Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The North of Portugal... (3-5 August 2008)

I wanted it to be the last time in a bus. Up to Porto, and there Eduardo was. We were invited for lunch at his uncle’s house – Ze – and his Brasilian wife, Fabiana. We had Muqueca de Camarao, fish and shrimp in a coconut sauce with veggies. It is kind of unbelievable for me to realize that I am completely proficient, not necessarily fluent, but I understand the grand majority of conversational Brasilian Portuguese and I am able to say almost everything that I want to express. Yet, with Portuguese from Portugal, I am understanding very very little. I suppose it’s similar with Spanish, in that I am really fluent in Latin America and when I’m in Spain I have to put more effort and concentrate more.

In the evening we drove north, to his grandparents’ beach house which is about 50km north of Porto. A serenely quiet village with very little happening, a wild beach, and a cute little house with a lovely mother and Kika, the princess kitten.

Monday was a pretty busy sightseeing day; after our morning walk at the beach we drove to Viana do Castelo, a picturesque town which fulfilled my impressions of Portugal with small winding streets, weathered azulejos, cute outdoor cafes, grand ancient churches, and this sparklingly clear gorgeous Portuguese weather. We continued to Caminha, almost near the Spanish border to the north of Portugal, and this tiny village oozed charm. A quiet evening at home with feijoada…

Tuesday was pure relaxation, garden, sun, sand…in the evening we came back to Porto and arrived at his grandparents’ house where we had a big lomo de carne dinner and then headed into the old part of town, which is completely different from Lisboa but quite beautiful. Plenty of old buildings, with arguably even more large facades of azulejos (I’m really falling in love with these blue and white tiles…), churches, impressive plazas and vistas over the river and sea…later in the evening we went to a few bars and the atmosphere was exactly what I’ve been looking for…plenty of young student types, and young professionals, outdoors with beverages, enjoying the weather, chatting away, lots of expression, smiles, atmosphere…perfect.

Lisboa, Portugal (August 2, 2008)

I was intent on seeing as much as I could of Lisboa in one day. Ana had helped me plan a packed itinerary, and I started in Alfama. This section of town is set on a hill, and the place is atmospheric. Old cable cars parade through the streets, their bells tinkling and old facades of buildings with azulejos, the tilework that the Portuguese are known for, come together with the smell and sight of the blue sea. Ze Pedro told me his favorite thing about Lisboa is the light, and I understood. The sky is a full blue, and the sunlight reflects off the cobbled streets, which in and of themselves are carefully patterned mosaics all over the city, and the light plays off the streets, bounces off the tiles, and creates an ambiance which feels a world away from the rest of Europe, and in fact, I don’t know where I would compare it to.

I fell in love with Lisbon, winding streets and neighborhoods aching of a time of grandeur and splendor which is long gone, small cafes with simple but delicious Portuguese staples…it’s unusual for me to visit the colonizer after having been to colonies, and especially now with my plans to emigrate to Brasil, it was strange to see all the things that I identify as Brasilian or what I had seen in Guinea-Bissau be in Lisboa. Of course it makes sense, but it was strange for me. After Alfama I went back down to Baixa, and went to the Adamastor viewpoint for a big sandwich – which would become my favorite Portuguese staple – the bread in this country is so delicious. Then a wander through the neighborhood roughly headed down to the Praca do Comercio.

Again, the play of light was so beautiful. Wide avenues lined with shops, cafes, streets with white and beige stoned intermingled with black rock, smoothed over centuries, all leading down to the sea, and just before it, the Praca do Comercio. A huge square with a towering archway, from where I could get transport to Belem.

Belem is most known for the Mosterio dos Jeronimos, a huge monastery with great architecture, and then I walked along the coast to the Torre de Belem, a tower at the edge of land looking out over the Atlantic. A compulsory visit to Pasteis de Belem, although I didn’t indulge, and then I was pretty much exhausted. I decided to head back home before going out again with Ze Pedro and Ana.

In the evening we went to the Cantinho de Bem Estar on Rua do Norte in Bairro Alto. This was a really different neighborhood, with graffiti, alternative shops and plenty of small restaurants opening up onto the street. We had a great meal and then had some 2 euro caipirinhas, wandering around the area. Lisboa has an abundance of public places that are really beautiful, with views over the city, gardens, plazas…it’s great. I wouldn’t object to living there by any means. Could have stayed longer, but I was trying to get north to see Eduardo…

Tangier to Lisboa - nightmare day :) (August 1, 2008)

I awoke early in Tangier to catch the ferry across to Algeciras, Spain. Once in Algeciras it was already hot even though it was still 9am, and I went to speak to some truckers, and although there were 3 headed to Portugal, one would leave that night, one the next morning, and the other one didn’t know when his cargo would arrive from Morocco. I was going to try a bit harder but given all the horror stories I’ve heard about getting lifts in Spain, I decided I would take a bus to Sevilla first and then see what happened.

In Sevilla I managed to get on the main road heading to the highway towards Huelva, but no luck at all. People would avoid eye contact, others would honk bemusedly…it was hot. Hot, hot, hot. The police showed up telling me to get off the road and refused when I asked for a lift off the road, so I had to walk back to my original starting point…lucky enough, there was a bus headed to Portugal in less than an hour, so I gave up and passed out in the air-conditioned bus. At Faro, I switched to a bus heading to Lisboa, and was surprised by how many Africans there were on the bus. Of course, it made sense. My first contact with the Portuguese language was in Guinea-Bissau, and I knew that there were plenty of other former Portuguese colonies in Africa, but for some reason I hadn’t imagined that there would be many blacks in Portugal. Well, I was surrounded, and they were friendly, with their rolling mumbly accents and my exhausted, Brasilian Portuguese…they helped me contact Eduardo who put me in touch with his best friend in Lisboa, and I was ready to end this long travel day.

Once in Lisboa I waited in Baixa-Chiado until Ze Pedro left the cinema, and then I met him in Roma. He and his Spanish girlfriend Ana welcomed me, and it was so nice to be received into a home of friends of friends.