Porto boasts charm and libations

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Posted in Europe By Dale McCurdy
Porto took my breath away and left me inebriated. Part of this is due to the city’s charms (liquid and otherwise), while part of it is my own fault. Thirty-some odd cruises should have taught me the basics of travel, but I made a rookie mistake.

The art of timing

Our ship, Azamara Journey, docked in Porto as the summer sun rose over the city. We took an early shuttle from the cruise port to the old city of Porto, Portugal. We oohed and aahed over our first views of a lovely city built on the high hills through which the Douro River flows to meet the Atlantic. So far so good.

We made a bee line for the premier tourist attraction there, the Clérigos Tower  and its adjoining church. (I wish I could say my judgment was clouded by the city’s namesake export, but I hadn’t imbibed port or anything else.) You already see where this is going, right?  Yes, the ticket office warned of a two-hour wait, but because I love long lines in stifling heat I rose to the challenge. Mark wisely disappeared, and I suspect spent most of the time wishing he’d brought along a smarter husband.

On the positive side, those of us queued up to wait for tickets eventually had a magnificent view of Porto’s wonderful baroque architecture. The climb up with winding stairs helped me channel my inner Knight in Shining Armor persona, complete with shortness of breath. The tower proved well worth the admission, my enjoyment of it only slightly diminished by the long, sweaty wait in line.

In the afternoon, when we returned to the tower for another look around the area, we saw no waiting line whatsoever. Any traveler worth their salt knows you don’t go to a city’s big tourist attraction the first thing in the morning when the lines are the longest! Sometimes we need to learn our lessons over and over again.

Porto’s unique nature

Porto boasts wonderful architecture built on hilly terrain. Most of the churches and public monuments were designed by Italian architect Nicolau Nasomi in the 1700’s.

Whether you find the city walkable or not will depend on your fitness level. As veteran travelers, we pride ourselves on our adaptability, and used the hills as an excuse for frequent wine and ice cream breaks!

The city possesses a charmingly decrepit look. Cracked tile facades along with a few abandoned buildings create a vibe similar to parts of rural Italy off the tourist track. But don’t let that deter you. The city provides a great antidote to the over-touristed syndrome which afflicts some parts of many popular European cities.

As in Lisbon, Porto’s buildings are often clad in colorful tiles.

The Douro River Valley and Port Wine

For centuries, Porto has been the center of the production and export of port wine from the region. Port is fortified with alcohol distilled from wine and comes in sweet and dry, red and white varieties. Hot, dry summers and relatively cold winters make growing grapes in the region a challenge. The reward, when the weather cooperates, is a high concentration of flavors.

In Lisbon, Dale took his ginjinha sampling duties a bit too seriously.

MMOB TIP:  Port wine isn’t the only distinctive Portuguese drink. In Lisbon, Ginjinha is an important part of the beverage culture. This drink is strong fortified wine infused with sour cherries and so much sugar you don’t want to know. We went to a place recommended by our hotel, and inside nary a tourist was stirring except the two of us. Working men all, this wasn’t Porto’s gay hang-out, but locals were pleased we were trying the local beverage rather than demanding American whiskey. The first glass was a bit on the sweet side, but nice. As a bonus, it got better as it went down. The second glass (complimentary…we obviously weren’t the first tourists these folks had seen) markedly improved, and by the fourth it was the best thing since my first Limoncello in Italy. I don’t remember the fifth.

Lately, Porto has become better known among travel aficionados. Whether you’re a wine lover, a fan of either river or ocean cruising, or seeking a European city to visit that retains its untouristy charm, call Adam at 1-877-430-MMOB  Ext: 702 to book you on an itinerary which includes this photogenic city. Just avoid repeating my rookie mistake about lines. Make sure to allow plenty of time for sampling Portuguese spirits — and for recovering from those samples.