A riverside walk with an insight to the nature and traditions that surround Portugal’s city of Porto.
Walking over the Ponte Luís I bridge, leaving our downtown Porto room behind, we took the southern bank of the Douro River, passing by the familiar port caves, in favour of what laid beyond.
Heading in the direction of the white, choppy waves of the Atlantic Ocean we quickly felt a long way from the bustling city that was not so far behind. Derelict buildings lined the water’s edge, a reminder that Portugal had hit hard times. Many people had to abandon their homes, businesses and current lives in search of cities and a means to survive, during a time when international companies also started buying into their wine trade.
A boat building yard had ceased work for the time being, with scattered timber, half-finished boats and tools dotted around, it awaited the return of the workers.
Somewhere between the old streets of Vila Nova de Gaia and the shores of the Ocean, was a small bar with maritime décor and a friendly waiter, sitting alone as he watched the T.V. We sat for a sandwich and cold local beer of Super Bock before we were wished a good day and headed on our way.
On the other side of the river we saw bright coloured buildings, trams travelled in each direction, the museum of port wine stood tall and other tourist attractions could also be seen. Bridges carried traffic from one side of the river to the other but without a sight of pedestrian access from our path there would be no option of crossing for our return stroll.
We reached a small nature reserve, a hut with information of the local birds, creatures and plants, where we learnt a thing or two about what we had taken the time to stop and look at along the way.
A little further and we reached a small village. The habitants seemed to be all but a few of the older generation. Many were sitting together close to the water’s edge with their washing pegged out to dry.
Sheets, clothes and cloths of all colours blew in the slight wind. For us it was a strange sight, a sight that made us smile at the local traditions.
There was also an old wash house, where water ran within the small walled channels of a shelter and there were other ladies doing their washing, using methods only known to me through stories from my grandmothers. The smell of wash powder filled the air and the only sound was of water swooshing.
Just a few minutes later and it was as if we had stepped through a secret border, gone was the scene of a traditional village and street washing which showed signs of poverty compared with todays’ modern world and in front of us was a line of luxury yachts, all berthed in a harbour lined with expensive restaurants and people wearing luxurious clothes with designer shoes.
After spending time watching the waves and mulling around the shoreline, we headed back for another peak at life in the ‘local’s quarter’.
The scent of soap powder and fresh linen had been replaced with wood burning and food cooking. On the narrow streets, people sat at the front doors to their blocks of flats with small barbecues cooking various meats or fish. The restaurants were also cooking for their guests on bigger versions, on the pavements outside their premises.
With little knowledge of the Portuguese language it was difficult to know what we were going to be eating, I ordered a fish, to this day I do not know which fish, with a salad, to be washed down with some Portuguese wine. The prices were reasonable, the food simple yet tasty and we felt totally disconnected from the rest of the world in this small district, far away from anyone or anywhere else. As the afternoon grew late, it was time to head back along the river.
Once again passing the Port caves we opted for the chairlift back up to the Ponte Luís I. With a bird’s eye view of the narrow streets at sunset, never had rows of rundown orange roofs and townhouses looked so beautiful.