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Trip Report Trip Report: a Douro river cruise and Porto

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Our trip to the River Douro comprised a week’s cruise on a river boat followed by two add-on nights in Porto. Regular readers may (or may not) remember that I generally travel with my 70-something parents. It was our first river cruise, and the first time I had been to Portugal, although my parents had previously dropped in on Lisbon while on a proper cruise (but it was so hot they didn’t really do anything), and they have also been to, and loved, Madeira.

Why did we pick this destination? We were initially interested in a river cruise because last year I had plantar fasciitis and my foot hurt, so I didn’t want to walk much, and the idea of sitting on deck while beautiful scenery passed me by was an attractive one. My parents are also starting to feel their age a bit. As it happened, I was more or less better by the time we got there, which was just as well, because although it was relaxing there was some walking involved in excursions.

When did we go? July. This was not our first choice, as we thought it would be too hot, but exploring possibilities in October we discovered that our first choice of boat was booked up for the whole of this year already, and alternatives had no room in May or June. In some respects that may have been a blessing in disguise as I gather some May sailings didn’t actually sail due to water problems in the locks, but it was very, very hot. The worst day or two it was 40 degrees C; most days it was over 35, and only one day was under 30.

More to come...

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    Have a great time! We visited Pinhao on the trip, and it seemed very nice.

    We flew from Gatwick to Porto on TAP, the Portugese airline on a Thursday. The plane was small, and service was good. A snack was provided, but with no choice (unfortunate for me that going out it was a salmon roll and as mentioned earlier, I don’t like fish; luckily I had purchased a sandwich at the airport). The plane was delayed taking off by about an hour, but free water was supplied as we waited. We had purchased a package deal which meant that at the airport we were met and taken to our boat, the Douro Princess. Like all the boats which offer this cruise, it was moored on the south bank of the river, in Vila Nova de Gaia, technically a separate municipality from Porto proper, and the area where all the port wine warehouses are situated. The crew loaded our luggage (a good thing because there was a fairly narrow stair down at the side of the boat, and I’m not sure I would have negotiated it successfully on my own with a suitcase or even my carry-on bag). We were greeted with a welcome soft drink (a refreshing non-alcoholic lemon cocktail) and wet flannel facecloth, both of which were also offered on other occasions on returning hot and sticky from an excursion - a very thoughtful touch which was much appreciated.

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    What was the boat like? The Douro Princess, which is one of the older boats on the river. It has cabin space for 80 tourists, but there were 55 travelling on our cruise. Probably about two thirds were British, the remainder being a mix of Portugese, French, German and Brazilian. The top deck comprised a sun deck with loungers, about half of it being covered over with tables and chairs instead; access to the top was by fairly narrow stairways at the side of the boat. Some of the larger, plusher boats on the route (including our original choice of boat) have swimming pools, and that was the one thing I would really have liked, especially on the hottest days. Next deck down had the restaurant at the back) and I think the kitchen was hidden behind it. In the middle was reception, and on the other side the bar and lounge. The bar was rarely populated on our trip in the evenings – people either sat out on the top deck or went to bed early as a rule.

    Our package included all drinks, but some travellers had to pay for bar drinks; they also supplied small chilled bottles of water useful for taking out during the day, or for the cabin in the night. The only problem was that they ran out of Coke Zero (my choice of drink as I don’t drink tea, coffee or alcohol) at lunch time on the second day. They did have some nice non-alcoholic fruit cocktails, though – a special each day, and also an alcoholic one. There was also a DIY tea and coffee station in the bar during the day.

    Just through the end of the lounge was a door to my favourite spot on the boat – a small seating area at the front with the best views as we sailed along. Because it was small and out of the way (you could also access it via walkways on the outside) there were rarely many others vying for chairs so it was quite private too. There were tables and chairs so you could sit and drink or read while enjoying the gorgeous scenery.

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    Just a minor annoyance, TDudette ;) If I'd know they had so little I would have eked it out a bit more.

    Downstairs were the cabins. We had booked 'superior' cabins, which had windows (no balconies on this boat) on the upper of the two cabin floors. They were very small, 10ft square, which was just big enough for two single beds, a wardrobe and a small dressing table/chest of drawers, with an even tinier bathroom (shower, WC and sink) en suite. My room was actually even smaller because it was squeezed in at the narrower front end – it makes sense that they would put single travellers in those smaller rooms, so I didn’t feel hard done by, but it was so cramped I couldn’t actually reach the drawers and ended up only unpacking hanging things and leaving the rest in my suitcase on the spare bed. The silver lining for me was that being at the front, I had extra small windows looking over the front as well as the standard big ones at the side; the down side was that as there was a walkway all round the boat, and my front window looked out over a bit with navigational equipment where the captain and crew were sometimes based, so it didn’t feel quite private and I didn’t really like to leave the blinds open. It was all perfectly clean – really beautifully kept, but personally I found the beds a little bit hard as well as narrow. I like a firm mattress, but this was a little bit much for me, and as a result I didn’t actually sleep very well on board. It was sometimes a bit creaky sounding in the night as well, although otherwise it was amazingly quite and peaceful. I understand the cheaper cabins on the deck below, which had no windows, were actually a bit bigger, but even though I rarely took full advantage of my windows, I suspect I would have felt a little claustrophobic without the possibility. I don’t know where the staff slept – even further down? They also somehow squeezed in a laundry, as they offered a laundry service – my mother took advantage of this and was very happy with the results – a next-day turnaround and everything perfectly washed and ironed, and she didn’t think the cost was exorbitant.
    All meals were included on board. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten so much. Breakfast and lunch were buffet style (with waiting staff available for drinks and constantly replenishing dishes. The breakfasts were pretty good. There were always hot selections – always nice lean bacon and little sausages, and scrambled eggs, and a varying selection of other items – fried eggs one day, other days included porridge, mushrooms, and various other things. There was also always freshly cut fruit/fruit salad; croissants, rolls and bread; butter, jams, honey, etc; cold meat and cheese; milk; fruit juices; and pastries. There were two toasters available for self service. Breakfast was served for 90 minutes to two hours each day (exact times depending on what the day’s itinerary was). Staff were replenishing dishes right up to the end of the set time, and one never felt hurried. The staff were generally wonderful – so lovely and helpful.

    Lunches had a range of salad dishes, a hot soup, and usually three hot (or hottish) dishes. Evening meals comprised a starter, a soup (usually quite watery/brothy in consistency but quite nice flavourwise), a choice of two main courses (meat or fish – pickings would have been very slim for vegetarians), and pudding. If you didn’t like the pudding on offer, you could have cheese or fruit – I had the cheese one night, and it was very good, and should have had it another when I accidentally ate some soft meringue (I have an intolerance to lightly cooked eggs) and was rewarded with several hours of excruciating pain, but it was entirely my fault for eating the (delicious) offending substance. There was one evening when I didn’t like the meat (and I always hate fish), so I asked if I might have the dessert cheese instead, and they gave me a very large plateful which was so sweet of them.

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    Hi nonconformist - so far, your cruise sounds so like the one I did in May on the Rhone, I'm there on board with you ! [though the bar was in use rather more on our boat than on yours, despite it being an all pay affair].

    I particularly agree with you about the food; I too have never eaten so much in the course of a week - it was a good job that the cruise only lasted 7 days.

    I'm really looking forward to reading more about your experiences.

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    Unless you go for the ultra-luxury level, with prices to match, I suspect they're all much of a muchness.

    After dinner the first night we had a stroll on shore. The boat asked travellers to hand in their electronic door key cards on leaving the ship, in return for a plastic boarding card. This was really to make sure no one got left behind – in some ports they didn’t bother, depending on when they were sailing again.

    The bank at Vila Nova de Gaia was fairly busy with people walking around, a few stalls selling hats and purses and food, plus some bars and restaurants set back a bit. Moored in the river were also some examples (possibly replicas?) of the old sailing boats which once brought the port grapes down to Porto from the vineyards, and there were good views of the main city of Porto on the other bank. We were also intrigued by the cable car station, and made a mental note to try that on our spare days in Porto at the end. Ships sail only during the day on the River Douro, so we stayed moored at Vila Gaia overnight, and set sail around six a.m. on Friday.

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    We went through the first lock while eating breakfast.

    Our first stop was at 10.30 that morning, at a little place called Bitetos. There was very little there – a couple of cafes at the landing spot, a rather plush souvenir shop clearly aimed at the more well heeled cruisers, and a little boat hire place (canoes etc). We had about an hour before we set off on the first excursion, so we had a little walk uphill. There were some luxuriantly growing flowers and real orange trees, some in gardens and some actually wild. There were some rather ramshackle looking abandoned stone houses, including at least one with a for sale sign. Great views, but definitely a major building project!

    We walked as far up as a communal outdoor stone laundry, which we recognised from seeing similar ones in Italy. Also someone had left their knickers hanging out to dry.

    We walked back down to the landing stage, and boarded a coach which was taking us out for lunch. This was not really a sightseeing stop, but a lunch in an old monastery (Alpendurada) up in the hills overlooking the Douro valley, which has been converted into a hotel. It was actually served by our own waiting staff from the boat, dressed up in monastic robes, which was a bit silly, but it was a very pleasant meal. We saw a bit of the building and some bits of antique furniture and tapestries while we were there, and also enjoyed some splendid views.

    The afternoon was spent serenely sailing along the river, with the main point of interest being the transit through the biggest of the locks on the river. We sat in my favourite spot at the front of the boat, which was the best place to experience it. One had to dodge a shower from the water coming down at one point.

    We reached Regua, one of the largest villages on the river, about 6.30 pm, and left again at 10 am on Saturday. That was one of the minor disappointments for me, in that I would have dearly liked to visit the museum there on the history of the Douro region, but it was only open 10-6. I believe it is included on some boats’ itineraries.

    We did have a walk on shore in the evening after dinner, and saw the silhouette of the Sandeman mascot on the opposite shore, where that brand of port wine grows its grapes.

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    The afternoon was spent serenely sailing along the river, with the main point of interest being the transit through the biggest of the locks on the river. We sat in my favourite spot at the front of the boat, which was the best place to experience it. One had to dodge a shower from the water coming down at one point. >>

    I loved the locks too, non-conformist, the more so as I'd never ben though anything like them before. and like you say, mind the showers!

    I was also disappointed that we missed out on some things because of the timing of the cruise, but overall that's inevitable I suppose on any trip which is organised by someone else.

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    Exactly, and you have to balance the extra time you can manage by going on your own by car, with the delights of the actual sailing along.

    Next morning (Saturday ) we had our first proper sightseeing outing, a trip to the Casa Mateus, a lovely baroque stately home with an attractive garden. Its picture appears on a sweet rose wine of the same name which was popular in the 70s, but the owners never had any connection with the wine – they just licensed the name and image.

    There was an excellent guided tour of the interior, which was stuffed full of the resident aristocratic family’s collections of antique furniture and treasures, and then time to explore the garden. It was a very attractive formal garden, with fields of vines at the edges. There was just the right amount of time inside, but would have been nice to have had just a little longer for the garden, but on the whole it was a delightful outing. It was really very hot, though, and we really appreciated the cool towels and drinks on our return to the boat, where we had lunch as the boat sailed on. The dining room had nice big windows, so you could view while eating.

    We sailed on through another lock, but we were a bit blasé about the locks now. Mid-afternoon we reached Pinhao. This hilly village is a bit smaller than Regua, but more attractive. It was really, really hot, so it was a bit of a struggle walking around. I had a quick look at the tiles which decorate the railway station, but didn’t feel inclined to hang around for the steam train which was due to chug through, but was a bit behind schedule. (We’d recently seen the Flying Scotsman unexpectedly at home, anyway.) I did find a bar stocking Coke Zero ;)

    That evening we dined out again, at a winery called the Quinta do Avessada up in the hills. The owner was a bit of a showman (my dad compared his demeanour to Mr Bean in the hearing of one of his staff which could have been embarrassing) who did a talk on winemaking; the food was traditional Portugese; and it was generally very convivial and entertaining.

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    This sounds intriguing. I've been thinking about Porto & the river and this might be the way. I'd appreciate the booking details & costs, if you're inclined, particularly for your single booking.

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    I don't remember exactly how it divided up, because we divided the cost three ways among ourselves, but the single supp was significant. I couldn't have afforded it if going completely on my own. We paid somewhere in the region of £6K (sterling) all in for the three of us/two rooms, including flights from the UK. Not cheap up front, but we felt it was good value for money considering all meals and almost all sightseeing costs were included on the boat; we spent virtually nothing during the first week, and costs in Porto weren't terribly high.

    The scenery on Sunday was wilder and craggier than the manicured slopes of vines we had seen further downstream, but the waters were wonderfully still, and it was delightful just sitting and floating through them, with the birds singing. This was the uppermost part of the navigable river, and early in the afternoon we crossed the invisible border between Portugal and Spain, and got as far as the Spanish village of Vega de Terron. There did not seem to be much there – one cafe at the landing stage, and then a road, but we didn’t get to check it out because we turned round and sailed back a few hundred yards to the last Portuguse village, Barca d’Alva. I was charmed as we went under the big road bridge just before Barca d’Alva to see that the under sides were covered with dozens of martins’ (or possibly swifts’) nests. Their occupants swooped back and forth to feed their babies.

    Around 3 o’clock we went out on another excursion to the medieval hill village of Castelo Rodrigo. On the journey, Tiago, the young man who was the boat’s courier on the outings (and was wonderfully kind and caring with the older passengers who needed more attention) pointed out some of the multiple storks’ nest which sprinkle the area on the way there, and the statue of a much loved stork which had lived in the next town along after an injury meant she (later unmasked as he) could no longer fend for herself (and was sadly killed by a dog). We also saw many storks in the fields, mainly just standing there, but one or two flying.

    The village was charming, but the paths were very steep, and it was extremely hot again today. Many of the old houses were deserted, but a handful of families still live there. I was charmed to see that they still had a communal bakehouse/oven in the village; I asked Tiago if it was still in use, and he said yes, but only on special occasions. I was a little disappointed that the castle ruins were locked up, but it was an enjoyable visit, and there was a nice bar with fabulous views.

    We had a short stop on our way back down to the river at a place where we could see vultures nesting; the birds were not terribly co operative, with only one making a brief appearacnce, but further down we did see several of them riding the thermals and stopped to get a good look.

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    MmeP - if you're looking for a river cruise I can strongly recommend Riviera which is the company that I went down the Rhone with.

    https://www.rivieratravel.co.uk

    it does tend to cater for a British market - not sure if you'd see that as a good or bad thing!

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    it depends on which "British" or which any, individuals, doesn't it?>>

    of course, Mme P, but I was contrasting it with the boat that non-C was on which had a mix of nationalities; apart from the american friend that I was traveling with [who after 35 years + in the UK is really an honorary Brit] we were all Brits so far as i could tell.

    Some of the other river cruise boats seem to be more aimed at americans, or a mixed clientele; it depends what you feel you would be most comfortable with I suppose.

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    After many years on the road, often with British friends, I've become much less conscious of nationality, more aware of like-mindedness, to the extent that I find I'm often startled when an American accent reaches my ear. So I'd be most attracted to comfort & good value, rather than to whom they most cater.

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    in which case you'd feel very at home with Riviera, I think Mme P.

    They were not necessarily the cheapest though, and unlike the deal that non-C had, alcoholic [or any drinks save tap water] were not included apart from the sparkling wines and juices which were served when the Captain invited the guests for pre-dinner drinks, which happened a few times during the trip.

    personally I prefer that as I don't like paying for other people to drink [nor the feeling that others are paying for me to do so!] but I can see the advantage of not having to face a large bar bill at the end of the trip.

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    We booked via a travel agent. We were actually originally looking at Riviera, which was a similar price level, and also had a pool on the boat, but it was fully booked for all of 2016 up to November, when we enquired in October 2015.

    I think possibly the most expensive brands of whiskey etc were not included in our deal, but we're not big drinkers so I'm not sure - I don't drink at all, my mum likes a glass of wine with dinner, and dad's somewhere in between.

    The next day saw our longest journey, as we set out from Barca d'Alva across the Spanish border to Salamanca. Quite a pleasant drive, with more occasional spottings of storks. The trip had some kind of arrangement with a hotel a little way out of the historic heart of the city; we stopped there first to use the facilities and have a drink.

    Then we had a walking tour led by a local guide – this was outstanding - very informative and enjoyable, and I very much appreciated it. It really is a beautiful city, with lots of graceful sandstone buildings.

    Then it was back to the hotel for lunch and a flamenco show – not really my thing but everyone else seemed to enjoy it. Then we had two hours free time.

    Beforehand I had been somewhat vexed that this trip was on a Monday, when in common with many parts of Europe almost all the museums were closed. However in the event, the time was not really enough even to do the cathedral properly, as it was about half an hour’s walk there from the hotel. (We had seen it from the outside on our walking tour.) The cathedral was a very impressive building inside, with lots of small chapels and the older cathedral all inside. I used an audio guide which was very informative, but had to skip some of the later bits to be back at the hotel in time to travel back to the boat.

    I grabbed an icecream on my way back as it was another very hot day. My appetite was definitely whetted to return to beautiful Salamanca some time.

    That evening we ventured ashore to have a post-prandial coffee (and Coke Zero) at one of the cafes in Barca d’Alva. The village had seen better days; we were told that it had been in decline since the railway from Porto to Salamanca shut down. It appeared somewhat run down, with a street with a few restaurants and bars parallel with the riverside (where there were a few souvenir shops for cruise ship visitors), but set a little way back. The young girl serving at the bar/cafe we drank at had rather rudimentary English. My mum wanted English-style tea with milk, but was served with a large glass of milk. She then ordered a coffee, and she and my dad shared the milk - they said it was the best coffee they had on the trip, as usually there wasn't enough milk for their tastes ;)

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    We were moored overnight at Barca d’Alva, before setting off back downstream early the next morning. We sailed all morning, then after lunch set out on a two-part outing while the boat continued on without us. The first part was another winery visit, the Quinta do Seixo, with tour and tasting. I would happily have skipped this, but wanted to do the second half of the trip, and the coach did not go back to the boat in between. There were nice views, and we learnt that they grow roses as a way of testing whether there are any pests in the area, as the roses are more delicate than the grapes – a kind of vine canary, if you like.

    The more interesting visit was to the historic city of Lamego. First we visited a fine pilgrimage church at the top of the hill. There are 700 steps down to the town, which the devout climb on their knees, and a few of the group members elected to walk down it, but most of us went down by coach. There is a castle in the town, but Tiago advised that it was tricky to get to, so I spent my time going round the excellent local museum and visiting the small cathedral. The latter paled in comparison to Salamanca, but the museum had some wonderful exhibits, mainly of religious art and altarpieces. One gilded altarpiece from a convent was so magnificent that, turning a corner and coming upon it, I literally said “Wow” out loud.

    That night we moored at Regua again, and after dinner there was a concert on board by a troupe of local folk and fado musicians. I suppose it was a bit tourist-orientated, but it seemed to entertain the audience and create quite a party atmosphere.

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    That night we moored at Regua again, and after dinner there was a concert on board by a troupe of local folk and fado musicians. I suppose it was a bit tourist-orientated, but it seemed to entertain the audience and create quite a party atmosphere.>>

    one night when we were moored up against another boat [in Arles I think] we could see that they had a folk-lore night; on another boat we saw some local dancing going on. Entertainment on the Riviera boat was somewhat more home-spun with a couple of quizzes and a crew entertainment. all of it is tourist-orientated of course - it just depends what sort of entertainment you like. [or whether it bothers you enough for it to influence your choice of boat!]

    Knowing nothing about Portugal, non-C, the trip sounds very interesting - a good way of getting a "taste" of different places. was there enough happening on the river-banks to keep your interest as you went along? That was something that we could have done with on the Rhone which was a bit light on things to watch on the river bank.

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    Not an awful lot - it was more of a soothing backdrop, watching the hillsides covered in vines most of the time. Very pretty, but not a lot of action.

    On Wednesday morning we sailed back to Porto. This was actually the one day of the trip which was not boiling hot, at a temperate 24 degrees, which flt like such a relief.

    In fact the boat went past the city all the way to the sea, before turning round and mooring back where we had started at Vila Gaia de Nova. There was yet another visit to a port factory there, which I could definitely have dispensed with, but was popular with others. Then we went into historic Porto. This bit was a little disappointing, as it was a coach tour round to pint out places of interest, a short visit inside to the cathedral (okay), followed by being dumped in what seemed like a pretty random area. As we were having two extra nights here, to be honest we didn’t bother much with even trying to sightsee, but found a lovely cafe/patisserie to relax in.

    We saw the queue to go into the Lello bookshop which inspired some of J K Rowling’s Harry Potter series, and which was close to where we were sitting. Apparently it's now a tourist destination in its own right, and charges admission.

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    So that was the end of the cruise part of our trip, and we were sad to leave the boat.

    We were surprised that we were the only ones on our boat who were taking the opportunity for extra time in Porto. The majority were flying back to Gatwick, meaning they had to leave around 6.00, but the boat put on a special early breakfast for them. Those taking a later flight, or who were making other arrangements, and our little trio, had breakfast later, but it was a limited selection with no hot options.

    A taxi came to take us to our hotel for the next two nights, the Ipanema Porto, at about 10. It would have been nice if it had been earlier so we could have made a bit more of the day.

    The Ipanema Porto (t has a sister hotel, the Ipanema Park, a bit further out of town) was a modern, slightly characterless but clean and efficient 4 star hotel a little way out of the historic town centre. We had no complaints, but it didn't really stand out either. Views were uninspiring - over a car park in my case. But it was clean and comfortable, which is all you really need.

    Antonio, a representative from a local travel agency had been appointed to give us a short walk around the area while we were waiting for the rooms to become available, and he was very helpful suggesting places to eat, etc. He showed us the statue which commemorates the British helping out the Spanish and Portugese in the Napoleonic wars, which was close to the hotel; this is a British lion standing proudly on a rather bedraggled and clearly defeated French eagle, on top of a column. (We had actually also see it the previous day, but it was a pretty cool sight.)

    By the time we had done that and checked into the hotel, the morning was gone, so we really only had a day and a half for sightseeing. Antonio had recommended the food market near the statue as a place to eat, and my dad wanted to eat there, but we really wanted to do something, so we got a taxi to the Casa Serralves, a modern art museum set in an attractive park.

    We ate lunch at the Serralves museum, but it was a bit basic, and we regretted not having gone to the market. The park/garden was lovely, if a bit lacking in colour, but it was a lovely place to wander. We had planned on having a drink in the teahouse there, and were disappointed to find it was shut up, although it said it was open on the entrance gate.

    We ended up going back to the market for a snack. This market was originally one of the fresh food markets of the town, but was converted a few years ago to mainly restaurants and cafes/food stands. It was really very nice, although it was a bit disconcerting to see one stand served roast pork from the leg, with the trotters sticking out facing the customer like a beer tap. We then went back to the hotel to recover. I would have liked to go on somewhere else, as I felt we hadn't really made the most of the day, but my parents were a bit tired.

    We ate that night in one of the local restaurants, which turned out to be a bit of a mistake. The beef and veal dishes were so undercooked they were not so much pink as raw, even when cooked a bit more. My dad has a medical condition which means he struggles digesting steaks; this is well controlled with medication, but the meat here gave him his first attack for years. The waiters looked concerned - it probably looked as if he was having a heart attack.

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    Breakfast at the Ipanema was decent. There was a bit more choice than on the boat, but the bacon was fattier and the pastries not as nice. We then headed down into the historic Ribeira district. We visited the Palacio da Bolsa, the lavish old stock exchange building.

    Particularly impressive was the Arabic room, an incredibly ornate place where one of the big European Union treaties was signed. The tour guide spoke rapidly, with quite a strong accent, and against a fair amount of background noise so we didn’t really hear all the information, which was a shame.

    I had wanted to visit the palace where King Henry the Navigator was born, but it was about to close for lunch, so we went and had our own lunch at one of the many cafes.

    We then got a taxi back across to Vila Nova de Gaia so we could take the cable car ride up to the high bridge. It’s only a few minutes, but the views were spectacular, over the river, and both banks. If I had been on my own, I would probably have taken the opportunity to tour the monastery at the top (which belongs to the Portugese army), but we decided to go back to the area our hotel was in to see the Cristal Palace gardens.

    In many ways these were more attractive than the Serralvo park, with colourful flowers, a very pretty green lake (the Serralvo lake was minute, more of a pond, really), and even a couple of peacocks strutting around. It was however, less well maintained, and what really let it down were the public toilets, which were, in a word, disgusting. The ones in the public library in the gardens were not great, but acceptable.

    We had drinks from the kiosk by the lake, which was very pleasant. Although it was, again, extremely hot, a breeze had started blowing, which was refreshing. The breeze increased and became quite gusty, knocking over my glass of Coke Zero. I was regarded by my dear mother with disapproval, despite my protests that it was the wind’s fault. Then, a sudden, even fiercer gust plucked a parasol from the table next to ours, whipped it into the air, and then whooshed it into the lake, where it gently sank. I would have liked to spend a bit more time strolling around, but others were tired, so we walked back to our hotel.

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    We had been disappointed by the previous night’s meal, so asked the hotel reception for a recommendation as we wanted something nice for the last night. They suggested a brand new place some distance away, and called us a taxi. We didn’t actually book, as we wanted to check it out first, as it was a steak specialist, and after last night we were collectively a bit off beef. On arrival, we decided it was indeed a bit too beef oriented, and had a look for somewhere else. We weren’t quite sure where we were, although I think it may have been somewhere near the cathedral. We did eventually find a place to eat, a three star hotel called the Guarany. While not outstanding, the meal was perfectly nice, and it was enlivened by a pianist and violinist, who played mainly pop classics.

    On returning to our hotel, we found they too had live music on offer in the bar, a fado singer who was quite good, and my dad and I stayed there for a while listening to her, although mum wanted to finish her packing.

    Next morning it was our turn for the horrible early start. Unlike the boat, the hotel did not run to special early breakfasts for those departing, but they did give us a lunch bag consisting of a cheese and ham sandwich, an apple and a carton of fruit juice. In retrospect we would have been better off just buying breakfast at the airport. The flight was delayed leaving by an hour, but unlike the journey there, we did not board, so there was plenty of time.

    In summary: we had an absolutely lovely time. I would consider another river cruise; and I would definitely go back to Porto or another part of Portugal, and to Salamanca.

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