Recently, I was invited to give a talk at a philosophy workshop co-located with one of the conferences on interdisciplinary science in Porto. I spent close to two weeks in town. Dylan was in London for a meeting; we were lucky enough to be able to overlap our trips and take a little break in Porto for a few days.
Porto seems like a city in flux. When you talk to locals, they say it was very different five years ago. There's evidence of this in the cityscape. Wandering around parts of porto you'll find brand new developments sprouting out, giving the city a new face.
While the city seems to be growing and changing, by taking a few steps off the path---or, in some cases while staying on the path---you'll find derelict buildings. Walking to my accommodation when I arrived, I spotted a hollowed out building wedged between two still in use. Looking in the vacant windows you could see the roof had fallen in and only a few beams were left. This is the case in some of the more touristy areas as well. Next to some of the major museums, the university, or on your way to one of the port houses, you'll find buildings that are boarded, or with shattered windows.
I'm not sure what the story is there.
One of the reasons to visit Porto is to enjoy the architecture. Many of the city's historic buildings are covered in beautiful tiles. The facades and interiors of public spaces---including churches and train-stations and the like---are covered in scenes that are painted on tiles. The waterfront buildings are vibrant and colourful. You'll find bright buildings with clotheslines air-drying laundry above wine houses with delicious tapas.
There are also many examples of Baroque churches throughout town. These are gilt to excess, putting even spanish churches to shame. I guess that's the historical bounty of pillaging Brazil on display. While impressive, these churches are overwhelming: one was enough for me.
Interestingly, the cathedral is less visually shocking. Situated at the top of the hill overlooking both sides of the river, it's an older, more reserved example. I visited in the hopes of escaping a torrential downpour until the weather cleared. This was an excellent opportunity. While gargoyles have kept watch over many places I've visited, this was the first time that I'd seen one performing it's less spiritual duty: siphoning water away.
While I was aware of the cathedral before making my impromptu visit, I didn't know that one of its towers was open to the public. Clerigos Tower is most frequently suggested by travel guides, but the view from the cathedral is much more grand. Climbing up from the courtyard, you emerge to a panoramic view---possibly the highest in town.
The character of the city's architecture can be found not just in the facades of buildings, but also in the details and construction techniques. Many of the historic buildings in Porto with rich wood panelling actually have no wood at all! For instance, the walls and staircase of the famous bookstore, Livraria Lello, are made from plaster. At first glance, you wouldn't think it. Even when you're primed and looking for examples around town, it's difficult to discern the plaster imposters from the genuine lumber articles. Only when the facades are worn and chipped is it possible to be certain.
The people in Portugal are friendly and patient. They even overwhelmingly tolerated my terrible Portuguese. Some even taught me words so that I could make it through my next order at the local bakery a little more efficiently. Portuguese bakeries are as good as they are prolific. It's easy to start the day by grabbing and espresso and a tart while sitting in in a square.
Dylan and I happened to be visiting Porto during the 2019 Canadian federal election. When we sat down for dinner on the eve of the election, we found that the couple seated next to us at the bar were a couple from Calgary living in Vancouver. It's a small world.
Recently, I was invited to give a talk at a philosophy workshop co-located with one of the conferences on interdisciplinary science in Porto. I spent close to two weeks in town. While I was mostly focused on work, I did have a chance to dip out and explore the city. Here's my thoughts after walking around town. Here's a list of some of the places that stood out:
Serralves is a contemporary art museum and one of the best galleries I've ever visited. The curation is fantastic; it gives visitors enough context to understand what the artist and the gallery are trying to communicate, without hand-holding the guests. Even if you're not a fan of modern art, Serralves is worth visiting: there's something for everyone.
The gardens surrounding the gallery are lush, and marked with several installations. In the center of the gardens is a fantastic example of art deco architecture: a house with a fountain leading from a cliff up to the main house.
Centro Portugues de Fotografia isn't a place highlighted by travel guides. It's close to all the tourist hot-spots, but receives much less attention.
It's worth a visit.
The centre for photography is a free museum located in a repurposed prison dating back to 1582. They didn't change much. The inner courtyard is a small square with iron bars for windows. The entrance to many exhibits is through heavy doors and bars.
Not all of the exhibits were worth writing home about, but several were exceptional. locating the gallery in a historic jailhouse gives it quirky charm. On the whole, it's a well curated gem close to where most people will be anyways. What's to lose by stopping by?
The Waterfront in Porto is a great place to wander and explore the city. There's an abundance of colourful buildings and neat narrow streets to explore. If you're willing to step off the tourist track, good, cheap food is abundant.
There's a number of wine houses along the shore of the river: a great place to grab a drink while watching the sun set flanked by Porto's iconic bridges.
A great way to get to the waterfront is to walk behind the Center for Photography to a look-out point of the river. From there, you can take steps that carve into the side of the hill down narrow streets that are decorated with the traditional ceramic tiles found in porto and a smattering of street art.
Epoca Porto is a great place for brunch. I had indescribably great eggs on sodabread toast. What was in them? I don't know.
early is a little cafe that seems to be built into an old bank. If you look into the back room, there's an old vault door that's mirrored on the inside. Dylan and I grabbed a bunch of plates to share as nibblies. Their roast cauliflower is the best I've had.
O Calcua is a nice little place close to the centre of town. A group of us went here after the conference I attended, and it was memorably tasty---served family style.
O Comercial is a treasure hidden away in Palacio da Bolsa: a historic stock exchange in the center of town. There's only a handful of tables, so it's a quiet little getaway.
Taylor's Port is the oldest port firm, but it's not worth the trek. If you're interested in boozy drinks, chances are you're probably familiar with winery tours, or have at some point wandered through a distillery. The joy of these tours is getting to see where your favourite libations are made: getting to walk through the process.
You'd think that port--a fortified wine--would be the best of both worlds. Unfortunately, it's little more than a walking tour through one of the historic storehouses. Save yourself the time and drink port at any number of other places in town.
Livraria Lello is a breathtakingly beautiful bookstore. If you are at all interested in visiting, make sure you're one of the first 20 people through the door at the beginning of the day. At any other point in time, it is unbearably packed. It can take two or three minutes to descend the stairs as you weave through all the visitors taking selfies.
While the craftsmanship is excellent, it's near impossible to enjoy when peering through the crowds. It hardly seems safe; I can't imagine how deadly a fire would be with the way they pack tourists in.