06.14.2019 - 06.29.2019
Oh Portugal, we wanted to love you. But as I sit on our balcony in Porto looking at the Douro River covered in fog and clouds I am in wool socks and a down jacket while the rest of Europe is in a heat wave. Your beauty is undeniable, your people are friendly and speak English, your residency requirements are easy but your food and your weather (two of the most important aspects for us) leave a bit to be desired.
FUN FACTS ABOUT PORTUGAL
Like much of Europe, the cable TV has American content. Unlike most of Europe, it is not dubbed but rather subtitled in Portuguese! As a result, many people learn English from TV and almost everyone here speaks some English. It doesn't hurt that they get a ton of British tourists.
Coimbra is home to one of the oldest universities in Europe and the students here still wear the traditional cloaks. They inspired J.K. Rowling to cloak her Harry Potter characters in similar ones.
Portugal is hilly, mountainous even. We had no idea that virtually the entire country is rolling hills and a range of mountains that even my parents from Colorado were impressed by. Makes for beautiful scenery and challenging walks!
The Portuguese have a serious animosity/inferiority complex towards the Spanish. I can't tell you how many times I heard some disparaging remark about the Spanish - usually said in that "I'm kidding" sort of way where they're really not. Apparently it comes from the many wars and battles between the two historically but I'm thinking in modern times it's also a bit of a defense mechanism to say "hey - we might be small but we count!" Conversely, I'm not sure the Spanish think about the Portuguese much except maybe as a nice place to visit.
Lisbon is a beautiful, historic, and very hilly city worthy of a visit if you find yourself in Portugal. Built among seven hills on the Tagus River, the city spreads up from Praça do Comércio (Commercial Plaza - above) onto each of the hills with the São Jorge Castle dominating the view.
And through the Rua Augusta Arch (which you can and should go to the top of) into the pedestrian streets of Baixa.
The streets of the oldest quarters are narrow, winding things while the newer areas are full of wide boulevards. The oldest area and the only one to survive the massive Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 is called Alfama and the "streets" and stairwells are a maze of history. The best way to see it is on foot, via the trolleys that navigate its "wider" streets, and the ever present tuk-tuks that zoom up and down the hills.
Hold on! Those tub-tuk drivers are crazy!
If you can, time your visit for June. During the entire month Lisboa è Festa is underway with open area parties organized in each neighborhood almost every night. The streets are festooned with streamers and there are open-air food and bar stands and of course sardines over wood fires!
In the evenings, at the bigger ones, there is live music and dancing.
We stayed in the neighborhood called Barrio Alto where a party begins every night about 10 PM and lasts well into the morning. It's a fun vibe with everyone standing in the streets drinking and socializing. The bars are tiny and really just there to house the live music and serve the drinks. The party is in the streets.
VIKING RIVER CRUISE ON THE DOURO
My parents joined us in Lisbon and we began our touring with Viking of the Douro River. It was so nice to spend the week with them and share the experiences and travel. SO glad they could come! As I write this, they are now in Barcelona exploring that city before another cruise in the Mediterranean. Now as ever, they are our role models!
Before leaving Lisbon, we visited the Belem Tower and the Jerónimos Monastery. We also toured Alfama and took a tuk-tuk ride (see picture above).
The highlight though was the river itself. Divided into three main sections, the first closest to Porto and the most developed, the second that has the majority of vineyards for port and wine, and the third that is highlighted by narrow gorges, it is some of the most beautiful scenery we have seen.
Part of the fun is going through the five locks along the river. A first for Scott and I, it was really cool!
My parents did the included tours every single day but Scott and I only made it to a few. The ones we did we really enjoyed: a trip to the Aveleda Winery, the Mateus Palace at Regua, and Salamanca.
QUINTA da AVELEDA
I have been drinking Vinho Verde from AvEleda since I was in my twenties so when I saw it was on the itinerary I had to go. It was a beautiful trip as the winery is set amongst rolling romantic gardens that had their hydrangea collection in full bloom.
I made Scott pose with this one so you could see they are bigger than his head!
It was also filled with lakes and little buildings that were beautiful.
And the cellar tour and wine tasting was very interesting!
MATEUS PALACE AND GARDENS
This is a picturesque palace with an amazing formal rose garden. Lucky us! June is roses month!
The furthest point on the river that we traveled to was only five kilometers from the Spanish border. As a result, we took a day trip to Salamanca, Spain. And for the record, it was warm and sunny and the food was great! Haha! Serendipitously, Scott and I were also able to re-up our phone plans and pick up some medicine.
Salamanca is a beautiful city they call the "gold city" because it is built out of sandstone that oxidizes into a beautiful gold color.
Another highlight is one of the oldest Roman bridges in Europe.
Definitely put this on your radar for a visit to Spain and/or Portugal. I wished we had more time there.
AND NOW FOR A LITTLE HONESTY...
I've learned to never say never but it will be a very long time before we do another river cruise. Although I was skeptical going in, I tried to keep an open mind. Many of you have heard me say I'd never do a cruise (remember never say never) but I thought it would be a great way to spend time with my parents so when they suggested it, we went for it. You've seen the good parts of the cruise above. The river was beautiful and peaceful. The places we visited pretty and interesting. But...
It was a shock to our systems. After being just the two of us for so long, we were thrust into a group of 103 other people in close quarters who were all on their vacation and anxious to chat and get to know each other. It was like going from the hot tub to the snow bank! After getting our schedule down for so many months, you know waking up late, sitting about until noon, exploring our surroundings leisurely, we found ourselves in a world where the perky voice of your program director comes into your stateroom at 8:30 AM reminding you your tour is leaving in fifteen minutes, getting on buses, getting off buses, following a tour guide with a little sign as you speed past the highlights, having the tour guide talking in your ear constantly through the wonders of the audio earpieces, and having every waking moment scheduled. From the time you eat, to the time you socialize, to the times you are entertained, it is all scheduled. We just don't do schedules anymore and it was really disconcerting.
Add to that, Scott was sick most of the time and stuck in the stateroom. He was miserable. The internet was mediocre so he didn't have much to do except binge-watch Clint Eastwood movies (the only real TV station they had was having a marathon apparently). Not sure what it is with him and boats but his track record is not good! This left me on my own to navigate this new and strange world and it had the makings of disaster. In the end, I opted out of a lot of tours and activities and just enjoyed being on the ship alone while everyone was gone. I woke up late, made my own schedule, and recharged for the return of my new 103 best friends. And here I have to give a shout out to the group of six Brits that adopted me the last two days. If you guys are reading this, you know who you are. If not for them, I'm not sure how I would have made it to the end without a total meltdown. So a HUGE thank you to their generosity and kindness. And also to the bartender and musician who gave some semblance of normalcy to my evenings.
I DID get to spend some good, quality time with my parents, though not as much as you might think given the long bus rides and crazy schedules. Next time, I think we should just rent an apartment and hang out together! For sure the food would be better if we cooked it ourselves. We thought the one thing we could count on was a cruise having good food but this cruise even undermined that assumption. My parents and Scott assure me it's better on the big boats but I remain skeptical. And now back to our regularly scheduled programming.
The cruise departed and arrived back to Porto and Scott and I are spending another four nights here before heading to France.
It's our favorite city in Portugal as it combines the beauty of the tiled buildings and narrow pedestrian streets with a sizable city built around the riverfront. Oh, and it doesn't hurt we're off the boat and into our own apartment.
So far we've ventured to the grocery store and to the local cafe but mostly are sitting on our porch catching up on life.
If we ever get out and about exploring before we leave, I'll post a few more pictures.
I really would be remiss though if before I close I didn't mention the amazing Portuguese tiles called Azulejos. They cover the outsides of buildings, the inside and outside of churches and palaces, they are decoration and story-telling. There is even an amazing museum dedicated to them in Lisbon. For 500 years they have been a part of the story of Portugal and their development over that period is a story unto itself and an interesting one at that.
Well the fog has burned off and the sun is out and themes are warming. Time to end and get out and about for awhile. Don't forget to follow us @arrradventures on Instagram for more frequent updates. Next up, Montpellier France and our plans for the fall!