Walking across the river

We decided to taste some port wine, not because we are fanatics, but because it would be weird to come all the way to Porto and not taste it at all. It turns out that you have to cross the Douro river and go to Vila Nova de Gaia to do this. We could have taken the metro, it is one station out from Sao Bento. But we decided to walk across the upper deck of the Dom Luis bridge. We walked up from the Sao Bento station, got a little lost, and then, with some help from friendly natives, found ourselves next to the Metro rail which crosses on the same deck.

The rooftops of Porto

Being suspended about 45 meters above the surface of the earth gives you a new perspective on the life of a city. The first thing we noticed is that the lively variety in the urban landscape disappeared, and Porto appeared as a long carpet of fired clay tiles. What we had thought of as a crowded promenade along the river looked much sparser from our vantage.

Alleyways of the Porto Baixa from the Dom Luis bridge

There were lots of people up on the bridge, walking along with us, and gawking at the view below. It was fun to look down at the alleyways of the Baixa. Just a while ago we had walked along them, complaining to each other about the multiple stairs we had to climb. From our height those elevations looked flattened. I took the photo shown above because it shows the road going over a pretty steep flight of steps. You have to look carefully to recognize that; the steel railings are the main clue.

The Douro river from the Dom Luis bridge

Soon we had left Porto behind us and walked out over the river. We could see barges and tourist boats passing below us. A tram rattled by on the rails next to us. As I turned to follow it, I saw that one has a lovely view of the city from up on this deck (see the featured image).

The river port of Gaia on the other bank is synonymous with the Port trade. We took the teleferico down. We hadn’t decided yet where to begin exploring the world of Port, so, more or less by default, we walked into the Espaço Porto Cruz. This all-in-one place has a set of videos on the port trade: simple background information which you could google, but it is good to have it all together in a video. We also walked into a movie which shows how the wine is made and transported. Interestingly, you do not pay for any of this. The building also contains a shop where you can taste port, at a small cost.

The ticket on the teleferico gave us discounts on the port at another cave nearby, so after finishing up here, we walked to the other place. It was a nice big room lined with posters explaining the trade, with comfortable benches placed by long tables. We settled down to a slow tasting. The Family liked the ruby, and I found that I preferred the white. We sipped our ruby, tawny. and white, as the evening’s shadows lengthened outside. Then we took the Metro back to Porto.

Five bridges of Porto

Porto slopes down from a height to the Douro river and comes to an end at the river bank. The river separates it from Vila Nova de Gaia, a town which is a tourist magnet because of its warehouses of Port wine. Five bridges cross the river from Porto. On our first evening in the town, we decided to take a cruise along the river and under the bridges.

porto1-arrabida

The westernmost of these is the Arrabida bridge (photo above), completed in 1963. The single arch across the river was once the longest in the world. This was one of the two works of Edgar Cardoso, one of Portugal’s iconic engineers, which we saw. The deck of the bridge, and the traffic it carries, passes high over the boat. Porto stretches even further to the west, right to the shores of the Atlantic. As the boat passes beyond the bridge, you see the river widening out, and Vila Nova de Gaia coming to an end. The river cruise turns around well before coming to the ocean.

porto3-freixo

Dom Luis 1 bridge (featured photo) is the iconic bridge of Porto. The double decker bridge was completed in 1887 and had a record arch span at that time. The bridge was designed by Teophile Seyrig, who had earlier worked with Gustave Eiffel. The upper deck was strengthened by Edgar Cardoso a century later. We saw trams crossing the upper deck. All other traffic crosses along the lower deck. As we passed below it we saw three other bridges lined up ahead.

The next bridge up river was the Ponte Infante Dom Henrique (photo above). It was completed in 2003 by Antonio Adao da Fonseca. I admired the clean modern lines of this concrete bridge as we passed below it. Beyond this were a pair of railway bridges.

porto45-mariapia-saojoao

The Ponte Maria Pia (photo above) was the first of Porto’s bridges. Gustav Eiffel’s engineering company, then little known, designed and completed it in 1877. Teophile Seyrig, who then worked for the company, is usually credited with having designed it. At that time it was the longest single arch bridge in the world. It was superseded in 1991 by the bridge we passed under next. This is the concrete Ponte de Sao Joao (photo above), designed by Edgar Cardoso, and completed in 1991.

The boat ride lasted about an hour. Interestingly, there are no explanations or commentary during the ride. You see what you want to see. Fortunately, I had taken the time to read up on the bridges before, so I could appreciate them. There must be much along the river which I missed. I am not a fan of continuous commentary, but it would be nice if there was a cruise which could point out the main structures of interest as we passed them.