Day 29 – A Drive along the Douro

Day 29 = Monday, April 9, 2012

After enjoying the lovely hotel shower one last time, we headed out of Braga. Our first stop: Amarante. We wanted to go to a super-cool museum we’d heard about (the museum of Amadeo de Souza-Cardoso, a famous Portuguese cubist) but it was closed on Mondays. We went to the tourist info office next door and were given loads of brochures about sights in the area, though we did not end up using any of them. (Not environmentally friendly or even just friendly-friendly, I know.) Instead, we went to the main square and watched a small boy in gleeful pursuit of the town pigeons.

The square contained a main church, but right beside it, up a stone terrace, was yet another church. We climbed up the terrace for a beautiful view of detail of the main church, of the São Gonçalo bridge (where the town’s residents withstood Napoleon’s troops for two weeks, until bombarded with barrels of gunpowder), and of the town.

As we climbed up, we’d picked up Very Small Rocks (name that movie) for Quinland to use with her slingshot. Sadly, the rubber strap had broken loose at one end. I managed to MacGyver it back into shape, of course, and she was able to shoot rocks into the river. She is really making me look like a shorty in this photo.

David went across the bridge to snap some photos from the other side and returned with a small fortune’s worth of pastries (though not the city’s famed phallic-shaped fertility pastries). We are all addicted to the Belem-style tarts, which have a creamy egg-yolk filling, but he also discovered some new egg-based delicacies. Yummmmm…

After saying goodbye to Amarante, we drove on to Regua, where we stopped and got a map of the Douro vineyards. The Douro region grows all the grapes for the famous port wine that is made down the river in Porto (Oporto, to some… but not to the Portuguese). The area is quite steep, and the grapes are grown on terraces on the sides of the hills that slope down to the river. In very rocky areas, small terraces are built on any available land, some holding only one grapevine.

A number of the quintas (vineyard estates) hold tastings and give tours, but the price can be a bit steep. This would be especially true for us: one person driving, one under-age, and one on alcohol-enhancing medications. We really wouldn’t be getting our money’s worth.

David found one quinta that was supposed to offer free tours, so we headed out to it. It did offer free tours, but when we arrived we found it closed for lunch from noon until 3:00 pm. With our jam-packed schedule, we would not be able to wait and still get to Porto on time to meet our next landlady. Still, we poked around the exterior, got some lovely pictures, and had a chance to stretch our legs and sit in the shade (and visit the facilities).

By this time, we were all starving. We drove on to the Alto Douro (high above the river), to a little town called Sabrosa. After peeking into (and rejecting) a pizzeria, we stopped and had an amazingly good lunch at a restaurant that looked like a truck stop from the outside. David asked for a recommendation and got a special kind of sausage stuffed with chicken and garlic and onion and bread.  He said it was the best food he’d had in Portugal so far. After lunch, we raced back to the highway so we could get to Porto by 5:00 pm.

We got to our cute little apartment, where we met Cristina, the landlady, and saw Quinland’s very own room-slash-closet. We took a nap (yeah, we nap a lot) and then raced to meet BGG-er Felipe and his friends at Café Santiago (oops – had that wrong, now corrected!) to try some francesinhas, an iconic Porto treat. We had to wait ages for a table, so we got to chat and share info on ourselves. Felipe’s friend Miguel and his girlfriend were wearing robes like wizard students from Harry Potter; apparently JK Rowling had lived in Porto with her first husband and was inspired by the students’ traditional garb. (Q went to Pingo Doce to get laundry soap, as we have to take advantage of any apartment that has a washing machine.) We learned all about Porto and the chip the residents on their shoulder because they are not respected by Lisbon.

The francesinhas were crazy. They are smothered sandwiches of steak and egg and bread and cheese and tomato-and-beer sauce, served on french fries… and apparently different restaurants purport to have the very best versions (and have their own legions of fans). The name means “little French girl,” for reasons unknown to me.

I wish I had taken a photo… you can Google away if you’d like to see one up close.

Afterward, they took us to the Majestic Café to get café. Quinland and I had hot chocolate which was MELTED CHOCOLATE IN A CUP. When you are expecting chocolate-flavored milk, the moment when the chocolate hits your lips is something you’ll never forget. We talked politics over our drinks, then said our goodbyes, kissed and kissed everyone (in Portugal, all women kiss – and are kissed – twice on hellos and goodbyes; men shake each other’s hands), and went home. I tried to put on a load of laundry so that it would air-dry by the time we had to pack in two days, only to discover that the soap I’d asked Q to get was the wrong kind of soap for this machine. Argh. At least it was a good excuse to go right to bed.

Expenditures: Pastries in Amarante, lunch in Sabrosa, dinner and drinkable chocolate in Porto, worthless laundry detergent, rent.

Experiences: So many! New food delights, gorgeous scenery, Portuguese student traditions, Lisbon/Porto rivalry, that lovely melted chocolate… and more. A fabulous day, all around.

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