Toto, I don’t think we’re in Porto any more

It takes about half-an-hour to get from the Porto dock to the airport and our flight from Porto to Madrid was scheduled to leave at 12:20pm, so I was surprised when the ship told us that they’d arranged a 6:30am transfer to the airport. I’m paranoid, but not that paranoid – so I got them to change it to 9am, which let us have a civilized breakfast and say goodbye to friends before departing.

We got to the airport at 9:30 and went to the check-in counter listed on the departure board. It was marked for Transavia instead of Iberia, and the agent told me that we couldn’t check in there. Some friends on the flight figured it out – the gate would change ownership 2 hours before flight time. So we hung around waiting for the magic to happen. Eventually, it did.

There were several other long lines ahead of us, but we had plenty of time and eventually made ourselves at home in the lounge to have one last sampling of Port.

We got to Madrid and got into the long taxi line; it moved quickly, and I was very happy to learn that there’s a fixed 30 Euro fare between the airport and the central city.

Madrid is a big city; it reminds me of Paris, but with more fountains and bigger roundabouts. And it’s hotter.

We hadn’t had lunch, so we wanted an early dinner; I was afraid that might be difficult, since it was still siesta time, but the concierge here at the Westin Palace pointed us to Oven Mozzarella and we had pizza and wine for dinner. Possibly too much wine; we got the Juan Gil Jumilla, which was 15% ABV instead of the 11-12% we’d been drinking…and we finished the bottle. The pizza was good, and the decor was interesting – especially in the bathroom area, where the sinks were not immediately obvious (at least not after finishing the wine).

We decided to go to the Botanical Garden instead of going into a museum – but the whole city is really a museum of architecture and history. There was a monument to the architects of the Gran Via (the big street that our restaurant was on), showing the buildings in 3D.

We passed a plaque dedicated to Franz Liszt.

We walked by the Prado.

The Botanical Garden was very pleasant, even if there weren’t as many flowers as I would have liked. We saw interesting birds, though, as well as an “insect hotel”.

We left the Garden a little after 8:30, and the streets were hopping, and they got busier as we walked to Eccolo Gelato and then back to the hotel, passing the Congress of Deputies’ building on the way.

Tomorrow, we’re off to Segovia.

A hot time in Porto

Today, we had a choice of two Porto tours; we took the “Hiking Tour” which spanned about 3.5 miles.

We started by walking from our ship to the lower level of the Luis I Bridge; it was a national holiday and people were out in droves. We had to stop for kayakers on their way to the water.

As we walked towards the bridge, we saw the replica ribeiro boats that are sponsored by the various Port houses; they are raced once a year on St. John’s Day in late June, and the winning house has bragging rights for a year.

We crossed the bridge easily – they are replacing the pavement on the lower level, so there were no cars to contend with. Once we were on the Porto side, I was able to find our ship, the AmaDouro.

Our guide, Peter, took us through what had become familiar territory – along the riverside, past the statue of Henry the Navigator and the Bolsa, to Rua de Flores where our hotel was, and up to the old Jewish Quarter.

We stopped briefly at Lello Bookstore to admire the line; I got a photo of the ceiling. Maybe we’ll visit next time.

We stopped by the most beautiful McDonald’s in the world (according to our guide) – it had been the Cafe Imperial and the city had landmarked it, so McDonald’s was not allowed to alter the exterior or the interior. They did, however, install self-service kiosks which did not improve the appearance of the restaurant.

Of course, no self-respecting Porto tour could avoid stopping inside the São Bento train station. Our guide told us about the artist who made all the tiles and recounted the story told on each wall.

This visit, I was able to get a better view of the mural showing Henry the Navigator coming ashore in Ceuta in northern Africa.

We took a shortcut through the Metro station to get to the Cathedral square; Peter showed us one of the navigation signs for pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago.

We crossed the upper deck of the Luis I bridge to get back to Vila Nova de Gaia. We took the cable car back down to the riverside.

The final stop on the morning tour was a Port tasting at Cálem. We learned even more about the making of Port and admired the huge barrels before getting to taste a couple of glasses (in our case, “Fine White” and “Special Reserve” Tawny).

We liked Cálem’s Port more than the other places we visited, so we bought some to bring home, airlines willing.

It was a very hot day, so I suspect most people stayed on or near the ship to benefit from the air conditioning. Not us – we crossed the bridge yet again to visit the Igreja de São Francisco. We’d passed it several times; today, our guide told us that there were many pounds of gold leaf on the walls of the church and that it was well worth the visit even though photography wasn’t allowed.

We started our tour in the museum, which is located in the “Casa do Despacho da Ordem Terceira de São Francisco” (the Dispatch House). The chapels there are modest compared to the church itself, but they’re not that modest.

The catacombs are on the lower level, complete with an ossuary.

The Order ran its business from this building; we stopped in their conference room.

The main church was, as advertised, stunning. I saw other people sneaking photographs with their cell phones, so I decided to do the same. It’s probably only a venial sin, right?

We crossed the bridge again to return to the ship. We were very hot and thirsty; there was a bar that also advertised fresh-squeezed lemonade, so we bought some. The ingredients were juice from two freshly-squeezed lemons and water. No sugar. It was tart.

There were a couple of tunas performing on the sidewalk – we only stayed around long enough to hear the women singing. Did I mention it was hot?

We packed (mostly) and had dinner. There were fewer people in the dining room than most nights, probably because there have been a few Covid cases (I know of three) and those people are now isolating in a hotel.

Sunset was glorious.

Tomorrow, we leave for Madrid.

Shabbat Shalom!


We arrived in Vila Nova de Gaia and docked during the gala farewell dinner; Porto and the river were still beautiful.

Our after-dinner entertainment tonight was a musical group, the Tuna de Contabilidade do Porto, a group of students from the Instituto Superior de Contabilidade e Administração do Porto. They were great – we bought one of their CDs.

For one song, they went through the room putting student capes on the most beautiful women; Diane was, of course, one of them.

Now I know where the Sandeman cape comes from.

Sailing back to Porto

Technically, we’re sailing to Vila Nova de Gaia because that’s were Ama docks, but it’s just across the river from Porto proper. Vila Nova de Gaia is also a much bigger city than Porto, but Porto has the reputation!

This morning, we had a short sailing from Pinhão to Régua; along the way, I admired some of the riverside residences like this one.

We had to traverse two locks today; the first was at the Bagaúste Dam; I went up to the Sun Deck in time to see the Captain on the bridge.

A few minutes later, they made all the passengers go below for safety – the last thing I saw was the Captain’s head above the bridge!

Our landing at Régua was to let us visit Lamego and climb the 686 steps up to the Santuário de Nossa Senhora dos Remédios. Part of the staircase was under construction, so we only had to walk the top half of the stairs. We still got some great views and enjoyed the tile murals at the landings.

The inside of the church was spectacular, too; the ceiling was lovely.

We took the bus down to a wine tasting (yes, another one!) and then walked around town for half-an-hour before returning to the ship for lunch.

We sailed past the Sandeman statue on their estate at Quinta do Seixo; I guess we won’t be visiting them this trip.

As I write this, we’ve just cleared the last lock of the journey at the Carrapatelo Dam, the highest lock in Europe; I’m so jaded by locks that I didn’t even go outside to watch the passage, so there are no photos.

It’s time to get ready for the farewell cocktail hour and dinner, so I will sign off for tonight.