But Portugal has a peaceful feel about it. I sit on the terrace overlooking the vineyard there and I feel cut off from the world. You need that sort of thing. – Cliff Richard
It was Vasco da Gama, a Portuguese explorer who first sailed from Europe to Kozhikode (Calicut) in Kerala in 1498. Under the leadership of Prince Henry, the Navigator, the Portuguese accumulated a wealth of knowledge about navigation, geography of the Atlantic Ocean and had monopoly on spice trade with Kerala, during the 15th and 16th centuries.
Christopher Columbus who inadvertently discovered a new continent was neither Portuguese-born nor sponsored, but was Portuguese trained. He married a Portuguese woman; obtained navigation charts and related information from his father-in-law, Bartholomew Perestrelo. He also collected maritime intelligence from returning explorers and sailors.
Ferdinand Magellan, a Portuguese born explorer, is known to be the first to first circumnavigate the globe, an exploration sponsored by Spain. He sailed around South America, discovering the Strait of Magellan, and across the Pacific.
On June 18, we flew into the Northern city of Porto – home to Port wine and a beautiful old city centre which UNESCO recognised as a World Heritage Site. It was a rainy and cloudy summer day and in the evening we set out on foot to explore the city.
Clérigos Tower and Sé Catedral do Porto are the two prominent buildings on the Porto skyline, a must-see location for all those who visit the city of Porto.
From our hotel we walked to Sé Catedral do Porto (Porto Cathedral), built in Romanesque style construction which began in the twelfth century. The paintings by Nasoni, the carved gilded wood altarpiece and the silver altar of the Blessed Sacrament are all worth a glimpse.
The church offers a panoramic view of Ribeiro, is one of the most popular neighbourhoods in Porto. True to its name, the district is situated on the riverbank (Ribeira in Portuguese stems from the word river).
From the church, we walked to the Ribeira, a riverside historic neighbourhood that retains all its medieval charm. Its colourful and wonderfully decorated façades and many restaurants that line up will please any visitor.
Walking through the Ribeira, along the Douro River, we reached Dom Luis bridge, dating from 1886. The upper level is used by metro-rail and the lower level by automobiles. We walked along the walkways on the lower level and reached the wine lodges of Porto. On one end of the bridge is the former Monastery of Serra do Pilar, characterised by its circular church and cloister.
Port Wine Lodges are located in Vila Nova de Gaia, on the opposite side of the Douro River. Sandeman’s and Croft’s are two of the best well-known lodges. Most buildings had red tiled roof, akin to old building’s roof of Kerala, which must be from Portuguese influence.
Below the monastery we found many love locks which couples lock to a steel bridge, and throw away the keys into the river, to symbolise their unbreakable love. The city authorities are not pleased by such display of love as they consider them as vandalism due to the damage they cause and the cost of removing them.
From the Ribeira, we walked through the rain to São Bento Station, made of glass and wrought iron. Built in 1900, this beautiful station was named after a Benedictine monastery that once occupied this space in the 16th century.
Inside, twenty thousand azulejos (hand-painted Portuguese blue tiles) cover the grand entrance hall depicting Portugal’s history, its royalty, its wars, and its transportation history. The blue and white tiles were placed over a period of 11 years (1905–1916) by artist Jorge Colaço.
Next to the station stood the Santo Antonio dos Congregates Church built between 1662 and 1680. During the Siege of Porto (1832-33) by the Liberals, this church became a military hospital and army storage facility.
Walking through Rua Santa Catarina, a cobblestone paved pedestrian only shopping street, packed on either side with international stores and numerous restaurants, street vendors and coffee shops, we came to a shopping plaza. My eyes caught on to the Indian made Bajaj Scooter on display in a clothing store.
We continued walking along Rua Santa Catarina and reached the Chapel of Santa Catarina, also called Chapel of Souls. This unique shrine dates back to the 18th century and is completely covered in the typical blue Portuguese tiles.
A bit tired after a long walk through the rain with jet-lag hanging on our eyelids, we dined at a roadside restaurant with entrée being Bacalhau (salted cod fish). It is the most popular base commodity in Portuguese cooking. Traditionally there are more than 365 different dishes, one for each day of the year, and the country has a love affair with the pungent smelling fish.
We then returned to our hotel to prepare for the Wine Tour of Douro Valley for the next day