If Porto is any indication, humans have been working on the proper stair height for more than 2,000 years, and only just recently agreed upon a standard.
I never appreciated that standard until now. In this ancient town, you’ll find differences in height between flights located in the same building, and even stairs in the same flight. Aaand, fun thing about bifocals, they make me a lot more clumsy with stairs. Introduce a mask into the equation (which can make said bifocals easy to slip off), I’m a walking disaster waiting to happen.
Most days we’re averaging 40 to 50 flights a day, and while I’m glad to have the stamina, I feel like I’m missing a lot because I’m concentrating so hard on not falling to my death. Good thing I’m traveling with some patient people….
I said “GOOD THING …” oh never mind. Let’s just say, family travel is a blast, and also there are figurative as well as potentially literal ups and downs that come with it, such as days when someone’s interested in getting places quickly, someone else is soaking in all the ambiance and taking photos, and another person is doing all those things AND concentrating on avoiding causing a scene resulting in an emergency requiring various and sundry ambulance-folk and medics and the like.
Like I’ve told you all before, I’m a giver.
On Thursday of our visit to Porto, we thought it’d be a good idea to be neighborly and check out the cathedral next door, along with the Bishop’s Palace. In earlier times, the bishop held more power over this market city than the monarchy or any noble, controlling all the taxes and commerce. A great deal of that effort resulted in a fairly comfortable life for the person in that position. Nobles were not actually allowed to live in the city and were required to have a special visa to even enter.
The square in front of the Porto Cathedral was the center of activity at that time. Much later, in the days of the dictatorship, António de Oliveira Salazar recreated the central post whereon heretics were said to have been hanged. Salazar said he meant the post as a tribute to history (in general he promoted Catholicism, although he kept the church at arm’s length) but the threat was pretty obvious.
The cathedral itself is one of the oldest monuments in the country, with its construction starting in the 12th century. Some of the best views of the city are from the top of the tower (with its frustratingly uneven stairs).
Next door to the cathedral is the Bishop’s palace, now a museum, which looks out over the Douro River and the manor house in which we were staying.
Of course, no trip to Porto is complete without a formal port tasting. For that we headed across the river to the Vila Nova de Gaia, a completely separate village which is actually where the port cellars are. I don’t know why Porto gets all the credit, but the other side of the river gets less sun, which makes it better for storage, and also the Portuguese are really easy going people when it comes to giving credit.
Take for example the fact that a lot of the port cellars are British enterprises. This not only has to do with the Portuguese being super easy-going people, but also the relationship between the Portuguese and the British – the oldest standing alliance in Europe. When port came along, the British really liked it. They also liked not being poisoned by the product of a poorly regulated industry, were good at marketing and business in general, and so they made port THEIR thing.
… And just like they’ve been pretty laid back with the stair height standard, the Portuguese were like “you guys go for it with the port. We’ll keep doing our thing with the grapes and everything will be good.”
The day after the port tasting, we took a day trip by train to Braga, where we perused the old town and thanked every spirit imaginable for the gradually improving weather, which we had no right to expect in this country in the height of rainy season.
Every guidebook says that the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte is the Braga’s “must see” monument, with its 600 stairs, which pilgrims are said to sometimes crawl up on their knees.
I can’t say I haven’t been tempted to do the same with the stairs I’ve encountered. For safety’s sake. Maybe the pilgrims are dealing with bifocal issues too?
In the end, we decided this “must see” monument with all its stairs is a “must save for later” monument for us and contented ourselves to the easier stroll through old town, and a photo of the far away cathedral (accessible from the train station by 30 minute bus ride).
But we did get a photo from a bajillion meters away just so we could say we saw it. And now you can too.