The morning began with Paulo picking us up and taking us to the University of Porto. He had access to underground parking. This is not unusual, however, the spaces that he had to drive through (and park in) were SO narrow that I would never have been able to get thru them. We toured the Biology building and spent a bit of time in the Herbarium. Michael was supposed to meet some researchers who were coming in from Lisbon, but we could never find them (this happens a lot here). We finally gave up and got back in the car and started driving Eastward to the Douro Valley. As we were driving thru the city, I saw many more examples of the “Oragami Art” that I mentioned in an earlier post.
Our first stop was about 30 minutes (60kms) away and was in the town of Amarante. This is were Paulo’s wife, Paula lived and her Dad and Brother are still there. The first thing that I noticed about the town was that it was decorated with lights over all of the streets and there were vendor stalls set up along the side of the road. The reason for this is that tonight was the start of a three day festival called “Festas do Junho” which honors the patron Saint of the area, Sao Gonçalo.
The festival begins at 6:00pm tonight with drums and music and goes almost all night long. Sometime later in the evening there will be a competition of 5 bands to see who can play the best, loudest, etc. On Sunday there will be a procession thru the city, walking under all of the decorated and lighted streets. We visited the church where the Saint’s tomb is and were told that the people of the city will file into the church and walk into the small area where the tomb is located, walk around the tomb, each touching it as they go past
One of the most interesting things that we saw were the “floats” that will be in the parade. These were all religious icons that will be decorated with flowers and candles and carried on the shoulders of several men. One of the floats was very large and Paulo told us that it took 8 men to carry it. There were also some signs decorated with flowers that will be carried in the procession as well.
As we walked out of the Church/Monestary, I noticed that some of the stones on the ground were a different color and realized that they had made the “shadow” of the church outline on the ground. It was interesting to look at and I would have loved to be able to see it from above.
We stopped twice in Amarante to eat. The first was at a small café and Michael and I both had a pork sandwich (sort of). When I looked at it up close, I realized that there was a LOT of fat mixed in with the pork. I was afraid that I would not be able to eat it, but actually really enjoyed the flavor. The fat tasted more like a soft cheese than greasy fat.
The next stop was at a pastry shop that specialized in custard pastries. We ordered a sample plate and enjoyed trying the different items. One was shaped like a boat and was filled with custard and then iced with a sweet vanilla icing. One was a very thin crepe filled with custard and then fried and doused in raw sugar. Michael’s favorite was an dense almond flavored cookie.
After leaving Amarante, we continued driving into the Douro Valley. We had to drive on switchbacks which were interesting in the villages, because the houses were directly on the switchback. You would have to be VERY careful when walking out your door. We stopped at one pull-over to take photos and ended up buying a bag of cherries from a vendor there. They were not as large as the cherries we are used to and they were SO sweet. We bought a kilo (2.2 pounds) for 2 euros.
This area is not only know for its grape vineyards, but also for Olive Trees. We also saw lots of orange and lemon trees. It is a beautiful area with terraces cut into the hills and the grape vines planted along the terraces. We cant imagine what it would be like to harvest the grapes while climbing up and down the terraces.
We drove to the town of Regua and found our way to a winery, “Quinta do Tedo”. It was too late in the day for them to give us a tour, but they did give us a wine tasting of four of their Ports. As I said in an earlier post, I was surprised that I enjoyed them. We bought a few bottles to bring home and also a bottle of “First Press” Olive Oil. This oil is only used for salads as it is too delicate to cook with.
As we talked with Paulo, we decided to take a train back into Porto, so he took us to the train station at Regua and helped us to get our ticket. The train was supposed to leave in four minutes so said our goodbyes to Paulo (kiss on right cheek, kiss on left cheek) and hurried to get on board. Unfortunately, as we walked forward from the back on the train, it became clear that there were no seats, however, when we got to the front-most carriage there was a set of benches facing each other that would carry 3 people on each bench. There were two older couples already sitting there, but one of the men motioned for us to join them. They didn’t speak any English but we had fun pointing and laughing. They brought out 2 small boxes of dark cherries and offered us some, so we reciprocated and offered some of ours.
After all of our rushing to get on the train, we proceeded to sit for about 20 minutes. Once the train whistle sounded indicating that the train was about to start, everybody laughed and clapped. Obviously we were not the only ones who were ready to get moving.
About half-way thru the trip, we realized that we were sitting in a carriage that was reserved for people who had been on the Douro River tour…..oops…..I guess that they just made allowances for the stupid Americans.
The trip took about 1-1/2 hours and we arrived back in Porto about 7:15. As we were walking back to our hotel, we passed the restaurant that we ate at last night, so decided to go on in and eat dinner there. The meat special for Friday night was Sirloin steak and although it was VERY rare, it had a wonderful flavor. We started the meal with Caldo Verde which is a potato and cabbage soup (with a chunk of Chorizzo Sausage) We finished the meal with a crepe with chocolate sauce, whipped cream and walnuts……IT WAS SO GOOD!!!!
We dropped back by the hotel for a few minutes and then walked back to one of the tallest towers in the city to watch a Brazilian Aerial Ballet troupe. The three performers were suspended from wires out of one of the tower windows and did all sorts of acrobatic moves while hanging about half way down the tower. They had music and spotlights and it was great fun to watch. If you click on this photo to enlarge it you MAY be able to see the performers….
We weren’t ready to return home, even though it was 11:00pm so we walked around to the book stalls. I was amazed that they were open this late at night and that there were so many people looking at and buying books.
We got back to the hotel about 11:30 and fell thankfully into bed…..the end of another great day!!!