Porto (city and wine)

(full photo album here: https://goo.gl/photos/oN5FoWTWaumnwyKV6)

I was having a long thought on what to start the publications with. There's quite a lot of places to share, and some memories are still quite vivid despite the fact they belong to quite a few dozens of moons back. But then I thought, why don't I start with the closest best? Meaning, the most liked the most recent destination (hope I'm being clear enough on my point).

That, in my case, would be Porto.
(actually there are two cities on this photo: Porto is on the north side of Duoro river - left - and the south side - right - is Vila Nova de Gaia). Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia

Both, as subject suggests, wine and city (pick your preference). A somewhat hilly riverbank near the Atlantic shoreline (partially occupying shoreline itself), with a lot of historical air to it, and quite a few modern facilities to make it all reachable and comfortable. Read on, I'll explain myself later.

Also a little note here: there's no established format for the posts yet, so for now I'm just gonna dump all valuable things I'm aware of.

Another thing to mention, I'm not gonna list any obvious attractions unless they have some tricks/specifics to them - that is for travel guides, I mostly use WikiTravel - but I'll mention whatever I had experience with myself.

So let's start with some facts. Porto's second-largest city in Portugal (after, obviously, Lisbon), with the urban area population of 1.4 millions. Also, as per Wikipedia, "one of the oldest European centres, and its historical core was proclaimed a World Heritage Site by UNESCO". The history of the place dates back to some 300BC, but let's not look that far - currently visible traces are mostly from 17-18 century when it became popular for its wine production (because English folks loved it and invested a lot in the market and trade connections; there's a phrase attributed to one of the Croft family, "Any time not spent drinking Port is a waste of time”). Actually wine is not produced in Porto - it's produced and put in casks in wineries and wineyards up the Duoro river and then shipped to Porto to age in the wine cellars (and eventually to be shipped abroad). Another "actually" is cellars are not in Porto - they're in Vila Nova de Gaia. But who cares? Wine's great! The way they do it BTW is just when about half of a natural sugar in grapes is eaten by yeasts, a good deal of high-ABV grape spirit is added to kill the yeast, which keeps wine sweet and makes it strong.

Point of growing grapes deeper into the continent is it has more stable and warm climate - while Porto identified as having "Mediterranean climate", it's closer to oceanic - average summers are +16..+25 C, and average winters are quite rainy and +5..10 C.

Speaking of The Ocean...
Ocean sunset in Porto It's reachable in a few ways - depending on what you're after:

  • Riding a subway to Matosinhos, a port district. BTW that's where you should go for a really-really quality seafood. You might need to communicate with gestures there (unless you know Portuguese or Spanish), but it ain't that hard (people are generally friendly if you smile) and is well worth it.

  • Walking or taking a (pre)historic tram along the Duoro river - it's a long and not that picturesque walk, be warned. This way you reach the lighthouse and some pretty sunset spots.

Here are those well aged tram beasts asleep:
Porto tram yard

The two options above is an ocean shore indeed, but not really a beach area - fro the latter, you need to go south by suburban train (I boarded it in Vila Nova de Gaia, but I think it runs from São Bento or Campanhã - worth checking in advance though) to any coastal station starting from Miramar - there's a walking path along the shore that goes a long way, with restaurants, beaches etc. It's a very nice walk, really - but don't expect any swimming activities (unless you have surfboard and wetsuite) - the Ocean is rough and cold.

Another significant sight is the bridge:
Dom Luís I Bridge in Porto two-deck masterpiece named Dom Luís I Bridge, built in 1886 (that really amazed me as the thing looks very modern). It has pedestrian and subway passage on the upper deck and motor vehicles (and pedestrians) route on the lower.

Speaking of the subway - it requires a few notes. First, it's more like a high(er)-speed tram ("light rail") that rides underground within the very centre of the city, and it's pretty modern - first line opened in 2002 and it's expanding ever since. Then, it's somewhat slow and trains are not particularly frequent - a trip to the airport would take some 40 minutes - but what's important here it reaches the airport! And Google Maps has it in public transportation mode, so you could even plan the time. Note that in the intersection stations all trains mostly arrive to the same platform - so check the schedule screen on the platform for when appropriate line train is coming.
Here's a simplified map to give you an impression:
Porto subway map it's from 2008 but still accurate for the city centre, although if you need more recent one, head to .
Subway ride from the airport would cost you around €2 (WikiTravel says "€1.80 + €0.50 for the rechargeable ticket"), but note that underground ticket machines seem to never accept cards (none of 3 times I tried, at least - it didn't say cards are not accepted, the payment just didn't work) - so have some cache (notes and coins up to €20 if memory serves)
Other options of getting to/from the airport are AeroBus (€6) and, obviously, taxi (some €20).

A traveller's hint on subway maps - as Android user I use aMetro - it has a collection of (almost always) up-to-date maps of pretty much all the subways in the world, and you could download any from within the app. It also calculates routes and sometimes has more detailed info on stations and other city transportation types. For iPhone users analog seems to be MetrO.

On other transportation: from Porto Campanhã train station, you can reach some other Portugal destinations - I went to and from Lisbon, trains are quite comfortable. There was no convenient connections with international routes though - so for other trips airport is more likely (some discounters like Ryanair operate there, so price is often of little concern).

Well, what else is there to cover? Oh wait, the wine!
Wine cellar in Porto You can buy an excellent Porto wine in any grocery shop there - even if it's a fruit stand, they will most probably have wine too. No joke. But you really got to go to the cellars (one time is enough) and wine tasting (no amount is enough).
It's simple - just go to any of the wine company cellars (there are signs on the streets if you fancy any particular one), join the cellar tour to admire size and number of barrels and learn some basics of Porto wine making, and then get yourself a tasting set.
Graham Porto wine tasting set You don't have to go to the cellar to get a set - after you've been there once, you won't learn or see much new. But you have to go to a different companies and try tasting sets there - those, they are all different. And the cellar bar atmosphere is pretty, however touristy some of them might become (solution is: go to the next one, there's a plenty). I'm not gonna recommend any particular, nor explain the differences - it's everyone's own crusade.

That probably rounds it up for the "big things" - let me just list few smaller ones below, in random order:

  • Churches are beautiful and many - as well as streets and ladders, just walk around a lot

  • There are two funiculars, but I'm not sure they worth a ride unless you have disabilities

  • There's a stronger local drink available, Agua Ardente ("fire water", a wine spirit) - it's strong but not much to look forward too, so "JFTR"

  • There's uglier local food available - but seriously, don't do that

  • Go for local pastry though, it's quite sweet but very tasty too. If breakfast at your hotel sucks or doesn't exist, go to the nearest cafe for coffee and pastry - you won't regret

  • Last tram from the ligthouse is some 7PM, so plan accordingly (or mind the walk back)

  • I've been there at New Years eve, the firework is pretty (didn't squeeze into the concert though). Mind that next morning it'd be hard to find any open cafe (transport's fine though)

  • Locals are friendly, with the aged wine shade in their look - even if you don't speak their language and they don't speak yours, you're unlikely to find any hard time getting what/where you want - unless you're a stubborn jerk you are! ;)

With all that, go drink some wine (I prefer red over white, although there's one - Extra Dry White from Churchills - that is very good), walk the town aimlessly, look around and enjoy the atmosphere. I really admire those rusty old streets...