Porto: Douro Cruise and More

Today we took a long cruise up the Douro River. It carried us all the way from Porto to the “village” of Pinão. I’ll explain why “village” is in quotes later. We left the dock in Porto at about 9:00 a.m., after an 8:00 a.m. pickup at our hotel. We didn’t arrive in Pinão until after 5:30 in the evening. That wasn’t the end of the day, but more on that later.

I mention the cruise’s length because it’s now late and I’m tired. Consequently, expect even more typos that usual in this post. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking with it. Although, I might revisit this post at a later date and clean it up.

I want to go to sleep, so let’s get going.

Douro Cruise

On the Douro River
On the Douro River

The boat we rode on had three decks. The top deck included a roofless area that took up more than half of the deck, an indoor bar with a few tables, and the wheelhouse. The middle deck held almost entirely tables. The lower deck comprised mostly the washrooms and a kitchen. Fortunately, the kitchen and washrooms were entirely separate, with different stairs leading to each. I say “fortunately”
because if they were all one open room, well, yuck.

The roofless area up top had some plastic chairs, but only enough for probably less than a quarter of the passengers. There was also open space where people could stand.

Why all the tables on the middle deck, you may ask. Here’s why: The price of the cruise included breakfast and lunch. When we boarded, the staff assigned us a table where we ate both meals. There were three rows of tables, one row ran along the large picture windows on each side of the deck. The third ran down the middle of the deck.

The Meal Room

A town/village along the way
A town/village along the way

We were assigned a table by a window. The table had six seats. At tables, such as ours, where groups of two were assigned, they sat only four people at the table, with the middle two facing seats left empty. I don’t know if that is standard practice or if it was intended as social distancing due to of COVID.

Because my brother and I were the first of the people assigned to our table to arrive, we got the seats beside the picture window. This afforded us great views of one side of the river. So, bonus.

After breakfast, we went to the open part of the top deck. All of the seats were taken. I stood up there for probably a couple of hours. The standing didn’t bother me. I have strong legs, including good knees. But the day got hot. Very hot.

The Heat

Another town/village along the way
Another town/village along the way

I have a couple of weather apps that use my phone’s GPS to show me a weather report from the nearest weather station. At one point in the afternoon, one of my apps told me it was 40℃. For the benefit of anyone reading this who can’t relate to Celsius, that coverts to sizzling℉, bordering on hellish℉.

The deck that contained our table offered a soupçon of air conditioning. The air conditioning struggled to significantly overcome the overwhelming heat. It failed in its struggles. The air conditioning didn’t manage to lower the temperature to comfortable℉, but at least it did make it marginally cooler than up top.

My brother and I spent a lot of time at our table, my brother more than me. I like to suffer. It builds character.

Because the air conditioning struggled, people pressed into service anything they had that could act as a hand-waved fan. They used brochures, documents, and whatever, waving them furiously toward their faces. Not me. I had a hat. I took that off my head and waved it as a fan.

The sole job of one of the boat’s staff was to convince people to allow her to take their pictures. Passengers who agreed could get prints of the pictures, for a fee, of course. I always refuse those offers, as I did this time.

However, the people who accepted the service received their 8×10 photos inside a nice, sturdy folder. Those seemed to make great fans for the people who got them. Maybe it was a mistake not to buy the photo service this time.

Douro Views

Flourishing forests
Flourishing forests

The views of the Douro River were gorgeous. A lot of flourishing forests ran up the hills on both sides of the valley. I took some pictures of those sections, but not a lot.

The reason I didn’t take a lot of pictures of the forested areas is, as everyone always says, if you’ve seen one flourishing, hill-hugging forest, you’ve seen them all.

Wait. Come to think of it, I can’t recall anyone ever saying that. It may just be me. If so, feel free to use it yourself, but I expect royalties if you do. These trips aren’t cheap, you know.

I included above one of the few forest pictures I took because, if I didn’t, despite the fact that generally only three or four people read this journal, at least one of you would complain about the lack of flourishing-forest pictures. You know who you are. To be honest, I don’t know which of you it would be, but I’m sure at least one of you would complain.

Grape vine terraces
Grapevine terraces

I took the forest picture posted above from the back of the boat. That way I could capture forests on both banks of the Douro. And it also allowed me to include the Portuguese flag in the picture because I don’t want anyone to overdose on nature

So, now that I’ve included a picture, you can’t grumble about that anymore. Sorry. You’ll have to find something else to gripe about. But, don’t worry. I have confidence in you. I’m sure you’ll come up with something.

In addition to the forested areas, many sections of the hills were terraced with grapevines growing on the terraces. Growing grapes for port wine is the big thing in the Douro valley. The very big thing.

In addition to the forests and the grapevine terraces, a number of villages and towns dotted the scenery on either side of the river. One thing I noticed was that, once we got past Porto, bridges across the river were few and far between. And I didn’t see any docks for ferries that might transport people across the river. Therefore, at most points along the Douro, a visit from a town or village on one side of the river to one on the other side must take a long time. What? Don’t the people on the opposing banks get along?

Damn Douro Dams

A Douro Dam
A Douro Dam

The description of the Douro cruise said it included free admission to three dams. Maybe I’m a stickler, but I take issue with that. We didn’t have free admission to any dams. We had free admission to three locks adjacent to dams.

(When I say “locks,” of course I mean devices used to raise or lower boats up or down to the water level behind or in front of a damn, not devices used to lock doors and chests. And, of course, when I say “chests” I mean boxes used to store things, not parts of human or animal anatomies.

Damn. And, yes, I mean damn, not dam. Sometimes I bore even myself to tears with my lengthy, inane clarifications. And, trust me. I read an English translation of War and Peace from covert to cover once. So I don’t bore easily.)

And it’s not like they had a choice but to give us free admission to the locks. We were on the boat. The boat went into the locks. The locks raised the boat up. The boat left the locks. What were they going to do? Throw us overboard if we cheaped out and bought a ticket that didn’t include admission to the locks?

Campsite

More grapevine terraces
More grapevine terraces

An occasional, brief commentary played in multiple languages at various moments throughout the cruise. At one point, it directed our attention to a “campsite” on the left. I took exception to that description. It wasn’t a campsite. It was a trailer park. True, the trailers were on land terraced up the bank, so each trailer had a view of the river. But it was still a trailer park to my mind.

To me, a campsite has small spots dotted in among trees where people pitch tents. Some people may squeeze an RV, or maybe a small hitched trailer, into some of the spots, but they are mostly for tents. That’s not what this was. The site had almost no trees. And the trailers didn’t look like they were for moving. What’s more, I didn’t see a single tent.

To be honest, I haven’t had any interest in tenting for decades, but words have meanings. That wasn’t a campsite. Those are the rules. I don’t make them up. Well, maybe I do. But I sill think they’re appropriate.

Pinão

Our cruise ended in the “village” of Pinão. I promised to explain why I put “village” in quotes. Here’s why: “Village” is the term provided to us in the commentary on the cruise. But Pinão appeared to be well into the town, not village category.

Pinão has a number of streets, all chock-a-block with buildings. I counted six floors on at least one building and there were others of a similar height. There might have a couple even a little higher. And most of the buildings were at least two stories tall. And few of them were fully detached from their neighbours. To my mind, that’s a town, not a village.

Croft Port Wines

View from the vineyard
View from the vineyard

I didn’t get to see much of Pinão on foot because, after disembarking from the boat, they loaded us up onto two large buses and drove us up to the Quinta da Roêda vineyard of a company called Croft, a company with hundreds of years of history.

At the vineyard, a guide told us some facts, figures, and stories about the growing of port wine grapes and the making of the wines. Some of the information he gave us was the same as information we got at the Cálem Cellars tour a couple of days ago.

But we did get some new information. For example, the guide at Cálem told us that, with port wines, vintners stop fermentation early by fortifying the wine with high-alcohol-content brandy. That kills off the yeast responsible for fermentation.

This results in less sugar being fermented off, making port wine sweeter than other wines. And the high-alcohol brandy makes it more alcoholic.

The Croft guide also told us this, but he added that the alcohol content of the brandy they use is always 77%, never 78%. The reason is that the government charges a higher tax on brandies with 78% or more alcohol content.

One fact that the Croft guide told us that the Cálem guide didn’t is that, because there are so many vineyards along the Douro Valley, irrigating all of them every year with water drawn from the Douro would reduce the flow of the river. Consequently, the law permits the vineyards to irrigate vines only in the first three years after planting. The thinking is that, by then, the roots will be deep enough to draw water up from the subsoil.

But some years are very dry. Then, even the old vines need irrigation.

How do the vineyards get around this? According to the guide, some vineyards plant rosemary at the top of their hills. There are no regulations against irrigating rosemary every year. Gravity being what it is, water flows downhill. Enough said.

Because this is a less-than-scrupulous way of getting around the regulations, the guide asked us not to publish that information on TripAdvisor. But he said nothing about not publishing it on a little-read online journal. So, here you are. Please keep it to yourself.

The guide also told us that there, upriver in the Douro Valley, it can get as hot as 45 or 48℃ in the summer, which is no longer bordering on, but rather well into the hellish℉ range. So, I guess we got off easy today.

After listening to the guide, we got a tasting of a rosé port wine. It had a much fresher, less sweet, and less strong taste than the few ruby ports that I’d tasted before this trip (although, until this trip I didn’t know they were ruby ports and didn’t know there were any other types of ports). It was also less sweet, less strong, and more fresh than the white and tawny ports I tasted at Cálem.

After the tasting, the tour guide loaded us back on the buses for a two-hour ride back to Porto.