We wake up in Portugal, and go to sleep in Italy.
Two dream lands. Two cultures that combine the old and the new, the world of yesterday and the world of tomorrow, the ancient and the modern.
We wake up with the rain and we go to sleep with clear skies. We wake up with the sunrise and go to sleep with the sunset. (Well, we wake up well past the sunrise and go to sleep well past the sunset, but ya get the poetry, right?)
A day of travel is a day when the journey is put on a microscope: we go from point A to point Z and so many variables happen on route. And today - so many variables happened that the day felt like an Italian comedy of horrors!
But this is the way of the world.
This is the way of the traveller.
This is how a trip becomes a JOURNEY: it has it ALL in it.
The drama, the stress, the wonder, the magic, the curiosity, the connection, the love, the hate, the boredom, the excitement, the life, the death, and the journey that happens between.
*An act of traveling from one place to another.
*A long and often difficult process of personal change and development.
When I thought of this trip as a journey, I didn't know what it would entail.
And now looking at the definition, it seems to be a fitting title to the streak of uncertainties and difficulties I have encountered on this trip. Possibly more mishaps than any other trip I've taken, and that includes being "stranded" in the French Alps when a volcano eruption in Iceland blocked all air travel above Europe. (I STILL have no idea how that happened.)
So now I know that journeys are not 'vacations.' And they are not just 'trips.'
They are processes of development and growth and may involve growing pains along their path. And the pains may be stressful as hell and uncomfortable to chew on - but they lead somewhere. They lead to something. What it is - is still unknown to me... but I am on the journey so I will eventually find out.
Off I go... Journey on.
The middle of the journey. Or is it only the beginning, I wonder?
It is day 8 and it is a day of discovery:
We wake up in a simple hotel in between places. A road hotel that has everything we need: A bed for the night, parking, wifi that works, water to bathe in. Sure, it's NOT stylish. But it's clean and cheap - so it is our favorite home away from home for the time being.
We continue with a short drive to the nearby beach area: Matosinhos. We don't love it and continue swiftly to a town we DO know we love: Aveiro; the "Venice" of Portugal.
Aveiro is a small town on the central/north coast, that has canals and plenty of great seafood. It is Sunday so most of the shops were closed, but the restaurants were packed with hungry tourists. We take a stroll in the pretty alleyways and streets, until we find ourself looking at each other and knowing: we have had enough here in Aveiro.
We continue to the beachside neighborhood of Costa Nova, where every color striped house is an opportunity for an Instagrams photo. We do what we came here to do - which is, let's face it, take some instagram worthy photos of the funky architecture and beaches - and once again agree: it's time to move on from here.
And then we get to the biggest discovery of the day: The city of Coimbra.
Coimbra is the oldest city of Portugal. And it has the second oldest university in the world. But other than those two impressive facts - Coimbra is designed like a beautiful symbiotic relationship between the old and the new.
One moment after passing by the chain store 'Alle Hop', we stumble into one of the city's oldest church when a sermon or mass take place. I am blown away, when the crowd at this glamorous catholic church - joins in prayer/song, and the sounds echo up to the ceiling. Goose bumps. tears. I am moved by a language I don't know at all.
I discover that one doesn't have to be catholic, or even spiritual, to enjoy sensorial communion in a beautiful church.
I discover that a journey doesn't have a middle. Nor does it have a beginning. Or an end. It is infinite. Infintie, like the number 8.
A journey contains everything; The good, the bad, the vast world in between.
I am walking the streets of Porto like I am the rabbit from 'Alice in Wonderland' hopping around breathless, muttering to myself 'I am late! I am late! I am late!'
A journey is anything but peaceful when stress and rage accompany it.
But traveling during Covid era holds an array of uncertainties, and I find myself digging deep in the rabbit hole of uncertainties: 'What if I get Covid? What if I can't get on the flight to Italy? What will they do - put me in some sad lonely hotel room?? What will I eat? What this, what that....' The panic is understandable. After all, there is a risk in travel during this insane time, but if I made it thus far - why do I wrap my brain around what could happen, rather then be with what IS happening?
And what IS happenning is that I am here, in this magical country of sweet as Pastel De Nata people, countless castles and palaces and history, Fado music for days, and my sweetheart by my side. Why worry.
Day 6 already? How!?
Time flies when on a journey. Time shifts, and curls, and bends, and warps and tickles. Time seizes to matter. Time doesn't matter. Time ISN'T matter. EXCEPT for when one is in longing. And Portugal is all about longing. Longing and inspiration.
The day's journey begins in a wander around town. Discovering alleyways, checking out shops with local designers, eating Pastel De Nata, drinking cappucino overlooking a pretty church. The day's journey continues with a walk across the bridge enjoying the sun who had come out for us, and then hopping on a boat ride in the Douro River, heading almost to the sea before turning around. The day ends with fish & seafood dinner at a Ribeira hot spot, listening to a sax player playing his heart out, and drinking the local cocktail: white port with tonic water. With our bellies full and smiles wide -- we dance a little dance while the sax player is playing 'three little birds.' We sing the words 'Don't worry 'bout a thing. Every little thing is gonna be all right....' and for a moment - it really is all right.
Every little thing is all right.
Seeing people with masks on keeping their distance (a reminder of the era) is all right. Even staying at a hotel room with sewage problems (don't ask) is all right. Traveling during a global pandemic, despite the hassles and fears -- is alllll right.
I am in Porto and all I want is to STAY LONGER.
I am in Porto and all I am thinking about is when will I return? Find a little flat for myself. Settle for longer than a few days. Long enough to feel like a local. To make memories from the small things, not the tourist things. A walk to the park, finding my favorite grocery store, making friends. There is a difference when you get to know a place from the INSIDE.
But now, alas, I am still an outsider to this magical city.
The city is small, but its people are deep, sophisticated, sweet and feisty at once.
They are much like the wine they drink: the Port wine. Very sweet, and very strong.
Fado music is also very deep and melancholic, yet very moving and gentle.
It sings about love lost, fishermen gone, failures and longing.
As an outsider, one still learns about a city: its' pace, its' cuisine, its' climate. One can also make friends with friendly Portuguese people who are eager to share stories about their culture. They tell me of the oldest town up north. They tell me of the feud between the north and the south, they tell me of the foods I must try and the foods I must NOT try. They tell me where to go and what to do, and I nod, and listen, and imagine their dinners at their kitchen table, their families, their school days. I try to see beyond our exchange of tourist and guide. I try to see beyond what separates us.
But being an outsider can only be shaken by being an insider. Even if only for a short time.
To really feel like a part of this city. Like I am inside its invisible city walls, and not just behind the door, peeking in, waiting to be let in.
~Oh, Porto. How I long to be held by you, embraced as an insider. Even if only for a moment... ~
How many palaces have you been to today?
And what about castles? And chapels? And monasteries?
In Sintra -- you get to see so many of them, you find yourself imagining fairies on the side of the road, and wizards and unicorn and whatever floats your imagination boat.
Sintra is dreamy and takes me right into my alter-ego inner queen.
We spend the day in a palace. What else.
Inside the palace, the halls are magnificent, as expected, and we enjoy it almost completely alone. One of the perks of traveling in this tricky era. But when we walk through the palace's gardens, is when we see the true royalty of this place: the fern gardens, indigenous trees, roses, oak trees, moss EVERYWHERE, even unusual kinds of Mexican cacti. I start thinking that the palace is actually the sidekick to this majestic natural beauty. Just then - I notice a grand tree. One that is split into several seating areas. I climb right up and sit on it. This tree is embracing and elegant. For a moment, sitting on this tree, I am wearing an invisible crown and sitting on a throne. The structure nearby, the "palace" is not needed as much as I am concerned. If I was the queen here, I will let nature be my ruler.
Reluctant to leave, we take the longer route out the palace, to enjoy the gardens some more. We conveniently get 'lost' in the gardens. Being in their presence is nearly a mystical experience. At least to an atheist such as moi.
Out of the palace, at nightfall -- I am a civilian again. Simply one of the people.
And the surrounding forest is still my guide, my ruler, my queen. We are often mistaken in who runs things. We think it's us. With our advancements, our technology, our brains... but it's not us at all. It's her. Mother earth.
She rules here.
So take a walk in a forest - find yourself in a palace. :)
Here we go.
This is when I synch in with the journey.
This is when I and the journey are one of the same.
This is when there is no beginning or end: the explorer in me has woken up. She has risen!
The day starts with sleep. A well earned sleep. We then tip our sweet hotel concierge Carlos and he tells how every day he wakes up at 5:30am in the other side of the river, and goes to work in the boutique hotel by sailing on a boat for half an hour...
I suddenly feel incredibly spoiled sleeping in. I am even reminded at how I greeted Carols with a 'Good morning' at 12:20 in the afternoon. I imagine for Carlos - it is midday already. But Carlos seems happy waking up in 5:30am, and I am happy with absolutely NOT waking up that early. So all is good.
The day continues with breakfast at a hipster cafe down the street, and then we go pick up a rental car that will be our sweet ride for the week. We get aquainted with the sweet ride. She is sweet indeed and her name is Matilda - Don't ask why - and we make our way to our first stop in the road: the ethereal magical whimsical poetic town of Sintra.
I could write an entire BLOG on Sintra -- a blog post will be hardly giving it justice.
I could paint Sintra -- but my hands will bleed attempting to capture its beauty with paint.
I could sing about Sintra but my voice will choke up with emotion because she's so goddam pretty.
I could all those things but I'm not gonna. Because no words will do it solid. No art will reveal its beauty. And no melodies will sing its praise.
In plain words: I fucking love Sintra.
We park at our home for the night, and begin walking on hidden curvy pathway towards the center of town. We walk through moss, cobblestones, centuries old villas and churches, all decorated with the same pastel tone Portugal tend to dress its buildings in. We synch deeper with Sintra with every step we make. She's captivating, this Sintra. She is imagination in a real form. She's a dream. She's unexplainable. And yet - here I am, trying to explain her.
We explore the tastes of Sintra: almond pastries, ginja liquer served in a chocolate cup, bras; a dish combining cod fish, eggs and onions, and local farmer's cheese and port wine. What is Portugal without port wine?
But the real taste we get from Sintra today, is our spontaneous walk to a nearby villa, through its gardens which took us to a two mile unplanned hike up the mountain, right up to the Moors Castle; a castle built by the moors in the 8th century. It's on top of a mountain, overlooking the town of Sintra, and it is glorious with its two circles of a wall surrounding it. The light of the sunset shines on it and on the entire town it looks down at.
Oh, castles. What is Portugal without its castles?
When the night falls we are deep in the forest, and we start hearing the sounds of night. The animals wake up at sunset, and make themselves heard. We hear them, and lastly we also see some: A large frog greets us from the side of the trail, and in one of the arches surrounding the castle - giant three spiders and hanging above our heads.
I meet feat there. I meet fear there on a few occasions, and with the love of my partner I am able to breathe the fear away. And it goes away, as swiftly as it comes. Because that is what I am learning here: that things swiftly change from one moment to the next.
If you blink, or close your eyes for too long - you might miss the change.
But a change is gonna come. A change is always one moment away.
The landing is rough.
Feels like the pilot has cataract and couldn't quite see the pathway. It snuck on him, and the rest of us, a few seconds too early. People clapped regardless. It'sn odd tradition but a sweet one... Makes one appreciate the incredible achievement us humans have done of traveling via air. We take it for granted mostly, but moments like this help us remember: 'Wow. I am literally in a container that is FLYING IN THE AIR RIGHT NOW.' But I digress.
So the landing is rough, but in a journey - nothing ends as it starts, and every moment brings in something new. In a journey to the unknown, one must be open to changes. And to how swiftly things change, and how they all still stay the same.
And Lisbon, my darling Lisbon, I can see she was hurting since I last saw her.
She was missing its people. She was missing its night life.
It is waking after a long isolated sleep.
She is waking up cautiously and gently.
She is not rushing to be what she once was.
But her beauty hasn't changed.
She has changed, but also - she has stayed the same. Such is life, and such is the journey. It's the unknown that somehow, somewhere inside of me - I KNOW.
A photo has a thousand faces.
A person has a million personalities.
And a journey has infinte possibilities.
Today began a journey with so many uncertainties, it can only be described as a leap to the unknown. Not an enormous leap -- I am only making my way to yet another western type society, but with Covid era affecting travel -- it is a leap nonetheless.
So here I am, moments before landing in my beloved land of Portugal.
The last time I was in this neck of the woods - it was a month or so BEFORE I had heard about the corona virus and shortly after, the world was never the same. I’ve been longing to be back to Portugal since. But with shut downs, lockdown and restricted travels - it was just not in the cards. Some will argue that it is still shouldn't be in the cards nowadays, but a journey to the unknown requires courage and willingness to take risks. And I am willing, VACCINATED, and ready. I don’t want my life to wait for an end of an era that may never arrive. Growing up in a conflict zone I learned then that anything can happen ALWAYS, safety is never guaranteed no matter how much the illusion persists, and if there is something I want to do - I ought to DO IT TODAY. Tomorrow? Tomorrow never comes.
So there. Journey - it's you, me and a lot of unknowns.
In April 2020, while experiencing her first ever global pandemic, Tamar Pelzig pledged to write something every day, even if it's only a word, so she welcomed to the world a daily blog to keep her creative writing wheels rolling.
Header Art: Daniel Landerman