Thursday, March 24, 2011

Porto Day 2 (21st March): Tripe, lamb and a seven course meal

A sunny morning and up the steps to the Cathedral, which is a uneasy mix of Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque. The doorway alone is an architectural crime and looks as though it’s been put together from an architectural salvage yard and the towers are topped by flattened meringue domes that do them no favour. The exterior is saved, however, by a tiled cloister on the south and tiled outside wall on the north. This blue tile technique on the outside of churches seems common in Porto and quite striking, especially against the grey granite. The cloister is firmly gothic and worth a stroll. It’s a great city for a stroll, and stroll we did, past several of these blue tiled churches, mostly closed, and into the huge fresh produce market.

Then up to Lelo’s the world’s loveliest bookshop. It has this grand double curved staircase that turns back on itself all inside in the tiny hall of a shop, as well as rails for a book train trolley. We then caught the 22 tram back down the hill and a funicular that literally falls off a cliff down to the river.

Lunch was a huge pan of tripe with haricot beans, chorizo and ham for Gil and six lamb chops for my good self, washed down with a mug of well-deserved Segres beer. Then off to Gaia for a Port wine tour at Taylors. A sweet smelling walk through cool warehouses of giant barrels of the fortified wine, followed by a couple of free glasses of port, (one white and one red) before staggering down the hill. Walked out, so we took a three-tram looped ride through the city and watched the world go by. I love these old trams, and became a real fan of them in Lisbon. It’s the sounds (bells, grinding, and rattling), jerky movements and slow speed that I like. Cooled through an open window you just sit back and literally watch the world go by.

Back to the hotel to watch Tripoli being bombed. Although we shouldn’t be so high and mighty about democracy, as it wasn’t that long ago that southern Europe was ruled by dictators in Spain, Portugal and Greece. No accident, perhaps that they remain fiscally unstable, despite huge subsidies from the EU. Portugal’s in some trouble with debt and there’s obvious signs of homelessness and unemployment. I had some insight into this phenomenon four years ago on a trip to Spain to monitor the ‘entrepreneurial’ progress in Seville. It was clear what was happening. The large infrastructure projects had led to a boom in construction, but not in sustainable business. A hangover from the days of dictatorship was the funnelling of educated graduates into public institutions, through degrees in ‘Public Administration’. Almost everyone we met over a period of constant meetings over a week, had such a degree and the young people we met socially all wanted this degree, as it meant a great salary, pension and holidays. We struggled to find and ‘entrepreneur’. Without reforming the educational system and government incentives, these countries, I fear, may continue to struggle.

After giving our digestive systems a rest, we were off to O Commercial, a rather posh restaurant in a Palace, no less. Decided to go for broke with the six course taster menu, here goes; veal carpaccio (see through) with parmesan and rocket, mushroom soup with mushrooms on toast, boar, black-pudding and apple dumpling with sausage roll topped with a quail’s egg, basil ice-cream with port, pear and vodka (refresher), confit of duck with spinach mash and lemon ice cream with chestnuts. A meat-heavy meal, so a rich red was recommended, which turned out to be the black pudding of wines, as black as night, aromatic and almost chewable. Felt like royalty as we were the last to leave through the Palace corridors and out through the main entrance. A traveller marches on his and her stomach!

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