My Airbnb is so luxurious that it was hard to get in gear this morning; nevertheless, I’d booked a city tour beginning at 11, so I walked out of my flat around 10. The day was cool and sunny and the main drag up the hill was noticeably less crowded. My view of Porto was growing more favorable by the moment. Since it doesn’t take long to get anywhere in the old city, I walked around some pedestrian streets and admired the great architecture. Our meeting place was by the lions statue in front of the former main building of The University of Porto. Since I was early, I wondered through the 16th century Carmelite church and its adjacent museum. The crucifixes from that time are truly gruesome. I’d never seen so many with multiple wounds streaming blood, including deeply abraded kneecaps. There were also many statues of St. Anthony, a particular favorite of the Portuguese.
I booked the tour through Freetours.com. Over the years, I’ve found the free city tours to be the best. The guides are uniformly well-educated and love the history of their cities. They attract the top guides since, when you consider the generous tips at the end, they make far more than the paid guides who advertise on TripAdvisor and other sites.
Felipe, our guide, was particularly fun. He showed our group of about 25 several secret and occult sites, including the Masonic pentagram carved into the stone of the main cathedral, construction of which started in the 12th century. He also told us the story of the beloved King Pedro III, who ruled in the early 19th century and was simultaneously Emperor Pedro I of Brazil. He granted Brazil its independence and is revered there too. The whole saga of his life and rule is very Game of Thrones-like. When his younger brother Miguel tried to usurp the crown while Pedro was in Brazil, the king returned to Porto, the only city that remained loyal to him. After Miguel and the entire Portuguese army and navy were miraculously defeated, the whole country rallied around their true king. Rejecting the advice of his counselors, Pedro spared Miguel’s life and exiled him to France.
He sired 100 children even though he died at 35. He willed that his heart be removed from his body and stored in his favorite church in Porto. Currently, his heart is on tour in Brazil. Another great story provided by Felipe!
As Felipe said at the outset, there’s no need to visit the sites recommended by the guidebooks since we would be showing us them all.
We ended our three-hour tour by crossing the famous iron bridge built by a student of Eiffel and named after King Luiz I. It also doubles as the Metro yellow line, so pedestrians need to pay heed. In ends in Maia, which is a suburb high above the Douro that commands majestic views of the hills of Porto and the Douro River and its bridges. Felipe took a group photo, which I’ve already received. After a break here at the Airbnb, I’ll head out to explore more. By the way, Portugal is derived from Porto! They’re very proud of that attribution at the expense of their national rival, Lisbon
One is as likely to run into a Brazilian as a Portuguese in Porto. Our guide, Felipe, was from Brazil. Their advantage is that they speak the language and fill in a needed gap in the economy of a country with a diminishing population. They’re well integrated into the country and happy to be here.
Did a major walking program this afternoon and dropped by for a glass of vinho branco (white wine) at an outdoor cafe high above the Douro. My server, Sara, was from Rio de Janeiro and is a student at the university. She guessed that I was from South Africa! Now I’m back at the Airbnb thinking about dinner. Seven miles of up and down walking so far. The weather is perfect. Low humidity and high 60’s!
Back at my place. The restaurants are just getting crowded. Low of 54 by tomorrow morning. I’ve reserved a bike for tomorrow and plan to ride west along the Douro to the Atlantic coast at Foz. It’s not that far. Now it’s time for a Port and a piece of dark chocolate with hazelnuts.