Tuesday, April 30, 2013 -- Porto, Portugal
Well, I had a pretty nice day which started early with me leaving the hotel in Paris at 05h00 to catch my plane from CDG to Porto. Before leaving yesterday I took the metro to Châtelet in order to visit the Tour St-Jacques. A fitting place to begin a pilgrimage to Santiago I thought. The Flamboyant Gothic tower is all that remains of the sixteenth century Church of Saint-Jacques-de-la-Boucherie which was levelled during the Revolution. The flight to Porto was on time and I slept most of the way. I had no problems finding the metro station in Porto and bought a one way ticket for the center of town for 2,30 Euro. I reserved a bed online for the Tattva Design Hostel at only 15 Euro a night. After checking in, I waited around until 11h30 to take a free walking tour of the city with a guy named Pedro who works for a company called Pancho Tours. He was a friendly guy and he showed us all the important sights and provided us with information about good restaurants in town, great deals on wine tastings and places down by the river where one can listen to fado music. The tour was longer than I expected and didn’t finish until 14h30. By that time I was starving for some lunch so I went to a place called the Café San Nicolas where I had a traditional Porto dish called a Francesinha—a meat sandwich topped with an egg, cheese and completely covered in tomato soup-like sauce. Heart attack, here I come ! Went back to my room to pick up my camera battery that needed charging and went out again to visit the Sé Cathedral and its cloister / treasury museum.After that I walked to the Ponte Luis Bridge and walked across to the other side of the river where all of the wine cellars are located. I was tempted to buy an 8 Euro round trip ticket on the cable car that would take me down the steep hillside but I ended up walking instead. After walking along the River Douro for some time, I came back across by the lower section of the bridge. Last year, I met several Germans while walking the last four days of the Camino Francés and we quickly became friends. They will be arriving in Porto tomorrow sometime and I am anxious to see all of them again. Some other friends of theirs from near Leipzig will be joining us also this year. There will be about eleven of us on our way to Santiago. Porto is quite an interesting town. It is the second largest city in Portugal and has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1996. The cathedral, also known in Portuguese as Se do Porto, is one of the city’s oldest monuments and one of the most important Romanesque buildings in Portugal. Construction began in 1110 and it was eventually finished in 1737. Its elegant cloister dates from the Gothic period and was built between the 14th and 15th centuries. The walls are decorated with baroque azulejos (glazed tiles) by Valentim de Almeida and depict the life of the Virgin Mary and scenes from Ovid's Metamorphoses. One of the most spectacular sights in Porto is the Avenida dos Aliados or town square with a large statue of Dom Pedro VI at its center. Around the square are many ornate, old buildings. The most well-known is the town hall because of its distinctive bell tower. Behind the town hall is the Igreja da Trindade built in the 19th century after a vision of the Holy Trinity had taken place on the site. Not far from the cathedral is the São Bento Railway Stationis known for its azulejo panels that depict scenes of the history of Portugal. Porto is full of churches decorated in tiles on the outside and altars of gilt gold on the inside. This is the Igreja de Santo Ildefonso which was near the hostel. Two other interesting churches covered in blue tiles are the Igreja do Carmo and the Igreja das Carmelitas which are beside one another but separated by one of the narrowest buildings in the world – barely a meter wide ! It acted as a barrier between the monks on one side and the nuns on the other. This last photo is of a section of old walls that used to surround the old part of town.