Our driving adventures ended safely and successfully in Porto yesterday. From our ‘tree-house’ to the hotel in Porto, where we would stay for 2 nights, it was about 2.5 hrs of driving through the countryside. First we descended about 300 m down from the park along some winding roads on which I was getting very good at managing gearing and curves. Portuguese drivers, however, are not very patient; if you are not going fast enough, they love to drive very close to your back bumper, waiting for a chance to zoom by, either in the passing lanes that were provided at regular intervals, or not. Sometimes they just took chances I never would. We especially began to dislike anyone in a Mercedes; they seemed to be the worst and rudest. BMW drivers, however, seemed quite reasonable.
Having Bill as the navigator was a huge blessing. He very clearly explained what was coming up, whether it was a round-about (there are tons here), a weird turn or odd direction to go. Along the country roads, things are pretty ‘easy’ but once we got into the older part of Porto, with the narrow streets and no grid pattern, his help was essential. We safely navigated to the hotel to drop our luggage and then to the car rental location to drop off the car. I was a bit relieved that we made it back without a scratch on the car, or anything worse.
We explored the town a bit yesterday and enjoyed our casual walk around. Porto is a city of 3 large hills. From our hotel down to the waterfront is a drop of 100 m, down a LOT of steps which means you have to come up again!
We visited the train station, which is very well known for its 22,000 blue tiles that depict many scenes from Portuguese history. The station was built in the early 1900’s so it’s not an old building, but the design is really remarkable.
We also visited the Porto Cathedral (yes another church). We were not going to go in, but we decided to in the end. It’s another church which shows many centuries of architectural design. Started in the later part of the 12th C, the block towers show the Romanesque design. In the 14th and 15th C, the Gothic cloisters were added, and renovations inside the church. Then in the late 18th C, the effusive typical baroque design took over, adding fancy carvings on the facade, and more importantly a complete redesign of the apse, including a silver altarpiece and overwhelming (in my eyes) carvings and design. It was almost too much to look at and contrasted so starkly with the simpler gothic arches and design in the rest of the church.
In the evening we decided to descend the 100 m down the hill to the river’s edge. This is where a lot of the touristy restaurants are, but it’s also a nice place to stroll. On the other side of the river is the city of Gaia, and that is where many of the wine cellars for the wine produced in the Douro valley are located. We looked at the river, with excitement, knowing that we would be paddling past this area in a little over a week from now. This old part of the city is another Unesco site and that means that all the building facades must be maintained, although renovations can be done inside. The cityscape along this stretch of the river is really pretty, with many different coloured buildings, graceful metal balconies, all stretching up the hill. We watched the lights come on and then got more exercise by climbing back up the hill to our hotel.
This morning we decided to do another e-bike tour and given the steep hills, we were really glad we were on e-bikes. We started in Gaia, and had a great tour of the city, getting to some great viewpoints, different neighbourhoods and seeing some of the primary sights and bridges. There are currently 6 bridges across the river in Porto. There is even one, dedicated to trains, designed by Eiffel, but it’s not longer used because it has fallen into disrepair.
We had lunch in Gaia, enjoying the view across the river to Porto, with it’s elegant buildings and interesting cityscape.
So this evening we met the rest of the group who will be paddling with us. There are 10 others, and as expected, they seem to be a great bunch of people, since we all share an interest in paddling. We board the train tomorrow to travel about 3 hours upstream. We will put in there and actually touch the Spanish border, and then on Monday we will start paddling downstream. We were hoping it would be a ‘downstream’ paddle but we learned today that there really is not much current because of the 7 dams along the river. So it’s more like paddling in a series of lakes we were told. Stay tuned for more updates.