A Cruise Through the Douro Valley

Sometimes when you take a risk and go with a hotel's recommendation for a great day, even if the eight page uninspiring brochure is all in Portuguese with no photos, you can be in for a pleasant surprise. Today we experienced just that on a river boat on the Douro River in Portugal.

We headed out quite early to meet our group and stopped in the Imperial McDonalds. Built in an Art Deco style building, it is known for being the most elegant McDonalds in the world. With marble floors, painted tiles on the walls, and chandeliers, it is also a place where the old meets the new. Two large ordering stations in the shape of iPhones help speed orders and payment along.

Our tour group rode the train for two hours to Regua, deep in the Douro Valley. As soon as we exited the train, we were deluged with people selling straw hats. The faster the group hustled away, the faster they moved calling out in Portuguese, "Two for five euro." Some people even ended up with the hats on their heads.  Approaching the dock, we expected a small excursion boat with plastic chairs and tables. Instead, we sailed on a long sleek river boat with three levels and panoramic windows. While we knew lunch was included, we expected a make your own sandwich and crisps buffet, but instead it was a sit down lunch at tables with white linens and waiters. Lunch was vegetable purée soup, roast beef, roasted vegetables and potatoes, and layered chocolate torte.  We exchanged travel and teaching stories with two primary teachers from Switzerland who spoke perfect English. We found out that in Switzerland, children in the mountains east walk to and from school a half hour each way four times a day: to and from school and to home and back for lunch even on a cold windy day. When you graduate, your absences are written on your diploma.

The Douro River is the birthplace of Port wine. We passed terraced landscape with white stucco houses with red tiled roofs and rows and rows of grapes vines or olive and almond trees. There are 4,000 wine makers in a 50 mile stretch along the river. Along our journey we came to two major locks. It was so interesting to watch the engineering to raise and lower the ship.

Tonight we had dinner at Abadia. It's a family friendly place with old world charm. We ordered their specialty, grilled cod with roasted potatoes and peppers. Our waiter brought it to us on a platter and prepared our plates for us.   Europe is definitely more casual in the summer. I looked around and saw one man wearing scrubs with palm trees and monkeys on the shirt, and another woman who looked like she had just painted her house. At one table, twelve Germans kept giving toasts by raising their glasses in song. We noticed the manager signaling to them to tone it down.

Tonight we walked around the pedestrian zone and talked about how surprised we had been at the nice cruise. After taking a risk on an inexpensive excursion and expecting it to be be a tiny one level excursion ship, our biggest surprise was when we discovered our river boat appears in the lead photo of our blog two days ago.  This summer the dollar goes far in Portugal. We wish we could stay in Porto longer. Tomorrow we are off to Spain.


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