Riverboat cruising in Portugal

By Mary Jo:

Dscn0758_1I first read about riverboat cruising in a magazine several years ago, and promptly decided I wanted to give it a try.  I’ve done several ocean cruises, especially in the Caribbean, but rivers in Europe sounded different and fascinating.  The boats are much smaller, holding maybe 130 or so people, and the venues are fabulous. 

Much of European civilization developed along rivers, and traveling them would be a wonderful way of seeing Europe without a lot of packing and unpacking.  The boats park in the center of towns and cities, and one can seen a great deal of the countryside in peace and comfort.  The quintessential riverboat cruises follow the great rivers of northern and eastern Europe: the Rhine, the Elbe, the Danube, etc. 

There are three major riverboat cruising companies that specialize in English speaking passengers: Uniworld ( http://uniworld.com/ ), Viking, and Grand Circle, but only Uniworld cruises Douro_mapin Portugal.  Why did we choose Portugal?  I guess because it looked beautiful and off the beaten track.  Practically no one but Regency buffs has ever heard of the Douro River, which runs east to west across Northern Portugal and goes into Spain.  (One of Wellington’s nicknames was “Old Douro,” probably a pun on both the river and his famously dour disposition.)

Dscn0743_1

Plus, the river runs through steep sided gorges covered with terraced vineyards in what is one of Europe’s oldest wine producing regions. What’s not to like?  <g>

Well, to be honest, I don’t much like port, which is the region’s most famous Sandeman_1product.  I find it way too sweet.  But the history of port is quite interesting, and certainly part of the reason there has been a 400+ year alliance between England and Portugal.  The other reason is to stand against their mutual enemy, Spain, but the port is more convivial.  <g>  Some of the great Portuguese port houses bear British names.  Sandeman, where we toured, was founded by an 18th century Scot named George Sandeman.

Dscn0813Portugal is a small country on the far west of Europe, but it has a proud history.  In the Age of Discovery, the 16th century, its captains and navigators discovered the world.  Like Britain, this small country fathered a huge empire that included Brazil, Mozambique, and Angola as well as Goa in India and Macao in China. 

The various tours we cruisers took included a great deal of history.  Did you know Catherine_of_braganza that Catherine of Braganza, the Portuguese princess who married Charles II of England, is the person who introduced tea to England?  A historic deed for sure!  Plus, her dowry included the city of Bombay in India, a prize that was part of the British empire till India achieved independence after WWII.

We all loved the Portuguese people we met, who were friendly without being overpowering.  They took very, very good care of us, and urged us to tell our friends to visit their country.  (That’s what I’m doing now. <g>) 

Dscn0740The country was beautifully clean and most of the cars and equipment I saw looked new and healthy, but it’s not a rich nation by any means.  People often go to other countries for jobs, sending part of their money back home, so it’s not surprising that they want to develop the tourism industry.  They have lots to work with—everyone I’ve met who has visited Portugal has loved the place.  Plus, as a socialist country, it’s less expensive to visit than most European countries. 

Portugal has a Mediterranean feel, though it’s not on the Mediterranean.  The language is derived from Latin and the written form looks similar to Spanish and Italian, but the accent is quite different.  One of the guides said the pronunciation is influenced by the Gaelic peoples who lived along the north coast of Portugal and Spain.

Dscn0721Beautiful, sunny Lisbon is built on seven hills, like Rome, and it sprawls across the Tagus, Portugal’s greatest river.  The whole country is hilly and 70% of the population lives near the Atlantic coasts.  This is why traveling in the north felt remote and peaceful. 

Dscn0829_1Our cruise started from Porto (also called Oporto), Portugal’s second city.  Because the Douro descends steeply from the Iberian plateau, our ship, the Douro Queen, traveled through great locks that were built into modern dams.  In several cases, we went from a lock to a bridge that was so low that the navigation array had to be tilted flat on the sun deck, along with the awning.  Never a dull moment!  But lots of peaceful ones.

Dscn0719The coach tours took us to cities and universities and ruined hilltop castles.  Our principal guide, Patricia, was delighted to find that I wrote historical novels, and she made a point of showing sites of particular interest.  (“Wellington and his army camped out at the foot of that hill.  That convent was turned into a hospital for wounded British soldiers after the battle.”)

Did all this beauty and history give me an idea for a book?  It sure did!  But I might have to learn to like port. <g> 

Dscn0748Mary Jo

24 thoughts on “Riverboat cruising in Portugal”

  1. “The language is derived from Latin and the written form looks similar to Spanish and Italian, but the accent is quite different.”
    In the Spanish region of Galicia, above Portugal, they speak Gallego, which is pretty similar to Portuguese, and in the 13th century Galician-Portuguese was the language of poetry, used at the court of the Castilian King, Alfonso X.
    If you exclude Basque, which is a completely different language, there’s a continuum right the way across from Portugal, through Galicia (Galician Portuguese), Asturias (Asturian), Castile (Castilian, but that’s what’s usually referred to as ‘Spanish’), to Cataluña (Catalan), Aragón (some areas speaking Catalan but others speaking Aragonese), and up into what’s now the south of France where Occitan/Provençal was spoken.
    In fact, it’s a bit similar to the River Duero (as it’s known in Spain)/Douro, because that also flows across the Peninsula, with the source in the Castilian province of Soria (which is quite close to Burgos, another place associated with Wellington).

    Reply
  2. “The language is derived from Latin and the written form looks similar to Spanish and Italian, but the accent is quite different.”
    In the Spanish region of Galicia, above Portugal, they speak Gallego, which is pretty similar to Portuguese, and in the 13th century Galician-Portuguese was the language of poetry, used at the court of the Castilian King, Alfonso X.
    If you exclude Basque, which is a completely different language, there’s a continuum right the way across from Portugal, through Galicia (Galician Portuguese), Asturias (Asturian), Castile (Castilian, but that’s what’s usually referred to as ‘Spanish’), to Cataluña (Catalan), Aragón (some areas speaking Catalan but others speaking Aragonese), and up into what’s now the south of France where Occitan/Provençal was spoken.
    In fact, it’s a bit similar to the River Duero (as it’s known in Spain)/Douro, because that also flows across the Peninsula, with the source in the Castilian province of Soria (which is quite close to Burgos, another place associated with Wellington).

    Reply
  3. “The language is derived from Latin and the written form looks similar to Spanish and Italian, but the accent is quite different.”
    In the Spanish region of Galicia, above Portugal, they speak Gallego, which is pretty similar to Portuguese, and in the 13th century Galician-Portuguese was the language of poetry, used at the court of the Castilian King, Alfonso X.
    If you exclude Basque, which is a completely different language, there’s a continuum right the way across from Portugal, through Galicia (Galician Portuguese), Asturias (Asturian), Castile (Castilian, but that’s what’s usually referred to as ‘Spanish’), to Cataluña (Catalan), Aragón (some areas speaking Catalan but others speaking Aragonese), and up into what’s now the south of France where Occitan/Provençal was spoken.
    In fact, it’s a bit similar to the River Duero (as it’s known in Spain)/Douro, because that also flows across the Peninsula, with the source in the Castilian province of Soria (which is quite close to Burgos, another place associated with Wellington).

    Reply
  4. I’ve not been to Europe, but it keeps coming to me in various ways. Where I lived in NJ – Kearny, across the Passaic from Newark – had been initially settled by the Irish, with all manner of Irish stores, pubs and such still around. The second major wave of settlement was Portuguese, so cheek and jowl with the Irish pubs are Portuguese restaurants (quite tasty food, too!). My landlord and his wife were both Portuguese, and while he spoke English well, hers was sketchy and her brother and sister-in-law – who lived below me – understood it but didn’t really speak it. The little old man at the laundrymat had no English, and we always communicated in hand gestures when I needed something. When I went to a local grocery, the daughter of the owner had to come out and translate for me because he couldn’t understand what I wanted. Most of his customers spoke Portuguese.
    One thing I noticed was that I felt very tall all the time. I’m 5’8″, and I was several inches taller than most of the older Portuguese men I came into contact with. Did you see that in Portugal, Mary Jo?

    Reply
  5. I’ve not been to Europe, but it keeps coming to me in various ways. Where I lived in NJ – Kearny, across the Passaic from Newark – had been initially settled by the Irish, with all manner of Irish stores, pubs and such still around. The second major wave of settlement was Portuguese, so cheek and jowl with the Irish pubs are Portuguese restaurants (quite tasty food, too!). My landlord and his wife were both Portuguese, and while he spoke English well, hers was sketchy and her brother and sister-in-law – who lived below me – understood it but didn’t really speak it. The little old man at the laundrymat had no English, and we always communicated in hand gestures when I needed something. When I went to a local grocery, the daughter of the owner had to come out and translate for me because he couldn’t understand what I wanted. Most of his customers spoke Portuguese.
    One thing I noticed was that I felt very tall all the time. I’m 5’8″, and I was several inches taller than most of the older Portuguese men I came into contact with. Did you see that in Portugal, Mary Jo?

    Reply
  6. I’ve not been to Europe, but it keeps coming to me in various ways. Where I lived in NJ – Kearny, across the Passaic from Newark – had been initially settled by the Irish, with all manner of Irish stores, pubs and such still around. The second major wave of settlement was Portuguese, so cheek and jowl with the Irish pubs are Portuguese restaurants (quite tasty food, too!). My landlord and his wife were both Portuguese, and while he spoke English well, hers was sketchy and her brother and sister-in-law – who lived below me – understood it but didn’t really speak it. The little old man at the laundrymat had no English, and we always communicated in hand gestures when I needed something. When I went to a local grocery, the daughter of the owner had to come out and translate for me because he couldn’t understand what I wanted. Most of his customers spoke Portuguese.
    One thing I noticed was that I felt very tall all the time. I’m 5’8″, and I was several inches taller than most of the older Portuguese men I came into contact with. Did you see that in Portugal, Mary Jo?

    Reply
  7. Hi MJ!
    Thank you for sharing your riverboat experience in Portugal with us wenchlings. I am already looking forward to that book.
    And, I’m bursting with questions! Which means, I need to break out of my comfort zone, find my unused passport and get my butt on a plane. Sometime before I die.
    Or maybe… I’ll just read your book and skip the airplane ride. It’s less expensive.
    Hugs to our brave, world traveling Wench.
    -the littlest wenchling, loving Word Wenches

    Reply
  8. Hi MJ!
    Thank you for sharing your riverboat experience in Portugal with us wenchlings. I am already looking forward to that book.
    And, I’m bursting with questions! Which means, I need to break out of my comfort zone, find my unused passport and get my butt on a plane. Sometime before I die.
    Or maybe… I’ll just read your book and skip the airplane ride. It’s less expensive.
    Hugs to our brave, world traveling Wench.
    -the littlest wenchling, loving Word Wenches

    Reply
  9. Hi MJ!
    Thank you for sharing your riverboat experience in Portugal with us wenchlings. I am already looking forward to that book.
    And, I’m bursting with questions! Which means, I need to break out of my comfort zone, find my unused passport and get my butt on a plane. Sometime before I die.
    Or maybe… I’ll just read your book and skip the airplane ride. It’s less expensive.
    Hugs to our brave, world traveling Wench.
    -the littlest wenchling, loving Word Wenches

    Reply
  10. I read an humorous factoid about how Porto got two names. The Portuguese usually put an article in front of names (based on the “sex” of the item), and “O” precedes the masculine. The Portuguese referred to Porto as O Porto. This is not done in English and the British just didn’t get it, and put Oporto on the map! And now Porto has an airport code of OPO.

    Reply
  11. I read an humorous factoid about how Porto got two names. The Portuguese usually put an article in front of names (based on the “sex” of the item), and “O” precedes the masculine. The Portuguese referred to Porto as O Porto. This is not done in English and the British just didn’t get it, and put Oporto on the map! And now Porto has an airport code of OPO.

    Reply
  12. I read an humorous factoid about how Porto got two names. The Portuguese usually put an article in front of names (based on the “sex” of the item), and “O” precedes the masculine. The Portuguese referred to Porto as O Porto. This is not done in English and the British just didn’t get it, and put Oporto on the map! And now Porto has an airport code of OPO.

    Reply
  13. From MJP:
    Laura, thanks for elaborating on the linguistic aspects. The guide mentioned Gallego, but beyond that, I didn’t know much.
    Interestingly, a friend of mine just sent me a link to this interesting article by someone who has has studied the genetic origins of the British population. He has lots of interesting thing to say about Celtic myths:
    http://www.prospect-magazine.co.uk/article_details.php?id=7817
    Cathy, I don’t know what happened to your comment about gorgeous Portuguese men, but I concur. 🙂 Most of the young men who worked on the Douro Queen looked as if they’d just stepped out of Hollywood.
    But yes, as a group they’re not especially tall. Since I’m 5’2″, I didn’t notice this as much, but my 5’7″ traveling companion said she was lookiing a lot more men in the eye there than at home.
    Nina, reading a book set in an exotic locale is easier and cheaper, but it’s just not the same as experiencing another country. Get that passport out and start planning where you’d like to go!
    Gee, here I thought O’Porto was Irish. 🙂
    Mary Jo

    Reply
  14. From MJP:
    Laura, thanks for elaborating on the linguistic aspects. The guide mentioned Gallego, but beyond that, I didn’t know much.
    Interestingly, a friend of mine just sent me a link to this interesting article by someone who has has studied the genetic origins of the British population. He has lots of interesting thing to say about Celtic myths:
    http://www.prospect-magazine.co.uk/article_details.php?id=7817
    Cathy, I don’t know what happened to your comment about gorgeous Portuguese men, but I concur. 🙂 Most of the young men who worked on the Douro Queen looked as if they’d just stepped out of Hollywood.
    But yes, as a group they’re not especially tall. Since I’m 5’2″, I didn’t notice this as much, but my 5’7″ traveling companion said she was lookiing a lot more men in the eye there than at home.
    Nina, reading a book set in an exotic locale is easier and cheaper, but it’s just not the same as experiencing another country. Get that passport out and start planning where you’d like to go!
    Gee, here I thought O’Porto was Irish. 🙂
    Mary Jo

    Reply
  15. From MJP:
    Laura, thanks for elaborating on the linguistic aspects. The guide mentioned Gallego, but beyond that, I didn’t know much.
    Interestingly, a friend of mine just sent me a link to this interesting article by someone who has has studied the genetic origins of the British population. He has lots of interesting thing to say about Celtic myths:
    http://www.prospect-magazine.co.uk/article_details.php?id=7817
    Cathy, I don’t know what happened to your comment about gorgeous Portuguese men, but I concur. 🙂 Most of the young men who worked on the Douro Queen looked as if they’d just stepped out of Hollywood.
    But yes, as a group they’re not especially tall. Since I’m 5’2″, I didn’t notice this as much, but my 5’7″ traveling companion said she was lookiing a lot more men in the eye there than at home.
    Nina, reading a book set in an exotic locale is easier and cheaper, but it’s just not the same as experiencing another country. Get that passport out and start planning where you’d like to go!
    Gee, here I thought O’Porto was Irish. 🙂
    Mary Jo

    Reply
  16. Thanks for the link to the article, Mary Jo. I’d heard of Galicia/Cornwall/Wales/Ireland and Scotland being described as the ‘Celtic Fringe’, but I’d never really thought about what might that might mean in terms of origins and migration.
    The author of the article doesn’t mention the Picts. I’m not sure what language they spoke. I do know that the Scots apparently (according to legend) came from Ireland, but what happened to the Picts then, I don’t know. And I’m not sure where Gaelic fits into all this either. It certainly seems a very complicated area, and one for which historians don’t have the same amount of evidence as they do for later periods.

    Reply
  17. Thanks for the link to the article, Mary Jo. I’d heard of Galicia/Cornwall/Wales/Ireland and Scotland being described as the ‘Celtic Fringe’, but I’d never really thought about what might that might mean in terms of origins and migration.
    The author of the article doesn’t mention the Picts. I’m not sure what language they spoke. I do know that the Scots apparently (according to legend) came from Ireland, but what happened to the Picts then, I don’t know. And I’m not sure where Gaelic fits into all this either. It certainly seems a very complicated area, and one for which historians don’t have the same amount of evidence as they do for later periods.

    Reply
  18. Thanks for the link to the article, Mary Jo. I’d heard of Galicia/Cornwall/Wales/Ireland and Scotland being described as the ‘Celtic Fringe’, but I’d never really thought about what might that might mean in terms of origins and migration.
    The author of the article doesn’t mention the Picts. I’m not sure what language they spoke. I do know that the Scots apparently (according to legend) came from Ireland, but what happened to the Picts then, I don’t know. And I’m not sure where Gaelic fits into all this either. It certainly seems a very complicated area, and one for which historians don’t have the same amount of evidence as they do for later periods.

    Reply

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