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Debbie and Ken's Excellent Adventure – we take off…..


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DEALING WITH DUBROVNIK

Yesterday was a long travel day, with flying from Vienna to Dubrovnik, with a 3.5 hour layover in Zagreb, the capital of Croatia. After Vienna, with its white, clean marble and concrete buildings (even though it’s called a “green” city, with 50% of it’s space greenspace), Dubrovnik is like a tropical paradise, with its exotic and colorful flowers, gorgeous, green soaring mountains, and old, picturesque buildings, clinging to the hillside in an old walled city overlooking the blue Adriatic Sea.

From inside the old city walls


Renata, our Airbnb host, arranges for Pero, a friend, to pick us up at the airport. He is very proud of his beautiful city. He drops us off at the end of a lane

Lane where we were dropped off

, with our luggage and takes off. I have no idea where we are supposed to go (his English was spotty, and my Croatian is nil). I start walking down the lane and try to call Renata (this is easier said than done. If I use my cell, it’s 35 cents a minute! I have a very old cast off phone from my brother for which I got a cheap, prepaid, international Sim card). I try and call Renata, and a man comes bounding down the steps where I am at.

Steps to our front door

He is Renata’s husband and helps Ken with the luggage and takes us up to the flat to meet Renata. For those of you who know me, Miss Planner/Check Everything twice, this was really outside my comfort zone, just trusting that it will work out and not knowing what’s happening to get to our Airbnb and connect with Renata.
It all worked out. I’m actually proud of myself. (Know it doesn’t sound like much, but for me, it was.)

Renata is a hoot! She greets us with homemade walnut liqueur shots and cookies (it’s mid afternoon). She explains everything and suggests what we should do while here. In true Airbnb host culture, she pays Pero for our ride and says we can pay her back, as we don’t have the correct currency (Croatia, a country of 4 million people – SC has more population – has its own currency, the Kuna, even though it is part of the EU…this is the only place on Earth where the Kuna is used, and since there are many tourists who need to convert their dollars and Euros to that, there are ATMs and Exchanges on every corner). We walk down the narrow lane to the narrow sidewalk (only one person wide and next to a busy street with cars whipping by) to the little nearby market to get some staples for breakfast and lunch (we want to cook so we don’t have to eat every meal out: expensive, time consuming, and fattening).

We decide to eat dinner out and go local. I order a glass of white, dry Croatian wine and Ken goes with a Croatian beer. We both like our drinks. We decide to try “Dubrovnik przolica”

Dubrovnik Przolica

, something like a skirt steak, but a unique taste (came with a really good spinach and potato side dish), and Cevapcici, some chopped meat sausages, which, again, were tasty, but totally unlike anything we ever had had before. The prices, like Vienna’s, were a bit of a surprise, after Portugal and Spain, which were so inexpensive.

Really didn’t know anything about Dubrovnik or Croatia, so the next day we take a little guided walking tour. That helped us to get our bearings. It is beautiful, but WAY overcrowded with the summer tourist crowds, including cruise ships stopping here for the day. Too many people in such a small space. It sort of reminded us of Disneyworld, where everything is so perfectly “historical” and there are so many tourists milling about. The difference: this is real!!

Croatia is safe, and mysterious to me. Wasn’t even sure of the geography, the language which is hard to even attempt to say words, etc. After the little walking tour (the guide brought visuals and maps to supplement her spiel, which helped), I feel a little bit more in tune.

Tonight we’re off to eat at a restaurant that my friend Joanne’s sister ate at twice when she was here. I had been in touch with the owner in Feb., and contacted her again today to thank her for her quick responses to my questions in Feb. I like the connections a lot.

Later: well we were treated like royalty at Horizont, the restaurant I referenced above. Annamaria was our waitress, and the restaurant is interesting as the tables are on different steps overlooking part of the harbor.

View of harbor

Annamaria and local wine

The local wine was crisp, dry and delicious. The meal was wonderful and the weather perfect. I told Ken, “This is it”. It just doesn’t get any better on the enjoyment scale! Natasa, the owner, made a big fuss about coming over and welcoming us (with a kiss on each check, instead of the 3 kisses like in Montpellier: Geoffrey and Shayne, you know what I mean! LOL). Natasa also took 10% off our bill and treated us to a wonderful grappa (which I normally don’t like, but I did like this).

Grappa

A very fun evening.

Today we’ll explore the city walls (you can walk all around the old city on top of the walls…about a mile and a half), and take a peek at the beach and a park near our flat. Tomorrow is a full day tour of Montenegro, a country 2 hours from here.

Thanks again for following me….

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ENGLISH, BATHROOMS AND WORK ETHIC

A couple of basics today as we wait in the Vienna and Zagreb airports for our flights to Dubrovnik. Just some small samples of observations during the trip so far.

We were surprised all along our trip so far, how many people speak and signs/museums include English. Much more than I remember in previous trips.

Bathrooms: usually small, small, small space in older buildings, of course. Many times, even in more modern venues and public places, you have to pay about 50 cents. There is a patron collecting and they keep things pretty clean. Many times there is a men’s to one side, women’s to the other, but a common sink area.

Also, many times there is a “two flush” option. My guess is that the smaller selection is for “number 1” and the larger is for “number 2”. I really can’t tell the difference in the flush.

Flush options

Flush options

Bathrooms for the public (like even in a modern mall) are very scarce. I try and go when I have the chance.

Work ethic: in Lisbon in the grocery store, check out guy was very laid back, having fun, flirting with a female fellow employee. He really wasn’t paying attention to what he was doing. In Vienna, OMG: efficiency in motion!! Very on task and got ‘er done!

However, here in the Vienna airport: very chaotic and confusing. You go through security right at your gate (and then no food after that…I’m hungry!). Some of the employees gave us wrong information. So, if you fly out of Vienna: leave lots of time to figure things out and navigate the crowds.

Boarding now, so more in a couple of days.


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LIVING IN VIENNA

We are now cut loose from being taken care of by the river cruise people. I feel a bit adrift, but glad to be able to meet the challenge of fending for ourselves.

Our plane to Vienna has a layover in Madrid. We get on board and sit on the runway for 90 minutes while “mechanical difficulties” are dealt with. We have 10 minutes to RUN through the Madrid Airport to catch our flight to Vienna (the last one of the day there). I remind myself that these are the anticipated glitches to deal with when you travel, but, we make it in the nick of time.
We are the last ones on the plane, and they close the door. I am sure that our luggage will never make it, BUT, miracle of miracles, both our bags arrive!

We get to our Airbnb and it’s a nice flat with a little garden out our door.
Nice to spread out a little and have a kitchen, living room and terrace, with separate bedroom. This is the part I was really looking forward to: trying to “live” in a foreign country, with dealing with trying to figure out the everyday things: the toaster,

toaster

the washer,

The washer

the dryer,

dryer

the “microwave”,

microwave

etc.

The washer is particularly challenging, as aside from the foreign words, which we look up on Google translate, there is a big steel drum inside the washer, but turned on its axis (almost like the type of thing you use when you are the caller at Bingo). It takes us a while to figure out, and I end up doing part of the stuff by hand in the kitchen sink. BUT, after 2 weeks of no laundry facilities, we are desperate to get stuff outside to dry before we leave in 2 days.

Aside from everything being in a foreign language, of course, all the usual things with our appliances and how we operate in the States are different. We have little frame of reference. Even the everyday occurrence of flushing a toilet is new and exciting, as it has to be figured out!

The people are nice: our taxi driver, our Airbnb host, the waiter at the little restaurant down the street we go to for a late dinner. Another small world story! The waiter here in Vienna, from Argentina a couple of years ago, has never been to the USA. His biggest destination wish: Green Bay, WI, as he is a Packers’ fan and loves Aaron Rogers!! Really??? For my WI friends: you’ll know what I’m talking about. For everyone else: we lived in Wisconsin for almost 20 years and have one daughter who an avid Packers’ fan, much to the dismay of her Chicago Bears’ dad! I thought people in Argentina like soccer!

We get a really good hamburger (their beef is supposed to be good) and a steak salad, and 2 really good German beers (of course). Bill: $40 plus tip. Expensive.

In the morning, we find a little grocery store 2 doors down from us. Convenient! We buy stuff for breakfast and lunch for the next 2 days. Had good intentions of staying away from bread and cheese/processed meats, but guess what, those all went into the cart. We did save money by buying/preparing breakfasts and lunches, instead of eating out, but still need to work on lower calorie and more healthy food purchases.

Wish we had more time in Vienna. Today was sort of a catch up day, and tomorrow is the last full day here. Lovely city and CLEAN. Lots of people out and about, many young.

We don’t seem to be able to get a sense of the direction or names of the streets, as German is so foreign to us. We grab an Uber to the visitor’s center and get a map and some suggestions. We stop at the Jewish museum and go inside. An armed soldier is guarding the door. There is nowhere else where we see this. Many interesting exhibits about the Jewish community here…before the war: 180,000, During the war, only 5000 left to deport. Only 34 made it back to Vienna after the war and of them, only 3 made a “life”. Sobering statistics.

We also stumble on a house where Mozart lived during his prosperous years.

Mozart House Museum


It is where he wrote “The Marriage of Figaro”. So cool to see out the same windows that he looked out of (with pretty much the same scene as in his day), look at the actual 6 sheets of music that he wrote in one day for “marriage”, and see the more than 45 volumes of his work. We love Mozart and we really enjoyed this. Had some great weiner schnitzel for dinner: the real deal. Yum!

Tomorrow a visit to the palace and a Mozart concert played on historical instruments with musicians dressed in period costumes in a old church. Doesn’t get any better…

Friday on to Dubrovnik with a long travel day….
Stay tuned…


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G00DBYE PORTUGAL, HELLO SPAIN

We finally say our “goodbyes” to our new friends from the ship and are off with a reduced number (16 ) to a post trip: Santiago de Compostela in Spain. It was sad to leave Roger and Jillie, and Jack and Norma, but Andy and Anne will be on the post trip with us. It is also sad to leave the ship and all the first class accommodations.

We will still have everything done for us for the next 2 nights, but that luxury is quickly coming to an end. It’s great to have everything done for you, but not so great in a way, as you have to cater to what they want you to do.

Our first stop on our way north to Spain, is in Braga. The third largest city in Portugal behind Lisbon and Porto, it has 700,000 people, with 50% of those under the age of 45. It Is VERY inexpensive: a 2 bedroom apartment rents for about 300 Euro! It is a vibrant city, catering to the youth and many parts look new and clean. It’s 45 minutes from Spain, and has lots of textile factories, so many jobs. 100 churches provide services for the 89% of the population who are Catholic. We visit the major cathedral and are treated to beautiful vistas.

We pass into Spain, and it is as easy as going from WI to IL. Next stop is Santiago de Compostela, where we will visit the cathedral and the end of the El Camino trail. Santiago is Spanish for “Saint James” and Compostela means “field of stars”, supposedly which is what led some religious man many eons ago to Saint Jame’s resting place, or so the story goes. Pilgrims have walked the trail for over 1000 years to get here. You can go through Portugal, France, or Northern Spain to arrive at this end where there is special ceremony for the Pilgrims after celebrating Mass. Those of you who have been with me in a Movie Club remember the movie, “The Way” with Martin Sheen. I recommend it to all if you want to find out about all of this. Many of my friends have walked on “the way”, as it is called. In fact, some friends from Lake Geneva, just finished up their walk and were in Santiago 2 days ago!

The first night we are here, we go with Andy and Anne to a wonderful seafood dinner with the best scallops I’ve ever had in my life! We order a huge platter of all types of local seafood, caught fresh. It is divine and inexpensive. We enjoy our evening, imbibing in the local wine, bread, cheese, and seafood (including barnacles, which are rare as fishermen have to risk their lives to scrape the barnacles off the ropes where they are “grown” in the sea).

Back to our luxury hotel, with a huge buffet breakfast downstairs the next day before our 9:00 AM walking tour. The last time we have to force ourselves up to someone else’s schedule until Ireland. I’m sort of ready for that and also not being with so many other people in a “group”.

We take the tour and it is very interesting, of course, but before it’s done, our guide, who knows Ken and I want to see the pilgrims’ mass, encourages us to leave the tour early and grab a seat while we wait for the ceremony. Although the cathedral is huge (from the 11th Century with ceilings that are 22 METERS high), about 4000 people are already gathering to watch the spectacle inside the church. We grab a seat early and wait for it to begin (ANOTHER small world story: happen to sit next to a gal who just had finished her walk. She lives in Carrboro, NC, population 21,000, where one of my daughters has just moved from, 2 weeks ago, for a new job in Atlanta! Crazy!). The mass, even though I’m not Catholic, is actually spiritual a bit within this setting. At the end, is the big event: 6 monks (?) light a fire inside a huge (5 feet tall) incense burner. There is a pulley system by rope that they pull to get this huge incense burner to swing from one end of the cathedral to the other up to the 22 meter ceilings. (In the olden days, when Pilgrims used to stay in the cathedral on the upper floors, it was used to help mask the smell of the unsanitary living conditions.) Really an amazing spectacle.

Swinging incense

Since we are considering doing “the way” ourselves in the next year or two, we were really interested in all this and why we decided to take the side trip after the cruise was over.

Lunch on our own in a little restaurant with tapas, while sitting outside in perfectly comfortable weather. The best mussels I’ve ever had (sweet, fresh and not fishy or slimy at all) and some wonderful peppers Padron, a local dish of small peppers, grilled with olive oil and sea salt: delicious!

Mussels and peppers

If felt good again, to sort of be on our own. Will have lots of that (and far less luxurious surroundings), as tomorrow we start the “Debbie” tour: flying via Madrid to Vienna. Have been in touch with our Airbnb host. He nicely arranged a private taxi for us to get to his house from the airport. Now everything is extra and I’m responsibile for the logistics.

Tonight Ken and I will try another local specialty: steak. With many local cattle around, not surprising that it is on the menu. Tomorrow is a travel day, so wish us luck.

Goodbye to Spain and on to Vienna….


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EATING AND DRINKING

The days are speeding by and this week has been a highlight. Of course: a top of the line river cruise all about delicious food, constant alcohol and awe inspiring scenery and surroundings. What’s not to like??!! Have really enjoyed the Brits, and I almost feel like I’m at a posh camp with all my friends, having an incredible adventure, experiencing all of my favorite things.

Today we’re still learning about making wine and the products of the Douro Valley here in Portugal.

We’re out early: 9:15 to go to the small village of Favaios. They have 1500 inhabitants and specialize in Muscatel, which is usually too sweet for me (the Port wine grapes are grown closer to the river, where the muscatel grapes are grown higher up in the foothills). The vista is breathtaking. Incidentally, they pronounce it “mooshcatel”. They started a co-op of 500 farmers in 1952. The wine is aged at least 2.5 years to balance the wine, sugar and alcohol. The fermentation is stopped after 3 days, so there is a lot of sugar left in the wine. It should always be served chilled and you will always taste and smell a hint of honey. They bottle 30 Million (! ) bottles/year, but we learn that 25 million bottles are a small size, as the Portuguese like to mix it with beer!

Small bottle to mix with beer

There are different oak castes to age them and each give it a different flavor and aroma. The oak is from France, the U.S. and Portugal.

Oak aging castes

Of course we sample and it is not the cloyingly sweet taste I expect, but very pleasant and palatable (even at 10:30 in the morning!).

We are told that 2011 was the best year for Portugal wine in the Douro Valley in 250 years, so if you see that on the label for any Douro produced wine, buy it!

Next to the village where wine, olive oil and bread are the specialties. We are treated to one of 8 bakeries in the town (5, including the one we are at, make the traditional 4 corner bread the old fashioned way). The hot bread loaf is to die for (we don’t have good bread in the States, I’m convinced).

Bread making the old fashioned way

They bake it in an oven where bricks are inserted and when they turn to white ash, then the bread is inserted to bake. The bakeries sell 8000 loaves a day, mostly to the surrounding towns which know where they will show up with the bread, and close by places like Lisbon and Porto. It will stay fresh for 4 days, but will not be sold out of this immediate area. Too bad!!

Hot 4 cornered bread


Incidentally, we are told while traveling on our coach, that Portugal uses renewable energy. They are serious! If you build a house, it is not “complete” until solar panels are installed. If, after 5 years, they are still not there, you will be fined anywhere from 1500 to 5000 Euros!

One of our new friends (this time an American) said he researched about the storks that we saw so many of yesterday in Salamanca. The government builds large poles where they can build their nests which they return to every year. They are all over the high churches and buildings all around: almost like eagles’ nest, as they are huge. Mark, the American who did research, said that there are wood storks in FL, the Carolinas, and GA in the USA. Who knew?

We visit a Bread and Wine museum and are treated to more information about these two native products and breath taking vistas.

Then off to a vineyard farm for lunch. It was almost like a movie or magazine spread: it was so perfect.

Beautiful setting for our lunch in a winery

There was live, native music and so much to eat and drink. The atmosphere was perfect for a destination wedding! Native foods and wine were plied on us (eating and drinking again!) and the host was funny and charming. We had traditional dishes to eat, including “starters”, salad, soup, a main dish stew and a whole buffet of desserts. Again, all traditional foods, and all delicious. LOTS of local wine (where on the label, it assures us that it has been “foot trodden”), comradery, music, and the feeling that we are in a movie, it was all so perfect.

Foot trodden on label

Back to the “vessel” where we are greeted with refreshing cocktails and a traditional tea with cucumber sandwiches, etc. Do we ever stop eating and drinking??? *sigh* I’m starting to develop a “pudding baby”, as my British friends call a little pot belly from eating/drinking too much. After this cruise, where everything is top notch and “all included”, Ken and I really need to cut back on our eating and drinking. We have another almost 2 months of our trip to go!

Speaking of our British friends: a few other tidbits I learned today:
There is actually something called a “spotted dick” (really! LOL). It is a suet pudding with raisins made of flour, sugar, and suet, with a middle of a whole lemon and lots of butter. You steam it for at least 4 hours. Supposedly it is delicious, but only served hot – with custard (if it cools down, it becomes a hard lump). It is sometimes called a “Sussex Pond Pudding”.

Well today is a getting caught up day and thinking about the arrangements for next week where I will have to do all the logistics. It’s been great having everything done for us, but we could not have afforded to have that luxury for our entire trip. Tomorrow we are off to a post trip with Viking: Santiago where the El Camino ends up.

May not have internet for a few days, so not to worry if I am not in touch as often.

Thanks for following along.


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LOCKS AND BRIDGES: DUCK!

On the river Douro today: we are on the move. Going through the locks and under bridges is a fascinating experience. To adapt to the low height in these situations, the tall arm of the radar/communication system is lowered down, the wheel house disappears under the flooring up top and the canopy over some deck chairs is lowered.

Lowered radar arm

When we go under a low bridge, we are told to sit and lower our heads so we have room to pass under.

Low bridge

On either side of the river are lush, lush vineyards on rollling hills covered with them and other vegetation. Just beautiful.

I like the river cruise as opposed to an ocean cruise, as you are so close to land on both sides and the vessels are small and narrow, designed to be able to fit through what they need to fit through.

Off to the vineyards of a port wine vineyard. Mateus Palace (remember awful rose wine in college in those cool bottles that we would put candles in?). The palace is beautiful and some of the wines are still there aging after 100 years.

Mateus palace


The original family still actually lives there and the gardens are magnificent, tended by only one male gardener and two female helpers. They give us a sampling of that port tonic we had the other day with white port, tonic and lemon: delightful!

Barrels

More Brit “wisdom”, this time from Andy: IPA beers, particularly, should be enjoyed not chilled to be able to experience all the nuances of the flavors. Norma, who is a Scot, tells us of oatmeal (porridge) with salt (not brown sugar)!…just a little table talk.

This afternoon we went to a historical village where there was a chapel from the 11th century. We see olive trees and almond trees.

olive tree

These trees are “harvested” by knocking roughly on the trunk to make the fruit fall off the trees. They have tried using machines, but it negatively impacted future harvesting. The almonds are harvested once a year.

Almond tree

The olives are harvested three times a year: the green olives in Sept., Dec. for black olives (both from the same tree), and Nov. for the olives for olive oil (a different tree).
The scenery is breathtaking and we are very high up in the hills. This little town (population now of 55) has much history: Castelo Rodrigo. There was a large Jewish population when they were run out of Spain. This village is very near the Spanish border. The Jews had to pay about 1/3 of their fortune to be able to exit Spain and not get killed. THEN, the ruling monarch decided that they all had to convert to Christianity there in Portugal. They would do fake conversions. The houses showed how the Jews would take down the Jewish religious symbols and put up Catholic symbols to “abide” by the law. They would secretly practice Judaism, of course. The way they “tested” the authenticity of the conversion was to see if they would eat pork sausages (they would then “fake” the sausages by stuffing them with ingredients other than pork). Very interesting.

More later. Tomorrow a long day on the road, with no Internet access. Off to Salamonca, Spain.

Salamonca: A long ride, but worth it. Looks much wealthier and in better shape than Portugal. We take a little walking tour and stop at an indoor food market, similar to ones we have seen elsewhere in Europe. Very clean and the booths are abundant with good food: butchers, fish, spices, sweets, wine. One shop has “tapas” for us: manchego cheese, sausages sliced thinly, sweet cherries (the best I’ve ever had as they are a bit “softer” in texture…and I know cherries, as I’ve had them in Door County, WI, where they are grown), mussels that are so fresh and not at all fishy, a glass of wonderful wine. A big thing is smoked ham. There are three types: white labeled, where the pig is fed quickly with not such good food, red or green lableled, where the pig is fed some hay and grass, and is of medium grade and cost, and then the top of the line of quality: the black label: where the pig is babied, it takes a long time for them to grow and they are fed special acorns (from a special oak tree that grows in Spain where the acorns have no cholesterol like olive oil), hay and fresh grass. They are like free range pigs and are highly valued. The smoked meat is very expensive and cut into sliver thin slices.

Smoked ham: a Spanish favorite

If the ham is packaged, you cannot tell what color grade they are: you are taking your chances.

We continue our tour, refreshed by our tapas snack. We come across the Plaza Mayor, which almost looks like St. Mark’s Sq. in Venice. Real estate around the square is EXPENSIVE: 3000 Euro/sq. meter: wow!

We are told about a special snack to try later: “hot” chocolate that is so thick, you almost have to eat it with a spoon. They give you a thin, long pastry called a chirroza that you dip in the chocolate. The trick is that it is made with water, no milk. Delicious, as we sit outside at a little table in the Plaza Mayor with Roger and Jillie (I misspelled her name earlier: my apologies…another “international incident!”..LOL). The weather and day is so pleasant. We have a lovely time.

Thick hot chocolate


We have a couple of hours of free time to wonder around the town, a university town, and see such things as the cathedrals, the university, the museum of modern art and design, etc: a very pleasant time. The town looks vibrant and a mixture of old and new. (The cathedral is from the 12th Century).

A long, but wonderful day, we head back “home” to a lovely dinner and evening. The days are going quickly and will be sorry to see this part of our trip come to an end.


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TEA AND TOAST

Yes, we are learning a lot about the country we currently are in, but it’s also fun to learn about little cultural things between our fellow passengers on our river cruise. About half the vessel (about 100-120 people total) are Brits (most people have done a Viking cruise before, which speaks well for the company). Roger and Gilly are Brits and we sit with them and an entire tableful of people from the UK. I try and be nice and pour Roger some tea. OMG: almost an international incident!! I did not let it steep adequately! Roger was so nice about it, but, as I guess I knew, the Brits take their tea very seriously. When we talked about having an electric kettle, which in America, we don’t have like they do abroad, I relayed that sometimes I will put the tea bag and cup of water in the microwave to make my tea. Granted, I am more of a coffee drinker, but the reaction at the table was almost like I said I eat dead babies or something! I’m surprised they let me stay at the table for the remainder of the meal! LOL Roger also explained the difference between “builders” tea and “light oak” tea. The builders used to just let their tea steep for hours as they went about their business. After a few hours of steeping, it became the color of sludge. Light oak tea is a lot less time brewed and is the color of a light oak table. Everyone at the breakfast table knew the difference between the two types of preferences.

Another thing I learned is that (and this is a great idea) they don’t stack their toast. Roger had this nice little arrangement of the toast standing, which makes certain it doesn’t get soggy like it does when you stack it.

Tea and toast

We get the prerequisite tour of Porto, and end with a port wine tasting winery tour at Sandeman’s winery, established in 1790. This is the only region in the world that port grapes can be grown and the product made. Didn’t know that there are 3 kinds of port: white (which we had yesterday with a little tonic water, a mint leaf and lemon peel: delicious and refreshing! Didn’t even know that there was such a thing as white port), ruby (the red) and tawny, which is the oldest, purest and most complex. The white and ruby’s aging is interrupted by insertion of brandy (which in olden days helped preserve the wine on its way to England) and when that happens, impacts it’s taste and stops fermentation (the sooner they do it, it becomes more sweet as opposed to if they wait).

port

Speaking of wines, my good Montpellier, France friend, Geoffrey, who has his Masters’ in selling wine (of course!), and is the sales manager at a winery near Montpellier (which we will visit when we go there in a few weeks), suggested that the reason that Portugese wines are not well known in the States is that their names are unfamiliar and too hard to pronounce in America. I think he is onto something there, as the wines here in Portugal are a delight:
refreshing, light, and very inexpensive. We have been having some “green” wines, which are the new thing. They are not that color, of course, but are young, and are named for the lush, “green” region their grapes are grown here in Portugal.

A big, important day is coming up here in Porto on June 24th: St. John’s day. Here many of the residents take all evening to walk between the river and the ocean. On the way, there is much dancing and drinking and partying. People open their houses and sell sardines (it’s the season now and very different from how we think of sardines: they are about 9 inches long, are grilled in a little bit of olive oil and garlic and are served whole, including the head) and wine. In the olden days, they would also hit each other on the head as they passed by others with a long stemmed, foul smelling flower. In modern times, they hit each other on the head with a plastic hammer. When I told our guide, who was born in Porto and speaks fondly of this custom, that that would never fly in the US, she was amazed and very protective as to how much she has always enjoyed this custom.

Sometimes hard to get internet access while on the river. Think I’ll end now while I have the chance. Today is going through some locks that control the flooding of the river and a nice tour of some wineries with tastings, including the Mateus Palace and Gardens. Ciao!