The gritty side of Porto

Trip Start Nov 09, 2007
Trip End Feb 03, 2008

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Sunday, January 20, 2008

I was interested to read in the Lonely Planet guide book for Portugal that the word 'gritty' is used a number of times to describe various aspects of Porto. Other Portuguese have told us that Porto is 'the real Portugal' and to be fair to these statements, much of Porto is presented just as it is - very little 'Tourist gloss' here, which is a nice change but also means that you come into contact with some of the seedier aspects of life here. Spitting, for example, is a national pastime in Portugal but takes on Olympic proportions here. I keep looking for signs announcing competitions for public spitting. Longest spit, for example, or perhaps thickest gobby. My personal favourite would be the award for the longest preparation. I saw one woman take about 30 seconds getting her gobful ready, making plenty of cappuccino-like noises as she prepared. Yes, that's right: women spit too. One night we were walking along towards our apartment when I spotted a lovely older couple looking very dapper, she with her fur coat, he with his blazer and scarf, walking hand-in-hand. All of a sudden the man takes a long drawback through his nose and lets fly with a massive phlegm ball that landed maybe 30 cm from Maggie's foot. Lovely. Anyway, you get used to it. Or maybe not. God knows how they ever got rid of tuberculosis here.
On our first full day in Porto I was keen to get down to the riverfront. The river Douro runs through the heart of Porto and the area known as the Ribiera has been beautified with lots of cafés and restaurants, some tourist-type shops and a lovely riverfront promenade. There is quite a height difference between the riverfront and the main part of Porto and from the bottom the massive bridges soar high above taking people from one side to the other without having to descend to river level. Our apartment sits above this area and to reach it you need to climb down steep stairs or laneways.
We started our way downwards and straight away we found ourselves in a 'gritty' area, with smelly laneways, washing flapping and people who looked pretty down-on-their-luck ambling about. We kept heading downwards, following our noses but taking the downward path when we needed to choose a new direction.
After about 10 minutes of descending we reached the river Douro. The first thing we did was to take a seat at the nearest café and have a late breakfast of coffee and tosta mista. We spent a pleasant hour or two meandering along the length of the Ribiera area. A restaurant touter cornered me, assuring me that his restaurante was where we wanted to eat and on hearing me speak assured me also that they 'speak English'. Several times he told me this, holding his finger to his mouth making a gesture that seemed to imply that speaking English is actually delicious.
We found an excellent restaurant called Simbiose at the far end of the promenade, just past where the cruise boats leave from. It serves traditional Portuguese food in a wonderful setting. Our table had French doors that opened to a spectacular river view. We sat in the warm January sun enjoying the food and wine until the afternoon began to slip away.
On our way back we found a couple of very nice handicraft shops selling things that we hadn't seen elsewhere in Portugal. We took a close look at some porcelain roosters and bought a couple of knick knacks. Too tired to make the journey back up the hill on foot, and keen to try the funicular anyway, we bought our tickets and climbed on board. The winding descent that had taken us ten minutes took about two minutes back up the way using the funicular. It also afforded great views of the river area. And all this for just 85 euro cents.
We spent the rest of the day walking into the centro area taking a look at the shops. We found a shopping plaza complete with food court which reminded us a lot of home. It even advertised wireless Internet so I noted this for future reference, deciding to come back with my laptop the next day. Georgie bought some new shoes at H&M for 4 euros and both girls bought a t-shirt dress so they were happy. The sales are in full swing here and getting an item of clothing for 70% off intrigued the girls I think.
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guykb on

Re: Simbiose, Porto - look out for pubic hair!
Well, sorry you had that experience but I can only confirm that we had a wonderful time there so other people reading this - you can take you pick of the experiences I guess.

I am curious though - how did you know it was a pubic hair? Seems a bit unlikely. Why not, say, a beard hair or even a short hair from someone's head? Do you think they were cooking naked?

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