“Rabanadas” Majestic Style

rabanadas majestic style porto portugal 3rdarm french toast cafe con leche art nouveau

The Majestic Café, designed by architect João Queiróz in the nineteen twenties, is still today one of the most beautiful and meaningful examples of Art Nouveau in Porto. I may have missed a few of those striking details because I was distracted by my friend’s Audrey Hepburn-style beauty. The servers were gracious even though we arrived right before they closed. Majestic’s classic French toast was perfectly light and at the same time impossibly rich. It made for an unexpectedly epic and decadent midnight snack.

I thought their cafe con leche was on point. On the restaurant’s website, Gloria Montenegro, President of the Paris Academy of Coffeeology, is quoted saying, “The Majestic Café is a wonderful place, where muses, thinkers and artists can get together to live the best moments life has to offer: simply sharing communication through words and gestures, glances, smiles and even a few tears sometimes.” I don’t see why not. My friend and I shared “Rabanadas” Majestic Style, and it was pretty amazing.

I Set my Face to the Hillside

Arrábida Bridge douro river Anjo Gabriel ou Anjo Mensageiro irene vilar sculpture angel 3rdarm portugal porto

The Arrábida Bridge is the most downstream bridge across the Douro River, only a couple kilometers from the Atlantic Ocean. Over fifty years after its 1963 completion, the Arrábida Bridge remains one of the largest concrete arch bridges in the world. At Porto’s most seaward bridge, the high flying birds are all gulls and sea birds, never pigeons.

Arrábida Bridge douro river Anjo Gabriel ou Anjo Mensageiro irene vilar sculpture angel 3rdarm portugal porto

As it started to get dark, I went for a long walk along the riverfront bike path. The Douro must keep rolling, flowing into the night. I passed old men fishing out of the back of their trucks. The clouds broke open and the sky glowed purple. I was like a young Ray Davies, putting all my troubles aside as I gazed at the beautiful sunset by the Arrábida Bridge.

Arrábida Bridge douro river Anjo Gabriel ou Anjo Mensageiro irene vilar sculpture angel 3rdarm portugal porto

Further along the path is a golden sculpture of an angel. “Anjo Gabriel ou Anjo Mensageiro” is a piece by Portuguese sculptor Irene Vilar, who passed away in 2008 at age 77. The angel is sculpted as if walking along the Douro River towards the ocean, blessing commuters on the drive home from work, cyclists on the bike path, and all the mariners headed out to sea.

Arrábida Bridge douro river Anjo Gabriel ou Anjo Mensageiro irene vilar sculpture angel 3rdarm portugal porto

Ray Davies has said that when writing Waterloo Sunset, “I was feeling vulnerable. The river is depicted as a protective force… The song is about how innocence will prevail over adversity. It starts out delicate, but by the end has become awesome in its power. Those triumphant chords come in – and the angels tell you everything is going to be OK.”

Palácio de Cristal

crystal palace palacio de cristal porto portugal 3rdarm fountain birds trees tile

It was about an hour before the sun set: feeding time. The birds were hungry. Starving swans stalked the lawns, beady eyes trained to the ground. Ducks flapped their wings, breaking the peaceful surface of pond water, and again dove down for their dinner. A fat white duck waddled up. “Chicken sandwich, chicken sandwich,” the portly duck seemed to squawk in his low quack.

crystal palace palacio de cristal porto portugal 3rdarm fountain birds trees tile The gardens of the Crystal Palace, like the João Chagas Garden, was designed in the 1860’s by German landscape architect Emile David. Overlooking the Douro River, these gardens are much bigger and filled with birds, ponds, artwork, and amazing trees. Chestnut, lime, Lawson’s cypress, European beech and pedunculate oak are just some of the monumental ancients living along the Crystal Palace’s many avenues and viewpoints.

crystal palace palacio de cristal porto portugal 3rdarm fountain birds trees tile

On a rainy late afternoon in January, it was just me and the birds. In the warmer months, I imagine these gardens would be a great place for a date. An escape within the city, together in nature, the plant life and vistas… it sounds romantic to me. And if you’re more in the mood for solo meditation, maybe bring a book and a chicken sandwich.

João Chagas Garden

joao chagas cordoaria garden porto justice santo antonio hospital pink flower green house london plane fungal disease tree swollen trunks nata pastry coffee 3rdarm

Arriving in Porto in January, I was impressed by the presence of green leaves on the branches of deciduous trees, and upon closer examination, evidence of tropical plants. One morning I took my coffee and pastry and I went exploring some of the city’s public green spaces. Known to locals as Jardim a Cordoaria, historically a place where artisans made rope, João Chagas Garden is located between the architectural beauty of Santo Antonio Hospital (by British architect John Carr, features the statue of justice) and the iconic Clerigos church.

joao chagas cordoaria garden porto justice santo antonio hospital pink flower green house london plane fungal disease tree swollen trunks nata pastry coffee 3rdarm

João Chagas Garden was commissioned by the city in 1865, designed by German landscaper Emile David, who also developed the gardens at the Crystal Palace. The park was damaged by a cyclone in the early 1940’s, but is still home to some magnificent ancient trees that must have withstood that storm. Bunya pine and London plane are shoulder to shoulder with a giant sequoia that would be at home in the redwood forests of Washington state. Deformed, swollen trunks mark the London planes as survivors of traumatic sickness in their youths, decades ago.

joao chagas cordoaria garden porto justice santo antonio hospital pink flower green house london plane fungal disease tree swollen trunks nata pastry coffee 3rdarm

If plant life, pastries and coffee is not your thing, the João Chagas Garden’s vibrant artworks may still be your cup of tea. In 2001, when Porto was named the capital of European culture, Spanish sculptor Juan Muñoz installed the piece, “13 Laughing at Each Other.” This sculpture captures the uneasy essence of the paradox of a loud silence: the 13 figures frozen in the moment of uproar while the act of hilarity or ridicule remains forever obscured. A few years before he finished, “13 Laughing at Each Other,” Juan Muñoz said of his art:

joao chagas cordoaria garden porto justice santo antonio hospital pink flower green house london plane fungal disease tree swollen trunks nata pastry coffee 3rdarm

“I sometimes feel that some of my work is about waiting, waiting for something to happen; on the one hand afraid in case it does happen, or even wishing that it had never occurred. It is like keeping a work in that state that we would call desire- keeping it at that level of desire, just holding it there that wish, that uncertainty, keeping the work still just here. Or like watching a door which one day a person might open.”

João Chagas Garden is also good for people-watching.

She Changes

she changes janet echelman porto portugal public sculpture floating red nets wind choreography matosinhos beach portugal 3rdarm art

When I visited Porto, this giant unidentified object, floating over Cidade Salvador Plaza by the beach in Matosinhos, caught my eye right away. Layers of red netting are suspended in the open air many tens of meters above the ground, undulating as if alive. What is that thing? I asked my friend. She told me it was a jellyfish.

she changes janet echelman porto portugal public sculpture floating red nets wind choreography matosinhos beach portugal 3rdarm art

Later on the internet, I found out that it’s called, “She Changes,” by Fulbright-winning artist Janet Echelman. “She Changes” is recognized as the first monumental public sculpture that moves fluidly in the air, performing what is described as “wind choreography.” The residents of Porto interpret this work as symbolizing Portuguese lace, fishing nets, rippling water, smokestacks, sails and mast from Portugal’s maritime past, and more.

The art has been left open for them to ascribe their own meaning and story. For me, I do what my friend tells me to do (except when she says no to gas money.) IT’S A JELLYFISH.

Charcutaria

charcutaria terminal 4450 porto matisinhos steak prawn cocktail sangria new restaurant time out 3rdarm

Terminal 4450, opened in the back half of 2015, is housed beside the Rio Leça, and through floor to ceiling windows you will see many boats float by, outbound for the wider ocean. As a restaurant professional, I say with confidence my home city of Chicago would take to this winning concept (you had us at “steak”….) Sharing portions of familiar sounding dishes (charcuterie, surf and turf) enhanced with Portuguese ingredients and insider knowledge, paired with well balanced cocktails, made for an amazing dinner.

charcutaria terminal 4450 porto matisinhos steak prawn cocktail sangria new restaurant time out 3rdarm

Service was warmly attentive to every detail, the gentleman taking care of us gamely putting up with my lame jokes (I would say lame American jokes but here I must accept the blame, not my country) and imparting genuine recommendations. I was impressed by the questions he asked to ascertain my dining companion’s palette for drink, and she ended up loving their dry take on sangria. For an appetizer, she and I shared little sandwiches of roast beef with caramelized onion, truffle mayo and arugula… these flavors together made for satisfying bites. Our shared entree of steak and prawns was so well cooked and paired so beautifully with the jus-based sauce, it was one of the best dishes I’ve had in the past year. Our server generously brought us delicious delicately fried polenta on the house.

charcutaria terminal 4450 porto matisinhos steak prawn cocktail sangria new restaurant time out 3rdarm

When I visit a new city (or an old city, as it’s mostly old cities in Europe) the first thing on my mind is restaurant food. I love to explore a place by dining out on different levels: street food, fast casual, full service, fine dining. There are always many classic restaurants that one must-try: newly opened restaurants are more a roll of the dice. My friend’s recommendation for Terminal 4450 however turned out to be a surprise delight, a culinary high of my first visit to her city. Steakhouse and cocktail bar meets water views and modern design… big thank you to the chefs and service staff who are already making magic happen!

Clérigos

Clérigos church bell tower porto vista view skyline city streets winter hazy shade 3rdarm

I remember reading that Porto is home to the Iberian Peninsula’s largest synagogue. AT SOME POINT it dawned on me that Catholicism is actually an even bigger deal here. It was a hazy shade of winter Sunday, marijuana MAY have been involved, I don’t remember exactly WHEN I had my epiphany.

It may have occurred earlier in the rainy streets, my sweet Portuguese friend shared her umbrella and we passed numerous indigo mural facades of Porto’s many old Catholic churches. The Clerigos museum should have tipped me off, with its collection of crucifixions. Or it may have been the stunning interior of Clerigos Church itself, where my friend and I shared stories of our Catholic upbringings.

Clérigos church bell tower porto vista view skyline city streets winter hazy shade 3rdarm

The only certainty I have about my breakthrough realization is that it DEFINITELY DID NOT occur when I was climbing the bell tower because I had nearly zero thoughts. There was only ONE thing on my mind: RAW SURVIVAL. The bell tower, icon of Porto, is visible from so many points in the city because it is really freaking high. I should probably point out that I’m not afraid of anything EVER.

Clérigos church bell tower porto vista view skyline city streets winter hazy shade 3rdarm

MY FRIEND IS NOT AFRAID OF PIGEONS and I’m not afraid of taking photos at heights, on top of centuries old bell towers, with slippery pea soup weather punctuated by perhaps tropical storm-strength gusts of wind. Anyways, Clerigos was my favorite church I visited in Portugal, where yes, Catholicism is kind of a big deal. There’s even a Costa Coffee right next door, where a cafe con leche and chocolate muffin mellowed my PTSD.

Francesinha

francesinha porto portugal sandwich dipping sauce steak pork cafe requinte deliciosa

My Portuguese videogame friend, who I was meeting for the first time that day, already knew me well enough to know that high on the list for my first visit to her country was the Francesinha. My first night in town she took me to Requinte, in neighboring Matosinhos, one of the most respected and beloved purveyors of Porto’s signature sandwich. That Saturday night there was a big football match between Porto and Lisbon, heated rivals, and the place was jammed with band camp boy scout nerds. For us to get a table would have meant waiting about an hour.

francesinha porto portugal sandwich dipping sauce steak pork cafe requinte deliciosa

Fortunately my friend is an amazing communicator and successfully stressed the importance of the American getting to eat one of these bad boys. After placing the order for takeaway, my friend excused herself briefly. I found myself standing alone at the bar, being awkwardly and intensely eyeballed by one of the establishment’s operators. Big man, thick neck, he did not even blink as he stared me down. I sheepishly asked in English if everything was OK: worst case response, I thought, punch in the face. Best case scenario, strong man tells me the secret to winning the heart of a Portuguese woman. The guy gruffly waved me out of the way: I was blocking his view of the football match.

francesinha porto portugal sandwich dipping sauce steak pork cafe requinte deliciosa

The Francesinha shares elements of classic North American dipping sandwiches like the au jus of Chicago’s Italian Beef and the roasted tomato sauce of Guadalajara’s Torta Ahogada. The Francesinha however is more complex than these, stuffed with salty ham and savory beef, beer cooked down into its tangy sauce and lightly sharp cheese melted over its entirety… I only managed to eat half (for this I was judged harshly by both my friend and her father, despite my pleas of portion control, watching my waistline, on a diet, etc) but damn. Just writing this I wish I had the other half back!

36 Questions

pont dom luis i ribeira night porto portugal 3rdarm bridge douro river yellow lights

Before I arrived, I had seen many photos on internet of the impressive structures spanning the Douro. To traverse the heights and to look straight down at whitecaps cresting: to watch as slowly the setting sun paints the metal pink, purple and finally black…

pont dom luis i ribeira night porto portugal 3rdarm bridge douro river yellow lights

To converse in the giant’s shadow with only your friend as warmth against the night river’s chill: these experiences with Porto’s bridges made me feel alive.

Strangers

 Estação de São Bento 3rdarm train station porto portugal stained glass indigo murals

Respect to the city of Porto for the beauty of it’s public spaces (all those meticulously tiled streets) and buildings. The São Bento train station has layers of details that need to be seen at human scale to be fully appreciated.

 Estação de São Bento 3rdarm train station porto portugal stained glass indigo murals

The exterior lighting on the stone and stained glass makes this historic portal to all points outbound positively glow at night. Indigo murals and handcrafted masonry captivate all who enter.

 Estação de São Bento 3rdarm train station porto portugal stained glass indigo murals

And the train station actually functions! Commuters and travelers flow through throngs of slack-jawed tourists gazing up at arches, art, and open air views of the neighborhood beyond the tracks.

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