Sunday, June 30, 2019

Bottle of Tawny Port Wine, Bottle of Colheita Port Wine (71FR45603)

The second part of my cycling tour took me from medieval villages to wine country. I was already at a higher altitude, so my fourth ride was supposedly mostly descent, but I did have to climb some at the start. But as I passed grape vines in the panorama, I didn't mind (top left). And it certainly wasn't a bother to share a bed of wildflowers with some bees when I stopped for a snack (top right). I knew it was all downhill when I saw Douro Valley in the distance (bottom left). The next day's route included a visit to Pinhao (bottom right), but I was feeling invigorated enough that I took a detour there, so I could take it easy on my final ride. 
Plus, I wanted to make sure that I had time to take a boat tour along the Douro River (top left). It's easy enough to see the waterway by bike or car, but it seemed romantic to go by rabelo, the boats once used to transport port barrels downstream (top right). I only took an hour-long cruise, halfway upstream past some remote vineyard estates (bottom left). A couple times, we were passed by larger ships doing multi-day excursions the length of the river (bottom right).
When I got back to dock, I took a short stroll through the town, pausing to look at the mosaics on the train station, another convenient way to reach the region (top left). I made a more leisurely stop at Xtreme Douro, where I had my first pasteis de nata with a glass of white (top right). Only one glass, so I could make the 10-mile ride to Hotel Folgosa, where I was given a generous welcome gift of tawny port (middle left). The village doesn't have much in the way of restaurants, so the hotel directed me around the corner to neighborhood hangout La Bamba, which offered a liberal helping of local specialties, including olives and crusted cod (middle right). Legs tired and belly full, I fell asleep with my balcony door open, enjoying the lapping of the river and the twinkling of Covelinhas (bottom).
Quite frankly, I was a bit frightened of my fifth and final ride because I knew that, from my hotel, there was nowhere to go but up. Actually, I could have cheated and skipped the climb, but the uphill grade turned out to be not too overwhelming (top). And downtown Tabuaco was a pleasant midway point in the loop, with its refreshingly green park (middle left), adjacent to yet another pillory surrounded by more mosaics (middle right). The view wasn't spectacular but the beer was cold at Cascata Bar (bottom left). The drink and some hail marys fueled me up one more hill before I coasted back down to the valley (bottom right).
My package included a winery tour, but I had some time to kill before my scheduled visit, so I backtracked along the river to Foz do Tavora, a riverside bar featuring reds from Quinta Do Pego (top left). I had just enough time for a glass before I returned to Quinta do Tedo (top right). The vineyard, conveniently located along a national trail, is named for a native bird (middle left). Apparently, they are small and hard to spot, so I focused on the winery's other fauna: a flock of snoozing farm dogs (middle right). Before I could pet them awake from their slumber, the tour began, first with a demonstration of historical methods of grape collection (bottom left). Then we were allowed to view the old, wooden vats still used to ferment the wine (bottom right).
But let's be honest, I was there for the booze. I heartily enjoyed my trio of ports and even snagged the leftovers of a less-imbibing tablemate (top left). That evening, the decadence continued, albeit sans dining companion, at DOC, where I indulged in a white-port martini to start off my meal, alongside some complimentary curry popcorn (top right). I opted for the "essence" tasting menu, which included seven dishes. All of them were Instagram-worthy, but I will share just two of my favorites: raw egg and alheira sausage adorned to look like a forest floor (bottom left) and lemon cake and sorbet with honeycomb (bottom right).
I guess, technically, my last ride was to Regua, my designated pickup point. But the 10 miles downhill along the river hardly seemed strenuous (top left), especially considering it ended at a museum about port (top right). The Douro Museum was more academic than I expected. The standard tour takes you past restoration rooms (middle left), where workers preserve wine-related records in climate-controlled archives (middle right). The visit concludes on a riverview patio, which some resident roosters have made home (bottom left). Immune to their crowing, I enjoyed my free glass of port, relishing the last moments of an inspiring respite (bottom right).

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

An honor to welcome you in Portugal on your first visit to my country (DCPD-201001000)

Portugal has been on my travel bucket list for a long time, but for whatever reason, it has always been too complicated to get there. Then this spring, with the help of some local holidays, I could take two days of leave and have a 10-day vacation. I figured I'd give Portugal one more try, and lo and behold, A2Z Tours offered a self-guided cycling holiday that matched my dates near perfectly. So I got motivated to do some creative flight shopping and showed up on a Saturday morning. But unfortunately, my bag, full of all my cycling clothes, did not.

I had to race to make my connection in Spain, so I figured my bag missed that flight. I had faith that it would show up eventually, but not before the next day, when I was supposed to do my first ride. So my incredibly patient and helpful tour guides took me for a shopping spree before we headed into the Portuguese countryside for my first overnight stay in Castelo Rodrigo, home to the picture-perfect Rocamador parish church (left). As soon as I saw the vista from my accommodations, at Casa de Cisterna, I knew everything would work out (right). 
It wasn't hard to find my happy place as I wandered around the medieval village. From nearly every building the view was superb (top left). But especially from the atmospheric castle ruins, which were the only obstruction, along with a jet trail, of the vast blue sky (top right). The centerpiece of the castle is the bell tower, which once called people to the pillory where perpetrators were punished (middle). Lawlessness must've been rampant in Portugal because an intact pillory can be found in almost every village. No punishment for me, though. Instead, I rewarded myself with a pre-dinner drink at Cantinho CafeColossus Craft Brewery's Wonderlust IPA (bottom left). Then I enjoyed the sunset alongside some appetizers and wine back at my hotel (bottom right).
After a good night's rest, I woke up to a beautiful day for my inaugural ride (top left). The tour organizers were kind, as the first ride was a fairly level loop, so I could go at a leisurely pace, even stopping off for a second cup of coffee at Casa D'Irene in Malpartida (top right). I made good time to the halfway point in Almeida, which features a leafy park within its walls (bottom left). The fact that it was before noon didn't deter me from having a glass of cherry liqueur, ginja, at Casa da Amelinha (bottom right).
I hopped off my bike and made a circuit of the urban fortress, whose gates (top left) and walls (top right) are extremely well-preserved. I pushed my wheels up the hill to the clock tower, which shoots like a spire from the center of the city (middle). Before I started on the route home, I stopped at the king's riding arena (bottom left), where I said hello and goodbye to some royal horses (bottom right). 
My ride complete, I settled in for a late, light, delightedly unhealthy lunch of almond tart at Pateo do Castelo (top left). There's not a lot of variety in a small medieval village, so I repeated the rounds. I rehydrated with a Dois Corvos' brown ale at Cantinho (top right), then had a deja-vu dinner with a sunset view (bottom left). But this time, the main meal was a Portuguese specialty: balcalhau a bras (bottom right). 
Right before dinner, my bag arrived, so I was able to don some fresh duds for my second ride, a one-way trek to my next overnight destination. The route started out much like the day before, winding through sleepy villages (top left), where one woman gave me a flower from her garden to wish me well upon my way (top right). But then I coasted downhill past the crags of Faia Brava Natural Reserve (middle left) until I crossed the Coa Valley Trail (middle right). In biking, what goes down must come back up, so I had a hard, hot climb until I stopped for a picnic in an olive-tree grove (bottom).
Pedaling through some rolling pastures led me to the village of Juizo (top left). Fearing the hills, I had departed first thing in the morning, so early that I arrived with time to kill before I could check into my hotel. So I took a hike to a nearby river, where I read for a while waterside (top right). As I walked back to town, multiple townspeople told me that the proprietors of Casas do Juizo were looking for me, to check me into my room, located in an old stable (middle left). The rest of the day, I relaxed in the pool and watched villagers go about their business (middle right). At night, the place became a ghost town (bottom left). I was the only patron at a delicious dinner cooked lovingly by my hosts (bottom right).
The challenge of the third day, another point-to-point ride, was the heat. I had little respite from the sun as I traveled unshaded roads through the Guarda District. Luckily, when I stopped in Marialva, no one had to suffer the smell of sweaty me as I clamored around the citadel (top). I cooled off as I strolled around the Church of Santiago (middle left) and its scenic cemetery (middle right). Then I caught a revitalizing breeze and an invigorating glimpse of the countryside when I stormed the crumbling castle (bottom left). As I continued on, the bugs started to swarm, so I sought refuge in a stand of evergreens, where I refueled with a snack (bottom right).
Eventually, I arrived in Penedono, where I enjoyed a long shower before making the short ascent to the village castle (top left). I scaled some scary steps to walk along the turrets of the uniquely shaped fortress (top right). At night, I had a preeminent perspective of the structure from my room at Hotel Medieval (bottom left), which I discovered after a filling meal of another local dish: octopus risotto (bottom right).
Before dinner, I lingered in the village plaza, where I watched a fishmonger drive up and sell his wares on the sidewalk (top left). Some village dogs unsuccessfully sought some free samples, so after the truck drove on, they came begging to me (top right). In fact, every town where I stayed had a friendly, furry welcome wagon, whether he sluggishly greeted me on the street (bottom left) or she alertly accompanied me on the patio (bottom right).