Douro River Cruise
Wednesday 9th October 2019

We've been in Portugal since Sunday, when we took a BA flight to Lisbon. Viking had booked us into a 5 star hotel (the Tivoli), but we didn't feel that we were getting the best of it when disco music was blaring all over the hotel from the rooftop bar until 10.30pm. Luckily, on Monday night things were quiet.

On Monday we had a complimentary city tour on a luxurious Viking-branded coach. Much of what we saw we'd seen on a previous city break with our friends. On that occasion we'd looked for the shop where the world famous Portuguese delicacy, Pasteis de Nata (a sort of egg custard tart), was first created, but we didn't find it. This time, our guide pointed it out while we were visiting the Maritime Museum near the iconic Belem Tower, and, in our free time, we made a flying visit. Gill bought six of the little things, and we have to say that their reputation was justified! In fact, they have a name that no one else is allowed to use - Pasteis de Belem.

We spent the afternoon by the hotel pool, and in the evening found a restaurant that features in the Michelin guide, where we had superb tapas food.
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Tivoli hotel lobby
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Belem Tower
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Pasteis de Belem!
On Tuesday, we left the hotel at 8.30am by coach to travel for three hours or so to Porto, stopping on the way at the university town of Coimbra. Our guide explained on the way that Coimbra University students all wear black cloaks, inherited from the Jesuits but which are supposed to make everyone equal in spite of financial or social status. It all gets a bit weird and 'cliquey', though, with the addition of badges and ribbons, and with tears being made to the hem to indicate the relationship status of the wearer.

We subsequently learned that black cloaks are 'de rigeur' in the Portuguese university system, which makes one wonder if J K Rowling got the idea for the Hogwarts uniform from her three years in Porto. A further reason to support this idea is that she based her description of the moving staircases at Hogwarts on the remarkable interior of 'Lello', a bookshop in Porto that we visited when we were last here.

We visited the university library, which reminded us strongly of its counterpart in Dublin that we visited in August. There were thousands of priceless books on very high shelves, and they have to be preserved against decay. Insects are a particular threat, and the university has an innovative weapon to use against them. Bats! A colony of nine are resident, and every evening the furniture is covered with sheeting and the doors closed. The bats then feast on the insects overnight, with the furniture safely protected from their droppings!
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Specialist canned fish shop
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Coimbra
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Coimbra
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University of Coimbra
During lunch in Coimbra we had musical entertainment. There was a mandolin player, a guitarist and a singer, and we were told that this would be Fado-based. Fado is probably the most miserable form of song ever invented, where the singer, usually female, bemoans her bad fortune and the tragedies of her life. Yesterday's performance must have come from the optimistic wing, because it was generally upbeat and, at worst, poignant and wistful. And it wasn't a mandolin - it was a 'Portuguese guitar', which neither of us had heard of before. Great entertainment!
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University organ
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Lunchtime Fado
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Our cabin on Viking Osfrid
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Osfrid's lounge

We set off again for Porto and arrived at the ship at 4.30pm. Boarding was simple, and the emergency drill was swiftly dealt with. Before dinner the chef was introduced to speak about the forthcoming meal. He explained that every night there will be a section of the menu comprised of Portuguese specialities, and he urged his mainly American audience to extend their gastronomic horizons and, if possible, not simply opt for steak or chicken. We followed his suggestion and had a fabulous meal :o)

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On Wednesday the 'Osfrid' remained in Porto, and we had a morning coach excursion around the city. The ship is moored on the south side of the river, where all of the Port wine warehouses are. This part of town is Vila Nova de Gaia, not Porto. From here to the centre of the city you have to cross the Luis I bridge, which is such a traffic bottleneck that the journey of less than two miles took an hour.

We stopped at the cathedral, which was where Philippa of Lancaster (daughter of John of Gaunt and granddaughter of Edward III) married King John in the fifteenth century, thus establishing the world's oldest military and political alliance that endures to this day.

In the cathedral there is a priceless solid silver ornamental wall in a small chapel, and when the French invaded in 1809 it was feared that the silver would be looted and melted down. It was therefore plastered over and the French didn't find it. However, when they were driven out by the British under Wellington and the plaster was removed, it was discovered that the glorious silver decorations had reacted with the plaster and turned black, and they remain so to this day.

We then walked down the hill to the main station. This had been opened at the start of the 20th century, and the main hall had been decorated, Portuguese-style, with glazed blue and white tiles that depicted important scenes from Portuguese history, such as the marriage of John and Philippa and the Spanish king berating his military commander for the loss of Portugal.

The tour ended with 'free time' to explore the main shopping street, which we spent browsing in a C&A department store and then back at the meeting point soaking up the sun.


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After lunch back on the ship, we spent the afternoon reading in the sunshine on deck, then making a brief foray along the river bank through a craft market and then one of the many Port warehouses.

At dinner we met another English couple, and we now think that there are nine compatriots on board, with the remaining 90+ passengers Americans, as far as we can tell.

There was a guest speaker after dinner who spoke about the period in the Middle Ages when Portugal started to explore and colonise other parts of the world. This started in the fifteenth century with Prince Henry (The Navigator), third son of John and Philippa. He realised that he was unlikely to become king, and gained his father's permission to explore beyond Portugal.

He drew together experts in matters such as navigation, ship-building, science, mathematics and astronomy and, on his first mission, sailed to the west coast of Africa. Being unprepared to go further on this merely exploratory journey he turned for home, but the prevailing winds on the west of Africa blow southwards, and his ships couldn't sail to windward. He eventually returned by sailing westwards into the Atlantic and then picking up northerly winds east of Brazil and the Caribbean.

On his return new ships with new-style rigging were designed and constructed, and the age of Portuguese naval exploration began, lasting throughout the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Portuguese influence extended to the west coast of Africa, India, Japan and Indonesia, with ships bringing back gold and spices that were almost more valuable.

But it all faltered in the late sixteenth century over a problem with the Portuguese royal succession. The next in line to the throne was Philip II of Spain - he of the Armada. In 1580 he became King of Spain AND Portugal, and for the next 60 years Spain pushed ahead with its own overseas expansion. In 1640 Portugal finally rebelled against Spanish rule and once again became independent.

Even today, Portugal's imperial past has influence, with 260 million people around the world speaking Portuguese, only 10 million of whom live in Portugal itself. It is the sixth most-spoken language in the world.

A very interesting presentation - more like a 50 minute download, really. I've only quoted a fraction of it here.

Today, Thursday, the ship set off up the Douro at 6.45am, and spent the morning and early afternoon cruising. We went through two locks, the second of which raised the ship by an amazing 30+ metres! As we entered the lock it felt as if we were in a huge stone cathedral whose walls towered above us. If this lock ever failed the destruction caused all the way to Porto by the rushing water would be unimaginable.

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Friday 11th October 2019

We spent yesterday morning reading on deck as the Osfrid continued its journey upstream.

Our afternoon excursion set off at 2.45pm from Regus where we'd moored overnight. Our destination was the Mateus Palace, whose claim to fame is that it appears on the labels of Mateus Rosé bottles. Other than that there is absolutely no connection between the palace and the wine!

We quickly discovered that the English three syllable pronunciation of 'Mateus' is wildly wrong - we should be saying, 'Matoosh'!

The palace was built in Baroque style in the 18th century and was still in excellent condition. It's still owned by the same family, who live in part of the building in the summer and then retire to Lisbon in the winter. Frankly, we didn't feel that it was a terribly interesting place, but the second stop of the day was a great deal more interesting.

We were driven by coach to Sandeman's Quinta do Seixo wine estate on precipitous roads with huge drops to one side that reminded us of the closing scene of The Italian Job! The guides were dressed in black cloaks and had black sombreros, just like the company's logo. Our guide sounded as if he was an American, so strong was his accent, but you could tell that he was a local by his name and by the way that he pronounced Portuguese words. He claimed to have picked up his accent through watching American films as a youngster, but we found that unlikely :o)

One interesting fact that we picked up is that there is no irrigation on the estate, except for vines in their first three years. The terrain is stony, composed of schist/shale that contains water at lower levels. Once a vine's roots reach that it will sustain them. The guide maintained that the roots of the vines can continue growing downwards for as much as 30 metres!

The tour concluded with a Port tasting, one White, one Tawny, both delicious. Then it was back to the ship, which was by now moored for the night further upstream at Tavora.

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After dinner there was a music trivia quiz in the Lounge, where guests were encouraged to get up and dance for every number. It made for a very sociable 90 minutes. Earlier, at dinner, just as we were about to leave the table, a young waitress spilled some red wine mixed with fruit juice on my cream trousers. She was mortified, and insisted that she'd take them to be laundered. They came back this morning as good as new!

By the way, Portuguese roads, other than their excellent motorways, are often narrow, both in towns and on very steep hillsides, and that leads to a local joke. A priest and a coach driver arrive at the Pearly Gates and seek admission. St. Peter says that there's only room inside for one of them, and he admits the coach driver. The priest protests, but St. Peter says, 'You've done good work for many years as a priest, but I've noticed many of your congregation sleeping through Mass. But I've also noticed that, on his coach, the driver's passengers are praying the whole time'.

Today was a quieter day. Osfrid continued upstream to Barca D'Alva, almost at the Spanish border. As the day progressed the temperature rose as the wind virtually vanished, and we had a couple of spells of reading on deck.

At 11am the Chef gave a demonstration on how to make Pasteis de Nata. He was something of a stand-up comedian, and was amusingly rude about today's dietary fads. His view was that instead of trying to make, say, vegetarian/vegan versions of your favourite cakes and turning out something virtually inedible, you should instead make them to a proper recipe and just not have them too often.

His big tip for making Pasteis de Nata was to use a sheet of ready rolled puff pastry, roll it carefully into a log shape and then chop it into sections. Each of these you then work into a disc shape, taking care to ensure that the perimeter is fatter than the centre, before working it into a foil cup and pouring in the egg custard mixture. We might have to try this!

This afternoon's excursion was to a nearby hilltop town called Castelo Rodrigo. Being so close to the Spanish border the town had seen many skirmishes and sieges over the centuries, but once lasting peace was achieved it was slowly abandoned for the new town that was built on the plain below. Most of the old town dates from the sixteenth century and is still in good condition, although its population is only fifty or so.

The local traders were delighted to see three coach loads of tourists, and did good business selling local products to us, such as almonds and almond liqueur, wine, olive oil and cork-based products such as bags and even jewellery.

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We returned to the coach with barely enough time to freshen up for dinner. The evening's entertainment was a group of three Flamenco dancers from Salamanca. Their performance was better than the previous two we've seen, in Granada and London, and their 40 minute spot must have been exhausting.

Tomorrow we'll be taken by coach to Salamanca, across the border in Spain. It looks like a fascinating place to visit!

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Sunday 13th October 2019

It was an early start on Saturday, departing by coach for Salamanca at 8.45am.

We were moored overnight at a tiny town called Barca d'Alva that sits within a mile of the Spanish border. There's a disused railway nearby that was originally to link Porto to Salamanca, but train services now terminate at Pocinho, where we will be moored tonight.

Once the construction of the railway was agreed between Portugal and Spain the Portuguese got on with the job, but Spain had second thoughts and went for road-building instead. So, the railway reached Barca d'Alva and even went a little way into Spain, but that was it. So, now Portugal has a picturesque (but truncated) railway from Porto along the Douro and Spain abandoned the project. You suspect that this rankles a little with the Portuguese!

The journey to Salamanca took two hours plus a fifteen minute 'comfort break', during which we treated ourselves to fresh orange juice. We climbed up on snaking roads to the plateau on which Salamanca sits, and fairly soon the roads straightened, the air temperature rose to the mid-twenties and the breeze fell away. Ideal!

Salamanca is a World Heritage site, built of honey-coloured sandstone and with an impressive cathedral and university library that looks more like another cathedral. On disembarking the coach we were taken straight to a bar in a side street that had a two storey atrium where we had a snack of cheese, ham and wine to keep us going through the day. We were then walked to the main square, the Plaza Mayor, so that we could orient ourselves with the map we'd been given. We then had two and a half hours of free time.

We went straight to the cathedral, where Gill's bare shoulders didn't even raise an eyebrow, compared with the horror that Italian church doorkeepers display. Better still, by demonstrating that we were with Viking, we had free entry.

Salamanca has two cathedrals, or rather it has an old one (1120) and a new (Baroque) one, both side-by-side. Even the new cathedral is centuries old, and both are built in the local stone. They were unusual in that there wasn't much art on the walls, and there was an obvious shortage of tombs and memorials. The organ was simply enormous, with some of the pipes protruding horizontally in trumpet form. You'd imagine that, at full volume, it was shake the very structure of both buildings!

A wedding was in progress in the old cathedral, and many visitors had stopped to watch, which must be an accepted hazard for those getting married - or maybe it makes things a little more special.

We walked to the river for a look at the Roman bridge, which seemed in remarkably good condition - the English get a little blasé about Roman remains ;o) Then it was off to a museum of Art Nouveau paintings, sculpture and jewellery. It didn't detain us for very long, but then again we'd only paid two Euros each to get in!

We now had about 40 minutes until we were due to reassemble in Plaza Mayor, side found a Chocolateria where we had churros with chilled liquid chocolate - surprisingly refreshing!

Back with our group we were handed over by our guide to a local guide for the next hour, and she more or less took us back over the route that we'd just covered on our own. And now, at 3pm, with most of our visit complete, we were taken to a hotel for a cold lunch.

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There was no stop on the return coach journey, and we were back at the ship a little before 6pm. This gave us little time to freshen up before the 6.30pm meeting, at which the arrangements for tomorrow's excursion were explained.

After dinner, there was a team game called Majority Rules in the lounge. There were seven teams, and the same question was put to them all simultaneously. The idea was to anticipate the answers given by the other teams and opt for the most popular answer. If all teams gave the same answer then they all got seven points. If a team gave an answer that no one else came up with they'd get only one point. The first question was, 'What is the greatest film ever?' Knowing that all the other teams were American we went for Gone With The Wind, and we got six points! One question drew bawdy reactions and answers - Name something that never lasts long enough. We did well on that one too ;o)

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Sunday's excursion was to to a village called Favaios, pronounced Fav Eye Oosh. The little place is suffering the same depopulation problems faced in rural areas all over Europe, including the UK. Young people leave for university, and many don't return to live, instead opting for city life.

Our first stop was at a bakery, where we sampled bread straight from the oven. Alarmingly, the baker had a photo of the dictator Salazar hanging on the wall. She had been his last maid, and was still very fond of him. Our young guide had talked glibly of Portugal having now become a corrupt nation, and that people consequently longed for the days of the dictatorship - sounds Trumpist to me. She repeatedly mentioned the projects that had been completed in Salazar's time, mainly the lock-building on the Douro. I was itching to ask her to tell us about the secret police and the disgraceful wars in Angola, Mozambique and East Timor ;o)

We sampled the baker's bread with butter and jam, and there was also a taster of local Muscatel (Mooshcatel) to wash it down with. This is another fortified local wine that we learned more about on the second and third visits in Favaios.

The second stop was at the Museum of Bread and Wine, which was a surprisingly informative, although small, place. Our guide here was a local girl who, as is so often the case in Portugal, spoke superb, idiomatic English. She thanked us at the end for coming to her village and giving her a job.

The third visit was to a wine cooperative representing 600 small vineyards. Here they make Muscatel, which is a fortified wine similar to Port but which cannot be described as such because the grapes are grown at 600 metres and above - the limit for Port is 500 metres. Also, Port is fermented for six days, against only three for Muscatel, before alcohol is added to stop fermentation. I'm really not sure that I could tell one from the other! Here we had yet another tasting.

We were then taken for lunch at a wine-growing estate. Osfrid's guests filled three coaches, and there were another three coach loads there from another tour company. The estate was family-owned and was now being run by the sixth generation. We were greeted with yet more Muscatel, and this was followed by an enormous lunch!

We rejoined the ship at 3.30pm, which had sailed downstream while we'd been in Favaios, and took took advantage of a rare couple of spare hours to relax. This evening we've been briefed on disembarkation arrangements for Tuesday morning when our cruise ends and we transfer to Santiago de Compostela.

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Monday 14th October 2019

The weather has finally broken and sunny Portugal has turned rainy.

This morning we had a short excursion to a small town called Lamego. We left the coach at a hilltop church called Our Lady of the Remedies. It seemed to specialise in images of Mary and Christ as a child - one sculpture even showed her breastfeeding him, which, it seems, is controversial in some ecclesiastical circles.

From the front of the church there's a spectacular view down into the town, with 300+ steps on a marble staircase down the slope. We'd normally turn our noses up at so many steps, and, with today's heavy rain it was an easier decision than usual. We therefore went back down into town on the coach.

The recurring theme this week has been the flight of inhabitants from rural areas into the cities. Lamego is much larger than Favaios, but you can see quite quickly when you walk along the shopping streets of towns like this how little choice there is across so many areas of everyday life.

We stopped for fresh orange juice and pastries, not because we were particularly hungry, but because we needed shelter from the rain. The meeting place was by the town's museum, so we wandered around it for 20 minutes. It was previously a bishop's palace and was full of tapestries and artworks, not all of which were religious in nature. It did beg the question of why the church hierarchy allowed itself such splendour when there was poverty just beyond its walls.

We returned to the ship at midday, after which it set off immediately for Porto, arriving at 7pm. After lunch, those of us who are going on to Santiago de Compostela tomorrow were briefed in the lounge on the arrangements. Apart from us there are only ten other people on this cruise extension. We'll be going by coach via Braga, where there's another included walking tour, and we'll arrive in Santiago in the early evening.

Osfrid moored where it had been when we boarded last week, at Vila Nova de Gaia, opposite Porto. Two other Viking ships later moored alongside us. After dinner, we were entertained by ten university students, all studying law, dressed in the usual black suits and white shirts. They played a strange variety of instruments, including double bass, violin, ukulele, mandolin, guitar and drums. We thought it'd be a session of traditional music, but it turned out to be a bunch of talented good-natured youngsters 'having a laugh'. They were actually very amusing, and their audience took to them.

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Tuesday 15th October 2019

We left the ship after breakfast at the civilised time of 9pm - some of our fellow travellers had had to set off at 4am to catch their flights.

Of around 100 guests on the cruise only twelve of us had booked the extension to Santiago de Compostela. We had a whole coach to ourselves plus a new guide, Ricardo. He has thick, wavy, rapidly greying hair plus a beard. Gill says he looks just like me 30 years ago! Actually, I noticed this myself :o)

We drove northwards for an hour or so to Braga, calling first at the Sanctuary of Bom (Good) Jesus do Monte. It stands at the top of a hill with a stone staircase up towards it, laden with religious meaning. At the bottom there are statues of people with water pouring from their eyes, ears, mouth etc., symbolising the five senses that you must leave behind as you progress towards a better life, i.e. be a sheep. Further up there are the stations of the cross, and, at the top is a statue of Longinus, the centurion who speared Christ on the cross.

Inside the church is one of the strangest things we've ever seen. At the altar end is a 3D depiction of Christ on the cross, described in the blurb as 'a dramatised remake of Golgotha of Jerusalem'. It consists of nearly life-size, full-colour figures of the crucifixion scene, with the criminals either side, six grieving women and up to ten armed Roman soldiers, including Longinus. It was more theatre than anything else.

Scattered around the church were beautiful buildings that had been the property of the Portuguese royal family, and the whole area was delightfully wooded and well-maintained.

The coach then took us into Braga itself. The city is the third largest in Portugal, after Lisbon and Porto, and it has its own remarkable cathedral. It's the oldest in the country, dating back to 1089 and given a Baroque overhaul in 1723. The organ requires two organists, and it has the horizontal trumpet-like pipes that we now realise must be common in Portugal.

As we left the cathedral the rain started to fall, and quickly became torrential. Ricardo ended the tour, and most of us went into a nearby café for lunch. Gill had a cod dish and I had a Francesinha, a sort of sandwich filled with ham, steak and chorizo, covered in melted cheese and with a fried egg on top. Both dishes were said to come with chips, but, as usual, these turned out to be crisps - fooled again! Both were enormous, and neither of us could empty our plate.

Then it was back on the coach and on to Santiago, with a 15 minutes stop on the way. We reached our destination at 5pm, having had to put our watches forward an hour to Spanish time as we crossed into Spain.

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Ricardo managed the check-in quite rapidly, and we went to our room to unwind. He'd suggested meeting up in reception an hour later for an hour's walk around the old city and to see the cathedral from the outside, ahead of a more extensive tour tomorrow with a local guide. We thought that this would be a good way of orienting ourselves.

As we left the hotel we walked into another downpour that went on and on, so that we were walking through running water. We both had rain capes, and Gill also had an umbrella, but almost immediately our shoes were wet through, and my trousers and Gill's skirt were drenched. Still, we're English, so we got on with it ;o)

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In the Cathedral square we came across a group of Germans who had walked the Pilgrim's Way all the way from Alsace! This was 900 kilometres and had taken five weeks.

Ricardo showed us restaurants and tapas bars near to the cathedral, and, importantly, the taxi ranks, and, as soon as our party split up, Gill and I sneaked away to take a cab back to our hotel. Well, we were cold and wet, and following our lunch we still weren't all that hungry, and we had tea and cakes waiting for us in our room :o)

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Wednesday 16th October 2019

We gathered in Reception at 8.45am and Ricardo introduced us to the local guide for our walking tour of Santiago de Compostela.

Outside, it was still rainy, and so six of our party of twelve opted to take taxis into the city centre. So that we'd at least have one pair of dry shoes each to go home in Gill and I wore our sodden footwear from yesterday, which was a bit unpleasant, but at least we had rain capes to keep off the worst of it.

Luckily, the centre of Santiago has lots of small arcades where we could shelter from the increasingly heavy rain while the guide explained its history. In the centre of the main square is a Pilgrim's shell symbol that marks the end of the pilgrimage Camino, i.e. zero kilometres to go. Believe it or not, even though they will have walked for at least 100 kilometres to reach that point, the more serious pilgrims will walk westwards for another three days until they reach the coast!

The cathedral was built in the ninth century, and nine hundred years later it was given a new, Baroque facade. However, the Romanesque facade was left in place, hidden within the new structure, and in recent years its features have come to light again.

Ancient granite sculptures have been discovered, still bearing the painted finish that they were given so long ago. Granite's rough texture isn't the best surface for paint, so the carvings were given a thin layer of fine plaster. Trapped in the dry conditions behind the new facade they look remarkably fresh, with vibrant colours.

The entire raison d'etre for the cathedral, and for the city's importance down the centuries, is that it houses the remains of St. James the Great. When you read about the discovery of human remains in the Roman cemetery that pre-dated the first religious building on the site, the identification of a single skeleton as a former fisherman from thousands of miles away to the East is ridiculous. Even the Vatican isn't all that keen to verify its authenticity.

But, as we know, religious establishments and orders held relics in high regard in the Middle Ages, and they often raided them from one another to attract new adherents to a particular sect or faith. St. Mark's in Venice contain his alleged remains, and these were stolen from Alexandria! It's a bit like a Premiership club signing a, say, Japanese or Korean footballer, not because he's a great player but because of the additional supporters that will now follow his new club and the merchandise that they will buy.

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Within the cathedral we came across a long queue of visitors. Initially, I assumed that this was to visit the roof area, but it turned out that it was to 'Abrazo Al Apóstol', which was to hug a statue of James from behind! Instead, we went down some steps into a small area of the crypt and saw the casket that contains the alleged remains, immediately below the statue that so many people wanted to lay hands on.

At present, a great deal of restoration work is going on within the cathedral, with much of the interior closed off, but the most impressive area, with ancient, gilded decorations could just be seen through the protective screens. The restorers have been told that their work MUST be finished next year because of imminent, religiously significant events. At least the exterior restoration work was completed last year.

We also made a flying visit to the on-site museum. The stand-out features were the ancient library, a section of its ceiling, and a scale reproduction of the ancient choir that was destroyed during the 18th century make-over. An important visitor to the building many years ago refused to believe that the ceiling was made of granite, and so a small area was cleaned back to the stone. The point having been made, this section was left unrestored to prove it to future visitors.

The choir exhibit was fascinating. The scale model, made, one assumes, in wood, was so detailed that one wondered how anyone could be sure that it was accurate. It emerged that, although destroyed centuries ago, fragments were found when the space between the facades was explored. From this information not only could the model be made but a full size section could also be constructed in granite, using some of the discovered stones.

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Straight after the cathedral tour we parted with both guide and group and headed for the market. This looked like a smaller version of Covent Garden Market, with separate bays for the various product categories on sale, such as fish, meat, vegetables. One section was occupied by tapas bars, so, wet and weary though we were, we settled down for lunch. We had wine plus four small dishes - Hake croquettes, Sardines, Asparagus in tempura, and seasonal mushrooms. The latter were so delightfully 'meaty' that a vegetarian could have been confused!

It was still rainy, so we treated ourselves to a cab back to our hotel to dry out and warm up. This time Gill used the hairdryer to dry out our shoes! We spent a lazy afternoon in our room, but went out at 8pm to a restaurant that Gill had tracked down. As is typical in Spain, restaurants don't open any earlier than this.

And, again, it was a cab back to the hotel. Mercifully, the rain had finally stopped, and the forecast for tomorrow is better - just cloudy. We were told that Santiago has 200 rainy days a year, which isn't what you'd expect of Spain, but Galicia has an Atlantic coast so we shouldn't be surprised, really.

Tomorrow, we don't have to check out until midday, and our airport transfer isn't until 3.30pm-ish, so we have another half day in Santiago.

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Thursday 17th October 2019

And so our Viking holiday came to an end, with us being the very last people who'd sailed on the Osfrid to leave Iberia.

By the time we woke up, the remaining people who'd travelled with us post-cruise to Santiago had left for home on very early flights, whereas we had until 3pm to explore the city a little more before setting off for the airport.

As we left reception, with the sun shining for a change, Gill offered to return the hotel's umbrella, but the wise receptionist shook her head with a smile ;o) We walked the half mile to the main square, and as we got there the rain returned. We were now a bit stuck for options, and after wandering around for a bit we decided to have lunch and popped into the Parador that's opposite the cathedral.

Paradors in the Spanish-speaking world are up-market hotels that are usually to be found in converted historic buildings, such as monasteries or castles. We had a three item tapas meal, having learned yesterday that four would be a little too much. And again we had another delicious Alberino.

Although our schedule informed us that we'd be collected from our hotel at 3.40pm, we decided after lunch that we might as well return there and read in reception. It was good that we did, because our guide, Ricardo, was about to leave by train to return to Porto, and we had the chance for a final chat and to thank him for all that he'd done.

Our taxi arrived very early, and took us to Santiago's nice little airport well ahead of time. We'd found out earlier that easyJet runs a service between there and Gatwick, which would have suited us much better, but maybe there was no flight today. Certainly, we'd consider returning on a city break, particularly once the cathedral renovations are complete.

We flew to Madrid, where we had several hours to wait for our flight to Heathrow, which wasn't a problem since we had a long walk (and a train ride) to get between terminals. Our plane took off promptly and arrived at Heathrow fifteen minutes early. Our cases were amongst the first to arrive on the belt and our taxi was waiting. There was traffic disruption on the M25, so our driver found another, non-motorway route that got us home in about an hour, at about midnight. We turned in immediately!

In conclusion, we enjoyed the cruise greatly, but, unlike the marvellous Rhone, we wouldn't choose the Douro again. The area is too sparsely populated to offer fantastic excursions, other than Salamanca across the border, but the sight of vineyards perched on steep hillsides is one we won't forget. Also, there was a real sense of community in the rural areas along the upper Douro that we found heartwarming.

Viking's organisation was magnificent and they took great care of their guests. We'd certainly recommend them to others!


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