We began with the familiar: fly into Porto and spend a few days at the same cozy little apartment on Rua Formosa where we had stayed before. We weren't sure what we were going to do, but after we got there and settled in we had no trouble finding new places to visit and new restaurants for our dinners.
The Portuguese Center for Photography is housed in what used to be a prison. After decades of neglect, the building has been beautifully restored and now makes an ideal exhibition space, and there's even a fine collection of cameras on display. Travel writer Stuart Forster has a brief background piece on the center over at Huffington Post UK.
Of course we spent a lot of time in my favorite activity, walking around looking at buildings and people. One of my favorite walks in the world is up and down Praça da Liberdade, between City Hall and the São Bento train station, admiring the grand old buildings and watching the crowds.
Click on any image below for a larger view and more details.
My other favorite activity is eating, and we found some great new places. The best was Pedro dos Frangos, which we happened upon while walking back to our apartment one afternoon. I saw the luscious chickens roasting on spits in the window and said, "This is where we're eating tonight!" (Ironically, Pedro dos Frangos is on Rua Bonjardim; 'Bonjardim' is the name of a famous roasted chicken restaurant in Lisbon.) The perfectly cooked chicken, a big mound of french fries, a large salad, and a jug of wine came to €17, about $23.
After enjoying the familiar in Porto we began exploring the unfamiliar by taking a bus to Viseu, a city of about 50,000, 50 miles away to the southeast. There were a couple of fine museums, interesting old churches, beautiful azulejos (tiles), lovely parks and squares, and plenty of people and buildings to look at.
As we've come to expect throughout the country, the food in Viseu was delicious. In fact, I had one of the best meals I've ever eaten in Portugal, leitão da Bairrada, roast suckling pig with a tangy oil and pepper sauce, accompanied by fried potatoes and a salad at Restaurante Cacimbo.
After three nights in Viseu we took a bus to Coimbra, the largest city (population 150,000) in central Portugal and home to an old and famous university. Our first evening we walked up to the university, which sits atop a hill in the center of town: Lisbon is hilly, Porto is hillier, but Coimbra is insane. Our first task the following morning was to buy bus passes to ride the elevator/funicular from the lower town up to near the top.
Coimbra has long been a cultural center and was even the capital of Portugal during part of the Middle Ages, so there were plenty of buildings to look at, including a fine Gothic church, São Tiago, the old and new cathedrals, and Igreja Santa Cruz. We went to our first fado concert, done in the Coimbra style, performed by men only. (Fado is a uniquely Portuguese song form, as much a part of the culture and national identity as tango is for Argentina.)
We toured the old university, where we were awed by the Joanina Library (no photos allowed, but the link includes a 3D virtual visit). At the center of the old university is a gorgeous plaza.
One day we walked across the Mondego River and toured the grounds of the Mosteiro de Santa Clara-a-Velha. The convent was built in the 14th century but had to be abandoned in the 17th because of frequent floodings. Excavation and partial restoration were not begun until the 1990s, and now there's even a well-designed modern visitor center.
We ate well in Coimbra. Late on the first afternoon, on the recommendation of Joanna at Fado ao Centro, we went to Nata Lisboa to try their pastéis de nata and were wowed: just about as good as Pastéis de Belém. We went back every afternoon for a hot-from-the-oven pastel and a glass of Madeira. Our favorite dinner was at A Cozinha d. Maria, where we feasted on steak with pepper sauce (Terri) and grilled veal (me). In the course of the meal and after a delicious dessert we swapped travel stories with our new friends, Wendy, who recently retired after 30 years as an American Airlines flight attendant, and her husband, Steve, a recently retired engineer. Wendy and Steve are braver than we are: they rented a car and were doing a grand tour of Portugal.
On our last night in Coimbra we met a Danish sculptor, Jesper Neergaard, and his wife, Lilloian, a painter. In the course of a long and interesting conversation, they both highly recommended the Museu Nacional Machado de Castro. We had not planned on making it there but they were so persuasive that we got up early the next day so that we could visit the museum before catching our train back to Porto. I am so glad we did: the museum was wonderful. In the deep basement are excavated Roman ruins, the ground floor has incredible sculptures from churches in the area, and the top floors are devoted to paintings, including a wonderful triptych by Quentin Massys.
The trip back to Porto was pleasant and uneventful. We checked into the airport hotel and had a surprisingly good meal at a restaurant a quarter-mile away, O Malheiro: two of the biggest veal rib steaks I've ever seen, each an inch thick, and perfectly grilled. The next morning we were up way early and in the air on the way to Madrid by nine.
And a lot of other buildings and meals and stuff I didn't mention. All of the snaps from the trip are on Flickr. As always, there's even a slideshow version. While you're looking at snaps, I'll sit down and start thinking about the next trip.