Days 233-250 – 20 Oct-6 Nov, 2015
Getting on a bus again was a strange feeling. Watching the world zip by at 60mph had my head spinning. I was headed into Portugal, Porto to be exact. I didn’t have a plan but I was physically and mentally exhausted and geographically, Portugal was an obvious choice from Santiago. On my bus to Porto, I met Sylvia from Texas and Ylva from Sweden. They had also just finished the Camino so instantly, we had something in common. None of us had much of an agenda beyond the Camino so upon arrival in Porto, it was time to strategize my next move.
Porto was a lovely respite and the perfect place to spend a few days port tasting, wandering the cobbled streets up and down the elevation of the old city, and sitting by the river to watch the boats meandering to the sea.
Sylvia had a flight home in 2 weeks and left Porto for Aveiro after only a couple of days, but Ylva and I, both traveling solo, began following the same itinerary over the next couple weeks. Aveiro is known as the Venice of Portugal. I’ve never been to Venice and it seems like this description is a bit of a stretch, although Aveiro does have lovely, romantic canals woven throughout the city. We, of course, had to explore this charming town by boat.
I admit to being a bit of a rebel in Coimbra when I snuck some photos (sans flash!) of the old university library. It was just so amazing and rich with dust and years that I couldn’t help myself.
Overall, Ylva and I had since discovered that Portugal was in a bit of an off season for backpacker travel (it was late October after all). Upon arrival in Coimbra, we arrived to our hostel, a former maternity hospital with creepy paintings of babies all over the walls. I suppose this wouldn’t have been creepy except that we were perhaps the only people staying there. We were on the third floor and sounds echoed throughout the whole building so that you couldn’t tell if what you heard was next door or two floors down. Obviously, we determined the building was haunted with babies and that it was time to keep moving.
Meanwhile, we heard from Sylvia. She was a few days ahead of us in Tomar and had spontaneously decided to start walking back to Santiago, via the Camino Portugues. Something you should know about the Camino is that it holds a special place with former pilgrims. Many pilgrims found peace or religion or perhaps answered some difficult questions in their lives. They have all most certainly made lifelong friends and consider it to be one of the most profound journeys they have ever completed. Sylvia was no exception. I only met her in Porto, yet it was clear that she was having a hard time being away from the Camino and I was not in the least bit surprised that she decided to walk again. Not surprised, but very impressed. Kudos Sylvia!
When Ylva and I reached Tomar a few days later, I was even less surprised that Sylvia started another pilgrimage. Tomar was a pilgrim’s town, it was evident everywhere – the hostel had pilgrim services (laundry, stamps, etc), pilgrim’s menus at restaurants, yellow arrows on the street and the like. I didn’t feel the pull to walk (I had more traveling to do), but I immediately understood how Sylvia couldn’t resist.
In contrast, Ylva had been talking about getting a tattoo. She wanted a simple “X” as a reminder of her experience on the Camino. I was also tempted, but not actively pursuing the idea (they can be expensive, after all, and this girl is on a budget!). The more she talked about getting her “X”, the more I thought about what I would get (if I was going to get one) to commemorate my walk. I decided that IF I was going to get one, it would have to be the scallop shell, the emblem that all pilgrims recognize. More serious than I, Ylva made an appointment and announced she would be going to get a tattoo the next day. As a supportive friend, I accompanied her to her first tattoo appointment and left with my own Camino reminder.
Halloween arrived and Ylva and I were en route to Lisbon. Both of us to were quick to admit that we were lame and much preferred to stay in watching movies (which we did often), but we agreed to attempt the pub crawl on Halloween. I was seriously dreading it. I hate those things and I’m old (well, oldER than most people in hostels) so if I don’t get at least a little drunk, it just amplifies how much older I truly am. Thankfully, I look young so I can pretend that I fit in with the kids until I try to go out drinking and am tired by 10:00pm. That’s always a dead give away. Anyway, I digress. Ylva and I dutifully signed up for the pub crawl, which was then cancelled because no one else signed up. Of course. I was sooooo relieved. Early night then? Not so fast. We were already dressed, makeup applied for the first time in weeks. With Maeve, another girl who had just finished the Camino, we summoned our best college try at an improvised bar on the median of the main shopping district (decidedly not teeming with nightlife). I was content.
With arrival in Lisbon, also came the rains. It rained off and on nearly every day we were there. I toured the Natural History Museum and Botanic Gardens, visited Belem to sample the world famous pastries by the same name (well worth it!), toured Jeronimos Monastery (not worth it), but was beginning to run out of things to do indoors. Luckily, I had a like-minded travel companion and we decided to go to a proper movie, as in a theatre movie. We saw The Intern (in English!) and while it was never a movie I would have paid to see in a theatre at home, during those 121 minutes, there was nothing I would rather have been doing. For just a moment, I was back in my old comfortable t-shirt type of life and it felt good.
Before leaving Lisbon, I spent a day in the nearby town of Sintra. I wish I had arranged to spend the night there but how was I to know that the skies would clear and that I would be drawn to the charming storybook splendor of the palaces and castles in this town by the ocean? It would have been easy to spend 2-3 days here, taking in the sites but I was limited so I only got a small taste of what this idyllic locale has to offer.
My last morning in Lisbon, Ylva left for Barcelona. She had purchased a flight to meet her brother and stepfather and left before the sun had even risen. Next to the Camino, I had traveled with her consecutively longer than any other one person so it was strange to part ways, but thus is the life of a traveler, always saying goodbye. I, on the other hand, was headed south to Portimao. Two more nights to spend in Portugal and I wanted sunshine and warmer weather. I chose correctly and because it was November, I had the beach almost all to myself.