3 unique places to visit in porto: a bookstore, a market and… prison
There have been many articles about Porto lately. Most of them state the city by the Douro is underrated. I like the undiscovered things, and I don’t know if “underrated” is the best adjective to describe Porto.
In fact, why would someone travel all the way to Portugal (in this case) to visit a city that they can see anywhere else in Europe, right? That’s what these unique places to visit in Porto are all about.
Widely famous and publicized across enough tourist guides for you to think it’s just another tourist trap. It can be if you don’t have the patience to wait (trust me, I don’t blame you if you don’t) or if you’re looking in the same direction as everyone else.
I waited for it to open at 10 a.m. Mariana at the guesthouse said that they could eventually open it half an hour earlier to make sure everyone got their photos taken before the official opening time.
The facade of the building was already a clear sign of what I’d see inside. I recognized the typography of “Lello & Irmao” from some of my parents’ old books. The big, bulky, heavy books I used to read out of curiosity.
The books on display on the windows seemed outdated, posing for a buyer that would never come, the colors discolored by the sun. Inside, a lady vacuumed the floor vigorously and, seeing so many faces peering inside, she stopped to signal the number ten with her hands.
When the door opened, a group of rushing people passed by the employee without replying to his “good morning.”
They were on a mission. A “selfie” mission (sticks included). They aimed for the stairs (that allegedly inspired J.K. Rowling for Harry Potter, something the author denies) and the upstairs floor. They saw nothing.
The rest of us were behind, browsing some books (it is a bookstore after all), admiring the stained glass skylight at the top. After this, everything is a blur in my mind. I noticed the peeling red paint on the steps, and I failed to see the carved busts of Portuguese writers on top of the pillars. I took photos, and I fled.
Note: Since July 2015, there is an admission fee of €3.00 per person
Centro Português de Fotografia
This building has enough distractions around for it to pop. The Clérigos Tower, for example, is enough reason to make you turn away from it. Why would you take the detour and visit the Portuguese Photography Center?
Nothing in the building seems appealing enough to make you go there. But, of course, I had an insider’s tip, and I knew what I was going to find inside.
The reason why this structure is stripped of any wonder elements and beauty it’s because it used to be a prison. Prisons, like any other institutional buildings, are more function than form. They serve a purpose.
Can I confess I was thrilled to be inside this jail (as weird as it may sound)? I think it was the structure’s appeal, honestly, and the collection of old cameras (and related gadgets).
As an (intentional) geek, this was pretty close to heaven: the cameras, walking in and out of old cells, looking out the barred windows to the city, seeing where Camilo Castelo Branco (a Portuguese 19th Century romantic novelist) had been jailed for adultery.
The piece that attracted me the most was the story behind the composition of this 1908 New Year’s postcard (or its interpretation) by Aurélio Paz dos Reis, known as the pioneer of cinema in Portugal.
I had many high hopes for the famous Bolhão market, so much so that I left it for the very last day I was in Porto. Many people had told me stories about the vibrant vendors and how they would talk you into buying their products and take the time to get to know you.
I have no idea how (or when) I formed this romantic idea in my head, but that was what I expected. But it wasn’t what I got.
I saw more tourists than customers. I was expecting crowds of customers and half-empty stands of fresh produce, considering it was mid-morning on a Saturday.
Although the place is a bit run down and needed severe fixing up, there were enough pops of color to make it an excellent place for photography. But you see, this is a market, and vendors expect you to buy their products, not just show the pretty photos you took that Saturday morning.
They paid no attention to me or reciprocated my attempts at engaging in conversation to know more about their routine.
This was the first place (in years) that I couldn’t take advantage of my “looks like a foreigner” status because they don’t want to waste time entertaining or posing for foreigners.
They want their prayers to Our Lady of Conception to be heard (they have a statue of this Portugal’s patron saint at the market entrance), and they want the return on their investment.