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Published: November 16th 2021
Lisbon proved to be a wonderful time, but the real reason for our trip with the Chef was just ahead. We conceived our voyage as one that involved food, fun and cruising on a river boat. The conversation started a few years ago at a restaurant in Burlingame, CA when the subject of "where would you like to travel" came up as usual. Brendan mentioned that a river boat cruise in northern Portugal would be quite the adventure. The idea sat on the back burner for a few years, but now the day was upon us, as we traveled north from Lisbon to Porto, where we would float on the Douro River for a week in the luxurious lap of a Tauck cruise.
And so, after four days of fun bouncing around Lisbon having a grand time, we found ourselves at the train station in Lisbon, eager to begin the next chapter. The train station was designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava in 1998 for the Lisbon Expo. A display of lovely architecture but the waiting areas were rather simple and didn't match the grandeur of the arches. We were only there a short while before boarding to head north
on a three-hour trip to Porto. We cannot say that we knew much about the city of Porto before actually arriving there, but it was a portal of sorts to a bigger type of fun. Our ride in the first class car provided internet access, so we used the time to catch up on emails and also continue writing our respective blogs. The time sailed by and we found ourselves in the Porto rail station in no time. We were met by a Tauck representative and transported to Le Monumental Palace Hotel in the heart of the city. How did we celebrate this? By immediately taking to the streets in search of the best hamburger in Porto. Google can be a wonderful search tool and it brought us to the perfect place to satisfy the "jones" for a beer and a burger. We relished the chance as we had been enjoying Spanish and Portuguese food for the last several weeks. At some point, you want to find some American comfort food and boy did we find it at Burger Point
! The place had blues music playing and served basically nothing but burgers and beer....nirvana!
On our walk back to
the hotel we dropped into a couple of trinket shops and snapped a few photos of prominent buildings. Most people would have immediately set out to explore Porto, but we knew that our first day on the boat would be a walking tour of the city, so we had no qualms about chasing a burger and beer....then some down time. We hit it pretty hard in Lisbon and wanted to be fresh for the cruise. The next day after a fine breakfast, we had some time before we were to board the boat, so we did what we've done more than a few times in a few cities....jumped on the "Hop-on hop-off" bus to get an overview of Porto. We cruised around under grayish skies and saw a fair amount of the city, fully well knowing that Porto had many old and narrow streets that the bus could never navigate, so we contented ourselves with a more circuitous route around Porto. The bus provided several scenic views along the route.
Shortly after completing the circuit, we returned to the hotel and later were transported to the Andorhina, the newest boat in the Tauck fleet. It was a beautiful river
vessel, newly christened in June and just setting out on its sixth sailing of the season due to, of course, the pandemic. We did something we don't usually do when we take this kind of trip. We selected the cheapest cabin. We have several friends who have taken riverboats and raved about the beautiful floor to ceiling window views from their cabins. Since we were going to travel for 6 weeks we decided to save as much money as possible on this leg of the trip. We were pleasantly surprised at how large the window in our basement cabin was and we didn't feel closed in. We had a bird's eye view of the water and it was fun. Early morning was our favorite when the birds were dive bombing for fish. They were fishing right outside our window. It was simply marvelous and brought us great joy. Toward the end of the week we arranged to see other cabins for future trips on Tauck. We've got to say the other rooms are very, very nice. None of them are much bigger than the room we were in but the window was. We suspect if we had ever had the
full window and then taken a cabin in the basement we might have been disappointed but never having had it we were perfectly content. As a matter of fact on future trips with Tauck we will likely room in the basement again. It was a nice view of the water. We decided that if we get a room with the full window we would want to be on the 2nd floor rather than the top floor as you are closer to the water. We were surprised that the top floor was the most expensive. Tauck is a lovely river boat and we recommend them. Tauck Cruise & Loving the Locks
The week that followed was on a fairly grand scale.....for many reasons. We got to unpack for the first time in three plus weeks, relax on a fine vessel where the crew treated us exceptionally well, hung out with Brendan, ate way too much food and met most of the other passengers, as there were only 41 guests that week. The boat holds about twice that many, but remember, we're still emerging from COVID and travel is still nowhere near back to full scale. Bully for us as
it allowed the feeling of never being crowded on the boat. Almost all of the passengers were from the U.S. as the company caters to Americans. Which for us was the only downside as we would have enjoyed a more diverse group.We had the opportunity to spend time with most of the passengers and enjoyed their company. Because the ship was half empty, Tauck offered employees a discount if they wanted to take a vacation. We believe there were 8 Tauck staff vacationing and it was great talking with them and hearing their perspectives. Without them there would have only been 33 guests on the boat.
The actual cruise itself is not that far distance-wise, but you go through six locks on the way to the Spanish border and of course, repeat it on the way back. The locks were built to make the river more navigable and allow for the port and wine to be shipped easier. A once somewhat tricky and raging river was calmed by the locks, which were enjoyable to move through on a boat that was designed and built to just fit inside the locks. Our captain was skilled and impressive! He rocked the
locks! This river is shallow in places and has many boulders to avoid.... he did a fantastic job avoiding all of them. This boat does not sail at night due to the boulders and hazards of the Douro River.
Food is important to us when we travel as it gives a true look into the culture in each country. So many memories growing up are of the foods we shared with family and our traditions. Local foods that we grew up with comfort us. We were eager to see what local foods Portugal held and how similar or different it would be from Spain. The ship Andorinha served breakfast and lunch upstairs in the Compass Room and dinner downstairs in the Panorama Room. Each day you could go to Arthur's which is their casual dining room. Breakfast and lunch offered a buffet as well as the ability to order off the menu. At dinner we selected our meals from a choice of three for each course. No one went hungry on this boat. The food was lovely and the service was beyond reproach. Food presentation was spectacular! All of the soups were fantastic! We feel a bit reticent to
mention the small issues we had with food but if you take the trip we want you to know our experience. We do not intend this to sound like a complaint but we want to be descriptive. When the boat is half capacity you expect the food to be exceptional. A couple of examples were consistently over cooked fish, eggs benedict served cold, a scallop appetizer that was delightful but the smallest scallop we'd ever seen with risotto. Our last trip before the world shut down was on Quark and the food wowed us at each meal. We would expect Tauck to compare to Quark. Since this is a brand new ship we think they are working the kinks out. We sampled new wines at each dinner and enjoyed the high level of service provided. Tauck is a great experience and we will be back. Brendan quickly made new friends with the staff and was invited back to the kitchen to see how they prepared the daily repasts. Portugese Culture
Tauck did a great job of providing a daily schedule and educating us on Portugal's culture and history. We learned about the importance of swallows in Portuguese culture.
They have become symbols of home, love and faithfulness. All around Portugal you will see buildings adorned with colorful ceramic tiles which in addition to being attractive also serve to cool the interiors. This part of the world is a fishing culture and you'll find fresh seafood everywhere. To prolong the life of the sardines and other fish, they have perfected canning of these valuable resources. In this part of the world they have a lot of salted cod which is practical but did not become a favorite of ours. Almonds are an important commodity and you'll find the hillsides covered with acres of these trees. The Douro River Valley is famous for its terraced hillsides planted in grapevines, almond and olive trees. It is a spectacular site. The tiered hillsides reminded us of the terraced rice fields in Bali and other Asian locations. It offers stunning beauty. UNESCO has honored many locations in this area. Not to repeat ourselves but the Douro River Valley is stunning with interesting geology, a scenic winding river, fertile terraced hillsides and quaint towns. We were a bit surprised by the variety of rocks and......
Each day brought choices for excursions and some
Yes...they built most fortified towns on a hill
days it was difficult to decide which one we wanted to take. Here are some towns and villages along the Douro River and you can do the research on the ones that sound interesting to you. Each town was quaint and held a lot of history.... Peso de Regua, Pinhao, Castelo Redrigo, Pocinho, Pinhao, Guimaraes, and Amarante. If you'd like more information on any town please send us a message but Guimaraes was one of our favorites. When we returned from our outings we had a daily social gathering and cocktails before dinner. In the evenings local performers were brought on to sing and dance in some locations. We had an on ship pianist singer that kept people partying into the wee hours of the morning. The staff held trivia nights, cooking classes, history lessons, star gazing, and offered bloody mary parties and chocolate fondue extravaganzas. They have plenty of entertainment to meet everyones needs.
Portugal is well known for its fabulous Port. We visited Quinta Da Pacheca vineyard to hear the history of this vineyard, growing and production in the Douro Valley and were invited inside for a cocktail making class. We had a blast! We made 3
Portonics to the rescue!
White port, tonic water, rosemary and mint
local cocktails which we hope to enjoy in the future. We've found that we like white Port and will be making cocktails with this in the future. Another time we had fine dining experience off the boat in Peso da Regua. Fado music played as we were served an amazing four course meal. Our taste buds were dancing that night! Tauck really puts a lot of thought into providing a grand experience along the Douro.
Disembarking the boat was a little sad as we had enjoyed our time and the people we met, but it was time to move on....there was more to see on our journey back south towards Lisbon. We had originally planned to stay an additional night in Porto, but nixed that plan as we'd seen all we wanted to at that point. We realize that it is a port city on the Atlantic, but needs more warmth and charm. With that knowledge, we shifted gears and decided that the lovely city of Coimbra would be our next stop. Coimbra, Portugal
Coimbra scores highly on the cute factor for European towns and we were eager to see it. But first....an encounter with the rental
Hor d'oeuvre anyone?
Just a little something during the social hour
car counter at the Porto airport took upwards of an hour just to claim our vehicle due to high volume, low staffing and computers that kept shutting down. It proved to be only the first dismal rental care experience we were subjected to.... The drive to Coimbra was smooth, thanks to Portugal's great road systems. We found this true throughout the country. The two hour drive between Porto and Coimbra didn't offer much scenery.... I guess we got spoiled with the beauty of the Douro. We arrived in the early afternoon in Coimbra and strolled the city a bit before retiring to our rooms for a short rest. Nearing sunset, we went to the roof of the hotel and enjoyed a stunning view of this quaint university town and visiting with Brendan, one of the world's best travel companions. Coimbra is perhaps best known for its university, which has more than 20,000 students. We enjoyed visiting the famous and magnificent library as well as the chapel before leaving town and it was spectacular. If we make it back to Portugal we will spend a few days in Coimbra. Add this town to your list. Big Waves in Nazare
The next day found us resuming our drive south, with stops in Nazare and Obidos. We'd discovered Nazare a few months ago on a documentary and had to stop in and check it out. Nazare is perhaps best known for its 100-foot waves. As we were there in October, the waves were normal size. Hard to imagine waves that tall, but in February and March they come and are most likely quite spectacular. It proved to be a cute beach town where we had a great seafood lunch at a local place before pressing on. Obidos and a flat tire!
A short drive later and we were near Obidos. Like most ancient cities, it was a walled affair on top of a substantial hill. This is a UNESCO village and high on the cute factor. We took the car up a few steep serpentine-like curves before coming upon a parking area. We walked a short distance from there. On one of the curves as we headed to the top, we had to stop on a steep incline because of a stopped car in front of us. This was stressful. With a manual transmission facing a large grade, the
The flatest of tires.....
Not what you want when you're traveling!
tires spun loosing their grip and smoked just a bit as they tried to gain traction on the steep climb. It was a harbinger of things to come.... We wandered about in this cute town, which was still nice despite the fact that it was a tourist trap. Lots of shops hawking local things and trinkets. Before leaving, we found a wine shop where we bought a bottle and also found some other munchies which would become dinner, but not until later. On the way out of town, the car started to wobble a bit and we pulled off to discover that the right front tire was quite flat. No worries....we'll just put the spare on and worry about the rest tomorrow. Wait! There is no spare....really? There was a tire inflator but this would do us little good as the sidewall of the tire had blown out in about three spots. After some phone sleuthing, we found the number for road assistance and then we sat and waited for about an hour for a tow truck and a cab, which would take us to our digs for the night. We arrived at our airbnb shortly after sunset to a
Street musician in Coimbra
This guy had some serious pipes!
very nice place with a stunning view of the Atlantic in the distance.This was one of the nicer airbnb's we've ever stayed in.... 2 bedroom, lovely kitchen, with a large living and dining area. We also had an outdoor seating area on the patio over looking an amazing estuary. Sunset was a treat. We were happy, but sad...as this was Brendan's last night. He was to be scooped up at 3:00 in the morning for a ride to the Lisbon airport. It was a grand adventure and good to get the band back together.... We were sad that we didn't have the few hours we expected to have lounging around this beautiful waterfront property we had rented before Brendan left. Our time had been spent waiting on the tow truck. We were sad that we didn't get to go to a grocery store and cook a fine last meal to share with our travel buddy. We were thankful we had bought a bottle of wine and a couple of munchies at the wine shop because that and a bag of potato chips became our meal. Frustration continues...
We spent most of the next day frustrated dealing with the
rental car company getting the cab to take us an hour to the Lisbon airport so we could pick up a new rental. What a waste of our time. We did not depart the rental counter until after 1:00 in the afternoon. By the time we got our new vehicle, found a market near where we lived and arrived back, it was almost 4:00. Turns out, cars are sold in Europe without spares more often than one would think. Not sure we buy that plan. Happy to say that at least we were on an extended holiday and this one day didn't dent our travel time too much in the big scheme of things.... but we were not happy. Lisbon and Onward
Our final day in Portugal found us returning the rental car, checking into our hotel and walking a short distance to get a COVID test. So follow along for a moment....you can go from the U.S. to Spain without a test if you can prove you are vaccinated, but cannot fly from Portugal to Spain without a COVID test. Almost 90 percent of Portugal is vaccinated, compared to less than 60 percent of Americans. This makes
little sense, but there's nothing you can do about it. The good news here is that you can get tested for free in Portugal. All in all, not a bad deal, right? But it was time to return to Spain for the final leg of our journey....next stop...Barcelona.
Restaurants Recommended: Burger Point, Porto
We highly recommend: Tauck Cruises
Places we stayed: Porto: Le Monumental Palace Hotel
Guimaraes: Restaurant Historico
Coimbra: The Oslo Hotel
Foz Do Arelho (near Obidos): Airbnb
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