Home Of Port Wine
Trip Start Aug 06, 2011
144Trip End Oct 06, 2013
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At least we thought we booked a hotel. Turns out it was a bit of a furnished studio apartment in a great location. And in another first, at the airport we were picked up by one of the two owners using his family vehicle- under the guise of giving us a choice he showed us a number of the rooms that make up his burgeoning real estate empire
In addition to being the home of port (I can't help but think of the two pompous brothers sipping port while holding the glass stem with their pinkies out on that sitcom Frazier), Porto is known as the industrial centre of Portugal, but I think that's a bit unkind.- the area of town we wandered around was quintessential old Europe. You can almost imagine the birth and expansion of the imperial city of Porto as you huff and puff your way up and down the hills which surround the waterfront area. The many castles, forts, cathedrals and churches occupy the strategic high points and the town has crammed into the subservient spaces below, and with that space at a premium, there are no detached homes or buildings- you almost get the sense that if just one building crumbled, the entire city might topple over like some sort of real life game of domino’s. As much as London had a sparkling, almost bleached look to it, Porto looks very lived in (unfortunately a couple of escapee spray painters from Carol C’s neighbourhood in Melbourne seem to have made their way here) but it’s the old town views from the other side of the river that are a true highlight of any visit here. And to get to the other side you have to cross a bridge that looks like a horizontal Eiffel Tower (no surprise to learn that this feat of wrought iron engineering was designed by Gustave Eiffel)
Port wine (also known as Porto, and often simply port) is a Portuguese fortified wine produced exclusively in the northern provinces of Portugal. It is typically a sweet, red wine, often served as a dessert wine though it also comes in dry, semi-dry, and white varieties (which turned out to be my favourite). Under European Union Protected Designation of Origin guidelines, only the product from Portugal may be labelled as port or Porto- much of the rest of the world is a little more flexible in what qualifies as evidenced by the port I had at a slightly run-down Cambodian winery last year. Until 1986 official port wine could only be exported from Portugal from Vila Nova de Gaia near Porto. In days gone by, the wine was taken downriver in flat-bottom boats called 'barcos rabelos', to be processed and stored, however, in the 1950s and 1960s several hydroelectric power dams were built along the river, ending this traditional conveyance down the river. Port became very popular in England after 1703, when war with France deprived English wine drinkers of French wine (an early form of collateral damage?). The continued English involvement in the port trade can be seen in the names of the many port shippers: Cockburn, Croft, Dow, Gould, Graham, Osborne, Offley, Sandeman, Taylor and Warre, that you can see along the waterfront
After sobering up, we looked at renting a car in Portugal to make our way to the many small towns that we had wanted to visit, but the internet seemed to be full of horror stories with respect to Portuguese driving skills so we immediately decided against it (and when I say we, I of course mean DH- she was adamant that we not drive which was a bit of a surprise because since she wasn’t driving and had lost her navigating job to a GPS unit early in our Australian adventures, her only role has been to do the Queens wave at locals on the street as we drive by). Our hosts in Porto passionately insisted that Portuguese drivers were as good at driving as their national team was at soccer (although this did invoke images of Portuguese drivers rolling around on the payment with fake injuries at just a hint of contact??). We found a super price on a thimble-sized car and squeezed our backpacks in- we were ready to take on the winding cobblestone mazes that are a key feature of all older towns in Portugal.