2022 – 5
Wednesday, July 6, 2022 continued
I don’t usually say much about history but this is important, in case you, like me, don’t know much about Portugal, except that it shares the Iberian peninsula with Spain. What really differentiates it from Spain and the rest of Europe, is that while the rest of Europe was fighting itself, Portugal was under the rule of Arabian invaders, whose advances in science and philosophy put them in the forefront of learning. It became independent in 1140 and its explorers around 1500, The Age of Discovery, were second to none. Portuguese is still the sixth most spoken language in the world. (At least that’s what our tour guide said. I googled and got: 1 English. 2 Chinese. 3 Hindi. 4 Spanish. 5 French. 6 Arabic. 7 Russian. 8 Bengali. 9 Portuguese. 10 Indonesian.)
Our first official event in Lisbon was the welcome dinner at the Queluz Nacional Palace. I have eaten in some pretty swish places, but this might be the swishiest. In St. Petersburg, we got to eat in the summer palace, but in the basement. Here we got the actual dining room:
We dressed up for the occasion but not to do it justice, I am afraid. This dining room is still in use for dinners of state, so the tourists do have to compete for it. I met six lovely people, traveling together, while we were having champagne and hors d’oeuvres in the garden, and they took me in at their table. We had a lovely time. There were a number of groups of six or so on the tour. Tauck tends to attract like-minded people and they keep in touch and travel with each other again.
Thursday, July 7, in Lisbon
Tauck took us on tour in the morning, in a couple of buses. We learned about the earthquake of 1755 which pretty much annihilated the place. Luckily Portugal was at the summit of its riches at that same time, so they managed to rebuild a fabulous city. My only quarrel with it is the very small cobblestones, which are everywhere. It’s only a walking city for the young, and that’s only until they turn one ankle too many. A very few sites survived, one of which was the Monasterio Jeronimos in Belem. The Arab influence is all over the architecture.
Vasco da Gama is buried here. He also has a restaurant across the street from me in Montreal.
They took us through the nearby “Museo dos Coches”, which contains the oldest coaches in the world. I was quite smitten with them and took a lot of pictures. Here’s one:
Royalty used to travel all over the country in these things, heavily guarded, of course. Can you imagine? It wasn’t all that long ago, either. The automobile only came into use in the 20th century. There were hundreds of years of these.
We were free for the afternoon and I spent it with my computer, as usual. Around 6:30pm, I ventured out seeking the simple restaurant Caroline had found a couple of nights ago. It was at the other end of Edouard VII Park from the Intercontinental, and about at the end of my ankle’s tether. It was well worth it, though. I ate on the street and my waiter danced attention on me because I was alone. I had clams in white wine, Spanish style, Frites, flan and a half bottle of vinho verde for 25 euros. He called me a taxi and I went home happy.
The restaurant is O Cagho Dourado Rue Eca de Queiroz, no5, 7, e 9
Lots of addresses for a little place. A very good little place.
Friday, July 8, Lisbon to Porto
The adventure begins. The loaded us into our two buses and took us to Coimbra, Portugal’s medieval capital. Today it is best known for its university, which we visited. There was an optional walk to go hear Fado but I have heard it before and it wasn’t worth doing in my ankle for. I had a chocolade with a meringue in a place that specializes in them. Spanish and Portuguese hot chocolate is more like chocolate pudding before it hardens. It was one of my favorite things as a kid. I have it all the time here.
From Coimbra, we drove to Porto, where we boarded the Andorinha, Tauck’s new riverboat, built for the Douro. Andorinha means “swallow”, sweet birds who mate for life and only nest in one place. There are only 65 of us on board, so she’s not quite full and she feels like our luxury yacht.
I had dinner with a different group who are something like eleven, so they have multiple tables. They were lovely, food was good, had a nightcap in the bar and turned in.
Saturday, July 9, in Porto
We were docked away from the centre of town, off towards Afuera, near the fishing village I had walked to on St. Peter’s day. There was an estuary coming in and a bathing place, very near the end of our dock. A couple of people went no further for the day. It was hot and it only got hotter as we went inland. The temperature was well over a hundred most days. I am not going to complain. We all went into this, eyes wide open.
I didn’t take the walking tour, I went by land river and air. The land included an historic tram, and a very historic bathroom in a park. The river, we crossed one way by water taxi and back by cable car. We were rewarded with a very nice snack and a wine cooler. We saw the sardine canneries and the grand mansions of “The Brazilians” and we learned more about bacalao, cod, and its importance in the Portuguese diet. They have at least 365 recipes so they can have it every day of the year. The funny thing is it doesn’t even come from Portugal. They buy most of it from Canada, as it’s a cold water fish. Huh.
Lunch was served on the Andorinha and I used the time to work a bit. There was a port tour and tasting in the afternoon but few of us were impressed. We do wine tours and tastings so much better in California and even a Porto tour guide we picked up on the pier about 15 years ago did a better job. I had dinner with Irene and Donn from Williamsburg, VA and Patty, Doug and Randi from Escondido, CA. This is fast becoming “my gang”, the ones that close the bar every night. I don’t hardly drink anymore but old habits die hard and a couple of glasses of soda water before bedtime insure a good night’s sleep. All five of these people arrived at the ship, after a couple of days in Lisbon, still with no luggage. Some of it trickled in but Irene and Doug never saw theirs at all and I am not sure about Donn. Irene was super at shopping in every port and was almost the best dressed person on the ship. Patty won that one, after her luggage came through. So, not exactly a fair competition. I was out of the game, that which you give up for the pleasure of carryon.
We had entertainment on board that night, a university group called a Tuna. They play baroque instruments, sing and dance and raise money. Here they are on the top of the ship with the Porto skyline in the background:
Sunday, July 10, Guimaraes & Vinho Verde
More Tauck touring in the morning. We went to the historic city of Guimaraes and saw a lot of old stone buildings and had another historic bathroom experience.
That’s Susana, one of our tour conductors, beloved by all of us. The town was very interesting and afforded about the only place we found for souvenirs. I now have eight new table napkins to replace the wine auction ones that are starting to give up their ghosts. We drove into the countryside to the Aveleda Winery, which had some of the most beautiful grounds I have ever seen, complete with peacocks, goats, and the like. I took a lot of pictures there. I think this is my favorite:
The winery served lunch with their vinho verde. It was some kind of stew, which I found fine, but a lot of Americans won’t eat what they can’t identify, so they went hungry. The wine was drinkable but unexceptional, the same as everything else they have been giving us. The Andorinha had been moving as we were, so we rejoined her and kept sailing on, through happy hour, dinner and bar time. It’s all very pleasant. We seem to have a routine now.
Monday, July 11, Peso Da Regua
This would likely have been my best touring day. I had picked Vinyard Walk and Cocktail making, and we were in Regua, the lovely place where I had visited my friend, Kay’s Winery & B & B. I needed a day off, though, that is, my ankle did. I can’t ask it to go 8,000 steps for a week without protest. It just swells up and gets impossible. A day of rest resets it and that is what today was. Also, the tour was billed as “Vineyard Walk & Cocktail Making” and the last thing I think one should be doing with good port is making cocktails. You just drink it. I don’t have any use at all for bad port.
Just before happy hour, Inken, our Tour Conductor, gave us a nice lecture about the Moorish occupation of Andalusia. When the Moors first arrived they were tolerant of the local people but became increasing less so and more insistent on Muslim observation. Then there was the Reconquista, whish we have all heard of, where the Christians of Europe took it back. It took them 780 years, mind you. The Moors finally fell in 1492 – momentous year, that one.
It also heralded the start of the Inquisition, which was NOT a good thing.
Dinner was a nice event at a Portuguese riverside restaurant called DOC, a nice mix of traditional and modern. I enjoyed it but it could have been made more exceptional with a knowledgeable sommelier and a wine pairing.
Tuesday, July 12, Pinhao
This morning, we went on the most fun activity of the entire tour. We were set up with clues to get us to visit five or six local merchants. The closest one to the ship provided a tasting of chocolate and port, which one wag dubbed “Breakfast of Champions”. We moved on to, of all things, a Viking butcher, who had us tasting meats and cheeses, washing them down with red wine. Next we were on a terrasse scarfing down a hot dog, with mustard, cheese, ketchup, and French Fries. There was a Coke with that lot. The fourth place was closed due to some family emergency and the 5th was the train station. This latter was in a beautiful setting and its walls were covered with very nice tile paintings, well worth the walk to see.
A dozen or so of us had a Portuguese dinner in Arthur’s, which was excellent but I would only do it once. It was a lot of food.
Wednesday, July 13, Cruising the Douro
We haven’t had enough of just cruising and it’s delightful. I went up top were the view is the best, only to miss a lot when I inadvertently got shut in Arthur’s, most of which collapsed ingeniously to permit us to exit a lock. Not to worry. There was plenty of gorgeous scenery and a couple of fixer-uppers that we might like to buy:
For a couple of hours Susana held us spellbound with her own story of life in Spain under Franco. His dictatorship lasted 40 years (1935-1975) and inflicted terrible hardships on the people. You were only free to speak inside your own homes, everywhere else there could be government ears. All the music was military marches, all the TV shows were propaganda, dissenters were tortured and killed. Susana was born on Cordova in the ‘50s. Her parents soon moved to the countryside to a two-room home with 13 people living in it. She was one of six kids. Everything got washed by hand. There were only very basic supplies. You brushed tour teeth with baking soda and a branch. They got meat and fish once a month. They ate a lot of potatoes and the odd tomato.
Women could not work for pay, nor get divorced. They could not go out without a man. They didn’t learn much in school and were married off at 16. Yes, her, too. Her husband was nice enough to teach her to read, though, but to this day, she’s not good with numbers. Franco only had two allies, Hitler and Mussolini and he fell with them. Meanwhile Susana’s grandfather was living in a cave because he was a dead man, if caught. Her grandmother and 8 children fled to another cave. Only two of the children survived. Her grandmother lived to 104 and never told the rest of the family how they survived.
Susana finally got out to NYC in the ‘80s and all she could think to do was to bring the USA home with her – candy, gum, trinkets, etc. What a story!
In the afternoon, we visited another winery, which, again, wasn’t much. Happy hour, dinner on board and its aftermath were good, as usual and more and more people are now getting up to dance. It took us a while, but, we do party.
Thursday, July 14, Coa valley and Castelo Rodrigo
50 years ago, they discovered Paleolithic Art in the Coa valley and have made a big deal museum out of it. I wish I could say it blew my socks of, but it didn’t.
There had been fire nearby a couple of days previously and the fire brigade were still at the museum looking out over the gorgeous landscape, dimmed by smoke, and hoping not to see it start up again.
Not there, too.
We got back on the Andorinha for lunch and a sail and got off farther up the river at Castelo Rodrigo. It’s a partially ruined, partially restored hill town. The Portuguese government is subsidizing settlers who will re-occupy the houses in the town and take up the old crafts to show tourists, like us. Not sure how that will work in the long term, but the chocolade was good.
And the farewell dinner was good and even more people got up and danced.
Friday, July 15, Salamanca and Madrid
Salamanca, near where we disembarked, is a limestone city dating back to the1200s. I think I like this organ best there. It didn’t hurt that someone was actually playing it:
We bussed into Madrid and checked into The Westin Palace, Madrid. What a gorgeous building, in a city of gorgeous buildings. The wealth of Spain is on display everywhere you look. I could probably spend a lot of time in Madrid. As it was, we went Tapas tasting that night and finished up in the bar with top-up tapas, just Anne and I. We should have got together sooner.
Saturday, July 16, Salamanca and Madrid
We visited the Royal Palace and the Museo del Prado and had our farewell dinner at the hotel.
Sunday, July 17, Madrid
And I was glad of a day on my own in Madrid to walk around and rest up for the trip home. I had a lovely dinner with Gail and Sherry at the concierge-recommended Rincon de Estevan. We had way too much food – just the paella would have done it: