São João

Yesterday was a busy day, as you can probably tell from the large posting and numerous photos (which is really a small subset). On only our second day we were completely overwhelmed with stories, sights, sounds, and culture. Maybe it was just that Thursday was the São João festival (Festival of Saint John, the patron saint for the city of Porto).
I got a real sense of the Catholic influence walking the streets today. Not only historical influence, but a modern vibe of the religion from the people. One thing that helped was a procession that we witnessed that had both a traditional and modern vibe among the participants.

Beyond that, the associations were everywhere and churches or cathedrals were on almost every street. We found one in a side ally that we were allowed to enter and take a couple photos:

These side streets that we walked were just wide enough in places for a single car, in others no car would pass. There is a funny catch-22 here in the streets of Porto, the current tenants of the apartments don’t have modern amenities and are in deterioration, however, the rent is very cheap and the inhabitants are older and can’t afford the increase in rent required to renovate the buildings. Since long contracts are in effect and, I think, the general social culture of the area things carry on as they are.

One stop on our walking tour was the train station which, built in 1910 (Inaugurated in 1916), is one of the older stations in the country – at least on this size.

The tiles on the wall of the entrance are the main significance as they date back to the early construction and tell a number of stories. The one side wall of the entrance has a mural showing a family sacrificing themselves to the king.

This depicts the major historical event for the country of Portugal. In a quick brief, following the crusades the Spanish King granted some land to one of the main Knights. When his son took power he declared this land an independent Kingdom, this land would become the northern area of Portugal. The mentor for this new King offered himself and his family in hopes of sparing the new Kingdom, which was eventually done … hence the country today.
We continued on our tour through Batalha (Battle) square and enjoyed some espresso at a the Majestic (a very nice café in town). We met up with Patricia’s sister in Liberdade Square before heading off for some Bifanas. Now, a Bifana is a pork sandwich where the meat has been dipped in some hot sauce. The sandwich itself is not large but inexpensive and very delicious; and I would think it would do really well in the cities within North America (though Patricia tells me that is has not really entered that market).

One thing we did see was that many of the building lay in ruins, some due to impact from the more recent economic crisis here. Though, it appears like this has been longer in the making. Luis tell me that they did not fair well with the conversion to the euro as many jobs moved to other countries and nothing replaced it, but I am left struck with the impression of potential. There are numerous buildings that offer what, on initial impression, would make great hotels or restaurants. Others would offer more tourist destination spots, while other spaces could be cleared for new housing. Yet, the cost of rent or sale is so high due to location and land value that combined with the cost of the renovations no one can afford to take the projects on.

After ice cream, which of course follows lunch on a sunny day, we walked past the Clerigos Tower, which Luis had not climbed before. So, we thought we would climb the 240 stairs and 75 meters to the top and take a look around. Completed in 1763, it was an impressive structure with a very steep stone stair case that took us past the device used to play the bells and up to look out balconies. Which, yes, I did get to though I must say that I was nervous of not only myself by of Joe and Owen who seemed to love being so high and had little safety restraints to protect them (historical building and all). The top offered us some fantastic views of the area and was well worth the climb.

Below the tower was a shop where we bought some fresh fruit. This small market is one of the older markets in the city dating back to 1918.

Other street sale items today were these plants with flags containing poems and hammer noise makers. Evidently, the hammers were for the festival this evening which we headed to after meeting up with Patricia’s mom and dad and enjoying yet another fabulous meal. I think we headed out around 10 or 11 after it finally got dark, and while we got home around 1am there we saw one party that was still going on this morning.

One of the big traditions for the festival is the lighting of hot air balloons, heated from a candle. While our first balloon was destroyed before lift-off (burning candle + fabric sides = major flame), our second lasted much longer before finally dropping into the river. Apparently it can be a very busy night for the firemen of the area.

But, those hammers were the hit of the evening. The idea is, on this night only, you can go around and bonk people on the head with these hammers – you WILL be bonked so you might as well join in the fun. And both boys enjoyed it (duh!), and also later enjoyed using them as swords in a battle with another youngster who had a standard sword – and thus obviously needed to be attacked!!! They really had a great time.

So with some fuse-ball games, dancing, and even some fireworks we called it a day. Only to wake up late the next day and start all over again.
Day 3 – A “day of relaxing”

Today we decided to take things a bit easier since this weekend we are headed out of town to Lisboa (Lisbon) and the surrounding area. So, once up we headed down to the river Douro and took a boat tour of the bridges that span the river. While the tour itself was not overly compelling it did offer an excellent view of the riverbanks along the city and some great photo opportunities.
The bridges themselves are impressive, with two having been record holders (one recently). One was designed by Eiffel and another from one of Eiffel’s partners, while the other bridges represented major leaps forward in bridge design and construction.

On the other side the the Douro is the Caves do Vinho (Wine Cellars), which is the founding industry of the area. The Douro region is one of the worlds best regions for Port wine and it was brought down from the wineries along the river for storage and transport here in Porto.

Traditionally the wine was transported along the river in boats, however, with the addition of dams and increase in productivity transport was switched to trucks in recent years. A tour of the cellars offered some great history and insight into the making of Port wine.
On a quick side note, the cellars offered a perfect representation of the old and new mixture we have been seeing a lot of:

Back on the Porto side of the river and as we headed back to our cars, we passed the church of Saint Francisco.

This is an impressive cathedral, and while we were able to enter we could not take any photos so will have to describe, though maybe another day. Check out this link for now.

Beyond the sanctuary, the church offered a look at their catacombs which were placed throughout the floors and in the basement. After learning of this you really started to watch where you walked. And in the basement, you could see the piles of bones of history. Was a very different experience.

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