Portugal Diary, day 10

Monday, 20 May, 2019. 12:06

We are on board the intercity express train from Lisbon to Porto. The journey takes about three hours, and we arrive just before 15:00.

We woke with the sunrise and got up and ready for breakfast. At the cafe again, we had the same yoghurt parfaits. This time mine came with a big strawberry, while M.’s had three raspberries. For the second course, M. had the same bolo do caco toast as yesterday because she liked it so much. I tried the second of the traditional Sintran sweets on the menu, a slice of tarte queijada de Sintra. This is a sweet made mostly of cheese, like a cheesecake, and traditionally served in the form of bite-sized individual tarts, but they had made a large version to serve by the slice. This was similar to the almond tart I’d had last night at Incomum wine bar, very dense and sticky, but without the almonds and strongly spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg. It felt a bit less eggy, but with so much sugar and spice it was hard to really tell the difference between an egg base and a cheese base.

After breakfast we returned to our room to pack our luggage for the trip to Porto. The staff at the reception were two women we hadn’t seen before, but they wished us well on our trip. I wrote a message in the guestbook, echoing similar messages from earlier guests who had lavished praise upon the guesthouse. It really was a wonderful place to stay.

We walked up the steps between the streets to the station and found the correct platform for the train to Lisbon Oriente station. Some trains were going to Rossio, but we need to end up at Oriente to catch our intercity train to Porto. The train pulled in ten minutes before departure time and emptied, this being the end of the line. We got on and waited. A few other people boarded before the train left a minute after the due departure time.

The train took a bit over 40 minutes to reach Oriente. A few stations in it became crowded and we had to move our bags to let people sit on the facing seats. When we reached Entrecampos most passengers got off and it remained mostly empty the rest of the way. The train arrived at the large and busy Oriente station and we looked around to see where our train to Porto might leave from. I suspected that where we’d gotten off might be the suburban tracks, and perhaps we needed to go to another level to find the intercity platforms. The station had multiple levels connected by a maze of stairs and escalators and it looked possible that there were more platforms further down. But there were no signs indicating that, and the departure boards for trains here all listed what looked like only local trains. M. asked a ticket seller where we needed to go for the train to Porto, and he said back upstairs, on platform 5. At platform 5 our train was not listed, as it was still too early and another train was leaving before ours.

We had about 45 minutes to wait, so decided to exit the station and cross the road to what looked like a large modern shopping centre. Indeed it was, full of the usual fancy shops. There was a food court upstairs so we headed there to get a coffee for M. and find something to take with us to eat for lunch on the train. We sat in a cafe and M. got a coffee with pastel de nata for a combo price, and also bought a couple of the large bread rolls they were selling, plus a chocolate salami slice to take away. While she had her coffee, I walked upstairs again, where I’d seen a sign indicating a sushi place, intending to get a take away box of sushi for my lunch. But when I arrived it turned out to be a sit down sushi bar, with no take away food. So I returned down the stairs to a sandwich and salad place that we’d walked past and ordered a turkey and mustard sandwich on a grain roll, which came with lettuce and tomato as well. The woman wrapped it in foil and put it into a paper bag for me.

With about 15 minutes to go to our train, we used the toilets and then walked back to the station and up to platform 5. The sign indicated an intercity train leaving at our expected departure time of 11:39, but the destination was unfamiliar so I asked a woman in security uniform if the train went to Porto and she indicated it did. On the platform we waited with a large number of people, many with luggage. We were assigned seats in car 22, but unlike in Germany where there are posters showing exactly where each car will stop, here there was nothing. So when the train pulled up, everyone spotted the car numbers and raced up and down the platform to find the right one. Fortunately ours wasn’t too far away and there was a queue of people waiting to get in the door so there was no danger of the train leaving without us.

We found our seats and settled in for the three hour ride to Porto. The train stopped at Vila Franca de Xira, Santarém, Entroncamento, Pombal, Alfarelos, Coimbra, Pampilhosa, Aveiro, Espinho, Vila Nova de Gaia, and Porto.


Upon arrival in Porto, we walked to our hotel, about a 24 minute walk according to Google Maps. It was entirely uphill, steeper at first, becoming shallow and almost level at the end. We passed through some not so nice looking neighbourhoods, until the area right near our hotel started to look more appealing and tourist friendly. We are at the Ibis Porto Centro, a hotel with the entrance tucked away under a sort of tunnel leading to a car park and an arcade. The entrance is just a couple of lifts, with a sign saying that reception is upstairs on level 3. A woman there checked us in and we went up one more floor to our room on level 4.

View from Ibis Porto Centro
View from our room at Ibis Porto Centro

After dropping our bags and gathering our thoughts, we left to have a random wander around the streets. With no real goal in mind, we headed further away from the railway station, towards the historic centre of town, taking whatever street led roughly that way and looked interesting. From our hotel it was all downhill towards the centre, leading us to conclude that our hotel had been built on the highest point in Porto.

We ended up at the Igreja de Santo Ildefonso, a huge church in a neo-baroque style with blue azulejo tiles on its facade, at the top end of a sloping plaza, overlooking the hillside below. We went in and inspected the interior, where we were greeted by a man handing us a flyer for a classical guitar concert to be held in the church this evening. We wandered around the inside, looking at the baroque decorations, then left again to continue on our way.

Igreja de Santo Ildefonso
Igreja de Santo Ildefonso

Before long we found ourselves emerging from a sloping street into an open area with a main road passing through, and on the other side a square containing a large equestrian bronze statue and the giant Cathedral of Porto. We walked over and admired the exterior, then went into the adjoining building, where a sign said that entrance to the cathedral could be obtained. For a price: they were charging 3€ a person to go inside. This wasn’t too much, so we paid up and entered.

Backlit equestrian
Statue outside the Cathedral of Porto

The first thing we came across was a small cloister, similar to the one at dos Jeronimós, square with two storeys, but smaller and less ornate in its stonework, although it partially made up for it with many large wall areas tiled with azulejo tiles showing blue painted scenes of landscapes and people with angels and cherubs and so on.

Porto Cathedral cloister
Cloister of the Cathedral of Porto

There was a chapel and another few small rooms off the cloister, on both levels, which we explored via a staircase. One area led to displays of vestments and icons and gold sacramental cups and so on behind glass panels.

Porto chalice
Chalices, Cathedral of Porto

After completing a circuit of the cloister area, we went through a door into the adjoining cathedral. The inside was heavy with thick stone columns and walls, with only tiny windows set deep into the stone. It was clearly a medieval pre-Gothic era structure, before builders mastered the arts of delicacy and light with stone.

Porto Cathedral wing
Inside the Cathedral of Porto

Leaving the cathedral, we took a steep, narrow pedestrian path between old houses, which led us on a winding path down the hill. We ended up on a small square where a cafe had a few tables outside. M. had been wanting a coffee stop, so we sat and she ordered a cappuccino. She drank as we admired the little square and its surroundings of brightly painted houses. People wandered through, taking photos, some stopping to have a drink at the cafe like us.

Cerca Velha
Coffee break in the square

Following this we continued down the hill, reaching a main road where suddenly we were in a modern city again, with traffic and tourists everywhere. We wandered around aimlessly looking at things, and found an interesting and likely looking place for dinner, called Puro 4050. It was a mozzarella bar, and had several vegetable dishes and sides, to go with a selection of dishes featuring various cheeses, many of which also had no meat. It was 17:30, so we walked up the street a bit to eat up some time, intending to come back and have dinner shortly after 18:00. But when we returned they had closed! A waiter was standing by the door and M. asked what time they opened again, and he said 18:30. So we wandered off in a different direction, this time downhill further.

Port wine tasting
Wandering downhill

We ended up at the Mercado Ferreira Borges, an ironwork and glass building that used to be a market place, but has since been converted to art spaces and a restaurant. The wrought iron is painted a dark red colour, making the building stand out attractively. After taking some photos in the adjacent park with its giant column and statues, and views down towards the river still some way below, we worked our way back up to Puro.

River glimpse
View of Douro River from near the Mercado Ferreira Borges

We had to wait a few minutes past 18:30 for them to open up. When we went in and asked for a table, the waiter flipped through a thick reservation book and I feared we might be turned away. But we got a table inside right at the back, actually outside the building in a rear courtyard which had been enclosed with steel plates for walls and a glass roof to form a pseudo room with half a dozen tables in it. It was pleasant though, and the food on the menu sounded good.

Burrata with cold tomato sauce
Burrata with cold tomato sauce, Puro 4050

We were give a basket of bread with olive oil and buffalo butter with salt sprinkled on the top. We ordered: Burrata with cold tomato sauce, olive oil, basil; Smoked mozzarella with zucchini, pear, and red pepper jam; Roasted vegetables with pesto; Roasted potatoes with caramelised onions and parsley. The waiter said this was about the right amount of food for two people. When it came, it didn’t all fit on the table though, and the waiter brought us a glass extension table, placed beside our table, to hold some of the dishes! It was all really good. We also got a glass each of a light fruity Portuguese red wine that the waiter recommended.

Smoked mozzarella with zucchini, pear, and red pepper jam
Smoked mozzarella with zucchini, pear, and red pepper jam, Puro 4050

Then for dessert the waiter brought a menu, and also a laminated card which had one item on it. The waiter said this was a special mystery dessert and I had to be careful if I ordered it. The card had the word “Narcos” in large print at the top, then the price of 8€, and the only other text was “only order this dessert if you have an open mind”. While this was an intriguing mystery, I was a little put off by the high price and the connotations of the word “narcos”, and also the fear of getting something that might contain coffee so that I wouldn’t even be able to eat it. It was tempting just to see what it was, but I decided instead to have the ricotta cake with pumpkin jam and cinnamon, which came with a vast amount of cinnamon sprinkled all over it and the plate. They really love their cinnamon here in Portugal! But it was delicious too.

Ricotta cake with pumpkin jam and cinnamon
Ricotta cake with pumpkin jam and cinnamon, Puro 4050

While eating we listened to the music being played, which was an odd mix of re-recordings of pop songs in a different style. We heard songs originally by Crowded House and Jenny Morris, redone in a slower style. It was very weird. We had fun trying to recognise each song as it started. There was even a bizarre slow version of Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love”, sung by a woman. We’ve heard the same thing before at some other place here in Portugal. I wonder if it’s something done to avoid royalty payments or something.

Another great meal done, we walked back up the hill to our hotel, taking a different route for variety. And now it’s time for bed. We’ve decided to just sleep in and have a late start tomorrow.

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