Reuben and I visited Lisbon three years ago on a whim, having been told tales of colourful tiles, good wine and an infinitely vibrant cultural scene. We stayed in a slightly eccentric apartment in Santos, an area that turns from pastel de nata and café in the morning, to reggae parties, fueled by beers and the wafting aroma of weed passed around as dusk settles over the silhouette of the Atlantic Ocean. One week in Lisbon left me with a craving for the rest of this country. So, here we are, three years later, well and truly immersing ourselves, and what’s more importantly, in style; a Fiat Uno 1991 (all original corduroy interior included) purchased from a Fiat enthusiast in Rio Tinto, Porto, a great authentic neighbourhood without all the overcrowded touristic elements of the Centro Historico.
Of course, this entire story could be romanticised; a roadtrip through Europe, a mattress in the back of a car we would purchase in the UK and bring through France, crossing the Pyrenees, meeting an old friend in San Sebastian and finally reaching our much dreamed of Portugal. But, the grit and reality is integral; our car conked out in the middle of San Sebastian, we sent it to the wreckers in terrible Spanish via the phone (!?), drank beers and ate tapas, accepted our fate, the end of the romance of a roadtrip, the bus it shall be!
So, the overnight bus to Porto, having been told by several people that it can not be missed, it definitely can be missed, authenticity gone awry, tuk-tuks, mini-trains, looming lenses held by overly loud Americans. As our Portuguese friend Manuel, whom we met whilst eating in an awesome bistro in Paris, told us “you have to see the centre of Portugal”. He definitely never mentioned Porto, but you never know till you go, as they say.
Serra d’Arga, our first Portuguese Helpx posting. This place is Portuguese culture realised, in an alluring way complete with ruins, monasteries, small mountain men riding their tractors to smoke and warm their soul with um copo do Grappa Miele at the Taberna. Walking the Pilgrimage route through mountains dotted with haphazardly designed bee-hives (this was definitely not the overrated, over-sold Camina de Santiago), swimming and drinking the mountain water and admiring beautiful houses built by Bacalhau merchants 100 years ago. And so, with our beautiful host, we exchanged recipes, ideas, rallied together against society, mining and exploitation in general, drank many a glass of Vinho Verde vinho, which incidentally, the Portuguese believe to make a person crazy, smoked sardines with the amazingly eccentric neighbour, João, and decided this is just the beginning. How can we possibly soak the rest of this country up if our time is spent navigating the bus system? Although, we were lucky, our host Isabel marched me down to the local office, where I received a Tax Number to purchase another car. Thus, the Fiat, simple, and so damn classic, arrived in our lives, because it was time to move to our next destination, and we simply must stop at every cafe along the way for a wine or café to practise our terrible Portuguese along the way.
Truly a testament to the Uno, a stopover at a Quinta just outside the Serra da Estrela, Portugal’s highest mountain range, narrow winding roads, a misty land still charred by the devastation of the fires, but still so beautiful. Praia Fluvials, always accompanied by a ‘Cafe Centrale’, following a 20km hike, dotted with ruins and hard-working farm people. Peaches handed to you at the Sunday chicken cook-off markets, boa tarde, boa tarde, boa tarde….. I often think that there are too many adjectives to choose from in the general vocabulary, yet I can not seem to find enough to describe this longing to never leave that continues to linger, after only 6 weeks of being amongst all of this. This story is definitely to be continued by the way, as the stark contrast of the dusty, isolated Western Alentejo, followed by the famous Algarve is another story in of itself…..