Thursday, January 10, 2013

Travelogue: Day Trips from Porto

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Braga
We took the rental car to Braga from Porto, although there are also trains.  Our first stop was Braga's beautiful old cathedral, where photos are not allowed.  I found out by trying to take one and getting yelled at.  After a pastry stop we wandered around town.  Braga had some of the most interesting tiles on the buildings of any city we visited.  We then drove out to Bom Jesus, a pilgrimage site on top of a hill near Braga.  I think this can also be reached by bus, but if you want to squeeze as  much into the day as we did a car makes it easier.  Bom Jesus came highly recommended and it lived up to that.  The site is a church at the top of the hill, with a massive winding stairway full of statues and fountains leading up to it. See the photos:
Braga Okt 2012

Ponte de Lima
For the sake of convenience we had a really mediocre lunch at the cafe near Bom Jesus, then moved on to Ponte de Lima - "Bridge of Lima" - which is a town situated at exactly that.  There is a long bridge, originating in part from Roman times, over the shallow river Lima.  It sounded really nice in our guidebook and in my in-laws', but we found the town a bit disappointing.  It's the kind of place that throws a big parking lot right in front of the best view of its main attraction and pipes in Muzak over speakers hidden in the street lamps.  We stayed long enough to cross the bridge and poke around a church, then headed back to Porto for more wine drinking and eating. :)
Ponte de Lima Okt 2012
Douro Valley 
The next day we drove out to the Douro Valley to see the vineyards.  We did this on our way to our next stop, Coimbra, but it's also doable as a day trip from Porto.  Visiting this area was a bit tricky because we had limited time and it's not really the kind of place you want to visit in a hurry.  Right before we left I saw gorgeous pictures from the valley on Ali Adventures and wanted, very badly, to see a view just like that and be able to stop and enjoy it.  We never found this view, but did have some other gorgeous views, although mostly from in the car.  Unlike Germany we couldn't figure out an easy place to pull over and walk around in a vineyard (my favorite vineyard activity) - or our brave drivers were just too frustrated by the windy roads to want to try.

We read that one should "stop at a quinta" in the valley to drink some wine, but we had a hard time finding any that were open or seemed to be meant for stopping at.  We took a bumpy dirt road out to one that had "tourism" signs pointing to it, but when we got there they acted like they had no idea what we were doing there.  Off-season, maybe?  We did eventually find a "quinta" to stop at but it only had a shop, no tastings.  D and the in-laws bought stuff just to have the "experience" of buying something at a "quinta" and we stopped looking for something better at that point.

After a stop in Lamego we tried to go back to the Douro to find that view, but the light was fading fast and we never did.  Regardless, what we did see was beautiful and I would love to spend some more time there so we could really enjoy it - not just from a car!
Douro Okt 2012
Lamego
We went down to Lamego, a bit away from the Douro, just for lunch, but once out of the car my in-laws wanted to stay out of it for a while, so we ended up spending several hours there.  Lamego is home to another pilgrimage church with a massive staircase climbing up to it.  D and I went up to check it out while his parents went to visit the cathedral in the middle of town.  While we were walking up, we got a text from his mom saying, "I can't get out of this church!"  She had a recent history of having spent 40 minutes in a relatively unspectacular church in Porto...that morning actually, while we were all in the car waiting because she was only going to take 15 minutes...so we thought this was a joke about how much she liked the church and an encouragement to check it out ourselves when we got back down.  We laughed and continued on our way.  Fifteen minutes later, while at the top of the hill having a look around, we got another text: "Seriously, I am locked inside the cathedral." His dad had no working cell phone but it seemed he was not with her.  We booked it back into town, where we found my father-in-law dozing on a park bench - he had no idea she was locked in and just thought she was taking a long time like she had that morning.  We all walked around the cathedral trying to find a way in.  When we did find an open door on a building attached to the cathedral, we went in to try to find help.  No one spoke English, so D tried to make do with the remainder of his high-school French and seemed to get the message across.  Meanwhile, D's dad had found an English speaker outside to try to get information from too.  We both found the same amusing result: no one seemed to think it was a big deal that she was trapped in the cathedral!  They told us "well, it opens again at 3pm"!  By this point it was after 2pm but it still seemed crazy that no one either had a key or was willing to talk to someone who did.  Somehow, my mother-in-law found her way out, just before the mother of someone one of us talked to decided to call the police!  We figured the whole situation called for some pastries, which we got somewhere near the castle and enjoyed before heading back to the Douro.
Lamego Okt 2012
TL;DR: Braga was cool, Ponte de Lima sucked, we didn't spend enough time on the Douro, and the people of Lamego don't get fussed about being locked in churches. Check out the photos! Up next: Coimbra!

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