Monday, March 7, 2011

Vila Real for Valentines

We don't take many train rides in Europe, as bus tickets are usually cheaper and we have the extra time on our hands. That being said, we enjoy going by train very much and our guidebook recommended  a line from Porto into the Douro Valley for it's scenery alone. We thought we'd take the train into Vila Real and use the town as a base to take the train further along the line the next day. The train ride was as advertised and Matt and I were completely enchanted as we rumbled by our lush but mountainous surroundings. Our neighbors for the train ride were three Brazilians who were enjoying not only the view but a bottle of Vinho Verde a piece, sipping and corking by turns. I always forget I can drink in public here. Although it isn't conscious, force of habit seems to stop me from taking advantage. The rail lines have been cut off past Regua for repairs so unfortunately we had to take a short bus ride to Vila Real. Our plans for visiting the other towns further up the line evaporated and I do regret it. However, Vila Real held plenty of charm with it's amazing variety.

Vila Real is a small town of smaller town neighbors and climbs up both sleep inclines that lead step by terraced step into the Douro river. The river is small at this far eastern point and the town is dominated by several bridges that cross it, both high and low. Matt and I walked down a trail tucked into the side of the cliff facing the river and marveled at the ancient looking stone houses clinging to the terraces. Young couples lounge on the rocks and enjoy the view with a beer. Wherever space allows there are vines climbing posts and you feel that time might not exist on these slopes but that people most definitely do. But this kind of silly make-believe only lasts until you look to the west where a giant front-lit shopping mall dominates the view by day and night.

The river roars below it all and Matt and I spent our first evening walking around and watching people go about their routine. A gentleman was on his patio terrace striking stones into the right shape for his rock wall that separated him from the chasm. The shoemaker hammered in a small shed as we walked past him and onto a new red bridge. On the lower and older stone bridge the cars took advantage of the extra space and parked to the side. Old ladies leaned out their windows as the streets fell empty and dark.

Well, I don't recall now all that happened in Vila Real. What do you call house wine when it comes in an unlabeled green bottle, is of passing fine quality, and too much is perhaps ordered only because you think a large bottle simply can not cost so little? True house wine? The food was nice, I especially enjoyed a grilled octopus at a local churrasqueria, although Matt and I become a little tired of steak (although some of the most delicious) and chicken cutlets or grilled fish. We are still escaping from time to time to the odd Italian joint to liven up the variety.

We celebrated Valentines day with a pastry from our favorite shop in town and fruit juice and a Taekwondo tournament at the mall. It attracted quite the crowd. I tried to order the local tripe dish that night but no luck again. Soon, soon.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like a great town and an amazing way to spend Valentines.