Photography and captions by Don George
ABOARD CRYSTAL SERENITY — After setting sail from Lisbon, Portugal, on a glowing July evening, the President’s Cruise made its first port of call the following morning in the city of Porto (also known as Oporto), at the entrance to the Rio Douro, the River of Gold. Shrouded in a pea-soup fog, the river was more gray than gold on our arrival; but by the time our excursion bus entered the city proper around 9:30 a.m., sparkling sunlight illuminated the brightly painted, red-roofed buildings that line the river.
From there, we wound through marvelous medieval streets and crossed the Bridge of Luis 1 to the neighboring town of Gaia and one of the “spirit” centers of the region, the Cálem Wine Cellar. There, we were introduced to the area’s most famous product, port wine. As our guide explained, although the grapes for the spirit are grown in the Douro Valley, the drink was exported, principally to England, from the port of Porto, and therefore the name of the town became associated with the wine. We ended our tour with a sweet sampling of red and white ports.
After that, I wandered aimlessly on my own, starting by the riverside, where patrons sat and sipped, exuding easefulness, in sunlit cafes. The narrow, cobbled streets showed a festive flair, festooned with streamers and flags, and garlands of flowers decorating intricately wrought balconies. Music from sidewalk musicians filled the air, an artful accompaniment to my own explorations of crafts shops showing beautiful tilework, lacework, pottery, and astonishingly light and sturdy cork products, including the glasses case I ended up buying.
To celebrate this splendid purchase, serendipity led me to a specialty ice cream shop, where I bought two deliciously creamy scoops of Viennese Coffee and Vanilla with Chocolate Cookies. I savored these slowly in a leafy green park while watching a soul-warming gathering of local gentlemen engage energetically in a card game.
It was hard to tear myself away from Porto, where everyone seemed to greet me with a smile and the cobbled alleys lilted with light and song; but more Crystal Adventures awaited, so I made my way back to Crystal Serenity on the last shuttle.
Happily, I brought a piece of Porto with me, both in my elegant glasses case and in indelible memories of its enchanted shops and streets, and I celebrated that night in the Crystal Dining Room by raising two glasses of port to the spirit — and spirits — of picturesque Porto.
Featured image: Rabelo cargo boats were traditionally used to transport port wine from the Douro Valley to Porto, where it was exported worldwide. The graceful vessels still line the riverfront, symbols of commerce and continuity.