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PORTUGAL Fall 2001 (1)
Index of this travelogue

Intro | Porto

We left Toronto on September 9, 2001 and arrived in Porto the morning before the day disaster rocked our world. Little did we realize that the images we would see on CNN the following day would haunt and enrage us for the rest of our lives. We went through the hell of waiting to hear that our loved ones were all safe. Now, as we begin to write this travelogue, the cruel monsters are distributing anthrax, killing more innocent people and striking fear into decent civilians everywhere. We don't know what's coming next but we are alert, vigilant and determined to live our lives as we choose.

The kindness and support of our Portuguese friends and all whom we met along the way helped revive our spirits and strengthen our resolve. Once again we were enriched by the beauty, diversity and culture of this remarkable country.

Our first visit to Portugal was in the Spring of 1997 when we toured a good part of the country and fell in love. We returned in the Spring of 1999 to attend the wedding of our dear friends in Coimbra and were fortunate enough to spend a few days in the Douro region and develop a passionate fondness for it and the desire to return.

Since our previous two visits had been in the Spring, we wanted our next to be in the Fall when the vineyards would be in warm shades of purple, red, green, yellow and the grapes would be full grown, bursting with flavor and aroma and ready for harvest.

This trip would begin and end in Porto, which along with Rotterdam was named European Capital of Culture for the year 2001. From Porto we would go north to the Vinho Verde country of the Alto Minho and then to the Port Wine vineyards of the Douro before visiting our friends in Coimbra and before heading to Lisbon to further explore this fascinating city. After Lisbon, we would drive east to the Alentejo, which boasts quality red wine varieties. We had previously visited Evora and Estremoz and were intrigued enough to return to the region for a longer look.

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We worked with Accord Tours, 777 Bay Street., Suite 1908 in Toronto, M5G-2C8 (Tel: 416-599-3340, 1-800-268-9135, Fax: 416-599-3405). These wonderful folks specialize in Portugal offering tours, flights, car rental and knowledgeable advice. Accord Tours booked our flights with Air Transat (the only carrier offering non-stop flights to Portugal from Canada) and our rental car with Segur Car, Avenida de Franca 452-456, Porto (Tel: 22834 9840/1, Fax: 22834 9848). Accord is the exclusive booking agent in Canada for Segur Car.

Air Transat is a charter airline based in Montreal, which offers low airfares to many destinations. We opted for the Club Transat class for a larger seat, separate speedy check-in, preferred luggage handling and onboard service at least equal to business class on Air Canada. The service on the ground and in flight was extraordinary. We were nicely pampered by the "club" staff and even managed to get a few hours sleep arriving in Porto rested, happy and raring to go.

Porto

After clearing customs and entering the main hall we found an ATM just to our right and withdrew our first escudos. The nearby information desk informed us that there was now bus service (Aerobus) between the airport and hotels. The buses are new, comfortable, air conditioned and the fare is 500 escudos (taxis fares start at 2500 escudos). For passengers of TAP Air Portugal, the bus service is free with presentation of boarding pass. The buses run from 0745 to 1915, every 30 minutes. The drive to our hotel, Infante de Sagres, in the heart of the historic center of Porto, took 45 minutes.

We were greeted by a few new faces at reception but thankfully the same exquisite furnishings in the main lobby and sitting areas. The stained glass windows by the Italian master R. Leone still shine brightly over the magnificent staircase to the first floor. This is a hotel with character, weathered by time like the city itself.

Our queen bedded room, done in good taste with fine quality furnishings, overlooked the inner courtyard and had a nice size, fully equipped bathroom. The excellent buffet breakfast is served in the gracious Dona Filipa Restaurant, a splendid way to start any day. Of course, there is always a decanter of Port at reception to warm the soul.

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Physically Porto just sort of tumbles down its two great hills, the Cathedral and the Vitoria, to the banks of the Douro, to the mouth of the river, to the sea. Twisting and turning streets stream down without rhyme or reason to create a mysterious beauty.

We have always felt a sense of welcome, calm and security as we traversed the maze. Maybe it's the ancient stone and granite streets or the easy, unhurried pace of life as we move from one neighborhood to another or just maybe it's the aroma of food cooking no matter the time of day. Whatever it is, we feel right at home.

We have seen so much in the past, the medieval, the Baroque, the neo-classical and the awesome azulejos (blue and white tiles) gracing the buildings. We will once again walk the city to visit old friends and find new delights.

As we left the hotel, we quickly discovered that vigorous, positive change is underway sparked by the "Cultural Capital of Europe - 2001" designation. Construction projects are everywhere - from a new metro system to the renovation of streets, avenues, buildings and gardens to the building of new cultural spaces and parking garages. The city is changing to keep pace with its rapid growth. Ease of movement, beautification and cultural enhancement are the worthwhile goals. The soul of the city is not changing, it is just becoming easier to grasp it.

The hotel is located just a block west of the Avenida dos Aliados, the major esplanade in the city center anchored by the town hall at the north end and the Praca da Liberdade (the focal point of the city) at the south. We had our first glimpse of change as we exited the hotel and turned the corner going south. We were confused. Were we in the right place? The narrow sidewalks of the shopping streets have been completely reshaped and re-stoned (no pavement here, just small stones fitted into place and pounded into the soil) with decorative iron posts lining the sidewalks, creating a neat appearance and preventing cars from crawling onto the sidewalks to park. New store fronts and shops have popped up to increase the allure of the area.

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Walking south, we bumped into an old friend, the Torre and Igreja dos Clerigos (Tower and Church of Clerics). This tall graceful tower is the symbol of Porto. It represents the century of Baroque in Portugal and is the most beloved monument of the city. The bell tower is the highest in the country and was used as a beacon for ships entering the Douro. Once again, Linda whipped out her camera to add to the collection of one of her favorite sights.

Our dear friend, Isabel, would be joining us for dinner tomorrow. The hotel concierge, tried and true, suggested Burgo Restaurante, Rua do Bonjardim, 630, Tel: 222081106 Fax: 222081106, not far from the hotel. The first day adrenalin was still pumping so we worked our way east across Praca da Liberdade to Bonjardim, which winds gently north, to check it out. This long, narrow street lined with neighborhood shops and eating places is also being renovated and will eventually become a pedestrian way. Burgo was closed tight, but the posted menu was intriguing. A few doorways north, we spotted the Escuola de Hotelaria e Turismo do Porto (Porto Hospitality and Tourism School). What better place to inquire about restaurants? We were fortunate enough to meet Helena and Paulo who told us about the school, which trains much of the management for the hospitality and tourism industry in the country. Paulo was kind enough to share some thoughts on restaurants in some of the areas that we would be visiting. He assured us that Chien Qui Fume at Rua do Almada 405 would be open for an early dinner and would be an excellent choice for a very reasonably-priced neighborhood eatery. We knew Rua do Almada (west of Bonjardim) very well as the home of our favorite churrasqueira.

At Chien Qui Fume we were greeted by Antonio, the personable and eager-to-please owner. The restaurant is small, cute and immaculate with cheerful blue, white and yellow half-tiled walls and tablecloths to match. The menu is brief, with just nine main courses. Paulo had told us that the pork dishes were the specialty - so pork it was. We started with a marvelous potato based vegetable soup and shared a salad of sliced, ripe tomatoes and strands of a hard cheese garnished with a bit of crisp lettuce and onion, all laced with olive oil and garlic. Both of the pork dishes contained three thick, tender pork scallops, one with a mushroom and cream sauce and the other with a hot pepper sauce. Both were exquisite but too much to finish since we stuffed ourselves on the hand cut fried potatoes and white rice. The house red, a Douro Seguro, was perfect. Since this was our only meal of the day, we figured we deserved the homemade coffee gelato.

Rua das Flores is a few steps from Sao Bento Railway Station (earlier a monastery, containing a feast of azulejos) and as we entered, we were captivated by the continuous flow of the lovely wrought iron and wooden balcony railings hovering above old store fronts. The ancient shops still operate in the old way. Goods are piled on the floor and high on the walls. There are many jewelry and clothing stores but you can find just about anything else. The narrow street was filled with vehicles and shoppers. A few buildings have begun restoration, a sign of change - hope the railings remain. At the south end of the street is the stunning 17th century Baroque Misericordia Church. Inside the tile walls and alter stopped us cold - quite beautiful.

At the end of Rua das Flores is the main market, which is undergoing major renovation. We were now in the area just north of the river near the Palacio da Bolsa, once the Monastery of Sao Francisco where the city's merchants built the stock exchange, the highlight of which is the glittering Arabian room. Rua Belmonte is the prettiest street we had seen in the old city. Tall residential buildings line the narrow, slightly curved street. The tiers of balconies are dotted with plants and flowers and the street entrances are adorned with plants as well. Beautiful architecture, a garden atmosphere, laundry drying, ladies conversing window to window, it was a prime time show. Around the corner the adorable rua Sao Joao Novo leads to rua Commercio do Porto, a narrow, steep street that leads to the waterfront. It was laundry day for sure on this picturesque street as every flowered balcony was flying clothing, bedding and towels. There was a clean, fresh smell in the air.

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to next pageContinue traveling along with us or choose a link from below

(1) Porto
(2) Porto
(3) Minho
Viana do Castelo, Ponte de Lima, Ponte de Barca,
Soajo and Arcos de Valdevez
(4) Minho
Vila Praia de Ancora, Moledo, Camarido, Caminha,
Vila Nova de Cerveira, Valenca, Moncao, Melgaco
(5) Douro and Tras-os-Montes
Pinhao, Regua, Sabrosa, Pedras Salgadas and Vidago
(6) Douro and Tras-os-Montes
Pinhao, Mirandela and Braganca
(7) Douro
Pinhao
(8) Douro and Beiras
Lamego, Britiande, Mealhada and Coimbra
(9) Lisbon
(10) Lisbon
(11) Lisbon and Coast
Cascais, Estoril and Sintra
(12) Alentejo
Monsaraz, Redondo, Elvas, Borba and Vila Vicosa
(13) Alentejo and Beiras
Marvao, Castelo de Vide and Belmonte
(14) Porto

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