VIKING’s River of Gold cruise

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Viking has a cruise named:        “River of Gold”.

This is a tour beginning in Lisbon with two nights in a really cool downtown hotel with Lisbon City tours. The river that runs through Lisbon almost seven miles wide at some points unfortunately does not go anywhere navigable. Since this is a river cruise they haul you up to Porto via motor coach to cruise from there to the Spanish border on the River Douro. This  once very wild and dangerous river has been tamed with dams and open to navigation through the highest locks in Europe.

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We are joined at this point by four couples who were among our neighbors in Louisville. The restaurant where this shot was taken was our favorite while we were in Lisbon. It is nice to stay in a place long enough to be able to claim a “favorite”!

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As this group have been house boating together for over 30 years it is fitting that we do a river cruise. We are also at this point going to be spending the next month on the boat and traveling in Italy with most of these beautiful people so compatibility is crucial. Fortunately, we actually like each other!

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This is a fairly new cruise venue for Viking and the boats were designed to fit the locks. We passed a sister ship and got the photograph where we shared a pier for the night

If you have never done a river cruise you will find the boats delightfully stable. By the end of the cruise you will know  a fairly large percentage of your fellow travelers.  Going on a small boat with a party of ten people is a lot like growing up in Pinetta, Florida with a large family; even if you don’t know them, they know you!

One of the most memorable sights along the river was Vila Real the castle that is featured of the bottle of Mateuse Rose.

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The gardens at Vila Real were very formal and perfect.

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The halfway point on the trip is where the river reached to border with Spain. Here we docked to boat and did a day trip to Salamanca Spain. When the Romans built things they lasted a log time. The bridge below going into Salamanca is still in use.

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 Salamanca is one of the oldest cities in Spain and shows no damage from the Spanish Civil war as it was the headquarters city of Franco’s Nationalists. It is also the home to a large group of storks, some nesting in the bell tower shown below.

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Many of the stops were tours of beautiful gardens, usually associated with a port winery.

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One of the excursion to a port winery took the bus up a winding road with breath taking views of the vineyards.

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This valley is spectacular and this photo does not do it justice. This requires a 360 degree IMax camera.

SINTRA, PORTUGAL

Striking mountains,  dense forests, exotic gardens and fabulous palaces that were homes to Portuguese monarchy define Sintra. Located about an hours train ride from downtown Lisbon it is not only worth a day trip, you can spend weeks there and never get tired of it.

We keep trying to whittle down our “bucket list” but continue to experience magical places like this that warrant a DO OVER some day.

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The walk from the train station in Sintra to the main plaza is the better part of a mile on cobblestone sidewalks that wind through  botanical and statuary gardens that present one delight after another.IMG_0645

 

There were 25-30 of these statues along the walk with various artisans peddling their art.

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High on the hill above these gardens sits the Sintra National Palace dominating the hilltop.

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Imposing palaces are everywhere but there are also narrow streets filled with shopping opportunity.

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Of course, among the joys of Portugal in general and Sintra in particular are great places to eat and drink.

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I have a feeling that we will return to Sintra at some point. This may be a place to rent a VRBO for a month!

LISBON

Lisbon is a city of narrow cobblestone streets.

The city claims to have been founded on seven hills but after walking the city for almost 8 days there must be at least 20. Generally speaking the narrower the street, the steeper the climb. On one street it was  easy to touch the walls of the buildings on each side and I counted 186 steps between cross streets.

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It is also a city of broad plazas of polished limestone.

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Many of these plazas date to the widespread destruction from a massive earthquake in 1755. The Marquis Pombal who was Prime Minister at the time survived the quake and is largely credited with the restoration of the city and the development of these large plazas and the grid like layout of wide boulevards in the area that was flattened by the quake and ensuing tsunami that stands in such contrast to the narrow winding very hilly parts of the old town that was not destroyed.

The earthquake also also had a profound effect on Portugals colonial ambitions.  Since the time of Henry the Navigator Portugal and Spain had dominated exploration sanctioned by Pope Alexander VI who divided the unknown world between these two sea powers. With the massive costs of recovery, Portugal exited the 1700’s version of the space race.

This statue with Henry  the Navigator leading the pack represents the glory of the Portugal exploration era with folks like Vasco da Gama who found the sea route to India and the far east and Ferdinand Magellan first to circumnavigate the earth.

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Lisbon is also a great place to eat! Seafood is their specialty and we enjoyed it often.

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We also discovered a delightful Savignon Blanc that would rival any New Zealand.

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We will have to see if our favorite Maryland bootlegger can get this one for us next time we are in Gettysburg