We started this morning with breakfast on the top floor of our hotel. It was typical European fare, made up of wonderful bread and butter, sliced ham, sliced cheese and fruit. AND, as always, lots of strong coffee.
We were being picked up at 10:00am and ended up with about 1-1/2 hours free so we walked a few blocks to a local market (Mercado do Bolhao). We had a hard time finding it, but finally followed a man who was carrying two pig halves and found that it was in an open court, between some buildings, and on a lower level.
The market was a maze of shops containing everything that you could imagine. There were florists stalls with gorgeous colored flowers and arrangements, vegetable stalls with tons of greens and melons. One stall had one of the larger melons cut open so that you could see it and it looked a lot like Pumpkin. The fish stalls had everything from Eel to tiny fish that they bread, fry and serve whole. One stall had birds….live ones…. that you could buy to cook with. The butcher shops contained mostly pork, however there was some beef as well. Almost all of these shops had sausages of some sort, with one shop selling long strings of casings so that you could make your own.
The bread shop windows were filled with fresh rolls and long buns and each one had several loaves that were decorated with dough designs. There were several stalls that sold nothing but garlic and dry beans. The beans were held in containers that were wrapped in fabrics which gave them a festive appearance. The purple garlic bunches were hanging from the ceilings or side of the stalls making a gorgeous pattern. There were a couple of stalls that sold hard candies and others that had nothing but pickled items….mostly beans and olives. Finally there were a few stalls that sold a mixture of things such as shoes, nick-knacks, cooking supplies, etc.
I was especially enthralled with the women who were working in the vegetable stalls. Most of them were older (probably 60+) and they were all wearing basically the same thing…..a simple dress with a full apron over the top, dark ankle socks and comfortable shoes.
As we walked back to the hotel, we stopped at a small café and Michael had another cup of coffee. It was fun sitting outside and watching the people in the street. At one point, a truck parked in the middle of the street while a man got out and unloaded a cart full of potatoes and walked them to a local restaurant. (It reminded me of the beer trucks parking the middle of the streets in downtown Athens). There were others walking past with carts full of vegetables and meats. We also enjoyed looking at what people were wearing and there was the usual mixture of dressy, casual and down right weird!!
We were met at the hotel by Harry and his wife, Christina and they proceeded to spend the entire day showing us around Porto and the surrounding area. It was fun to just get a flavor of the area. Our first stop was to the local coffee shop for yet MORE coffee and tea. We laughed about the fact that Christina (a Spaniard) and Harry (a German) were showing Americans around Portugal!!!
We drove to their neighborhood and stopped by their house for a few minutes. They live in a semi-detached house that has a small garage and small out-building for the laundry room. My favorite part of it was a garden area just off of the living room. They were renting and hadn’t done any work in it, but I could see how nice it would be to have a beautiful flower garden there.
They needed to buy a few groceries so we visited one of the local stores. It was much the same as our grocery stores, containing everything from personal hygiene items to Salted Cod (called Bacalhau). The store had an overall fishy smell from this. The prices seemed to be similar to the US, but without the huge variety of items to choose from….except where wine was concerned. There was one LONG isle filled with nothing but wine bottles and the prices were very low.
After the groceries were bought, we drove thru several of the smaller towns that are located along the coast. They reminded me of the small coastal towns that we visited along the Southeast Australian coast. Even the ocean reminded us of this area…..the beach was white sand, dotted with black boulders. There were only a few people on the beach as the temperature had dropped and it was fairly chilly.
We had lunch (about 2:00) in one of these towns and had the “Pork special” for the day. It started with a wonderful pumpkin (or maybe it was potato) soup and was followed with a pork chop with mushroom sauce and french fries and salad. MORE coffee followed!!!
We drove around longer, planning to visit the Botanical Garden, but arrived just as they closed, so instead, we the went to “Solar Vino do Porto” an establishment that serves many of the ports from the region. We sat in a rose garden and enjoyed the views over the Douro River. I was impressed with the different types of Port that were available. I had only known Port as a dark red wine but was surprised to find that there were Sweet white Ports as well. I had a glass of one of these and really enjoyed the flavor of the drink. Harry drank an Extra Dry White Port, and Christina and Michael had the traditional Tawny Port.
It was now dinner time, so we headed back toward our hotel and stopped at a very nice restaurant. We bought two large pork dishes and shared them between the four of us. My favorite was thin pork that had been breaded and fried (much like a schnitzel). For desert Michael had a flan and I had chocolate mousse that was SO rich and wonderful.
In all, it was a fantastic day spent with wonderful new friends!!!!