Roving blogger Robert continues his travels in Portugal with a visit to Porto – “City of the Bridges”:
Like Lisbon, Porto is a river city, spanning the banks of the Duoro River as it flows into the Atlantic Ocean. The central city population has fallen in recent years as residents move to newer housing areas in the suburbs, leaving a beautifully historic central area (World Heritage Site from 1996). Porto is a playground for tourists from Europe and beyond, who arrive on budget flights in their thousands to enjoy a warm climate, heritage sites and that basic of necessities, fortified port wine produced from grapes grown in the Duoro Valley and cellared in Porto.
Whilst Porto may only have two thirds of the population of Lisbon, it is the centre for a surrounding industrial base and has enjoyed centuries of lucrative trade with the world (particularly England when port wine was exported in return for wool). Consequently there are plenty of grand and beautiful buildings, including the Sao Benito Railway Station, considered one of the finest in Europe.
Like Lisbon, transport infrastructure development benefited when Portugal joined the European Union in 1986. A light rail metro system costing a total 3.5 billion Euro was first operational in 2002. The yearly losses since opening have been extensive, up to a peak of 122 million Euro in 2006 alone. The stalling of the Portuguese economy during the global financial crisis resulted in some service cut-backs for public transport.
The hilly terrain of much of the city restricts the practicalities of cycling as a good transport option. However, a path along the river to the beach suburb of Matosinhos and returning inland on an excellent cycle-way makes for a great day out.
Deterred by the requirement that a credit card and 300 Euro cash bond was necessary for bike hire, and overhearing the protestations from another hirer over a damage dispute, we exited the hire shop promptly and got a bike from a one-man hire stand on the river bank complete with super friendly advice and information. No deposit required and a 10 Euro daily hire.
“Use the tram tracks for the first few kilometres“ he said – it worked well until the tram came along!!!!
The rest of the journey was beautiful, the sardine lunch perfect. Travelling back to the city along a quality bike track could not have been easier save for some missing signage and a little confusion about intersections. Most were shared pedestrian crossings, which worked well as the traffic immediately yielded right of way. On the busier and faster roads it did not seem as clear (no apparent signage or light controls, just zebra crossings). It took one scary incident to get the message loud and clear: Don’t mess with the faster vehicles.
As much as light rail is a fantastic transport option, for the relative price that Porto has paid for their metro system, Christchurch could provide a fast and efficient electric bus service for much of the city. Additionally it could build extensive Dutch Style cycling infrastructure and probably still have sufficient funds remaining to purchase every citizen, who wanted one, a quality commuter cycle.
It is clear that the major cycle route that Porto has is very popular with northern European tourists who enjoy some fresh air, exercise and a great climate whilst getting to the beaches and quality restaurants along the coast. Our cycle-way planned for getting to New Brighton (Avon-Otakaro) may well be a shot in the arm for the area for the same reasons.
Is there anything from Porto that we could/should be doing too?