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A River Cruise, Fado, and Port in Porto

It was an incredibly "touristy" thing to do, a shameless moment when we let one of those usually annoying guys selling you stuff on the street talk us into actually buying what he had to sell. Separated from our €20, we were booking it to jump on one of the river tour boats, our boat ride and fado tickets in hand. We expected to be surrounded by British, Australian, and German tourists, English and German being the predominant languages we had heard strolling around Porto, but were surprised to find that nearly everyone on the tour boat was speaking Portuguese.

There was not a cloud in the sky, and the late afternoon sun was moderated by mild temperatures and a nice breeze coming down the valley the River Douro cut for the city to be built upon. The low, wide, black wooden boat was a unique style to Porto: designed to carry barrels of Port from further up river down to the port city where it was (once upon a time) loaded onto larger, sea-going ships who carried the Port to eagerly awaiting customers throughout Europe and North America. The boats are an anachronism now, the Port wine finding its way around the world by much more modern and more efficient means. Such modern progress has left these very cool Port hauling boats for tourists to gawk at Porto's bridges above as we slowly chugged up, then down, river.

Porto's bridges alternate between industrial age, Eiffel-esque grids of iron and ultramodern concrete spans built in the last few decades. Our fellow boat riders snapped pictures and stared up, mouths open, as we passed beneath each. Even from a couple of hundred feet above us we could hear the unnerving groaning of the main bridge, an older iron bridge, especially as a metro train or two passed from one side of the valley to the other. We've heard that first-time pedestrians walking across the bridge will start to hightail it to the closest end upon feeling the rumble of a train under their feet. From our perspective it was a peaceful glide from a safe distance.

The river cruise component of our tourist splurge over, we headed for the "free" part of the deal: a glass of Port over some traditional Portuguese fado. It was the fado that sold us on the whole affair to begin with. Strolling around Porto only an hour or so before, we had regretted not getting to see any of the traditional Portuguese fado music. Even spending nearly two weeks in a place, it always seems there's something you must relegate to the "next visit". So here was our chance.

Fado is a form of music unique to Portugal. Like American Blues, fado is folksy, plaintive, and mournful. Though we didn't understand the Portuguese lyrics, it was easy to imagine them as being odes to hard days at sea, at work in the fields, or to some sad or lonely and melancholy affair. Our fado singer moved about the tasting room as people sipped Port, smiling and waving at her as she sang. There might have been a few more tourists in the room than were on our boat, but I've come to believe that the Portuguese love their tourist attractions as much as the tourists.

We capped the night with an alfresco dinner at a sidewalk cafe next to the river: tapas and wine. Then Lori surprisingly requested grilled sardines. Come on, let's try it, she said, arguing that our attempt to get them two years ago in Italy had turned out less than successful. She thought she'd have to twist my arm, but she didn't. A few minutes later we were enjoying grilled sardines.

They weren't bad, but the Port–and the fado–were better.


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Chuck is a consultant, business strategist, programmer, traveler, and writer. Having built and sold 3 high-tech companies, he might be considered a serial entrepreneur. He and wife Lori have embraced a location-independent lifestyle and help companies attract, asses, and hire smarter people while they travel the world. 2014: Europe. 2015: ?



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