Thursday, March 24, 2011

Porto Day 3 (22 March): Baroque, peasant food and Foz

First up, St Francisco church, a Gothic structure with a riotous Baroque interior. Almost the entire interior is caked in wild, gold wood carving, chapels, pillars and roof. Each chapel tries to outdo the other with encrusted ornamentation. Gold leaf covered wood may be the result of the Spanish/Protuguese gold-rich S American colonies, and in this case the entire church interior seems gold lined. Baroque tips easily into Rococo here. In fact, the only respite, is the best piece, on the right hand side of the apse, as it’s more constrained. The bloody and lifelike statues of Christ and beheaded monks, takes northern sensibilities by surprise, but the death of Christ is important in these parts and realism is all. The crypt contains wall space for burials and an ossuary lies below the floor, which you glimpse through windows beneath your feet. Cemeteries were only legislated for use in the second half of the 19th century. Before that everyone was buried within or under churches. This naturally led to storage and health problems. This is one of the real sights of Porto.

The centre’s a lively residential area and not too slick (which I like), with lots of tiny cafes and an inordinate number of Pastilerias – how many cakes and biscuits can the people of Porto eat? But the streets are walkable with lots of interesting shops (I say that even although my interest in shopping is marginal.)

Lunch at a Chouzziro (the ‘Central’) at the top of Rua de Fabrica, a peasant, fast food joint with authentic home-made soup, sardines, whiting, chicken, pork and so on, with good wine and beer at rock bottom prices. (There’s the ‘Moura’ round the corner with more delicacies such as pig’s ear.) A gravy boat of chilli oil and a brush is available if you like your food picante. You get your fill of food, wine and expresso for under a tenner a head. Everyone seemed to be drinking the Adego de Molerna (half bottle four euros). And you’ve got to be impressed by a proprietor who’s a little bit grumpy then jokey, and a chef that drinks lots of red wine while cooking your lunch!

Off to Foz, at the mouth of the Douro, a couple of kilometres to the west, for the afternoon and it was gloriously sunny. Promenaded along the promenade, out to the lighthouse past the fishermen (never ever see fisherman catch fish), whereas the skuas were dive bombing the fish and catching them with ease, attracted by the boundary between the river water and sea. A walk around the fort that guards the Duoro river mouth and back on the No 1 tram. As you can see, I’ve become a tram addict.

We knew our final meal would be a long one as the restaurant was filled with one large party of Potuguese, who were clearly up for a party (on a Tuesday), as there was live music. We settled down for the long haul with some wine and finished the bottle before the main courses arrived. The singer/guitarist was excellent and one man did a guest spot, to full applause from the entire restaurant. Our second bottle saw us through the marathon meal. Huge fun.

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