We’re bright and early this morning. Well, early anyway.
Those who stayed at our Heathrow hotel overnight are aboard our privately chartered coaches around 5.15am and we started our short transfer to the airport’s Terminal Three. At the final approach just before the tunnel to the main terminals we come to a stop. Road works! At 5.30am! Down to one lane and minor chaos ensues. We slowly move forward and eventually escape the tunnel and drop off at Terminal Three. Those guests meeting us at the terminal are nice and early and already checked-in with British Airways. Very efficient! The BA ground staff is helpful and check-in proceeds quickly. We’re through airside in no time at all, and enjoying a tea or coffee and a breakfast snack.
The flight information screen shows gate 40 which is about as far as you can walk from the main concourse. A few hours later (!) we reach the gate and we’re all aboard the flight and raring to go. The flight is full of course. There are a few business men and women on board, a few Portuguese returning home, and then there’s the Furlongs family of around 90. We are all busy chatting and settling in. The business travellers can’t quite believe their eyes! We landed in Lisbon on time and, luggage collected, we met our local guides, Manuela and Margarida, and joined our private coaches for the journey north.
First stop is Óbidos, originally an early Roman settlement and subsequently influenced by the Visigoths and the Moors, who established a fortification here. Later the town was patronised by the Queens of Portugal, giving rise to its informal title as Vila das Rainhas or “Town of the Queens”. Óbidos is now an imposing hill-top village and citadel with narrow cobblestone streets.
Continuing Porto the plan is to allow Richard’s coach to arrive at the quayside first and then Dawn’s 15 minutes later. This will avoid congestion. Best laid plans! Richard’s driver takes the wrong turning and we end up driving across the Douro River to the northside. Our ship is docked on the south side. We end up driving through the historic centre of Porto and crossing the famous Dom Luis Bridge back to the south side. Although not scheduled, it is a nice little extra tour! However, in the meantime, Dawn’s coach has arrived at the ship and tea, coffee and cakes are being served!
With everyone on board there is a quick change before our welcome meeting and safety briefing. Our Captain, Cruise Manager and Hotel Manager all greet us at the lounge and the ladies receive a nice red rose (plus a glass of sparkling wine). The gentlemen only receive the sparkling wine – but they don’t seem concerned. During our first gathering we are introduced to various members of the on board team and we hear a bit about life on board AMAVIDA. Furlongs Travel has privately chartered the ship so it will be a private house party all week!
Dinner is a 4-course a la carte affair with quality complimentary wines. We decide to serve port on the sun deck as we set sail for a special harbour illuminations cruise. Captain has kindly agreed to take the ship upstream beneath the famous bridges of Porto and back downstream towards the Atlantic, before returning to Gaia for our overnight stay. We sail for around one hour and as the sun light fades, the lights on the buildings start to sparkle. The views are beautiful on both sides of the river. And the weather? Warm and sunny!
A great way to start our week on board!
For timing reasons we’ve swapped the originally advertised order of a couple of our excursions and will visit Óbidos today and Coimbra after our week on the Douro.
Óbidos was originally an early Roman settlement and was subsequently influenced by the Visigoths. The Moors established a fortification here and later the town was patronised by the Queens of Portugal, giving rise to its informal title as Vila das Rainhas or “Town of the Queens”. Óbidos is now an imposing hill-top village and citadel with narrow cobblestone streets. The town’s Church of Santa Maria boasts stunning 17th century Portuguese art and walls lined with blue and white tiles depicting religious scenes.