Portugal, the (second) Adventure Phase…

4 Jun

…and our final day of vacation! We actually flew into- and out of- Porto, mainly because there’s a direct flight from Stuttgart and it’s dirt cheap. From there, we rented our car and drove the 3 hours south to the beaches of Obidos. And since our flight home departed (yes, that meant an 0’dark thirty wake up time and arriving at the airport before the sun came up *gross*), we knew we’d need to spend our last night in Porto. Luckily, we decided to make a full day of it so we could explore the city. So glad we did, too, because it was every bit as lovely as, if not moreso than, Lisbon!

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This gives you an idea of our travels. We flew into Porto on the coast in the north, then drove south to Obidos which is just south of Leiria on the sharp point. One day, we drove the hour south into Lisbon. For our final day, we headed back to Porto and flew out the next morning.

Once again, it was easiest to park outside of the city and take the train- that’s actually often the case in the bigger cities, especially the one with the narrow, old streets not originally designed for cars! Not to mention that there’s rarely space set aside for parking, so you end up wasting valuable time hunting for a spot!

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Porto is the second largest city in Portugal with about 1.4 million people. Located along the Douro river estuary, it’s one of the oldest European centers- its settlement dates back many centuries, when it was an outpost of the Roman Empire.

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They even have a TV Tower like us!

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Just like Lisbon, Porto has a zillion steep hills, lots of cobblestones and plenty of pretty painted buildings. It also has that same melding of old and new- and alot of grit- that we like so much. And while Lisbon, too, sits on the water, Porto has really set itself apart by making their riverfront, the Ribeira, the heart of their Old Town.

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I’m sure by now you’ve seen alot of the tilework going on in just about every place we visited. Well, painted tiles got their start in Portugal. Originally just for the royalty, in the 1700s, a local Porto artist began taking the craft mainstream, making it available to regular, working-class people. It quickly became ‘the thing to have’ and you can now see it all over the place, including as ‘bricks’ of the houses! 

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Its biggest claim to fame? It’s the world’s #1 (practically only!) producer of port wine. A-ha! Now you know how the wine got its name! Porto = Port, get it? 😉 If you’ve never tried Port, stop reading this right now and go buy yourself a bottle. I promise it will be like Christmas in your mouth! Port wine is a fortified sweet wine that is produced from grapes grown in the Duoro River Valley. They are then taken here to Porto to be stored and aged- ie. to get better and better 😉 On the far side of the river (you can see it in the picture behind Neve and John) are the ‘caves’ of Vila Nova de Gaia. 98% of the world’s port wines have been stored in barrels in these very cellars. In fact, in all countries other than the US, in order for a wine to be labeled as ‘port,’ it has to come from this region of Portugal. WOW. (In the US, any manufacturer can label their product as such. :/)

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Burmester is one of the prominent ‘caves,’ so we decided it would be perfect for a little tour.

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The Duoro Valley, about 2 hours away, is where the grapes are grown. Each vineyard then has its own cellars in Porto where the wine is brought to age. When the wine is ready, it’s taken back to the vineyards to be bottled. 

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View from the outside…

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We learned so much about port wine in just half an hour! In a nutshell, there are three main types- Ruby, Tawny and White. These are then further divided into dry, vintage, etc. Each kind requires its own types of barrels (upright round vs. laying down round, large vs. small) and its own conditions (humidity, light, etc.) Each has an intended consumption- aperitif vs. digestive- and serving style- room temperature vs. chilled. And each authentic bottle will not only be labeled with the vineyard, the cellar and the city name (Porto), but also the year that it was bottled. This is particularly interesting for vintage bottles as this will tell you the exact age. Neat, huh?

So what’s so special about the Duoro and Porto? Well, for centuries, the climate has been perfect for all the necessary components to make the perfect port wines. The Valley has optimal soil, temperatures, sunlight and rain. The far side of the river from Porto has the perfect amount of shade (it’s rarely in direct sunlight due to the hills) and crazy high humidity needed for optimal fermentation. And in olden days- when all transportation was by boat- it was relatively close.

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Today, the boats are still used for some of the transportation, along with stainless steel trucks.

And being the water junkies that we are, we couldn’t wait to ride on the boat! Yep, we were all in our happy place ❤

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Where the Duoro meets the Atlantic…

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And with our wine and water whims satisfied, we headed back across the bridge to do a bit more exploring of the Old Town…

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Their main bridge, the Pont Luis 1, was built by Gustave Eiffel’s protege. Impossible to guess that, right? 😉

Can’t beat the views from the bridge!

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Located at the historical city center, the Porto Cathedral is one of the city’s oldest monuments (1110) and one of the most important Romanesque monuments in all of Portugal. 

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Major hill climbing! (Much easier to do the ones with steps than without! Ha!)

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Built in 1283 and located in the historic city center, this cathedral is the most prominent Gothic monument in Portugal and is considered one of the most ornate cathedrals (inside) in the world.

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This is how much I love y’all! See the ‘no picture’ warning right there? Yeah, well here’s not one, but TWO!, pictures for you!

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Now, cathedral decorum can be really personal and super subjective. And this is a perfect example of that. This particular beauty- with all of its intricate woodwork, amazing carvings and unending gold leafing- did absolutely nothing for me. I’m always drawn to clean lines, vibrant stained glass and marbled stoneworks…I found the Sao Francisco interior to be gaudy and busy, too much of everything and alot of places for dust to collect. Sure, some of the carvings were so intricate and beautiful, but I just couldn’t appreciate them with all the glitz and feeling of chaos. John- and Neve- didn’t see it this way at all. They found all the gilded surfaces to be so impressive and truly unique. They loved the gold and were in awe of all the talent- and money- that had to go into crafting such a vision. No wonder there are so many different types of architecture all around the world! Different strokes for different folks! 😉

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One of John’s favorite meals of the whole trip! Yep, that’s an octopus steak! (That’s a filet mignon on my plate, beneath the egg 😉 )

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Isn’t she a ham?! ❤

So after a gorgeous fun day and a delicious riverfront dinner, we said goodnight to Porto, packed our bags and set our alarms for 4a to make our way back home. What a really, really, really good trip it was- the perfect medley of relaxation and adventure. The perfect 6 days for our trio- the kind that makes you truly thankful for what, and who, you have. Not that we don’t always know these things, but a reminder every once in a while never hurts. ❤

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3 Responses to “Portugal, the (second) Adventure Phase…”

  1. Robin June 4, 2016 at 8:04 PM #

    I enjoyed all of the Portugal pictures and the info too. Sounds like the trip was just what you and John planned and needed. Thanks for keeping us in the loop.

  2. jsimssr June 4, 2016 at 1:37 PM #

    Great pictures,but would like to see you in some.They do great bread there also.

  3. Eleanor June 4, 2016 at 1:08 PM #

    Erin, beautiful pictures! So happy the trip to Portugal was perfect for you three. It is great to read your Blogs and to wish I was there!

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