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One thing I knew I wanted to do with our time in Porto was a tour of the Douro Valley. We chose a tour with Oporto Tours which picked us up near our Airbnb and took us on a tour to really get to know the Douro region, its history, and what makes their wines unique. Our guide, Tiago, expertly navigated the steep, twisty roads of the Douro while telling us all about the region.
The Douro Valley is a World Heritage Site and is the oldest demarcated wine region in the world. People have been expertly growing grapes in terraced vineyards for generations. Many of them are still harvested by hand with the grapes being stomped by feet. The annual grape stomping has become a tourist attraction at many Quintas with stomping having to be booked months in advance.
The first stop on our tour was at Viera de Sousa, a 5th-generation family-owned and operated winery, growing grapes on 4 quintas in the Douro Valley. The current generation running the winery are women which is uncommon in Portugal. Here we learned a lot about the difference in Portuguese wines. Traditional Port is a sweet, fortified wine made of a blend of grapes (common Port Wine grapes include Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz (AKA Tempranillo), and at least 50 others). White port is typically more fruit-forward and less sweet than other port varieties. Tawny Port is aged at least 2 years in barrels before going into the bottle and typically has flavors of caramel and nut on top of the fruit flavors. Ruby Port is fruit-forward, sweet, and meant to be drunk young. After the wine ages in a barrel for two years, a sample can be sent off to the Institute of Douro and Porto Wine for an assessment, and if a wine is of high enough quality it can be declared for a Vintage where it will be aged in bottles for at least 15 more years. Therefore, Vintage Port is the most expensive and distinguished wine of the Douro Valley. At Viera de Sousa we sampled some of their still wines as well as a white port (which I had never had before), a Tawny, and a Ruby. Their wines were wonderful and their ports were very different than the mass-market port we have in the U.S.
After our first wine tasting, we headed to Pinhao to board a typical rabelo boat (right) for a tour of the Douro River. These boats were used in the past to get the wine from the vineyards along the Douro to the Port Wine houses in Ville Nova de Gaia. Before the installation of dams along the river, the Douro was treacherous many small chapels were built along the riverbank to protect the sailors from the river’s wrath. Nowadays with other ways for the wine to reach Porto, the rabelo boats are purely for tourists. I was really excited about our boat ride and while the views were amazing, the boat itself was crowded with groups from other tours. Since the tour, people have asked if I would recommend a ride on a rabelo as part of a tour of the Douro and I am really torn, because while it wasn’t the highlight of my day in the Douro, I think I would have regretted it if I saw the boats and I didn’t get to go on it. That is probably the least helpful advice I have ever given on this blog, but it is the only way to describe how I feel. It is possible to ride a rabelo in Porto for a tour of the 6 bridges that is only $16 for 50 minutes on Viator.
After our boat ride, we had a great Portuguese lunch in Pinhão. with a choice of beef or fish. After lunch, our tour guide Tiago took to us the Pinhão train station to see the beautiful Azulejos depicting early life in the Douro (above).
From there, we made our way to our final stop of the tour at Quinto do Jalloto (above) in Casal de Loivos. Besides, wonderful wine this quinta had the most breathtaking views of the “sharks” across the river (AKA the Dow’s estate, top). We learned that just like in Mexico, grapes and olives grow together in the Douro and their olive oil was amazing! Here we sampled three still wines, honey, and the delicious olive oil. The wine here was very unique and not like anything I had ever had back home.
Our tour concluded with the beautifully scenic drive back to Porto. If you have plans to visit Porto, definitely take some time to explore the Douro. It is an amazing place unlike anywhere else I have ever been. I can’t say enough good things about our tour from Oporto Tours. Our tour was pricey but absolutely worth it.
Thanks for stopping by! Be sure to check back next week when we take a free tour of Porto! To read more about this trip, check out Cruising the Atlantic to Portugal and Spain trip report. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! For my list of gadgets to make your travels easier, click here. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.
This past summer I got to do something that has been a dream of mine for over ten years, kayak Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. I have hiked the Lakeshore Trail and seen the rocks from the water on the boat cruise, but I have wanted to get up close and personal with the rocks since my first visit. So, when we were able to score a campsite at the lakeshore, I started doing my research for kayak tours.
Before I get into the tour, I want to talk a bit about Lake Superior and boating safety. Lake Superior is notoriously rough and can be dangerous if you are not in the proper boat. It is not recommended that you take a recreational kayak to see the rock formations. A sea kayak with a spray skirt is the recommended boat for this trip. If you are not a seasoned sea kayaker, it is best to see the rocks on a guided tour.
There are many companies that offer tours of Pictured Rocks, but we decided to go with Pictured Rocks Kayaking (paddlepicturedrocks.com) for one main reason: they launch from a boat (left). Most of the tour operators launch from a beach in the park and you paddle from the beach out to the rocks and back. With the boat, Pictured Rocks Kayaking is able to take their guests out farther and allow them to paddle the most impressive rock features. The boat follows the tour and if someone needs to go to the bathroom or gets too tired, they are able to go back to the boat. Also, if a storm blows in fast, they are able to get everyone back on the boat to safety.
As of 2022, Pictured Rocks Kayaking offers two tours, the shorter (2-3 hour) Miners Castle Tour which gets paddlers up close to the famous Miners Castle rock formation, and the 4-5 hour Ultimate Kayak tour. Being a bucket list experience, of course we chose the Ultimate Kayak Tour.
Our tour started in Munising where we had a quick kayak basics and safety demonstration before getting on the boat for a 40-ish minute ride to the spot where you get in the water right from the boat. The water was unbelievably calm on the day we did the tour. You can see in the pictures, the water was like glass and it was a very easy paddle.
It was amazing how close we were able to get to the rocks. We paddle into caves and felt the water dripping from the rock above (above). We got to paddle under the iconic Lovers Leap arch (top). The tour ends at Chapel Rock where we headed back to the boat to eat our picnic lunch while the boat took us back to town.
My only complaint about the tour was the speed it went. As pretty avid kayakers (and experienced tandem kayakers at that) we had a hard time going as slow as the tour dictated. I understand that it is a long time on the water and we didn’t want to tire anyone out, but my back go sore sitting in the seat before my arms were tired.
If you are visiting Pictured Rocks and want to get out on the water, I highly recommend Pictured Rocks Kayaking. You get to see more than other tours with the comfort and security of knowing the boat is there if you need it. Our guide was friendly and knowledgeable and gave great restaurant recommendations! I would absolutely take the tour again if I was in the area.
Thanks for stopping by! To read more about this trip check out my Planes, Buses, and Boats Trip Report. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.
In the summer of 2021 Glacier National Park, instituted a reservation requirement to drive the ever-popular Going-t0-the-Sun Road during the day. These reservations were very difficult to get and many people chose to postpone their trips to Glacier. Those that did not were able to get to the road early in the morning or in the evenings. Another option was to explore the other areas of the park that are not on Going-to-the-Sun Road. Two Medicine is one of these areas.
Historically, the Two Medicine Valley has been one of the least visited parts of the park. Parking was much easier to come by than Many Glacier and the road was not under construction. The drive to the Two Medicine Valley was probably the most breathtaking in the park outside of Going-to-the-Sun Road, although it still had some nail-biting turns! And the view, once you get there (top), is pretty great too!
By the time we got to the Two Medicine Valley for our boat tour, the rain we had been anticipating all day finally came. We contemplated canceling our boat ride, but the tour boats are enclosed and there’s not really another dry option in the park. This boat ride can be used to cut the hike to Upper Two Medicine Lake in half, but with hail coming down, we opted to just relax and stay dry on the boat.
I highly recommend taking one of the boat tours in Glacier National Park. They fill up early, a few weeks in advance, Two Medicine was the only one available for my time in Glacier. Assuming the Going-to-the-Sun Road reservations continue into the future, boat tour reservations on St. Mary Lake and Lake McDonald get you access to the road for the day of your reservation. Check Out GlacierParkBoats.com for pricing and to purchase tickets.
Aside from the boat tours, there are miles of hiking trails to explore in the Two Medicine area of the park. After our boat tour, we enjoyed walking around the Two Medicine Store, which was built in 1914 and is a National Historic Landmark. The 100 site Two Medicine campground is in this section of the park and offers first-come-first-served campsites (10 sites are able to accommodate RVs up to 35 feet) with no electricity but flush toilets.
Thanks for stopping by! To read more about this trip, check out the Epic National Park Road Trip. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Etsy and Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.
After our drive through Gruene, we headed to an even more historic Texas city, San Antonio. San Antonio has been on my list for a while now, and if our short trip to Austin had been one day longer, we probably would’ve taken a drive to check it out.
When planning to explore San Antonio, one of the first things to come up is, of course, the Riverwalk. The San Antonio Riverwalk was designed to aid with flood control after a disastrous flood in 1921. Nowadays, the riverwalk is kind of the heart of entertainment in the tourist area of the city, with miles of shops, restaurants, musicians, and attractions all along the river. Being the most touristy part of the city, it’s hard to know which of the restaurants on the Riverwalk are good or if they’re just banking on tourists wandering in without a plan. We had lunch at Casa Rio which we learned on the boat tour is the oldest restaurant on the riverwalk and we were not disappointed!
Tour boats drive up and down the river all day telling the history and pointing out the sights. Since we were in the city around Christmas time, I really wanted to see take the boat tour at night with all the Christmas lights around us. We got in line a little before six and had great light by the time we got on our boat. If you are planning on taking the boat tour when in San Antonio, I have a tip for you: buy your tickets in advance and then you can get on at any of the three stations. When we were walking around, we noticed that for whatever reason, the middle station had a ridiculously long time. The stations closest to the mall and in the Aztec theater had much shorter lines and were both covered (which makes a big difference in the Texas sun). Tickets can be purchased up to 30 days in advance at GoRioCruises.com.
We got a great deal on a hotel in San Antonio. We stayed at the TownPlace Suites, just a few blocks from the Riverwalk and the Alamo. Our room had a kitchenette so we were able to save some money and cook a little in our room. The only parking the hotel offers is valet and given the location, it is expensive. But, given how cheap the room was, paying for parking wasn’t that big of a deal. There are some beautiful hotels overlooking the riverwalk that I would love to stay at on a return trip to San Antonio!
Thanks for stopping by! To read more about this trip, visit my Texas Hill Country Road Trip Report! To read about some of our previous trips, click here. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Etsy and Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.
Ever since our first trip to Ludington, I have wanted to take the S.S. Badger car ferry across Lake Michigan to Wisconsin. But, at $131 per person round trip (not including a vehicle), it was always too expensive for us to justify for a short trip. Not to mention, without a vehicle, there is not much to do in Manitowac, Wisconsin on the other side of the lake. Well, this summer’s road trip allowed us to finally be able to justify the expense of this experience.
The S.S. Badger is a historic steamship car ferry offering service from Ludington, Michigan to Manitowac, Wisconsin. Built in 1952, the Badger is the last coal-fired passenger ship operating in the United States and is a National Historic Landmark. Originally built to move railroad cars across the lake, in the 1990’s the Badger transformed into a passenger ferry for cars, RVs, and commercial trucks. Running from May to October, the Badger takes about 450 trips across the lake each year. The trip takes about four hours and is a good way to relax and enjoy the beauty of the great lakes while immersing yourself in history.
In a year without cruising, this was a good way to get a little bit of that cruise experience, laying in a deck chair watching the water. They were even playing trivia and bingo inside. It was easy to forget that we were on Lake Michigan and not in the Caribbean.
Taking a trip on the S.S. Badger fit in perfectly with this trip and I am very glad that we did it, but I’m not itching to do it again. The four-hour crossing is long and waiting to get our car probably took an additional hour. It was late by the time we got into camp that night. Nowadays, there is a faster (albeit more expensive) option that runs from Milwaukee to Muskegon in only two and a half hours. If you’ve never taken the Badger, it is an experience I highly recommend. Just pack your patience and make sure you have nowhere to be that evening.
Thanks for stopping by! To read more about this trip, check out our Great Lakes – Great Summer Road Trip Report. To read about some of our previous trips, click here. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page, follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Etsy and Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my Gear Page. For information about our new Guided Photography Tours, visit GuidedPhoto.com.