I’ll try to keep my fingers steady while writing this. I’m not nervous or starving or normally shaky, but I finally have some down time to write now that we’re on the train. The clunky swaying is oddly comforting, but harder to type than usual. We’ve already met some great people on the train that are on their way to Madrid as well. I have this mysterious feeling in my gut that I chalk up to be intrigue, excitement, and sadness all at once.
Portugal was a fantastic stay. After realizing that I packed way too much crap while hiking down-hill to meet with our friend. I was a waterfall of sweat carrying everything that I had in 2 bags initially on the plane, and realized I’d have to mail some things home after almost falling over a few times. We stored our things in my friend Rita’s car. It was a life saver. We explored a local beach which was beautiful, then met her back at her car after she got out of work. She drove us through alleys and streets so insanely narrow that seems like they winded right into each-other, and at speeds that none of us could imagine going under such conditions. Well, the other guys were convinced I drive through my back roads equally as fast, but I digress. As we were driving through Sintra, I was manic with picture snapping. Everything was interesting to me, even street signs. Rita drove us by the beach near her house, which opens up under a massive cliff overlooking Praia. “You can climb that. There are stairs that go up and you can see the view up top”, Rita explained pretty nonchalantly. “Well, we’re doing that”, I thought.
Rita, her mother, and grandmother live on the top of the hills of Sintra, overlooking a panoramic view of burnt red rooftops, pink and purple flowers, and not-so-distant mountains. There’s even a castle resting on the horizon, which I was told belongs to a baker who invented a famous “sweet” and owns a reputable shop in the area. The air feels clean and thick, fairly humid, but a steady breeze keeps it cool. We stayed in a smaller cottage mirroring their beautiful villa home in their back yard with our own bathroom, shower, sink, and just enough beds. (though one person had to take turns on the air mattress) Considering the fact that we were literally expecting a backyard that we could pitch our single-person tents in and lay on the ground, we were blown away when we walked through the place. I hadn’t realized initially that Isabel, Rita’s mom, has a steady flow of visitors come in and out of their spare rooms via air bnb. The place is revered. We were being spoiled. The first few hours there we all seemed to spend in awe. That night their family, the other guests, their friends, and us Americans sat outside underneath the orange lamps and moonlight and talked about cultural differences we’ve all noticed within one another. I was in my usual ‘camera tunnel-vision’ that I get when I’m experiencing a new and exciting place – snapping photo after photo under the low light while also trying to engage in conversation. Taylor Thibodeau looked at me several times and said with the deepest sincerity – “I love this.”
Rita and her family treated us like what I would expect from my own family, yet even kinder somehow. I almost felt like i was in my Nanna’s kitchen again – Food I’m not used to, copious amounts of red wine and expresso, interesting smells, and a grandmother who seems to be able to cook an entire meal, eat a huge plate of that same meal, clean the table AND do the dishes, all while you get lost in boisterous conversation and freshly grilled sardines. I’m a bit of a foodie, so I could write a whole blog on just the food, but I’ll spare you guys some pages. (It would be more for me to try to re-live the experiences than for you)
The first day we woke up very late, which we realized would be only about 8am back home. After an amazing brunch, some of the most satisfying coffee we’ve ever had, (we hadn’t had much on the trip and I think we all were feeling some withdrawals) and trying to adequately express our gratitude, we set out. Rita’s friend Stefanie, who we had met the night before, wanted to come with us to climb the cliffs near the beach.
We get down there and start our ascent. After 50 steps or so I realized it’s not a wimpy climb, but was enjoying the burning in my thighs and kept a steady pace. I didn’t think much of it, as the top didn’t seem that out of reach, but once we get to the first outlook, I realized we were in for something special. The V shape of cliffs on either side of the stairs with the ocean crashing towards me peeled away a layer of fog in my mind. Ironically, the sky was thick with gray fog so I wasn’t expecting an amazing view, but I was very wrong.
Every area of the cliff about 50 yards from each other was a different immaculate ocean view with thin layers of rock stacked on each other. The massive walls on certain sides even had dinosaur footprints imprinted in them. The skeptic in me wondered if that was really what I was seeing, and how the cliff slid sideways after all these years, etc. but I believed them. Some of you most likely saw some of these pictures, and there will be more to see I’m sure.
That hike was a moment of reflection for me, and I think for all of us. I realized that out of all the hikes in New England or the west coast that I’ve done, nothing quite had this aesthetic. I realized how beautiful the creation we live in is at all times, whether we notice it or not, and just how excited I am for this journey.
After months of processing, planning, and eagerly anticipating this trip, actually being in Europe is beyond surreal. I’m reminded of the countless times in the last few years that I felt overwhelmed by my future, stressed about work, relationships, etc. and just wanted to impulsively hop on a plane to some-where-else-ville and not look back. Years later, now that I’m out here – it’s so hard to process. The adventurer in me has been given an overdose, the home-body in me has been starved out, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Thanks for the patience guys! Over and out – until tomorrow (or very soon if not). We love you all,