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Trip Report Northern Portugal Trip Report - July 2011

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We visited Porto for 4 days as a part of 15 day Portugal trip. Overall impressions were good and will definitely return one day.

Day 1. Arrived on TAP Portugal from Madeira. It was a "strike" day but it didn't apply to Madeira flight. Nevertheless the flight was only 20% full and Porto airport somewhat empty. I actually liked TAP; modern plane & meal/drinks served on 2 hr flight; something that is not happening anymore on domestic North American flights.

Took Metro to get to hotel (Best Western Inca). Fare is 2 euro (1.50 + 0.50 for Andante card for Z4 zone) from airport to Trinidade. Ticket can be bought from vending machine in the airport and must be validated on the platform. There is multilingual Metro staff helping travelers if necessary. Machine takes only coin & bills under 10 euro. Also Tourism Porto office in the airport sells 1 or 3 day unlimited all zone Andante Tour card (5 & 11). Good value if one needs to use transit. Taxi to center is about 20. Got the 24 hr ticket. I recommend visiting the office before leaving the airport especially if one needs city or regional maps (Guimaraes, Braga, Viana, etc)

Checked into the hotel and in the afternoon went to Norte Shopping mall that wife wanted to check out. It’s located near Sete Bicos station; it’s a large modern mall. In the evening walked near the river and had not so good dinner in one of the restaurants there. I can’t remember the name but food wasn’t good and drinks were very pricey.

Day 2. Wanted to just walk around Porto that day. Started by visiting Serralves museum and gardens. It’s located in a very ritzy area but museum was under renovation and didn’t have much to see. I thought that it was a large modern art museum similar to one in Belem. Gardens are very nice. If interested get a 25% off coupon from tourism office in the airport.

In the afternoon crossed the bridge and went to Gaia for port tasting. All major houses are there and not far from each other. Every house has different setup for tastings; some offer basic port for free (Taylor & Croft) and some offer free tours. Tasting prices depend of wine quality and age. Visited Kopke, Croft, Taylors, Offley, Ferriera & Vasconcellos. By far the classiest experience is offered by Kopke. Tasting room is a small tastefully decorated study. It includes chocolates and water to clean the palate between different ports. Tasting rooms in other houses were large & crowded. Taylors has a beautiful estate with rose garden and fruit trees.

After tastings walked around the historic center & after last night’s dinner fiasco tried to find a better restaurant; ended up eating several times at Café Aviz (on Rua De Aviz near Hotel Infante Sagres). Food was good and reasonably priced. On one of the visits my son tried the francesina sandwich (Porto specialty). Locals like it and order it a lot. It looked like a cholesterol bomb and I stayed with steaks and fish (both were very good). Judging by the number of customers there are other good restaurants in the area; some with live music on weekends.

Day 3 Dedicated the day for out of town trips. After breakfast went to Guimaraes & Braga by bus. Took 9:20am Transdev Arriva bus. Bus depot is not too far from Trinidade metro off Rua Camoes. The whole trip Porto/Guimaraes/Braga/Porto was under 13 euros pp. It takes around 1 hr for each leg. Guimaraes historical center is about 15 min on foot from bus terminal (located in Guimaraes Shopping mall). Spend about 2 hrs there; saw the castle & Dukes Palace. Braga’s historical center is also close to bus station. It’s very pretty; with nice landscaping and huge fountain. Most of the major churches are in the walking distance from each other. We didn’t go to Bom Jesus (it can be visited by local bus or taxi). Saw it from the bus when returning back to Porto. Buses don’t run too late; last Arriva bus to Porto was at 7pm. Trains from Sao Bento station are also an option however trains to Guimaraes are not that often. Bus is a faster option between Guimaraes & Braga.

Day 4 Stayed in Porto that day. Walked on Santa Catarina pedestrian shopping street; ate very tasty hot sandwiches at Bel Mundo bar (1 block north of Bolhao metro); walked more in the historical center and took one of the 10 euro 1 hr six bridges Douro cruises. ruse included tour of Ferriera cellars; I think most of them include kind of some tour. Made a return visit to Kopke and Vasconcellos and this time tried more expensive 20 year old ports. I think that “What you pay is what you get” principle applies to port very well.

Generally I find Porto a worth visiting and safe destination although streets in the center were deserted at night on weekdays (busier on weekend). Couple of times encountered pushy panhandlers but brushed them off. Saw quite a few homeless people. Major buildings are beautifully lit at night and there is very pretty illuminated art display near Banco Portugal. Architecture in old city is impressive with lots of old multi colored tiled houses and decorated balconies. Next time we'll probably spend time renting a car and travelling the Douro valley.

For photos see https://picasaweb.google.com/Harryk100/NorthernPortugal2011

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