26.12.2014 - 29.12.2014 15 °C
I was initially surprised by the large number of East Europeans I encountered in Porto but eventually it dawned on me that the Portuguese language doesn't sound like the languages used in the neighbouring countries: it has the cadences of languages from much further east and s is pronounced more like a soft z.
After Christmas, I moved out of the world's best large hostel into the 5th best small hostel in the world, the Rivoli Cinema Hostel, to get a different perspective on Porto. This one is right in the centre of Porto, just off the Avenida dos Aliados which is kind of like city square except that it's not square. The city hall is at its head and it is flanked by grand buildings.
When I first arrived, it was set up with quite a few chimes - people were playing them a bit like a xylophone - but by the time I moved on just before the New Year, everything had been emptied out and a stage set up - there was going to be a huge, noisy New Year's eve party, attracting thousands.
The hostel was quite exceptional, and the people running it made a real effort to make people feel at home, organising a communal dinner each night: despite their best efforts, I was not persuaded to join in for the feast of francesinhas (bread topped with steak, sausage and cheese and a beer-flavoured sauce). The chicken night I did go for - marinated in something delicious and cooked in a local churrasqueira over a charcoal grill, it was so good I had to hunt down the churrasqueira and have some more. There was a bloke at dinner who dominated conversation - I kind of got the idea that he was full of shit so badly that I ended up fact-checking a couple of his more definitive statements of fact, and they turned out to be wrong. This, plus the fact there were so many great places and things to eat (including a delicious Ethiopian stew) around Porto, meant I only had dinner once in the hostel. One of my favourite places was the Majestic cafe, which opened in 1921 and is the "most beautiful cafe in Porto" - slightly more flash than the random churrasqueira I visited.
I guess it will come as no surprise that there are a LOT of churches around Porto - I'd have liked to visit the Cathedral but the couple of times I was there, it was in use. A lot of the churches took on a fairly standard aspect, but I felt a bit sorry for the Church of Saint Ildefonso (built 1730), because it has obviously seen better days, and I was never sure if it is still being used - never saw any sign of life as I walked past.
There are other great buildings to be seen - the Palácio de São João Novo, Palácio da Justiça and, of course, Livraria Lello & Irmão - which is in all the lists of most beautiful bookshops. The shop was jampacked with sightseers when I went in, and they have a very stringent no photo policy - I only had to glance at my camera to be reminded - so the photos are off the internet. I at least did buy something from them - a map of the Douro valley. The central hospital is a rather grim looking place.
I was impressed with the sculptures in the park opposite the hospital and courthouse (Jardim de João Chagas) called "Thirteen laughing each other" by Juan Muñoz - they inspired a cheerfulness in me. I also quite liked the whimsy of the bicycle hanging on the wall above the Children's market and the market itself. And then there was the fish, just around from where I had my Ethiopian meal.
Tiles like this are the predominant form of decoration in Porto - railway stations in particular use tiles to create pictures which occupy entire walls.
Old Porto used to be entirely walled, but there are only a couple of pieces of the wall left and, if I read the Portuguese right, just the one gate survives. They also have some very old trams rattling about the place.
Finally, two pictures I failed to include in earlier posts - the world's tiniest cappucino and the rather nice box my macarons came in.