Sunday, 14th July 2019 – Porto, Day 4
I went running again to start the day, this time heading downhill from the hotel and running along the river. When I’d finished I cheated by taking the funicular back up to the top level of the bridge because it was far too humid to use my legs. A €2 ride was all it took, and thought the funicular is very modern, it does produce the odd good vista back down to the river. That done, I showered and we had breakfast before heading out for the day.
We stuck our heads into the splendidly ornate Igreja dos Clérigos, though I didn’t fancy the 200 or so steps to the top of the tower, and Lynne doesn’t do heights (she’d had enough trouble walking over the bridge on Saturday) so we just took a look at the interior of the church and left it at that. It’s very grand! It dates from the eighteenth century (1732 to 1750) and was commissioned by the Brotherhood of the Clérigos on the hill of the hanged men, where executed prisoners were buried. The landmark of most significance may well be the tower, which is apparently the tallest church tower in Portugal.
The architect was Nicolau Nasoni, an Italian, who worked all through northern Portugal and who designed this church using a typical baroque elliptical floor plan, the first time it has been used in Portugal as far as can be established. He also worked on the Archbishop’s Palace and the loggia of the Cathedral. He joined the Clérigos Brotherhood and was buried in the crypt of the church, though his grave is not marked.
Our main plan for the morning was to take a good look at the Jardins do Palácio de Cristal. We decided to walk, and it didn’t take long for us to realise that the difficulty was actually finding the entrance on foot!
Once we did we found that some parts were off limits, because they were undergoing renovation, which seemed to be happening a lot as we investigated a city that is both battered and shabby in places, but also fascinating and full of intriguing detail. We didn’t have a map, but the park is well signposted, and so we were able to find our way round. It’s basically an 8 hectare stretch of gardens, on a bluff, overlooking the river, and is full of different gardens including an aromatic plant garden, a medicinal plant garden, a “feelings” garden, a rose garden, and a formal garden. It’s also home to a flock of peacocks, a lot of seagulls, and some small, fluffy and very fierce chickens which are not averse to head-butting errant gulls!
When we arrived there were peacocks sitting on a piece of sculpture. We soon found out what they were after. A man arrived with a large back from which he produced chunks of bread that soon had all the peacocks sitting around him waiting for their share. It was also what led to an outbreak of chicken on gull aggression, to the apparent surprise and shock of the gull, it should be said.
After that entertainment we pottered around the various areas of the park, taking in the views. It really does look spectacular, even on a somewhat gloomy summer morning.
There are water features all over the place, and paths leading through the trees and I can see why it’s a popular spot with locals and tourists alike.
It’s been here a long time. The original Palacio Cristal was built for the International Show of 1865, with gardens designed by German landscape architect Emílio David. The original building is long gone, torn down in the 1950s and replaced by a modern sports complex, but the beautiful gardens have survived and are delightful. The sports complex is a strange dome that looks a bit like an abandoned alien spacecraft from a distance (it seemed to be closed too), but even without that there are plenty of things to look at with statues and fountains dotted hither and thither.
It also contains the Museu Romântico da Quinta da Macieirinha where Charles Albert of Sardinia spent his last months in exile. Charles Albert was King of Sardinia from 1831 to 1849, when he adopted the idea of a federal Italy and granted the Albertine Statute, the first Italian constitution, which remained in force until 1947. He led his forces against the Imperial Austrian army in the First Italian War of Independence (1848–1849), but was abandoned by Pope Pius IX and Ferdinand II of the Two Sicilies, and was defeated in 1849 at the Battle of Novara, He then abdicated in favour of his son, Victor Emmanuel II and fled to Porto where he died a few months later of tuberculosis.
The Romantic Museum is now basically a recreation of a nineteenth-century aristocratic house and was free to enter on Sunday morning. It contains a number of beautifully decorated rooms that are open to the public, including the great drawing room, a small chapel, and the bedchamber where the King died. The dining room was rather fine I thought.
There was also an interesting if small section on clothing and on fans and their use. Of particular interest to me were the Chinese or mock-Chinese ones which I assume were influenced by products from the country’s Asian colonies.
Our next trick was to try and find our way out again and down to the riverside where we hoped to catch one of the historic trams back towards the centre of town. We found a gate, and turned downhill to find ourselves on a series of paths that I swear may well be medieval in origin. A couple of French tourists seemed most unconvinced that they were on the right track and turned back, but we persisted.
My belief was we were in the right place because whatever else was down there, the path was lined by streetlights and therefore was clearly public property. I must admit I sort of saw the point of the French, because it didn’t look like anything you’d expect to find in a modern city…
Several minutes later I was proven correct though, when it spat us out on the riverside, close to another tiled church, the Igreja do Corpo Santo de Masserelos. It was built in 1776 on the site of a chapel founded in 1394 by the Confraria das Almas do Corpo Santo de Massarelos, a brotherhood of sailors who counted Henry the Navigator as one of their number. The church did not appear to be open, but it was arresting enough from the outside as to be interesting anyway.
We battled our way to the tram stop and then discovered we’d arrived during the lunch break. We waited anyway and eventually a tram going in the direction we wanted appeared. The trams are really fine examples and if you like an historic tram you can buy a two day ticket that allows you to jump on and off as often as you want. Full of good intentions, we decided we’d opt to do that. We only used it the once in the end.
We got off close to the Casa do Infante, and felt it was now time for food and a cold drink. We still hadn’t attempted a francesinha, a local speciality guaranteed to be a heart attack on a plate. The Tram Restaurante looked like just the spot. We sat down and were pleased to discover we could have a half one each rather than having to tackle a whole one, and ordered a glass of rose each to go with it. We also asked for water which never did arrive so we drank our own, half expecting an outraged waiter. One was not forthcoming, though perhaps given how hard it had been to get a menu in the first place, I probably should not have been surprised.
Anyway, the francesinha… what, you are possibly wondering, is it? Well, it’s a sandwich of sorts, which is a bit like saying that London is a big city. It doesn’t really do justice to it. There is a story that it was brought back to Portugal from France by Daniel da Silva who wanted to adapt the croque-monsieur to local taste. So the relatively harmless French cheese and ham sandwich he developed something that’s really quite scary! It’s claimed that he first cooked one in 1953 at A Regaleira, a restaurant in Rua do Bonjardim. It’s been described as “a doorstep sandwich layered with pork, then smoked sausage, then bacon, and topped off with a medium-rare beefsteak, it is finished with a fried egg and covered in a thick coat of cheesy sauce. It is heated through and then drenched in a murky dark sauce.”
There seem now to be many, many variants including the francesinha à Barcarola (with prawns and shrimp), francesinha de carne assada (with roast pork) and francesinha à Cascata (with mushrooms and cream) and there is no definitive recipe it would appear. This one didn’t appear to have the egg, but it did have – in order from the bottom, a slice of thick white bread, a steak, a Portuguese sausage of some sort, a layer of ham, a slice of bread, and a layer of cheese slices. It was then drowned in a tomato and beer sauce. It was enormous. It was also very good. I was just glad we hadn’t tackled a full sized one.
Suitably fortified, we caught a bus back up to the Avenida dos Aliados from where we tried to work out how, on a Sunday, we could get to the Museu Nacional Soares dos Reis in the Carrancas Palace. It proved to be slightly harder than it should have been, because on Sundays there are very few buses. We finally rounded one up and headed up there, getting off at the hospital without being able to spot the Museum. We eventually found it, but it wasn’t exactly obvious compared to museums in most cities that tend to have big, obvious signs and banners outside. None of that for Porto it seems. Perhaps its an affect of the fact that until around a decade and a half ago Porto really didn’t consider itself a tourist destination at all.
It’s an interesting building, but I’ve never seen a national museum of any stripe so empty on a Sunday afternoon. There was literally no one in the museum shop as you can see here…
I can sort of see why if you’re not a Portuguese speaker, because there was very little explanation of anything at all in any language other than Portuguese. The collection of fine art on the first floor is seriously short of context or info and while I’m sure it’s significant in its own way it didn’t mean much to us. Some of the works were interesting enough but I wouldn’t give house room to most of them, and without context I’d no real idea what I was looking for or at.
The museum website claims “there are important national and foreign specimens in the painting from the 16th century, while in that from the 17th century, foreign painting, namely Flemish and Dutch, assumes preponderance” but that section appeared to be closed. I think the truest words with regard to the paintings was this snippet: “the 18th century works are mainly derived from monastic collections and serve to illustrate the nation’s aesthetic situation, marked by the virtual absence of distinguished artists”. When Romanticism hit things started to look altogether better and that seems to be mostly down to a handful of artists, most notably Silva Porto, Marques de Oliveira and Henrique Pousão, whose works certainly seemed an improvement on what we’d been looking at earlier. The modern era works are mostly missing because they are in the modern art museum further out of town, but there are a few rattling about, and I have to say I rather liked them, but again I would also have liked some context.
We did briefly consider trying to go to the café between floors, but when we went to investigate all we could find was a vending machine and the shop was still empty! We decided to get on and finish the job instead and we’d stop for a gelato on the way home instead. The top floor has a number of different areas including an exhibition of Portuguese porcelain that made me realise there is something worse than Meissen! I cannot imagine who would have wanted to have these in the home. You might buy them as a present for someone you didn’t really like, but other than that? Seriously?
While the Portuguese faience is mostly horrendous, though it’s obviously historically interesting, but there is also some Chinese porcelain, which is much better looking, especially the dinner service of the Bishop of Porto, D. António de S. José de Castro. Or possibly he just had better taste than most of the patrons.
If you wanted something really alarming though, there was always this, which was also Chinese as for which there really seemed to be no excuse:
I think if I had to spend too much time in a room with those I’d be having nightmares! Mind you, this was also pretty weird and was apparently some sort of reliquary. Each to their own, I suppose.
We’d seen everything that was currently on exhibit and it was well past 4pm so we decided it was time to go back to the Avenida dos Aliados for gelato. We managed to just miss two buses as they pulled away from the stop while we were trying to get across the road, and we ended up waiting well over 20 minutes for the next bus. The gelateria was still open (it closes at 10pm on a Sunday, midnight on Fridays and Saturdays), and they still had plenty of supplies left. This time we opted for tawny port with caramelised walnuts and Rocha pear puree, along with a scoop of mango for Lynne, and the tawny port for me along with a fabulously rich and creamy pine nut, olive oil and caramelised pine nut version that may be the best ice cream I have ever eaten.
Our only mistake was arriving just behind three people who were going for the degustacao of 6 different flavours in tiny pots, which took rather a long time to achieve, especially as they were having trouble deciding what they actually wanted. After that, very sticky, it was back to the hotel to change, partly pack for the morning, and get ready to head out for our poshest dinner of the weekend at the Yeatman over in Gaia.