31 Oct 14 - Barca d'Alva (Castelo Rodrigo), Regua

This morning we docked in Barca D'Alva, Portugal. After breakfast we headed off for Castelo Rodrigo. From its lofty hilltop position, the small village of Castelo Rodrigo looks down over the plateau stretching eastwards to Spain and northwards to the deep valley of the River Douro. Castelo Rodrigo still preserves scars left by the constant disputes over the territory. 

The first such episode took place less than a hundred years after its integration into the kingdom of Portugal, during the dynastic crisis of 1383-1385. D. Beatriz, the only daughter of D. Fernando of Portugal, was married to the king of Castile. With her accession to the throne on the death of her father, Portugal was set to lose its independence in favour of Castile. Castelo Rodrigo sided with D. Beatriz, but D. João, the Master of Avis, defeated the Castilians at the Battle of Aljubarrota, in 1385, and as a result was crowned king of Portugal, taking the
name of D. João I. As a reprisal for the lords of Castelo Rodrigo having sided with Castile, the new king ordered that the shield and the coat of arms of Portugal should always be displayed upside down on the town´s coat of arms.

The Castelo (castle) gives Castelo Rodrigo its name. This ruined castle is wonderful to ramble around. It dates from the 15th century. The castle was destroyed when the local royal supported King Phillip of Spain-- the locals attacked and burned it down and generally ransacked it. Because Castelo Rodrigo was abandoned, more or less, and a new town - Figuiera de Castelo Rodrigo - founded, off the hill, the castle was left in ruins (rather than being completely demolished or re-built). And so it presents a very romantic picture, being right at the top of the village. Because it is set at the highest point of the hill, it has outstanding views of the surrounding area - vast plains of Beira, Portugal, and Spain.

Now a quiet peaceful village, Castelo Rodrigo is worth visiting for its past glories, the beauty and freshness of its location, the houses contained within its walls, its Manueline pillory and also the somewhat touching statue of Santiago Matamouros housed in the igreja do Reclamador.

We had some free time to wander around this beautiful medieval hilltop town which had small winding cobble-stoned pathways with tiny shops scattered along the route. This region is well known for olive oil and some fantastic almonds which they flavour in dozens of ways, they are fantastic..... had to bring two bags home :o)

We had time to savor some local appetizers overlooking an incredible view and the weather was wonderful in the 70's.

Tonight was Halloween and the cabin stewardess decided to find a little friend for my teddy... lol

30 Oct 14 - Vega de Terron (Salamanca, Spain)

This morning we arrived in Salamanca, Spain. After an early breakfast we were off to explore this beautiful town. Salamanca is part of the Spanish region known as “Castilla y León” . Despite being a medium-size city (with around 170.000 inhabitants), Salamanca is famous in the world for its culture and for its student atmosphere. In fact, the University of Salamanca is said to be the third oldest university in Europe, founded in 1218.

Located in the western part of Spain, right besides the border with Portugal, Salamanca is in the inner part of the country, 200 kilometers west of Madrid. Tourism is probably the most outstanding industry of the city, thanks to its historical heritage and to the charm of the city itself, since Salamanca can be considered one of the most beautiful Spanish cities. 

It is also in Salamanca, where the purest Spanish, or "Castellano" is spoken, which makes the city a popular destination for students wanting to learn Spanish.

Salamanca has been declared a World Heritage City by Unesco, and in 2002, it
was chosen as the European City of Culture, together with Bruges in Belgium. Dance, music and art fill the streets of the city. The city's historic centre has important Romanesque, Gothic, Moorish, Renaissance and Baroque monuments. The Plaza Mayor, with its galleries and arcades, is particularly impressive.

Beginning with the Roman bridge that spans the Río Tormes south-west of the city, numerous witnesses to the 2,000-year history of ancient Salmantica still stand. Its monuments have an exemplary value: the Old Cathedral and San Marcos (12th century), the Salina and the Monterrey palaces (16th century), and above all the Plaza Mayor, the most sumptuous of the Baroque squares in Spain, begun in 1729.

After a tour of the main square we were off to visit the university and the amazing cathedral.

While in Spain it's customary to have a Tapas. Tapas are snacks, canapés or finger food that originated in Spain. Tapas come in many different forms and can vary from town to town. Tapas are served day in and day out in every bar and café in Spain. So much a part of the culture and social scene that the Spanish people invented the verb tapear which means to go and eat tapas.

I just walked into a bar and there they were all lined up under the glass counter. I chose a ham one and it came in a small dish with a kind of omelette .... was real good and most of all authentic.

Once my free time was over I went to the Avenida Palace hotel where a Flamenco performance was arranged for us.

Flamenco is a form of Spanish folk music and dance from the region of Andalusia in southern Spain. It includes singing, guitar playing, dancing and handclaps. First mentioned in literature in 1774, the genre grew out of Andalusian and Romani music and dance styles. Flamenco is often associated with the gitanos, Romani people of Spain and a number of famous flamenco artists are of this ethnicity. Flamenco was first recorded in the late 18th century but the genre underwent a dramatic development in the late 19th century. In recent years flamenco has become popular all over the world and is taught in many countries. 

After a full day we returned to the ship in time to get ready for dinner. During this time the cabin stewardess turns down the bed. I always travel with a small teddy-bear and every night I found it in a different position in the cabin .... I was always anxious to see where it would be every night, I thought that was cute that the stewardess bothered to do this every night and tonight he was tucked in my bed :o)

29 Oct 14 - Pinhao, Vega de Terron (Spain)

Today we were docked in Pinhao, Portugal and after an early breakfast we departed for the Sandeman's Quinta Do Seixo wine estate. The ride up the hilltop is not for the faint of heart since the road is barely a few feet wider than the bus!  

On the south bank of the river Douro, in Cima-Corgo, right opposite the Quinta do Porto lies Quinta do Seixo, which provides a breathtaking, stunning view over the river Douro. Owned by Sogrape Vinhos since 1987, in 2007 the company invested approximately €7.5 million here in a modern winery, where high quality Portos and Douro wines are produced. An innovative project not only for the state-of-the-art technology used in the cellar, but also for creating a tourist experience that is both educational and attractive!

The guides are dressed in black capes and hats which is the brand design on all the Sandeman wine products. We had a full tour of the winery and then we led to an outdoor patio with a panoramic view of the Duoro valley, for wine-tasting.

This tour offers a first-hand demonstration of the production methods behind Portugal’s most famous wine and provides an explanation of the characteristics which make the Douro region so unique. 

It is worth the scary drive up the hill just to get a glimpse of the fabulous view of the Duoro valley from up here.....was breathtaking!

After our visit we drove back down the steep slope to the town of Pinhao. This is a sleepy little town in the middle of the Duoro river valley wine region.  

We had some free time to wander around before we boarded the ship and I ran into this little guy in the doorway of a hair salon and he was more than willing to pose for me ....... I love the slogan on the door... lol

By noon we were sailing towards Vega de Tarron. I always love the afternoon sailings since it is great to sit in your cabin, open the sliding glass door and watch the villages and wildlife go by. I was quite happy to enjoy the view and then have lunch in the dining-room where the glass-enclosed room allows you to continue with the view while you dine.

At around 4:30pm we arrived at the Pocinho Dam, located in the Northeast Transmontano, surrounded by almond orchards and flowering cherry trees. There are always several locks and dams to pass through on a river cruise but this one was very interesting.

The ship enters a narrow entryway and then a large steel door closes behind us, there is a large waterfall in front as we then rise up 20 metres to continue along the river.

The rest of the day was spent onboard enjoying the scenery passing by.

28 Oct 14 - Régua, cruising the Douro River, Pinhão

This morning I got a chance to sleep in as we were sailing the Duoro river and were scheduled to arrive Regua only around 2:30 which is the kind of day I like the most. You can lie in bed and watch the villages sail by with no rushing. After a great lunch we disembarked and headed out to visit Casa Mateus. 
Described as "the most fantastic country house in Portugal", it has been made famous worldwide for being featured on the label of Mateus Rosé wine and it is well worth a visit for a glimpse into the lives of the Portuguese aristocracy. 

Built in 1745, it is considered a perfect example of baroque architecture, with an impressive façade made up of beautiful pinnacles on the roof and an ornate balustraded stairway, all reflecting on a pond in front of it. Behind it is a delightful garden, Mateus Palace Gardens among the most beautiful in Europe, with box hedges, statues, and a spectacular cedar tunnel about 115ft long. 

We had a guided tour of the palace's interior, beginning at the entrance hall, with its carved chestnut ceiling and 18th-century furniture, leading into the Four Seasons Room which takes its name from its large 18th century paintings, and the Blue Room that features Chinese porcelain. The neighboring Dining Room contains stunning Portuguese china and silver, and the Four Corners Room has Indo-Portuguese furniture. The descendants of the family still use the house for a few months in the Summer.

We had some free time to explore on our own and it was quite lovely to sit in the medieval stone cafe and enjoy a Cappuccino.

After a visit of the grounds, the winery and the chapel we were off again towards the vineyard town of Favaios. Here we had a private dinner arranged at the family owned Quinta Da Avessada which is a fantastic winery & restaurant nestled on a hilltop.

We were greeted by Portuguese guitar players and singers as the sun was starting to set and it was a beautiful setting. As we entered the outdoor lounge overlooking the vineyards we were handed a glass of their famous Muscatel wine. 

There were small tables set up with delicious pates and a variety of local delicacies which we could savor while listening to the music, it was quite a surreal atmosphere. 

We visited the tasting room with examples of how the wine is kept in barrels and enjoyed a short talk about the history of wine-making and most importantly we tasted the fabulous wine of this region. We can see vineyards as far as the eye can see so it is special to experience the process of vine to glass.

Afterwards we were treated to a visit of the workings of the winery and were surprised that they now have mechanical robots that crush the grapes replicating the exact movements of how human feet used to do the job.   


Then it was off to have a sumptuous dinner! We had many specialties of the house from soup to appetizers, delicious beef, chicken and fish topped off with many wines and luscious desserts and cheeses. It was overwhelming. We were taken back to the ship around 9:30pm for a well deserved night of sleep. 

27 October 2014 - Porto, Portugal

This morning I had a great breakfast before heading off on a tour of Porto, Portugal. If you mix monuments by leading world architects from the past and the present, and some fantastic baroque carvings, add a world-famous sweet wine and a certain British flavor and place it all by a grand river, then you have "O Porto," the port, Porto -- Portugal's second largest metropolis, and one of Europe's most charismatic cities. 

Oporto is one of the last undiscovered European metropolises. 
But this is not a new city, it is an ancient port steeped in history and tradition. It is a highly atmospheric place that has become known for its monuments by renowned architects Gustave Eiffel's Dona Maria Bridge, Nicolau Nasoni's Clerigos Tower, Rem Koolhaas' Casa da Musica, or Siza Vieira's Serralves Museum. This is also the city that originated and named Port Wine, and gave birth to one of world history's legendary figures, Prince Henry the Navigator. You'll also see in new guidebooks that it is also the birthplace of that world-famous fictional character, Harry Potter -- author J. K. Rowling was living in Oporto as an English teacher when she started writing her first book. 

Located along the Douro river estuary in northern Portugal, Oporto is a registered UNESCO World Heritage Site. Along with being the second-largest Portuguese city after Lisbon, Oporto is also one of the most prominent urban areas in Southern Europe. Its rich history which dates back to many centuries enriches its cultural wealth as the city is one of the oldest European centers.

Varied historical monuments including the cathedral with its Romanesque choir, neoclassical Stock Exchange and the typical Portuguese Manueline-style Church of Santa Clara depict cultural richness. 
Right from its historical days Oporto's shipbuilding industry has seen continuous growth. Its ports have been responsible for the production and export of the fortified wine to great extents. 'Port Wine', a gift to the world is named after the city of Oporto. Port is one of my favorite drinks and I was thrilled to be where it all started!

This city on the river is seeped in history. Our first stop was the stock exchange palace. The Stock Exchange Palace, better known even to foreign visitors as Palacio da Bolsa, is one of the most valuable tourist sights of Porto. The construction works started in 1842, only to be completed some 30 years later. Given both its age and architectural virtues, the palace was declared a national monument and listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Thus, the palace is the expression of a mix of architectural styles, with prominent neoclassical elements which prevail across other influences. 

The palace has room after room of amazing carvings and antiques, inlaid wood floors and amazing chandeliers. 

                        Here are some views of the beautiful interior.

We had some free time after the visit to explore on our own and it was great to be able to go and do what we wanted for over an hour. I went into a Pharmacy in order to get some cough medicine and surprisingly the pharmacist understood what I needed from gestures and coughing noises...lol.

Once the coughing crisis was under control I wandered through the old square which is a photographer's dream, one great shot after the other.  

I stopped at a sidewalk cafe and had a  marvelous Cappucino while I watched the natives and tourists go bustling on their way.

Finally it was time to head back to the ship and once at the pier I decided to experience the aerial tram near the dock. It was only a 10 minute return ride to the top of the bridge and back so off I went.

The view was incredible from the top of the bridge. After some time to take pictures I went back down to the pier and the comfort of my cabin....time to take a short snooze before dinner.

26 October 2014 - Boarding the Queen Isabel!

Today was an early one again as I had to meet up with the Uniworld group for the transfer from Lisbon to Porto for 8:30am.

The drive to Porto to board the ship takes about 3 hours however we made a stop in Coimbra along the way. Coimbra is one of Portugal's oldest cities (it already was an important municipality in Roman times) and is home to one of the world's first universities.

It was the capital of the country from 1139 to 1256 and its university was founded in 1290. Today this impressive university is still one of the world's most illustrious and the city's biggest attraction. 

Surrounding it in the old town are fine old churches and narrow streets standing on a hill overlooking the Modego River. Down by the river is "Baixa" (downtown), the commercial heart of the city, with lively cafes, pastry shops, restaurants, boutiques, and other shops leading to Comercio Square. In a corner of this square is the Church of São Tiago, with a plain 12th-century façade, but in its interior is an exuberant Rococo alterpiece in gilded wood. 

On another square nearby is the historic Santa Cruz Monastery, containing the tombs of Portugal's first two kings. It was founded in 1131, but its flamboyant arch at the entrance dates from the 18th century. Inside is an ornate pulpit and the elaborate tombs of the kings, as well as impressive cloisters in the Manueline style, designed in 1524. 

The museum is just steps away from the Old University. Entering through the 17th century "Porta Ferrea" ("Iron Gate"), one finds a courtyard known as "Patio das Escolas". On the north side is the actual Old University buildings, on the east is the observatory, and on the west is the small University Church. Built between 1517 and 1552, the church has a 110ft high tower, and an adjacent museum of sacred art. Inside the church itself is a Mannerist altar, tiles decorating the ceiling, and a dazzling organ. Most impressive of all is the baroque library, one of the world's most resplendent. It was built in the early 18th century with rooms rich in gilt and exotic wood, and lined with 300,000 books. 

The tragic love story of Pedro and Inês
Although he was in love with Inês de Castro (a Galician noblewoman), Pedro, son and heir of King Afonso IV was obliged to marry Princess Constanza of Navarre. When Constanza died, he went to live with Inês in Coimbra, but the king disapproved and wanted to put an end to the affair. Believing that her family was a potential threat to the Portuguese throne, he had her murdered in Coimbra's Quinta das Lágrimas in 1355. When the king died, Pedro succeeded to the throne and took revenge on the two killers by having their hearts torn out. Revealing that he had married Inês in secret in Bragança, he had her corpse exhumed and crowned. The court was forced to acknowledge her as queen by kneeling before her on the throne and kissing her decomposed hand. 

Their tombs are now in Alcobaça's abbey, where, at Pedro's wish, they are placed foot to foot so that when they arose on the Day of Judgement, the two lovers would immediately see each other. Both tombs carry the inscription "Até ao fim do mundo", "until the end of the world." This dramatic story of love and revenge has been an inspiration to a number of writers and poets in Portugal and elsewhere in Europe. 

After our visit of the University and the library we had a nice Portuguese lunch before we headed out to our final destination, Porto and the boarding of the Queen Isabel riverboat. 

The ship is quite beautiful. There is a pool on the top deck, a panoramic dining-room, lounge and bar and the cabins are just beautiful.

                                 Here is the view from my cabin

This was a long day so after a very nice dinner I headed to my cabin for an early night.