Quilts and Other Stuff from Frances

Day 4 – Wednesday, June 3rd

Today was one of those days where poor Michael had to spend the day in meetings and talking to people and I got to spend it wandering around the city of Porto. Paolo picked him up at 10:00am and I spent another hour working on the blog and then headed out into the town.

My first goal was to find my way to the river. I had a map, but the streets here go every direction possible, and seem to change names every block or so and it is VERY easy to get lost. However, I knew that if I kept heading downward, then I would eventually arrive at the river. I had a wonderful time wandering the streets and stopping in little shops as I went. Unfortunately everything that I bought was heavy so my bag ended up weighing 10+ pounds. After winding my way downward for a bit over an hour, I caught my first glimpse of the river.

The area is a mixture of apartment houses, small shops and restaurants. As it was nearing lunchtime, there was a lot of activity at the restaurants as they were setting up all of their tables outside so that you could view the river. The apartments were interesting as many of them had washing hanging outside the balconies so that some of the apartments were almost covered in clothes. I also realized that almost every apartment had a small satellite dish stuck onto the side of the building, making a very incongruous look between the age of the apartment and the newness of the technology.
I spent an hour or so just walking along the river, stopping in various shops and taking photos everywhere. There were several buskers set up along the walk, one individual with a set of Bagpipes and a Bass Drum, and another group with 2 guitars and an Accordion.

Everything in this area of the city is on several levels. Streets seem to go up and down at random…I am having a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that one street can go up at an acute angle while the street next to it goes at an angle in the other direction. I also discovered, that the things that I wanted to see were always on the level that I was NOT on. I spent much time climbing up and down stairs and streets.

As I was walking, I kept seeing paintings of oragami swans……it looks like someone has painted 1000 of these across the city and is numbering them as he goes…..these were numbers 280 thru 282.
I ended up at Igreja De Sao Francisco (Church of St. Francis), which is where the first Franciscan monastery was founded by St. Francis in 1214. I went in to see a gorgeous chapel with a wonderful example of Gothic architecture. According to the guide book, “the interior is done in a Baroque style, with the altars, walls, vaulting and pillars disappearing beneath a forest of carved and gilded wood, representing vines, cherubim and birds”. The carvings were very intricate and I was interested to see cracks running along the carvings. I finally realized that the cracks were marking the place that the wood pieces ended and a new piece began. There were also open areas of stonework and they seem incongruous with the intricate carvings thru the rest of the church. There were several areas where the wood had been painted in a faux marble look and there were also some Fresco inlays that added to the dimension of the carvings. One of my favorite altars was the Jesse Tree. The tree grows from the form of Jesse and has twelve figures representing the 12 tribes supporting themselves on the branches of the tree. At the top of the tree is a sculpture of Mary and Jesus. You couldn’t take pictures inside the church, so here is one from the internet…..

As I was sitting and walking around the church, I spent much of my time wondering who had walked or sat there before me!!! It makes you feel very small in comparison to the rest of history.

After looking at the Church, I went into the Museum next door and first went to the cemetery there. There were no public cemeteries and people were buried in the church and on the church grounds. This particular vault was built in the late 1700’s. In 1866, a law was passed that burials could not take place in private areas so no new bodies have been added since that time. The vault is a series of underground chambers that contained stacked vaults. They were each surrounded by black frames with white wooden inserts that displayed the name of the person. There were crude carvings of skulls over each of the crypts. There was a hole cut into the floor so that you could see onto the lower level. I was surprised to see piles and piles of bones and skulls, so I guess that others were “buried” there without individual crypts.

The other part of the museum was the “House of Dispatch”. I am not sure what that means, but considered that it could mean the house where souls were dispatched….who knows. The main room I this building was the Session Room that was used as a meeting place for the Franciscan Monks. There was a huge “conference” table in the middle of the room and I found it interesting that the sides of the table came almost to the floor so it would be impossible to sit up to the table with your legs under it.

By this stage, I was starting to poop out so I headed back to the hotel. Along the way I stopped at a bunch of shops and enjoyed seeing the different styles of art there. One of the big products that I saw were porcelain dishes. These are made from red clay and are painted with bright, shiny colors, mostly blues and whites.

I am also enjoying the tile work in the city and in the shops. Many of the houses are completely covered in patterned tiles. Several of the stores displayed sets of hand painted tiles that you could put in your homes. One store had tons of Nativity scenes and I was amused at one that was a beach scene……Mary and Joseph were laying on beach towels with the baby playing in the sand.

One store that I saw sold nothing but wheels…..everything from car tires to rolling wheels for chairs and cabinets.

Several stores contained cork products as Portugal is one of the largest exporters of cork in the world. Amazingly the cork can be sliced very thinly and attached to a fabric backing. This “fabric” can be used to make all sorts of products, from umbrellas, purses, shoes and even men’s ties!! It is very flexible and is waterproof as well.

As I approached the hotel, I stopped at a local café to get a sandwich. I have found that the best way to buy food is to point and hold up fingers….ie….1 ham and cheese sandwich. This, in fact, is what I had.

After a brief rest in the hotel, I struck out again, this time walking in a different direction and ending up at “Igreja Dos Carmelitas”, which was yet another church with Gilded wood carvings!! One thing that I laughed at was that, if you want to “light a prayer candle”, you don’t buy a candle, you simply put money into a slot and an electric candle flickers on. The last time we did this was in Paris and you actually bought a candle and then lit it yourself.

As I was walking back to the hotel, I came across a section of shops that specialized in religious iconography. I was surprised to see so many of them right together.

Michael called me about 7:00 and asked me to meet he and the Paulo and Nunno (another of the Professors) at the “Blue Church”….the one that I had just come from!! So, I walked back over there and we proceeded to walk down to the river for dinner. Paulo directed us down a small path and we ended up at a lookout point that gave some beautiful views of Porto. You can really see how hilly the area is.

We enjoyed our dinner at an outdoor restaurant, with Michael having a steak and me having Vegetable Canneloni. They were both nice dishes. I had fun watching a very fat cat stroll leisurely into the dining area and pick out one couple to beg from. He chose well, because the couple fed him bits of fish through out the meal. At one point the man was holding up a boned fish trying to get the last bits of meat off of it, and you could just see the cat drooling as it looked up at him.

After dinner, we walked back to our hotel. I noticed that the city of Porto is almost prettier at nighttime than during the day. They have done a great job of lighting the beautiful architecture.

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