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PORTO (also called Oporto), Portugal
Last night was extremely windy and with that came rough seas. Staff had to make sure all of our deck furniture was securely tied down and after they came back in from our deck it looked as if they had moussed their hair in spikes. Because it was so difficult even to walk we skipped the dining room and called room service. The forced change turned out to be fun. Instead of dressing up we dressed down, into our PJs. Although the rough seas didn′t allow for an evening outing, the constant rocking all night was soothing — we slept like babies.
Today was a beautiful, clear, crisp day in Porto. It′s Mother′s Day in Portugal as well as graduation day from Porto University. And it is Sunday. There was a lot going on around town.
Among our stops was the old stock exchange with tiles and paintings that were supposed to be worth seeing. We waited in line for fifteen minutes or so and were then told that the "tour" took 45 minutes. At that moment I remembered why I didn′t like museums — tourists go to and want to see the same things I want to see and it takes way too much time to do that in a guided museum tour (which this was).
We had a talk with our guide and asked her to focus on showing us where residents of Porto get together and how they spend a typical Sunday (as opposed to lining us up in museums with others like ourselves). Our tour got much better very fast. This city has been a place of commerce for centuries — port wine and fishing among the best known products. We got to see a number of those places, including where fishermen congregate in little communities on the Douro River (the river, which flows through the city, takes them into their Atlantic Ocean fishing grounds).
Porto is a beautiful town. It was not affected by the earthquake that literally leveled Lisbon in 1755. That means you can still see buildings dating back to the 14th century. Among the old and new buildings, the city is dotted with large squares and plazas and pocket parks. Many of them have a church (recall the expression, "you can′t swing a cat without hitting one"). The churches are impressively adorned inside. The one on the right is a twofer — i.e., two churches in the same building. The outside of the structure has the beautiful azuelejos, the blue and white tile that was introduced by the Moors (but, according to our guide, perfected by the Portuguese). Blue and white tile murals (think Delph) but on a massive scale.
Although I get churched–out (Carol doesn′t) when we travel, it is hard to ignore the cathedral of Porto since it is location from which the city grew. It is, once again, massive. In fact, the architecture of most of the churches we′ve seen on this trip involve hugely thick walls, not all that different from the castle walls (only more decorative).
This cathedral was surrounded, like all the fortress towns along the coasts we′ve seen, with remnants of early buildings embedded in the walls. Porto was built on a river and took advantage of that to act as a warehousing area and trading center. This meant that all along the river banks were storage places and factories surrounded by the homes of the workers. Many of the former storage facilities (they were quite large) and other trading buildings are no longer in use. Although there is interest in renovating some of the 19th century properties, many of the good candidates for renovation are covered by Historic Preservation–type status which makes doing anything at all a costly, lengthy, and bureaucratic effort.
We saw the local railroad station. These stations are often places of impressive architecture (think Grand Central Station) but seldom of ground breaking art. I have discussed the fact that both in Porto and Lisbon there is tile art everywhere. On the buildings this tile art tends to be geometric: attractive but repetitive. If it was representative, it tended to be blue (of various shades) and white although the tiles covering the outside of many buildings comes in a variety of colors.
The railroad station waiting room is spectacular, covered floor to ceiling, in every possible space, with tile art — as realistic as any painting. The tile murals were stories of the founding and growth of the city. Importantly, above these dioramas was a border of more tile. Those tiles however, were colored and told the story of the various migrations into the city. As an as art gallery as well as a functioning train station, nothing could be more impressive.
This is the terminal for cruise liners coming to Porto. It sets the tone for the rest of what Porto has to offer. It is breathtaking, inside and out.
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