Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Industry Legend, Patricia Riley, Guest Blogs for Goldring Travel - Paris and Portugal on AmaWaterways' AmaVida - Part VII (Thoughts About Scenic Cruising and the Return to Porto)

Most river cruises start at point A and cruise to point B.  There are exceptions where your river boat back tracks and returns to your embarkation point.  Tulip Time cruises, a spring tradition, are roundtrip Amsterdam and the Seine and Normandy cruises which are roundtrip Paris cruises come to mind as two exceptions.  While these both come back to their embarkation port they do offer a variety of ports and cruising is often done at night.


A cruise on the Douro differs the above mentioned cruises and from all the other river cruises I have been on.  As mentioned in an earlier post there is no cruising at night.  All of the nautical miles are covered during the day.  Once you leave Porto your docking ports for overnights are very small towns and in the case of Vega de Terron in Spain, where we stay overnight after our Salamance excursion, there is no town, just a docking facility.  Salamanca was the only full day tour.  The other excursions from the boat were mainly in the morning.  These included an excursion from Regua to the small town of Lamego, a pilgrimage site.  Another morning offered a tour to the the beautiful Mateus Palace with its renowned gardens.   Other mornings were drives to the countryside to a winery or a village such as Castelo Rodrigo.      The ship actually stopped in Regua as well as Pinhao twice, offering different tours on each visit.  Your afternoons are spent scenic cruising.  Returning  to Porto you once again get to experience the locks of the Douro River and see some stunning scenery that you may have missed on the upstream journey.

Some places leave a mark on you.  It could be because of the scenic beauty.  it could be because for the architecture or the history.  It could be for all of those reasons as in the case of Porto.  I have seen the pictures of Porto, bathed in the orange light of sunset, the spires of its cathedrals reaching into the skies.  I didn't think any place could actually look like that.  I was mistaken.  Porto is just like that.  It is simply one of the most beautiful cities I have ever been to.

The ship overnights in Porto on embarkation day and also on the last full day and night before disembarkation.  Take my advice and use all the time you have to explore,  You will not be disappointed. 

I am not sure what first drew my attention in this city of a bit more than 160,000 residents. Was it the steep streets, the small alleys, the exquisite wrought iron balconies gracing the fronts of the pastel buildings or the beautiful tile facades so typical in Portugal.   I think it was a combination of all of that.  Everywhere you walk you don't know if you should look down, look up or just look around.  

Porto is set at the mouth of the Douro River where it meets the Atlantic Ocean which beckoned sailors for centuries.  The river in Porto is spanned by 6 bridges.  The most famous and stunning is the Louis the 1st bridge.  Trains traverse the uppermost span and pedestrians and cars cross the lowest.  Between those spans is a maze of iron work that is nothing short of spectacular.  


The historic center of Porto is an Unesco World Heritage site and features a lovely cathedral, squares and monuments (most notably to Prince Henry the Navigator) and the famous Sao Bento Railway Station.  In keeping with the Portuguese tradition wall tiles decorate the interiors of the station with scenes from Portuguese historical events.


A fine example of an art nouveau interior is found in the oddest place in Porto, a McDonald's.  Just around the corner from the train station the home of the Big Mac also is without a doubt the most beautiful McDonalds in the world.  The entrance, featuring a relief of an eagle above the famous McDonald's name makes you want to walk in and see what else is inside.  


The inside is a delight of chandeliers, stained glass and brass.  



If there were a contest for the most beautiful fast food place in the world, this place would definitely win.

As all good things come to an end, my seven nights aboard the AmaVida ended with a 5:00am wake up call.  As with everything I experienced during my week aboard the disembarkation was smooth, organized and quick.  The incredible crew, who always seem to be bright eyed and bushy tailed, no matter the hour, were on hand to say their good byes.  Even though it was a simple transfer to the airport for 9 of us we were accompanied by one of the tour escorts for the journey to the airport.  Service oriented to the last!


If you are interested in a relaxing scenic cruise that reflects the food, drink and customs of the area this is the cruise for you.  River cruises are all about immersion.  You become immersed with the people, places and culture of the area that you are cruising in.  The AmaVida provided this as well as the high standard of accommodation, food and service that AmaWaterways is famous for.