I drove down to Oporto last night, to surprise my elder daughter by turning up for her birthday dinner with friends from Spain, Portugal, Ireland and the UK.
But, before that, I went to the Pontevedra tax office (the Hacienda) to drop off my appeal against the fine-on-a-fine I mentioned the other day. Just my luck to get a trainee and to have to wait while a 2 minute process took at least 10. And included printing off a sticker 6 times before he got it right. There were 5 other people in the Registro office but, except the woman training the new guy, none of them was doing anything but chatting. Do these things happen to other people? Or just me?
Anyway, on to Portugal . . . .
A Helping Hand 1: You or I - looking at the map here - might well think that Matosinhos is a north western corner of Oporto. But my satnav doesn't agree. When I typed in the name of a particular square in Oporto, it gave me – unbeknownst to me – a street of the same name in the east of the city. Apparently, I should have identified the city as Matosinhos, not Oporto. Having arrived, but unaware I was a long way from where I thought I was, I asked a lady where the Matosinhos metro station was. She talked for a couple of minutes and I understood ne'er a word. Consulting my old-fashioned map didn't help, as I couldn't match the street names where I thought I was - in Matosinhos, of course - with those around me. (By the way, the Portuguese are brilliant with their street names. In Oporto, at least. I couldn't tell you about those in Matosinhos . . . )
A Helping Hand 2: Flummoxed by this inability to tally street names with my map, I asked a young man to point out on it where exactly we were. I was really quite surprised to find just how far I was from where I'd wanted to be. And, to be honest, pretty amused. But it was closer to the city centre than I'd planned and probably saved me a euro or two on the metro. Which reminds me . . .
A Helping Hand 3: Buying a metro ticket at Combatientes station, I was (unnecessarily) assisted at the machine by a well-dressed young man who volunteered instructions in English. And then answered my question as to why the price on the list said 1.20 but I was being charged 1.80. As I turned to leave, he asked politely if I had the 80c he lacked. No sooner had I obliged and walked away, than I realised this was a clever scam. I'm sure he waits there regularly, proffering unrequested advice to all tourists, whether they're befuddled or not. And then takes polite advantage of their gratitude. I'm almost tempted to go back today to check this out but I'm also sure he doesn't confine himself to one station. Anyway, it was worth the 80c just to be able to tell this tale.
Oporto: In the same way as everyone should visit the Grand Mosque in Córdoba before they pop their clogs, Oporto(Porto to the Portuguese) is also a must-see. Save for perhaps Lisbon, I doubt there's anywhere else in Europe which has retained so much medieval-like cheek-by-jowlness. Ancient and modern, ugly and beautiful, poor and wealthy - all side by side. And this can't last. Tourist dollars are pouring into the city and even now it's not what it was when I first visited it 20 years ago. Back then, you wouldn't venture down to the Ribeira zone for fear of losing at least your wallet. Now it's a chic promenade of bars and restaurants alongside the river, overlooking the port caves and boats on the other side.
After an excellent lunch of trout and a half bottle of vinho verde - which cost more than the trout - I tried to visit the nearby Sao Nicolau church but found it closed. As was the Henry V musuem, it being Monday. Which I always forget.
So, I decided to visit the Cathedral and made my way up the the long flight of steep steps from the river. Somewhere else I wouldn't have ventured 20 years ago. Stopping to take a breath, I took these fotos all from one spot, or a meter or two away from it. I like to think they give some idea of what I meant above:
And I took these these a few meters further up:
And here is cheek-by-jowlness personified. An ugly block right in front of the magnificent cathedral:
And, finally, the view from just below the cathedral, which I suspect used to be the red light district. And maybe still is: