Porto, Portugal: Thursday

On Thursday morning I woke up and had breakfast at the hostel before heading to the Placa Republica in order to hop on board the Porto Bridges Yellow Bus tour. Once again, it was raining. It rained off and on the entire time I was in Porto. I was expecting sunshine, since Porto has a gorgeous beach, but instead I sure was happy that I brought my umbrella and purchased the rain boots. The Bridges tour took me along the River Douro, past and across the most important bridges over the river. The tour also highlighted important buildings along the river bank, and only lasted about an hour. I hopped off the tour bus and headed down to the river just in time for the boat cruise down the Douro at noon. This river cruise was a part of the 10 Euro steal I got to go up and down the gondola in Gaia, and go on a river cruise, which if you buy all 3 together, you save like 6 euros!

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The clouds had parted after dumping rain onto the city for the past hour or so, and I got really lucky that it was partially sunny for the river cruise! I met a guy and his dad travelling together through Portugal, and sat and talked to them at the front of the ship,  enjoying the views of each of the bridges and of the banks of the Douro. The city of Porto is one of many hills, so the view from the river is beautiful of colored buildings rising up from the bank. The river cruise lasts only about an hour, so next I headed straight to the Palacio da Bolsa. The Palacio used to be the site of the stock exchange in Porto during the earlier part of the last century. The stock exchange has since moved to Lisbon, leaving this large and impressive building to exist only for tours, private events, and meetings. The tour guide led us through the main hall, up the grand staircase, into the chapel, and through the galleries lined with meeting rooms. After visiting the Portraits Room which has full size painted portraits of Portugal´s last Kings, we finally went to the room I was waiting to see.

The Arab room in the Palacio da Bolsa is modeled after the Moorish architecture of the Alhambra in Granada, Spain, with a bit of what the designers considered to be modern flair. The room took 16 years to complete, and as our guide said, it was ¨Made to impress¨. The Arab Room used to serve as a meeting room for visiting dignitaries, and it was one of Portugal´s many attempts to asset itself as an important world power and prove that it was able to function on a global scale. The room is breathtakingly gorgeous and amazingly intricate. The details in the working of the wood and plaster are so small, you have to look closely in order to take it all in. The main color of the room is an off white, with shades of blue, green, gold, and red complementing each other in the design. All of the doors in the room are a complex stained glass. There really is no way to describe the beauty of this room unless you go and see it yourself. You are not allowed to take photos in the room, but I know some are available online if you are curious to see what it looks like.

Upon leaving the Palacio, I headed right next door to the Church of St. Francisco for another glorious interior. The interior of the church has been said to shine, since it is all wood that has been painted a golden color. Once again, pictures were not allowed. The church was not very big, but the wooden carvings were very impressive, as was the light which reflected through the windows and appeared to make everything glitter. I enjoyed reading about the sculptures in the interior of the church for a bit before checking out the church´s museum. The museum was nothing too special, with the usual requisite religious artifacts, but what was most impressive about the compound directly across from the church was underground, in the underground burial chambers. Thousands of Porto´s most prestigious citizens were buried in this spot before health codes forbid burial of this sort. You can walk along row after row of enclosed tombs, with the name of the deceased on the outside. The most fascinating part of touring the cemetery is a window in the flood which shows the basement to the basement. When I first say it, I couldn´t believe my eyes! Underneath the floor there are thousands of bones! At first, I thought it was fake. Then, I spoke to one of the men who worked there and he showed me in a book about the history of the burial grounds. During a period of refurbishment in the church, the bones of 16th and 17th century deceased persons were basically put into a mass grave, later discovered only about 20 years ago. Creepy!!!

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I enjoyed lunch I bought from a pasteleria earlier that morning on the steps of the church, overlooking the river, before walking just a bit to the bus stop for my final Yellow Bus tour, the Porto Castles tour. The Castles Tour takes you along the coast, heading up north from the city center, to see the Foz area and the remains of some old fortressed and castles along the coast as well as the industrial area north of the city. Because I had just had lunch and it was very overcast. I found myself drifting off to the sound of the British narrators voice, which was interlaced with relaxing fado music in between sights. I recognized that I should get off the bus or risk taking a nap then and there! I decided to go to the Serralves museum and gardens. The museum is the most visited in Northern Portugal, so I thought it was worth a shot. The museum showcases the work of contemporary Portuguese artists, so it was not my favorite. It was the kind of museum where you wonder what?! and why?! quite often, and art takes abstract forms. But the Serralves art deco house and gardens were much more interesting to me.

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There was a rose garden that smelled just amazing and was fun to wander around in. After visiting Serralves, I walked back and got a good look at the Casa de Musica, which is where Porto hosts concerts and is a new building of particular architectural interest. I went to the grocery, then back to the hostel and cooked dinner. For desert, I got a pastel de nata and a tea at a bakery close by.

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