Porto to Pinhão in the Douro Valley

As soon as I walked into his shop this morning, the owner said “dois cappuccinos?”. I wondered if he would hand me a little bottle and, of course, he did! Walking back to my Airbnb I noticed a plaque on a stately building that stated that it was the birthplace of Prince Henry the Navigator. There are always surprises like this in Porto.

On the advice of my Swiss friend, I’m going to walk up the hill to the Torre dos Clérigos and ascend the 225-step spiral staircase. I did and it was well worth it. A 360-degree view of Porto stretching to the Atlantic was the prize at the top.

A note about ordering anything other than espresso in Porto: be prepared for the most mediocre cappuccino ever. No taste of milk whatsoever and often made with Nescafé. I was almost tempted to pop into Starbucks as much as I loathe them in the US.

There was an ominous incident about 30 minutes into the train ride to Pinhão. Someone hurled a rock through the train window a few rows ahead of me. Fortunately no one was hurt. One couple fled their glass-strewn seat to sit across from me. They didn’t recognize me in my sunglasses and cap, but they were the couple with whom I’d chatted in the vegetarian restaurant in Porto on Sunday night. They were Dutch living in Oslo. It was fun marveling at the coincidence.

The train ride up the steep Douro Valley is everything described in the guidebooks. A broad curving river cuts through canyon-like slopes covered with vineyards. The scenery and the river had us standing at the open windows snapping photos. After three hours, we arrived at Pinhão, a photogenic wine village deep in the valley. The walk to my little hotel, Casas Botelho Elias, was short and steep. The place is just fine and has a nice outside patio. The shortcoming is that I can hear a drunk villager yelling at his wife and the occasional annoying dog barking. Ah, the charms of rural vineyard life! There’s also a sodium vapor light on a pole outside, but the drapes cut off the glow.

My hotel neighbors, a Czech couple, invited me over for a drink and we shared travel stories. They are hugely well traveled and are great fans of Africa. They’ve been to Botswana five times, along with trips to Malawi, Zambia and Namibia. Their safari stories were fascinating, especially the ones about the sentient elephants that pay homage to their dead. Tomás is retired while Zuzana still practices medicine. I’d never considered a trip to Botswana, but it sounds intriguing. Instead of saying “good day”, Africans greet each other with “how did you sleep”. The neighbors were bushed from a day of exploring, so I wandered into the village in search of something light and had a reasonably pleasant salad.

The weather has temporarily turned rather cool with forecasted rain tomorrow, which means that I’ll probably be visiting some nearby quintas (wineries) rather than renting a bike. All is now quiet and I’m ready for a good night’s sleep.

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