Last evening, Dave and I sat at an outdoor table on Praca de Commercio ( Trade Square ) in Lisbon and for the first time since our arrival in Portugal the wind coming off the sea had turned cool. Perhaps a sign to bid farewell to our amazing adventure and return home. (We actually had a sign earlier in the day that it was time to get back to a healthy routine when we found ourselves ordering a pre-lunch snack of Portuguese pastries and beer….and thinking it was a totally reasonable thing to do at 11:30 in the morning!)
At the edge of this massive square, the setting sun silhouetted the statue of King Jose I. On his horse, Jose sits triumphantly facing the sea in the middle of the square, as if he just trotted through Lisbon’s Arch of Triumph which stands at the back of the open area. King Jose is credited with assigning the rebuilding of Lisbon post earthquake to Marques de Pombal. Pombal was a guy who got things done to be sure, rather ruthlessly truth be told, but fast, efficient and earthquake proof. Jose meanwhile headed for the suburbs. The Royal Palace had crumbled on this very spot and the King would live the rest of his days nervously in a wooden home in the area of Belem where buildings had withstood the earth’s shaking.
With people and pigeons milling about, Dave and I with Sangria in hand, we reflected on the past three weeks and what final tidbits we would leave you with.
“We have Wifi access” is a loose term used in Europe. It might mean if you stand on a chair in the far right corner of the bathroom and hold your laptop over your head you can connect to the internet. Not the best position for typing I found. Or it might mean there is access periodically such as the third Wednesday of the month if the moon is full. Should we have been so clever as to take a photo of me hitting the ‘send’ button on the ‘blog’ as it went out to you each time, what a marvelous collage of scenes it would have been.
Our favorite was in Santander where our hotel staff just shrugged their shoulders at why the advertised service didn’t work. As accomplished detectives of finding the illusive connection, this scene found us at an Irish pub on the beach in Spain that advertised free Wifi. Salsa lessons were being given by a young, handsome Spaniard ( didn’t seem to resemble Irish dancing at all) and the floor was jammed with all ages, teens to the elderly. In this location “we have Wifi access” translates to “Wifi turns on and off every three seconds” . It took about 10 minutes of me standing holding the IPAD high in the air ( that seemed to be the only way to get a connection at all). I looked like I was playing some kind of giant, flat castanet as over and over I would tap ‘send’ on the screen as the salsa newbies swirled about. The instructor tried his best to ignore Dave and I. We were not invited to try dancing …small wonder. Next time the Internet magically works for me at home, I plan to be very to feel very thankful.
While sitting with our bike helmets on our heads on Ryan Airlines, we felt as though we were in a live infomercial. If the airline had not made any money catching you with bags too heavy or too large or extra things that couldn’t be worn on your noggin, they attempted to sell their passengers anything and everything. Of course there were the usual drinks and food for purchase. Lottery tickets came next and then a parade of merchandise. The flight attendants looked more like they worked on ‘The Price is Right’ than an airline. The only free thing the airline offered were nicotine inhalers or as they called them ‘smokeless cigarettes’. I couldn’t help but surmise that on more than one occasion a passenger in a fit of nicotine craving, after having been charged $50 to carry a purse on board and having been sent to the back of the boarding line, had caused a life threatening incident. Balancing out the cost benefit analysis Ryan Airlines had seen the light around nicotine replacement therapy.
A little local language can go a long way to making a trip more memorable. Dave and I had a basic, and I do stress basic, repertoire in Spain. When we got to Portugal things digressed tremendously. The one word I absolutely feel I need to know in another country is ‘ thank you ‘. In Portuguese that word is ‘ obrigada’. Well there is a rule about if a woman is saying it to a man or is that a man to a woman and then it is ‘ obrigado.’ I could never get it figured out. All that stuck in my brain was the word ‘abricadabra’. It really was magical that the kind Portuguese didn’t roll their eyes at me. More polite nodding and smiling, well at least in my presence.
Many people in Lisbon can speak English but there are times when some dialogue would be helpful. Last night we found ourselves in the basement of a restaurant that was advertising Fado music. The origin comes from days of long ago when women sang to their fishermen husbands who had gone to sea. The sound is mournful and melancholy and very Portugal. We were keen to experience authentic Fado before our departure.
Without knowing it we had joined the locals for a very special night. The English we had heard just one floor up had now all but vanished. Food began to appear and the most amazing marmalade and Portuguese breads arrived. Through charades and our waiter’s skillful sign language I got ‘ Halloween’. It was pumpkin and orange marmalade! One of the tastiest treats of the trip. Soup was next and I ordered vegetable. So yummy with it’s light potato base and greens like spinach and swiss chard. I sipped away at the steaming hot bowl for some time. After five or so minutes I stirred up the bottom of the bowl and laughed out loud, thankfully I managed to prevent an out right snort I was giggling so hard. There in my bowl were large slices of chorizo sausage. Yes I think something was lost in the translation of ‘vegetable soup, no meat please.’
With the lights dimmed to almost blackness and Fado singers belting out their ballads we clapped as loudly as all the other patrons. One of the singers began to talk in Portuguese and the crowd grew very excited. There were many ‘Ooooos’ and ‘Ahhhhs’ with everyone cheering and clapping at what was being announced. You can picture Dave and I applauding along smiling and nodding at what might be happening….it could have been that two giraffes were about to come on stage for all we knew. We never did figure it out. When main course arrived, and we were stuffed already, we thought we had each ordered 2 giant prawns. What arrived in a dishpan on our table was some type of measurement of 2 ….two kilos perhaps? Let’s say there were a lot of eyeballs and antenna joining us for dinner. Suffice it to say….learn a bit of the language.
Vultures really don’t land until you stop breathing. As the guide book suggested the birds do live in the Picos de Europa. I only saw them once on the day that Dave and a few others had done an optional mind boggling steep climb up to two lakes. You may recall it was the day Africa and I took the bus and I dragged the poor girl walking for several kilometers around cows and their patties to get the ultimate photos. At any rate, Africa pointed out a group of about 10 vultures perched up on a cliff near the road Dave was cycling. Like cartoon characters all hunched over and just waiting for one of the two wheeled, pale faced group to drop, which thankfully they never did. On our last day of cycling the hawks and eagles circled around me for many miles. Dave verified it. I was not hallucinating. I think in the end they decided I was too sweaty to eat.
Dave asked me last night if I had known how hard the cycling on this trip was going to be if I would have done it. The answer is a definitive ‘yes’. Just one week since the final day on the bike and my main memories of the trip are not of how difficult the hill climbing was. They are memories of new friends who cheered me on, of old friends who supported and encouraged me both in Spain and here at home via email. They are memories of amazing scenery and hidden local gems at the sides of the road. The treasures weren’t in the form of gold or silver, but as tiny coffee shops in ancient villages, webs of creeks and rivers, stone churches ringing out their bells, a blur of flowers and hills and mountains and who could forget….the sound of cowbells.
The adventure reinforced the notion that one only fails when one fails to try. Gratitude has been the recurring theme of our journey. I continue to learn that I don’t need to be the strongest or the fastest to love an experience. Asking for help when you need it and pushing through the tough spots when you are able; finding this balance is a great life lesson.
As I finally sign off I leave you with my favorite quote from Mark Twain…
‘Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.’