From Tawny Port to Vinho Verde in Three Days

Portugal’s second city, Porto, is compact enough to visit its main sights in a day, but to savor the city it is best to spend a few days. The city center is a UNESCO site, and everywhere you turn imbibes you in its history and grandeur of a time that yet survives in cathedrals, medieval townhouses, and in steep and narrow stone streets that wind down to the Ribeira district, where the Douro river splits the city in two but does not divide it. Six bridges connect the old city to the Nova de Gaia on the other side, where port wine is stored and aged. Some wine cellars offer tours complete with Fado music, the very soul of Portugal.

There are many highlights not to miss—many of them are well documented in any google search. Stand outs are a visit to the Sao Porto train station to admire the elaborate azulejos, the blue tile works that tell the story of Portugal, and the Church of Santo Idlefonso, with its façade sheathed in similar azulejos. Other tile works are evident throughout the city: on building walls, on streets, and ceilings. Don’t miss a tour of the fortress-like Porto Cathedral (Sé do Porto). Its interior cloister is lined with impressive floor-to-ceiling azulejos. Before going in, walk around the cathedral’s terrace to admire the view of red-tiled roofs over this UNESCO World Heritage city.

Wine lovers should rent a car to explore the towns and vineyards that surround Porto. The Douro region is known for its porto and vinho verde wines, which literally translates to green wine, so named for the green valley that produces it rather than its color. Every little town has its own history, art and cuisine, and everywhere are signs of a country recovering from a deep depression. American tourists are everywhere in the city but scarce outside of it. I expect this to change as the popularity of Portugal as a tourist destination keeps growing.

A trip to Porto isn’t complete without a tour of the Rota do Romanico. This consists of three different courses through the Sousa Valley that total fifty-eight Roman monuments through scenic byways, charming towns, rivers, and history. Our short visit allowed for only one route. We chose the Tamega Valley, because of its proximity to our hotel. This course includes twenty-five monuments with Amarante city and the Tamega River at its center. Terrace restaurants cling over the banks of the river and offer excellent local cuisine. We found this to be an excellent starting point for taking in the many aspects of Porto’s regional identity of traditional cuisine, wines, and local handicrafts. There are also trails and footpaths for hikers and cyclists.

The Rota do Romanico (Romanesque Route) consists of three different courses through Douro valley and Tamega Valley that totals fifty-eight monuments stippling scenic byways, charming towns, rivers and history. Our short visit allowed for only one route. We chose the Tamega Valley, because of its proximity to our hotel. This course includes twenty-five monuments with Amarante city and the Tamega River at its center. Terrace restaurants cling over the banks of the river and offer excellent local cuisine. This is an excellent starting point for enjoying a comprehensive visit to the region and taking in other aspects of its regional identity such as the traditional cuisine, the local wines, and the markets where local handicrafts can be found. There are also trails and footpaths for hikers and cyclists. Whether you’re an art or history lover, a gourmand, adventurer, or just want to soak in the sun, Porto has something for everyone.

Love and Watermills in Borghetto sul Mincio

Hear that?  It’s not the roar of revving engines; it’s the babble of the river Mincio as it courses through Borghetto sul Mincio. Borghetto, as the name implies, is a small Italian town located 25 miles west of Verona and 10 miles from Lake Garda. No cars are allowed inside this burgh of cobblestone alleys and 13th century structures. Whatever is in the air causes you to feel in love at first sight.

The river Mincio courses through the middle of the town but doesn’t divide it. A short wooden bridge connects both halves like the outstretched hands of two lovers. A bridge fence is crowded with locks left behind by the innamorati in a symbolic act of locking their love forever. Further on, traffic is allowed on the Visconti bridge that spans over 2,000 feet between two fortresses. One night in June every year, the bridge is closed to traffic to host a dinner for 4,000 people in a Festa del Nodo d’Amore to celebrate the knot of love.

Borghetto’s river bank is framed by medieval structures with restored watermills that have preserved the burgh’s charm, elegance, and romance, making it a popular place for lovers and honeymooners. Il Borghetto Vacanze nei Mulini, one such renovated mill, is now a romantic inn. Many restaurants flank the river bank as well. My husband and I chose to have lunch at Lo Stappo because of the view of the calm river beside us and that of the castle on the opposite side. The specialty here is a type of stuffed pasta called casoncelli and it’s always homemade. Pair it with a glass of local white wine such as Lugana, a wine of old origin but almost unknown outside its small production area. Save your dessert for a scoop of ice cream from one of Borghetto’s gelaterie and work off the calories walking to the nearby bicycle rental. Discover new hamlets along the river’s bike path all the way to Peschiera del Garda, a walled town that Dante described as “fortress fair and strong” in Canto XX in his Inferno. The asphalt cycle path is almost entirely flat and well sign-posted. This is the most famous and most visited cycle route in Veneto, thanks to the numerous beauty spots offered by this territory.

Borghetto is such a little-known gem that even a few visitors can make it feel crowded. But don’t let tourists deter you from visiting! Just try to stay away in the months of July and August Borghetto—which is included in the list of “I Borghi Più Belli d’Italia” The Most Beautiful Towns of Italy

 

Do Not Burst My Bubble

What is the color of your bubble?

There are many kinds of bubbles, some created by nature, as the bubbles in a geyser pool or the bubbles left after waves have receded on the shoreline, and the bubbles created by man, such as a soap bubble, an economic boom bubble, and the “living in your own fantasy” kind of bubble. Whatever the nature of the bubble, we like them all.

Bubble in nature is a thin sphere of liquid enclosing air or other gas. It is hollow and light, and beautiful to watch. It floats in the air but is not contaminated by it. You can only see a bubble from the outside and marvel at the lightness and purity of this ball, and you grasp that it is fragile. A little gust of air; a little dryness of the moisture around it will pop it. Bursting of the bubble is inevitable. Its brief flight brings the joy of childhood to the young and old. And we watch it float higher and higher to where it bursts. And then smile.

The economic bubble—Because of its beautiful, fragile nature, we call a bubble many situations of exuberant optimism that are bound to burst at the peak of their performance, such as the bubble in an economic boom, whether in the stock market, housing, or tulips. A bubble brings prosperity, but this prosperity comes at a price. We know that eventually the bubble will burst, and so we live in it with apprehension. When it does burst, we do not smile as when watching the thin sphere of liquid pop. However, the weight of apprehension of this pending downfall is lifted, and we wait with feet on the ground to catch the ride of the next bubble.

The next bubble the one created by your own phantasy.  This bubble is not created by outside forces but rises from within your ego and does not burst  spontaneously. Other people must act on it by injecting a little turbulence to your fragile ego. “Hate to bust your bubble, but, …” If your skin is tough, the turbulence will hardly affect you. However, if it persists, prepare yourself for a new reality.

In all definitions, a bubble is ephemeral and beautiful, and it comes with a great warning: DO NOT TOUCH. The moment you touch it, it bursts.

This brings me to another kind of bubblethe kind the gives me temporary flight from the abrasiveness of the world I live in. This is where I escape to keep my blood temperature from rising and my cold shoulder from freezing.

I live in a bubble and I like it. 

I like surrounding myself with people who are like-minded. It is my way of coping with living in a community whose majority holds diametrically opposed views from religion to politics. I cannot quit my society, nor do I want to. I value mixing in the company of people who think differently. To discuss a preconceived notion with others of the opposing opinion keeps my mind agile; although somewhat aciculated, but the scratches are inflicted both ways. That’s when I retreat to my bias bubble, to seek the company of people who share my views and apply a balm of soothing words to my wounded ego.

We all have our bias bubble along all points of the ideological spectrum. It is attached to us like an anchor up to a sailing ship. We drop the hawser whenever we’re bruised by words and seek retreat in the harbor of our bias bubble—the chamber that echoes our views regarding our social, religious and political issues.

As much as I like the warmth of my bias bubble, I recognize that it’s not healthy to live in it. It’s necessary to step out of that comfort zone and allow myself to get scratched. I’m reminded of the movie “The Way” with Martin Sheen in the role of father to his estranged son. He lives in the bubble of a country club life that burst when he learns of his son’s death. It is then that he’s forced to step out of his comfort zone and to experience a profoundly affecting transformation.

Ethics

I feel good in the company of those who, like me, are struggling to hobnob with the opposition. I also feel good when I engage in an open discussion of opposing ideas without proselytizing. Failing this, I find comfort in retreating to a safe place, where my values, ethics, and scruples are accepted without controversy.

This life is enriched by exposure and open mindedness to all beliefs and ideas. There is no right way or wrong way of believing. There is only a difference of opinion, and it behooves us to be receptive and even admit the other party may have a valid point. As the cliché goes, ”two minds are better than one.”

It is an optimist’s world to be able to circulate among all parties and speak openly without giving or receiving offense. In such a world, there would be no need to retreat to the comfort of a bias bubble. I’m not optimistic that such a world will evolve in my lifetime. Until it does, I will seek retreat to my bias bubble. So, please do not burst my bubble.