Travel with Awe and Wonder: Considering Portugal


When my husband and I decided to do this six months of travel before settling in Arizona, there were many things we didn't consider. 

For instance, we didn't consider not doing it. You see, we are very good at deciding and fairly good at planning, but not strong at considering. Considering often comes before (and continues during) planning. Considering requires some degree of hesitancy. 

The actual recipe for considering is: a touch of doubt, a dash of uncertainty, a sprinkle of risk aversion, and a dollop of "this could never work." Considering the ways things can't or won't work is a gene John and I were deficient in prior to meeting each other. We each carried this deficiency into our marriage, and it has led to some of the best outcomes! (Including meeting each other for the first time (a weird and wonderful story), moving to Montana, our first pregnancy, living abroad, buying each of the houses we've owned, and getting a dog.) Though neither of us are adrenaline junkies, we seem to share a degree of "dive in, we'll figure out the details as we go."

Another thing we didn't consider in the six months we are traveling is squeezing in a side trip to Portugal. That is, until our friends Chris and Jody proposed it. Without considering much about it, we said, "Yes! We never considered that! Let's go!"

Travel with Awe and Wonder: Considering Portugal

Chris and Jody: "How about a walking tour of Portugal."
John and Christy: "Sure!"
Chris and Jody: "Self-guided."
John and Christy: "Super!"
Chris and Jody: "in September?"
John and Christy: "Sounds great!"
Chris and Jody: "7 days of walking."
John and Christy: "Terrific!"
Chris and Jody: "Through the wine region of Portugal."
John and Christy: "Never mind, we're out." Just kidding...."How many ways can we say YES!!??"

Rooftops of Porto, Portugal. From Travel with Awe and Wonder: Considering Portugal
Rooftops of Porto, Portugal

After that, John and I didn't consider much about the Portugal trip. Oh, we planned it with Jody and Chris, but we didn't consider much about it. 

We couldn't have chosen better travel companions because Chris and Jody are EXCELLENT considerers. They consider everything! In fact, they consider every angle so much they nearly consider themselves out of the original decision. 

This makes us the perfect travel companions because most of the glitches have already been considered by Jody and Chris and, thus, thwarted, while any glitch that arises unexpectedly is met by John and I with, "It will most likely work itself out," or, "probably wasn't important anyway." A perfect marriage is usually a balance.

The trip we took with Jody and Chris was unlike any I've ever taken. Aside from the plane that got us over the Atlantic pond and a short train ride, our feet were our only form of transportation. This was going to be no problem for John and I, given our daily hiking in Newfoundland and the fact we had been training to run a 10 mile race in D.C. upon our return. John and I considered ourselves physically fit. Ready to go.

Chris and Jody considered the daily treks in the Douro Valley of Portugal differently. First of all, they considered that it is a valley. A valley by definition is an area of low terrain with steep terrain on two sides. If one were to only walk through the middle low part, no problem. But walking through a valley doesn't mean staying BETWEEN the steep slopes; you actually walk on, up, along, and over those slopes. Jody and Chris considered their shoes, Band-Aids, blister ointments, cushioned socks, knee braces, the weight of their backpacks, sunscreen, rain coats, and quick dry hiking apparel.

Valleys, by definition, have hills on two sides. Who knew?! From Travel with Awe and Wonder: Considering Portugal
Valleys, by definition, have hills on two sides. Who knew?!

The day we arrived in Porto, Portugal, we had arranged a walking tour of the city. Clearly worried we wouldn't get enough walking in during our stay, we signed up for a three-hour walking tour as our first experience in the country after a red-eye flight and a lay-over. When planning this activity, there were clearly aspects I didn’t consider.

We met our private guide, Andre, at the appointed spot a bit late because we got lost and wound up walking about a mile out of our way. I was feeling pretty good about my walking abilities in the first hour of our tour, because for that first hour we stood in one place. 

Andre LOVED Portuguese history, so for the first third of our tour, we stood outside a gorgeous tile-covered cathedral while Andre verbally took us back to 5th century Porto. 

Around the 14th century, I was beginning to wonder if we had mistakenly signed up for the STANDING tour of Porto. 

At the 45-minute mark, Andre had verbally gotten us all the way to 1732, at which point, I interrupted with, "Do we get to go inside the cathedral?"

One of many cathedrals flanked with blue and white tiles depicting the history of Portugal. From Travel with Awe and Wonder: Considering Portugal
One of many cathedrals flanked with blue and white tiles depicting the history of Portugal.

Andre was a wealth of information and did not feel the need to skim over any of Portugal's long history as we walked the entire city. At the 2-hour mark, having slept an average of 45 minutes in the past 24 hours, all of us were having trouble concentrating on Andre's commentary.

"How did he say they got the boars out of the city?" 
"Oh! Not boars, Moors!"

"Did he say the people of Porto roasted the king?" 
"Oh! Ousted the king!"

"Andre, why did hot cocoa become an architectural influence?" 
"Oh! Not hot cocoa, Rococo!"

Several attempts were made (mostly by a hangry Christy) to extricate ourselves from the last hour of our tour. Most notably when I expressed frustration that the 12th century cathedral windows would be too narrow to let in enough light for me to find my way up the staircase on a cloudy day. 

After a few minutes of frustrated questioning of those darn windows slits and why no one thought to make them wider, I realized I was outside on a sunny day in the year 2022 with no real threat of being stuck in the cathedral tripping over my long, billowing, itchy frock in a rush to climb the uneven stone steps to the bell tower. 

Aggravatingly dark bell tower that I won't have to climb in a frock in the 15th century.  From Travel with Awe and Wonder: Considering Portugal
Aggravatingly dark bell tower that I won't have to climb in a frock in the 15th century. 

…At which point, I apologized that deliriously hungry Christy's cage had been opened. Andre forgave me right away and, ignoring all measure of social cues, prevailed for another hour, egging us on with "You have to see this! It's just a little bit further." At exactly 3 hours, Andre left us at a delightful rialto (square or marketplace), where we stumbled into a restaurant for wine and a delicious outdoor meal with soothing, live music reverberating around us.

On the first true day of our walking adventure, I was feeling pretty cocky. Jody had chosen to wear attractive, flat sandals for our three-hour jaunt with Andre around Porto the previous day. Three hours of cobblestones in flat, strappy sandals would make anyone a tad beleaguered. But I hadn't considered her shoe choice when I started feeling rather full of myself for not having sore feet on Andre's meander around the city. 

The day we started the Douro Valley hiking, Jody had on her trekking shoes. Jody in trekking shoes is very different from Jody in strappy sandals! Out the door of the first countryside hotel in Pinhão, I bent down to rearrange something in my backpack. When I stood up, I could barely make out the back of a tiny Jody off in the distance, up a hill about a half mile away. When I finally caught up, I was rid of my hubris and half of my water for the day.

The first walking day was one of the shorter days by mileage. However, since we started at a town along the Douro River and were going to do most trekking days in the upper levels of the mountains, we had to ascend for much of the day. Most of the pre-Portugal training John and I did was on flat surfaces. 

Up is different. Up is different on your feet. Up is different on your legs. Up is different on your back. Up is different on your ability to hold a conversation. In fact, much of our conversation became how "up" the walk was. 

Up is also different on your demeanor when you find out you passed the hotel you're staying at a mile and a half ago.

Fortunately for us, we were hiking through vineyards. When one is hiking through vineyards, one is bound to find winemakers. Where there are winemakers, there are wine sellers, and where there are wine sellers, there are Jody, Chris, John, and Christy. 

We hobbled our weary legs into the Beijo Winery, where we sought out anyone who might pour us liquid numbing tonic. The owner of the winery peeked out of his office window from the stone facade of the winery's main building. We pounced upon the proprietor with something like, "…close to dying." Jiou (the fifth-generation owner of Quinta do Beijo) waved us into a small room with a large wooden table. He asked us how far we had walked, and when we told him 7 miles, he scoffed and rolled his eyes and teased, "Such a short way, my friends!" Well, I think he was teasing. Jiou asked us which of his most recent red, white, or rose we wanted to try, to which we responded, "Yes." He laughed and poured. We drank and rubbed our feet.  

Clinking at Beijo Winery.  From Travel with Awe and Wonder: Considering Portugal
Clinking at Beijo Winery.

A short time later, a couple walked in jauntily (just shy of skipping). The man was no less than a two-decade member of AARP. The woman seemed to my weary eyes to be wearing the equivalent of loafers. At our community wine table, we started talking. They were in fact trekking the same paths as us, but they started a day ahead of us. They had just completed the hike we were embarking on the next day...a 9-mile hilly trek. When Jody went fishing for some evidence of fatigue from our table buddies with, "We are a little tired from today's walk and the one you did today was longer," their response was a cheerful, "Uh huh." As Jody and I were contemplating asking Jiou for a tub of warm water in which to soak our feet, and Chris was laboring over how to get a taxi for the 1.5 miles back to the hotel, and John was finishing his third glass of wine, the spry couple engaged in merry conversation about all things wine and travel, totally oblivious to our need for them to show pain in equal measure to ours.

Back at the hotel, having secured a ride from an overzealous taxi driver on the narrow, curvy, mountain roads, we were to have our first of two prearranged dinners at the hotel. When we asked to look at the menu of what we were going to be served that evening, we were heartened to find that the prearranged dinner option we were NOT getting was the one that had woodpecker as an entree.  

We scarfed down our bread, shrimp, octopus, cod, olives, and stuffed mushrooms with unabashed glee. For dessert, we had three options. When I picked two of the three, the server reviewed the order as if John were the intended recipient of one of my two desserts. I try not to present myself as a gluttonous American when in Europe, but I needed to make it clear that my husband was on his own in the dessert department and I should be delivered two desserts with one spoon, thank you very much. A tremendous look of disgust contorted the server's face as she turned to fetch my binge.

The next day was a circular route, which meant that we would stay at the same hotel after CHOOSING to do the 12.8-kilometer walk. (Note: If you are staying at the same hotel, you could go with the much more enjoyable option of hanging out by the pool and taking a leisurely stroll around town instead of the 9-mile trek for fun.) 

Why relax on a beautiful day when we could walk in a circle?! From Travel with Awe and Wonder: Considering Portugal
Why relax on a beautiful day when we could walk in a circle?!

The company (The Natural Adventure) provides a very thorough book of written directions and an essential navigating app. The day's route started with these directions, "Get to the big tree in Praca da Independencia." What the book and the app failed to tell us is that the big tree is in the town with the Beijo Winery...a mile and a half away. Take a cab, you say? None were available, the server from the night before who was at the front desk told us the next morning. I am positive she grinned when she turned away from me.

Invigorated and ready to go, we headed down the path to the big tree. Lost in conversation, we got on the wrong path, so our mile and a half walk to the starting point was two and a half miles. Then we began the 9 miles for the day.

The directions for the hikes fluctuated between really detailed, "After you cross the bridge, walk past the Ponte Velha Restaurant on your left and the Pinhau River on your right," and quite vague, "Take the first left after the tree." (Both of those directions are taken verbatim out of the guidebook.)

The day went off without a hitch, with Jody on the app and Christy on the book, then Chris on the app when Jody and I got off track and John taking over the book when Christy couldn't read size 10 font anymore due to sunburned eyes for lack of a hat. The day ended back at Quinta do Beijo, where Jiou scraped us off his cobblestone driveway and funneled wine through our veins to revive us. And back at the hotel, for the second of our prearranged dinners: bruschetta, cheeses, olives, clams, and....woodpecker!

The Douro region of Portugal is not just speckled with vineyards; every hill is completely covered with terraced rows of grapes. (And olive trees scattered about.) 

The terraced hills of Portugal's wine region.  From Travel with Awe and Wonder: Considering Portugal
The terraced hills of Portugal's wine region.

The terraced hills of Portugal's wine region.  From Travel with Awe and Wonder: Considering Portugal
Your wine in its infancy.

Crest any hill, and as far as your eye can see the mountains are growing your next glass of wine. Or Port. 

As Chris, John, and I learned (Jody, the most worldly of the four of us, already knew), Port is only made in Portugal. If a dessert wine of a similar style is made anywhere besides Portugal, it can't be called Port. In fact, the grapes for Port are only grown at a certain elevation in this specific region in this particular country. If the grapes are grown at a higher elevation, they are used to make muscatel, a very sweet table wine. Port is considered a dessert wine. Did you know I like chocolate for dessert? That makes Port a very distant 97th on my list of what I want to consume after dinner. 

Your wine going through middle-age.  From Travel with Awe and Wonder: Considering Portugal
Your wine going through middle-age.

Not to be deterred from enjoyable consumption, I persisted until I discovered how I can enjoy Port AND eat my chocolate cake, too. Early in our trip, a kindly bartender introduced us to dry Port tonics. The drink consists of dry white Port, tonic, lemon, and fresh mint. Think gin and tonic, slightly sweeter. It is perfect while sitting by a pool before dinner and conversing with friends after walking all day. Dry Port is getting some following in Europe, but isn't readily available in the US unless you are willing to engage in a search. We are willing.

Your wine, wise in its maturity.  From Travel with Awe and Wonder: Considering Portugal
Your wine, wise in its maturity.

Our return to the States was welcome and surreal. We said goodbye to Jody and Chris in the airport and spent the night with my brother, sister-in-law, and their toe-licking dog, Harold, in Brookline, Massachusetts. The day after we left Brookline, we reunited with our 100-pound Goldendoodle, Kipper, and started our drive to Asheville, North Carolina. Late in the day we found ourselves in rural Pennsylvania, where almost simultaneously John and I got overwhelmed with a sense of location confusion, adventure over-stimulation, and anticipation anxiety. Luckily, Kipper keeps us grounded by reminding us that the only thing we need to consider is that the pack is together. Everything else will work itself out.


More in this series: 
Travel with Awe and Wonder: A Change of Life Predeparture Checklist

Travel with Awe and Wonder: Getting to Newfoundland, Part I

Travel with Awe and Wonder: Getting to Newfoundland Part Two: Muddling Through

Travel with Awe and Wonder: Getting to Newfoundland Part Three: On Command

Travel with Awe and Wonder: Stumble-Upons: First Observations in Newfoundland

Travel with Awe and Wonder: Newfoundland Weather

Travel with Awe and Wonder: Honorary Newfoundlanders' “And Long May Yer Big Jib Draw”

Travel with Awe and Wonder: Questions of Curiosity While Exploring Newfoundland

Travel with Awe and Wonder: New Found Love

Christy Anselmi, the Travel with Awe and Wonder Editor for Wandering Educators, taught kindergarten and first grade for 13 years in public schools in Atlanta and Massachusetts. She took a two year diversion to teach and learn in a Montessori school in Bozeman, Montana and a 10 year sabbatical to raise her own children. Christy has an abiding interest in early childhood education and how to provide developmentally appropriate experiences to engage young people in connection and communication. Raised by parents who got Christy involved in travel at a young age, she developed a curiosity about what is around each corner. Married to a Wyoming man who developed his own wanderlust after years in the Army, the two (along with two sons) have lived in five states (Georgia, Montana, Utah, Kansas, Massachusetts, and soon to be Arizona) and one country (Germany). Christy is a life-long noticer of intriguing scenarios, phrases, and ironies in everyday life. Finally putting pen to paper, she has a growing passion for insightful travel-experience writing.