Bridges Cruise (Vila Nova de Gaia and Porto)
Douro is magical. If I were asked to describe it in one word, maybe it would be the word that make more sense to me.
It’s the third largest river in the Iberian Peninsula, born in the peaks of “Sierra de Urbión”, Cantabrian Mountains, Spain and about 2080m altitude, travels about 840 kms to the river mouth, kissing farewell the cities of Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia.
I sailed already in Douro’s international waters upstream Miranda do Douro, travel by train along the margin between Régua and Pinhão, scoured kilometers on roads bellow terraced vineyards and today I would follow the last moments of its waters before they find the ocean.
The Douro River is increasingly the focus of union between these two great cities that early got used to overcome the natural limitations with ingenious solutions, such as the ancient and peculiar “Ponte das Barcas” at the beginning of the 19th century.
After the great tragedy of Napoleonic invasion, when the population of Porto rushed to the “Ponte das Barcas” (in order to seek refuge in the nearby town) and teh bridge didn’t hold up, the bridge was replaced by a more modern construction, “Ponte Pênsil”, following the development of the technology at the time.
The Bridges Cruise is a visit to the past and present of this region, a unique opportunity to learn a little more of their soul.
With about 60 minutes, roams the bridges of Douro’s mouth, that unite Porto to Vila Nova de Gaia. It was on “Carlota do Douro”, one of the Rabelos Blue Boats from Douro Azul, inspired by the traditional Rabelo Boats that cross the Douro carrying the barrels of Port wine, that I made this relaxing cruise.
After enjoying a delicious “francesinha” in Gaia’s riverside, I didn’t had to wait to long to see the Blue Boat’s arrival at Gaia’s quay. Departures are every hour from 9:30am to 5:30pm, every days of the week.
Boarding began at the scheduled time and on the deck they give us headphones so we could keep up with the audio-guide information. This is undoubtedly an asset that enriches even more this experience in Douro. We can choose from among the 16 available languages in which we want to hear the stories that Douro tells us. After the last passenger boarding, “Carlota do Douro” left the Gaia’s quay and started navigating upstream.
Bridges Cruise is a visit to the past and present of this region, a unique opportunity to learn a little more of their soul.
In the first half of the cruise, we look at the right bank of the river, the north bank, in the city of Porto. I listen carefully the audio guide, trying to follow with my eyes the stories and landscape features.
We arrive to the first bridge, the “Dom Luis I” Bridge, opened in 1886 and so the oldest bridge of the city, still in operation. The lower deck is open to traffic while in the upper deck, is for the Metropolitan. Here goes the yellow line of Porto’s subway.
We proceeded to “Infante Dom Henrique” Bridge (or “Infante” Bridge), named in honor of “Infante D. Henrique” a local man, connecting the “Fontainhas” (in Porto) to “Serra do Pilar” (in Gaia). It’s the latest bridge, opened in 2003 for road traffic.
The wind and small splashes of water kissed the bottom of the boat and we arrived at “Maria Pia” Bridge, built by Gustave Eiffel company and inaugurated in October 1877. Its construction allowed the rail link between North and the South, which fostered and transformed the industry in this region.
In 1991 was built in a short distance, the “São João” Bridge, to replace “Maria Pia” Bridge that could no longer drain all the traffic. Here we reverse the direction of navigation and now against the wind went downstream. Away in the distance, was the “Freixo” Bridge, the crossing of Porto most upstream of the river.
We look now to the left bank to see “Serra do Pilar” where the Monastery, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is perhaps its greatest ex-libris.
After passing the Gaia’s quay and the shipyard, where some buildings in ruins are waiting for better days, I meet the long river walkway that follows Douro’s margin. I thought it was an interesting walk to perform on the next visit to Vila Nova de Gaia.
We are now under the great arch of “Arrábida” Bridge, a project from the engineer Edgar Cardoso, which at the time of construction was the largest reinforced concrete arch in the world.
We arrived at Afurada, a fishermen’s land, sea people and fishing traditions. Next to the quay we reversed the direction of navigation and we have entered the final phase of this cruise. Looks along the banks for the last time, trying to record and store the final details of this landscape.
We returned serenely to the Gaia’s quay where we finished the Bridges Cruise.
Even though this isn’t a pedestrian trail is certainly a must-experience for those visiting Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia, wanting to enjoy an incredible ride, watching both cities from another perspective and at the same time getting to know some of their memories. Stay tuned to the audio guide and here’s a little challenge: try to discover the convent of the scenario from “Amor de Perdição”, from Camilo Castelo Branco, where Teresa de Albuquerque waved Simon Botelho, the love of her life, when he was leaving on a boat, on Douro’s waters.
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