Our drive today was REALLY REALLY REALLY BEAUTIFUL but no pictures where taken. Lovely views of snow covered alps…..end up near the Venice Airport where we will be picking up Terri and Jason tomorrow and going into Venice for several days.
Once we got settled into our hotel we went out looking for a self serve laundry and found one! After an hour and half, we were back to the hotel putting ourselves together for our next big adventure – Venice!
Stuttgart to Innsbruck – on the road most of the day but only went 325 Km (201 miles). But it was a lovely drive through the southern Alps of Germany and into the Alps of Austria. Mostly an uneventful day – but lovely views. Our hotel in Innsbruck seems to be a jumping off point for hikers as there are special packages which include various treks in the nearby mountains.
Tomorrow is Venice – well, not really, but close. We are staying at a hotel near the airport so we can pick up Terri and Jason who will be joining us in Venice for a few days prior to their flight back to Virginia.
Not much has happened over the last couple of days – we have been waiting for TODAY. The planning for TODAY started way last November when we started thinking about a car for our time in Europe and decided it would be best to just buy one. Well, that lead us to look at the four basic car makers who have what is called Foreign Delivery programs: Volvo, Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz. We checked each of their programs, sat in a few different models and decided the Mercedes-Benz GLC-300 would be the car for us.
While we were in Virginia last December, for Christmas with our granddaughter and her parents (Jason our son and his wife Terri) we ventured out to a Mercedes-Benz dealer and put down a deposit for a new car for delivery in Stuttgart late September. When this is now late September.
We arrived at the delivery center only to find out there was a custom’s paperwork that hadn’t been completed. Nothing we could do about it so we were given a voucher for a beverage and tickets to a factory tour. The factory tour was about 2 hours and quite interesting. Having gone on a GM tour in about 1972, things have most certainly changed. Robots do 90% of everything – heavy lifting, welding, screwing, gluing – you name it and they can do it. The human touch only comes in for the fine detail work and finishing touches.
After the tour we were given another voucher for lunch – which was quite nice. After that, we were finally introduced to our new car. As we were going through all the particulars we soon realized it did not have European Maps in the navigation system. Well, another voucher for a dessert and beverage while the loaded the correct maps to the system and ultimately about 2 hours later we able to finish the introduction to the car and take off.
First stop was to the Mercedes-Benz Museum. Started in 1886, this organization has done an extrodinary amount of different things over the last hundred or so years. Cars, boats, motorcycles, airplanes, racing cars, buses you name it and they have had a hand in doing something one way or another.
Along with the various cars presented there was a general timeline listing important events happening around the world – interesting to see and learn about all of this from their (Mercedes-Benz) perspective.
After finding our way back to the hotel I turned the car over to them to put in the garage and we went out for a beer. All in all a very pleasant day.
Thursday – September 21st through Saturday the 23rd.
On Thursday, I stayed on board the boat today while Janeen headed out with the rest of the ship to Salamanca Spain. Sleeping in has its advantages and a restful day was great. After we moved the boat, to the dock of the village, I took myself for a walk. Well, the village of Barca de Alva is about 3 blocks long and maybe 2-blocks wide. I saw about 20 people in total and that included two people from the Boat also on a walking tour.
Not a hot spot of entertainment that’s for sure.
I did stop for a coffee and read my book for a while and then back to the boat. It was a nice relaxing day.
While I stayed on the boat, Janeen went with the rest of the ship to Salamanca. If you ignore the winding 2-hour road ride, the rest stop WC line, and a timetable, Salamanca, Spain is a fascinating city. The University, founded in the late 12th/early 13th century, was one of the most progressive of its day; allowing students to study writings of Moor, Jewish and Christian philosophers. The only thing they consistently agreed upon was the huge temptation for the students in the form of Woman (who is represented by the frog of lust, usually poised over a skull or skeleton). However, if one can find the Salamanca frog amongst the carvings and religious figures, it guarantees a return to the city. The two cathedrals, which share a wall, are unique examples of the Romanesque (simple) and Gothic (soaring and ornate) styles form 11th century to the Renaissance.
The “New” Cathedral (15th cent.) was delayed by massive death count of the bubonic plague, victims of which are buried in mass graves beneath the floor. Today, the city of Salamanca has mostly two sources of income, tourists and students. The University will celebrate its 800th year in 2018.
Friday and Saturday was a nothing day – mostly sailing along the Douro as we made our way back towards Porto. So, nothing really to report beyond the views from the boat.
We did enjoy our evening dinners in the private dining room with all our new found friends.
Saturday afternoon, after arriving in Porto, we head out on our own walking tour visiting around the Ribera area of old Porto, and ultimately stopping in at the Church of Saint Francisco.
After paying our admission price, we walked through the place and particularly enjoyed seeing the Jesse Tree.
The Tree of Jesse is a depiction of the ancestors of Christ, shown in a tree which rises from Jesse of Bethlehem, the father of King David and grows upward from there.
This carved wood piece is quite tall with 12 kings of Judah connected through branches of the tree to the recumbent body of Jesse. On top of the tree is Joseph, under an image of the Virgin and the Child. This was made in the early 1700’s and still looks quite good.
After walking through the church, we headed outside and tried to connect with Janeen’s friend Cherlyne and her husband David. They were in Porto at the same time as us but on a tour with Tauck. After texting several times back and forth we found out they were on a ‘break’ on the other side of the Douro River so we rushed back over the river and found them! It was neat to connect, if only for a few minutes, with them – Cherlyne is a OLD high school friend of Janeen who she sees infrequently as they live in eastern Oregon.
After our ‘quick’ visit we got back on the boat and finished packing for our departure the next day.
OK – it’s Wednesday, I think, and we are off to Quinta do Seixo for a tour and tasting. What a surprise, they make Port! Actually they make a number of wines not the least of which is Port. This Quinta is actually the home of Sandeman – a “most renowned wine estate”.
A large wine consortium that also owns, what a coincidence also owns Mateus where we were yesterday owns this. Sandeman was established in 1790 and has been producing port wine ever since. The logo is meant to make you think of the student robs in the University we visited a few days ago and the hat is a reference to Spain as they also have produced sherry from that part of the world.
The tour was interesting – seems they make a lot of wine – but nothing out of the ordinary having been on any number of wine tours over the years. However, the fermentation area and the crushing system was interesting. They still crush the fruit in open tanks – in this case made of granite and highlight polished on the inside but they use a mechanical “stomper” as seen in the photo.
We tasted a couple of wines both of which were enjoyable – a medium dry white Port and a Ruby Port.
After tasting we re-boarded the bus and headed to lunch at Quinta da Avessada.
This Quinta is part of a consortium that produces Moscatel and we had a traditional lunch to go with it.
All very nice but I didn’t take pictures of the food, sorry. We headed back to the boat and where able to see lots of terraces vineyard along the road. All in all an interesting day. One side note, this trip does not want for wine and food – there is PLUNTY of both!
Tuesday and we off to the Mateus Palace. This is the place where the rosé wine we all drank a long time ago comes from. Remember the bottle that is squat and round? Kind of like the WWI canteens the solders use to carry? The bottles show the Palace – designed by an Italian-born architect and built in the 18th Century.
Well, that’s the place. The baroque masterpiece is NOT where the wine is made anymore but still a beautiful spot to visit. We had been here on our first trip to Portugal so we opted to skip the guided tour of the interior and went straight to the gardens.
However, just incase you want to know what the place looks like there are a few pictures and some general facts for your reading enjoyment. Surrounding the palace is a fantasy of a garden, with tiny boxwood hedges; prim statues and a fragrant cypress tunnel that’s blissfully cool on even the hottest days. This is where we headed immediately upon arrival.
After spending quality time in the garden we joined up with the group and boarded the bus for the return trip to the Boat.
Porto, the city on the right bank of the Douro River and the starting point of our actual river cruise, is considered to be the second largest city in Portugal after Lisbon – but that is only if you include all the surrounding areas as many of the “locals” have moved out for better housing, leaving the interior of the city with a lot of empty buildings. Our boat, the Queen Isabel was docked on the Gaia side of the river (the left bank – the Douro separates the cities of Porto and Gaia).
Our first full day, after getting all settled in to our cabin, was a walking tour of the City. Janeen, fighting off a cold, stayed ‘home’ to rest and I took the adventure trail with the group doing the “do as locals do” which is the phrase they use for the more active walking tour.
The City is very picturesque and offers any number of beautiful sites to see.
Our trip included a walk across the steel Dom Luis I Bridge. This double deck bridge with light rail and pedestrians at the top and general traffic and pedestrians on the lower deck was designed, in part by Gustave Eiffel and built in the late 1800’s. From there it was a short climb to the Porto cathedral.
The Cathedral sits on the highest point and has a commanding view of the City.
From there we took a short walk to catch the local tram – not really a local’s thing to do as it is very slow and not running on schedule often. It seems all the trams came from the United States sometime during the 1940’s.
The Train station was a treat – with wonderful tile murals on the walls depicting the history of the country.
Walking though the City was enjoyable. We visited parts of the City we (Janeen and I) had not visited in our visit 10 years ago. It is sad, however, to see all the empty buildings as many are in poor condition waiting for someone to come with lots of money to fix them up.
After the tour, we got back to the boat for various beverages and a discussion by the cruise director on the upcoming events for the trip. Tomorrow, Tuesday, we start heading up river!
Sunday we packed everything up and loaded on the bus to head to Porto to board the boat for the river portion of the UniWorld adventure. However, after stopping for lunch we went to visit the Library at the University of Coimbra. This is one of the oldest universities in Europe having started in the 1290 in Lisbon and moved a coupe of times until it reached a final location in Coimbra 1537.
Our main stop was the old library. This was built between 1717 and 1728; it is one of the exponents of the Baroque Portuguese and one of the richest European libraries. It consists of three floors: it was completed in 1728 began receiving the first books after 1750, and currently its collection comprises some 40,000 volumes. Richly decorated in the Baroque style it was an interesting site.
After the Library we paid a short visit to the to the Capela de Saint Miguel. The original chapel most likely dates from the 16th Century and the decorations clearly show that influence.
The organ, mounted between two windows, is really way oversized for the space. The chapel is still used for worship and other ceremonies’
After the visit to the University we completed our drive to Porto and boarded the Queen Isabella.
Saturday was an excursion to two different places – the Palace of Queluz and the Palace of Sintar. First stop was the Palace of Queluz.
This was one of the last great Rococo buildings to be designed in Europe, the palace was conceived as a summer retreat for Dom Pedro of Bragaza, later to become husband and then king consort to his own niece, Queen Maria I.
Work on the palace began in 1747 and was used for a number of years but after 1826 it slowly fell from favor. In 1908 it became property of the state. Over the years it has had fires, earthquake damage and lack of maintenance. Recently there has been a series of restorations undertaken to return it to its original condition.
We entered from the “public” side of the building, the not so formal face that is presented to the City and toured a number of different rooms. Our guide, Isabel (part of the UniWorld crew) gave great information about the furniture, designs of the rooms and historical events that occurred in the spaces.
After the interior tour we went through the gardens (always a highlight for Janeen) and back to the bus for our next Palace.
The Palace of Sintra is not as opulent as the Palace of Queluz and is the best preserved of the medieval royal residences in Portugal. It was occupied from the early 15th century to the late 19th century.
After we were finished up touring the Palace of Sintra, we headed towards the coast and to the small town called Cascais. This resort focused town had lots of new homes as well as well kept places of some substance. However, as it was getting closer to 2 in the afternoon, my particular goal was lunch.
Friday was City Tour time with the bus and large groups using the headphone system to hear what the guild has to say. Our first stop was in Belém at the Monument to Fallen Soldiers.
The represented a dark period in Portugal’s modern history that ultimately resulted in the overthrow of the Salazar dictatorship but the toll on Lisbon was extremely high as many of the soldiers families originated from the capital. The Overseas War took the lives of over 9,000 soldiers and lasted between 1961 and 1974 as Portugal desperately tried to retain its African colonies.
From there, it was a short walk to the Belém Tower. The Tower built in the early part of the 16th century is a fortified tower and was part of the defense system at the mouth of the Tagus River. Having survived for so long, including a major earth quack in 1755, it is the Ceremonial Gateway to Lisbon.
From there we boarded the buses and made our way to the Monument to the Discoveries. This monument was created to celebrate the achievements of the explorers during the Age of Discoveries and the creation of the Portugal’s empire.
The Age of Discoveries started in 1415 with the capture of the North African city of Ceuta by the Portuguese and reached a peak at the turn of the sixteenth century when Vasco da Gama discovered a shorter route to India and Pedro Álvares Cabral discovered Brazil.
The creation of trade posts and colonies on the new trade routes led to a Portuguese empire that spanned three continents, bringing wealth to Portugal and Lisbon in particular.
The monument was built in 1960 on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of Henry the Navigator’s death. Henry the Navigator was a driving force behind the overseas exploration and he financed many of the expeditions.
The 171ft tall monument, shaped like a ship’s prow, stands at the marina in Belém, the starting point for many of Portugal’s explorers. It shows more than thirty statues of people who played an important role in the discoveries. Leading the way is Henry the Navigator who is shown standing on the bow holding a model of a caravel. Behind him are king Afonso V – who supported the exploration and colonization of Africa – and the explorers Vasco da Gama (who found a direct route to India), Pedro Álvares Cabral (discoverer of Brazil) and Ferdinand Magellan (the first explorer to circumnavigate the world). They are followed by navigators, writers, missionaries, a mathematician, a cartographer and other figures from the era of the discoveries.
After this we took a rest on the bus while the rest of the group toured a Monastery (we had visited it on our first trip to Lisbon so didn’t need to do it again).
From there a brief walking tour of the old town and then back to the Hotel.
Once at the hotel we popped out for a bite to eat – found a VERY local place where Janeen had the fish! There were maybe 6 tables and a counter where you placed all your orders. Not any English being spoken in the place!