Camino de Madrid

Camino de Madrid
Camino de Madrid

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Porto. June 6, 2016

Earth has not anything to show more fair

Porto, as seen from across the river, is surely one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

I am staying again at the Hotel Leca da Palmeira, across the mighty bridge from Matosinhos and the metro stop Mercade. I recommend this friendly hotel, but if you are walking the Camino Portuguese, ask for the pilgrim rate of 30 €.

On the bus down from Santiago yesterday, I chatted with a young Portugese girl who was travelling on to Lisbon. I asked her how she learned to speak English so well. "From watching English and American films," she said. "The films have subtitles, but are not dubbed. In Spain they are. That's why we speak English and they don't." Interesting! This means, of course, that countries such as Spain and France that dub American films as a means of preserving their own language are depriving their citizens of an easy way of acquiring English as a second language.

The Porto metro is half train, half tram. In places, the city centre, for example, it runs underground, quite fast and stopping at subway stations, but then it comes up for air and runs slowly above ground as a streetcar, turning and twisting around right angle bends. Trindade is the important station to aim for, either to transfer to another line, or to get off, as I did this morning, to stroll down the Av. dos Aliodos towards the river and the Cathedral.

I strolled around the city all day delighting in its open places and the little streets which zigzagged their way downhill.

I visited a couple of churches, one of which, the Igreja das Carmelitas, would appeal to lovers of Baroque Excess. Here, there was barely a square inch of stone left unadorned. I was reminded of a woman with tatoos on every inch of her body.

But chacun a son gout. One tourist was lying prone taking a panamamic shot of Christ in his tomb. And others were taking shots of simply everything.

What a difference digital cameras have made with their huge storage capacity! They wouldn't have been clicking away with such abandon with a 36-shot reel of film.

More appealing to me was the railway station, which is famous for the scenes of Portugese life on ceramic tiles on the its walls. The upper scene shows methods of transportation, with what looks like a copy of Stevenson's Rocket on the left.

I also visited the Livraria Lello, one of the most famous bookshops in the world. Unfortunately, it is a victim of its own fame. Probably because it is associated with J. K. Rowlings, who frequented it when she lived in Portugal, and perhaps because it may have been the inspiration for her Harry Potter series, it has become one of the most popular tourist sites in Porto. So much so that they were charging three euros just to enter, although that was refunded if you bought a book. Dozens of phones and cameras were out and clicking, and of course, access to the upper storey was temporarily blocked by a couple of women taking photos of each other on the stairs. 

Why would a serious book buyer come here when the shop was crowded with tourists? Why would a book lover come here to browse when it costs three euros to enter? But no matter, the shop is now making more money from tourism than it ever made from selling books.

But to my mind, the most beautiful aspect of Porto is the city itself, seen from the other side. Tall, narrow houses with their orange roofs and facades of many colours look out across the river, the skyline interrupted by the occasional church spire.

All in all, I spent a wonderful day in Porto.

And now I have a confession to make -- to my embarrassment, but perhaps to your amusement. Henceforth, you will think of me as an oddity, an oddbod, an oddfellow, the odd man out. You see, I inadvertently told a lie, or rather a half-truth, at the beginning of this walk. I said that I was wearing a pair of Zamberlan boots.

In fact, I was wearing one Zamberlan and one Asolo. In my haste to get to the airport at four o'clock in the morning, I grabbed an odd pair of boots, and didn't realize until the end of my first day's walking what I had done. You can imagine my horror as I noticed that the boots didn't match. And it was the appearance, and not the fit, that revealed my error. So, there you are. Perhaps I'm the first person to walk the Camino in odd boots.

The trouble is, I may have worn out two pairs of boots at once, unless I wear the other pair on my next Camino. And not another word about boots, I promise.

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