Why it’s useful to speak Portuguese, and how to learn

Rayburn/Lisbon skylie
The red tiled roofs of Lisbon’s Alfama district look out over the Tejo river.

Being able to speak Portuguese, even a few words, is a huge advantage for anyone planning to move to this lovely country. Yes, many Portuguese people, especially those under 40, speak very good English. They are ready to help you even if you start off speaking to them in their own language. But they are usually delighted when you show that you’ve made the effort to learn and they will often compliment you on your halting sentences.

Portugal is becoming a popular potential retirement destination for an increasing number of people from the US. If you are one of those considering a move, it is worth making a scouting trip to explore different parts of the country and get a feel for life here. It is also very valuable to familiarize yourself with the language before you come.

That said, if your pronunciation is off you may get blank stares even though you think you have said the word correctly. It’s worth mentioning that there is a big distinction between the Portuguese spoken in Portugal and that spoken in Brazil. Think about the variations between the English spoken in the UK, the United States and Australia. Or the Spanish spoken in Spain versus that used in Cuba, Mexico or Argentina.

Online language learning options

There are several online options to learn Portuguese. I followed an online course offered by Babbel.com. It was simple, practical and fun. The monthly subscription is currently $11.15 if you sign up for six months, less for longer subscriptions. Duolingo as an app you can use on your mobile phone with a free option. It gradually builds your vocabulary and grammatical skills. It also nags you daily to keep going. Babbel and Duolingo only offer the Brazilian version, but I still found them useful. After all, Portugal still has close ties with its former colony Brazil. There are hundreds of thousands of Brazilians now living in Portugal.

There are options for learning European Portuguese too. You can try the app Memrise, which does have a limited free version. There is also PracticePortuguese where you can listen to short conversations. If you subscribe, you can follow along with the text. The idea was developed by a Portuguese guy and his Canadian partner. It has useful information on the nitty gritty stuff like verbs as well. PortuguesewithLeo is a fun alternative available on YouTube.

Lost in translation?

There are of course a lot of Portuguese people who do not speak English. Some people use Google Translate to help them communicate in those situations. However, it’s not always foolproof. I know one woman who somehow managed to ask a very formal Portuguese man she met at a grand country hotel if he would marry her! Luckily he had a sense of humor. I have found the app Deepl to be very helpful when I need to translate a sentence quickly.

A couple of words and phrases that will stand you in good stead. “Casa de Banho” pronounced “cah-zah de bahnyo” means bathroom. A conta “ah cawn-tah” means the bill at a restaurant. Cerveja “ser-vay-zhya” means beer. Thank you is “Obrigado” for a man, “Obrigada” for a woman. “Bom dia” is good morning, “boa tarde” is good afternoon. So, good luck, or boa sorte, with learning Portuguese.

Follow my blog to learn about daily life in Portugal and check out my novel “The Power of Rain” on Amazon.

Rayburn.Skyline of Porto
Porto, Portugal’s second largest city is a gem to visit.
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Portugal’s pall of precipitation

Fed by weeks of heavy rain, the Rio Nabão gushes over this weir in Tomar, central Portugal.

Back in early October everyone in Portugal was praying for rain. We’d had an unusually warm dry spring and a long hot summer that continued well into what is normally autumn. According to Portugal’s Institute of the Sea and Atmosphere (IPMA), 2022 was the second driest year since records began in 1931.

Then it began to rain, and rain and rain. As I write I can still hear the rain drumming outside my house.

Winters in Portugal are mild compared to other countries in Europe with average temperatures in the day time reaching around 14-15 degrees Celcius (57-59 F.) November and December are typically the wettest months with most rain falling in the central and northern parts of the country.

This year we have had a “bumper crop” of rain and it has cast a pall on everyone I talk to. It’s not just the daily showers and drizzle. While not quite on the California level, we’ve had periods of torrential downpours which have caused serious damage. During two days in December, the capital city of Lisbon received 15 percent of normal total annual rainfall. Neighborhoods like Alges and Alcantara had dangerous flooding. Pictures on the evening news showed water pouring into metro stations. Dozens of homes had to be evacuated and one woman died when she was caught in a flooded basement.

Porto’s turn to swim

In January it was the turn of Porto, the country’s second largest city. It is located on the coast about four-hours north of Lisbon by train, at the mouth of the Rio Douro. A twenty-minute cloudburst on January 8 transformed streets in the center of the city into raging rivers. The downtown São Bento train station was flooded. News coverage showed a man being borne along by a torrent of water and mud.

The other aspect of this endless rain is the dampness inside the home. Typical Portuguese houses are not well-designed or constructed to ward off the effects of high humidity. Everyone I talk to has a constant battle against mold, mildew and condensation. The best advice I could give anyone who plans to buy a house, or who has recently moved into a Portuguese house, is buy a dehumidifier! Buy the biggest one you can find. You will need it!

Water was released at the Barragem do Castelo de Bode near Tomar in mid-January because the lake behind it was becoming overfull. The dam was built in the mid-20th Century to contain waters of the Zezere river, a tributary of the Tagus which flows past Lisbon. The release of water was used to generate electricity. I’ve been told that the 60 km-long artificial lake created by the dam holds sufficient water for the region for two years of use.

Sunny Days Ahead – I hope

Thankfully, my trusty iPhone is showing that next week, we will have a few days of sunshine!! Hooray!!

Follow my blog to get updates on life in Portugal. Check out my book “The Power of Rain” available in digital or print format from Amazon.

Fireworks, sunshine herald new year in Portugal

Fireworks launched from boats herald the start of 2023 at the beachside town of São Martinho do Porto.

Fireworks are a tradition on New Year’s Eve in Portugal. Although villages and towns all over the country create their own displays, firework shows in coastal cities like São Martinho do Porto and Nazaré draw huge crowds. A big part of the attraction is the way they are launched from boats moored a short distance offshore. Rockets soar skyward flashing light into the night air all around them and blazing reflections from the water below.

I was lucky enough to be invited to join a group of friends driving from my area in central Portugal to see the display at São Martinho. First we made a stop at the town of Caldas de Rainha which is popular with British and US expats. Located just a few miles from the Atlantic beaches, Caldas is in part of the area known as the Silver Coast. Our destination there was a large exhibition hall where the New Year’s Eve festivities were just getting underway at around 9:30.

A band was belting out one of the typical Portuguese songs that remind me of what a Latina friend of mine in Albuquerque called “Mexican Polka Music.” The entertainment included a couple of girls dressed in short glittery dresses enthusiastically dancing cha cha steps from one side of the stage to the other. The hall gradually filled and the dance floor became crowded. Food trucks did a brisk trade in “bifanas”, the Portuguese sandwiches consisting of a bread roll filled with slices of grilled pork. Bar stands sold beer (cerveja) or wine (vinho tinto) in plastic glasses for around one Euro.

Festive Foods

New Year’s eve traditions in Portugal include eating “passos”, raisins as the hour strikes midnight. If you eat one for each bell it’s supposed to bring you good luck. Another tradition is to eat “Leitão”, suckling pig. I went to a party my first New Year’s eve in Portugal where they had the treat displayed on a large skewer on the sideboard along with the other foods. I didn’t try it, but it is supposed to be tender and delicious.

Here Comes the Sun

A really welcome gift to us all in the first few days of January has been the return of the sun. Since the middle of October we’ve had days and days of rain. On Christmas Day it poured in torrents! Portuguese houses are notorious for dampness. Many people I know have been complaining about mold, mildew and condensation. I’ve been running the dehumidifier I bought a couple of years ago regularly in each of the bedrooms in my house and gathered A LOT of water.

Oh well, now the sun is out we can enjoy ourselves for a few days.

Bom Ano! Don’t forget to subscribe to follow my blog, and get a copy of my novel “The Power of Rain

Fireworks turn the sky red on New Year’s Eve in São Martinho do Porto.

Portugal lively with Christmas spirit

Festive lights and throngs of people reflect the lively Christmas spirit in the Baixa area of Lisbon.

Christmas spirit is everywhere in Portugal in December. Markets in cities and towns sell handmade specialties and decorations. Churches and public places stage nativity scenes called “presépio” in Portuguese, and the streets of my small town of Tomar, ring with Christmas music.

December has been an unusually wet month, with torrential rainfalls causing widespread flooding in coastal areas, especially in the city of Lisbon. But the Christmas spirit survives. The town of Tomar, near where I live in central Portugal, set up a mini-winter wonderland in the Praça da Republic, its main square. A tiny train chugs around a snowy landscape, and a festive carousel twirls round while several market stalls sell artisanal items, sweets and seasonal drinks.

Of football and families

My Portuguese teacher recently told me Portugal is all about the three “Fs”, which stand for “Football, Fado and Fatima.” The first one needs no explanation to anyone who was alive during the last month when the World Cup dominated the sport world. Football (soccer in the US) is practically a national religion in Portugal. When I watch the evening news on SIC Noticias, there is about five minutes of spot news coverage before it switches to interviews and discussions about leading Portuguese teams such as Benfica. And of course, Cristiano Ronaldo, is pretty much a national hero.

Fado is the traditional Portuguese singing style, which has a slightly mournful sound meant to convey a sense of longing. Fatima is a pilgrimage site in central Portugal where the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared to three shepherd children in 1917.

There should also be a fourth “F” for Family. The family is extremely important to Portuguese people especially at Christmastime. On Christmas Eve, families get together to celebrate with a meal called “consoada”. The tradition is that they abstain from meat, so the main dish is salted cod “bacalhau.”One favorite recipe for the cod is “bacalhau com broa” in which a bread made from corn meal is used along with sliced onions and potatoes. This is often served with boiled potatoes and cabbage. In the north of the country, close to the border with the Spanish province of Galicia, octopus is a traditional dish.

On December 25, Portuguese families in typically resourceful fashion, use the leftovers from the consoada meal to make a dish known as “roupa velha” or “old clothes. I remember a similar sounding dish called “ropa vieja” on the menu in a Cuban restaurant in Miami. When I went to order it, I made a critical mistake, calling it “ropa sucia” which means “dirty clothes. Luckily the waiter understood what I wanted.

Sweets and other traditions

Portugal has wonderful bakeries where you can always find a tempting display of sweet pastries. Stores everywhere at Christmastime sell the traditional “Bolo Rei” (king cake) which is a round, rather heavy, cake decorated with crystallized fruits in red and green.

Streets and marketplaces in towns all over the country are festooned with lights and decorations. Seasonal markets selling artisanal crafts and liqueurs are typical as well. And what would Christmas be without a nativity scene. In Portugal a nativity scene is called a “presépio”. One of the best-known presépio displays is in the town of Penela, central Portugal. Set up around the town’s hilltop castle, it features around 200 animated displays as well as an array of street entertainment and cultural activities.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, or as they say in Portugal, Feliz Natal e um prosper Ano Novo.

And of course, don’t forget to follow my blog and get a copy of my book “The Power of Rain.”

A giant conical yuletide tree graces the Praça do Comercio in Lisbon at Christmas time.

Of rain and Spain and the train!

The Puente de Palmas, the Bridge of Palms over the Guadiana river in Badajoz, was originally built in 1596.

A trip to Spain is easy by train from central Portugal. I recently discovered that there are two trains daily to the Spanish city of Badajoz from Entroncamento, an important rail hub about 35 minutes south of where I live. The trip takes about 2 hours 45 minutes, stopping at multiple towns along the route, including Abrantes, Portalegre and Elvas. The cost is 12.45 Euros, or about $13.20, each way.

My friend and I decided to take the early train, which departs from Entroncamento at about 9:30 in the morning, reaching its destination at about 1:15 p.m. Spain is in the European time zone an hour ahead of Portugal so this “adds” an hour to the outward trip and visa versa. When we found our way to the appropriate platform we did a double-take. The train for this international journey consists of exactly one carriage. Most of the trains in Portugal are electric, but this one sounded as though it ran on diesel.

One carriage diesel train that runs from Entroncamento to Badajoz.
The single carriage train travels twice daily from Entroncamento, Portugal to Badajoz, Spain.

Why travel to Spain when there is so much to see in Portugal? Well, it’s an easy trip and I love a sense of adventure.

Badajoz is in the Spanish province of Estremadura. It has a rich and varied history as we discovered. After checking into our hotel, we crossed the Puente de Palmas over the Guadiana river and found ourselves at the Puerta de Palmas. This was the huge door of an old wall that formerly surrounded the city of Badajoz. From that point, streets to the left lead into a more historic area while heading to the right will take you toward the more modern shopping district.

When we visited Badajoz, the Puerta de Palmas was surrounded by roadworks and Christmas decorations.

We wandered through the historic district and found the Museo de Bellas Artes (MUBA) which offered free entry. Of much more interest to me was the Museo de la ciudad “Luis de Morales”. From the exhibits in this museum you get a real sense of the city’s past under the Romans, the Moors and the decades during the 17th century when Portuguese and Spanish forces fought over possession of the city. British visitors may also be interested in the city’s role during the Napoleonic Wars when an Anglo-Portuguese army under the then-Earl of Wellington laid seige to Badajoz in the spring of 1812 and forced the surrender of the French garrison. According to several sources, it was one of the bloodiest battles of the Peninsular War.

We were fortunate enough to only have half a day of rain while we were in Badajoz. After a long dry spring and summer, the rains hit Portugal in mid-October and have barely stopped since. We returned from Badajoz on 7 December and it seems as though the rain has fallen non-stop since then. Tropical-type downpours have filled the depleted reservoirs but also caused widespread flooding and misery. In the Lisbon area many neighborhoods were flooded and one woman died. We all knew we needed the rain, but sometimes you can have too much of a good thing!

Follow my blog to learn more about life in Portugal, and check out my novel “The Power of Rain” available in paperback or Kindle format on Amazon.

A new book adventure in Portugal

Writing a book feels like a huge undertaking. Getting a book published is another huge hurdle. Marketing a book is like climbing Everest.

On Sunday, I will be holding a book reading/signing event at the Crespaço Gallery, Rua Major Afonso Pala 7, in Setubal, south of Lisbon as part of a LGBTQ event that will include open mic entertainment. I’m rehearsing my reading skills and making sure I have a good pen and a few copies of my novel, “The Power of Rain.”

What’s it about, you ask? Here is the shortest pitch I have developed. “Passions clash in Las Vistas, a Southwest desert town where money buys power and corrupt politicians turn a blind eye. Digger Doyle, is the tough young lesbian reporter who investigates political intrigue and finds love at the risk of her career.”

I finished my first draft of my novel in mid-2019. I spent another few months getting friends to read it and give me feedback. I spent another few months doing revisions. Then I started sending out query letters to try to get an agent. I did loads of online seminars and other research on the best way to find the right agent, how to write an irresistible query letter and submitting them. I wrote dozens of them. Each one had different requirements. Some wanted you to send the first ten pages, some the first three chapters, often in different formats. It was a time-consuming and anxiety-producing time.

I had a few false hopes raised, but nothing concrete. Several friends recommended I go the self-publishing route. I gave myself until the beginning of 2022 to decide. Finally, in March this year I decided to go for it. I contacted Sara DeHaan the book designer who had been recommended to me. She outlined a process by which she could connect me with IngramSpark, a company that works with self publishing authors and does print-on-demand and distribution to Amazon and other online book sources and book stores.

I also worked with Sarah Jane Herbener an editor who was recommended to me by a contact with whom I worked through Portugal Living, the online lifestyle magazine I freelance for. She went through the manuscript, made some valuable suggestions and ensured that it conformed to the right style.

So, big excitement, after a bunch of money, my book, “The Power of Rain” a mystery with political elements and an LGBTQ romance, became available in paperback and Kindle format in June. The hardest work then began. Learning how to navigate the multitude of ways you can try to make your book stand out from the tens of thousands of others that are published every day. It’s something that consumes a lot of my time, that is time that I would prefer spending writing the sequel, which is called “Sunshine Dreams.”

So, follow my blog, my Tweets and my Facebook posts to learn more about the characters, in my novel. And of course, life in Portugal.

Cover of my novel “the Power of Rain”

Little things I love about Portugal

View of Tomar from the old bridge over the Rio Nabao.
View of the historic district of Tomar from the old bridge over the Rio Nabão..The Templar castle is on the hill in the background.

It’s been raining a lot in my part of central Portugal during the last few weeks. Although we desperately need the moisture after a long dry spring and summer, it’s still pretty dreary. But when the sun returns everything looks so lovely.

This morning it dawned bright and clear after a gray and gloomy day yesterday. The clear sky meant that there was frost on top of my car for the first time this autumn. Still, I was happy to see the sun and I was reminded of how may little pleasures there are to enjoy here.

Take for instance, my morning walk with my dog, Divina. On Saturdays I usually do a longer walk and often go through a nearby village. Last Saturday I walked past a garden gate and saw an elderly lady with a walker who looked as though she was having trouble opening the latch. I said good morning in Portuguese. She answered “Bom dia” and we continued with the usual “Tudo bem?” meaning, roughly “how are you?” Then she apologized saying she was having trouble speaking, pointing to her mouth and I gathered the problem was that she hadn’t put her dentures in. Never mind, we had a brief happy little conversation, teeth or no teeth.

My dog Divina

Adventures in healthcare

One of the other things that has delighted me here in Portugal is the health care system. Yes, it has been very stretched due to the Covid crisis. But it has slowly come back to life. The little clinic in my village, which is open a few hours a week, once again has a visiting doctor. Last week I went to inquire about making an appointment for a check-up. I was told to show up at 9 am to make the appointment. However, when I arrived there were already several people waiting outside in the cold. Luckily it was not raining. About 9:45 the regular nurse arrived and I was able to make the appointment. (I have worked hard during my three years here to learn Portuguese. I’m not fluent by any means, but I am able to use it in most of my daily business.)

My appointment was for 10 a.m this Friday morning. Based on my experience last week, I went at 9:30 expecting to see a crowd waiting outside. This time there was only one other woman. We were able to go inside the clinic just before 10 and I was the first one called. The doctor, who looked incredibly young, kindly suggested it would be easier if we conversed in English. I have learned not to take this as a failing of my Portuguese language skills, it’s just a fact. I didn’t know all the medical vocab needed to converse with the doc.

Long story short, he wrote orders for a battery of tests and said he’d see me in two weeks. Simple. Simple, Simple.

Helping neighbors

While I had been waiting, an American friend of mine had come in with an elderly Portuguese lady who used a cane to walk. My friend asked if anyone spoke English. (Since I was wearing a mask inside the clinic, she hadn’t recognized me.) I waved at her and she explained that the older woman was a neighbor of hers and she’d given her a lift to the clinic. I said I’d be happy to give the lady “Uma Boleia” back home. So, as soon as I was finished, I waited while the older lady got her prescriptions filled at the part-time pharmacy next door, then I drove her back to her village, located about two miles from my home. It gave me such pleasure to be able to help a neighbor!

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Using Portuguese healthcare

Portugal has a universal healthcare system which is available to foreigners who are legal residents. The system has is a network of clinics and pharmacies in towns and villages all over the country. Usually, these health centers, “Centro de Saude” are open just a few hours a week. Ideally, there is a doctor who is available during these times, but some centers only have a nurse. The Covid situation put the Portuguese health system under great strain.

Fortunately, I enjoy good health and have had little reason to use my local health clinic. The only times I have been are few and far between. When I first arrived one of my new neighbor’s little dogs bit me and I had to get a tetanus injection. This was actually a blessing in disguise, because it obliged me to go to the main health center for my “Concelho” or municipal area, to register in the system. I had to provide identification and my residency permit and was eventually given a “numero de utente” or user’s number. This is the number you must always show when seeking to use any of the services in the Portuguese healthcare system.

The other time was when I was having some digestive issues. I went to the clinic in my local village and the nurse told me to wait. I was able to see a doctor who spoke English. He ordered a battery of tests which included bloodwork, electrocardiogram, abdominal sonogram and an endoscopy. Because I am over 65, I didn’t have to pay for the doctor visit. (People under that age usually have to pay a few euros.) I was only charged for one of the tests, and staff apologetically explained that it would cost me 15 euros!

Impact of Covid

Unfortunately, the Covid pandemic made it harder to access healthcare services during the past two years. Several hospitals had to temporarily close departments because of a lack of staff. The clinic in my local village did not have a doctor available for about a year. In order to see a doctor, you either had to go to the main municipal clinic on a Saturday morning, or go to the local hospital. Either option was about (16 kms) or 10 miles away.

Despite these drawbacks, Portugal had an efficient system for alerting people when they were eligible for a Covid vaccination or a flu shot. I received a text message on my mobile phone and sent a return text with my Utente number to confirm. I also received a letter in the mail giving me an appointment to get a mammogram at the mobile unit when it was visiting my area. No cost for the vaccinations or the mammogram!

Waiting game

I recently heard that a doctor would once more be visiting the Centro de Saude in my village. I stopped by one day when I saw the door open and a nurse told me I should come at nine o’clock on Friday morning to make an appointment. I duly turned up at the correct hour and found four people standing around outside the clinic, wearing masks. (There is something unnerving about wearing a mask, especially if you don’t speak the language fluently.) Luckily it was not raining that morning because I gathered from the conversations around me that the clinic was actually not scheduled to open until 10 a.m. We all stood outside in the chilly sunshine. More and more people showed up while we waited.

Finally, at about 9:45 the nurse arrived and we could go inside. Some of the people already had appointments. One of the other ladies told me I should go up to the window and ask the nurse. Fortunately my Portuguese language skills are improving and I was able to ask her if I could make a “marcação para uma consulta”. She scribbled out the time and date on a Post-It note. So, I have an appointment for next week. We’ll see how long I have to wait!

The hospital in Tomar, Central Portugal, which serves my area.

Reliving old memories in England

The window of a traditional English sweet shop in the village of Steyning, Sussex. Buying sweets was a big treat when I was a school girl.

This week I’ve had the great joy to visit two friends whom I met at boarding school in England when I was ten years old. We have had so much fun laughing and sharing memories. We’ve talked about our schooldays in Berkshire and Oxfordshire, our various marriages, children and now grandchildren.

I hadn’t been back to England in many years even though I moved from the US to Portugal in 2019. Covid made travel almost impossible for two years. The silver lining in that awful cloud, was that my two friends, Julia, Janie and I, reconnected and we’ve been doing a weekly phone call via video technology every week for the past 2 1/2 years. It has meant a lot to us. We have given each other great support, knowing that we are just a phone call away when one of us needs help.

Quintessentially English country town. After so many years living in different countries around the world, it is a delight to me to see such places still exist.

For more than a year we talked about making a trip, all three of us, to our old school, St. Mary’s Wantage in Oxfordshire. The school closed in 2008 and merged with another school elsewhere, but we were curious what had happened to the buildings.

We also wondered what had happened to some of our favorite haunts; the fish and chip shop and King Alfred’s Kitchen which sold the most wonderful fudge! There was also another bakery which sold little chocolate and macaroon treats called “Jap Cakes”. And of course, there was the tea-time favorite “Lardy Cake”. It sounds terrible, but it was the most yummy sweet doughy concoction.

Sadly, time moves on. The buildings were recognizable but the places had changed purpose. King Alfred’s Kitchen is now a Chinese restaurant, the chip shop is a hairdresser’s salon, we couldn’t find the Jap Cake bakery and none of the modern coffee shops sold Lardy Cake.

The old school ain’t what it used to be

We did however find what used to be St. Mary’s. Located near the center of town, the school used to have extensive grounds with lawns and gardens. I imagine developers were rubbing their hands in glee when the school closed because most of the buildings: classrooms, dormitories, the gym and swimming pool, were all torn down and the lawns removed to make room for high density apartments. It was hard to recognize the old place.

Rosalie with the chapel of St. Mary’s School and some of the old dormitories in the background. Very few of the old school buildings are still standing. One of the few is the chapel, where we spent a lot of time. (The school was run by nuns.) The chapel has now become a dentist’s office. I guess you can pray while you get your fillings.

I should also explain, Wantage is known as the birthplace, in 849, of the Anglo-Saxon king, Alfred the Great. He was famous for defending England against invading Danish Vikings and burning some cakes. The legend is that he was taking refuge in a peasant woman’s home and she asked him to watch cakes she was baking by the fire. But the king, distracted by weighty matters of state, let the cakes burn and got a scolding from the peasant woman.

My longtime friend Julia standing in front of a statue of Alfred the Great in Wantage market square.

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Playing tourist in Porto, a must in Portugal

One of the traditional “rabelo” boats used for transporting port wine on the Douro river in the foreground, with the Dom Luis bridge in the background.

Porto is Portugal’s second largest city and a very popular place for tourists. I went there last week for the first time since shortly after moving to Portugal in 2019. Even in November, the city is thronged with visitors from all over Europe and the United States.

But the amount of tourists doesn’t detract from the city’s charm. It is built on the hillside above the Douro river. On the opposite side of the river is the city of Vila Nova de Gaia. Exploring the Porto side inevitably involves lots descents along narrow winding streets to the riverside, and then climbing stairs or narrow streets back up to the main part of the city. But that is all part of the charm.

Along the riverside on the Porto side, you will find many restaurants and bars, all of them catering to tourists with tourist-type prices. There are also many stands offering river tours. I did one in 2018 when I first visited the city and I can highly recommend it as a way to see the city by river and learn a little about the port wine trade.

On the south side of the river are the famous port houses; like Calem, Sandeman, Taylor, Kopke, Grahams etc. If you take one of the open-topped bus tours available in Porto, you can see the huge warehouses used for storing the famous port wines. Port wine as the fortified wine that we now know has a long history. Part of it is about the name of the city, which is often called “Oporto” which really means “the port” in Portuguese. The city is on the mouth of the Douro river, downstream from the numerous vineyards which produce the wines.

Touring port houses

One of the most touted tourist activities in Porto is to do a tour of the Port houses on the Gaia side of the river. This time I did a tour of the Ramos Pinto port house. It is one of the smaller houses, but the tour is fascinating. The company was founded in 1880 by Adriano Ramos Pinto (https://www.ramospinto.pt/en/verify/?next=/en/) who was initially a trader. He eventually got into his own port wine business and developed the first links with shipping port to Brazil.

Barrels of port wine in the cellars at the Ramos Pinto port house in Vila Nova de Gaia.

The tour includes a visit of the old company office which is full of the old advertising posters, Adriano was quite a character and the artwork features a lot of naked nymphs with tantalizing glasses of port.

A 3,000-liter vat of port aging. Some of the vats hold up to 15,000 liters.

The tour costs 15 euros and at the end visitors can taste three ports; a white, a ruby and a tawny port. Our guide told us that the white ports go darker with age while the red ports become lighter. Some of the vintage ports, which must receive that name through a special process, can be aged for decades. Once opened a bottle of decades old port must be consumed quickly. Less special type of ports can be opened and kept with a specific type of cork top.

White, ruby and tawny port wines at a tasting after the tour of the Ramos Pinto port house in Vila Nova de Gaia, Portugal.

Follow my blog to learn about daily life in Portugal. And look for my novel, “The Power of Rain” a mystery set in New Mexico, available in Kindle and paperback on Amazon