Drinking, Dining and Sailing in the Douro River Valley

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October 18th 2021
Published: January 4th 2022
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After the incredible first night on the ship, I woke up ready to get this adventure underway. We met for breakfast where we had the options of made to order breakfast items as well as a breakfast buffet. Breakfast is not something I normally eat, but I did enjoy the coffee and some blueberry pancakes. Once we were through, we went to the lounge to get our VOX headsets so we would be able to hear the guides through earpieces as we toured. And then, it was time to swipe off and disembark for a ride on a replica of a Rabelo the flat bottom boats traditionally used to carry port from the vineyards to the warehouses along the shores of the Douro.

The day was gray, gloomy, drizzly, and quite reminded me of being home in the Seattle area. I had my rain slicker, so was set for anything. Yes, in addition to packing all my dress clothes and shoes, I was able to shoehorn a rain parka into my suitcase. Truly, this packing was an engineering feat. The cool air and quiet calm on the top deck of the boat felt nice after being indoors so much. We
Quinta da Pacheca Quinta da Pacheca Quinta da Pacheca

Cocktail class
left the ship and took a walking tour through the quiet streets of Porto. Being a rainy Sunday morning, the city was not yet out in the streets. As we saw on our first days here, Porto is grittier and seems to have been hit by the pandemic downturn more than Lisbon; however, it had its own charm with splashes of color and whimsy. Slowly we passengers started snippets of conversation with each other, reaching out of the safety net of our own cluster. Dave, Merry Jo and I had agreed that we wanted to meet others and we were welcome to invite interesting people to dine with us and, since I am writing this after the fact, I can say that we had dinners with some very fun, interesting people. We walked up and around, and finally over one of the large bridges over the river where we met up with the rest of our group at a restaurant overlooking the valley. Greeted with Port-Tonics, life was good as we sat chatting and stretching our social boundaries. The Port-Tonic was quite lovely. (That was one of my words of the trip- lovely) It was refreshing and something I would
Quinto do PortalQuinto do PortalQuinto do Portal

The amazing oxtail
enjoy drinking on a hot summer day. I made a mental note for the Ladies Invitational back at work. Yes, this would be perfect.

Back aboard the Andorinha, we went for lunch. I was quite enamored with how they present hot food on the buffet. Rather than chafing dishes or something similar, bulky and pedestrian, they chose beautiful metal pans arranged on an induction top. It was a great solution to the common buffet “runway” while keeping the food nicer because the pans could easily be swapped out when needed. Yeah, I was impressed with the level of detail. While dining, we set sail heading East towards Spain. Due to how shallow and rocky the Douro is, ships can only sail during daylight hours. No, I didn’t know this, but yes, it made sense.

As we worked our way down the river to the first overnight stop, I went to a cooking class in the lounge. We were shown how to make a classic Porto dish called Portuguese Francesinha, a monster of a sandwich with steak, sausage, ham, cheese, an egg and tomato sauce. It was very good and, of course, the class was a lot of fun. The Hotel Manager is a Slovakian man who goes by the name of Rusty. He has a wonderful dry sense of humor and was someone I sought out to talk with during the cruise. Having taught many cooking classes, it was great fun to participate as an audience member. I did have to stop myself from jumping up to assist in passing out samples to the class. As one says, you can take the chef out of the kitchen, but you can’t take the kitchen out of the chef. Overall, this class and a luxurious nap afterwards made for a perfect afternoon.

That night the ship docked at the town of Peso da Regua. Dinner was atristic and delicious with Codfish Fritters and Braised Beef Cheeks. Both were home runs, and again, since I am writing this after the fact, I can say that I served the Codfish Fritters on a Winemaker Dinner at work last month. Good chefs borrow, great chefs steal! Lol After dinner there was a Bananas Foster and ice cream station up in the lounge, where we all mingled. The entertainment of the evening was Andorinha’s Got Talent. Crew Members performed for us, and they were very good. It is nice to put a personal touch onto the faces of the crew we see each day.

Day 3 of the trip started with a coach ride up to Quinta da Pacheca vineyard for a tour and cocktail making class. I can honestly say that until this trip, I had very little knowledge of Port. This tour was not only educational, but a lot of fun with beautiful views. After the tour, we went to a banquet room for our port cocktail making class. At our table was a lovely lady from Houston and a couple from Half Moon Bay in the SF area. We talked, laughed, made our drinks and truly had a fun afternoon. At one point I had someone’s phone to take pictures of the port bottle labels, so when she wasn’t looking, I took a very Brendan-eques goofy selfie. As she was checking the pictures to make sure they came out, she burst out laughing. Truthfully, I should have had her air drop it to me, but we were laughing so hard that I didn’t. Although I told her that she could delete it, she ended up saving it. I think sometimes we all need something goofy to remember and smile about. I ordered 2 cases of port to be shipped to work for the golf season next year. Having that personal touch will add a nice memory when the tournament happens.

Back on board, we set sail toward the town of Pinhao and were soon entering one of the largest locks in Portugal. There are 6 locks that we will pass through on this sailing, but this one was a whopper, raising us 104 feet. The Andorinha was designed for these locks by having the captain’s wheelhouse lower by several feet, and the restaurant at the aft of the ship able to lower via hydraulics to give enough clearance. On the Sun Deck Dave, Merry Jo and I were enjoying our Locktails, specialty drinks that were fun, although a little too sweet for my taste as the ship cleared the bridge by only a foot and a half. I love how something as simple as going through a lock is an Event onboard. And yes, I meant to capitalize the “e”. As we cleared the lock and bridge we could see a crowd of people on the bridge watching as the newest ship on the river sailed away.

Dinner this evening was a coach excursion to Quinto do Portal. We were taken up to the vineyard where we were greeted with white port tonics, a nearly full moon, and a stunning view over the vineyards. Sitting at a large family style table, we had some of the best food of the trip. I was seriously impressed with this event. Merry Jo and David steered us to a large family style table as far away from the live music as we could get; this evening was to be about food, conversation and laughs, so we wanted to be able to hear each other well.

Far too often food designed to look pretty is just that-pretty. This food, however, was not only beautiful, but each item was filled with flavor. First up was a sampler trio followed by a scallop and Jerusalem Artichoke puree. The main course was a braised oxtail with celery and pear puree. Braised foods are my favorite to make as well as to enjoy. That is why I’m known as Brendan “the Braiser” Vermillion, at least in my own mind. Ok, so I also used that for a cooking class at my previous job. I may put up the class pamphlet in the photo section if I am feeling sassy. Dessert was designed to complement the port and had sweet rice and cinnamon. As the chef, and a very young-looking chef at that, was walking the dining room, Merry Jo asked if I could please see the kitchen and explained that I, too, am a chef. He was more than happy to take me back, and when I asked if I could take a picture with him, he did something that impressed me even more than the food. He brought the whole kitchen crew over to join us in the photo. This showed me that he is a leader and values those who work with him. The chef may be the face of the operation, but the crew is what makes it function. I emailed him when I was home to pass on my observations and we have stayed connected through email. The bond of chefs is tight. This evening turned out to be one of the most memorable of the whole trip. Perhaps I shouldn’t say that in case you decide to not read the following blogs, but I am confident that you might. Until then, ciao.

Additional photos below
Photos: 56, Displayed: 28


Group shotGroup shot
Group shot

There were two options most days, so we chose the walking tour.
Lock on the Duoro 2Lock on the Duoro 2
Lock on the Duoro 2

This was definitely something interesting with water dripping, and gates raising.

4th January 2022
Quinta da Pacheca

Look... another vineyard.
What a great day .... and a marvelous friend.
4th January 2022
Quinta da Pacheca

Look at how darn happy we are
This is a perfect picture of how we spent the trip.
4th January 2022
Even the moon came to dinner

Looking great!
You were the best dressed person on the trip. You look very nice dressed up.
4th January 2022
Even the moon came to dinner

Thank you so much
It was nice to dress up for a change.
4th January 2022

Drinking, Dining and Sailing
What a trip it was and your summary is excellent! I enjoyed the entire trip but the cocktail making was great fun. Portugal is a beautiful country and wonderful people. Thanks for sharing the adventure.
4th January 2022

I think there was more drinking and dining than sailing
Thank you so much. It was a trip of memories and fun times. I can't wait for our next adventure.
23rd January 2022

Amazing Food and Wine
It looks as though you are in your element here, Brendan - travelling, and being surrounded by amazing food and drink. How nice it must be to be on the receiving end of the food, and I imagine it would also have inspired your work back home. Travel is indeed an amazing form of education ?
24th January 2022

So Very True
Thank you Alex. You are so correct. This week, I am speaking at the Rotary lunch to talk about traveling as a chef, and how to dig deeper into a new country through food.
14th May 2022
Cod Croquettes

Braiser Brenno
Ok I think I need a break from your blogs until I can control my drooling. The food looks more than delicious! I can never say no to croquettes on a menu, and I love when it's served with something earthy and peppery like rocket leaves (I think you call it arugula?). I also love how you are inspired by your travels - how did the port tonics work out? I've never heard of them and given we have a vast collection of ports at home, I'll definitely try this next summer :)
9th August 2022
Cod Croquettes

No on big cruise, Yes on river cruise
I would sooner zip-line into a volcano than take a mega cruise, but this was perfect for me. We had the "Roam around the world" event at work, and the port tonics were a hit. Heck, I enjoyed one while sweating it out in the kitchen.

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