Douro- Day 1 on Viking Helgrim


Not every great day on a Viking river cruise is spent on a river. We spent the first day of our “cruise” on dry land – in the beautiful city of Lisbon, Portugal. We are signed up to cruise the Douro River from Porto to Barca d’Alva, but – since everyone on the cruise flies into Lisbon, 195 miles away from Porto, our point of embarkation — Viking did the sensible thing: scheduled a multi-optional tour day in Portugal’s vibrant, historic capital city. That doesn’t include the half day provided us to recover from jet lag on the day we arrived. It’s much better than a mad rush from the airport to the ship, arriving frazzled and exhausted on the day the boat leaves port.

image from Julie HatfieldWe had our choice of taking three different city tours, or of relaxing in our hotel room and doing nothing at all. We chose a tour, and went with a guide to see “Cosmopolitlan Lisbon and the Maritime Museum,” taking us through some of the most scenic parts of the city and a stop at Belem Tower, a 16th Century limestone fortification at the edge of the Tejo River that served as a fortress against pirates and Spanish attackers. The limestone structure with elaborate turrets is covered in detailed decoration. Our guide called it, colotfully, “embroidery in stone.” From there we rode to the nearby Jeronimos Monastery which, when it closed as a religious building, was remade into the UNESCO World Heritage Maritime Museum, a Lisbon must-see. its exhibits celebrate Portugal’s Golden Age of Discovery, when the great Portuguese explorers set sail in their caravels across the world. Included are maps showing their 16th Century territorial discoveries and many intricate models of ships and original navigating instruments. Samples of the spices that the Portuguese sailing ships brought back from the Far East, including, pepper, nutmeg, cumin, vanilla, anise, ginger and cinnamon, are on display, along with the vats that held them sealed tightly from the humidity. (One urn that was found at the bottom of the sea some 500 years after its ship sank contained black pepper that was still dry and usable.)

image from Julie HatfieldAn enormous exhibition room holds ceremonial barges from the 18th Century, including a Royal Barge built in 1778, powered by 80 oarsmen. The last time it was taken out on the water was in 1957 when it transported Queen Elizabeth II of England in the river Tagus at the time of her official visit to Portugal.

Our jet lag yesterday after our flight from Boston was alleviated by a restorative swim in the outdoor pool set in the garden of the modern Tivoli Hotel, where our rooms were reserved by Viking. Tonight, Viking has another “off-cruise-ship” treat planned for us – a walking culinary tour in the working class neighborhood of Graca featuring two tastings. At one we will savor a selection of petiscos, small servings of tasty bites accompanied by a locally produced liqueur. At the other, we will visit a wine bar where traditional cheeses and smoked sausages complement the tasting.

Story and photos courtesy of Julie Hatfield.

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