A lot has happened since I last updated my blog. I know, I know, writers always say that, don’t we? There’s always something happening, like another cross-country move, a new job, a bunch of new classes to prepare, a few weeks in South Africa, that scholarly article I swore I’d finally revise…. (I’m only kidding–these are all very important somethings). What I mean, I think, is that I’ve spent so much of my time pouring all of my energies into my other life this past year – the Dr. Winet life – that I promised myself I’d do one thing for me, Kristin, humble writer and hopeful photographer, this summer.
What’s that one thing?
I’m going to Portugal.
Why Portugal? Well, other than its close proximity to the first place I ever traveled when I was 21 years old and the country that stole my heart almost immediately (hi, Spain!), Portugal has always, always, always been on my lifelong hope-to-travel-to-someday list. It’s on there with places like Cuba, Egypt, Japan, and Nepal, places I’ve never been but long, someday, to see with my very own eyes. (And, actually, there are a lot of places on that list, let me tell you). But to be perfectly honest, I don’t know exactly why Portugal. As in, what exactly has enraptured me. I can pinpoint why I want to visit a place like Cuba: it was off-limits for so long! Or Egypt: those pyramids! Or Japan: that sushi! Or Nepal: those mountains! And yet, Portugal has always been on that list, too, so much so that when I initiated the idea of doing another trip with Viking River Cruises and they asked me where I’d like to go and I immediately said to myself, “Oh, that’s easy – Portugal!”, I realized that I had some work to do. What was it about Portugal?
In European terms, Portugal is, well…it’s kind of remote. It’s not Mediterranean, although it seems like it should be. It’s not connected to five other little countries like so many other countries in Europe, although it really isn’t that far from the rest of the continent. It’s not Spanish-speaking, although I suspect I’ll be able to fumble my way through at least 45% of the time (Ryan is gunning for 60% since he maintains, erroneously, that Portuguese and Spanish are basically dialects of each other…we’ll see how that pans out).
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that the reason this little country has always held my attention is because I’m simply curious about it. I’m curious because although I’m familiar with it, there’s so much I just don’t know about it. It’s always been just out of reach.
For instance: I am fascinated by the language of Portuguese, but can’t really speak it. I know people probably eat a lot of sausages and seafood there, but I don’t know that much about the cuisine. I have heard fado music through its descendant the bossa nova, but I’ve never actually heard the guitarra in its original form. I can recite some of the history of the Iberian Peninsula (thanks to my undergraduate degree in Spanish Literature), but I don’t know a whole lot about contemporary Portugal or its politics or recent history. I’ve read a ton of poetry and plays from the Iberian Middle Ages, but never a Portuguese author. See what I mean? It’s kind of like this place that I just never quite got to–but not because I didn’t want to; more like because I was never close enough to pop over to it but always kept it on the list because I knew I’d get there sometime.
And here we are, packing up for our Portugal’s Rivers of Gold trip. I’m taking Ryan with me (oh, the perks of him being married to a travel writer, am I right?!) and we leave tomorrow morning for our journey to Lisbon. Once we’re there, we’ll spend two nights at the Hotel Tivoli Lisbon (it’s a gorgeous 5-star resort in the heart of Lisbon…I can’t wait to slip into the fluffy terrycloth bathrobes and slippers that I am sure await me there!), and then we’ll hit the Duoro for our week-long cruise.
And then we get back and we’ll have one day to recover from the jet lag before school starts again. And that’s just how our life goes, crazy as it is.
Portugal’s River of Gold
In case you’re considering a trip to Portugal, here’s the scoop on where we’ll be headed and what my plans are while I’m there. Keep in mind that I’ve crammed in a couple of side trips/journo stuff for my own writing (you wouldn’t necessarily be trailing along on a walking food tour just so you could try and find the best pastel de nata chef or chasing after giant paper mache dolls in a parade you heard is going to be happening in a small town you’re cruising through while you’re there….well, you might be, in which case, let me know!).
Anyhow, here’s the lowdown on where we’re headed:
Lisbon (Days 1-3)
After our first night, we’ll get up early and start with a half-day tour of Lisbon. From what I’ve read online, we’ll begin at the super cute Belém district and check out the Jerónimos Monastery, one of the most important and breathtaking examples of Portuguese late Gothic architecture (it’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site!). Then, we’re heading off on a walking tour through the Alfama District where we’ll get some history lessons along the way.
The next day, the only thing we have scheduled is a walking food tour called “A Taste of Lisbon.” We’ll walk over to what our guide is calling the “working-class district” of Graca and pop in to no less than four local restaurants, pubs, and bakeries. What I love about walking food tours is that you can really experience two things at once: the rhythm of a city by foot and its culinary wonders, one after the other.
This tour is where I hope to talk to someone about making the pastel de nata, a fancy egg tart that’s supposedly creamy inside and crunchy outside. We’ll see what I find!
Porto (Days 3-4)
On Day 3, we board the ship and start the journey to Porto! As we start the cruise, we have a stop at an old university town on the way – Coimbra – where we’ll get to check out Portugal’s oldest university (it’s been open for SEVEN centuries….I’m serious). As a teacher, I’m really excited about this, and I’m especially curious to see if I can pop in and see anyone in the English department while we’re there. Also, there’s something I absolutely love about visiting other campuses in other countries–it’s one of my very favorite things to do when I’m traveling.
The next day, we’re doing a city tour of Porto itself, which, in addition to being known as the home of port wine, is also an adorable riverside community whose historic center is (you guessed it) also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We’re planning on visiting a local port wine–making facility and then heading out for lunch. That afternoon, we’ve signed up for an excursion to the nation’s first capital, Guimarães, which is (is there a pattern here yet?) yet another UNESCO World Heritage Site. Guimarães has a medieval quarter with narrow streets, a main square and palaces and monasteries dating back to the 10th century. In the 12th century, it was Portugal’s first capital and home to its first king, Afonso Henriques. It should be spectacular.
Regua & Pinhao (Day 5)
Today, we cruise through Regua and Pinhao, two riverside cities along the Duoro River. Along the way, we’re going to stop at Mateus Palace, a baroque palace was the home of the last count of Vila Real. Then, the plan is to visit one of the area’s port wine–making shops (can’t complain about that, am I right?!). Everyone also gets to do a private tour of the vineyards.
Also: Did I mention that Ryan and I figured out that we are going to be in Regua during the annual Day of Assumption? This means that we are going to be there on exactly the same day as the gigantones parade, where people march in the streets with giant paper mache dolls. I am SO excited to catch this!
Barca d’Alva (Day 6)
Another sailing day! Today, we keep going east. Along the way, we pass through Portugal’s most dramatic cliffs, terraced vineyards, and bridges. We’ll arrive at Barca d’Alva, not far from the Spanish border, in the mid-afternoon.
After lunch, we get off the ship to take a tour to Castelo Rodrigo, which is located 2,200 feet above sea level and is purportedly surrounded by lush almond trees. While we’re there, we also plan to stop at historic Sinagoga Street, the part of the city where Jewish refugees escaped and made their new home during the Spanish Inquisition.
Salamanca, Spain (Day 7)
If you know me at all, need I say more about this day? We’re crossing over into Spain!!!! (And yes, in case you’re wondering, Salamanca is another UNESCO World Heritage Site). I have always, always wanted to visit this city, not only because it hosts a huge population of international students and is home to Spain’s oldest college, but also because it’s literally called La Dorada, or, The Golden City, because of its sandstone buildings that seem to glow in the sunlight.
During the day, we have free time to set off and explore. I’ve already told Ryan: we’re heading to the university and spending the afternoon at a cafe. That’s all I really want to do–just sit, and be. You don’t get to do that a lot when you hit up a new city every day.
Cruising Back to Porto (Days 8-9)
This morning, we sail west along the Douro back to Porto, and along the way, we’ll pass some of the area’s quintas (vineyards). We make a stop in the little village of Favaios, where we will visit one of the last traditional bakeries in the Douro River Valley. We get to take a tour of the kitchen and taste freshly-made loaves straight from the oven.
For lunch, we’re going to Quinta da Avessada, a centuries-old winery in the heart of the Douro Wine District (yep, another UNESCO World Heritage Site), and we get to try some local varieties of port, such as moscatel. I’m seeing two trends here: a lot of wine, and a lot of really old places.
Porto (Days 9-10)
Days 9 and 10 are the perfect ending: Day 9 is a visit to Lamego, a small town known for its baroque sanctuary and which is still a pilgrimage site for many Catholics today. That evening, we have a lovely farewell dinner, prepared by Viking, to send us on our way.
Day 10, we fly.
Yours in travel,
All photographs from Flickr’s Creative Commons. I thank them for their generosity and I hope my photos turn out just as beautifully!