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Day 18, Porto

sunny 24 °C

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We started today off late. We (Shane) slept in, so I dallied about booking hostels for some of our trip before we finally left at 9:30. We went to our coffee shop, ordered our two espressos, (mine with milk...yum) we ordered a brioche bun and sat down to plan our day. I pulled out the map with it's list of things to see and set about planning. While we were deeply immersed in conversation about whether or not to take the tram along the river a gentleman spoke from above. I looked up, well dressed and glasses were what I saw, he asked again "You speak english, are you visiting?" We answered, "yes" of course. "The tram is very good" he said "Wait here for 10 minutes, I will be right back." Immediately we were intrigued, what could he possibly have for us, tickets for the tram? Another map? We sat patiently and waited, ten minutes passed and still no sign of him. "I wonder if it's just a trick" I said "No, not in Porto" Shane answered. We ordered more espresso and drank them very slowly. We wanted to know what he was up to. He came just as we finished our second cup.
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"Diogo" he said offering us a handshake. We introduced ourselves. He asked where we were from and we told him. He set down a small stack of papers and a Portuguese book. He explained he was an editor from Time Out magazine the Porto branch, a name I recognized. It's a major publication for tourism in many major cities, a resource I had consulted in my research. He had a copy freshly printed from his computer of his Porto magazine. He took our map and circled, wrote and explained. He showed us the location of his favourite ice cream store, two of his favourite restaurants, which wine cellars to see and which to skip. He told us to take the tram, and "If you liked the gardens of the Cristal Palace, you will love the Serralves gardens in the museum of contemporary art." Twenty minutes later we had all we needed to know. His time was very valuable to us and his act just reinforced how we feel about the people of Porto, they are AWESOME!
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We walked down towards the Church of Sao Francisco. The church was started in 1244 as a small church and added onto many times since. It’s recognized as a world heritage site by UNESCO. Rich families in Porto gave considerable donations to the church (to buy their way into heaven no doubt.) No pictures were allowed inside the church, but it was a sight to behold. It was covered in Baroque style woodwork and painted in gold. The admission to the church (no longer used for religious purposes) included admission to the treasury as well as the catacombs. The treasury was nice, all though small, but the catacombs were so cool! Until the 18th century (I believe) the people of Porto (and I believe Portugal) were "buried" inside of the churches, it was not until sanitation came into mind that people were then buried in cemeteries outside. Inside the catacombs there are many wooden boards covering holes in the floor with numbers on each. There are also epitaphs stacked three high on the walls with the names and dates of death for the bodies (buried in the floor? in the walls? we're not sure.)
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In the very back of all the rooms, round a corner and down a hall I saw a window on the floor into a room below. The window was lit so I took a peek inside. I gasped when I saw what I did. Bones, and a lot of them, for the viewing pleasure beneath our feet. It might not have been that shocking if I had every seen an actual skeleton before, but I hadn't. 10 feet away there was a grate that could (and was) easily removed, so I took a picture for you. The catacombs were the highlight of Sao Francisco for me.
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After the church was walked on over to Diogo's recommended restaurant for lunch. As we were walking up a hill with our map in hand we crossed paths with the two Canadian girls we had met on the metro. They were looking for the port cellars with a new friend of theirs, another Canadian. Small city, small world! The restaurant was good, but not great. It was the least good meal we've eaten in Portugal. But Portugal has had amazing food, so that is not saying much.
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After lunch we walked over the Douro river to Croft, a port cellar with a free tour. The tour was brief but extremely informative. We got a walk through the storage rooms with their enormous aging barrels (for the ruby ports) and the stacks of little barrels (for the tawny ports.) At the end of the tour we were given a sample of ruby port. The port was very good, it is extremely potent and sweet, for those who haven't tried it. Most port is started with crushed grapes mixed with a liquid sometimes called brandy (but not the kind you are used to drinking) that stops the fermentation, leaving a lot of residual sweetness, (and a boost of alcohol) before it is aged for a few years in wooden barrels and mixed with fresh wine at the end before it is bottled. Tawny ports are aged in small barrels and oxidize more because of their exposure to the air, and because of this loose their red colour, turning to more of an amber. Ruby port is aged in massive barrels, reducing the surface area of the wine oxidizing. The reduced oxidization allows the wine to keep it's deep colour, thus being known as a ruby. Very interesting information.
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We headed over to the tram after our tour, hoping on and grabbing two of the few good seats on the car. We rode it to the end and then got off. We walked up to the contemporary art museum (the long way of course, it is Shane and Alyssa after all.) When we got there we were told we would have to pay to see the gardens. We declined, not wanting to spend 6 euros on something we shouldn't have had to pay for. We were on our way out the gates when I spotted a stairway on the other side of a bench. We checked that the security guard wasn't looking and scampered down. The stairs led to an underground parking lot and door led outside. We weren't sure until a 15 minute walk later where we were exactly, then we saw a sign reading "Serralves." We had successfully snuck in. Don't tell anyone. It was such a awesome park! First we saw the herb garden with it's trees (huge) of rosemary and it's lavender bushes. It had raspberries and lemon balm and oregano. Anything you find in the kitchen that is particularly aromatic was there in huge proportions. We kept on walking until we found ourselves at a farm. Pear trees, honey suckles, grape vines growing on arbors overhead. We met a bull and a turkey and a very passive duck. We kept on going and reached a large green pond loaded with fish. It's path leading romantically long it's side, over bridges and through a cave. We jumped a few puddles and came to large formal gardens. A left turn brought us the the stunning rose gardens, so much more structured than yesterday's but more beautiful in it's own. We had coffee at the tea house, and finally arrived in the grove which lead us to where we began at the front gates three hours earlier.
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Porto's streets are amazing, getting lost is never a bad thing, you will inevitably find, if your eyes are open, something beautiful to fill them with. Our 5 km walk back home, was as always entertaining. Just before we reached our street we stopped in at Lusiada, the restaurant that had welcomed us so well to Porto. They weren't as busy this evening, so we took our time (we do anyway.) We snacked on olives and beer before ordering. The food was once again amazing. I had a fresh sausage and Shane a steak. After our meal and before our cafe we were again given two glasses of port. This time we can tell you it was a tawny port, which I prefer. We judged the value of our meal at 20 euros, and though the bill came in at 14 euros, we left what we felt they deserved. As we stood to leave we received our handshake, the one friends in Porto receive.
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Posted by s-a 09:36 Archived in Portugal Tagged porto

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More great entries. By the sounds of it, it will be hard to top Porto. Great work sneaking into the beautiful gardens and adding to your adventure!

by Braden

again...awsum pics! i love the gardens...they look so beautiful and peaceful!

by Willena

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