Why We Chose Portugal

Friday, February 01, 2019


"Maybe a place chooses you. Maybe it calls out to you from oceans away, saying "Come, cross over, you can be home."


"What made you choose Portugal?" is a question I've heard a lot.

It was the surf that brought us here. The desire to be close to the sea and the mountains but not too far from a historic city. Now, it feels like we've been living here forever.

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I remember the first day we arrived. We drove from France, across Spain and over the Minho river that marked the border of Portugal in the north. We passed by farmlands, mountains, small villages and finally, to a little town where my husband spent all his childhood summers.

Moving to a new country where you knew no one and didn't speak the language can be unnerving.

It was a cold and humid winter day. I woke up early while my husband and daughter lay sleeping.  I walked to the village café to get a coffee and a pastry. There were a few puff pastries on the glass counter and I asked what was the filling. The lady spoke no English and simply said "pêche". It  sounded like the French word for 'peach'. I was so hungry that I took a quick bite only to realize it was not what I thought. 

She had said "peixe" which is 'fish' in Portuguese.

4 years have passed since that day. After a few years in the countryside, we pined for the city. I wanted to find work, friends and English books. So last year, we decided to move to Porto. The decision did not come easy.

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It took us some time to decide that this was the place. 

We drove from the north to Porto and visited Braga, Coimbra, the surf town of Peniche and then the capital of Lisbon. On our many road trips along the coast, we saw a lot of breathtaking views, places that tugged at our heartstrings.

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My maternal grandparents had been farmers in the south of the Philippines and I had always felt the pull of the land. I could imagine myself planting vegetables in the garden and making jams and preserves from the fruits of the trees. 

But the city glittered in the distance. It looked warm, inviting. I knew that living in a city evoked the possibility of meals cooked with friends, work that I enjoyed, museums and bookstores.

We didn't want to give up the sea. I met my husband while I was living literally a stone's throw from the ocean. And we both knew it's a bond that we would share for life.

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In the end, we drove back to the north a made a home near Porto. There is a palpable energy here. Something that dwells in old historic buildings, in the smiling tourists that flock to the center and often miss the small streets that locals have kept for themselves. I have felt it in the artwork on abandoned walls and façades.

Driving around the city often made me feel slightly claustrophobic, as though I were swimming in an aquarium. It's smaller than most cities I've lived in.

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But as I explored quiet streets on foot, or took buses and trams, I realized it was larger than I imagined. One day I would find a little known street strewn with antique shops. And connecting to that, another one with art galleries. But no matter how large it seems, it's always small enough to see a familiar face on the street and give them a kiss on each cheek.

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There's always treasure to be found. The blue and white azulejo tiles tell many stories of hundreds of years ago. You feel as though you were thrown back in time.

And everywhere, I often see people looking at me, half smiling, curious, always wondering how people from my side of the world have found their way here. Perhaps my forefathers expressed the same interest when the Portuguese Magellan set foot on Philippine soil. 

Every day, I would take the train to São Bento station and explore the city. I would go to museums, restaurants, churches, and gardens. I'm unravelling a story that is being told to me little by little. It has crossed my mind several times to take a tour of Porto. One of these days, I tell myself as the city whispered her secrets.

Pastéis de Nata at Margaret's Café e Nata

Pastéis de Nata
Credit: Leo

This morning, I'm content to chat with the owner of the pastelaria beside our apartment. I've learned to order my morning coffee and a tosta mista, a grilled ham and cheese sandwich. And I've learned that the best pastel de nata custard tart can be found at Manteigaria. Fish in puff pastry can no longer faze me. Since I've learned Portuguese, I've opened more doors.

And the stares, I've learned to live with it. I've learned to look at them back, smile and say "Olá, bom dia!"

Beijinhos from Porto,
Sole Sister Lois

~

Lois Yasay Ribeiro is a writer from the Philippines. She is currently based in Porto and starting a Southeast Asian restaurant called Mana & Manee.

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2 sole trails

  1. This is a really good article for first time travelers to Portugal and this will definitely help to plan the trip well. Good job!

    ReplyDelete

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