During the past Easter Weekend I used Oporto
as a base to visit the Santiago de Compostela and Côa Valley WHS. With the introduction of low-cost flights, aiming at secondary airports, Oporto suddenly has become a ‘hot’ destination for a weekend-trip. My Transavia flight from Amsterdam was fully booked. I had been to Oporto before in 1991, as part of a one-month long Interrail-trip across the Iberian peninsula. I enjoyed it at the time because of its unique, somewhat raw atmosphere.
|Built on hills|
Unfortunately this time around the weather forecast for the day was terrible. I was tempted to stay in my hotel room all day. But the check-out time at 11 a.m. was non-negotiable, so I returned my rental car to the airport, put my larger backpack in a locker and took the subway to the center of Oporto. I exited at a stop called ‘Bolhão’, and the first thing I saw above ground was this fantastic Santa Catarina church (see 2nd picture), totally covered with azulejos. I suddenly felt glad to be travelling and exploring again, despite the rain.
I had chosen this metro stop because it lies next to the Bolhão covered market. Unfortunately I found the market closed for the day: Easter Monday is a public holiday in Portugal. So I walked a bit further down into the city center, to the other ‘attractions’ I had put on my to do-list beforehand. All the time it kept on raining and raining. When I reached the Cathedral, another of the city's landmarks, I found it closed too! I took shelter under some arcades and managed to take one gloomy picture of the Cathedral square.
|Azulejos galore all around Sta. Catarina Church|
At the square I noticed a tour group with a guide, braving the weather conditions as well. I decided to follow them at an appropriate distance, hoping that they would lead me to the river side through the maze of narrow streets below the cathedral. Oporto is built on several hills, so everything is a bit of a hike here. The group stopped somewhere on 2/3 of the walk to hear a longer story from the guide. From that point on I managed to get to the Douro River under my own steam. This spot down from the Cathedral provides the iconic view of Oporto, with the river and the Dom Luis I bridge, the traditional wooden ships and port houses (wine cellars) on the other side.
After having had a short look around at the waterfront, I headed back towards the center of the city to try to find a metro stop for the journey back to the airport. However I suddenly found myself in front of the Palacio da Bolsa (Stock Exchange Palace), where I noticed the front door to be open. This Palace is one of the main attractions of Porto. I thought it would be closed this afternoon, but I was clearly mistaken. Inside dozens of drenched tourists were waiting for a tour to start of this late-19th century showpiece. Of course I joined them. The tour is well worth it, especially the last room: the Arab room, the parlor where the traders from Porto received their important guests. The stock exchange is now no longer in use, but you can hire the halls for private functions.
|Moorish design in the Palácio da Bolsa|
After the interesting tour I regained my courage to defy the (now only slight) rain. I went over to the adjacent Sao Francisco Church. Its catacombs, with rows of black-and-white tombs, are worth seeing. But the church above it is an unmissable great spectacle of baroque carvings and gold leaf! That made a great ending to my day in Oporto: it takes a grand city to still be worth visiting during a day of pouring rain. Oporto has passed this test.