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Old City
Spain, Portugal and Basque France Adventure 2014

Oysters, sardines and plastic hammers!

Porto, Northern Portugal, Portugal
Monday, June 23, 2014

For breakfast, our Santiago host was very proud to serve us the free-range eggs that he brought from his smallholding a few miles outside Santiago. Of course there were the obligatory bread rolls, a variety of breads, cakes and croissants. Oh, my goodness – people seem to live on bread in Spain and Portugal! And it is SO good!!! I am watching my jeans shrink daily.

We followed the coastal wine route through the beautiful harbor city of Pontevedra (originally a Roman settlement), across the Puenta de Rande to Vigo, also on the coast. Vigo was settled by the Celts around 600 B.C. We parked the car and went in search of the famed ostreras, fisherwomen who peddle their freshly shucked oysters to passersby. We did find a street where you could buy six fresh oysters from stalls set up by the Tourism department (replacing the ostreras, we supposed) and then have them served on a plate at one of the restaurants nearby. They were deliciously salty.

On our way out of town, we viewed the impressive statue of the wild horses of Galicia. It is to this coast that Columbus’ ship, the Pinta, returned from their discovery of America.

We arrived in Porto during the 6 centuries-old Festa de Sao Joao do Porto (St John the Baptist Festival). The one-way streets were teeming with people and we would see signs for the hotel, but could not find it! The GPS told us we had arrived at our destination, but, no ways! Eventually, Herb and Judy got out of the car and sure enough, found the entrance – flush with other shop fronts on a pedestrians-only walkway! The hotel manager assured them we could drive past the barriers, through the crowds, offload the luggage in front of the hotel and then park the car going down a side alley as wide as the van.

Well, we did exactly that and more! There were cars parked on this side street, so I had to drive our big van with two wheels on the sidewalk to get past.

The minute we stepped through the revolving entry doors of the Grande Hotel do Porto, we stepped back into a time of old-time grace and elegance, with real flower arrangements and porters hovering over one . Our luggage was actually carried to the room! We had tea served on a tray in the bar-lounge.

Porto is the capital of the North and Portugal’s second largest city.Today this old city is a World Heritage Site and has been designated as a European Cultural Capital.

Judy and Herb went off on their own to explore the city and experience the festivities, while Maryln and I took a walk through the old town, admiring its 14th-century walls and the ornate tiles decorating the very old buildings.

It was raining when we set out, but now the skies cleared and suddenly, the town was transformed: very loud festive Portuguese music was blaring through speakers from open windows, cake stalls, tables and chairs appeared on the side-walks and strange smells emanated as big sardines and meat were being barbecued on the walkways. The whole city sprung to life: silly plastic hammers and squeaky toys were bought from street vendors and adults and children hit us on the head as part of this strange celebration that mixes the sacred and the profane!

Maryln was not feeling too well, so she went to bed early while I joined the locals and had fried sardines, boiled potatoes and cold slightly burnt green beans for dinner at the next-door restaurant. Herb and Judy ended up having the hotel dinner, a variety of well-prepared sardines, signature food of the St John Festival. The festivities culminated in a splendid fireworks celebration on the Douro river but by then, we were all tucked in bed.

Festival of St John
Grande Hotel do Porto
Festival of St John
Grande Hotel do Porto

Festival of St John
Grande Hotel do Porto
Church in Porto
Festival of St John
Grande Hotel do Porto
Hotel bar lounge
Old City
Porto
Vigo oysters
Side street
Vigo oysters
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