Blogging is hard when you are on a cruise and the program is so jam packed that you barely have time to breathe between all the essential activities that go on from dawn to dusk. These include waking up at 7 am to see a new kind of landscape racing past, eating, drinking, photographing hills and valleys, eating some more, drinking some more, taking in more beautiful views, travelling to pretty places by coach for the daily excursions, eating and drinking some more, and sometimes sleeping.
Of course, I could easily forego some of these activities, but where’s the fun in that?
So it is day six of the Douro River Cruise (in Portugal, ICYMI) before I have had a chance to finish a blog post. (I’ve started several, and will no doubt finish them in due course.) It is fitting that today’s topic is about eating and drinking, which is also why I have given this tour the title of ‘The Eating and Drinking Tour’. We have done a great job of consuming calories all week but today was the literal icing on the Viking cake. (Viking is the company we are cruising with.)
I hadn’t realised until today that all week we had been building our calorie-consuming stamina for this special day. Now that I think about it, since the start of the trip, more and more food seemed to appear each day, and we consumed it willingly, like we were quite accustomed to eating at least four courses at each meal, plus consuming cake at every morning tea break, and enjoying the regional wines on and off the ship in every port. The main trouble is that it is all so damned delicious! Portugese food most definitely rocks, and Viking go out of their way to make each mouthful a delight for the eyes and the palate.
So, armed with the knowledge that we would spend this morning sampling bread and wine, followed by a winery lunch afterwards, I limited myself to a light breakfast of fruit, cranberry juice and a piece of toast with vegemite (I brought a tube from home, as Europe is a Vegemite desert), plus of course two cups of coffee to wash it all down.
We left the ship for Favaios and our group arrived at our first stop – the wine cooperative – at around 10.30. Our first taste of wine made from muscatel grapes slid down shortly afterwards. I had to have two glasses (they were really small!) just to make sure it was of excellent quality.
Our group then moved to the bakery which supplies ‘four-corner’ loaves to shops and restaurants around Portugal. We tasted some bread straight from the oven with Portugese melon and berry jams, washing it down with more of the local wine. The bread was amazing. So was the wine. I thought I should have two glasses, so word didn’t get around that I was favouring one place over another – it is a small town and people talk, after all.We then spent a little time in the town of Favaios and went to the bread and wine museum. Alas, there was nothing to eat or drink there, but we were shown how they were made. We did get to breathe in the flavours of Favaios Moscotel do Douro through an amazing set of reservoirs, so our sense of smell was at least satiated.
Enough of this food and wine drought. It was then on to Avessada Enoteca for lunch – this is not just any winery, but one that was pivotal in forming the cooperative that started with just five families, but which now has over 500 families in it. We arrived to the sound of music being played and were greeted by Luiz, better known to English-speaking tourists as Mr Bean’s Portugese cousin.
Lunch was a little way off, however. First we strolled around the grounds, sipping muscatel and eating finger food delights. Only after we had consumed the required amount of this were we ushered into a large room to enjoy a five course lunch, with local wines of course. At the end there was coffee and a shot of grappa. Unfortunately of the ten people at our table I could only convince one American man to join me in drinking it the right way. (I didn’t ask for seconds. Probably a wise decision at this stage.)
We were bussed to our new dock where we boarded the ship and had a bit of free time. Some did an optional grape-picking and stomping activity, others slept. I walked into the lovely town of Pinhao and looked around for a bit, with the idea that I would return and work on this blog post for a while. Unfortunately, when I got back, the ship was leaving port. No, not really, but it had to move out to make way for another boat, meaning I was stuck on dry land for half an hour or so. Lucky there was a bar close by.
As we ventured down the corridor to reception, wondering where our next meal was coming from, our Tour Director extraordinaire, Cristina, apologised for having to go 20 minutes without a drink. She was joking (I hope).
By 6.15 we had brushed off all signs of drowsiness, ready for the captains cocktail session – plenty of champagne, more finger food, etc. This was, of course, followed by a special ‘chefs dinner’ of five courses! More wine as well, that goes without saying, doesn’t it? Like the troupers we all were, we scoffed it all with a smile.
By 8.30 pm the day had defeated us. I mustered my energy to make a herbal tea to wash all the sins of the day away, and climb up the stairs to bed. I looked at the chocolate sitting invitingly on my pillow, and piffed it into the drawer. Who knows, I might be hungry tomorrow – or some time in the next decade.