Postcard from Porto: Digging deeper than the Ribeira

Time hangs in Porto. Its magnificently lingering melancholic soul, floats. The past and the present forget themselves here….

Porto alters your perception. And you allow it because you want its light in your eyes, its breeze to descend slowly into your mind. Arrest you. Like a book you are trying to finish but refuse to, it’s so captivating.

Nathalie Handal on Words Without Borders

First impressions run deep, so throw out the guidebooks telling you to head for the Ribeira district in Porto. The riverside promenade fronting 14th-century wine cellars in the shadow of the soaring 1880s’ wrought-iron bridge spanning the Douro River sounds ideal, but only if your ideal is to wander among other tourists stopping at cafes existing only for them and a jumble of junky shops selling only the most stereotypical Portuguese souvenirs. If the Ribeira had been my first walk in Porto, I would have wanted to hop the next plane or train out.

But it wasn’t. Suffering with the unavoidable cross-Atlantic jet lag, we stumbled out of our apartment down to the riverside, landing on a promenade away from most tourists. As we headed toward the center of the city, we found a rhythm in sharing space with fishermen, walkers, joggers, bicyclists, seagulls and the occasional trolley. The hills rising from the river were filled with tile-roofed houses, tile-sided residences, churches and new apartments and condominiums – layers of centuries of history demanding attention everywhere we looked. I fell in love immediately.

This post represents some random shots from our Porto explorations.

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We’re used to daily river walks in San Antonio, but I must confess the Douro is a bit grander in scale. When we wander the other direction riverside, we encounter even fewer people who are not local. Jetties and a castle guard the harbor of the Douro from the Atlantic. Rounding that corner, you are slapped by stiff ocean tighten-the-stampede-string-on-your-hat breezes.

Downtown Porto has neighborhoods crisscrossed with streets barely wide enough for even the “Smartest” cars and wide boulevards lined with elegant structures equal to those in most European capitals. Restaurants and cafes are everywhere; just skip the ones along the Ribeira.

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