nova de Gaia, Monasterio da Serra do Pillar, Corpus Christi Monasterio, Casa Barbot, and the numerous porto warehouses and tasting houses!

In addition to those, there were about seven fascinating bridges that spanned the banks. The most dramatic one was the Don Luis I Bridge with its two decks, but the Eiffel Bridge was equally grand. And one that until recently held the world record for the longest single span.

The executive suite no. 1027 at the Sheraton Porto
The executive suite no. 1027 at the Sheraton Porto
I stayed at the Sheraton. Although I stayed at the Executive Suite, which was bigger than my London apartment, I should have probably stayed in a less extravagant place in a better spot, nearer the historic centre. One could not go wrong with the Sheraton. I got a deal for €50 per night! All the five star amenities were in place, the bed was nice and firm, the bed linen was lush, snow-white towels were fluffy, slippers were soft, the bathrobe was hugging, and the espresso coffee maker was a bliss. Everything was squeaky clean, and I loved my bidet. The manager treated me to a 10 year-old tawny port from Real Companiha Velha, which was smooth and positively delicious.

The Galleria Paris street at 2:30am on a Friday
The Galleria Paris street at 2:30am on a Friday
Now, Porto's nightlife is truly plentiful. One really has to seek advise of a local to get the best recommendation at a given night. As a rule of thumb, weekends are best kicked off at theTropical, followed by a venue or two, or three, or perhaps four, at Rua Galleria de Paris. The party did not really kick off before midnight, but then from about 1:30am, it really picked up well. Very well!

The PortoTonico at Rua Galleria de Paris was as good as any other bar-come-club along this short pedestrianised avenue. And the buzz was unrivalled. It was relaxed and bar staff were friendly.

The Maomaria a couple of doors along was less relaxed about door policy and the drinks were €1 more expensive on average. But it was bustling as well.

All the following - the Twins, Three Cs, Plano B, Baixa, the Gin Club, Randez Vouz Electro Club, the Wall, the W, the Auditorio - all on a stretch of 200 yards street were busy.

And then, there was Deltronica, a bar packed street. Next one up! Super.

The riverfront of Porto with the cafes and bars
The riverfront of Porto with the cafes and bars
The waterfront by the Don Luís I Bridge, along Rua Cais Ribeira, was the place where people hung out. It was lined with cafes and bistros as well as stalls selling traditional and some dubious handicraft.

I sat down at no. 52 and had a couple of ice-cold lagers. And then, at Bar Ponte Pensil by the Don Luís I Bridge.

The best view of the historic centre was from the top of the upper Teleferico (cable car) station. Its roof terrace was great to lay down on the extra wide ledge and bask in the sun, admire the views and soak the atmosphere.

The Ribas Bar was great for people watching.

The Porto Novo Restaurant
The Porto Novo Restaurant
On the first night, I tried the Porto Novo restaurant. It had a carefully selected menu with only about 5 choices for appetiser, starter and main course each. I tried the lobster cream soup (€9), which was absolutely perfect; the surf and turf of steak and prawn (€22); and a splurged on a €59 bottle of 2003 Mouchão red wine, which was absolutely lovely! Did I mention that I started with a 20 year-old port wine? Grrr...

On Saturday, I found the Forno Velho. I tried their Qta Vale de Raposa Reserva 2010 wine (€6 per glass), which was divine! Their muche bouche was lovely. I started with garlic shrimps (€15) followed by grilled prawns with wild rice (€20). Yum, yum.

Other recommendations:
Centre of the old town of Porto
Centre of the old town of Porto
The Porto International Airport (OPO) is connected with the city centre by metro (€1.30-€2.30 ow), which takes 30 minutes. But, it does not run very frequently with waiting times of 20-25 minutes on occasion. Often the line E, which begins at the airport is merged with the second half of line F that runs through line E's last station (Estadio do Dragao) and continues to Fanzeres, which could be a bit confusing.

A taxi taken from a rank in the historic centre, on a Sunday afternoon, all the way to the airport took about 30 minutes, depending on the traffic, and made a €28 dent in the budget. Not that bad, actually. And I did not notice that the fares were any different at night. I used taxis from and to the hotel at night and in the morning, and the fares seemed to be exactly the same.

Had it been possible, I would have stayed for the Sao Joao party. It was starting very promisingly. Everyone was happy and people were really, really friendly. The vibe was incredible. Highly recommended!

Published on Wednesday June 26th, 2013

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