Day 5 – Castelo Rodrigo

On day 5 of our Viking River Cruise, we departed Pinhao for a beautiful sail to Pocinho, where we would make a short stop to allow some passengers off for an alternate excursion. We stuck to the included excursions, so we remained on board and enjoyed the view on the way to our final destination, Barca d’Alva. Our travel dates aligned with the start of the picking season, so we often spotted workers in the fields. I wasn’t able to get a picture of them, but there was one vineyard where the workers stopped picking, and jumped and waved their arms as they shouted a greeting to us. (I choose to believe it was a heartly hello!) Our Captain responded with a sounding of the ship’s horn.

Between breakfast and lunch, Chef Andrea demonstrated how to make Pastel de Nata (Portuguese Custard Tarts).

A short time later, we passed through the Pocinho Lock:

We arrived at Barca d’Alva after lunch and transferred to our designated bus to made the scenic trek to Castelo Rodrigo. You’ll see from some of the pictures coming up that there are people living in these old dwellings surrounding the castle. While the castle is only remains at this point, the area is a thriving tourist location. They even have 5g fiber, believe it or not!

There were so many beautiful pictures from this stop I have to add them in several separate slide decks. First we went down to the church:

Then I did some wandering on my own:

Then into the castle where they have a museum, and…an ATM:

After touring the castle on my own, I made my way back to my group, marveling at the beautiful views along the way. Back near the entrance there were shops were filled with – you guessed it – cork products, olive products and wine! In one of the shops I tasted Almond Sparkling Wine, which was a mixture of almond liqueur made only in that area of Portugal and sparkling wine. If I hadn’t already bought a few bottles of wine from some of our other stops I would have grabbed some of that Almond liqueur, but I knew I was already near the tipping point on my suitcase weight limit, so I had to walk away sad. 😦

On the ride back I was able to get a few pics of the pigeon houses. Our guide told us a story of how pigeons were, and still are raised as food in Portugal, and there was a time when Coca-Cola was banned, and so smugglers stored it in the pigeon houses. Pigeon houses were scattered among the rocky hills all along our route. This is the best picture I was able to get:

Day 4: Regua – Mateus Palace & Gardens and Sandeman Winery

Day four of our Viking River Cruise began with a sail along the Douro river from Vila Nova de Gaia to Regua. In the photos below you’ll see the Crestuma Lock, one of 5 locks we moved through on our travels. You’ll also see some beautiful views of vineyards and evidence of some of the wildfires the Portugal mountains have suffered – they came very close to many homes along the water!

We weren’t docking until 2:30 PM, so after breakfast we headed to the lounge for a presentation by “The Cork Lady”. The Cork Lady brought loads of products that she makes by hand (presumably): handbags, notebooks, wallets, hats and jewelry. But…before we could shop, she gave a presentation about cork and its importance to Portugal.

It turns out, cork has many uses beyond sealing wine bottles. It is used in products like flooring, clothing, shoes, insulation, and many other things. Quality cork doesn’t burn, so it’s a very useful product in homes. Growing and harvesting cork is quite a lengthy process. It takes many years for a tree to produce high quality cork. The cork is taken from only the trunk of the tree, and the cork can be harvested only so high up the trunk in order to keep the tree healthy. A cork tree must grow to 51″ high and 27.5″ in diameter before it can be harvested. The first harvest will be low quality cork, but there are still uses for that. Nine more years later the cork is harvested again, and again it is low quality. Finally, after nine more years, the tree will yield a quality crop, and it will continue to produce for about 100 years!

According to The Cork Lady, since trying to set fire to store inventory is frowned upon, the best way to test whether the cork used in textiles is good quality is to scrunch it up in your hand. When you release it, if the wrinkles pop out, it’s good cork. This tip came in handy for the rest of the trip, as everywhere we stopped there were cork products for sale.

After lunch I snapped a few more pics from the upper deck and then got ready to disembark the ship and board our bus to Mateus Palace & Gardens. In these next pictures you can see very clearly how the mountains are lined with row after row of grape vines! The first couple pics were taken while still on the ship; the others on the bus – and you can see the dizzying heights from the road! Most of the roads we traveled were “two lane” roads, which were really only the width of a single lane here in the US. This means, when you come across another vehicle heading toward you, one of you has to move waaaay over to let the other pass!

Mateus Palace & Gardens was beyond beautiful! The 18th-century baroque house and gardens once belonging to counts. The property is comprised primarily of the manor, the winery and the chapel. The pictures here are the manor:

One more that didn’t fit into the slide show:

Then on to the gardens:

From there we boarded our bus and headed to the Sandeman Winery, (Quinta do Seixo), to learn about and taste (and buy) some wonderful Port wine! Our very enthusiastic guide for the tour did not speak English well at all! I just remember “something Portuguese, something Portuguese, something Portuguese, Welcome to the Vineyard!” Over and over again. She ended each of her very long, fast strings of Portuguese with, “Welcome to the Vineyard!”

In the first pic below, you can see that we’re very high up in the mountains! The roads were single lane, switchback roads the whole way up! On the way down we met another bus and our driver had to do some fancy steering to make room! The three drivers (one for each bus) for these tours have all been with Viking for many years. They are experts at navigating these treacherous roads!

The last picture in the slideshow isn’t in focus, but it’s an example of the giant signs the vineyards install to let you know who is who!

Back onboard the Osfrid, we enjoyed some stunning views, and then had a wonderful dinner. To cap it off, on the upper deck after dinner, we got to enjoy watching a crew member having a workout – well, part of him, at least!

Day 3: Bus to Porto via Coimbra

On the third day of my Viking River Cruise, we were up early and had breakfast while our bags were collected and loaded onto our bus. Some of the views from the bus:

It was a bit of a haul to get to Porto, so we were happy to have a few stops along the way. The first stop was in downtown Coimbra for a short shopping excursion.

Our second stop was at University of Coimbra, where we learned so many things, some quite unexpected! One of the unexpected things we learned was that J. K. Rowling was teaching English in Porto, Portugal during the time she was writing the first Harry Potter book, and the uniforms worn at Hogwartz were influenced by the uniforms worn in universities in Portugal! Who knew!

Salazar Slytherin’s name was influenced by Antonio Salazar, a Portuguese dictator. There are, in fact, many Portuguese influences in Harry Potter, as explained in this very informative article by Chelsea Szmania. There is also a lot of ceremony around the robes. Here are a few:

  1. First years don’t wear them. You have to be a second year.
  2. You don’t have to wear it every day, but when you do wear it, your cape can never be more than six feet away from you. You can take it off, but if you, say, took it off in class and then left the room to use the bathroom and were spotted in the hallway without it…there were consequences (I don’t remember what the consequences were).
  3. Relationships are represented by tears in the robe. A family relationship is represented by a tear in the front, right – over the heart. Strong friendships are tears on the front right. Romantic relationships are represented by tears in the back of the robe. If a relationship ends, the student must hand-sew the tear using the color that represents their program (law is red, pharmacy is purple, medicine is yellow, etc.). So someone who dates around could have several sewn tears on the back of their robe!

In the photos below are the grounds of the University, which show ongoing restoration. There is a statue there of King Denis, known as the Farmer King for planting a forest to provide raw materials for royal ships and also known as the Poet King because he wrote poetry and was influential in establishing Portuguese as a literary language. There are pictures inside Prisão Académica, which dated back to when the University would hold its own court and imprison students who had broken rules. We were also able to see inside a small library, but the much larger Joanine Library has a no photos rule, so nothing to show there, but the page at this link will has a couple of pictures.

Here are some pics of St. Michael’s chapel inside the University building.

After University of Coimbra, we stopped for lunch at Republica da Saudade, where we experienced one of the robe rituals first hand! The restaurant was staffed by university students, and as we entered the restaurant, there were two students, one on each side just inside the door, holding their robes so that they fell on the floor in front of them and you had no choice but to walk on them to get into the restaurant. Having your robe walked on is an honor.

For me, lunch was a wonderful Cod casserole, ice cream and sparkling wine, while listening to Fado Music performed by the restaurant owner and friends. It was beautiful! I don’t have a recording of what we heard, but this recording is by the same group.

I had a photo bomber who stayed with me through several takes of this shot – her mother is standing behind me, just outside!
One of the songs was so full of emotion it brought tears to my eyes!

After lunch we continued to Porto where we boarded our ship and began unpacking before heading to the lounge for a welcome reception with wine and cheese and some lovely piano playing by our onboard entertainer.

From the lounge we headed to the ship’s restaurant for dinner. It was a long, eventful day, but we had to stop on the upper deck to view the city at night before retiring to our cabins.

Day 2: Sightseeing in Lisbon

On day 2 of our Viking River Cruise, we remained in Lisbon (not yet on the ship) and did some sightseeing.

We started our day with a bus ride through the city and then arrived at the Belem Tower, which is a fortification from the 16th century and was a point of embarkation and disembarkation for Portugal. More info can be found here.

The Belem Tower of Lisbon / Tower of St. Vincent

From there, we moved on to Jeronimos Monastery, the former monastery for the Order of St. Jerome. In 1833 it was secularized and ownership was transferred to a charitable institution. In 1983 it was classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is awe-inspiring, to say the least!

A couple photos from on route to our next stop:

Lisbon Sculpture – Raccoon, I think
I don’t know what these flowers are, but they are beautiful!

We next visited a huge modern art installation by sculptor Joao Cutileiro, a well-known sculptor who contributed several pieces of modern public sculpture, including several female nudes, which were quite controversial at the time. His work marks the beginning of a new contemporary era in Portuguese public sculpture.

After our excursion we were on our own. While my travel buddies decided to visit St. George’s Castle, I chose to visit the National Tile Museum. We couldn’t get an Uber because our phone service was non-existent, so we tried our luck on local tourist transportation, which was a golf cart decorated with artificial flowers. Aloha.

After negotiating our smooth-operating driver from 50 down to 30 Euros for both stops, we all headed for St. George’s Castle, which meant driving along narrow streets that wound their way up, up, up the cobbled streets of Lisbon. It was nerve-wracking, to say the least. Once there, my travel buddies got off, which left me on my own for the remainder of the ride to the National Tile Museum. It. Was. Terrifying.

Going down the hill was much more death-defying than going up. We bumped along the cobbled streets, weaving left and right, winding down at what felt like break-neck speeds in that little cart! At one point I glanced at the speedometer and we were close to 40 mph! I really should have made him stop and let me off, but I was too terrified to even speak! I did manage to catch a couple of photos on the way though.

The National Museum of the Azulejo, or National Tile Museum, is dedicated to the traditional tilework of Portugal. I’m including a LOT of photos here, but there is so much more! I’m so glad I made this stop!

After the museum and castle, we all met back at the Hotel Tivoli, where we attempted to get a table at the rooftop restaurant, Seen, but we were too late. We took a quick walk through the outdoor bar, which was also full, but I got a few pics of the sky view – breathtaking!

In the end we decided to have a light dinner in the lobby restaurant, where I had a yummy chocolate martini and a bowl of seafood soup. It was the perfect ending to a busy day!

Day 1: Travel to Lisbon and Some Exploring

I recently had the opportunity to explore Portugal on a Viking River Cruise. Here is day one of the adventure!

Flying to Lisbon from the East Coast is an adventure in itself. I left Nashville at 2:35 pm and had a layover in Newark, where I met up with my friend Lee. We boarded our plane to Lisbon at about 7:00 pm and then after a short delay for a flight attendant medical emergency, we were on our way. Then, about half way through the flight (I’m guessing about timing because I was mostly asleep at this point) there was some shouting and people running to the front of the plane. What?

It was a passenger medical emergency, and we were somewhere over the Atlantic, so the only option was to ask if there was a doctor on board. Fortunately the passenger appeared to be okay, at least far as we could tell. As we disembarked the plane, she was seated in her wheelchair and there were paramedics checking her vitals. Hopefully she was okay and able to enjoy her time in Portugal.

The challenge with a trip like this is, of course, jet lag. When we arrived in Lisbon it was about 10:00 am the next morning, which meant our day was just starting after a long day and night of travel. And we couldn’t get into our rooms until 3:00 pm. We left our luggage at Hotel Tivoli Avenida Liberdade, where we would be staying for the first two nights, and then dragged our tired, selves out the door for a (very long) trek to TimeOut Market.

TimeOut Market is a huge food court that had soooo many options for our first meal in Portugal! There is an upper entertainment level, but we didn’t make it up there. I had a hard time deciding what to order because I was too tired and dehydrated to be hungry. But I ordered some shrimp with garlic, which was one of the recommendations Lee had read about and I figured it was safe for me. It was a dish of shrimp that was swimming in a delicious butter and garlic base and served with bread – to sop up the sauce. I didn’t get a pic of it, but there’s pic on the TimeOut Market website here. I would have loved it any other time, but I’m afraid it was lost on me this day. I also bought two bottles of water, which was really what I needed.

Some of the sites from our first day:

Over the Atlantic
There’s Portugal!
Typical suburban view – lots of muted colors and terracotta colored roofs
Monumento aos Mortos da Grande Guerra – Monument honoring those who gave their lives in World War I
Monument to the Restorers – erected in 1886 to honor the fighters for freedom and independence from Spain
Tiled walkway in Lisbon
Tribute to workers who added character to the public walkways in Portugal
Tiled building in Lisbon
Three Amigos – on the way to TimeOut Market
I couldn’t locate any information on this one, but it’s a closer look at the statue next to Three Amigos
Tiled entry at Time Out Market
Lee’s lunch – she was more brave than I. In her words “A francesinha – Bread, meats, cheese, egg, and a wonderful sauce.”