Given that the spark of the germ of the idea that got us here to Porto was reading Cork Boat by John Pollack, a necessary component of this trip was to experience Douro River up close.
So this morning the alarm went off at 6:15 a.m., we were out of the house by 7:00 a.m., and at the São Bento Station by 8:00 a.m. for departure to Régua, about 2 hours upriver from Porto, and the departure point for our cruise down-river. The day was perfect: crisp and sunny with just a little wind.
We were sailing with Douro Azul, one of the major operators on the river, and our 42 EUR ticket (1/2 price for Oliver) included train transportation up and cruise back down, with 3-course lunch on the boat included. It was worth every penny.
Before I found Cork Boat in the used books section last year, I’d never heard of the Douro river: Danube, Nile, Vltava yes, but never a word about the Douro. This is not surprising, of course, given that for many years I’d confused Puerto Rico with Portugal (yes, I am an idiot; and it kind of makes it hard to tear a strip out of others for that whole Slovenia — Slovakia confusion).
I’m happy to say that not only have I come to understand the unique attractions of Portugal, but now that I’ve sailed down the Douro, I’ve come to appreciate it as one of the world’s great rivers. I took a gazillion photos (warning: many photos of shore from river, locks, etc.), but none can really do justice to the majesty of this body of water. Like the Grand Canyon, it’s something that you simply can’t take a picture of; you gotta be there yourself to understand.
Although the cruise down-river took 6 hours, it didn’t feel long at all, as there was always something to catch the eye around the next corner. If you are ever anywhere near the Douro, I heartily recommend experiencing it firsthand.
We arrived back in Vila Nova de Gaia quay (across the river from Porto) around 6:00 p.m., and feeling the tickle of being famished, we opted to eat right on the wharf at an Indian restaurant called Real Indiana. Much to our surprise (we expected Pizza Hut style Indian food), the food was excellent, and the service stellar (anyone who gives Oliver a Kinder Surprise Egg on the way out deserves an award in my books).
When dinner was over we walked back into Porto over the Ponte Luiz I, up the hill back to São Bento Station, and caught the Metro home.
It was an excellent day.