Thursday, November 30, 2017

Sintra — There are no Words...

My well-traveled sister Jill also told me to be sure to go to Sintra.

There were quick one-day tours from my Lisbon hostel but something told me I should stay over-night. Castles and palaces galore, but something else beckoned.

I still don’t understand Sintra. 

I’ve been given some hushed insights by a waitress, a hostel clerk and a flowery but non-definitive brochure of Quinta da Regaliera. Some energy, some mystery lurked there.

Even the name Moon-Hill Hostel was evocative. The clerk said that when the trees were cut (for ships?) the hills glowed under the moon  because of the white boulders. She also gave me the name of the Bar of the Fauno (a mythological sexy man-goat), which I couldn’t find, that specializes in pre-Christian rites associated with Sintra. Moon ceremonies? According to her the name of the area comes from the Goddess Cintia, or Cynthia, a Moon Goddess.

There were also references to the Knights of Templar, the Crusaders who got too powerful and were disbanded by the Pope, only to be welcomed to Portugal as the very mysterious Order Of Christ. Symbolic and secretive. And as gorgeous and even outrageous as the palaces and gardens are, I think  back on Sintra now with almost hushed reverence. The energy, the history, the light, . ..? You would have to decide for yourself.

When the young hostel travelers ask me for advice about Sintra, this is what I say: 
“If you go, stay for awhile.” 

I’ve learned that when a place calls to you, stay. So over-night turned to three nights and I still didn’t see it all.

And then I tell them -- the initial itinerary is simple. Bus 434 by the train station, go early to beat the crowds, and head all the way to the top, to Pena Palace and Gardens.  It is complicated, grandiose, almost garish. There’s always another angle to catch for a photo. It’s a romanticist castle and was classified as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO along with the rest of the Cultural Landscape of Sintra. See for yourself. Definitely other worldly.

The inside is furnished from royalty. Unfortunate royalty. King Carlos I and his son were assasinated in 1908. In this bed his widow Queen Amelie mourned and in this vast estate was disconsolate.

 How about this duck-house in the immense gardens?

Then while you are at the top you might as well walk part way down to the Moorish Castle with great look-outs that helped keep the Moors in power for centuries.

That’s really enough for one day, but if you want to push it—Quinta da Regaleira is a must see! 

You can even ditch the Moorish Castle for it. Because this is where things get weird! And the brochure description is alluring but totally enigmatic. 

 “A succession of magic and mysterious places. The garden is an image of the cosmos. There are scenes from the initiate’s journey. The harmony of the spheres examines the perspective of the ascetic conscience. The metaphysical quest being found in the great epics. There are references to the world as mythology to Olympus, Virgil, Dante, Milton and Camoes as well as the mission of the Templares continued by the Order of Christ. It is a symphony in stone crafted by builders of temples, steeped in the true spirit of tradition, reveling the poetic and prophetic dimension of a Lusitanian philosophical mansion.”

Confused? Just ditch the description and wander and wonder. My favorite is here—the Initiatic Well. 27 meters down a spiraling staircase. 

Notice the view from the bottom. Other-worldy? The inside of a nautilus shell? The sky above representing a moon?

 And the way out? Along dimly lit underground paths carved into the lime-stone, emerging into this! A waterfall! (Rather like a birth canal.) And indeed much of the garden is connected by these tunnels.`

One can easily get quite lost and chance on something like this – the Grotto of Lena. Who is Lena? And what is this swan doing to her as she gazes unperturbed into space? Apparently it is Zeus about to rape her. OK…

And the house and chapel in a “semi-Manueline” style.

You can wander to other palaces also but my very best favorite I found quite by a chance because a tourist commented on their excellent garden photography exhibit. Montserrate – visited by Lord Byron in 1808 and the inspiration for “ Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage.” It is less-hodge- podge in its construction, more integrated and whole. See the color scheme and halls. 

But my favorite delicious experience was the gardens. Plants from all over the world! I was there in the late afternoon of my last day and wish it had been my first! Every moment the light was changing, shadows and forms transforming, the stuff that inspires artists (or Byron.) 

And my overall impression was that of a very sensual landscape – folds and crannies, outcroppings, Earth projecting and enfolding… See how it got to me? I’d better stop or I’ll write a really bad brochure!

Jill was right. Go to Sintra. But don’t expect to understand it.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Portugal — Layers upon Layers

As well as a collage, Portugal is layers.

Phoenicians. Vikings. Visogoths. Christian conversion. Moor domination for 400 years. Crusades. Kings and assassinations. World navigation and ostentatious wealth. Spices and gold. (Vasco de Gama, folks, was not a nice guy. Burned a boat of pilgrims headed for Mecca alive.) Acquisition of church property by the state.  Dictatorship. Democracy. EU…

By chance (believe me published schedules here don’t always work) I found the door to an Archeological Museum in Lisbon –not the main one.. The guide-book-address door wouldn’t open (getting ready for an exhibition, I was later told). Around the corner at another door a guide said the tour was full and come back later but to arrange it by the next door. It turned out to be the back-door to a bank and the clerk was quite upset with me. But I came back in a hour (no one answered the phone either) and the guide led me down layers upon layers… Patience in Portugal, Kathy, and it is always worthwhile.

See the vats where Romans layered salted fish with herbs making a paste they stuffed into amphora for shipment back to Rome. (Like caviar spread in Norway, I wonder?) Where houses lived and lanes wandered. Where rubbish piles yielded ceramics and glass, jewelry and bones. All unearthed when the underground was excavated for the bank.

And in another museum, a Roman man in a toga. 

And useful items from the Chalcolithic era.

Layers of disaster too! 

The giant earthquake of 1755 in Lisbon, tsunami and fires totally rearranged the city and, I wonder, the psyche? A third of the population died, the center of the city was  destroyed and the king forever suffered from PTSD (always afterwards living in a tent). Leaders came to the rescue with the immediate motto: “Bury the dead and tend to the living.” And the center of the city was rebuilt by a grid plan which is infinitely easier for the tourist! But always, always there is the reminder of the layer of past destruction. 

See the church tinged by fire. 

And a convent, Museo do Cormo, with the lovely arches remaining when the roof came down. (Almost more lovely, I thought, like a sculpture or forest.)

And layers upon layers of emotion.

Guides on walking tours have tried to explain “fado.” I was told it was born of suffering, from the women left behind when their sailors left for places unknown (or just to fish) and knew they might not return. But more than that, the yearning or longing or anticipation of a better time, when they might return, when life might be joyful. Of course I had to seek it out. It is not just music, though the duet of guitar  and the round 12 string Portuguese guitar is unique.Fado is an experience where one dips into the layers of the past. When the singer stands up the bar is darkened and no one speaks. Always they sing from the heart with profound emotion. I couldn’t understand the word but the passion was clear. Where I went the singers were not paid. Of course most of the songs were about love, because “love always contains sadness.” 

Here are the singers. Each one takes a set of about three songs. They do it for the love of it. One told me, “Of course Fado is sad, “Because love is sad.”

 And here, listen for yourself and FEEL...

Rich and deep. Portugal

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Thanksgiving at the Dump

Just to let you know folks, I’m two months behind on the blog. I’m physically in Bali!

True confession. Not exactly due to laziness or the demands of sightseeing in Portugal or farm-work in Nepal. More like lousy wifi. 

But I have to send this one out on time even if it feels like a time warp. I need to connect with you on Thanksgiving. I need to feel the love that shared holidays bring. And I want you to share in my experience, here in Bali. Then we’ll go back to Portugal and Nepal…. and eventually land again in Bali.

What are all of you Americans doing back at home on this Turkey Day?

Cooking, celebrating family, eating alone in a restaurant? Whatever you are doing it is a special day. I tried to explain it to Isti, the young woman who sweeps the flowers off the lawn and out of the pool each morning. She liked the story of religious freedom — large numbers of Hindus had descended on Bali as Islam swept Indonesia. She was saddened by the story of Pilgrims’ starvation and could enjoy my description of feast, for Bali has many festivals. I told her that the point of Thanksgiving for me is celebration in spite suffering.

I had no idea of how I could make this day a special one for me. 

Sorely missing my family but relived of the stress of cooking and making everyone happy, I could look for an alternative. Bryn, my cottage neighbor, invited me to join her at the dump. 

What? I’ve heard of serving turkey at a homeless shelter, but the dump? The best she understands it (and some might have been lost in translation to her) the Javanese government brings homeless families to Bali. Here they live at the dump, in squalid shacks, and earn their keep by sorting through stuff. 

Men sit on their haunches pulling out rotting food for the pigs. 

Others go through the mounds of stinking trash and pick out the bottles and cans for the beverage companies. A human recycling system, if you will, of basically indentured servants. Bali’s dark side?

And at this stinking place dwells a little preschool.

It is supported by charities. Bryn has taken it upon herself to arrive every Thursday morning with boxes of lunch, water and melon. The adorable children greet her enthusiastically and shyly high-five me. They assiduously work in their workbooks.

Look at how clean they are in donated uniforms or clothes from home.They line up when asked. They wash their hands before eating (only with water, even though soap has been donated.) Bryn teaches them the names of each food item in English 

They respectfully say some sort of blessing (Hindu, Moslem, Christian?), politely receive our food and slowly enjoy a full meal. Rice, vegetables, tempeh and peanuts, wrapped in greasy paper packets. A cup of clean water. A slice of watermelon. Never scarfing it down, never grabbing, never whining. A fully appreciated Thanksgiving meal.

And then it’s their turn to give to us! 

Maybe they’ve been told it’s Bryn’s last visit before she returns to the States, but they go all out! The happy teacher leads them through Balinese dance.

Then “I want to wish you a Merry Christmas!”

...and “Feliz Navidad!”

Talk about a time-warp for me! Christmas at Thanksgiving? 

Then they put on their little backpacks and head home to their shacks at the dump.

“What will they do now?” I ask the teacher. “They are children. They will play.”

And even though the stink of the place disgusts me and clings to my clothes, these children don’t outwardly seem affected. They are clean, well-mannered for 5 year olds, happy and enthusiastic. Obviously they are much loved and cared for.

As for me? I cry of course. 

How could I not when they sing to me this early Christmas present? 

When the teacher asks each of them to come to me on the way out the door and touch my hand to their forehead with a “Salem?” 

When I can feel the blossoming life of children and the hope of families pulse through the thick fetid air?

Do I commit to daily counting my blessings, as Thanksgiving is supposed to inspire? I’m not sure. It still feels that I’m traveling on this journey by myself,  that I’m still alone here, that nothing has changed on the outside. 

But from the inside I have connected to forty beautiful little beings, their hard-working parents and happy dedicated  teachers. I wish them well! Celebration in the midst of squalor!

Then finishing the day in Thanksgiving-style self-indulgence, 

I find this café on the beach. I order this scrumptious fresh grilled snapper and kang-kong (sautéed water spinach), grateful for the bountiful ocean and Mother Earth. $7.

I end the meal with a big hunk of lemon meringue pie at the Gardenia Cottages, grateful for the staff who make the place beautiful. 

And then a full head and body massage, grateful for this dear body that is getting me through this challenging trip. $7. 

And grateful for you, I write this message:

Wherever you are, whatever you are eating, thank you for connecting with me. It makes me so happy to share pictures and self-indulgent reflections. I hope my solo journey reminds you that every day is an adventure of unknowns and possibilities. 

And may we all remember to wake up each morning saying, “Thank you, thank you, thank you!!

Salem — I touch your fore-head in blessing as you have blessed me. Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 20, 2017

How to Chill in Portugal

I have to confess, the big city of Lisbon was getting to me. 

Sure, the guided walking tours gave me great historical and cultural perspective. Fado was interesting as was the dried codfish from Norway. But the hoards of tourists (and I’m one) reminded me that most of us come for a couple of days and leave. Sights dutifully checked off the guide-book list.

I had no way to dig deeper—no way to be part of a family, to get to know a little village, in other words to get connected. I could have rented a car and driven the lovely little roads but the cities’ streets are a nightmare and the drunk driving death rate is alarming. So, trains from city to city was about it. Unless… I could find a way to chill…

Praia da Ursa

Fortunately the Home Lisbon Hostel (my favorite with home-cooking by Mama) also hosted a Beach Day. Now that didn’t sound like much to a Florida girl but I had to get out of Dodge! We were told to bring food and water and good shoes. That was all. Why or why didn’t I bring my hiking poles!!! We were told the the Praia da Ursa is very private—that should have alerted me that it would be almost impossible for most people to get to it! To cut to the embarrassing chase, the descent was a slipping sliding goat path, with shifting sand and stone.

 The younger ones scampered down but two fine men took pity on this older woman with gimpy knees. One gave me an umbrella pole to use for a stick and the other lovely man gave me his arm! We did it! After that we had four hours to spend doing … nothing. Blessed nothing. (Well, you could have gawked at the nude bathers but that’s not that entertaining.)

Something about the pure primal rock and water...

... stillness and motion, calm and crashing … that allowed me to get connected to the bigger picture of creation and to change. Magma to cliffs to shrinking boulders and pulverized stones and sand. Any loneliness or disconnection on these travels is simply erased by this perspective. And I am challenged, as an antidote to discontent with city and noise, to look for the Divine everywhere. Whether as a brave young woman about to jump into the freezing water or the  strutting stud of a man, clothed only in a baseball hat. Or the green umbrella shelter of our group, mostly sun-burning Germans, who were  huddled for an afternoon.

As I look back on those four blessed hours they are solidly fixed in my “best Portuguese memory” folder. Yes, a car would have helped me find more beaches and solitude. But this was enough. And when it was time I climbed back up under my own steam, somewhat on my hands, earning me the moniker “Cat Woman” from two fine men.

Second choice? I hate to admit it – boating and booze.

Well, they are two out of the three B’s that some men choose (include babes). But I’m a non-drinking woman. At least until the Port Wine Tour. First a nice ride in Porto up and down the Duoro River, under the six bridges, amazed at their construction. The most famous… has an upper level for pedestrians. Dare-devils jump from the lower level (still high) level for money. 

Then the tour in which we visited three Port Houses and had I can’t remember how many tastings. Seven? Did you know there are also white and rose Ports? And that the only port that can call itself Port has to come from Porto? Something about the grapes grown along the Duoro River.
Well, Kathy got a little happy (snockered) … but when in Porto.. chill out.

Third hint for how to chill – pastry and delicious Manueline designs. 

What you might ask? My sister Jill told me I had to go to Belem for a day from Lisbon, so I caught the over-crowded jerky tram and did just that. Evidently the famous flaky pastry that cradles a molten yellow creamy rich egg-custard center, the Pasteis de Belem, originated in Belem when the King closed all the monasteries and the monks started selling pastries. The secret recipe generates a long-line, and 20,000 are sold each day. How many did I buy? Well, when in Belem… six sounded good. I did hand one over to an Israeli policeman sitting on my part bench, but none to the begging pigeons. And those five relished delicacies rate even higher than Port in the memory bank!

And the Manueline designs? See the St. Jeronimos Monastery built when King Manuel I in 1497was thrilled with Vasco de Gama’s discovery of a route to India and untold riches. Amazing natural sculptures, non-biblical creatures, and soaring vaults. Manueline is described as virtuoso complex ornamentation—even excessively exuberant, using nature, maritime themes, and symbols from discoveries. 

And the attached cathedral with Vasco de Gama’s tomb. (But folks, not a nice guy.)

Excessive pastries and ornamentation? Yep, another way to chill.

And how about the simple “being in the moment” memorable experiences?

I’d recommend early evening on the Placa de Comercia in Lisbon. Music. Kids playing in sand. Sand sculptures. And the strange beauty of the Christ statue (ala. Rio) and the Golden Gate Bridge look-alike.
And Porto, sunset viewed on a hill look-out, followed by a walk along the gaily lit Duoro River. Yes!!

Right now there is a parade of enthusiastic university students shouting and singing school anthems in front of my hostel. Many ways to be happy, chill or look for the Divine. Yay Portugal!

Friday, November 17, 2017

Portagal: a Rich Collage

Why did I pick Portugal? 

That’s always a worthwhile question when you are totally free and can basically go anywhere you want. A privilege, folks, and sometimes a dilemma. Friends told me to go to Spain and that would have been easier with my Spanish. But for some reason that actually seemed too civilized. Too easy.

Why Portugal? Because on the Mediterranean Coast of France in the town of Cassis, many years ago, when I could not find the hotel, much less a place to park, a Portuguese man, speaking no English, got in my car and navigated me to both. Kind! So, I thought, Portugal is full of kind people. So, let’s go!

My experiences of Lisbon and Porto have been a collage. 

Each city has churches, museums, castles, palaces, Moorish fortresses, monasteries, wall-paintings, meandering medieval streets snaking up hill-sides and views. Each hostel has walking tours that expand on history and customs. Each street has pastries. (And we are not going to mention the hordes of tourists and souvenir shops.)

Here are a few in Lisbon:

The best place to join the crowd with the setting sun. Is this the Golden Gate Bridge? And the statue of Jesus to the left?

And in Porto:

And are the people kind, you may wonder? Was my initial purpose fulfilled?

This welcoming clerk at the wonderful Home Lisbon Hostel poured me a glass of port  to celebrate my daughter’s pregnancy announcement (recieved on the bus from the airport.)

Yes, so very kind!

I’ve been told by the Portuguese that they are emotional. Either happy and kind or upset and grouchy. 99% of the time they were so helpful! A hostel guide helping me up and down a beach-side cliff. A young man running after me, after I’d asked him the way to the San Bento train station because it was a land-mark for a certain street, concerned that I wasn’t actually entering the train station. A cleaning lady worried the hurricane might have hit my house. A taxi driver actually refusing to take me to the hostel because it was just around the corner – and walking me to the corner. A waitress in Sintra writing down detailed directions to a bar that could tell me about the pre-Christian customs. A boat-ride ticket-writer, when I lost my ticket, walking over to the ticket-taker and saying I was valid.

Grouchy? Only maybe twice. A train ticket writer who was upset that I asked for a senior rate but didn’t have my passport with me. Can’t remember the other.

Warning you folks that Portugal may seem disorganized. 

Especially for me coming from the sane, organized and polite country of Norway. To get into the Lello bookstore, which JK Rowlings had apparently frequented when she taught in Porto, you had to get into a line. But no one told you first you had to buy a ticket somewhere else. And in that somewhere else no one told you you needed to leave your backpack, that is until you got back into line with your ticket and were told to go back and leave your back-pack and lost your place in line !!

Yep, the Lello bookstore does resemble Hogwarts. And this standard garb for University students probably inspired the Harry Potter get-up. 

(Re. Disorganization: And in Sintra a very helpful waitress wrote down the directions to a special bar. When I told her  the next morning that I couldn’t find the bar after one hour of trudging along a lane with admittedly a great view? A Portuguese shrug. “Well, they don’t have a sign.” Really??? Some things would be nice to know in advance.)

Would I recommend Portugal? 

For me, it was a must go. Yes, yes, yes!! But after about three to five days in each city, when the brain is confused by the disconnected collage, by the hodgepodge, I’d recommend to get out of the city. Take the tram from Lisbon to Belem and eat pastry. Get connected to Nature. Go to the sea side. Or a village.To a hill-side of Sintra with its changing light. Schedule a sun-set. Or inland to an Eco-village. Part of the greater collage of life experiences.

And experience them with me in following blogs... stay tuned.