Guess what we did today?
This is a rabelo, a boat native to the Douro River, which in yon olden days was used to haul wine casks from the inland vineyards down to the Porto wine cellars. The railroad rendered this usage obsolete, so these days they’ve been repurposed. Instead of wine casks, they carry tourists.
Ten euros gets you a 50-minute cruise on the Douro, from the first bridge to the last (and there are six in all, which is why Porto is famous for its bridges). It’s a great way to get acquainted with the city. Or cities, since Porto is only on one side of the river. The other side, Vila Nova de Gaia, is where the port wine cellars are located. (Quick historical note: the wine cellars are on the Gaia side because 1) the environmental factors, including humidity, are better over there than on the Porto side, and 2) back in the day, Vila Nova de Gaia didn’t have to pay taxes to the Bishop of Porto. So, Gaia was cheaper and that’s where the cellars were built. And here I thought porto came from Porto.)
The river offers great views of the gloriously haphazard crush of buildings that comprises Porto’s riverfront. Some of these reminded me of dominoes stacked against each other. Seriously, look at these — the narrow ones are barely five meters wide!
Another advantage of cruising: unusual views of the bridges. This is the Ponte Dom Luis, one of the best known bridges in the city, which was designed by Téophile Seyrig, a partner of Gustave Eiffel. (The two of them had already constructed one bridge in Porto, the Ponte Dona Maria Pia, which carried the railroad and at the time of construction was the longest single-arch span in the world.) The arch of this bridge holds up two decks, in addition to the third deck at its base. These days the top deck is reserved for public transit and pedestrians. And are there ever pedestrians! It was seeing heavy usage today. We’re heading back for a full day in Porto on Monday, and crossing this bridge is definitely on the list.
It just so happens that the owner of our rabelo was Ferreira, a very old and revered port wine maker…and that a cruise ticket includes free admission to the wine cellar. (Otherwise, you’d pay 4.50 euros.) So we capped off our lazy Saturday afternoon with a cellar tour, which was very interesting, and a free tasting of white and tawny ports. I would love to go back with a tripod and permission from the staff to loiter. The photographic opportunities in this dark, stone-floored, ancient space are endless, but it was impossible to snap anything while being hustled along with a large tour group.
The only photo I managed was this, taken at the rope barrier as we waited for the tour to start. Don’t you just want to start walking?
Ferreira port is one of the brands we often buy, so I quite enjoyed the opportunity to see where it comes from and how it’s made. One thing I learned was that I really don’t want to mess with the vintage ports, even if we could afford it. Those things take planning to drink, with the instructions including “stand the bottle upright a day in advance, decant it, let it breathe two hours, and drink it all within 24 hours.” No way could we drink an entire bottle of port in 24 hours. We’d have to have a party for 10 to accomplish that.
The other thing we both learned: white port should be served slightly chilled, like any white wine. Oops. Guess it’s a good thing we prefer tawny and ruby. Also, ruby port is best paired with strong cheeses and dark chocolate, which makes it the perfect port for me.