A day at the farm, Portugal

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On the final saturday of my trip (March 30), Connie’s family took me to their farm about 20 minutes outside of Porto.

IMG_4774It sits on the side of a roaring river that occasionally floods up through the window of their side house, up the thin trunks of the few woody grape vines that rest close to the bank. A slight incline leads to fields of bare vines, held up on wooden posts, waiting until summer to become ripe with fruit.

IMG_4687“In the summer,” says Connie, “we sit and talk on the picnic tables, reaching just above our heads for fresh grapes to snack on.”

I meet the smiling, kind butcher, whose business card simply says “Killer” (in Portuguese, of course) and who cannot shake my hand because of the blood on his. The rest of the workers greet me with smiles and waves, foreign words lost in the air on all sides.

We take a short walk through the vineyards, past the fruit trees and along the river. We play with her enormous dog, the king of the farm, and her chickens come close to my camera, unafraid.

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There is no internet at Connie’s farm, no communicating with anyone else. We walk and sit and talk for hours, outside when it is warm and sunny and by the wood-burning fireplace when the sun starts to set behind the clouds.

IMG_4754The house holds as many secrets – costumes from Connie’s childhood Carnivals and a modern, fully stocked library.

IMG_4753We eat a delicious dinner together, the milking pig, before driving back to Porto to sleep before I leave for America. I hope to come back in September one year so I can help with the grape harvest and stomping.

The quiet, lazy day at the farm was just what I needed to refresh myself before a new quarter at Northwestern.

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Porto, Portugal

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After finishing The Great Gatsby on the plane to Portugal, I made significant progress on 1984 on the three hour train ride from Lisbon. A young Portuguese couple snogged obnoxiously across from me – I wonder what Big Brother would think about that…

I arrived back in Porto at noon, where Connie and her dad picked me up from the train station. I’m pretty sure we hugged for a solid five minutes; the three months since we’d seen each other had been too long. It’s pretty amazing how quickly we picked everything back up, mouths constantly chatting a stream of gossip and updates in the car on the way to her house.

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Connie’s mom was in Brussels during the week, so their housekeeper cooked our meals while she was away. Every meal was served with warm soup, hearty traditional Portuguese food, fruit and dessert. We only had to eat out once, and it was to try a traditional sandwich called a Francesinha. My favorites included a dried and salted codfish called bacalhau that the Portuguese prepare in many different ways (ours was in a delicious casserole with gravy served over a smashed potato), a sweet mango mousse and a baked milking (or baby) pig served with rice and some kind of soft, roasted nuts. Eating with Connie and her family was one of those situations where I was constantly being encouraged to “have some more” – and that I did. I may or may not have had to let out my belt a little bit after each meal.

IMG_4702The milking pig dish, made by Connie’s mother at their farm.

We spent my time in Porto sleeping in, eating late, long lunches, exploring the city and catching up after a long time away. There’s something very special about our friendship, two people from totally different cultures and continents who have never had friends from the other’s respective country before. As different as our lives had been before our chance friendship, we both have a zest for life and love for each other.

IMG_4506Connie and me inside the Clérigos Tower.

Aside from getting a good tour of the city – seeing where Connie shopped, where she went out and where she went to relax – we did see a lot of the tourist spots, many of which Connie had not been to herself. I’ve actually had a similar experience taking friends around Little Rock and Chicago; it’s quite fun to be a tourist in your own city. We toured the Palácio da Bolsa (their historical stock exchange building), trekked up the Clérigos Tower for a view of the entire city, saw the amazing stairs of the Livraria Lello bookstore (click here for some Google photos – visitors were not allowed to take photos inside), visited the Serralves modern art museum and gardens, peeked inside the Sandeman Port wine caves, visited Foz (the posh area of Porto where the Douro river meets the Atlantic Ocean) and got the best view in all of Porto (which is actually in the city of Gaia that lies across the river, accessible by any of Porto’s famous six bridges). We even went out with her sister and her boyfriend in the lively, young bar district.

IMG_4642Me in the gardens at the Serralves during a light rain.

Because of the money I saved on food, I was able to buy a lot of presents and souvenirs for myself. This included a few bottles of the famous Port wine for my family and friends (and one just for me). There are many competing wine houses in Porto and Gaia that get their grapes and wine from the Douro valley to the east of Porto. Connie’s farm has a vineyard that makes other kinds of wine, and on my next visit I may get to help with the wine making (yes – that means stomping on the grapes with my feet!). Connie’s family told me they would take me to the valley next time, as it is supposed to be absolutely breathtaking.

IMG_4583Two bottles of Port wine.

Connie’s mom is a politician and both of her parents are economists, which allowed me to learn a little bit about the economic crisis in Portugal and Europe. I think it’s important as an American to realize that economic problems are not just in our country but throughout the world. It’s a tough problem with no foreseeable solution that will likely be left in the hands of my generation. We had long talks at dinner about the history and current events of Portugal, something I was lucky to hear as a tourist. It is a rare opportunity to actually get to talk about these things with people that have an inside perspective.

IMG_4617An elderly Portuguese woman leaning out of her apartment.

Connie and her family kept telling me how sorry they were for the weather – it rained lightly for a lot of the trip and was often cloudy. I did not mind at all; it put me in a pleasant, pensive mood and allowed a lot of self-and-world-reflection (as often happens to me in my travels). At one point, however, the sun peaked out through the clouds, gleaming on the rooftops of Porto.

“See what we mean about Porto in the sun?” said Connie’s mom.

I did. There was magic coming from the orangey glow of the roof tiles and the bridges (one designed by Eiffel himself) casting shadows on the river – but not for a moment did I felt cheated of Porto’s beauty, not even on the rainiest, greyest day. Whether rain or shine, economic crisis or wealth, Porto will always be beautiful.IMG_4608

 

Lisbon, Portugal

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Portugal was exactly what I needed – sleeping in, exploring and eating long (and large!) meals. Europe is always a good reminder that I can and should enjoy the present without worrying too much about the future or things I need to get done.

For brevity’s sake, I’m going to chunk my posts into segments: Lisbon, Porto and Connie’s farm. Today is Lisbon.

My trip from Evanston to Lisbon took approximately 26 hours that included taking a bus to O’hare, flying from Chicago to Boston, Boston to Madrid, Madrid to Porto and then taking a train from Porto to Lisbon. Needless to say, I was exhausted when I arrived at Yes! Lisbon Hostel at 5pm a day after I started my trip.

ImageThe view from my hostel room’s deck.

When I arrived in Lisbon, I met up with Connie’s sister Eduarda, her boyfriend and their friend. We ate at a nice cafe before wandering the city a bit. They took me to the new riverfront area that just opened after years of construction. Apparently, there are some problems with the foundation, and it’s going to go under construction once again. Nevertheless, it was stunning. We could see Lisbon’s version of Brazil’s “Christ the Redeemer” statue across the river, a constant reminder that “we are a Catholic country.”

ImageThe colorful Portuguese houses.

After a short walk, I headed back to my hostel for an early night (I hadn’t slept in over 30 hours!). I woke up early the next morning to start my free Lisbon city tour. We got a short history lesson and then explored the city. There was a huge earthquake in Lisbon in 1755 years ago that destroyed 85% of its buildings and forced them to totally remodel the city. That is the reason that many of the streets are much wider than you will find in Porto.

ImageWe tried Ginjanha on our tour, a sweet, thick hard liquor made from sour cherries.

On the tour, I met an American girl named Piyali who had just finished working at a consulting firm in London for the year (can I have that job!?) and was traveling for a few weeks around Europe. We went to a cafe after the tour with an Irish man named Paul who teaches English in Seville, Spain (Sevilla for the Spanish speakers!) and explored the city. We didn’t have a set path or itinerary but got a great feel for the city! Paul left for his hostel, and Piyali and I got some delicious Portuguese pastries before exploring more.

It was really cool to talk to a young person that had been working for a couple of years so that I could get some great insight about what to expect in the next few years. Piyali made me feel a lot more at ease and excited about the “real world” while also making sure I knew that I would always miss college. She kept telling me how much she missed it and that I should really enjoy these last few months. I think that was an important lesson, especially at the start of a new quarter!

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Piyali and I headed off to a nice restaurant, drinking some great wine and indulging in appetizers (a tasty tuna spread on bread) and two traditional Portuguese fish dishes. It definitely hurt my wallet, but I had leftovers from dinner for breakfast the next day and would be in for a treat in Porto as far as homemade food!

After dinner, I was extremely tired, so Piyali and I parted ways and returned to our hostels. I spent some time (in my pajamas) on the computer in the hostel’s bar before the lights went down and they started playing loud music. All of the sudden, the bar owners started yelling, “FREE SHOT TIME! EVERYONE IN HERE NEEDS TO HAVE A SHOT IN THEIR HANDS RIGHT NOW!” Well, I was in no dress or really mood for shots, so I embarrassingly ran out of the bar to put on some more clothes before heading downstairs to socialize a little bit. I met a bunch of high school students from Switzerland and talked to them about culture and our countries. It was getting late and I was still a bit jet-lagged  so I went to bed early and left for Porto early the next morning.

Check out some of my photos from Lisbon on flickr!

It’s time to explore

About a year ago, I purchased my second journal. It looks like this:

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I finished all 100 pages of my first one (it was panda themed, obviously) in less than three months and wanted to keep on going on. I was able to gain a lot of personal insight and vent out a lot of my frustrations through writing in these journals. It was certainly a time in my life where I needed to have a dialogue with myself.

I haven’t finished this journal (yet) but have obviously kept up the dialogue, just inviting you to join in the conversation this time around.

Anyways, that’s not the main point of this. When I was choosing my new journal, I saw this one’s cover and thought it was absolutely the right one for that point in my life. It was a time where I felt stuck, bored, and wanting more. Fortunately, in the time since then, I have actually gotten time to explore. In that time, I have traveled far past the boundaries of America and far past my comfort zone.

I’ve been back for over three months now, and it’s time to explore again. In two days, I’m taking off to visit a friend from London (Connie) in Portugal for the week. I know – I’m extremely lucky to be able to do something like this so soon. Thanks parents!

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My last quarter has been very down to business. It’s been cold, studious, and filled to the brim with applications and cover letters and resume-tweaking. And I know that it will all be worth it for the adventures that my life has in front of me, even just days away, whether those adventures are across the ocean, where I live, or within myself.

It’s always time to explore.