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Trip Report Our 8 day adventure in beautiful Portugal

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Day 1 – We arrived in Porto via non-stop flight from EWR earlier than scheduled, around 6:30am! Took a cab to Guest House Douro, in Ribeira section. As expected, it was too early to check in. We reorganized our things so we can leave our bags with the guest house, and head out and to explore while we wait for our room. Joao greeted us with fresh squeezed OJ, and gave us a map with the highlights pointed out.

It was cloudy and on the cloudy side (mid 50s). We first took a quick look at the riverfront then followed Joao’s suggest route, and stopped for a quick breakfast at a small hole-in-the-wall café. We picked 2 pastries unsure of exactly what they were. One had a meat inside (kind of like a cold empanada, and the other was fairly plain). We asked the person at the counter if she can heat them up, which she did with a panini press. The coffee was good, and the pastry, a bit better when warmed, but nothing special.

We headed to the São Bento Estacio (train station) to see the tiled murals. From there we walked towards the Mercado do Balhao first strolling along Avenida dos Aliados. After seeing the la Boqueria last year, this market was not nearly as impressive. From there we headed toward Café Majestic but it was still closed because it was early. So we settled for an open café on Avenida dos Aliados where we rested and had another coffee. We then walked to Torre dos Clerigos and climbed the tower. After basically having pulled an all-nighter, we pushed ourselves up the stairs, but it wasn’t easy. It’s worth the climb, great views, great photo ops!

It was still cloudy and there was on and off drizzle, but not too bad. After climbing the tower we walked over to the Livraria Lello book store, which is quite beautiful. Our last stop before returning to the guest house was Igreja de São Francisco. At this point it started to rain.

We returned to the Guest House and our room (302) was ready. Carmen brought us up to the room. The room, like the rest of the guest house, was meticulously clean, and nicely decorated, but small, even by European standards, with little storage space. We freshened up and went next door to Ora Viva (a Rick Steve’s rec) for a quick lunch. This was the first of many “hearty” meals. The food was perfectly fine but nothing exceptional. We returned to the guest house. We asked if they could set us up with a dinner reservation, and we headed to our room to rest.

We had to pick up our car rental before 7pm at the local Hertz office (about a mile and a half from the guest house). We woke up from our rest, took showers, and planned to take a cab to the Hertz office. At this point there were torrential downpours. Carmen kept calling for a taxi, without success (calls weren’t even being picked up). While we waited, she offered us a glass of port. Finally she reached a dispatcher, and a cab came. There was some heavy traffic due to a big soccer match in town, so it took a while to get to the car rental, but luckily we arrived before closing. The guest house has a deal with the indoor garage on Largo do Infante, a few blocks away (15E per day, with in and out access). It was a much easier trip to the garage, and the rain let up.

Carmen set us up for dinner at her favorite local spot, A Grade. The meal here was very good and reasonable. It’s a small family run spot, frequented by locals. After dinner we took in the river views of Vila Nova de Gaia at night.

Day 2 - We set a breakfast time of 8am (the earliest offered) because we planned on heading out to the Douro Valley, weather permitting. Breakfast was a delightful surprise. Joao beautifully arranges a plate of assorted fruit for the table, like a work of art. Also included was a basket of assorted breads, jams, ham, cheese, fresh squeezed OJ and espresso or cappuccino. Everything was delicious.

We probably got going by around 9am and headed toward Pinhao. We decided to trust our GPS to guide but also had a map and directions. The route was on A4, then through Mesao Frio and Regua. We had a heads up on construction near Amarante (thanks to dmelo1). There was construction, but the traffic was light. We were confused at that point, and somehow missed our exit. We stayed on A4 because from what I could tell on the map, there were alternate routes. We were at the mercy of our GPS which proved to be a bit of an adventure.

It took as through the windiest of mountain roads and through small hillside villages with the tiniest cobblestone streets. None of this is represented I think on any map! We held our breath and followed the GPS instructions. Finally we arrived at Pinhao, with a ½ hour to spare before the train to Pocinho. We were glad to be out of the car at this point.

The train ride was very pleasant. The scenery was spectacular. At the Pocinho station, we had about a 3/4 hour before the return train. We grabbed a sandwich at the station for lunch. The weather cooperated with our plans. It was clear and sunny. Out return drive went without a hitch. This time we went on the original route, and managed to not get lost with the construction detour (although were a bit confused at times). I think we’d still be driving along the mountainside if we hadn’t had our GPS. It was a lifesaver.

When we returned to the Guest House, we again, asked for a restaurant rec. I had also done a little research. And as it turned out, Joao came up with the same restaurant I did. A place in the Foz district, right on the beach next to the fort, called Shis. This is a new age type Asian fusion place, and it was excellent. Joao, had called for a reservation. When we arrived they greeted us with a complementary glass of champagne. That evening, after dinner we walked around the river front because the weather had cleared. We also walked across the Ponte Dom Luis I bridge and back.

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