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U.S. New York State - Summer 2001
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PORTUGAL Fall 2001 (14)
Index of this travelogue


We left Belmonte on IP2 north toward Guarda, where we picked-up IP5 west to IP1 north. As we approached the Porto area, we followed the signs to the Port wine lodges of Vila Nova de Gaia and crossed the bridge, Ponte D. Luis 1, via the lower level. On the Porto side, we took an immediate left turn and drove along the Cais da Ribeira to Praca da Ribeira and the Pestana Porto Hotel.

This is one of the busiest spots in Porto and it is difficult to stop to unload. Linda ran out and found the doorman while the cars piled up behind me. He directed me to the public lot a few blocks away and I sped away as the horns blared behind me. The good folks from Segur car showed up right on schedule and we walked over to the parking lot to turn over the car. If we had arrived half an hour later, they would have been there to take the car.

The hotel is ideally located in the heart of the historic riverfront of Porto. The Port wine lodges of Gaia are across the way, boat tours are available outside the front door, a multitude of restaurants are nearby. It's an easy location from which to explore the city and the Praca da Ribeira is the most colorful and busy spot in the city.

The hotel was recently created from a block of sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth century town houses and part of a medieval city wall. The group of buildings was classified by UNESCO as part of the World Heritage Site which extends along the Douro River. The original exterior has lost none of its character and remains happily married to its neighbors. Glass frontage provides natural light for the lobby, bar and lounge and unites the interior to the outdoor patio and the lively ambiance of the square.

The interior design is contemporary with light woods and earth tones; it's bright and airy. Our king bed junior suite on the river side was stylish and very comfortably furnished. (Unfortunately, the marble bathroom was spoiled by the terry robes that had seen better days.)

Three sets of double doors opened to a balcony from which we were able to exchange waves across the river with Ligia at her office window in the Sandeman Port Lodge in Vila Nova de Gaia.
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Off to the Port Wine Institute for a tour of the laboratories, which we had arranged at the beginning of our trip. We were warmly greeted by Maria of Marketing and Communications Services and Manuel of the laboratory staff.

It was an incredible experience to see the process by which the Port industry polices and protects the quality of their product. It starts with real people, the tasters who sip, swirl and record their findings. The process includes cross checking and it is rare that the tasters findings don't match. It's then off to the spotless laboratories for detailed technical analysis. The results are sent to the producers to enable them to categorize and bottle properly. After bottling the Port is again tested to verify there has been no change. The Port Wine Institute issues the official stamps that are applied to the bottles. Now we know why we never drank a Portuguese Port Wine we didn't love.
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When we returned to Toronto, we were lucky enough to be invited to attend a Port Wine tasting event, where we were able to indulge our passion for Port, served with delicious cheeses, chocolates, fruits, nuts and pastries. It was a divine afternoon and a nice reminder of our recent trip. Best of all, it was the debut of the new official Port Wine glass, it's beautiful shape so perfect for this rich tasting wine.

Ligia had recommended two restaurants in the Ribeira area that were mainly patronized by locals seeking wonderful food at moderate prices. Tonight it would be Regius Barroco Restaurante, Rua de Sao Joao 46-1, (Tel: 222-052-145), which is located up one flight. Large exposed stone walls create a nice ambiance which was enhanced by the charming owner, Marie, and her pleasant, helpful staff. The menu was traditional, regional fare and we were pleased to find cataplana de peixe, fish cooked in a special pot called, guess, a cataplana! This wonderful rendition of the dish contained fish, octopus, potatoes, onions, tomatoes and herbs. The salad was an exceptionally good mixture of red, ripe tomato, crisp lettuce, onion, peas and corn with a very fine olive oil and balsamic vinegar dressing. The house vinho verde was a nice complement to the dish. This was a healthy meal - so we shared a piece of cake with a chocolate mousse bottom and meringue top, laced with a chocolate sauce.

At 09:30 the breakfast buffet was a wreck and depleted. Three staff members were busy cleaning tables and serving coffee but no attention was paid to the buffet while we were there. The next morning was only slightly better. This hotel has a great location and historic facade but it lacks the charming and caring service that could make all the difference in the world.
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For the university students, this is the time of year when they go through their initiation antics. They are marched through the city in large groups, singing, carrying signs and doing whatever they are told to do by the seniors. Today we found a host of them kneeling in the square outside the hotel doing the bidding of their masters.

Our destination today was the synagogue on rua de Guerra Junqueiro, which is about 3.5 kilometers northwest of the hotel. The on and off again rain finally stopped at about noon and away we went along the riverfront to rua de D. Pedro V north to rua do Campo Alegre. Since breakfast had been skimpy, we were on the lookout for a lunch spot. And there it was - Pizza Movil on rua do Campo Alegre 637 (Tel: 600-71-81). This is a Spanish chain and this is their first outlet in Portugal, with other branches scheduled to open soon. Claiming to have the "best pizza in the world", they deliver on colorful motor scooters or to your table in the bare bones eatery. That's okay because the pizza is darn good. You can opt for thin or thick crust (we are thick people, no pun intended). There were all kinds of promotional offerings and with the help of the couple in the next booth, we opted for the two for the price of one special. After we saw the size of the medium we knew we couldn't eat two but they solve that easily by giving you a receipt for a free pizza on your next visit. The doorman at the hotel had told us that he lived in this area, so the prize was his.

The Mekor Haim (Fountain of Life) synagogue was built in 1929 by the Porto Jewish Community. It is located in the Boavista area at rue Guerra Junqueiro 340. We rang the bell at the locked wrought iron gate and a lady who was cleaning came to let us in. It was heartwarming not to see police nor have synagogue volunteers checking our credentials. It's a nice, clean style with long, vertical, narrow windows pointed at the top and a high arched entrance, which arch treatment is carried into the design of the interior. Boavista is a very pretty residential area with lots of green around some lovely homes.
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Ligia's other restaurant recommendation was BZZZ, located a few steps from the hotel at rua Dos Mercadores 38 (Tel: 200-72-48). We had stopped by the previous day to make reservations since it is a very small (25 seats) and popular taberna/petisqueira. Although it is in the middle of the tourist area, the customers are mainly the Porto locals. The place is carved out of the original stone walls with an interior tiled roof supported by wooden beams. It's a cozy place where lingering is easy.

The menu offers meat and fish with an updated traditional flair. The young staff were lively and fun, like the owners who worked the tiny kitchen with skill and creativity. The exceptional mixed salad reflected the caring kitchen. Costelinhas de porco c/acorda was pork ribs and acorda. The ribs had been marinated in wine, garlic, olive oil and parsley and kept refrigerated. When ordered, they are fried until crisp outside and moist inside. The accompanying acorda was a perfect preparation of this traditional Alentejo dish. Bread, garlic, coriander, egg and olive oil blended together to a delicate finish. Delicia Gambas was nice size, quality shrimps sautéed in olive oil, garlic, parsley with a bit of cream and diced potatoes. The excellent house tinto was Lello from the Douro region. BZZZ is a delightful experience and an incredible value.
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Late morning we walked across the Ponte D. Luis 1 to Gaia and the House of Sandeman Port Wine Lodge on the south bank of the Douro. The embankment had undergone extensive renovation since our last visit and we found it quite attractive. Sandeman has a special exhibition called Vintage Before Vintage, which is a fascinating and exquisitely detailed history of Vintage Port Wine before 1990 in contrast to Vintage today. The exhibit was prepared by Paul Duguid of the University of California, Berkeley.

As usual the Sandeman Lodge was packed with tourists taking a tour and enjoying a sampling of their products. We managed to drag Ligia away for lunch at a neat restaurant a few doorways away. Adega e Presuntaria Transmontana II, Av. Diogo Leite 80 (Tel: 375-83-80). We brought our friend up to date on our travels while devouring pitted green olives, thinly sliced ham and sautéed shrimp and octopus. Grilled veal steak is the specialty here and we found out why. Fresh melon and a flaky puff pastry with a delicate egg and cream filling finished us off except of course for a Sandeman Founders Reserve Port.

We spent the remainder of the afternoon in the Ribeira enjoying the river scene and people watching. This was our last day and tomorrow we would be up at 03:30 for our 07:30 flight to Toronto, so it was time to pack and to get to sleep early.

We knew we had just finished a trip we would long remember and cherish. We had been gone a month and it felt like a month - time had not flown by, it had lingered and we had savored every moment knowing that tomorrow would come and we would have to confront the new reality of our world.

A final note: Once again we found the Portuguese National Tourist Offices from home in Toronto to the regional and local offices in the country to be extremely helpful and caring whenever we called on them. We encourage you to visit the tourist office in each village, town and city on arrival to ensure that you see, feel and hear the best of Portugal.
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(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
(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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