On our last morning onboard the Viking Hemming, we were treated to the (false) promise of improving weather when a rainbow was spotted over the hills surrounding our docking location, upstream from a dam on the upper Douro.
Looking downstream to the dam and upstream toward Spain, the Douro looked perfectly navigable:
As we started out on our bus we began to clearly see just how badly the calm waters behind the dam had deceived us. Just downstream of the dam the water was boiling out of the spillways and further along we could also see how high the waters were running. Longships are not designed to navigate through these kinds of waters. Here is a collection of pictures of the flooding taken through the bus windows:
Our ultimate destination that day was to return to Porto, where our “cruise” began a few days before. Originally we were supposed to return to our first ship, the Helgrim, to stay onboard for our last two nights in Portugal. Those plans changed, though — details below.
On the way we visited Lamego, site of the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Remedies that’s known for the Stairway to Heaven, a steep staircase of 600 steps that climbs from the village of Lamego to a chapel at the top of hill. There is a long tradition of pilgrims seeking intervention from the Lady for health problems to climb the stairs on their knees.
This is the front of the Baroque & Rococo chapel at the top of the stairs:
The Stairway to Heaven is lined with additional chapels and statuary:
Huge tile murals are located on many of the levels, depicting religious scenes:
Various perspectives of the stairway looking back up the hill from the middle, bottom, and from the village below:
After our trip down the staircase (to be clear, we walked on our feet, not our knees), we visited the nearby Lamego Museum with its collection of tapestries, statuary, tiles, and other artwork.
It turns out that flooding was not confined to the upper reaches of the Douro. While we were in residence on the Hemming, passengers on another cruise staying onboard the Helgrim across from Porto eventually had to be evacuated from their ship. Atlantic high tides combined with river flooding to overflow the Vila Nova de Gaia waterfront and leave the Helgrim inaccessible. Tears were nearly shed at the thought that barrels of aging Port could have been set afloat in the lower-lying caves.
Since we could not return to the Helgrim, Viking’s excellent back office operations had scrambled to arrange hotel rooms for us at the Sheraton Porto Hotel & Spa, a pleasant hotel at the edge of Porto. Nailing down 50+ rooms was quite a neat trick for them to pull off just days before Christmas.
During our last day in Portugal we chose to spend more time in Porto rather than taking a tour to the Mateus Palace. Our next posting will be about our time in Porto at both the start and the end of our non-sailing “cruise.”