We began our day with a tour led by a local guide: a lovely and funny woman by the name of Fatima. Porto is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and as such is slated for restoration. Like Lisbon, there was a rental freeze so that many places still have ridiculously low rents – but of course that meant that landlords did not have the funds to repair or maintain the buildings, which meant that many of them look sad and dilapidated. Fatima said that the restoration was estimated to take 40 years and than in 40 years she would be our guide again and that would be her first miracle.
On our way to the City centre, she pointed out the school where JK Rowling taught and pointed out that she had married, and then divorced a very stupid Portuguese man. She then went on to say that that was why they exported them.
Our first stop was the Commerce centre. I had forgotten how amazing the inside was, and kind of forgot to take many pictures because there was so much to look at – and even when I did I really messed up the light. There was even an odd collection of mythological creatures being constructed in the centre room for some kind of exhibit.
The Arabic room was the most astonishing, even after the room that was made entirely of inlaid wood of varying kinds. There was no blank spaces which Fatima said pointed to the Baroque fear of emptiness.
After our tour here, we were taken across the river (the Douro again) to visit the cellars of the Sandeman Port Winery. There were marks on the outside of the doorway that marked the level of past floods.
We got to tour the cellars and watched little video of how Port is made and where and then we got to sample two kinds: Ruby and White Port. Pedro, bless his little heart, had bought chocolates for us all to have with our samples.
Our guide was dressed in the iconic cloak and hat that’s on the company’s branding and spoke as though she were rehearsing lines, but she answered all our questions with excellent knowledge. Mom and I have a special connection to the Port trade, as her granddad imported Port for a company (across the river, incidentally) called Dow’s.
I bought a little sampler set for myself and a bottle of the White Port. I wanted to buy more, but my suitcase is to small. I should have shipped some home, but we did not have much time before João came to take us to the old quarter for our free time.
We were instructed to meet our driver at 4 outside of the Imperial MacDonalds – which is complete with Imperial double eagles and art deco stained glass and chandeliers inside. Lat time we went to the Lello Bookstore where I got a book about the insides – so beautiful – but this time we wanted to explore some of the areas we did not see last time.
We wandered up and down the high street and bought a couple of baubles – and then had coffee at the Majestic Cafe. If you’re a Rowling fan, you’ll know about this place.
In the evening, we went on a cruise on the Douro, complete with another sample of Port and a beautiful sunset, and then we had dinner in a restaurant on the edge of the river that is famous for it’s rabbit stew. It’s called Chez Lapin – and has a little hutch outside where the proprietor’s favourite pet spends the day. I had the pork. As good as it smells, I can’t bring myself to eat rabbit.