From the National Geographic Explorer in Europe
Oct 5, 2012 - National Geographic Explorer
Having enjoyed an extra hour of sleep as we changed time zones on our westward passage, we made our first port-of-call in Portugal in the city known simply in Portuguese as The Port, O Porto. Our expedition leader had aptly described the city as “shabby chic,” a phrase that neatly summarizes the continuing transformation of a somewhat run-down city to a growing tourist destination. The city’s situation is spectacular, on the step sides of the Douro valley with a cascade of red-tiled dwellings running down to the river frontage.
Our first stop on our tour at Portugal’s second city’s Romanesque Cathedral afforded an opportunity for an overlook of the Douro towards the city’s numerous port wine lodges on the opposite bank of the Douro in Vila Nova de Gaia. Not far away we visited the extraordinary church dedicated, ironically perhaps, to St Francis, its baroque interior positively dripping with New World gold and silver. The remarkable eighteenth-century carved altarpiece featuring the Tree of Jesse was the object of much admiration.
Having crossed the river using the famous Dom Luis bridge, we alighted at Sandeman’s port wine lodge, established by the Scot George Sandeman in 1790. One of his direct descendants had commissioned a huge port glass to be made for him after his doctor insisted he cut down to just one glass of port per day; the glass was on display in the small museum which features early examples of the Sandeman logo, the hooded cloak known locally as a coca and stylishly worn by our lodge guides. After touring the lodge, we were able to sample various varieties of port wine, followed, of course, by an opportunity to make purchases. Outside, the view back across the Douro to the old city was breath-taking, the river itself accommodating numerous examples of rabelos, the ancient river craft that brought the Douro wines down river to Oporto to begin the unique aging process that produces this prince of after-dinner drinks.
An afternoon at sea provided an opportunity to pack ahead of an early departure in Lisbon but also to enjoy a photographic presentation from our National Geographic photographer Catherine Karnow and a stimulating discussion on the crisis in the Eurozone from our Global Perspectives speaker, Lisa Abend. Our day ended with a remarkable guest slide show in the lounge over cocktails before the Captain’s Farewell Dinner.