Thursday, April 29, 2010

Douro River Cruise, Part 4

[Revised to include Portgal photos.[

Ben and I arrived safely in San Antonio around midnight Saturday. Our TAP flight from Portugal had been changed, flying us into Orly necessitating a bus transfer across Paris to De Gaulle for our connecting flight to Atlanta. We had plenty of time, however, and all went without a hitch. Although we had tried our best to avoid the sneezers on the ship and tours, we knew by the time we landed that both of us were next in line for colds; hence, this delayed post. Sigh. Between this bronchitis and jetlag, it’s been a slow recuperation.

Back to Porto. The ship actually docks at neighboring Vila Nova de Gaia, smaller in size than Porto and famous for the numerous wine cellars and tasting halls. A pleasant place to stroll and take in some people watching.

Our local guide escorted us on a motorcoach tour around both areas, stopping at a lovely cathedral, and then winding our way along the seaside where the Douro spills into the Atlantic. We concluded the tour with a visit to the famous Ferreira Wine Cellar to learn about Port wine production and aging. Very interesting! Samples of both the White Port and Tawny Port awaited us for tasting. I can handle the white better than the red, but they are both pretty strong for me. Portuguese wine itself, though, is quite another story; excellent!

Despite some rain and the shortened itinerary, we thoroughly enjoyed this cruise. Our cruise director, Marion, was excellent, and the staff was very friendly and helpful. The captain himself was not the social type, but he knew his river and was passionate about it. And it was great fun to see Elisabeth again—who gave us excellent tours in Melk and Durnstein during our AMA Danube cruise in 2007, but whom AMA has now hired as a cruise director. She spent our cruise learning the ropes from Marion and will officially become a “cruise director” in June. She’ll do great!

Special thanks to Angie, our wonderful group coordinator for AMA back in Los Angeles, for her guidance and helpful preparation, not to mention the lovely birthday floral arrangement she had delivered to our cabin for me.

River cruising is a special way to see Europe, but it may not be for everyone, of course. There are no big production numbers or casinos, and entertainment is limited to local troupes. We enjoyed two: a group of fado singers and a classical flutist and guitar player. On this particular ship, I missed the small gyms available on AMA-built ships. However, the food was excellent and wine plentiful; I needed to work it off.

If you love learning about new places, their history and architecture, want see more of inland European countries, and don’t like getting on and off buses to get to the next city, I highly recommend the river cruise experience.


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