Travel: I'm in Liverpool's twin city. Well, you certainly could have fooled me

BEFORE I came here to the Portuguese city of Oporto, where I'm writing these words, people told me that the place was the country's equivalent to Liverpool. Both cities are supposedly tough, working class and, in guidebook speak, "unpretentious" (ie falling to bits). Both have football teams that were European champions in the 1980s. Both are big west-facing ports built over muddy rivers, with half an eye on the Americas and an identity crisis now that the great age of European seafaring is over. Both suffer from the problem of southern snobbery (in Oporto's case, this means that the people of Lisbon find their ancient tripe-eating habit incredibly funny).

Genuine twin cities? Now that I'm here, I have to say that I have trouble seeing it. And it's not just the superficial differences that I'm worried about. That is to say, it's not just the fact that Oporto has Baroque churches, while Liverpool had the Cavern Club, or that the sun shines here while in Liverpool it rains. Or indeed that Oporto gave the world port while Liverpool gave it Pears soap.

I admit it: a working-class city of which the principal business is satisfying the after-dinner cravings of the British aristocracy is certainly intriguing. But before I go into a paroxysm of northern European paranoia about the quality-of-life thing (why exactly is it that people living south of a line running approximately from Bordeaux to Bologna always have much more urgent things to talk about than the rest of us do?), I am perfectly prepared to look on the down side of life in Oporto as well.

I am prepared to concede, for example, that some of the Porto FC supporters have unhealthily squashed noses. I also admit that the filthy Douro River is not a place where I would wish my worst enemy to swim. And, yes ,the young people of Oporto probably tire - at moments - of belonging to a relatively conservative, homogeneous culture, lacking in the buzz and excitement of a multicultural, multiracial society in the throes of change.

But all the same: would the people of Oporto walk around the decrepit, decaying bits of Liverpool (or indeed any other British city) marvelling at how charming and picturesque it all was? Because, like it or not, that's what you can't help doing here.

When I arrived on Thursday afternoon the first thing I did was check into a nicotine-stained hotel with dodgy wiring and a bed as creaky as a Spanish galleon. But it only cost pounds 10 a night with breakfast and I would gladly stay here for a month. Next I stepped straight into a cafe called A Brasileira which, to tell the truth, did not seem to have been painted since Brazil was discovered. The locals may, for all I know, regard it as a tragic symbol of inner-city poverty. But if this is the equivalent to a greasy spoon cafe, why does it have to have a marble-clad interior fitted with leafy flourishes in bronze? Why do self-important-looking senior citizens still sit in it? And why is it that from a strategically placed seat on the pavement I could not see a single woman walking past who did not look like a 25-year-old art student?

When I went down to the waterfront I saw Oporto rise up all around me. It seemed to be trying as hard as a city possibly could to be tough, working class and unpretentious, with its soaring, spindly iron bridges, its mouldy Baroque towers, its cheerfully medieval housing, its stenches, its miles of hanging laundry. And there, under stone arches right by the riverside, I found the local version of unemployment, single motherhood and homelessness rolled into one: old ladies selling the first apricots and cherries of the season, alongside piles of olives and bottles of port.

Well, at least "Strawberry Fields" wasn't written by a tripe-eater.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Bid / Tender Writing Executive

    £24000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With offices in Manchester, Lon...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Executives / Marketing Communications Consultants

    Competitive (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a number of Marketi...

    Recruitment Genius: Marketing Executive

    £20000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This well established business ...

    Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester

    £25000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester...

    Day In a Page

    Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

    The secret CIA Starbucks

    The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
    Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

    How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

    The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
    One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

    One million Britons using food banks

    Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
    Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

    2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

    Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
    The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

    The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

    The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
    Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

    Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

    A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
    Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

    Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

    They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
    Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

    Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

    The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
    The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

    The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

    Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
    How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

    How to run a restaurant

    As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
    Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

    Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

    For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
    Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

    Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

    The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
    10 best tote bags

    Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

    We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
    Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

    Paul Scholes column

    I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
    Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

    Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

    The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...