29.12.2014 - 02.01.2015 15 °C
Naturally I visited some libraries during the 10 days or so I was in Porto. The central public library was just a short walk from my first hostel and not much further from my second: I went past it a total of four times and only once found it open. Its a 19th century building built around a courtyard - originally endowed by some convent libraries and private collections. These manuscripts are in a fine reading room upstairs - I had got myself settled in and was admiring the place when I was hustled out by a stern librarian: she spoke no English and I speak no Portuguese but it was clear I had to leave because the room was for those consulting the old texts. The University library was considerably further away and apart from being deserted and therefore very quite, had little to recommend it: I was expecting a glorious old building, but no, it was a pretty innocuous building which I suspect has been recently reclad.
There is quite a lot to do in Porto in terms of cultural activities: unfortunately the two I picked to undertake turned out to be duds, with the buildings housing the exhibits being the star of the show in both cases. Serralves Museum is a highly rated modernist art gallery, miles from the city centre, built in the 1990's in the former grounds of the Serralves Estate. The museum building has all sorts of contrived angles and has lots of glass, so is worth seeing in its own right but as for the contents, precisely nothing interested me and quite a bit produced a WTF reaction. I wanted to get out, and fast, but turns out that none of its angles resolve themselves into an exit into the grounds: for that you retrace your steps through all the objets d'annoyance to where you came in. At least once outside, I found a very pleasant teahouse overlooking the estate tennis court and could calm down over a nice cuppa. The grounds are a mixture of formal gardens and grassy areas with plenty of trees.
The Serralves Villa is where the family of the Count of Vizela lived - it took 20 odd years to complete and they moved in in the mid 1940's but moved out again a few years later: sadly, its furniture was sold off at various auctions. It came into State ownership in 1987, and had exhibitions of modern art while the museum was being built: when I went in, it was completely empty. I think it really needed its furniture, because it is very starkly decorated, although they spared no expense on mirrors and bathrooms.
After leaving there, I made my way down to the Douro river - a couple of miles out from the city centre: in the late afternoon sun, it was very peaceful - a few kids playing and old blokes fishing but mostly signs of rest.
My other expedition into Porto's cultural scene was to the Centro Português de Fotografia - there was a big collection of photos of people involved in World War 1 on the first floor and a huge range of cameras and related equipment on the top floor but here the building is the star: built in 1796, it was the main Porto prison and remained in use until the 1970's. It even had its own internal court of appeal. Apparently, photography has been important in this building for at least a century - in the very early 20th century, there was a project to photograph the prisoners and subject their photos to various tests to try and prove some sort of correlation between appearance and criminality.
There was one image I liked so much I took a photo - it is called New Year Postcard with Hilda, and dates back to 1908
I had a third change of location, thinking that it would be interesting to get out of the heavily touristed centre and stay in a pensione in the suburbs. My host was very amiable but had not a word of English. I found the same in the bar next door. And this is where I saw in 2015! Pretty much nothing was open where I was but luckily I had a plan for New Year's day - I wandered further into suburbia to a shopping mall, finding a few places open so I could have some more charcoal chicken for a late lunch (it was either that or the random offerings from a bar or an American styled restaurant I noticed). Now I didn't undertake this wandering because I wanted to see what a Portuguese mall looks like on New Year's day (surprisingly busy despite all the shops being shut - mainly because of the food outlets) but because it had a cinema and in Portugal, most foreign movies are subtitled in Portuguese rather than dubbed, so I was able to watch Richard Linklater's lovely movie, Boyhood. I think this is one I'll be watching again when I get home. Its a long movie so when I came out, I was pretty hungry but really did not expect to find much open at 11:00 at night so am afraid that for the second time on the trip, I succumbed to the charms of McDonalds for dinner. I'd have rather had this burger (something I had a few nights earlier):
To finish, after my big port drinking day in Vila Nova de Gaia, just as it was getting dark, I came across the Casa Barbot, also called the Culture House because it houses the city's Cultural Department - I liked the way it was lit at night and its style.
In the nearby railway station, there was a very fitting tiled mural