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AmaWaterways: AmaVida

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AmaVida Cruise Review

This small 106-passenger river cruiser is big on benefits—Port wine, flamenco, UNESCO World Heritage sites, and beautiful scenery along the Douro River; outdoor dining on an open sundeck; in-cabin Wi-Fi access and flat-screen TVs; nightly live entertainment. Launched in 2013, the ship tours Portugal, Spain, and France in modern style and comfort.

A leader in its niche, winning eight industry awards for Best River Cruise Line, this specialty 15-vessel cruise line has exceptional staterooms and itineraries that showcase not only Europe, but also Vietnam and Zambezi. Its Austrian founder worked with several of the other major river-cruise companies before launching his own company in 2002. Since then, AmaWaterways has introduced nine new ships in Europe: Amabella, Amacello, Amadagio, Amadante, Amadolce, Amalegra, Amalyra, Amaverde, and Amavida. In 2013, the yacht-inspired Amaprima and Amacerto join the fleet. The refurbished 212-passenger Amakatarina cruises between Moscow and St. Petersburg.

AmaWaterways’ luxury ships are among the newest of the European river cruisers operating today. Designed exclusively for the English-speaking market, the ships have staterooms equipped with flat-screen TVs and Internet, French balconies on the top two decks, elevator, whirlpool, and free bicycles for exploration ashore. Impressive public rooms use designer fabrics, chic furniture, and subtle lighting for an upscale boutique hotel atmosphere.

They operate a wide range of itineraries in Europe on the Rhine, Main, Danube, and Mosel rivers; and in Russia on the Volga, Svir, and Neva rivers. The company also offers Christmas-market cruises from late November through December. Reserve April to see tulip blossoms cruising Holland and Belgium.

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Jul 18, 2014

Port Wine & Flamenco

Ama Waterways AmaVida – Port Wine & Flamenco – July 5-18, 2014 The Cruise This would be our third riverboat cruise in Europe, contrasting with 31 ocean cruises. We had enjoyed the itinerary on the Elbe from Prague to Berlin 4 years ago, although we did not enjoy the boat. Viking’s Clara Schumann was small and outdated, largely because the Elbe River requires shallow draft boats. Our trip from Basel to Vienna on Avalon’s Affinity

in 2013 was on a much nicer boat, although the actual trip had problems due to a lockmasters’ strike affecting the Main-Danube canal transit. Still, we liked the riverboat ambiance, and had greatly enjoyed Portugal during a week’s visit there in 2007; so this trip appealed to us. Review Format The overall experience involved two very distinct phases. First there was the “water borne cruise” portion on AmaVida. Then there were the two separate land phases, three days in Madrid before sailing and three days in Lisbon after leaving the boat. Since the land portion is an option, and this is a cruise review site; we will describe the river experience first. We will make every effort to be comprehensive and clear concerning the boat itself, the crew, the dining service and food, the shore excursions, and our overall evaluation of the trip and the value provided. The Boat AmaVida first sailed in 2013, so it is quite new. It is small as riverboats go, holding only 106 passengers. Most boats hold about 130-150 passengers for European cruises, with the Viking “Longships” carrying 190 people or more. But all riverboat dimensions are controlled by their sailing milieu. If you are on a river with decent depth and no locks, you can have a larger boat. But, as we found out on this trip, the Duoro River has five locks, and some are rather short; so not only the width, but the length of any boat cruising down the Duoro is limited, and this of course results in fewer passengers and crew. The Uniworld and Viking ships sailing the same route were virtually identical, and like AmaVida, built in Portugal. That being said, AmaVida is an attractive vessel, constructed in the normal river boat design pattern. That is, there are three decks aft and two forward, plus an open sun deck. The forward portion has the dining room on Deck 2 and the lounge, with bar and forward open deck on Deck 1. The aft portion has passenger cabins on three decks. The overall appearance seems like 21st Century Art Deco – lots of shiny black marble, glass and high gloss stainless steel in the atrium areas on Decks 1 and 2, as well as the bar and small shop. The dining rooms and lounge are more restrained, with nice furniture and lots of wood. It should be noted that there is a spa, with an attendant, a small exercise room and, on the sky deck a small, shallow but heated, pool. The sun deck also has a roofed section, which can be partially lowered for bridges, and which covers about 30% of the deck, allowing a goodly number of lounges chairs and sofas for sitting and enjoying the passing countryside in comfortable shade. The library is very small with only a few books. There is a coffee bar in the Deck 2 atrium area, which received a lot of business, despite there being no nearby seating. Coffee drinkers carried their cups up one flight to the lounge. We also were provided free internet and Wi-Fi service. The cabin came equipped with a keyboard, and we could access the net on our large television screen. Since we were essentially on land, access was almost always readily available. The main difficulty could be traced to the keyboards, which were not that user friendly for one accustomed to normal sized boards with standard options. I was often “kicked off” in the middle of attempting to obtain information or actually interact with some sites such as those of my bank and credit card. But it was free, and I did get on line most of the time. Cabins The cabins are the best we have seen on a river boat. This is due to smart space arrangement as well as generally fine wall and floor surface materials and lighting. Two-thirds of the cabins were like ours, so I am describing a “standard” stateroom. The “river” side has a small outside balcony with two chairs and a small table. It takes up about half the length of the cabin. I did enjoy sitting outside at times as long as the boat was moving so no insects would enter. The rest of the “river” side is a desk surface, with a window above the desk. There is a desk chair. Next to this is the bed, with two bedside tables, two lamps and two reading lights above each side of the bed. Next to the bed there is an open shelving area above and two closed shelves below. Next to that, leading directly into the stateroom is the bathroom. This was unique among standard ships’ bathrooms by having a separate toilet room with its own frosted glass door. The shower also had a glass door, and a fair amount of room. There was a vessel sink. The only flaw was the failure to utilize some space below on either side of the sink for drawers or shelves, since there clearly was room for such additional features. Next to the bathroom door was a closet for hanging clothes, the safe and several other drawers. Opposite the bed were two side chairs and a small table, with a large TV screen hung from the wall above. The doorway out to the corridor had further shelving above and six drawers below. All in all, with attractive wallpaper, wood trim and more than abundant space for clothing, it was a very nice cabin indeed! The Crew The most determinative factor in our enjoyment of the entire experience was the crew. Starting with Christina Garção, Cruise Director, who was with us from the first day in Madrid to the last day in Lisbon; through the rest of the staff; the dining room crew, the sailing crew, the entertainer, the managerial staff; all [but one] were extremely pleasant, friendly, cheerful and very hard working. (The one exception was the front desk manager who conveyed the impression that any request put to him was an unwelcome interruption of his most important work.) The dining room manager, Carlos Silva was amazing, keeping track of the waiters, bringing dishes out to guests himself, answering questions, making sure the buffet was maintained; and all with a cheerful and helpful attitude. One could tell that he led his troops by example, not just by giving orders. The hotel manager, Paulo Carvalho, was constantly available, making sure that things were running smoothly. The captain, Emanuel Olivera, who was quite young, also was often seen and was very approachable. The wait staff was also amazingly upbeat, especially considering that they all had many stations to cover, literally running to do it; but doing it with a smile and a friendly greeting. We did not have much interaction with our cabin attendant, unlike on cruise ships. They also, like the wait staff, seemed over-worked; often not completing cabin make-up until the afternoon. This would appear to be traceable to the locks, and their limitation on ship size. It would have been more relaxed and efficient if there had been one or two more waiters and one or two more cabin attendants, but that would have meant elimination of at least one revenue producing passenger cabin. This was a trade-off which Ama declined to make in favor of passenger convenience, opting for money instead. But back to Christina. In many ways the success of a river boat cruise, far more than an ocean cruise, depends on the cruise director. That person must keep all the passengers informed of the events, the stops, the timing, any and all options, what can be expected ashore, local conditions, the weather, - you name it. They are the ones who are in direct personal contact all the time; with everyone, passengers, the managerial staff, the buses, drivers and tour guides. This care starts with the greeting of passengers on arrival at the Madrid hotel, and does not end until the last passenger departs for the Lisbon airport. Christina was a marvel at this. She made my wife and I, and we are sure, everyone else, feel that we were the only passengers aboard and that we had her undivided attention and her concern so that we would enjoy the cruise. And she did this with a wry sense of humor and cynicism where appropriate, especially when discussing political and social systems. (To be fair, she is a Lisbon native, and had no criticism concerning Spanish politics or governance.) Her complete dedication to her job and her passengers was a major factor in our ability to enjoy this cruise. AMA Waterways has a jewel here. The Dining Experience If this facet of the cruise was a little less satisfactory than other aspects, it was largely due to the physical limitations of the boat also. My wife was amazed at the tiny area provided for meal preparation when she joined the galley tour. Despite this, every dinner had several starters, two soups, four entrees and several desserts available. Most of the preparation was quite good, and the pastry selections especially so. I found lunches a bit more problematical, since I do not like a “full” lunch, and my ability to do light snack browsing as I do on cruise ships was less successful. My wife, on the other hand, was able to order a vegetarian choice for lunch, and she found them all to be quite good. Breakfasts were typical, but, as in our other river trips, we found the fruit and juice selections less than enthralling. Perhaps we were influenced in this opinion due to the contrast between the boat’s breakfasts and the magnificent buffet laid out by the Madrid hotel. There was, however, the nice option, which I do not recall as being available on our other river experiences, of being able to order hot breakfast dishes from the kitchen. Again, as noted, the service was caring and cheerful, if a bit harried at times. Wine was poured generously. The dining room has an “al fresco” area forward, with sides open to the river, but with no forward view. Several people seemed to like this, but we did not try it. On one evening there was a “Portuguese Regional Buffet” served on the sun deck with live music. So this meant that we actually had only four full sit down dinners in the dining room on board out of seven nights. Off Boat Dining There were two occasions in which our dinners were off the boat. One was at a winery, and the other at a “monastery”. On the first full day on the Duoro, our second tour was in the early evening, and took us to a local winery. After an amusing tour, and an outdoors wine tasting session, we were seated inside for dinner. It was labelled as “rustic”, specializing in regional dishes, and while generally satisfactory, was not up to dining room standards. The second off boat experience was a few days later, when we visited what had been a Benedictine monastery. Following the tour we were again seated together and provided with dinner, served by our boat wait staff. Most of us agreed that the meat was fairly tough, and there was not much of anything else to recommend it. We would advise AMA that while the winery dinner had enough “local color” and taste to be retained, passengers would be better off with a standard monastery tour in the afternoon, and a return to the ship for a normal dinner. Overall, if first class dining ships like Marina, Crystal Symphony and Crystal Serenity would be rated at 95 to 98 on a scale of 100; and the Celebrity line at 90-92, AmaVida would belong with the Princess, HAL and Avalon group at 83-87. That’s not at all bad, but not five star. The Tours and Excursions Tours and excursions are more closely integrated with the total cruise package on river boat cruises than they are on cruise ships. The river boat cruise lines assume everybody is going to take every available tour, and all facets of the trip are focused on these land activities. This is perhaps a partly psychological reaction to the fact that we are always close to the land, and directly in touch with that environment. To highlight this, AmaVida had its own “tour guides” who shared the cruise with us as members of the boat’s crew and who went out with us in support of the formal “Tour Guides” who were specific to each port, and who had the primary guide duties. This led to a sense of unity, well-being and continuity; we were being looked after all the time. The first “cruise” tour was the day after we boarded, and was to Castlelo Rodrigo, high on a hill with spectacular views, and narrow, steep medieval streets. It was pleasant and typical of rural Portugal. As in all such walking tours, a “gentle walkers” option with its own guide, was offered. That evening we went to the wine tasting and dinner mentioned earlier. The next day provided options following the same start, a walk down 686 steps from a church to the town of Lamego. Then one could visit the local market or the Episcopal Palace. We opted for the market, which was truly for the local people, and not tourists, despite the fact that some signs were in English. We were not impressed by the merchandise, which in most cases consisted of cheap knockoffs. The normal nearby stores however seemed to have good leather products like shoes, at reasonable prices. There was another wine tasting that afternoon, which we skipped. I do not drink, and Edith is satisfied wh one or two glasses a day at the most. The next day we visited the Mateus Palace and Gardens, which were really attractive. There was no afternoon tour. On the following day we were in Resende, a very attractive town. This was followed in the evening with the monastery tour and the dinner we mentioned earlier. On Sunday noon we arrived in Porto, the port city at the mouth of the Duoro. Prior to our docking we descended the lock at Crestuma Dam, which lowered us 46 feet, the deepest in Europe, and far deeper than any of the Panama Canal Locks. This was a unique experience. Our pier in Porto was actually in Vila Nova de Gaia, a town across the river from Porto proper. There were two tour options that afternoon. One was yet another wine tasting after a city tour. The other was a “Limited Edition” meaning it had to be reserved in advance, since the number allowed was limited. We chose this tour titled “Cooking Delight, Taste of Matoshinos”. The six of us on this adventure took a bus through Porto to the Atlantic coast town of Matosinhos, a suburb of Porto containing the ocean going vessel port. There we drove past a beach crowded with Sunday visitors from town. We ended up at a small restaurant where we were treated to a demonstration of how to prepare an ocean fish, from removing the scales and fins to completely gutting it. We politely declined an invitation to do a fish ourselves. We then were shown how to cook traditional codfish, and treated to an assortment of local dishes which were quite delicious. The Portuguese know how to prepare seafood. Our local guide was extremely knowledgeable, an experienced traveler in her own right and very fluent in English. This was a really fine tour. That night was the Captains Gala Dinner with the suggested dress code of “your best attire”. Well, I had brought my all-purpose Travelsmith blue blazer all this way, so I wore it, but there were only a few jackets evident. The ladies of course, did a better job of dressing up. Dinner was followed by an Opera show consisting of a male and female singer and piano accompanist. It was a shame that it was not better attended, because the performers were very accomplished, and most entertaining. The next day we had a tour of Guimarães, another attractive town with a history going back to the 10th century, and beautiful buildings covering a lengthy history in a comparatively small area; easily navigable on foot. After dinner that night we packed up. Those of us proceeding on to the hotel in Lisbon had special tags. We put our luggage out at 7:00 A.M., boarded our buses and were on our way by 9:00 A.M.; ending a delightful cruise. Entertainment Formal entertainment is not a great part of river tours, since, except for the pianist, it must be brought on from ashore. But, in addition to the opera show, we were provided with a “Traditional Folklore and Fado” show on the second night, consisting of a singing and playing group of eight. They did a very decent job, and then got most of the passengers into an impromptu dance routine around the lounge. The pianist, Rui Costa played every afternoon in the lounge. He was quite good, and when I made request for a song written in 1939, Jerome Kern’s “All The Things You Are”, he located it on the internet and printed it out so he could play it for me the next day. He should have had larger audiences, and he was most pleasant and friendly. The passengers themselves could be counted among the entertainment features provided, with their enthusiastic dancing following both the folklore-fado show and the sun deck buffet dinner. We were a cheerful lot! Passengers With 102 only fellow passengers we found out more about each other. There were a couple of special groupings however, which are not found on most cruises. Among them the members of St. Michael’s Parish in Bakersfield, California – 28 of them, with their pastor, who celebrated Mass on the sun deck on Sunday morning. This lovely event was also attended by the 12 Columbians from Cartagena, led by the parents celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary, three sons with their wives, a daughter and three grand-children from ages about 10 to 16. They were a most friendly, out-going group. They did not join us until we embarked, and took a separate route to Lisbon. But we ran into them on our visit to Sintra the next day and had a grand reunion. There were two couples from Maui, who likewise were on their own in Lisbon, but who we also ran into again among the thousands on the pedestrian shopping street in that city on our first full day there. As usual, there were some Canadians, British and Aussies. By and large we were a happy group, perhaps fueled by the ever constant pourings of free wine! General Observations We are not giving up our sea cruises – we have three scheduled for 2015 – but we see a very positive and delightful side to river cruising. It is most relaxing to sit in the shade on the sun deck or other outside areas and watch the countryside go by. The Duoro has a great deal of charm. The hills rise up steeply on both sides. They are covered with terraced areas of vineyards and olive tree groves, interspersed with farm houses, small clusters of homes, the occasional village, and create a generally serene aspect. Most passengers seemed to partake of this scene frequently. You get to know crew members much more easily. Some of us did a pilot house visit, and the Captain spent time with us explaining all his controls, communication devices and his own ambition to become a tug boat captain in his home town of Porto, so he could go home every night. You also mingle with your fellow passengers much more easily, since you are in frequent touch, much more so than on a cruise ship. All of the crew were Portuguese, which is something new compared to the wide range of nationalities on cruise ships. So the whole milieu, the overall ambiance of a river cruise differs greatly from sea voyages. If one is willing to accept the limited entertainment, the more restricted dining options, far fewer “shipboard” activities, and a relaxed approach to travel and tours, then river boats are an enjoyable change. If you think not – back to the sea! The Madrid Experience We made our own travel arrangements, and arrived in Madrid about 7:00 P.M. from Phoenix via Heathrow. The taxi was a flat 30 Euros, and give the distance, was certainly reasonable. Our hotel arrival was not smooth since the cabby let us off a few blocks from the hotel. This was because there was a major event taking place in the plaza area around our destination. We had to drag our luggage about three blocks and through a large crowd, which, the hotel desk clerk told us, was a “Gay Pride” celebration. Once inside the Westin Palace, it was a different world. The hotel was built in 1910, and is a true “Grand Hotel” in the old European tradition, well updated in matters that are important, left as the original where appropriate. Our room on the second floor overlooked a side street, which was probably better than overlooking the square where the Gay Pride celebration was continuing. The room was good sized with beautiful crown molding and very attractive wallpaper. The closet was large enough, but drawer space a tad short. The bathroom was a gem, with a tub shower, a separate toilet room, double sinks and marble everywhere. There was a grand full length mirror just outside it. The room had a beautiful desk, and the bed was very comfortable. There was complimentary bottled water. The dining room is a wonder all its own. It sits beneath a large domed ceiling set with stained glass panels, and has a massive crystal chandelier. It dates back to the original construction. The rest of the hotel is truly high class with wide corridors, excellent carpeting, dark wood and real hall lamps everywhere. One minor problem concerned the elevators. They are small and slow, but could not have been updated without major engineering changes, so we walked down to the lobby. The service was very friendly and efficient, with language never being a problem. The hotel is about as centrally located as you can find in Madrid. We ate on our arrival night at a restaurant called “47” about a block away, which we had scouted on It was small, and filled with locals, although they had an English menu. I had an excellent fish dish, while Edith found a good vegetarian salad. The buffet breakfast was, as noted, a wonder, and a delightful experience in the beautiful dining room. If you were paying rack rate for it, it was quite expensive, but it was included in our cruise fare. You could not ask for a better buffet. It matched the best cruise ship buffet, and that is saying a lot. The next day we met Christina and started our adventure. She told us that a number of people, including the 12 Columbians would not join us until we sailed, so I would guess about 80 of us boarded 2 buses for a city tour. We were certainly not crowded. It was a Sunday morning so traffic was light and we saw a lot. Our guide Jose spoke very good English, and was very knowledgeable and entertaining. We disembarked for a walking tour which went through the Plaza Mayor and ended in the Plaza del Sol, about a ten minute walk from the hotel. We stopped at a small local restaurant on the way for a light lunch, and then went to the renowned Prado Museum, two blocks from our hotel, with tickets we had bought at home on line. For seniors the cost was 7 Euros. In three hours we saw it all, and it was very impressive. For dinner we went to another of our researched restaurants, Vinos de Bellota. It was on the other side of the Retiro Park, which is quite close to our hotel. But we took a taxi, and while the traffic patterns in Madrid forced our driver to take a long way around the park, the fare was still reasonable. Again the restaurant lived up to its high rating. I ordered pork and was asked how I wanted it. This is not done in the US since our pork is always cooked through. But pigs in Europe are not fed garbage as they are here, and there is no danger of trichinosis. So I ordered it medium/well done and when it arrived it was slightly pink. But it also was very juicy and sweet, not at all dry, and very delicious. Edith’s vegetarian dish was also well received. We walked home, arriving after 11:00 P.M.; but the streets still had people, and we felt perfectly safe. We had been warned about pickpockets, but had never been in an unduly crowded scene where we felt there was a danger. Ama offered a “Madrid by Night” tapas and wine tasting walking tour for 79 Euros apiece, which had no interest for us. The next morning our tour took us to Toledo, about 45 minutes away from the hotel. This city has two distinct parts, one of which is a suburban area outside to old town and containing most of the inhabitants. The old Toledo sits on a hill, surrounded on three sides by the Tagus River. The fourth side is protected by a typical medieval wall. So it still retains its traditional character of a medieval walled city. Our buses were too large to enter, so we walked across a gated bridge and through this fascinating old city, with its “Jewish” quarter and its “Moorish” neighborhood. Jose was again our guide and did an excellent job. The stores are filled with examples of the famed “Toledo Steel” swords and knives, as well as other examples of fine Spanish workmanship. Spain has a fine selection of fascinating cities, and Toledo has to be high on the list. That afternoon we walked through the Madrid Botanical Garden, just past the Prado, and part of the Retiro Park. We then went to the Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, home to Piccaso’s Guernica and many other works of his as well as Miro and Dali. It is a somewhat different museum. It is housed in an older building with a central courtyard, and is reached by a very modern, outside, glass walled bank of elevators. Admission was free after five o’clock on Mondays, but the line for free entry was manageable. After the museum visit we attempted to locate the third restaurant on our list. This proved a problem, since Madrid streets are not always straight, and when we finally found it, it was closed. We knew it was closed Sunday, but apparently Monday closings are not uncommon. We then went down the block and found a typical outdoor bistro filled with Madrilenos having a fine time. This may not have been a gourmet experience, but it was great fun sitting outside, people watching and enjoying the exuberance of a family group adjoining our table. There is apparently no problem with bringing small children to eat with the family from 8:30 to 10:30 P.M., the normal dining hours in this part of the world. The food was simple, but very good, and the whole day a delight from beginning to end. We like Spain and greatly enjoyed Madrid. We were almost sorry to leave to begin our river cruise the next day. Our luggage was picked up from our room while we were having another great breakfast, and delivered to the buses so we could check that they were actually loaded. This proved fortuitous, since one of our small bags had been left in the room and Christina had to send a porter back to get it. Lisbon To Lisbon from Porto is 195 miles and about three hours on the mostly very smooth national highway system. We stopped about two-thirds of the way there to visit the shrine at Fatima. This is of interest mostly to Catholics, and is very impressive in its size and relatively substantial crowds for a hot weekday in the summer. Our hotel was the Tiara Park Atlantic (formerly the Meridian Atlantic). It is quite modern and bills itself as a “business” hotel. The design is striking. I can only describe it as having a “stair step on its side” appearance, which allowed most of the rooms to have a short “corner window” in addition to the main window. This allows a great view of the city down past a large city park to the waterfront and the visible Tagus River. The room itself was quite decent, with all one would expect in a first class modern business hotel, but without the charm of the Westin Palace in Madrid. It also lacked sufficient drawer space, causing us to stack clothing on top of the huge armoire which housed the TV and a large mini-bar. This latter service provider invited you to buy a 30 gram (that is 1.6 ounce!) can of Pringles for 8.5€ - $11.42 without the exchange fee! I can imagine a salesman trying to justify that on his hotel bill to the company auditor. The lobby and other public areas were sleek and modern, and the breakfast buffet very nice, up to about 90% of the level of the Westin Palace. It also was a little more crowded. The service staff was completely worthy of a five star hotel, cheerfully assisting whenever needed. The first night we ate at Sabor & Arte, a restaurant near the hotel which was not only recommended by, but, it turned out, Christina also. We had agreed to go with another couple, and on the way, ran into a third couple bound for the same place, so we had six for a very good, quite substantial dinner. I got to enjoy sardines again prepared the Mediterranean way; large and delicious. The tours offered in Lisbon were simply great. The first day we visited the 16th century Jerónimos Monastery, accurately described in our itinerary guide as “spectacular”. It is not hugely overwhelming, but beautifully proportioned as to both exterior and the interior rooms and the courtyard; and strikingly “decorated” with wall carvings and fixtures. We then went to Belem, out the Tagus towards the Atlantic, and the riverside Monument commemorating the amazing early 15th century Portuguese navigators. It was, like all the days we experienced on this cruise, beautiful and sunny. Afterwards, following Christina’s directions, we went to the main shopping area, which was down the hill from our hotel and close to the old port. This part of Lisbon is called the Baixa, and is a main attraction for locals and tourists alike, featuring the crowded pedestrian shopping street where we ran into the two cruise couples from Maui. They said they were staying at a pension in Lisbon for five days. That night we went to the Madragoa Café. This is a tiny restaurant, east of the Baixa proper, and almost down to the waterfront. It helped that we handed the hotel doorman a piece of paper with the name and address, and he instructed the taxi driver accordingly. This was the type of service provided by the hotel, very cheerful and helpful. The restaurant is on a short, very narrow street, not just one way, but effectively one lane also. There were about five tables inside, but we ate outside on a raised wooden deck which held four small tables. We were a little early for dinner, about 8:15, so we had no trouble being seated. The waiter (he was the only one) spoke very good English, and was committed to explaining anything we wanted to know, I had a very substantial sea food stew, and Edith a large vegetarian salad. We had a delightful meal, and at the conclusion the cook, another Christina, came out to share her cooking methods, also in very good English. The only problem came when I paid the bill with a 100 € bill. We had to wait while they collected enough cash from other customers to make change. We were pleased to recommend this restaurant to our fellow travelers. This was the type of European restaurant we have come to love. I should note that all our full dinner meals in both Spain and Portugal, with dessert for me and wine for Edith, ran just about 42-45 €s, ($56.00-$61.00). Of course my water was more expensive than her wine! The next day involved another marvelous tour to the town of Sintra. This is about 45 miles from Lisbon, and essentially occupies a large hill with views commanding the countryside to the north, east and south, and actually the Atlantic, somewhat hazy but there, to the west. Because of this it was selected by several different generations of Portuguese royalty to build spectacular summer retreats – well actually – summer castles. There were tour options, but we followed our guide’s recommendation to visit the topmost castle, the Peña Palace. It was built in the 19th century by a German prince who married the Queen of Portugal. It is a wildly eclectic mixture of faux medieval, Moorish and French Empire architecture and truly royal interior furnishings. It is reached by special buses from the town of Sintra winding up a very narrow, one lane mountain road, through a pine forest. This is probably fortunate since it spreads out the crowds, and this is one of the two most visited Portuguese tourist venues, along with Fatima. The rooms were fascinating, and part of that was due, I think, to the fact that they were lived in not so long ago. There were photos of the family on desks, for instance. The last royal occupant left in 1912. So all of the wonderful furniture, furnishings, wall and ceiling treatments, lamps, chandeliers, parquet floors, etc. were still in excellent, actually useable condition. It was here that we ran into the Columbian family, who had proceeded to Lisbon independently, and we greeted each other with much enthusiasm of course, since they did everything with enthusiasm! We went back into town and strolled around the many tourist shops, buying a few small tiles for mementos and gifts. One should not visit Portugal without acquiring some of their tiles. That night we ate at a restaurant down the hill a short way from our hotel, at Christina’s recommendation (our Christina – not the Madragoa Cafè cook). It also was a good local dining experience, and was accompanied by entertainment in the form of one woman and three men sitting at a back table and singing to the accompaniment of a guitar and castanets. It was all very casual, and again very reasonably priced. The next day we arose at 5:30 to catch our plane. The airport was 15 minutes away, and the taxi cost 8 € with tip. Conclusion Was this a worthwhile cruise experience? We certainly believe so. The combination of the relaxed river cruising, the lovely small towns, some excellent excursions, the dining experiences, all added up to a memorable 14 days. The value for money is always an open question. The hotel days were expensive, but we also received 4 excellent touring days, which would not be part of the normal hotel rack rate. So, if you likes river cruising as one of many ways to spend your travel time, this certainly gets our strong recommendation.

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