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!

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