Porto has six bridges spanning the Douro River. The best known is the Dom Luís I, which is closet to the Ribeira section of town, where we stayed. It is a double decked bridge that carries pedestrians and cars on its lower level (opened in 1886) and trams on its upper level (opened in 1887). Designed by Téophile Seyrig, it is often mistakenly credited to Gustav Eiffel, his onetime partner. Eiffel is credited with designing the Maria Pia Bridge (opened in 1877), which is further up river and bears a strikingly similar appearance to the Dom Luis I (but without a lower tier). It only carries railway traffic.
Today, I was up at 5:30AM for sunrise--The Dom Luis I was my muse, just as the Williamsburg Bridge had been Sonny Rollins' muse 57 years earlier. Sunrise is an an interesting occurrence, one which is often taken for granted. First the sky is turquoise, which evolves into an often nondescript gray translucence. It is the last stage, when the golden rays reflect off objects, that captures everyone's attention. Today, the rays were not so golden, but the absence of cars and hundreds of tourists allowed me to focus on the bridge's form--straight out of a 1960s erector set box. The right way to photograph the bridge is from its east side because its lines don't intersect with the lines of other bridges. It was just me and a couple of fisherman.
I spent three hours with the bridge, watching the trinket salesmen on the river bank lay out their merchandise for the thousands of tourists that would start arriving at 10AM, an occasional jogger, and a surprisingly large number of racing bicyclists out in their Italian spandex outfits--mostly green and yellow. I walked up the terraced stairs leading to the Sé do Porto (central cathedral that overlooks the Dom Luis I and the Douro) in an attempt to capture the approach to the bridge by foot. I also crossed the bridge to climb the adjacent hill, shooting from the roof of a hideous concrete parking lot that has an ugly purple banning advertising that it is a parking lot.
On returning to the hotel, I had a quick breakfast, catching up All That is Donald, and then Evelyn and I headed to the Number 1 Tram. Today, we decided to vacate the central city for the beach and the Serralves Art Museum in what might be described as the Palm Beach of Porto.
The tramline runs along the Douro, first passing the warehouses where the port wine is actually stored (rather than the sham "caves" reserved more for tourists than port). The scene gradually becomes more suburban (the area is known as the Foz) until the end of the line, when a lighthouse is visible in the distance. We watched several fisherman lining the shore successfully snag several ten-pound fish. Next we hit the beach, which includes a manmade-tidal basin filled with lots of seaweed. The beach was dotted with sunbathers, with a surprising large number of its inhabitants in bikinis and Speedos--most should find more modest swimwear.
It clearly is cooler by the lake, so the speak. The ocean breezes probably produced a 20-degree drop in temperature. It felt great as we watched the white caps hit the rocks in front of the lighthouse.
The beach was quite natural, with large portions covered with long strands of seaweed. No surfers in site, which makes sense given the rocky coastline. After an hour we headed to the Serralves, where we had a buffet lunch (excellent brownies and limeade), and then took a quick peak at the temporary exhibits of contemporary art. As usual, pretty awful stuff. In my book, if the artwork requires a lengthy explanation (why the tool boxes light up and then go dark), it is not very interesting artwork.
The real treat and one of the trip's highlights is the garden complex that surrounds the museum. It is a mini-Central Park, with terraced terrain, a pink Art Deco mansion, fountains, a lake, an herb garden, a farm, and assorted other improvements to the land. It dates to 1923, when Carlos Alberto Cabral inherited a portion of the land. He then spent the next 20 years acquiring surrounding parcels. He commissioned architect Jacques Gréber to design the garden in an Art Deco style, which nicely complements the house, which was designed by José Marques da Silva, and built in phases over a 19-year period. Although not entirely clear, Cabral's fortune apparently came from his family's textile manufacturing business.
The mansion is a striking piece of architecture. It is largely empty, which is too bad because if fully furnished as it once was, it would be an even more striking work. I assume the museum uses it for temporary exhibitions. While we were there, several nondescript films were displayed on the walls, but the Bach music playing throughout the house was striking, particularly the reverb. It may have been the Switched on Bach recordings by Wendy Carlos, but I don't think so. In any event, all I could think of was Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange, although that would mean Beethoven should have been more appropos.
By 5:00 PM, we decided to put a fork into this vacation. It wasn't done, but we were--a good type of exhaustion.
The day provided the sort of experience that everyone should have during a sightseeing tour. I often become overwhelmed with museums, cathedrals, touts, and restaurants. Today we saw how people actually live in Porto. The city is much larger than the tourist area would suggest. I have no doubt that there are poor and middle-class areas, but we hit on the wealthy suburbs. The 1.5 mile trek from the beach to the Serralves was an eye-opener. One mansion after another lined a the Rue de Diu, a wide boulevard. The homes were in every style imaginable--Italian Rococo, French Villa, Bauhaus, and Art Deco, among others. And each had some serious gates to keep the unwanted rabble out.
We took a taxi back to the Ribeira, where Evelyn went her way to look for gifts, and I returned to the Dom Luís I, where I learned that the two teenagers who jumped off the bridge the night before were not unique. A group of 15 or so hormone driven teenagers were hanging off the bridge contemplating the plunge. This time it was both boys and girls. Camera raised, I waited as each kid took the plunge. I felt bad for the kid in black swim trunks, who obviously was scared to death, but eventually the need to prove his manhood carried the day and him off the bridge. Each plunge was relatively easy to photograph, because each participant signaled the impending leap by making the sign of the cross over his or her bare/bikini topped chest. Lots of intersex horseplay, which most likely portended more seriously horseplay later that evening. This was a rite of passage that carried all the usual connotations.
Back to the hotel, Evelyn and I headed out for a quick dinner in the neighborhood at Adega S. Nicolau. Evelyn finally had fried small sardines, permitting her to eat the meat, skin, bones, and eyeballs. I opted for the grilled tuna steak with potatoes. The grilled asparagus never arrived. We skipped dessert, headed back to the room, dumped the contents of each suitcase on the floor, and packed over a two-hour period. Long flight tomorrow, with a 5-hour layover in Madrid.
An excellent vacation--one of the better ones. How can anyone complain about 80-degree temperatures, blue sky, and only 6 hours of rain in 14 days?
Copyright 2016, Jack B. Siegel. All Rights Reserved