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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
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
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: Car Sales Executive - Franchised Main Dealer

    £30000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

    Recruitment Genius: Group Sales Manager - Field Based

    £21000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Located on the stunning Sandban...

    Guru Careers: Email Marketing Specialist

    £26 - 35k (DOE): Guru Careers: An Email Marketing Specialist is needed to join...

    Recruitment Genius: Tour Drivers - UK & European

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity to join a is a...

    Day In a Page

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee