Travelling with ink: Porto, Portugal.

A recent trip with my wife to the city of Porto, was a most welcome break and my first time out of the UK in three years. It was also an opportunity to bring a few pens and notebooks and to discover pen shops in the area.

I considered bringing only one fountain pen, but as usual ended up with several. These were my new Onoto Scholar and two Delike New Moon fude nib pens, which I enjoy. I also brought a Lamy 2000 multi-pen and a Pentel 0.7mm mechanical pencil. For notebooks, I had a Leuchtterm A5 as my holiday journal, another cheap A5 book for random writings and a traveller-style notebook and cover from Flying Tiger Copenhagen.

I had learned from FPN of a pen shop in Porto called Araujo & Sobrinho, founded in 1829 and still belonging to the Araujo family, now in its fifth generation. As luck would have it, this shop was just 100 yards from our hotel.

At the Douro River, Porto.

It is wonderful to explore the city, on foot. It is built on hills each side of the River Douro and famous for the production of Port. Fronting the south side of river, there are a dozen or so Port wine companies. We visited one of these, Sandeman, for a memorable tour of their cellars, finishing with a tasting of three types of their Ports.

Sandeman’s premises and visitor centre, Porto.
Our knowledgeable tour guide at Sandeman.

In an indoor market I found a man making and selling leather notebook covers, branded Sango Handmade Creations. My wife bought me an A5 cover in stiff, dark brown leather with an elastic loop closure and containing one Moleskine notebook. It appealed to me as the notebook is held only by an elastic loop and does not need its covers to be slid into a raised leather pouches which cause an uneven writing surface. However the cover is very stiff and needs effort to keep it open flat, as it wants to slam shut. I expect that with use, and some leather softener on the spine, this will ease.

My new Sango Handmade Creations notebook cover and a pen case. On a mosaic floor of the Bolsa Palace.

As well as the ubiquitous confeitaria pastry shops, I learned to look out for shops called papelaria, Portuguese for stationer. I enjoyed browsing one called Papelaria Peninsular where I bought a couple of Pentel EnerGel 0.7 gel pens, in brown and navy blue.

Papelaria Peninsular. An attractive stationers with print shop at the back.

I came across another, Papelaria Modelo but it was closed for lunch and I could only savour the attractive window including some Kaweco pens and inks.

Papelaria Modelo.

A book shop called Livraria Lello is a popular tourist attraction, claiming to be The Most Beautiful Bookstore in the World. So popular has this become, that it is necessary to book a visit, which has to be done online and to pay a fee of five euros and then wait in a long queue to be admitted. I learned only several days later that you can recover the ticket price against the price of book purchase. The features of the shop, which was very crowded, include a stained glass roof, and curved wooden, red-painted staircases to the galleried first floor. There was currently a display of The Little Prince, with two books from the first 1943 print run inside a mirrored infinity box (to represent the enduring appeal of the book). Also, there was a display of books by the late Nobel prize winning writer José Saramago. A display case included his passport and also a fountain pen that he had used.

Inside Livraria Lello.
A pen used by José Saramago.

It was well worth visiting Clerigos Church and to climb its tower, to see the panoramic views of the city. Just wandering the streets, particularly at the weekend with many buskers and other street entertainers performing, makes for a relaxing holiday atmosphere. One of my favourite performers was a couple dancing to music and it took a moment to realise that the lady was a mannequin whose shoes were attached to her partner’s.

A view of roof tops in Porto.
A dancing “couple” in Porto. She blew me a kiss.

And so to Araujo & Sobrinho. On our first day, we had lunched opposite and, having found the shop location, thought that it may now be a hotel restaurant. But on entering from the front, I spotted a passage leading behind the dining area, where there was a Caran d’Ache sign. There is a pen shop! We had a browse around, assisted by a young man who was working there but unrelated to the family owners. I was keen to return for another look and to take a few photos. This did not materialise until our last morning before our flight home.

Araujo & Sobrinho, at the lower end of Rua das Flores.
The pen shop is more evident from the side entrance.
The inviting interior.
I asked whether Canetas was a Portuguese brand. No, it means “pen.”

On this second visit, I was delighted to meet Mr Miguel Araujo, who kindly allowed me to take some photos of his very attractive shop. Glass cabinets contained displays including Parker, Pilot, Namiki and Caran d’Ache pens. There was a large selection of mechanical pencils, notebooks, Traveler Notebook refills, and inks. For the first time in a bricks and mortar shop, I saw displays of pens from Otto Hutt of Germany, seldom found in the UK. These included a Design 08 with its distinctive guilloche patterned body and black grip section, and the Design 07 in sterling silver.

The author with Mr Miguel Araujo (right).
Notebooks and a display of old large size ink bottles.

I asked to take a look at a black lacquered fountain pen with a shiny plated section (Platinum plating) which I now know to be the Otto Hutt Design 06. I wanted to feel whether the grip would be a problem, either due to the shiny metal plating or the step down from barrel to section to accommodate the flush-fitting screw cap. Rather to my surprise, the pen fits the hand very comfortably and neither of these points was an issue. Miguel dipped the pen in some ink for me to try. Here I was blown away by how smooth and soft the nib was. It is a steel nib but has the soft feel of a gold one. And so, the Design 06 was to come home with me! It was a treat to enjoy a personal and attentive buying experience. Miguel carefully cleaned the nib, put the pen in its box, which also included a converter and gave me a souvenir post card of the shop and an Otto Hutt catalogue, all in an Araujo & Sobrinho tote bag.

One of the Otto Hutt display cases in the shop. My pen, third from the front!
Hard to resist, once you have experienced writing with it.

I caught up with writing some notes in my Flying Tiger notebook on the two hour flight home, now with my new Otto Hutt fountain pen. And on the coach back to London, I was interested to re-read an old review of the pen by Anthony on UKFountain Pens, and was pleased to discover that my opinions very much echoed his from two years ago.

I can strongly recommend a visit to Porto. And if you go, do not miss Araujo & Sobrinho to support this lovely long-established shop for many more years to come.

Goodbye, Porto.