RADIANCE On The River, Part Two

Knego joins Emerald Waterways’ brand new MV EMERALD RADIANCE on a cruise up Portugal’s Douro River from the scenic port of Porto. In this second post, visit the picturesque Portuguese towns of Pinhao and Lamego as well as cosmopolitan Salamanca, Spain.

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All photos by and copyright Peter Knego 2017 unless otherwise noted.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Bom dia, Douro!

I awoke to the faint rumble of EMERALD RADIANCE’s diesels, parted the curtains and watched from the comfort of my bed as she navigated the eastern shores of Porto, the lush scenery becoming more rural around every bend. Instead of heading to breakfast, light or otherwise (offered between 8:00 and 10:00 in the Horizon Lounge and Reflections Restaurant), I opened up the window, stared into the green waters and let their gentle trickle set my morning pace.

First morning on the Douro.

Eventually, I made it up to deck, not surprised to find a gaggle of sun worshippers.

Entering Carrapatelo lock.

At 10:15, fortified with my first cappuccino, I attended the first talk offered by Elisabete, our silken-voiced tour guide (one of three, all of whom were excellent and well-informed). The UNESCO World Heritage-designated Douro River Valley is best known for its port wines but that is only a fraction of its agriculture, which also includes silvery olive trees, numerous other fine wines (red, white and green) and the world’s best almonds. We would soon be entering Carrapatelo, the second of five locks in the navigable part of the river, which stretches some 130 miles between Porto and Vega de Terron in the western reaches of Spain.

Lock us up!

As impressive as the lock, which was the first and largest built (between 1964 and 1971) and lifts the ship a whopping 35 meters (almost 115 feet), is just how tightly the RADIANCE fit within its confines, sparing no more than a few inches in any direction.

Slow motion guillotine.

Within moments of entering its imposing chamber, the guillotine door was lowered behind us and we began our rise to the top.

Low overhead.

As if that wasn’t enough of a squeeze, all on deck were ordered to sit down while the wheelhouse, mast and awnings were lowered, so the RADIANCE could do her limbo maneuver under a very low lying bridge.

Out of limbo!

Finally cleared of all obstructions, she continued on her upriver journey, making a brief service call at Regua, an alluring river town we would visit on the return leg.

EMERALD RADIANCE salad buffet.

Prepared to deal with the meat-centric Portuguese diet, I was very pleasantly surprised to find the daily lunch salad bar brimming with high quality, fresh produce that could be embellished not only with a selection of homemade dressings but my requisite olive oil and vinegar.  A new “discovery” was the green wine vinegar, which is apparently popular in Portugal.

Nuno’s specialties.

Those seeking pork, shellfish, sardines and beef needed to look no further than Chef Nuno’s daily special, which usually combined them all, perhaps fried and even wrapped in bacon. In addition, of course, there were tasty continental selections to choose from, including cold cuts, excellent cheeses, cooked veggies, rice and potatoes in every form. Not to mention homemade ice cream, baked desserts and the complimentary wine, beer, mineral water and/or soft drinks…

Approaching Baguaste Lock. Image and copyright Rui Minas 2017.

Baguaste or bust! Image and copyright Rui Minas 2017.

Meanwhile, our ship was being stalked by the intrepid Rui Minas, who captured her entering the Baguaste Lock, which raised us another 27 meters.

Terraces over the Douro.

We were now deep in a portion of the river rimmed with the seemingly endless sprawl of terraced hillside vineyards and olive/almond groves.

Panorama Balcony view.

The sun was in full force up on deck, so after a spin in the fresh air, I enjoyed retreating to my air conditioned stateroom and watching the scenery unfold through its full length window.

EMERALD RADIANCE on the Douro. Photo and copyright Rui Minas 2017.

EMERALD RADIANCE nearing Pinhao. Photo and copyright Rui Minas 2017.

Meanwhile, Rui Minas continued his pursuit of our determined little ship. Thank you, Rui, for allowing me to share your images!

Pinhao, Portugal.

At about 4:00 PM, we had arrived in Pinhao, a small town established in 1880 when the railway linking it with Porto was built. After a short climb uphill, our guided walking tour reached its main artery and the historic rail station.

Azulejos of Pinhao.

Our guide took us through the rail station, which has a number of azulejos (blue painted tile compositions) dating from 1930, depicting the history of the region and wine making.

Pinhao from across the way.

I had time to wander on my own, crossing the narrow bridge to the other side of the river for an alternate view.

On the waterfront.

The calm breeze along the waterfront was much-appreciated in Pinhao’s soaring temps but it was still too hot to run.

MV EMERALD RADIANCE at Pinhao.

I was eventually lured back by that air conditioned gym on board the EMERALD RADIANCE.

Toasting with Captain Emanuel and Jose.

Our ship remained tied up for the rest of the day and well into the next. That evening, the captain and his hard working staff welcomed us with cocktails and a gala dinner.

Taking one for the team.

One of Chef Nuno’s entrées that evening was a grilled octopus Lagareiro, cooked in olive oil and sundried tomatoes. After dinner, despite exhaustion, we gathered in the Horizon Lounge for a rather feisty music quiz, hosted by EMERALD RADIANCE’s trio of guides and resident musician Manu. Note: singing and dancing required.

Monday, July 24, 2017

MV EMERALD RADIANCE at Pihnao.

Jet lag had me up especially early, so I made the best of it and wandered across the way to get some shots of the RADIANCE in the morning light before grabbing a quick bite of breakfast.

Coffee machine.

One of my favorite things about river cruising is being able to fuel up at the espresso machine with a cappuccino or machiato hybrid to take along on the morning tour. Sipping away on the tour bus or during the early portion of a walking tour is an ideal way to begin the the day. Another wonderful thing about river cruising, at least with most lines, are the included tours. On our recent Oceania cruise, the shortest and cheapest excursions were well over $100 per person, which can add up quickly…

Emerald coaches.

Like many river lines, Emerald Waterways has a trio of its own coaches that follow the ship from port to port, whisking her guests off on at least one included daily tour. Another nice thing with Emerald is that while two buses would be enough to accommodate all guests, with three, there is space to stretch out.

Our Lady’s spires at Lamego.

Alas, I forgot to bring with me the third great thing about most river cruises — that handy Quietvox headset that allows one to clearly hear the guide, even from a distance.  After arriving at Lamego, a beautiful town in the mountains south of the Douro, I did my best to stick within earshot of Elisabete but lost her narrative at some point inside the church of Our Lady of the Remedies, which was built between 1761 and 1905.

Lamego from above.

After the church tour, we had the option of taking the coach or walking 686 steps down to town. Done in reverse, the steps feature fourteen landings that symbolize the Stations of the Cross and a spiritual ascent that some pilgrims choose to make on their knees.

Vomiting Triton versus Our Lady….

There were plenty of exquisite sculptures and Baroque architectural flourishes to savor on the descent…

Portuguese fritillary.

…as well as some natural wonders.

Lamego Museum courtyard.

Another nice touch was that Emerald had prepaid our admission to Lamego’s cathedral and museum, which we had some time to explore on our own.

If tapestries could talk…

Azulejo of a lion and its prey.

The museum was quite impressive, with a wide range of paintings, sculptures, tapestries and azulejos.

Portugal wake.

As soon as we re boarded the RADIANCE, she cast her lines and resumed her upriver passage.

Tea time.

The mostly British and Australian guests (with a small sprinkling of Americans, Canadians and a South African or two) gathered for afternoon tea and a lesson in Portuguese, hosted by Elisabete.

Feet to fo’c’sle!

I enjoyed some precious time in the shaded shelter of the fo’c’sle, savoring the view and the breeze.

Deck barbecue.

After the port talk previewing the next day’s tour to Salamanca, it was all hands on deck for the Barbecue Dinner, with live music by Manu.

Post barbecue sunset.

As the sun dimmed over the horizon, EMERALD RADIANCE reached her easternmost port of call, Vega de Terron, just across the Spanish border, where she would overnight in the company of several other river cruise ships. With a very long morrow scheduled, I skipped the evening trivia quiz and did my best to get a full night’s sleep.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Glass of juice.

Salamanca was a two hour coach ride away from Vega de Terron, with just one short rest stop some 45 minutes prior to reaching the historic Spanish university town. On that stop, a glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice was exactly what the doctor ordered to help undo my bleary state.

Spanish sunflowers.

If only the OJ could have “cured” the poor man behind me, whose nose blowing, sneezing and guttural throat clearing were on the verge of window-shattering. If that wasn’t enough, he spent a large chunk of the ride shouting into his cell phone, “I’m on the coach to Sal-a-MAAAAAN-ca! What? What did you say?” Thankfully, this kind of verité can be amusing and judging from the rolled eyes and shared giggles around me, it was indeed that. Meanwhile, it didn’t hurt that the passing scenery, which included vast fields of brilliant sunflowers, was gorgeous.

Salamanca Marketplace.

A Spanish guide met us upon arrival in Salamanca, escorting us at a frantic pace into the busy marketplace. Founded as the Roman Salamantica, the city of 150,000 is well over 2,000 years old.

Meat market frenzy.

In the market, Elisabete assisted the local guide by circulating a tray of smoked ham.

Green olives on the go.

And some tender green olives that were as delicious as they were cruelty free.

Elephant in the square.

Our next stop was the vast Plaza Mayor where an upside down elephant sculpture is the subject of much conjecture.

New Salamanca Cathedral detailing.

From there, it was a moderately paced walk to the “new” cathedral, a massive late Gothic structure that was built between 1513 and completed over two centuries later.

Kaleidoscopic Cathedral capture.

The interior was probably even more magnificent with the inner dome of the cupola soaring 300 feet overhead.

Fundamental cracks but still standing.

It was interesting to note the deep cracks that were rendered by the Lisbon earthquake of 1755, one of the most powerful in recent European history.

Old (left) versus New spires.

Our guide led us from the new into the “old” cathedral, a slightly less imposing, Romanesque style structure that shares a wall with the “new” cathedral. The “old” cathedral dates from the 12th century.

Spanish serenade.

The hosted part of the tour ended in the adjacent square where a group of Salamanca University students serenaded us with Spanish folk songs.

Art Nouveau and Art Deco Museum.

There was so much to see and do in Salamanca and only so much free time, so I headed directly to the Art Nouveau and Art Deco museum, where upon purchasing my ticket, I was sternly told “no photos!”

Art Nouveau skylight.

The collection features some stunning Lalique crystal vases and a breathtaking painting of Salome by F. Beltran Masses but the star of the museum is the building, itself, the former Casa Lis, which boasts a massive Art Nouveau stained glass skylight.

View through the panes.

There was also a wonderful view overlooking the River Tormes through its stained glass panes.

Cathedrals from the river.

I decided to cross the river for some early afternoon views of “The City Of Gold”, which really does have golden hue, thanks to the local sandstone used in its construction.

Puente Romana.

I made my return via the historic Roman Bridge allowing enough time for t-shirt shopping and a gazpacho in one of Salamanca’s beautiful squares. On the return ride, the sneezing and cell phone chatter was kept to a merciful minimum, so I was actually able to drift off for a bit in the air conditioned splendor.

Salmon dinner entrée.

While we were touring Salamanca, the EMERALD RADIANCE had moved slightly downstream to the Portuguese town of Barca d’Alba. When we returned to the ship, just in time for a quick work out before dinner, the temperature was well over the century mark.

Sunset over Barca d’Alba.

After dinner, there was a sliver of an opportunity to capture our radiant ship in a brilliant sunset.

End of RADIANCE On The River, Part Two

Click Here For Part Three

Very special thanks: Lauren Frye, Rui Minas, Bruno Pinheiro

Peter Knego

Peter Knego

Having documented over 400 passenger ships and taken more than 200 cruises, MaritimeMatters’ co-editor Peter Knego is a leading freelance cruise writer, a respected ocean liner historian and frequent maritime lecturer both on land and at sea.  With his work regularly featured in cruise industry trades and consumer publications.  Knego also runs the www.midshipcentury.com website which offers MidCentury cruise ship furniture, artwork and fittings rescued from the shipbreaking yards of Alang, India.  He has produced several videos on the subject, including his latest, The Sands Of Alang and the best-selling On The Road To Alang."
Peter Knego

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