Thursday, January 9, 2014


Ignore the blog dates of posting.  These have nothing to do with the actual dates of the experience.  I did try to post the trip in real order, rather than in that backwards order that blogs use as default.

IMPORTANT!!  You cannot load this entire blog on one page.  When you reach the end of what first loaded, look in the bottom right hand corner for the words "older posts"  Just click them and you will get the next page of our journey.  You may have to do this seven or eight times to see the entire blog.
The actual narrative of the journey is over when you see a colorful post with THE END repeated about a dozen times.
After that there are a few posts I made before the trip began that were background reading for us to prepare for the trip and cut outs, notes and odd bits of unused stuff is posted months back.  Don't read anything that has a date before December 2013.
There are separate posts for separate days and, in some cases, separate experiences.  This allows me (or you) to bring up a single post and develop a link to just that one post.

With Elizabeth helping, I tried really hard to keep everything in order.  However, there may be some river shots that appear in days they were not experienced and there may be things remembered out of order.  Sorry.
Use any photos of mine that you like, but just include a link to the blog below the shot if you repost somewhere.  Photos in places that require permission for posting are included in link form only, so in some cases clicking on a link will give you a photo of something I saw but did not photograph.

I had a hard time deciding whether to post the photos as "large" or "extra large"  It really depends on how a reader sets up the text for reading.  If you have to scroll too much and can't see the whole photo without scrolling, set the blog on a large text setting and then use the shift minus function to reduce it again and the photos should come out right.  If they are too small, remember you can change that as you view to see a detail you might have missed.

I like comments.  There is a place for comments at the END OF EVERY POST. They are moderated, so it may take a day or so to see them appear. 
I don't like spam.  I don't use my blogs for advertisement.  If your comment includes a link to some endeavor you would like to promote, especially if I don't know you, I won't post it.  However, I like strangers comments as well as those from people I know.

I like to be corrected as well.  I may have misremembered or I may be off base on some details or facts.  If you were on the cruise or know Portugal, point out my errors.

This is an openly public blog and I hope to keep it that way.  I had difficulties that forced me to make Pokerbluegill private and as a result I only have about a dozen people who can access that right now.  That was not my intention.  I had only a dozen unknown spamers that I wanted to shut out.  If you are missing Pkerbluegill, just send me an email or Facebook request, and I'll send you an invitation if I know you.

Realize, however, that both in Pokerbluegill and here in this blog, and in others I have written, the first agenda is to use it as a place to do what our minds and memories will no long due, record and keep an experience in as much detail as possible.  Since it is composed with Elizabeth and Dewey as the primary intended audience, it is more detailed than most readers want, so using skim reading skills is mandatory.

Okay, enjoy.



This Douro river cruise is one to remember, and so I have tried to blog each detail that I could collect or remember and to even add information found on the internet after I came back home.  Winding through hills and mountains of vineyards and rock, we were the only ship on the river.  And I only saw three small motor boats with people the entire trip. 
How delightful to be so solitary!
Of course, it was off season.  It was cold.  Few flowers bloomed and the vines were left pretty much untouched except for some pruning, so there was little activity there.  It would be a very different trip in summer weather or when it was time for a harvest with maybe a local festival thrown in the mix.
Because it was off season, the price was right.
And while there was much we probably missed that was dormant, there were no crowds and no heat. 
However, I prefer off season visits.  We did the same thing in Southern France and liked that as well.
I just dressed for the cold.  Many did not.

The only down sides were letting Viking book us on a blind deal  and thinking they would do right for us.  The journey to Portugal was long (Tampa, Washington, Munich, Lisbon) and very, very risky because it sent us back in to possible winter storms. 
Luckily, in all our travels we danced between snow storms. 
Still I was over 24 hours of travel to get from Porto back to our home in Homosassa (Porto-Brussels- Washington-Tampa-cab to Brooksville- van drive to Homosassa)
This all was acerbated by a rare and intense flareup of my psoratic arthritis which gave me a great deal of pain for the entire trip.  In the Washington airport I needed a wheelchair to make it between planes.  Part of that may have been that in Brussels we had to go through security once again, and that 7 times someone asked us for some documentation as we wandered through the maze to find out flight.  Good thing we had a long layover.

Viking has a feature called Custom Air, but they did not have offer for this trip because it was so near the holidays.  It costs a bit more, but you see your itinerary up front and before you pay.  

The most ridiculous feature of the air fiasco was that we were willing to pay the same amount and just catch the flight we had booked its second leg of the journey in Washington. 
United wanted $350 just for us to catch our itinerary at Washington. 
I guess not, United.  Screw you!
So United airlines lost a chance to resell our Tampa to Washington and our Washington to Tampa seats. 
Instead, we did spring $125 each for extra comfort seats going over the ocean and we actually got a free upgrade to them Washington to Tampa.  Well worth it for the leg room to keep the arthritic leg stretching.
By the way, don't count on any seats you arrange on line.  Ours were not what we had reserved.  Those were "busy" as the clerk said in her interesting English.
However, Elizabeth, in her wonderfully persistent and assertive way, just kept asking at every point of our journey, always looking for two seats rows, for better seats.
As it worked out, we were lucky.  Our itinerary starting from Tampa got us out on time and only hours  after a huge Washington snowstorm had cleared.  Had we changed and flown from Washington we would have been driving into that school closer of a storm.
Then too, as we knew, we were exhausted when we got back and delighted to just pick up the van, unpack a bit, and go to bed for a few days.
And something happened in Washington so 45 expected people from another flight did not make the connection and that gave us a delightfully spacious plane just before Christmas when we had expected crowds.
So, it was like being dealt bad hole cards, say 7-2 offsuit, and having the flop  deliver them against the odds, say 7-7-2.

Other than that the trip was just wonderful:  great food, great people running the program and great common folks in Portugal as well. Well planned and full of top notch visits and loads of information.   It was like a small course in Portugal.

And a great price too.  A real sale.

Here is an outline of what we did on our trip.  We extended for two more days at the beginning in Lisbon.  Otherwise, this was it:



I really like the way these ships are designed.  The rooms were very comfortable and had such fine bathrooms.  The sundeck was just too cold for most people, but I went there often because I liked the panoramic view of the countryside.  Still, even inside in the lounge 

the views were excellent.  Most people contented themselves with these or with the views from the large cabin windows which were also delightful.

The pianist was just great and while that feature is not flavored Portuguese, I like that it is there for us.

As well as a place to look out, this was a great place for meetings, lectures, small workshops, and music.  Coffee/tea/hot chocolate was always available and drinks could be had from the bar at reasonable prices.  Usually, because we drink so little, we just brought along a water from the room or some of the port that we bought in town.

A couple times I had the Portuguese brandy.

This is very good, and I hope we can find some here in the States.

There were two eating areas, one that was more buffet and another than was more restaurant and so the choices were quite good, considering we were on a ship and far away from much source of local produce.
Food on the ship may not have been Portuguese enough for me, but it was very good and we rarely sought meals out in the towns that were deserted for the most part.  This was not tourist season.

There was a heated swimming pool and I was tempted.  Had I not had the arthritis, I'd have tried it.  The air was wintry, so the hard part would be getting out wet and getting back down to the warmth of the ship.  My slow limping would have meant freezing.

The crew were all friendly, upbeat, helpful, tolerant and they all worked hard every moment. In particular, we liked Marta who was a very personable waitress.  She remembered our names and what we liked and she joked and talked to us and to everyone. 



I wondered if my limited Spanish would help me in Portugal.  I feel a great deal of comfort in Spanish speaking situations, and I did again in Salamanca.  I am not a good student of languages, but when I learn a little, I enjoy using it immensely. 
Language is such a barrier to people.  I modern times space is not much of an issue, but language separates us even when we are in the same towns.
We are isolated from needing the language of the people on these Viking Cruises because we are on a ship with English speakers or on a tour with guides who speak English or in an upscale hotel with English speakers for most of the time.
It is a comfort, but it is isolation.
I could not hear the Porutguese language.  That would take a long time, really. For one thing they shorten the words the way the Puerto Ricans do to Spanish.  Our driver guide told us that the old saying is:

"For a good listener, half a word is enough." 

However, when I saw it written, I could read a good bit of it and follow much of what I read.  In one restaurant we watched television with the sound off and captions in Portuguese, and I could follow the stories there.  I could read most signs along the road.
So I was much more comfortable than I was in Italy where my Spanish just got me into trouble.  And it was much better than facing French, where nothing seems to make much sense to me.

All that being said, I still want to go back to Spain again and not on a Viking Cruise, but something simple.  I still dream of a hotel on the zocola in Segovia watching the kids play soccer in the evening and going out for cordera and a bottle of good vino tinto.

In Portugal the green wine was "vinho verde."  This is a good example of how close to Spanish the Portuguese language often would be.  In Lisbon our first taste of "ginja in copa de chocolate" included my wanting to get that across to the bar server.  "primera vez?"  she asked. 
What could be easier than that? 
In Italy I once asked for "un poco" at an ice cream store and had a scoop of coconut added to the cone.  This was a different experience.

However, I loved being in Salamanca where I could easily review the choices on a Spanish-only menu, ask for the bathroom and understand the complicated directions, ask for the main square and understand those, and wish the young fellow "Feliz Navidad," although "Feliz Natal" in Portuguese was pretty simple to remember.

And although we were usually where they spoke English, when we were not, most folks were willing to struggle with us to be understood.  I suspect few Americans are like that.  Some even seem to resent other languages as if it were some sort of threat to their culture instead of an enrichment in a multicultural country. 
I always liked that in Spain in the old days practically no one spoke English, so I had to use Spanish, but some places in modern Spain on our last visit were full of folks who wanted to try their English rather than be patient with our Spanish.
Costa Rica was very different that way.  It is a fine way to be immersed and even those learning English were willing to trade back and forth in the conversation.

Well, I'd feel perfectly comfortable being in Portugal with no English community and no guides.  I know places now that I would love to visit for a longer period of time.

However, I think that Elizabeth and I are both ready to move from a history focused trip with old churches to something else.  The problem is for me that means just simple joys of common people around me, good food, and wine.  For her it means exploring the natural wild of the country with plenty of interesting time for birds.

On the difference between Portuguese in Brazil and that in Portugal.


Tuesday, January 7, 2014


After our long journey by air,  we were taken from the airport to our hotel on a famous street in Portugal, Aveneda de Liberdade.  It felt good to know that we did not have to struggle with airports any longer.

Our hotel was really plush and it was a comfort because I knew that if the arthritis discouraged me, I'd have a very fine place to stay and relax.

I have never stayed in a place so electrically well planned.  There were lights for everything, even a small reading light on each side of the bed. 

Shutting out all light for an afternoon nap meant pushing a button and seeing an electric curtain fall and first offer some slits of light as an option, and then make the place totally dark.

The beds were deliciously comfortable.

Breakfast buffet could be had in two places;  we usually chose to go up on roof.  Eggs could be specially ordered from the kitchen and there was a grand selection of all sorts of great food.  We could look out and down to the River Tagus where we would walk. 

There was an annoying snack refrigerator with overpriced snacks.  We ignored them, but I did manage to open a bottle of water that cost 4 euros.  In addition the hotel brought us a tray of tea and coffee and some water in bottles.   There was so much tea I ended taking some along and have it here in Homosassa and I'm sipping a cup as I do my final edit.  Pretty fancy stuff with its cloth bag and little braided thread.

In the shower there seemed at first to be only a little sprayer on a cable, but above that was a button that brought in the most delightful deluge of water from far up on the ceiling.  It was perfect.

One morning a waiter recovered some salmon from the garbage can, went out on the terrace, and fed a huge gull who came every day for a handout.  The waiter told us that the gull fought off all other birds for his own luxurious breakfast spot.

Our first night we took a long walk downtown.  We would see some of these sights in the daylight with the walking tour, but I loved seeing it at night.  There were these wonderful Chirstmas lights all along the middle park like area of the street. 

They looked like Christmas bulbs and changed colors.  Last year Portugal had not decorated for Christmas to save money.  This year they did so some decoration.

We exchanged some money at American Express and located a restaurant where we would lunch the following day.  

Our first night we ate in the hotel.  It was a great meal and we had our first taste of Fado music.  Elizabeth just ordered appetizer and Dewey ordered the full dinner that went with the music.  They brought Elizabeth a small plate of each course including dessert but did not charge her the full charge.  Great waiter and introduction of Portugal.  

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Walking Tour of Lisbon 12/12/2013


On this walking tour, our first real introduction to Portugal, we visited the Igreja de São Roque
This was quite a rich experience of gold walls and ornate statues and rich marble and tile as well as some representations of bodies in state.  Collected here are some relics of the saints. 
Saint Anthony was born in Lisbon and is well celebrated here although not the main saint of the city.  Lots of cherubs in the displays, especially around Mary.  It reminded me of the Goya chapel in Madrid.

Saint Anthony In Franciscan robe has been shown holding baby Jesus since the 17th century

It was a great ceiling and choir loft.

Note the cherubs are in abundance.

This was our guide for the walking tour.

Here is a representation of the armillary sphere, a great tool for navigation in the early days.
This was the personal symbol of King Manuel I (1495-1521)

We had these views from the park where the painter set up his work.  To get up this high, we took the funicular.


This is a great shot of the chapel and the water in the distance.


 And here is the funicular, used for many decades now to help people get up and down the steep streets.

 I liked this shot of a funicular all decorated for Christmas and used it for quite a while as my screen background.



We rode this lift up one of the hills.  It was fun.  Inside it was full of old wood.  It has been around a while.  The outside was decorated for the Xmas holidays.  The one based on Eifel Tower design.  This is very different from most of the architecture.  It is called the Santa Justa lift.






I liked watching this fellow set up his scene paintings of the funiculars and other buildings in this area.  He was very fussy about how they were displayed.  Had I had more room in my luggage I might have enjoyed having a funicular painting, but getting anything like this home would have been a hassle.  We don't really need more wall hangings anyway.


Elizabeth got a kick out of seeing the titles in this store by author's she recognized as famous to us in English. (A Sense of Meaning...I had just read it~~~E)


We took a bathroom break at one of the oldest breweries in Lisbon

Steps interior in a shop nearby.


This was a great stop over.  There were some great tile here and it looked like a fine place to eat as well.  This is the blurry swan photo I took.




This truck was playing music in the street so we stopped and bought a souvenir, a classical fado collection sung by a woman singer.  Pretty expensive at seventeen euros. 


I got a kick out of the frog theme in this Children's Museum banner.



I liked this piece of fresco.  No idea what the story is.


I wanted to catch these two placing their pastry in the window of one of the pastry shops and when they saw me, they posed for the photo.



I took this photo thinking this might be a good place to come back to eat.  However, we never made it back.


There are a few shots of the writer's section.  It is was ONCE a gathering place for artists and intellectuals.

This café is a well known landmark in Lisbon

This writer used to visit this coffee house regularly.  So in bronze he is there this morning.
Here are some of the thoughts he had over coffee.

“Não sou nada.
Nunca serei nada.
Não posso querer ser nada.
À parte isso, tenho em mim todos os sonhos do mundo.”  

“I am nothing.
I'll never be anything.
I couldn't want to be something.
Apart from that, I have in me all the dreams in the world.”  

He invented a term for assuming another identity to write that is not really a pseudonym.
He called it heteronym

Portugal's famous poet

Below is a Statue of poet António Ribeiro, the "Chiado", in the Chiado Square.

  We ended our guided tour at this Rossio square which we had also visited the night before

We decided to walk down to the Tagus river.  Here is the street going down to the river.  It was a fine walk, and being near the water felt very good.  Gulls played.  The small waves washed in. 

I was not doing very well this day, in a good deal of pain. 
We walked down with shipmate Shirley looking for a place to eat, but by then I just wanted to rest along the river and then get back to the hotel area to eat at the place near there that we liked Quebra Mar.
 We rested at the Praca do Comercio
It was wonderful to rest my leg and listen to the gulls and the sound of water.  A beggar dressed in very loose fitting, almost rags came around looking for handouts but was ignored.  A Black couple talked near us and were interesting to watch.  She might have been pretty, but had a funny gap in her teeth that just distracted me.  We had our photo taken there.  I don't look too happy in the one with just me.

I want to know more about the sculpture there as it was quite grand and had an elephant on the side.  It was in part a monument to Joseph I of Portugal.

We sat a long while here watching a couple necking.
Elizabeth managed to capture the pigeons while trying to capture the lovers.


I see this photo often in browsing other Portuguese reports.  I don't know what it is all about, but I'm certain there is a story there.

We went back by cab to save my painful walking.  We went back and had lunch here.


I had my first grilled sardines and they were delicious.
In fact, as I edit I'm going to have one for breakfast.
We did not bring that back with us.  We found them frozen up at Charlie's Fish store in Crystal River.  Strange to go all this way to taste some more sardinas.
Margot and I used to love them in the festivals in Spain where they would do them on open barbecues.
The fish are cooked whole and one eats around the guts, but here at home I tend to clean them out once they are thawed.

In tanks were large live lobster and some live shrimp swam with them.  This makes it even more probable that the shrimp we see around area all local.
Lobster was there but was very expensive.

I particularly liked the display case of seafood with a suckling pig on top and a ham.

And then we took a nap.