Porto: Tour, Cathedral, and Port Wine

We bought tickets for a hop-on, hop-off bus tour that are good for 48 hours (today and tomorrow) and include a port wine cellar tour and tasting. (That is, tasting the port wine, of course, not the cellar. Licking the cellar floor and walls would be unsanitary, particularly in these times of COVID.) We filled up much of our day with those tours and the port wine experience.

Hop-On, Hop-Of Tour

View from the tower of the Porto Cathedral (see below)
View from one of the towers of the Porto Cathedral (see below)

The hop-on, hop-off tour company that we bought our tickets from provides two routes and the tickets are good for both.

Today, we rode both routes. On the first, the Porto castle route, we rode all the way around and hopped off only when we got back to the starting point. On the second route, the Porto historical route, which shares a starting point with the castle route, we rode to the last stop before the return to the starting point. That put us within easy walking distance of the included port wine tour and tasting.

Both routes include a recorded commentary available in twelve languages including, fortunately for us, English. The buses are double-decker with open roofs on the top level. Needless to say, the lower level didn’t have an open roof. People falling from the upper deck through the open lower roof would have been a hazard to any passengers who chose to ride below. Not to mention to the people falling.

Today was sunny so people, including us, preferred the upper deck. When we got there, there weren’t many seats left. The bus had two seats on each side of the aisle in the centre. We chose the only set of two empty adjacent seats left.

Tour Commentary

When we plugged our complementary headsets into the commentary system we heard static and pretty much nothing else. Thinking this was might be just what happened until the buses started on their routes, we waited. But the static continued.

After a couple stops of little more than static, my brother went downstairs to let the staff member there know that we weren’t hearing the commentary. They told him to just increase the volume.

He came back to his seat and we tried increasing the volume. It worked perfectly. We got louder static, as you would expect when increasing the volume.

After a few more stops, some people across the aisle from us hopped off. Well, not so much hopped off. They climbed down the steps and walked off. I didn’t see any written prohibitions against it, but I suspect the bus company frowns on people hopping off from the upper deck.

The point is, when they left, we moved over into their seats. The commentary worked perfectly there. Of course it would be be just our seats. Of course. As a friend of mine (you know who you are) often says. my mazel! (He says it, rather than writes it, so I’m not sure he includes an exclamation mark. But in my mind it’s always there.)

To be honest, I don’t think it was just our seats. I think it was the whole of our original side of the bus. Most of the people on that side ripped their earphones out of their ears fairly early in the tour, while most of the people on the side we moved to left theirs in. And, for a few stops worth, someone with a friend on the non-functional side shared one of the earbuds from a person on the other side, with the wire between the two stretched across the aisle.

On the second route, the commentary worked throughout.

Oh, you probably want to know about the tour. Porto is beautiful. The tour also crossed a bridge over the river and into Vila Nova de Gaia, home to a slew of port wine cellars. It was attractive too.

The commentary provided considerable information. I remember about zero plus or minus five percent of it. Of course, I’m kidding. How can anyone remember a minus percent of anything? Would that be “remembering” false memories? Wait. Now that I put it that way, I’ll stick with the zero plus or minus five percent estimate. Maybe up it to zero plus or minus twenty percent.

On the other hand, I remember the static vividly. So, there’s that.

I didn’t take any pictures while on the bus. Sorry for the photographs being so sparse here. I haven’t done a count, but hopefully I can post 1,000 words here to make up for at least one of the missing pictures.

Porto Cathedral

Porto Cathedral
Porto Cathedral

The Porto Cathedral sits near the starting points for the two hop-on, hop-off tours we took. We popped in there between the two. The cathedral is rather austere. The decoration behind and over the altar is quite attractive, but the rest of the cathedral’s decorations are rather scant.

And, naturally, all of the decorations carry a religious theme. Just once, I wish an old church would liven and shake things up with a few classic pictures of dogs playing poker, painted, say, on black velvet. Is that asking too much?

The church has two towers, one of which the public can climb. I’m a member of the public. And, as I said yesterday, I love me a good tower with a view. So we climbed up. And the views were great.

Port Wine Tour and Tasting

View of Porto from Vila Nova de Gaia
View of Porto from Vila Nova de Gaia

After lunch, we went to the port wine cellar, Cálem Cellars, that offers a tour and tasting included in the ticket for hop-on, hop-off tour we bought. The cellar was across the river, in Vila Nova de Gaia. We probably should have checked it out in advance. When we got there, we learned that there was a tour in Portuguese starting almost immediately. Not speaking Portuguese, we passed on that.

The next tour, about an hour after that, was in French. I understand maybe about thirty or so words of French, and I usually can’t pick any of them out in a conversation when I hear them. So, that tour was a no-go too.

We had to wait for more than two hours for an English tour, which we did. In the meantime, we paced up and down the Via Nova de Gaia waterfront, taking in beautiful views of Porto across the river in the process.

When we took the tour, the guide showed as a bunch of projected displays and gave us a bunch of facts and figures about port wine production. I remember a little more of that than I remember of the commentary from the bus tour. Maybe three plus or minus thirty percent of it this time.

Port Wine Colours

Some of the smaller of the port wine casks at Cálem Cellars
Some of the smaller of the port wine casks at Cálem Cellars

One thing I did learn is that there are a variety of port wines. Until today, I thought port wine came only in a deep ruby colour and was only very sweet and very high in alcohol content. That’s not true.

Port wine comes in four colours: White, rosé, ruby, and tawny. And there are also colour gradations within each of those, except rosé, which comes in only one hue. The changes in hue result from differences in aging times. White port wines get darker as they age. Ruby and tawny ports get lighter as they age. As a result, there’s not a lot of difference in the colours of the longest aged white and tawny ports.

They also differ in sweetness and alcohol content. Some port wines are considered aperitifs, to be had before dinner. Others are considered digestives, to be had after dinner. You’re not supposed to drink any ports with dinner. I don’t know what the penalties for doing so, but I don’t think there’s jail time involved. On the other hand, I’m not sure. So you probably shouldn’t try it just in case.


A wall of bottles in the tasting room
A wall of bottles in the tasting room

The wine tasting included with our ticket provided small glasses of two port wines, a white and a tawny. Both were quite good.

We learned at the wine tasting, only as a result of seeing people who had, that we could have bought upgraded wine tastings that provided three or four port wines to taste. As it was, I felt the two I did have.

I probably could have handled the three-tastings option. But if I had bought the four-tastings ticket I would have also had to splurge on the added service wherein someone carries me out and plunks me down on the sidewalk in front of the building after the tastings. There were stairs involved in leaving the tasting room. I’m not sure I could have managed them after four tastings.


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