The Holidays and Sailing, right around the corner…

It’s Saturday afternoon and I am working my way through chores and thinking about all that we have going on between now and when we head south to join Pandora in early January.  The holiday season is just so busy it’s hard to believe that Thanksgiving is less than a week away and Christmas… It seems like just yesterday that I brought Pandora north from Nassau.

Well, I won’t think about how quickly the end of the year will be here. Somehow it always seems like the holidays and a brand new year are so far off in the future and suddenly… Well, they it is right in front of you.  Where did the year go?

This may date me but this Monty Python clip somehow reminds me of how quickly things can come up on you, when you least expect it.   Well, it seems that way to me at least.see
“Bob, that was totally random.  What are you talking about?”  Ok, perhaps that was a bit of a stretch but work with me on this.

Anyway, it’s hard to believe that Thanksgiving is less than a week away and that Brenda and I will be down in Florida in less than six weeks.   At least I can say that the lawn is all tidied up and ready to sleep for the winter.  Heck, I even split some firewood today.  

Speaking of winter, this shot of our “land home” was sent to us last winter by a neighbor.  I am sure glad that I wasn’t here to see it first hand.  Brrr…I prefer this view.Yes, I love it here in CT in the summer but winter, that’s another story.  I hope to make it out the door in late December without having seen anything like a “winter scene” much less than a the sort of “Buffalo moment” that hit the folks normally famous for their “wings”, a title that they would probably prefer right now.  6′ of snow?  What the &^%$?  

The sort of white I am looking forward to is more like this.  Or, perhaps this.  It’s white right?And, like snow, sometimes there’s white in the sky. And sometimes, the white comes right at you all at once. Don’t get me wrong, I love white, there’s just some types of white that are easier to take if you aren’t a polar bear.

No, cold isn’t my first choice unless it’s one of these.  All kidding aside, I feel blessed to be able to follow my dreams, and the sun. And I am doubly happy that Brenda is willing to live them with me.  Time is short.  

And to quote my good friend Bill, of SV Kalunamoo from a recent blog post when he put it so well..  But, hey, life is not a race to the the finish. Its a Journey that ends without warning, enjoy it while the winds blow in your favor.”  

Isn’t that the truth.  Time is, well, it’s right around the next corner and I don’t intend to waste it.

 

Portugal in the past. Pandora in the (near) future.

It’s Thursday afternoon and I sort of feel like I am dug out of the things that piled up while Brenda and I were in Portugal.  It’s amazing how much mail piles up in a month, and that’s in a world where nothing of value comes in via “snail mail”.  And, I won’t even talk about all the bills that needed attending to.   And, to make matters even “better”, our credit card was compromised while we were away so I had to contact all of the vendors that we do business with via card and change the number to the new one.  I think that it’s the third time this year we have had to deal with a new card.  And, the list of companies to contact is especially long and fun as we also handle bills for Brenda’s and my mothers.

Oh yeah, and our yard was piled high with leaves too.  Now that was a treat worth coming home to.

With only six weeks at home before we head down to meet up with Pandora in GA for the rest of the winter, we don’t have much time for catching up and getting ready for the holidays.   And, of course, everything that goes “up” for the holidays has to come down, and PDQ, as we are headed to MD to visit our son Rob and his girlfriend Kandice a few days after Christmas.  ”Quick, put the tree up.  No wait, time to take the tree down.”

Just thinking about all that has to happen between now and the end of December makes me feel a bit overwhelmed.  However, before I feel too sorry for myself, at least I don’t have to count “work” as part of the mix.

Well, Portugal was wonderful and being away for a month made it possible for us to take our time touring around much of the northern half of the country.   Yes, we had a great time putting 2,000 km on the rental car.  I will say that by the last week I was getting a bit tired of packing and unpacking dirty clothes.  ”So Brenda, what pair of dirty jeans should I wear today?” Hmm…

So, what were my favorite parts of the trip?  Thanks for asking.

Taking our sweet time was nice as we were able to stay for several days, sometimes 4-5 in a single place.  All around us were folks that were on a week long holiday and they would race from hotel to hotel, always on the move.  We didn’t do a lot prior to the late morning, which was very nice.

The scenery of the country was fabulous and never deciding where we were going next until a few days before we were going to be “homeless” was very nice.  By taking this approach we were able to do some exploring beyond the normal tourist spots and take the advice of locals on what would be interesting.  The good news is that we never had problems finding a nice place to say, even with just a few days notice.

For sure, we did plenty of the things that tourists do, such as seeing some of the fabulous museums and castles.  Did we ever see castles.

Perhaps the best one was in Sintra, a short distance from Lisbon. We stayed in this fabulous inn outside of town with a magnificent view of the castle from our room.   The places we stayed were so wonderful.  Perhaps the beds weren’t always as comfortable as a top hotel in the U.S. but they were certainly more scenic.  We had the corner room in the tower of this.  And, our view was the photo above.   Really amazing. And, when you got close, it was breathtaking to see the level of detail in the castles, built hundreds of years before our country was even founded.  We loved having an opportunity to meet real local folks.  A highlight was our visit to a “factory” that makes traditional pottery.  The owner spent an hour showing us around his place.  There were only 4 working in the shop and they were all members of the same family.  I should note that we heard about this spot, which has probably never had a tourist visit, from the owner of a restaurant that we ate at.  I wrote more about our visit in this post, if you missed it.  We purchased more than would fit in our luggage to bring home.   Unfortunately, this piggy didn’t survive the trip.  Too much jammed into our luggage. Perhaps we will have to order a replacement.  So nice to meet someone that is really proud of their work.

Another highlight was our visit to a bobbin lace school and museum.   Brenda is very interested in this technique and has been studying for a few years now.  To visit a real working school was wonderful.  It’s worth noting that there are precious few places like this anywhere and none in the U.S.  

In this school young girls, some as young as four years old learn the traditional techniques.  Brenda was in heaven.  It was fun to watch the “girls” compare notes.  They spoke only a little English but way better than we spoke Portuguese. Never the less, there was a common language in lace. Lace making is impossibly complicated.  Well, at least to me. However, like everything else, it looks easy when an expert does it.  To manipulate dozens of bobbins as fast as the teacher is stunning to watch. She has been doing this technique since she was a young girl.  It shows.   As they say, practice, practice…Language barrier or not, there was a very personal connection for Brenda and it was fun to watch.

I loved the boats we saw.  No, not enough posts about boats for a blog dedicated to sailing but hey, not bad for a “land trip”.  So much color.  In a world of “plastic boats” these were very refreshing. And octopus.  The lovely pottery jars that they catch them in. Watching the fisherman unload bins of octopus, or should I say octopi?And, best of all, me eating them.  Yum…  What’s the world coming to when we take pictures of our meals? I loved the food and wine.  Perhaps the most memorable glass of wine for us was sitting on the wall of an ancient castle in Lisbon with wine we purchased from a “food cart” called ‘Wine with a View”.   Not something you’d see in New York, that’s for sure.   Imagine buying wine on the street from a cart?  You can not beat this view. 
Yes, food, it was terrific.  Better than that was the scenery that went along with the food.  This nighttime view in Porto was the best.  Wine, cheese, olives and bread.  What a magnificent evening. We stayed in some really amazing inns like this one that had been in the same family for several hundred years.  The “barn” was 900 years old.  That’s several times older than our country.  And the family that owned it treated us like family and even gave us a wonderful bottle of port while we were there. When we left they all lined up on the front porch for a family picture. I do hope that they visit us here in CT someday.  We’d like that very much. And the Douro valley in very northern Portugal.  Breathtaking.  The place we stayed here was on the top of a mountain and had been in the same family since the 1700s.  That’s hard for me to relate to.  My house was built in the 1970s.

The Douro valley is in northern Portugal and by early November it was beginning to get cold.  However, with all the walking we did we managed to stay warm while we were out.  We did a LOT of walking each day or our trip.

We just loved walking through the vineyards.  The highlight of our visit to Douro was our picnic in the vineyard.  Yes, perfect. Yes, we had a great visit to Portugal.  Even with a few rainy days thrown in. I could go on all day about what fun we had but it’s sufficient to say that Portugal is worth the trip.  The scenery, food and people.  Really great.

Well, enough of Portugal.  Time to think about sailing and it won’t be long till we are aboard Pandora.  I won’t think about the fact that St Mary’s is currently in the 30-40 degree range.  That’s cold.  I am told that it’s not normally that cold.

Let’s hope not.  We are trying to avoid winter, after all.

This is more like it.  Blue waters and warm sunshine. Yes, that’s what we want.   Our pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.Wish us luck.  

 

Wow, a month gone by. What happened?

It’s Tuesday morning here in Lisbon and its our LAST day in Portugal; we fly home tomorrow.

It’s been a great trip and it’s hard to believe that a month has gone by since landing here in mid October.  Yes, we are certainly living in a different lifetime from when I was working when we measured vacations in increments of weeks or most often, days.  I have to say that I am liking this lifetime.  Yes, I like it a lot.

As a cap off to our trip Brenda’s old friend Leslie from England flew down to spend a 24 hour whirlwind visit with us on Sunday.  Although they had not seen each other in seven years, they struck up again as if it had only been a month; two girls having a great time, with a token male in tow.

This photo just about says it all.  Happy friends, in the rain.We walked all over Lisbon, in the rain, (It was, in case the umbrellas didn’t tip you off.) for the entire day yesterday and drank our share of wine.  We are in Portugal aren’t we?  Remember that they say “if it’s a meal without wine, it must be breakfast”.  Yes, that has worked for us.   I will say that the “girls” somehow managed to cover days of talking in just a bit longer than 24 hours and it was a lot of fun to watch them together and they did their best to make me feel part of the conversation.  It’s a good thing that I am firmly in touch with my “feminine side”.

We went out for a terrific lunch in an overpriced tourist restaurant and I had octopus, the best yet.  Yum…  Brenda didn’t want a taste at all.  She isn’t too fond of the “sucker thing”.   Good.  No need to share anyway. How about that pool of olive oil it was served in? Yes, that’s Portuguese cooking.  Lots of olive oil used here.  Fabulous.

We walked much of the day, rain or not, like the three tourists that we were.   Along the way we stopped for coffee to dry off.  It was very nice day.

Lisbon looks wonderful in the rain from under the big umbrellas at the sidewalk cafes.  Notice the intricate tile work on the sidewalk.   That sort of detail work is all over Portugal.  I particularly enjoy the contrast of old and new, especially when they are perfectly color coordinated like the trolley and building.   Love the little motorized carriages.  Everything looks so clean and new, well not new exactly, but it looks great in the rain.  Lisbon is a remarkably clean city, actually. It’s going to be tough to leave Portugal as we have had so much fun here during our visit.  However, I am very much looking forward to being home again, at least for a bit, until we rejoin Pandora for the winter in Florida.  I hear it’s near freezing in CT.  And the lawn.  Well, I don’t want to think about that today…

Brenda and Leslie were very gracious when I muscled myself between them and asked for a photo moment.  Nice picture I think.  Well, I had better wrap this up as it’s our last day in Portugal and time’s a wasting.   We are tourists after all, and even though we have been here a month, THERE’S ONLY ONE MORE DAY and tourists don’t waste a moment.

Off we go.

 

Entering the final stretch of our time here in Portugal, on a rainy day.

It’s Saturday morning and we have what is arguably the nicest room yet here at Cabecas do Reguengo near the town of Portalegre in central Portugal. Their site is very interesting if you read Portuguese, that’s great.  If not, check out their site anyway and click on “EN”, for English, on the upper right of the home page. One way or the other, it’s a very interesting spot and the story behind it is particularly unique as the owner is a retired ballet dancer.

Really nice room.The bathroom is marvelous and marble.  The picture does not do it justice.This is the view that we woke up to today.  Not bad for a rainy day.   The siting of the building, new this year, is very well thought out.  The hotel is a completely modern design and yet looks right at home among the older homes dotting the nearby landscape. They also have a vineyard on the property and the wine is very nice.  We liked the white as it’s more full bodied than most Portuguese wines, more like a California with a fair amount of oak.  Very nice. It’s obvious that the hand of an artist was behind it all.  What a view to wake up to, infinity pool and all.  Yesterday we drove the 4.5 hours south from northern Portugal where we had spent much of the last two weeks.  This is our final stop prior to returning to Lisbon on Sunday where we will spend the last few days of our trip before we return to the U.S.  I expect that we’ll fine some fun things to do to occupy us until the 12th.

As a special treat, Brenda’s friend Leslie is flying in from England to spend the night with us on Sunday.  I expect that the “girls” will be up to all hours as they have not seen each other for years.   It’s a good thing that we have two rooms as I am sure that they will be up all night talking.  ”Brenda? Leslie?, is it bedtime yet? I need sleep…”

Anyway, the ride yesterday took us from the mountainous north of Portugal where vineyards and olive trees dominate the landscape to this area where it’s much more postural with cows, sheep and rolling hills.    After days of terrifying switchbacks and steep drop-offs, it’s nice to again be in a “less dramatic” area.

This video is of the white knuckle run down the road from our inn high up on the mountain in the Doruo valley to the village of Pinhao down near the river.  Trust me that this video doesn’t do justice to the nail biting around hairpin turns, all the way.This town isn’t on the itinerary of most tourists as it’s overshadowed by some of the more dramatic destinations such as Sintra, with huge castles looming over quaint villages. Never the less, it’s lovely here but the attraction for us was the tapestry museum and workshop, one of the best in Europe, a place that Brenda, a tapestry artist herself,  just had to see.  We visited it yesterday and it was indeed fascinating.  I’ll post one shot of a major piece, and it’s huge and quite impressive.   That’s Brenda to the left.  Big piece…The level of detail is really impressive.  However, I’ll leave the details to Brenda who will no doubt write about it in her blog soon. More to come on that.

On our last day in Casal de Loivos, perched on the side of a mountain, we decided to head out for another walk in the vineyards for a picnic.  Years ago, when Brenda and I were in college together, we used to picnic with wine, cheese and bread.  Our outing brought back memories from another lifetime.  Nice memories for sure but I very much enjoy being a “grownup”.

Anyway, we collected the items for lunch the day before in shops in the nearby village so we were ready to go.  What a great time we had in spite of the light drizzle.  Actually, after hiking up the mountain we were plenty warm and happily we found a beautiful olive tree to sit under with our legs dangling over an ancient stone wall on the side of, you guessed it, a vineyard.  Rain?  What rain?  That’s just dew…  It was a perfect moment.

We had a very nice spread of local wine and all.  I even remembered to bring a cork screw.   Good thing or I would have had to whack the bottle against a rock to open it.   Editor:  However, notice the “fine crystal” to the right of the bottle. Oops, I forgot the glasses.  Not to worry, I’ll cut up a water bottle, with a cheese knife. (Don’t try this at home, Professional wineglass maker in residence)  I used the top part of the bottle as it almost looks like a wine glass, if a bit tippy. Brenda took the bottom.  Besides, it held more.  Cheers!  Big smile, even before my first sip.   Perhaps it was the altitude. What a lovely spot to picnic, legs dangling over a stone wall. The olive trees, laden with fruit almost ready to harvest, were such a wonderful silver grey green. And the ancient grape vines, ready for a winter nap.  Haunting.We walked further up the mountain flanked by beautiful stone walls. Along the way we came upon a “mature” women cutting old growth from vines in a vineyard (yes, lots of vineyards there) and putting them on a fire.  We stopped to talk.  There was lots of “talking at each other” us in English and her in Portuguese but not much was accomplished.  I have no idea what she said but she said it in the nicest possible way.  The haze from others burning vines hung over the valley like a fog.  What a day.  Perhaps this shot of late season grapes still on the vine says it best. Beautiful and so peaceful. Here in Portugal, it’s all about the grapes, and wine.  They are very proud of their wine.  Yes, wonderful wines.  And a great country to visit.  We chose well, coming to Portugal.

And where we are staying now for a few days?  Brenda chose particularly well.

Yes, perfect.

Far above the maddening crowds. Really far…

It’s Thursday morning here in Casal de Loivos and it’s overcast.  We are being lazy and can’t quite decide what to do with the day.  Along with being cloudy, it’s also a bit chilly.  When we were originally planning our trip to Portugal we had considered heading north immediately after arriving and then working our way back south with the hope of staying ahead of the cool weather as we headed into November, the second half of our trip.

Alas, we were lulled into taking our time heading north as it was so warm, too hot actually, for the first few weeks of our trip.  I don’t want to make it sound like it’s frosty, as it’s not.  It’s just a bit cooler than we would prefer.

Having said that, yesterday, when the sun was blazing and warm, we went for a wonderful walk up in the mountains, near the inn where we are staying.

The view from the hotel is fabulous and got even better as we walked around and between the many vineyards that are carved out of the hillside.  ”Carved” is the operative word here as the hillside is so steep that there is no way you could farm it without all of the soil washing away.  So, over the hundreds of years that this area has had vineyards, the hillsides have been totally transformed into a series of steps supported by perfectly constructed rock walls climbing up the sides of the mountains.

The visual textures are a feast for the eyes.  The “walls” built alongside of each row are about 8-10′ tall.   To put this sort of labor into a farm certainly suggests a view to the long term. As we walked along the road curving around the mountaintop, we enjoyed seeing the changing colors on the grapevines.   In the next few weeks every vine will be trimmed by hand to prepare the vines for next spring.The soil is impossibly rocky with what seems like more rock than dirt.  Interestingly, the posts that support the vines on strung wires are made of rock themselves.   That makes sense as these vines are expected to produce fruit for many years, far longer than wooden posts could be expected to last. The views along the way were really spectacular.   This spot, in particular, seemed like a great place to sit for a picnic.  Perhaps today if it warms up.  Cheese, bread and wine?  Yes, sounds good to me. We only saw one other person during the few hours that we walked around the roads, enjoying the view.   What an amazing place and we had it all to ourselves.
Even the littlest details caught our eye, like these pretty little plants sticking out of the side of a wall. There were olive trees everywhere, laden down with fruit.  The lemon and lime trees were particularly inviting.  Just outside of the village was a little chapel.  It seems that everywhere you turn there are churches and even little shrines built into the sides of roads and always with candles burning and flowers place in offering. 
The cemeteries are very scenic and always within walls.   After lunch we headed out in the car for a bit of exploring.  Along the way we came upon a huge lock in the river to allow boats and ships to pass.  The Douro river was once a wild river with rapids all along the way for the few hundred miles to Porto.  Now, with 4 massive locks to control water flow, larger vessels can go up and down the river at will.  Cruise ships are specially built to fit in the impossibly narrow locks.  This shot was vertigo inducing for me to photograph.  

Note the car parked on top of the lock.  That gives a pretty good sense of scale. Interestingly, the lock itself is over 100′ deep and when open in the lower position, as it is in this shot, the ships pass under the raised door.  The lock is so deep that control lines used to hold the boat in place move up and down with the water level to allow the line handlers to keep control of the boat in the lock.  The lock system was only put in place in the 60s, primarily to encourage river cruises that last a week at a time for tourists.  The boats look very plush.  This shot, taken from the top of the lock, gives a pretty good idea of how far below the top of the lock the lower section of the river is.  The water above the lock is very deep but below there is a narrow channel with rocks on each side giving a pretty good idea of what things must have been like prior to the “locking” of the river.Our ride along the river helped me get a bit more used to speeding along roads that seem way to narrow for the speeds that everyone uses to get around.  I have to say that sometimes I feel like the next corner can’t possibly get more hair raising and it does.   

Last night we went down the mountain for dinner at a very nice restaurant and after a few glasses of wine I went VERY SLOWLY back up the mountain.  In the dark, it was easier than I had expected as you could’t see now nasty the drop-off was at each turn and the oncoming headlights from other cars alerted us to their presence.  During the day you don’t know what’s going to be around each corner until you are half way through.  And, sometimes what’s coming around the bend, at breakneck speed, is a truck many times bigger than you.  Brenda particularly enjoys those encounters.

One thing that they don’t seem to spend much money on here in Portugal is guard rails.  To see a drop off of hundreds of feet with only a few feet between you and what seems like certain death, is taking some getting used to.

Well, enough of that, perhaps it’s time for a walk and perhaps a picnic lunch on the mountainside.  Yes, sounds like a plan and with no crowds around, we will have the whole place to ourselves.  That’s nice…

Don’t get too close to the edge! Douro Valley, nosebleed country

It’s Wednesday morning and we are here in Casa de Casal de Loivos, a lovely little inn perched on mountainside overlooking the Douro River.

The view is breathtaking, if a bit vertigo inducing, from here overlooking the river and nearby village on the river’s edge far below.    It was built in 1658 and has been in the same family since 1733.   That’s a long time.  I wonder if anyone has gone through their stuff in the attic since then?  Hope so.  Happily, it’s been heavily remodeled so the rooms and private baths are quite modern.  What a spot.

This is the view from the back patio.  Our room opens up directly to this view.There’s a lovely pool.  Too bad it’s not warm enough for a swim. This is a view of the back of the inn.   The sun streams into the windows in the morning.  We had quite a time finding the place as the online directions took us to a completely different village.  Never the less, it was a lovely spot.  Good thing I had stopped for gas earlier.  Not a place where you’d want to run out.

In the “wrong” village we got to by accident, Nobody could speak a word of English. Oops… We were totally lost.  Somehow we were able to get our point across to the very helpful folks that kept speaking louder and louder and slower and slower, as we did, hoping to get our point across.  Alas, we figured it out.  Whew…  Nice view though.This and the prior photo take in just about the entire village.  Very small and quaint.  In retrospect, while we didn’t realize it, we could actually see our destination from there.  Our destination was the village across the valley in this photo.  Well across several valleys actually, at the bend in the river, although high on the mountain side. It’s late in the season and workers are trimming the grape vines to prepare them for winter.  I expect it gets pretty cold here as it is over 3,500′ above sea level.  You can see wisps of smoke coming from burning waste that has been trimmed from he vineyards.  The hillsides are so steep that the fields are terraced to keep the soil from washing away.  These fields have been under cultivation for hundreds of years.  If you enjoy port wine, this area is the only place that the grapes can come from.  Far down stream, on the coast, is the city of Porto, home of all port wine. This morning we are going to go for a hike around this little village where we are staying.  And the emphasis is on “little” as there are only a dozen of so homes here.  The inn manager said it should take an hour.  We’ll see…

Perhaps we’ll be able to enjoy the views on foot better than behind the wheel.  Going around the switchbacks, with no guardrail, is a bit of a white knuckle ride.  So far, no nose bleeds but our ears kept popping yesterday as we headed up, down and up again making our way from village to village trying to find this lovely spot.  We’re here now and so happy to have found our way.

Now for a walk.  I guess we’d better get going and enjoy the view…

Following the pottery trail and discovering the “real” Portugal

It’s Monday afternoon and we have just returned to our hotel here in Vila do Conde, the furthest north we will be headed while we are here in Portugal.  This area is not visited regularly by tourists and is very close to the northern border with Spain.  Our weather has been fabulous so far but today, for the first time since arriving here about three weeks ago, it’s raining.  Actually, it’s pouring buckets.

Last night we went out to dinner to a lovely little local restaurant and enjoyed perhaps the best dinner we’ve had on our trip. We had toured around town or should I say village when we got here yesterday and spied this very pretty little place that looked perfect for dinner called Adega da Vila.  We have found that the more off the beaten path we go the better the food.  In this case, we found a gem. The place was completely charming.  Notice the clay colored pitchers hung above the bar to the left.  They are the next part of the story.The owner, Alvaro Sa, spoke enough English so we could communicate and suggested a few dishes.  It was a treat to enjoy some things that we would never have tried unless we had been guided along the way.  We started with some thinly sliced cured meats followed by the most lovely steamed clams, the size of a quarter, or should I say a one Euro coin.  After that we had stewed chicken gizzards.  Yes gizzards!  They were to die for and were something we NEVER would have tried on our own. It’s a good thing that Brenda wasn’t totally clear on what they were when we ordered them.   Alvaro said we’d love them  He was right!  Yum…

We tried just about everything that we, or Alvaro, could think of including some lovely port wine after dinner made by one of Alvaro’s relatives.   And, the entire bill came to about 30 Euros, very reasonable.  Especially for the best dinner we have had yet.

He was a such a nice guy, Alvaro.  After dinner we asked him where he had purchased the lovely pottery that was decorating his bar. He thought a minute and told us of a potter that lived about a half hour north and gave us his address.

We have been looking for some pottery to bring back with us a just had to visit the source.  So, this morning, in the driving rain, we took off on a quest for pottery.   We got lost a few times (well, more than a few times) and it took more than an hour to get there but we finally did.   I have to say that the highway system here confounds me.  Where to get off?  Which exit?

Well, when we finally found the place it wasn’t the right one after all.  However, we were VERY CLOSE and the folks in the “factory”, actually an ancient dark warehouse, were very nice and while their pottery wasn’t the type that we were looking for, they knew someone who made the “right” kind.  And, after a bit of sign language and some broken English from one of our “helpers”, we were able to determine that the uncle of one of them was the place we were looking for, and he was close by.  Perfect.  And, as if that wasn’t good enough, one of them actually jumped into his car and guided us through the village to the correct place. 

Perfect.  We were thrilled as we had been looking for pottery of this type and to be able to visit the actual spot where it was being made was wonderful.  The shop, or should I say factory, was very small with only four employees, two men and two women.  And… we were offered a tour. 

There was pottery of many shapes and sizes.Some was hand formed and some was made using a simple pressing machine that took “blanks” and, in this case, were formed them into lovely bowls. These round blanks were fed into a press that pushed them into a mold and cut the lip. There were hundreds of bowls, fresh from the press, on shelves drying out prior to finishing. The finishing work is done by hand and then they were painted with colored glaze by the two women, both relatives.   Each piece is hand painted. Most of the production takes place from now until spring when everything is sold in bulk for sale in shops and markets, during the summer season, to tourists.   In spite of their only being four of them, they turn out a lot of finished work.   Everywhere we turned there were racks and racks of pottery, some drying and some already decorated and waiting to be fired in the kiln.

This is a huge rack of finished work fresh out of the kiln.  It must take a lot of gas to heat all of this up to 1,000 CelsiusBrenda was like a kid in a candy shop.  Alas, so much to choose from, so little room in our luggage.  And this was just the “leftover” that hadn’t been shipped last season. We finally settled on some lovely plates, wine pitchers and a pig.  Yes, a pig.  We may have to throw some clothing out to make room in our luggage for everything.  Looks like we’ll be doing some luggage shopping soon.  Good thing that United allows one checked piece of luggage for each passenger and up to 50lbs.  Fingers crossed that we can find a way to avoid paying extra.   

All along the way we have tried to find places to visit that were off of the beaten path and have made decisions on where to go next based on recommendations of folks we met along the way.  It’s turned out to be a great way to see the “real” Portugal.

Speaking of real, Vila do Conde is not a place that many tourists visit in spite of the fact that it’s a lovely little town.  They always loose out to the big tourist spots like Lisbon and Porto.  And many of the European tourists that visit in the summer head to the southern coast where there are lovely beaches.

As Vila do Conde is situated at the mouth of a river, there’s a small harbor and in the past it was a thriving ship building town.  There’s a charming little maritime museum complete with it’s own replica of a ship from the 15th century, the Age of Discovery.  These ships, only about 90′ long, sailed all over the world and as far away as China and Australia.  They must have rolled terribly all the while going really, really slowly.  The bow doesn’t have quite as narrow an entry as Pandora’s.The ship was made here in the city, on the same waterfront that had launched ships for hundreds of years.  She is in quite nice condition and seemed to be quite accurate in many details. You could go in the cabins but some spots weren’t lit enough to take photos. However, the ship’s hold had good lighting.  I can’t imagine how it must have been to travel for a year or more on a ship like this.  Not too many creature comforts.  Where’s the shower?  Hmm…Here’s a photo of the waterfront taken when this was a thriving ship building port.  Here’s the same view today.  The convent is still there as are many of the homes. The town has many beautiful buildings and everywhere you turn there is a lovely view, even in the rain.  It’s not much different than hundreds of years ago. This town is a real gem and not one we would have likely visited without local help.  It’s been wonderful to make last minute decisions on where to head next and to have a month to bounce from place to place is making for a really fun trip.

Tomorrow, we head back to the Douro river and up into the mountains to enjoy some of the most remote areas of Portugal. The mountains, where we are headed, top out at over 3,500 feet and are home to much of the grapes that are made into the port wine that Portugal is famous for.

This is indeed, the “real” Portugal and we are loving it.

 

DON’T JUMP! No wait… Jump!!!

It’s Saturday morning and we are about to head out for another day of sightseeing here in Porto.  Yesterday was a great day and in spite of trying not to cover too much ground, we ended up walking for hours, up hills both ways. When we got back to the hotel we were pretty pooped.

Anyway, I won’t bore you with endless pictures of yet another church or castle.  And yes, there are plenty of them to marvel at here.  So, instead, as Monty Python once said, “and now for something completely different”.

How about someone leaping from a bridge?  Yes, that qualifies as “different”.    

Yesterday, while we were doing our usual up and down and up again, as we walked around the city and took time to tour yet another port wine house, we happened upon a young woman perched on the outside rail of a bridge, high above the water, clearly ready to jump.   Yes, jump…

Now, that’s not something that you see every day…  The normal reaction when you see someone about to jump off of a bridge is to say, well, “Don’t Jump, it can’t be that bad”.   No wait, she has a huge smile on her face and so do her two friends, who were standing there with her, sopping wet from their own jumps. No, no despair here.   My first reaction was “what? is she nuts?”  then  ”No wait, don’t jump… Not yet anyway…  Let me get into position to take pictures!”   Perhaps she was thinking “Facebook post” when she saw me standing below ready to document her jump.  Of she went, with a yell.And down…And she hit the water.  Splat!   That must have hurt.After taking a few moments to recover, she swam to shore, climbed out on the slippery rocks and casually asked “can you send me the photos?”.   

“Sure”, I said and gave her our boat card thinking that it would somehow be obscene for me, a guy in his “upper mid 50s”, to ask a young women for her e-mail.

Inbox…”Hi Bob!  We were the girls who jumped off the bridge today into the river and were wondering if you could send us pictures/videos. Thanks!!”

I expect that the photos I sent are already on Facebook and that she is plenty proud of herself as are her two other “plunging” friends for such a feat.   Imagine what the phone call will be like when her mother asks “so honey, what did you and your friends do today?”.  “Oh, nothing, just hung out with the girls”.  Yeah, hung by your fingernails from a bridge over a river.   


So, yes, we did have a great wine tour but isn’t this just so much more interesting?

Perhaps I’ll close with a shot from yesterday’s lunch spot high on the hills along the Douro river.  Oh yeah, that’s the bridge.  

And yes, lunch was great and so much better, for us at least, than leaping from a bridge in November.

And that’s my report.

Porto Portugal, home of the Douro wine boats, cheese and bread…

It’s Friday morning and it’s a beautiful day here in Porto.  We will be here for a few more days and are really enjoying our time in this historic city.  One of teh best parts of our visit is seeing the Douro river that runs through the city.  This city is also the home of port wine and it’s the only place in the world that wine of this name comes from.

And there’s more.  As an added benefit of visiting the city, I get to do a real boating related post, finally, as the river is the home to a unique style of traditional sailing craft.  These boats were used for many years to transport wine in casks down the river from the wine country that is upstream from the city.

Port is a fortified wine that is made from either white or red wine that is made elsewhere and then brought to Porto where it is mixed with additional alcohol and aged a minimum of three years and often much longer to make the well known wine.  This is a good link to learn more about this type of wine.

While the wine is brought to the city via truck these days, the city still has a tradition of maintaining the historic boats that used to transport it from up river.  And, it seems that they are still building a few new ones.  And, the tour boats that are used today on the river are still built out of wood although they are now powered by engines.  We really enjoyed our short cruise on one these nice boats.  

The style is unique to the region with a high bow and stern, designed to manage the rapids in the river north of the city.   The current really rips when the tide is ebbing.  The force of the current is impressive.

Our hotel is a short distance from the river just off of a really impressive city square.  I guess that you could call this the “modern” section of the city.  As you go down to the river, you are in the really old section where the port wine business are located, even to this day. The sides of the river are very steep and there are a number of really impressive bridges.  In particular, this one was designed by Eiffel of Eiffel Tower fame.  It’s beautiful and has a pedestrian walkway on it’s top. The boat that we boarded for the river tour looked like this one.  It was constructed locally out of wood.  I like the design and was impressed with the speed it could make against the current that was ebbing at close to 5kts. Unlike so many tourist boats you see in historic areas that only barely resemble their traditional counterparts, these are very nice and there is a high attention to detail in their construction.   The interior was quite well appointed.  Brenda and I were the only ones on board that seemed to appreciate the need to stay out of the sun.  I guess it’s from our years aboard, always trying to avoid getting a “good tan”. We went under a number of great bridges but the Eiffel was clearly the most impressive. There is a boatyard perched on the bank of the river, right in the heart of the city where they are building and repairing traditional boats.   There were several traditional boats under construction and a big tour boat being made as well.

Quite a bit of activity.  Notice the chain saw near the guy on the scaffolding.  The builders are clearly all about efficiency and using the best tools for the job.The port wine companies are thriving and each “house” underwrites a traditional craft that’s moored on the river and flies their banner.  It’s impressive to see them lining the waterfront.   They appear to be in excellent condition.  It’s good to see a thriving classic wooden boat tradition living today. I found this wonderful video of the Douro wine boats making their way down the river back in the 20s.  It’s very well done.  Check it out.  Amazingly, the video only has a few hundred views.  

We also took a tour of the Ferreira Port caves.  It was very well done and the tasting was spectacular.  Bummer that we can’t bring more than a few bottles home with us.  The cellars were room after room of huge barrels, some holding 15,000 liters of wine and there were hundreds and hundreds of them.  After the tour and yet another tasting we enjoyed a terrific dinner overlooking the river as the sun set.  Yes, we even had wine with dinner.  What a spot.  Brenda and I have been wondering if it’s possible to die from too much cheese, bread and cured meets?  Yes, we know the hazards of too much wine as well.  However, no risk of DUI as our rental car is safely in a parking garage.   So far, we seem to be surviving on our “limited diet”.   Yumm…I just never get tired or nighttime views of these beautiful cities.  Well, today a walk over the top of the great Eiffel bridge.  We’d better get on with our day as it’s almost time for lunch.  Bread and cheese?  Hmm…

In Porto, our most northern stop in Portugal

It’s Thursday morning and we are now in Porto, having arrived yesterday after a few hour drive north.  Speaking of roads, it’s amazing to see how much money they have spent on roads here and it seems to me that on a per resident basis, Portugal might have more roads than anywhere I have ever been.  It’s just not that big of a country and there are roads heading everywhere.

When I asked a resident what they thought had contributed most to the out of control national debt for the country, his immediate reaction was “highways”.   He told me that the government had made many new highways over the last few years that were way beyond what was needed.  I agree, the roads are terrific.

The other reason that he felt that the debt had gotten out of control was because they had built many stadiums for their hosting of the World Cup soccer a few years ago.  He said that they had built a dozen or more and most, if not all, are now sitting empty.  We saw one of these beautiful stadiums on our trip and it was indeed a grand building with lots of nearby housing that also looked vacant. I guess it’s pretty easy to get carried away with national pride and loose sight of what it’s going to cost in the long run.

Nice stadium.  Bummer it’s not in use these days beyond a display for a local car dealer. In case you are wondering, I took that photo while standing on the wall of this castle.  I’d say that’s about as much of a contrast as is possible.  In many ways, Portugal is a good example of contrast; the contrast of old and new.  So, speaking of old, we are now in Porto, the home of Port wine which we plan on trying a bit of while we are here for a few days.   Today we will be touring the old part of the city on foot which should be fun.  I expect that it’s built on a hill as it seems that most everywhere we go involves a hill.  Always up both ways, it seems.

I should include a few more photos of our time in Coimbra.  While we were there, we headed up to the highest point in the city and enjoyed this beautiful panoramic view of the surrounding area.  Click on it and it will go full screen, I think.  Very scenic, if a bit vertigo inducing. We loved this Mini Moka car.  It’s a car that only a golf cart could truly love.  Looks like something out of a cartoon. And, of course, always food on display in the markets to make you think of your next meal. On our last night there we enjoyed a walk in the city after dark and happened upon a group of young singers who were camped out at a little bar on a back street in the historic area.  They were students at the university, the oldest in Europe, BTW.  Note that they are wearing black capes, a tradition at the university.  It was a bit chilly and they had wrapped them around themselves giving them a somewhat medieval look.   Their impromptu “concert” of traditional Portuguese ballads was perhaps designed to get free beer, which they did.  We loved it and sat across the street at a bar and had a glass of wine, listening to them play for an hour.   It was a magical scene. What a wonderful and completely non-commercial experience that topped off our visit.  How serene.  A nice trio of young men. The one in the center was particularly engaging and charming.  However, I am not sure I’d want him dating my daughter, if I had one.  He looked like a bit of a scoundrel, in a nice way.   I guess that only added to the magic of the moment.

The rest of the city looked lovely in the twilight. Off to simple dinner.  And, all this with a 6.5 Euro bottle of nice red wine.  Can’t beat it.   We have eaten a LOT of tomatoes on this trip.   They are, unlike in the US, as good as they look. All this is making me hungry.  Perhaps I’d better head off to breakfast.