Mike and Renée and friends
tour the Basque Country
and cruise the Duoro River
On Ama Vida
March 2014

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A trip to Portugal has been on our wish list for a long time. We had missed out on Portugal due to a pilot's strike on a previous cruise, and this time we decided to try small ship river cruising from Porto to Salamanca on the Duoro River. Before the cruise we spent a few days touring the Pais Vasco (Basque Country) in Spain

PAGE ONEcovers the pre-cruise trip to Bilbao and the Pais Vasco.

PAGE TWO covers the pre-cruise in Lisbon and transfer to Porto via Fatima.

THIS PAGEcovers the Duoro River cruise on Amavida.
SECTION ONE - THE SHIP
SECTION TWO - THE CRUISE AND INCLUDED TOURS

DAY ONE: In late afternoon we arrived in Porto where the Amavida was waiting for us. As there were only 96 passengers, embarkation was easy and fast. We prepared to set off on our "Celebration of Wine" cruise!

SECTION ONE

ABOUT THE SHIP

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She is a beautiful ship. The cabins range from miniscule with a "panoramic window" which is really not more than a porthole, to just small with a bit of a balcony. The bathrooms, however are larger than most cruise ships with a very nice walk in shower.

The dining room on Amavida is very nice. The food is excellent and the servers are well trained and very friendly. Breakfast and lunch feature great buffets enhanced by menu service, and dinner is full service from a nice menu. Fresh flowers are always around.

One of the principal centers of activity on board is the large spacious lounge. It serves as the ship's theater for lectures and entertainment as well as a space for passengers to relax. Since the cabins are so small, we used the public rooms a lot.

The doors at the front of the lounge led out onto the "front porch." When the ship was moving it was very breezy, but a great place to watch scenery.

The Sun deck has great views and you can get some good pictures

The top deck sometimes has to be cleared to permit passage under low bridges. In March, people were well bundled up to use the "Sun" Deck.

SECTION TWO THE CRUISE

DAY TWO: The ship stayed overnight in Porto. All the shore excursions on this trip are included in the cruise package, so the next morning we had a shore excursion around Porto. A highlight was the beautiful tile work in the railroad station.

Then we continued the Celebration of Wine with a visit to one of Porto's famous port wine cellars, Graham's. We began with the tour of the cellar and the wine casks.

A flight of three port wines from young to well aged was the tasting. It was very interesting, but for some reason they failed to furnish any way to cleanse the palate between them so the tastes tended to overlap. I am afraid the tasting was more touristy than oenophilic.

DAY THREE: Our sailing from Porto was delayed due to high water in the river. The ship offered a lunch excursion and wine tasting at Convento de Alpendurada, a 17th century monastery.

Lunch in the old building was excellent. Some of the waitstaff from the ship went along to help with the service.

Those of us who stayed behind had a chance to relax and check email. The beautiful lounge was often filled with passengers using their laptops. Wifi on the ship was free and very good, both in public areas and cabins.

Although water conditions in the river required a number of changes to program, the passengers were all reasonable and accepting. What might have been problems on some cruises were handled beautifully by both the staff and the passengers to make a happy cruise.

The Captain finally got permission from the maritime authority to proceed up the river. The group at the monastery hustled into the buses and returned to the ship quickly and we cast off. We hurried up the river to the first of several locks we need to pass through. It really is an amazing process. Scott and Connie ventured outside while the rest of us stayed in the lounge. Weather throughout the trip was cool but moderate.

It is interesting to watch the operation of the locks and the dams to which they are attached. It is an age old principal accomplished on a large scale with modern equipment.

DAY FOUR: The included excursion was to the Mateus palace and gardens. This is the home of the family whose vineyards produce Mateus Rose wine. Those of our group who went said it was very impressive.

A cloudburst prevented some from exploring the gardens, but Connie ventured forth and brought back pictures.

That night a Portuguese folklore group came aboard for a lively concert. Mariana the Cruise Director, Captain Olveira and Chief Engineer Rodrigues were joined by a lot of the passengers including Connie and Renée with enthusiasm.

Although the entertaiment on the ship was not big and splashy a good time was had by all. Besides the Portuguese folklore we had a night of fado and one of flamenco for proper local color.

DAY FIVE: All the shore excursions on this trip are included in the cruise. Due to the delay at the beginning some things had to be rearranged. Today's tour was to Lamego and began with a visit to the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Remedies, a major pilgrimage site, especially for those who have ill children.

There are 600 steps from the sanctuary to the village square below. Some passengers made the trip down, but our "Gentle Walker" group took the bus!

Then we stopped to sample sparkling wine and a local specialty, bolas. These are sandwiches made on a sort of flatbread with smoked ham and cheese. They are very tasty.

That evening the buses took us up narrow winding mountain roads to Casa Assaveda. Here we were met by the estate's band playing traditional tunes.

We toured the winery. As always, the "gentle walkers" were assisted by our wonderful hostess Filipa. She was with us on every tour and saw that we were helped with steps, uneven pavements, and other obstacles to the mobility limited so common in Europe.

There we were served a classic Portuguese dinner, including Sopa Dona Antonia, which by legend she fed to all the peasants in the region during a time of famine.

The evening concluded with more music and dancing. It was a lot of fun for all.

DAY SIX: Problems with water level in the river continued to plague the Amavida. Because we were not able to proceed as far up the river as scheduled, the excursion to Salamanca became much longer on the bus. Some of our party made the long ride and said it was worthwhile. We decided to skip the excursion and stay on the ship where we had an afternoon wine class and galley tours.

GALLEY PIC

Through all this, our Tour Manager Mariana did a wonderful job, hopping from Plan A to Plan B and then C,D & E with aplomb. She and the the Captain worked hard to make our trip a success despite the river's lack of cooperation.

A trio of Flamenco dancers came onboard for a fast moving show this night.

DAY SEVEN: Having reached our furthest point up river, the last day was sailing down the river quickly to get back close to Porto. The Captain had the engines running at daybreak and we were off down the river. We went back through the same five locks we had passed coming up, traveling as quickly as possible. For the passengers, this was an easy relaxed day to enjoy the ship with time to pack up.

We traveled until the sunlight faded and just as the light disappeared tied up at a port within bus distance of the Porto airport. The Captain did a great job the entire cruise handling complicated navigation problems so that the actions of the authorities interfered as little as possible with our trip.

After dinner we were served a wonderful 30 year old port, for a final toast to a great cruise on Amavida!

The next morning we had an early bus transfer to the airport, assisted by our angel Filipa. The long flight home left us tired but happy with this vacation.

PAGE ONEcovers the pre-cruise trip to Bilbao and the Pais Vasco.

PAGE TWO covers the pre-cruise in Lisbon and transfer to Porto via Fatima.

THIS PAGEcovers the Duoro River cruise on Amavida.


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