By: Judy Freedman
“We are delighted to welcome you aboard Viking Hemming, and look forward to serving you,” said our program director Jorge. My boyfriend L and I were excited for our cruise along Portugal’s Douro River, compliments of Viking*.
A Stop Off In Ciombra
It was a fun day of travel to the ship, leaving our pre-trip in Lisbon in the early morning and heading north to Coimbra, the original capital of Portugal, and home to one of its oldest universities. Students gave us a tour and shared stories about their “black capes,” which are a tradition on campus. The capes were originally worn so students would not be judged by their clothes if they were rich or poor. “During graduation festivities, we cut the cape,” said Maria, a student of engineering. “A middle cut is for your boyfriend, but must be sewn up if you break up.” I tried on one of these heavy woolen capes and almost fell over.
We arrived in Porto, Portugal’s second largest city, by early evening and boarded the Viking Hemming, The small ship holds about 105 people, Our third floor room was lovely, with a veranda, a king-sized bed, contemporary bathroom (that even had a night-light), and plenty of closet space. “I could definitely live on this ship,” I said to L. “It’s great waking up to a magnificent views of the Douro river and Portugal’s mountainous terrain of vineyards. My only wish is that they had yoga classes on the deck instead of shuffle board and pitch and putt.”
There was a top deck with a teeny pool and lots of seating (we spent most of our time on deck when cruising); a third floor lounge with comfy seating, a bar and small dance floor, (we relaxed here during the evenings and L finally agreed to dance with me on the night of the captain’s dinner); and a dining room on the second floor where we ate most meals.
Breakfast and lunch were buffet-style with an omelet station in the morning and a pasta station in the afternoon. There was no assigned seating – which was good since we liked to mingle and meet new people each day. Breakfast was my favorite meal. L enjoyed his daily double espressos and I devoured the freshly baked croissants and Portuguese bread with homemade jams. So much for my gluten-free diet, I was more of a gluten-glutton by the end of the week. Dinners were casual with a menu of choices. Wanting to try as many local foods as available, I often chose the fresh fish entree and seafood appetizer.
A City Tour of Porto
Each day we had an option to join the shore excursion or stay on the boat while it cruised along the Douro to the next port. Trips were either in the morning or afternoon, with bus rides to our destinations and then walking tours of each city or village. During our city tour of Porto:
- we walked the limestone streets stopping high up on the hilltop at the Porto Cathedral;
- we visited the Porto train station with it’s panels of tiles depicting the history of Portugal and named one of the most beautiful in the world by Conde Nast Traveler
- we went to the famous Lello book shop, where author J.K. Rowling supposedly wrote chapters from her Harry Potter novels while living in Porto.
My First Sip Of Port
We also visited a local winery outside the city to taste our first glass of port, Portugal’s most famous and popular export. There would be many different kinds of port throughout the trip and I realized that I really, really like this sweet wine which I learned has a really, really high alcohol content. It is in the Douro Valley that the only grapes that produce the authentic port are grown.
Finding Time To Shop
During our free afternoon, I headed back to Porto with new friends J and P while L stayed on board for the cruise to Biteto. We did a good job of navigating the city map and went shopping along Flores Street where I bought a pretty cork bracelet (Portugal is the largest producer of cork and cork products) and some prints of Porto’s colorful city landscapes and bridges (Porto is known as the “City of Bridges”). Note that our last evening of the cruise was also spent in Porto along the river where we found many more street vendors for good shopping and artwork.
Evening At Alpendurada Monastery
Each evening, we gathered in the lounge for our daily briefing by Jorge. He shared the next day’s agenda and sometimes shared other facts and figures about the Douro and Portugal.
“Tonight we will depart the ship and have dinner at the Alpendurada Monastery,” said Jorge. Dinner wasn’t the best, but it was a picturesque spot and the monastery had its own charm with ceilings made of chestnut wood.
Having sipped my share of Portugal vinho, my head was ready to hit the pillow. Tomorrow would bring another glorious day of sunshine to explore the Douro Valley.
*Disclosure of Material Connection: This is a “sponsored post.” Viking River Cruises provided me with a complimentary press trip river cruise on the Douro. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers.
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JUDY FREEDMAN - Life
Judy is known as JudiBoomergirl in the blogosphere. Widowed at 50, she's learning to reinvent herself in mind, body, and spirit. Her personal blog, A Baby Boomer Woman's Life After 50, was named by The Huffington Post as one of its "7 Favorite Blogs for Women Post 50," and was an official honoree in the 2013 Webby Awards. Judy retired from a 30+ year corporate career to pursue her blogging and communications consulting and is also studying to become a yoga instructor during her second act. Follow Judy on Facebook@Judi Boomer Girl, and on Twitter@judiboomergirl.