Friday, January 20, 2012


I got lucky and was invited to tag along on a field trip to Porto, Portugal, with some of my students! (I love my job.) We boarded the buses early in the morning and headed south. Two hours later we arrived at the riberinha region known for its bodegas and fine dining, which is technically not Porto, but you can see in the photo that the river is a fine dividing line between the two cities. You can also see the iconic Ponte Dona Maria Pia, which was designed by Gustave Eiffel--the man responsible for the Eiffel tower! Traditional rabelo boats line the bank to transport wine down the Douro river.

Our first stop was the Sandeman bodega to taste the city's world-renown namesake wine. I'm a big fan of port cheese balls, but I admit that I don't recall ever tasting port wine before the trip. It was... interesting, but next time I plan to taste it with the complementary dark chocolate and exquisite cheeses they kept mentioning! The tour was big fun as our guide dressed in costume to represent the brand, and fortunately spoke slowly enough for me to catch most of what he said in Portuguese! He led us through the dark cellars as he described the advantages of microclimates and the English influence on the development of the port wine industry. The floors were curiously made of wood, which, it turns out, has two advantages. First, during the warm summers the cellars can be kept cool by wetting the wood. Second, the floors used to be made of hard stone, but when lots of the precious wine was lost once when several large barrels fell and broke a change was suggested.

After the Sandeman tour, we made our way to Porto proper, where we checked out the crowded Rua de Santa Catarina, where dedicated shoppers could easily pass an entire afternoon. Most of the students migrated to McDonalds, but Pastora, who regularly spends her weekends in Portugal, led some of the other teachers and me to a handsome landmark hotel with a tasty buffet.

the scenic interior of an old-fashioned Portuguese shop

For the afternoon we hopped back on the busses to go a short way out of town to the Sarralves contemporary art museum. I only had time to snap a few quick photos of the exterior, but I found it inspiring. The museum itself was designed by the Portuguese architect José Marques da Silva, and its unique structure is complemented by extensive gardens. The exhibits are constantly rotating and you can check the web to see what's there before you go. We saw photography exhibitions by Thomas Struth that illustrated man's tendancy to flock to both natural and man-made structures, and drew comparisons between natural and technological chaos. I really enjoyed it!

outside the Sarralves museum

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