We didn’t pack a lot of activities into today. We visited one of the top-ranked sights of Porto, the Palácio da Bolsa, took a trolley ride to the ocean, walked back, sat out on the deck on the top floor of our hotel, and then went down to the hotel bar for an aperitif. I then took a peek in the church that sits across a square from my hotel.
The switch from “we” to “I” in the preceding paragraph was not a typo. After our aperitifs, my brother left to stay the night in an airport hotel. He heads home tomorrow and has a particularly early flight. The rest of my adventure in Portugal will be solo.
The weather today started out gloomy, as you’ll see from some of the photos below. However, by mid-afternoon, after we finished our sightseeing, the sky cleared. Thankfully, all day today the heat we suffered through in the Douro valley yesterday took a pass on Porto today. If anything, it was a touch on the cool side.
Palácio da Bolsa
Before describing the Palácio da Bolsa (website here), there are at least three things you should know about it (he said trying to pretend to be an expert who knew all of it before taking this trip). Here they are:
“Palácio da Bolsa” translates to “Stock Exchange Palace.”
It is not a stock exchange, although an exchange used to operate in it sometime back.
It is not a palace and, to the best of my knowledge, it never was.
The Palácio da Bolsa is the home of the Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber has offices, holds meetings, and holds elections for the Chamber’s executive there. The rooms can also be rented by anyone for business meetings, weddings, and other events.
Palácio da Bolsa exterior
To my architectural tastes, such as they are, from the outside the Palácio da Bolsa is very impressive in an imposing, brutalist sort of way.
(If “brutalist” is a precisely defined architecture term, I no doubt used it improperly. What do I know about architecture?
That wasn’t intended as a trick question. What I know about architecture is next to nothing.)
If “brutalist” isn’t a precisely defined architectural term then classifying the exterior of the Palácio da Bolsa as brutalist is a hill I will die on.
I placed a picture of the building above and to the right. You be the judge.
Speaking of hills to die on, sorry about the Palácio da Bolsa looking slanted. It’s built on a hill and I took the picture while standing somewhat slanted on the same hill. Despite what it looks like in the picture, the floors seemed perfectly level to me when we went inside.
Palácio da Bolsa Interior
The general public, i.e., plebs the likes of me, can enter the building only by joining a paid guided tour. They run several unilingual tours, with different languages at different times. Fortunately, we didn’t have to wait too long for an English tour.
The interior is where the building excels. It contains a number of beautiful rooms.
The entry hall, for example, is a square atrium with an attractive mosaic tile floor. Stone columns supporting stone arches line the lower level of the atrium. Above that is a red material of some sort with windows on the internal corridor beyond the atrium.
Above that, a line of majestic, old national emblems line the wall along all four of the atrium’s walls, just below the ceiling. The emblems represent the countries Portugal had trading relations with when they built the Palácio. I spotted an American eagle on one of the emblems. But none included a noble beaver.
Sure, Canada wasn’t Canada when construction started in 1840. But it took them 68 years to finish. So, construction ended well after Canada’s Confederation in 1867. Couldn’t they squeeze in a Canadian emblem with a noble Canadian beaver? It’s a snub, I tell you. A snub of the True North strong and free!
The ceiling of the entry hall is glass and, although it appeared somewhat frosted, let in a lot of light.
I managed to get over my hard feelings and I proceeded with the tour beyond the entry hall. More gorgeous rooms awaited me there. They also awaited the other people on the tour, but I expected serious sucking up after the Canada snub. Allow me my unjustified expectations.
One room contained lavish paintings on the walls and ceilings. It had a number tables and chairs made of rich, dark wood. Definitely not items you can buy at IKEA.
That room used to serve as a commercial court. Portugal no longer has commercial courts. It holds commercial trials in civil courts.
Consequently, the room no longer serves that function. But they kept the original furniture and decorations in place exactly as they were.
The Arab Room
The Palácio contains a number of other beautiful rooms, but the eye-popping one is the Arab Room. The motif there is flamboyant and neo-Arabian. The decorations are loud, but not overwhelming. Gold leaf abounds.
The guide said the Alhambra in Granada, Spain served as the inspiration for the room. I’ve been to Alhambra (he said desperately trying and probably failing to not sound pretentious). After she said it, I clearly saw the reference to Alhambra. Although, I doubt I would have seen it without prompting.
The extravagant Arab Room is considered Porto’s official room. When the city holds events for visiting heads of state it holds them in that room.
The public transport company that runs the buses in Porto also runs three tramway lines, #1, #18, and #22. Judging from the nonconsecutive numbers, I assume there used to be more lines.
At time of writing, #22 wasn’t running because construction of a metro line has some of its route ripped up.
Vintage trolley cars are the only rolling stock on the lines. And when I say vintage, I mean vintage. There’s a picture on this page.
I read that, these days, tourists are the primary passengers on the trolleys. Tourists? Pheh! Who needs damned tourists? Wait. I’m a tourist. Count me in.
Line #1 runs from just below the Palácio da Balsa, along the Douro riverfront almost to its mouth and the ocean. We rode that line.
The small, old trolley car rumbled, rocked, and jolted along its route. When we boarded, we were well back in the line, so we couldn’t get a seat. I hung on to the overhead strap for dear life to avoid being thrown violently to the floor.
For most of its route the tramway had only a single track. Occasional sidings, mostly at stops, allowed service to run in both directions.
We rode the line to the end, walked the short distance farther to the ocean, and gazed upon the Atlantic.
On the very few occasions I’ve stared out at the Atlantic from Europe, I can’t help thinking, “If only I had a sturdy ship, I could cross the ocean, discover the Americas, colonize the natives who discovered the Americas before me, and establish an empire.” Or don’t people do that sort of thing anymore?
After my fantasies dissolved into the waves, we used Google Maps to find what looked like, and was, a nice restaurant for lunch. The walking route to the restaurant took us through a pleasant neighbourhood with narrow cobblestone streets lined with low-rise residential buildings. There were some parked cars, but I saw only one car drive along one of the streets as we walked through the neighbourhood. That car is in the picture on this page.
Church of Saint Ildefonso
After my brother left, I checked out the church across from my hotel. In a previous post, I posted a photo of it taken from my hotel room to make up for the dearth of pictures that day. But, until today, I hadn’t gone inside. Now I have.
The decorated blue and white tiles on the facade are not unique in Porto, not even for a church. Overall, the interior and exterior are nice, but not spectacular. Consequently, those are the only actual words on them I’m going to provide here. But, using the usual picture-to-words exchange rate, here are another one thousand words each on the exterior and interior: