What’s the ideal amount of time to visit a city? To hit the highlights, see enough that you you’ve got a good feel for it, but not so long that you’re scrabbling around for things to do? I’m not talking here about that ‘You can never know a place too well’ thing, but more that when you come away, you feel you could tell someone else what not to miss and have had experiences you wouldn’t have had anywhere else.
I think it’s somewhere around three days. Of course, you can ‘do’ a place in a weekend too, but another day on top of that allows a little bit of wiggle room.
And so to Porto… Like Lisbon and San Fransisco, it’s all hills. You’re either going up or you’re going down. While going down might sound easier, in the back of your mind, you know it only means that soon you’ll be going up again. And, like much of life, the devil is in the detail here. So, while the broad sweeps are glorious, the azulo tiles round doorways or covering whole buildings are incredible, as are the bas reliefs on 1930s theatres or the small curiosities on a table top.
|Casa de Chá da Boa Nova terrace|
|View from the terrace|
|An amusing amuse bouche|
|Jacaranda (my fav trees)|
|Everywhere is uphill|
What else must you do? Walk down to the Ribeiro area by the river and stop in at the train station on the way to admire the blue and white tiles, which will have you staring at the ceiling, marvelling that people once put the effort into making the everyday beautiful.
We also saw a sun dog while we were there: a circle round the sun caused by ice particles reflecting the light in very high clouds. Quite astonishing.
|View from the Yeatman|
It may be a bit of a cliche, but the hop-on-hop-off busses get my vote. We went with the Yellow Bus Tour, which included a port tasting and an hour boat tour of the bridges, which was fun. It gives you an overview of the city, you can use it as transportation to all the sights and it offers a welcome respite if you just want to sit for a bit. We took one out to the city's nearest beach at Matosinhos, a one-time fish-canning factory area. While it's not the most beautiful architecturally, the beach is wide, sandy and there's a great promenade that runs alongside for walking and people-watching.
Rota do Douro, They start early in the morning, but it's worth getting up for. The train ride is scenic (and air-conditioned), the boat back was utterly charming. A nice, family-style lunch is served, the bar is open all the way, you go through two dramatic locks and there's both inside (again with air con) and outside seating, all for €60. A real treat. And the perfect way to round off a short break to this river-based city.