Throughout this Photo Tour, I have had the incredible opportunity to savour many of what I like to call “perfect moments”.
Perfect moments are the ones that couldn’t possibly get any better, ones that fill your heart with so much happiness that you can almost feel the joy radiating off your skin.
Today, as I sat in the pool on top the Vasco da Gama sun deck, admiring the Douro Valley from my private oasis, I experienced one of these moments… and it really got me thinking about how truly lucky I am to be on this Photo Tour adventure.
This past week has presented a unique challenge for me because for the first time since the start of this internship, I am the only English-speaking passenger on board. This has meant diving head first into the French language, a language I speak with a highly limited vocabulary and a silly Canadian accent. This was a far cry from my comfort zone, and while I admit, the first day or two, I was overwhelmed by feelings of anxiety and awkwardness, this curveball has allowed me to really appreciate one of the most wonderful parts of river cruising: the people.
By far, the passengers and crew on this boat have been the sweetest group I have met so far. From slipping an English newspaper under my door every morning, to always providing friendly conversation, I really can’t thank the MS Vasco da Gama crew enough for their genuine care and attention. The passengers too have been impossibly caring. Despite the language barrier, they constantly make an effort to talk to me and include me in their conversations. This has made me realize that yes, river cruising offers spectacular views, delicious food, and all that is great, but what really differentiates cruising from any other travel experience is the sense of community and friendship that is built on board.
I was reminded of this sense of community during our morning excursion today to the Portuguese city of Lamego. Getting onto the bus, everyone smiled and said hello to me, and continued to make conversation with me all throughout the day. I thought this week would be challenging, and in some ways it has been, but it is absolutely heartwarming to see everyone’s efforts to make me feel welcome.
In Lamego, we stopped to visit a few of the city’s landmarks, the most imposing of which is the incredible Santuario Nossa dos Remedios, which sits 686 steps above the city. With its pretty Baroque façade and an exquisite granite staircase, this sanctuary is a real sight to behold, especially from the city’s Avenida Visconde Guedes Teixeira Garden. Dating back to the 14th century, this sanctuary is still a site of pilgrimage for many, who ascend these stairs on their knees. While we were fortunate enough to get a ride up to the sanctuary, I did take some time to wander down the stairs, which offered some sweeping views of Lamego. We finished off our visit with a walking tour of the city and its Cathedral, followed by some free time to peruse Lamego’s many shops, cafes and museums.
After a relaxing afternoon cruising back to Porto, we were given one last surprise from the boat’s captain, Casimiro… It was announced that he would be passing our docking point and bringing us straight to the mouth of the Douro River, a vantage point with unbeatable views of the city. Excited chatter erupted throughout the Dining Room as passengers gulped their coffee and ran to grab their cameras. Soon, we were all huddled together on the sun deck, where in the golden light of the setting sun, we got to admire the endless horizon before us. Here, I felt like I was witnessing another ‘perfect moment’ – one that will stick out to me as one of my favourite memories in Portugal.
And so, with that incredible end to the day, we have officially docked for the last time here in Gaia. Tomorrow will be our last day on board, and the thought of leaving is absolutely devastating. I will be very sad to leave this cruise behind, but hey, at least I still have tomorrow.
Talk to you soon,