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  Part 1: Lisbon and Porto View Slideshow (Windows only) Part 3: A couple of excursions  

2017: A cruise on Portugal's River of Gold

2. Boating up the River

Viking Hemming

Our ship, the Viking Hemming

Leaving the cities and lower river far behind us, we made steady progress further up the river. I joined the Captain in his wheelhouse for a discussion about the operation of the ship, but failed to convince him to let me take the controls. I was intrigued about how the ship could be so manoeuvrable, and the Captain explained that instead of the conventional setup of propellers and rudders, the ship actually had 3 steerable propellers one at the bows and two at the stern, which could be operated independently if necessary. There are the usual bow-thrusters and stern-thrusters as well, but these are ineffective at cruising speed and in order to navigate the narrow twisting river it had been necessary to adopt a different strategy. Normally the two stern propellers are linked to be operated by a single lever, and the front propeller is only used when travelling backwards, so the helmsman effectively just steers the ship in the conventional way but with spectacularly effective results.

 

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The few bridges across the river are quite beautiful, as the pictures show. If you look at the last of the pictures you will see that it shows a railway bridge; this bridge was extremely low, so that the ship had to lower not only its masts but also its wheelhouse. Unlike that on our American river trip this ship did not need an army of mechanics to unbolt the wheelhouse and place it on a lower deck; the captain merely had to press a button and the entire wheelhouse sank into the deck on a set of hydraulic supports.

The captain showed me the detail of how the wheelhouse is lowered, and I just loved the detail that there is even a small trapdoor in the roof so that if necessary the steerer can stay standing at his post while the wheelhouse roof sinks to the level of his waist around him!

Even with the wheel-house lowered, there were only a few inches of clearance under the bridge, as the next picture shows.

 

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A very tight fit under the railway bridge
There are just a few boats working commercially on the river
A cargo boat receives attention on a slipway
An impressive statue looks over one of the bridges

On our previous river trips we had been through some deep locks (45ft on the Erie Canal, and 100ft in a 3-lock staircase on the Gota Canal) but these were nothing compared to the 5 locks on the River Douro, one of which is a single chamber with a rise of over 115ft. The ship is a tight fit in the lock chamber, and looking upwards from the bottom feels like looking up from the bottom of a well. There are floating bollards for the ship to tie to, and there is so little clearance at the sides that the ship even has small rubber jockey-wheels to act as fenders and allow it to touch the sides while moving without causing any damage. The lower gates are all guillotines set into the lower wall, but various different types of upper gate are used.

 

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Approaching a deep lock (for a sense of scale, see the vehicles on the roadway at the top)
The lock entrance comes into view
Entering the lock chamber
Looking up from the bottom of the lock. The lower gate is still open here
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The rope to the floating bollard, and see also the jockey-wheel (top centre) which serves as a rolling fender
Looking up at  the top gate
Looking backwards from the full lock, over the lower wall
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Debbie poses on the front deck as the ship ascends the lock
Canapés were served on deck to pass the time in the lock
Caviar canapé

 

The ship travelled every day, and always tied up overnight (cruising after dark is strictly prohibited on the Douro) but on a couple of afternoons the ship travelled without us as we went on an excursion by coach. The first of these was a visit to the famous Mateus Palace (the one whose picture appears on the labels of Mateus Rose bottles) which like most  of the other excursions included a tasting of some Port wine; watching the workers treading the grapes encouraged to sign up for a longer visit to a winery later in the week.

 

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The famous Mateus Palace
Treading the grapes in the traditional way
The end product, a cellar full of bottles.

After the Mateus Palace we rejoined the coach for a visit to a Quinto (wine estate) where we saw the Port wine production process in more detail. The road to the Quinto was quite spectacular, on the side of an incredibly steep hillside; the front of the coach pointed spectacularly into space as we negotiated the hairpin bends. Passengers who were afraid of heights were even given the opportunity to change seats with other passengers so that they could sit in the centre aisle seats and stare at the floor instead of seeing the views out of the windows.

Every evening on board there was plenty of entertainment including music, dancing, and quizzes - sometimes combining all three in one hilarious event. One evening we were visited by a group of Flamenco dancers, whose energetic enthusiasm made all us watchers feel quite exhausted,

 

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Next came a visit to the small village of Favaios where a local co-operative has set up its own winery. A long queue of vehicles of all types and sizes waited at the gates as all the local farmers were delivering their grapes to the winery, and it was fascinating to see how a quick sample of each load was taken to establish the percentage of sugar in the grapes, because it was on that basis that the price for the grapes was calculated.

 

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The roads were busy with small trucks delivering grapes to the wineries
The first step is to sample their sugar content
Modern wineries have vast stainless steel processing vats
There is no alternative to storage in wooden barrels

Also at Favaios we were shown the local bakery and also a museum of Port wine, before continuing up to the Quinto de Avessada for a magnificent lunch (and some more wine tasting). The owner of the Quinto was a real character, reminiscent of Mr Bean; at first we thought his manner was just an act, and it may originally have been so, but clearly it has now become his true character. Some previous visitors have placed a video of him on YouTube, and it is well worth watching (you will also hear the two musicians whose picture I have included below - it seemed as if they never stopped playing and it took a few days to get  their tune out of our heads)

 

Most of the other passengers returned to the ship after lunch, but it was harvest season and we had the unique opportunity to join in the activities. In company with our jovial host, the owner of the Quinto, we walked or travelled by tractor into the fields and stopped among the rows of vines. After a brief lesson in how to recognise the best grapes we were given buckets and scissors, and we then spent an hour harvesting grapes in the hot sunshine.

 

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The vineyards at Quinto de Avessada
These two musicians accompanied us everywhere
Lunch was served from a traditional cast-iron pot
Some of us walked to the vineyard
Others had a lift from the tractor
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Down among the grapevines
The owner teaches us how to harvest the best grapes
Debbie seems to be enjoying the work
After half an hour we have filled our first bucket
The owner seemed pleased with our efforts

After picking several buckets of grapes we returned to their barn for some real fun, treading the grapes. A dozen of us either donned shorts or rolled up our trouser-legs and stepped into the vast vat to spend a hilarious half-hour dancing together among the grapes. Finally our efforts were rewarded by several delicious glasses of wine before we returned to the coach for the journey back to the ship, ready to continue to the head of the river and a couple of interesting excursions ...

 

ETreading the Grapes

It's fun treading the grapes

 

 

  Part 1: Lisbon and Porto View Slideshow (Windows only) Part 3: A couple of excursions  
Go to Allan's Page Our Home Page Holidays Home Page British Canals Page Go to Deb's Page

 

 

All pictures on this site are © Allan Jones unless otherwise stated