Finally we are on our 8 day cruise up the Douro River. It is French Cruiseline called CROISI EUROPE, which for obvious reasons made us very apprehensive. Croisi is popular among Europeans but it is not that well known in the English speaking parts of the world. The passengers are mainly French and Danish with 10 brave English speakers, Canadian and English and of course 2 Strayans. The other big plus is that it is half the price of the other cruises.
Sadly The Panama Hat lost his wallet before the cruise, possibly when he was purchasing his flashy Portuguesa shoes, they are subdued numbers just the ticket for the Rissole Club!
We discovered how difficult it is to ring a bank ( and I see further problems with Insurance Companies as well). I inserted a Portuguese sim card into my mobile and it would not let me ring Australia. Of course you can not email them, that would be too easy and simple. Skype and Facebook would not ring this long secure number and so we had to resort to asking a hotel with a landline to make the call for us. As we were staying at an Airbnb and not the Dom Henrique Hotel, it was very kind and helpful of them. Sadly we can not say the same thing about the Australian Bank’s 24 hour service! The only time I have observed others needing to ring Australia in an emergency has been on a tour where the tour leader has used the hotels landline. I am curious how independent Australian travellers have managed to contact a bank, in an emergency while travelling in Europe?
The Croisi cruise line berths in the Quebrantoes dock some way out of Porto, a small but important detail that the online travel agent forgot to tell us! There were 3 possible docks to choose from. We have cruised through absolutely stunning scenery of vineyards tumbling down into the water, ancient white villages clinging to the hillsides and terraced ampitheatres of olives and vineyards which literally cascade forever. So glad I am not a grape picker, it would be tough work on these vast tiered platforms. The smaller vineyards still stomp their grapes.
Everyday there are the optional excursions. However the fickle weather has changed from searing heat to cool and wet which is not the best condition for checking the Portuguese countryside. I revisited Guimaries the birthplace of the Portuguse King. Last time I was there it was searingly hot and unpleasant. This time it was cool and wet as we dodged the showers and toured the castle. The tours have been very restrictive and quick. I am more of a ‘wander at will ‘ tourist and really hate being herded in groups forced to listen to details about cupboards and religious artifacts.
Mateus Palace was very similar in the fact that we were herded through a small section of the palace and had no time for the gardens which were in the French style and vast and elaborate. The family no longer own the winery having sold the family name to a wine company decades ago. I am sure we all thought Mateus wine was so very sophisticated, back in the day.
Lunch on board that day was..YES..baccalau and sardine all washed down with a custard tart. There is no choice in the food and on the whole it has been quite good but so very overcooked. The waiters are amusing. Antonio fiercely informed me that there was no sparkling wine and he had told me this several times! On further questioning I discovered that indeed there was sparkling wine, but they called it champagne, but I could not have a bottle of it. It is doled out 1 glass at a time. Then I had the nerve to ask for another glass after dessert, which apparently is also against the rules. Then we were entertained by the waiters in ‘YEAR 6 drama performance’ … I think my friend Antonio was the cross dressing performer. You can never pick em!
We had a Fado and a flamenco performance. Then The Panama Hat and I wowed the few remaining geriatric members of the audience who were still up and standing with our own dance number, we had to sit and catch our breath afterwards. I am hoping I can post the video of it without a major breakdown.
We have most fortunate that the English speaking group that we were seated with have been fabulous. They are all great fun, amusing and boozers. What else could you ask for? One day we spent the day on our own and realised we were invisible to the French who remained on board with us, as they pushed past us without eye contact.
I have to publish this as i have lost WIFI YET AGAIN. Will fix it up later.