On Wednesday we planned to have a day ashore to visit Porto. John fancied seeing the warehouses of the port trade. We set off to travel by bus. After waiting at the bus stop a while we suffered from cold feet. Were we on the right side of the road? How would we know where to get off? Could we make ourselves understood? We set off back to the marina and had them call us a cab. The taxi dropped us off in the centre of town, which was suitably grand, with large stone buildings and the streets cobbled in shells, like Prague. We sat outside a café and watched the world go by over a couple of cappuccinos. Several open topped tourist buses passed us by and we saw a wonderful old tram. Nearby a solo trumpet was playing the Godfather theme.
John knew the Port Cellars were down by the river, so after our coffee we set off walking down hill. Porto from the river was a different world from the staid granite of the main center. A patchwork of tall, narrow houses in faded Russian orthodox colours rose up the steep banks. On the opposite bank spread the Port warehouses, all the familiar names announcing themselves with large signs, which probably light up at nigh, a veritable theme park of port. Above it all a double cable car sent fat pods to and fro. On the river large gondolas swayed, each sporting a few picturesque barrels. There was a sense of Venice, but steeper and more shabbily chic.
The River Douro is spanned by six bridges in short order here and we took a boat trip to view them all.
All are spectacularly tall, the modern ones sleek and concrete, the historic pair arching and metal, one by Eiffel the other by his protégé, both bearing a strong family resemblance to the famous Paris tower. After the boat trip we visited the Sandeman warehouse, not because we particularly favoured the port, but because they had a tour in English at that time. We followed a girl glamorously turned out in the famous cloak and hat, past sultry looking barrels, glowing in the amber light.
The barrels were of oak and very old. The floor was tiled in small oblongs of oak and even older. It was kind to feet as well as barrels. The white and ruby ports were maturing in huge barrels, the tawneys in smaller ones, to allow them to take up more of the smokey raisin flavours of the wood. Ports are blends, aged in the barrel, apart from vintages, which are from a particular year and age in the bottle. Vintages are declared by an independent body and can be different for each house. In a distant part of the cellars bottles of the Sandeman vintages were kept under lock and key. 1955 was a vintage year of significance to us, but we shuddered to think what a bottle would cost and once opened its’ life would be fleeting, a matter of a couple of days. At the end of the tour we were free to sample from a generous selection, set out in elegant glasses on a sheet of white paper, which disingenuously urged us to drink responsibly. This we did. We left inspired with the urge to find out more about port and with a couple of bottles for good measure.
Then we had a late lunch and tasted a sausage acclaimed as “one of the seven wonders of the world.” It was certainly a very good sausage. Porto was an unexpectedly lovely place to visit, full of old world charm.