Porto Local Custom Tips by magor65
Porto Local Customs: 39 reviews and 49 photos
The real port wine is produced only in the upper region of the Douro Valley. Although wine was made here as long ago as in the Roman times, the moment when brandy was first added to it is considered a turning point. It was in the second half of the 17th century and the reason was to 'fortify' it for the sea transport to England.
How is port wine made?
There are about 40 varieties of grapes grown in the port wine region. They are picked by hand in September. In the past the grapes used to be trod upon by foot, but nowadays modern methods are used ( although for the sake of tradition a small fraction of grapes are still prepared for fermentation in this old way). Then the 'must' is mixed with a strictly specified quantity of brandy to prevent futher fermentation. All kinds of ports, except for a 'vintage', are aged in oak casks before being bottled.
Basic kinds of port wine:
- vintage - the finest and most expensive of all ports. It comes from best vineyards form one year and must be bottled within 2 years of harvesting. Its minimum maturity period is 15 years.
- tawny - blended wine from different years, amber-brown in colour;
- ruby - blended wine from different years, deep red in colour, fruity in taste, usually takes from one to three years to mature
- white - served chilled as an aperitif, either dry or sweet in flavour
People are laughing, drinking, dancing and of course 'playing' with their hammers. Some of them instead of hammers have garlic or onion with long stems, which they use to tickle you on the face. They seem to be very amused when you flinch with disgust.
I am surprised that in spite of all the crowds there are no fights, nobody is drunk, everybody just seems to have a great time. In some places local bands are performing, which gathers big audience around. But we decide to get to the other bank - Vila Nova de Gaia- hoping it will be quieter there. Luckily, the lower level of Ponte Dom Luise is open for pedestrians - I wouldn't risk walking along the upper tier now. Under the hail of hammer blows we manage to get to the other side. Yes, it seems to be a bit more peaceful here. We stop for a few moments next to the river to admire the city - all illuminated for this greatest night of a year. Aren't we lucky to be part of it? But here again we fail to find any free places in bars, so we buy some sangria in plastic cups to quench our thirst and we continue walking. It's almost midnight so we have to find a good place to watch fireworks display. We decide to climb a cathedral hill. The show is impressive - it's a pity my pictures don't reflect it.
Then it's time to go to the hotel. It's the end of the celebrations for us, but not for the city. People play and dance in the streets till early morning.
On the next day we ask about the meaning of the "hammer custom". We find out that in the past tapping one another was to introduce the idea of equality, at least for this one night - a peasant could hit an aristocrat, the poor could hit the rich. Now it is to chase away bad thoughts from your head. And the herbs in pots are given to a person you fancy, instead of flowers.
Getting ready for Sao Jao
The atmosphere of expectation can be alredy felt a day or two before the big night of June 23/24. In the streets you can see plenty of stalls selling herbs in pots, long-stem garlic and onion, plastic helmets and of course hammers made of plastic in different sizes and colours.
In the morning of 23rd people start decorating their houses and streets with colourful streamers and paper chains.
The whole feast starts late in the afternoon. Everywhere you can notice barbecues on the pavements, and soon the wisps of smoke can be seen all over the city as codfish, sardines and green pepper are being prepared for late dinner. At the same time streams of people are heading for Ribeira, most of them equipped with plastic hammers. OH, THE FIRST BLOW ON THE HEAD! I hoped to be only the spectator but it appears impossible. More and more people tap us, not only children, but also adults - even the elderly. No, of course it doesn't hurt, but the squeaking sound is a bit unpleasant, especially when you don't expect the blow.
We come to Cais de Ribeira hoping to find a free table in one of many restaurants. Unfortunately, all places are filled with crowds of people. By now, we don't react to the hammers any longer, the frequency of 'blows' is so high that sometimes it's even not possible to see the 'attacker'. The squeaking sound dominates over the people's voices. Now I understand why so many people are wearing helmets, although the blows in their case are a bit stronger.
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