After 12 days of perfect weather (we did have some cloud cover in Madeira, but that is part of island's mystic), we hit rain today. Evelyn tracks the weather throughout the trip, so we had saved the indoor activities for today. We took a cab to the Mercado Bolhao, an open-air market located in the center of a gigantic concrete structure that houses surrounding shops. The usual fare was on offer--flowers, breads and other baked goods, fish, meat, fruits, vegetables, and wine.
Trump and Sanders love to dwell on globalization's negative impact on workers and small business in the United States. It isn't just those in the United States who are adversely affected. Half the stalls in the market were vacant. We were not surprised. Younger Europeans, who have always known modern refrigeration, now go to the supermarket. Both the buyers and sellers in the open air market are older, choosing to stick with tradition. Interestingly, the seafood stalls are staffed by women. In all likelihood, their husbands do the catching.
After about two hours, we headed back toward the waterfront, where we visited the Igreja de S Francisco, which dates to the 13th Century. It is constructed in the gothic and baroque styles. Before entering the church, we visited the catacombs, which are pretty eerie. The floor is designed as a grid, with wood-planked grave sites separated and held in place by a stone grid. Apparently dead bodies were thrown into these pits, left to decompose. The boards crackled and creaked as we walk over them. Were John Carpenter directing a slasher movie about a group of teenagers exploring Europe while on summer vacation, he might chose the catacombs for one of his scenes; One of the wood planks break, with a kid falling into the pit of bones below. Alternatively, a hairy arm could thrust itself up, breaking the planks and grabbing one of the kids by the ankle.
We are jaded when it comes to the palaces of worship. We've seen hundreds of churches over the years. Of course there are differences, but their are far more similarities. To a certain extent, the Igreia de S. Francisco is just another church, but I was impressed by the estimated 800 pounds of gold leaf gilding that covers all the wood carvings in this gothic beauty--no photographs allowed. Notably, there is less gold at eye level, suggesting that the fear of god that the churches are supposed to instill in parishioners didn't quite work--Thou Shall Not Steal.
Our next stop was the Stock Exchange--Bolsa--but it is not a stock exchange, but rather, the site of the Porto Merchants Association. There was a line for the 30-minute tour that features nine elaborately furnished rooms, several with inlaid wood flooring. Neither of us are particularly big fans of Baroque palaces, so we took a pass.
We headed over the Dom Luís I bridge to the other side of the Douro for our obligatory tour of a warehouse that houses port wines. All of the major producers have so-called lodges on this side of the river, including Cálem, Graham, Kopke, Offley, Ramos, Sandeman, and Taylor, among others. We opted for Augusto's, which is a small boutique producer. I originally thought we would take two or three tours, but one was more than enough. The tours are advertised as visits to working warehouses, but the warehouses where the producers store the port are larger, older, and further down the river.
We received a short explanation of the process used to produce port from our English speaking guide, as well as an explanation as to the different categories of port (e.g., vintage, LBV, and tawny) and a tasting. Augusto's gave good value for the Euro. For our five Euro per person admission charge, we received four bar-sized servings, with the quality increasing with each successive glass. Even we could taste the difference that comes with better quality port (smoother, sweeter, and woodier), but the tasting suffered from the absence of crackers or cheese to cleanse the palette between glasses. We were told that a separate license would be needed form the city of serve food.
Our guide was very friendly, but she lost interest in us once see determined that we had no intention of buying any bottles at the end of the tasting. I don't understand why anyone would bother given the worldwide distribution networks. I would be very surprised if there is any significant price differential, particularly once the 80 Euro shipping cost is factored into the equation.
Feeling a little flush after the tasting, we decided to have an early dinner, so that we would be in place to watch and photograph the sunset over the Douro. We opted for Adega E Presuntaria Transmontana, which is on the street running along the bank of the Douro in the Vila Nova de Gaia district. We decided to eat indoors to avoid street commotion. Nothing local. Just tourists visiting the wine lodges walking up and down the main drag.
Evelyn opted for a cheese and meat tray. I went for the baked cod, which was very plentiful and tasty once I figured out which end to eat. Here's a hint: Eating the tail is like chewing on rope.
We then walked along the riverbank, watching what turned out to be a spectacular sunset as the clouds and haze that had hung over the city all day burned off, with blue sky pushing the clouds aside.
As we headed back over the bridge, we saw two teenagers standing on the ledge of the Dom Luis I, having just hopped over the steel fencing. One was holding a selfie stick. Obviously this proved to an irresistible photograph, so I raised my Leica M to my eye, adjusting the focusing patch. Much to my surprise, after I captured the image I was anticipating, one of the kids jumped from the ledge, and shortly thereafter, the second kid, with selfie stick in hand, leapt, providing me with two additional unexpected images for dessert. I never thought they were going to jump.
In retrospect, I don't think the bridge's height relative to the water poses the greatest risk, although I suspect someone could break his neck if he landed the wrong way. The currents pose the greater danger. We had already watched the tidal waters rise and fall. They give the Douro its power and unpredictability, but despite my worries, both kids swam to the bank where they were greeted by an attractive young lady. No Darwin award tonight.
Copyright 2016, Jack B. Siegel. All Rights Reserved