Porto: A City of Many Faces

One reason I love to travel in Europe is discovering the various cultures of each place. No two are really alike. There’s the sophistication of Paris, the multi-culturalism of London, the history of Rome — and the appreciation of its past shown in every city by the care and protection given to its old structures. Like many European cities I have visited, Porto Portugal displays its history on its streets — the centuries when the city was rich and and the ones that were not. Here’s a quick archaeological tour that displays Porto across many centuries.

I saw no visible signs of Roman Porto, nor did I read of any I might have missed seeing.  The romanesque cathedral, shown above, is said to be the oldest building in the city.  It was begun in the year 1110.

The tallest structure in the city is the Torre Clerigos. It’s attached to a church built ca. 1750. Visitors climb the 240 steps to the top for spectacular views — although not I! I did have a glass of wine on the terrace of the modern shopping mall seen at the bottom of this photo.

This rococo beauty is a church that proudly announces on the carving above the door that it was built in 1750.

In the mid-1700s artistic tile work became very popular in Portugal. The word for these tiles in Portuguese is “azulejo.” Usually blue and white, images are painted on each tile and put together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. They are still seen on a great many building, both grand and humble, all over the city.

Shown here is the exterior of the block-long, 3-story market I wrote about a few days ago. It was built ca. 1850.

The San Bento train station, built in 1903, is considered by many to be the most beautiful station in Europe because its walls are covered in azulejo tiles. (This photo borrowed from packafork.com, a travel blog.)

In 1903 the famous Lello bookstore was created. Long a favorite of visitors to Porto, it has become a very famous site since it was featured in a Harry Potter movie. Now anyone wishing to see the interior (which is spectacular) must buy a ticket for €5.50 and join the line at the door.

Porto’s beautiful city hall is shown here. It is sited at the top of a blocks-long plaza which was brought into the 21st century a few years ago.

On either side of the plaza before the city hall grand office buildings and banks line the way. This picture shows only a one end of one side of these buildings. These buildings and the city hall were built in the 1920s.

In the latter years of the 20th century Porto began to grow and to build new housing and business buildings. This view from the steps of the Cathedral is of the south side of the Douro River.


As the new millennium began, Porto celebrated the opening of the symphony hall named Casa da Musica. New age, new look. (This photo from VisitPortgal.com)

This building with the sun shining on it caught my eye as I walked out of the marketplace. It appears to be an old department store. I felt sad that it was abandoned. Later I walked on the back side of this block and discovered it was all in the process of being demolished.

Porto remains filled with old, really old, homes. I have read that in the recent past the population of the old city has dropped by 100,000 people as young families move to newer homes on the edges of the city. I saw so many abandoned homes but I also saw a great many that appear to have been updated. I hope many of the beautiful old homes will survive for another hundred years.

The “Ribeira” section of the city along the waterfront has many old apartment homes, as it has had for centuries.











Porto’s Market

Markets are my favorite places to visit in European cities. Except for a few places in America (Philadelphia and Seattle come immediately to mind) we don’t have the traditional large markets that are found in Europe. Porto’s marketplace is unlike any other I’ve visited.  It is a covered (indoor) market, a city block long and three stories high.

As in many markets, shoppers can find a wide variety of produce and goods in the marketplace. The photos below give you a good example of what’s on offer there.

One of the most interesting sights I found there yesterday and again today was a man playing an old organ-grinder’s instrument. He was accompanied by his young daughter who sits beside him patiently biding time. Look closely at these photos to see the three birds they bring with them including what I believe is an albino chicken.

The produce in this market looked especially appealing. I suppose that has something to do with the time of year it is now.  It made me wish for a kitchen.

More tomorrow,




Exploring Porto, Portugal

Porto is a town with a reputation for being lively and fun and that it is. It’s also very historic, filled with beautiful buildings that are centuries old. People have lived in Portugal since before history began. The Porto cathedral was begun in the year 1110 AD but there may have been a bishop here since the 6th century.

Although the exterior of Porto’s cathedral is a plain, romanesque style, the interior has many areas covered in gold, such as the main altar and the choir, shown here.

Porto lies on the river Douro a few miles inland from the Atlantic, in the northern part of Portugal. Port wine is made up-river and Porto has been its trading port for hundreds of years, making it sometimes a very rich town. But not always.

Boats made for tourists today are modeled after the very old small craft used in centuries past for bringing port wine to ships bound for Britain and the rest of the western world.

The 20th century wasn’t so good here, it seems. Many — perhaps a majority — of the old homes and business buildings are derelict and abandoned.  There are workmen and cranes to be seen everywhere, but I think for every old beauty being brought to life again there are many who are still neglected and empty.

A typical narrow, medieval street in the oldest section of Porto, near the river.

There’s a wide variety of ways to spend time in Porto. I’ve been walking all day, every day, seeing all I can. Many people spend the day at the nearby beaches and the evenings in the city. It’s a very affordable place to visit.  I’ve been paying just €1.50 for a glass of wine and no more than €10 for dinner in a nice restaurant.

My birthday delights!

I’m staying in one of the best AirBnB rentals I’ve had, located just off a main avenue about a mile from the river. Yesterday was my birthday (one of those terrible ones for an age ending in zero!) and my lovely “landlady” brought me a box full of delicious Portuguese pastries.  That was so nice.

More to show you and tell you in the days ahead.


These 70-year-old feet have walked 30.6 miles in the past seven days according to my iphone and boy, are they tired!!!

Leaving Lisbon


The very, very long train I rode last night — the end cannot be seen in this picture.

Yesterday was a strange mix of a day! It began with a very bumpy and exciting downhill ride in what’s called a “tuk-tuk.” These are small, open, 3-wheel vehicles a lot like a golf cart. I made arrangements the day before for a tuk tuk driver to meet me when it was time to leave my rental and take me to the train station. Truth is, what I really needed was help with luggage. The idea of climbing up the 111 steps with my bags didn’t appeal! So, with me in the backseat with open air all around, we first went to the top of the highest hill in town, then zoomed down and around curves until in about ten minutes we were at the station at the waterfront. It really was kind of fun!


This picture of a tuk tuk is borrowed from visitportual.com. I hope no one minds.

Then my day became really boring because I had to wait in the station for more than ten hours for the train. It was an overnight train from Lisbon to Madrid. Before leaving home I had booked a berth in a 4-females room. Without realizing it I’d arranged for an upper berth – one that I really didn’t think I could manage.

My roommates were a mother and her young adult daughter from Brazil who were touring Portugal and Spain for two weeks with two humongous suitcases, and a young woman from Switzerland who had been studying in Lisbon for six months. She was kind and switched bunks with me so I didn’t have to figure out how I could get out of a top bunk in a very small, very crowded space.


Here are my deluxe accommodations on the train — shared with three other women.

This was a very long train. It rattled and shook all night – I thought rails must be missing here and there. It felt a lot like being on the Star Clipper, the sailing ship I sold cruises on, though the ship was usually much smoother and very much quieter. Periodically the train stopped for a few minutes – presumably to let another train have the right of way though I never heard one pass up during those stops. Around 7:00 I woke up but everyone else was still sleeping so I lay there in the dark, keeping quiet, until the porter knocked on the door just before 8:00 and let us know it was time to get up. There was no way I could move in that room! The train arrived in Madrid at 8:40 and that’s where I am now!

Madrid is a beautiful city. I’ll be here only a short time and I’ll tell you about it tomorrow.


A Different Aspect of Lisbon


In the center of Lisbon, just east of the rectangular post-earthquake block of commercial streets that I’ve written about already, there’s a busy area called Rossio. Rick Steves’ book Snapshot Lisbon calls this the “center of town” and says it’s built around a Roman racetrack (actually, there appear to be two of these long oval spaces.) I found a number of delightful sights to share with you.

First I found a square called Figuerira (Fig Tree Square) where a couple of ladies have flower stalls and there is an old French-style fountain and a statue of a long-gone king on a high pillar. The thing I liked best were the very old businesses that surround the square, still surviving. Let me show you some of them:


An old-fashioned jeweler’s shop, still going strong.


One of the oldest pastry shops and cafés in Lisbon. Notice the pretty door.


The exterior of a small shop selling only seeds, located on a busy (high rent) corner.



I sneaked a quick peek and a shot to show you the wall-to-wall spring seeds. I wonder what they do the rest of the year.

I went to the Rossio railroad station – actually, this whole area seems to be referred to as “Rossio.” It has an interesting purely-Portuguese facade.


A broad avenue begins just above the station, in an area called Praca dos Restauradores where there’s a Metro station of the same name. This seems to be where “the other half lives.” Avenida da Liberdade is a street very reminiscent of Paris: 8 lanes wide with two boulevard strips of maple trees and water features. It’s lined with theatres, offices, and apartment buildings which seem to date from the late 19th century through the 70’s or 80’s. This street (or so I’ve read) was begun following the 1755 earthquake but was originally restricted to the aristocracy. I think today’s boulevard dates from the 1880s and is very influenced by Paris. I suspect anyone with money could enjoy living there now. Here’s just a peek at one of the narrow boulevard parks.


There are two of these boulevard spaces, each with a pond or fountain and tropical trees running up this avenue. Very fine apartment buildings line one side and you may notice the metro entrance on the right.

This is my last post about Lisbon. I’m taking an overnight train to Madrid, where I’ll enjoy a visit to what some people call the best art museum in the world, the Prado. Then on to Barcelona for a short visit.  More soon.


In the meantime, Happy Spring from Lisbon!


My Lisbon Sunday


Today I went to Belem, the western part of Lisbon. It is best known as the site of several important structures including the Jerónimos Monastery and its Cloisters, the historic Tower of Belém and the Discoveries Monument which honors early world explorers. I visited a large and lovely tropical garden which is adjacent to the monastery.

The Monastery is a very long building. It is famous for its cloisters (which are covered walkways used by the monks and others who lived in monasteries many years ago; they are often ornately carved as these are.) The church is in the eastern end of the building and the national maritime museum of Portugal is now housed in the western end. On the waterfront (about a block in front of the monastery) stands a famous sculpture known as the Monument to the Discoveries. Also on the water’s edge, a hundred or so yards farther west is the very old Belem Tower.

My internet connection is very poor and slow today and the pictures I took in Belem are really not worth showing. I’m going to “cheat” and attach links that will show you and tell you much more than I can.

Jeronimos Monastery and Cloisters

Belem Tower

Discoveries Monument

Maritime Museum (in Portuguese: Museu de Marinha)

The Tropical Garden pictures are mine.



I must admit the highlight of my day was lunch. I returned to a really good restaurant in the commercial district shown in yesterday’s post. The place is called “Em Alta na Baixa” which means “in the high and the low” (this area of town is called the Baixa district because it’s a small valley between high hills). I ordered sea bass and got the most delicious preparation of it I’ve ever had. Two filets of fish were cooked in a sauce of tomato, olives, capers, oil, garlic and spices, then served on a bed of sautéed fresh spinach with potatoes. I asked the chef (who was about my age) if he’d like to move to New Bern but I don’t think he understood me. Here’s a picture:

sea bass




Saturday shopping

Alfama view

I suppose because it’s Saturday I seemed to focus on shopping today – not my own but that of other people. I had learned of a big flee market that happens every Saturday in Alfama and I was curious about it. It’s huge! The market is held beside and behind the two enormous churches which you can see in the picture taken from a spot just above my apartment.

Here are a few of the pictures of the flea market.


The flea market is located at the base of this church which is Portugal’s Pantheon.




By the time I reached the back of the market I realized I was just a couple of blocks from the river – and flat land! So I walked around the bottom of the Alfama hill and to the center of Lisbon, a distance of perhaps a mile.

After the 1755 earthquake that flattened most of Lisbon the ruler of Portugal decided to build a modern city with straight, planned streets. Five parallel streets have formed the city center since that time. Upscale shopping in Lisbon is centered here. My day was split between bargain shoppers and fancy Lisbon shoppers.

Magnificent 18th century buildings and the arch that forms their center constructed after the earthquake continue to be the centerpiece of Lisbon to this day. Let me show you!


The magnificent arch and the buildings shown here comprise just one side of a huge square. Two other sides are lined in matching yellow buildings as are other buildings next to those in this picture that didn’t fit in my frame.


Here’s a closer view of the top of the arch, which took over 100 years to complete.


This is a view showing less than half of the enormous square that runs from the buildings shown above to the river.

Rua Augustus

Here you see the center shopping street just inside the arch.  Note the marble street and sidewalks. Lisbon’s very interesting sidewalks are pieced together like mosaics from black and white stone.

In mid-afternoon I met my new Lisbon friend, Marta, and a friend of hers and they took me to the highest point in the town to see their favorite view of Lisbon before joining me in a glass of wine and a most interesting conversation.


It was another great day!






This was an absolutely gorgeous day! The sky couldn’t be any bluer – the sun couldn’t be any brighter. I spent the day exploring “my” neighborhood which is called Alfama. The houses here are hundreds of years old. Many of them are tiny apartments like the one I’m renting. The residents are a mix of older people who have been here forever and recent immigrants who are at the bottom of the pay scale. This area is popular with tourists and features many hole-in-the-wall businesses selling souvenirs. Today I’ve decided to show you quite a few pictures so you’ll see some of what I saw today!


My days here begin with a 71-step climb to the street, but when the view at the top looks like this, as it did today, it makes me feel younger and ready to explore.


I began my day at the 11th century castle which is near my apartment but at the very top of the highest hill. There’s little left of this castle other than the walls — originally there was a small town inside the walls but it’s been gone for centuries.


Being at the top of the town guarantees a great view. In the distance in this picture you can see the Vasco de Gama bridge, built in the late 90s. (Don’t worry – the Golden Gate bridge is still safely in San Francisco.)


In the gardens of the castle there are many peacocks – and one black cat. (Look closely in the doorway.) I think the cat knows who’s boss!


This scene is very typical of the neighborhood with clotheslines draped in wet laundry everywhere!


The streets are cobblestones and sometimes they are quite uneven. I like the way the people in this pink house have made their home attractive.


A close-up of a mix of rooflines that caught my eye.


As I walked I saw many churches and the door on one of them was open so I stepped inside. A very friendly young man began a conversation with me which I enjoyed. One of the things he told me is about this beautiful altar which he said is the only part of this church to survive the 1755 earthquake. That’s because it’s made entirely of stone – the design is not painted.


This is not the most charming of my pictures today but it may be the one that best represents the day: it names Alfama, it’s draped in laundry and it’s covered in tiles.


Eventually I walked to the bottom of the hill where I found these lovely post-earthquake buildings near the new cruise-ship terminal. Pretty, aren’t they? The checkered one is actually covered in pyramids with their tops pointing out (the dark spaces). The building houses a foundation and gallery of a contemporary artist.


Once I reached the bottom of the hill I was ready for lunch! This lovely salad, based on the classic Italian mozzarella and tomato “Caprice” had the most amazing cheese ever. It was utterly fresh buffalo mozzarella, the freshest I’ve ever had. The waitress said it’s delivered daily.

I returned to the apartment early but my day had begun early so I was ready for a break. Tomorrow I think I’ll ride the trams!


















In Lisbon it’s Spring!


I arrived in Lisbon last evening. Lisbon is one hour earlier than the rest of continental Europe so I get one more hour of sunlight at the end of each day! And that’s great because Spring has sprung here!

Marta, a lovely young woman, associated with Olivier the manager, met me at the airport. She’s a good guide and she pointed out places and gave me lots of info (which went in one ear and out the other because I was so tired). She’s came back this morning and drove me around town a bit. We went to the covered city market where I got fresh fruit and vegetables at very low prices (ex.: huge sweet oranges from Spain for 25 cents each.) That market was about to be closed forever when a publishing company took it over, revived it and turned half of the space into a food hall. Rather like “permanent food trucks” cooks from many parts of the world offer their favorites in small-kitchen booths. This is right on the riverfront so it’s a hit with tourists coming off the big cruise ships that dock here much of the year as well as with local people.


One booth in the Lisbon food market.

Next we went to a supermarket to fill  the things I couldn’t buy in the fresh-food market. Next Marta took me on a driving tour of the town. Finally we sat with a city map which she marked for me with suggestions, bus details, and other helpful information. She really has made this stop much better for me already and she’s also made me feel more confident as I go exploring.


One of several old trams that serve Lisbon’s neighborhoods.

Marta had other plans for the afternoon so I set off on my own, following her directions. Lisbon’s most famous tourist icon is the ancient tram network that still serve the narrow streets. I boarded the one by my house and rode it across town, then walked much of the way back with camera in hand.


This is the “street” on which “my house” is located.

This week I’m staying in the “Alfama” district of Lisbon. This city was wrecked by an earthquake and tsunami in 1755 and most of the old town was replaced in the years that followed. The area called the Alfama was not destroyed and not replaced – it survives today as the oldest section of Lisbon. I am renting a small studio that includes a comfortable bed, a work/dining table and two chairs, a quite complete kitchen and bathroom. (Some of you have said you like seeing where I’m staying so here’s the Trip Advisor page with photos of this place.) It is located on a street so hilly and narrow that cars can’t come here and the streets are really stairways.


This picture and the one at the top of this post were taken from a look-out point directly above the house I’m staying in.

More to come!