This was the deciding trip. Sintra held the answers I was certain. By the time we left, the decision about moving to Portugal would have been made. To give it all up again, as so many times before, and start over. There was a weariness simmering under the surface, which is the downside of having a nomadic nature. Even pushing fifty, when I have accepted myself and stopped judging, there is the gnawing worry of where to live, what to do to make money, of having nothing but my wits, some camping gear and Scott’s sometimes doubtful Manc-skills. And these days a folding walking stick… But mostly I was just excited to be going somewhere that had famous leylines. The guidebook had a fact box which said that Sintra was a place of cult worship and strange happenings. Right up my street…
I was hooked on the Douro. I wanted to see where it came from, how it had grown into such a glittering monster, pulling in the landscape and finally Porto, on its way to the sea. In Brittanica.com it says:
Rising in the Sierra de Urbión in Spain, the river crosses the Numantian Plateau in a pronounced bend and flows generally westward for 556 miles (895 km) across Spain and northern Portugal to the Atlantic Ocean at Foz do Douro.
We were confident that in the next two days we could make a dent in the 556 miles, if we stuck to the edge of the river as far as the motorhome would allow. We headed east and drove all day in the winter sunshine. The river was the be all and end all. It glinted and blinked and squinted. It lazily smirked and then shone and beamed welcome from around a bend. It had all moods and knew all things. Each time we swung away I craned my neck to keep it in view. I leaned out of the window as we turned this way and that, photographing on the move, pretending I was a real photographer chasing a shot. The other drivers were confident and drove fast on the winding roads. But they were not like the Armenian drivers from our last road trip -their windscreens are intact to the last car, and they used at least one hand for the steering wheel. We climbed up and up and the roads twisted more and the buildings became smallholding rustic, in a winter mingle of russet and dark grey, of milky whites and yellows. Initially, the vineyards were smallish and garden-like, with their little houses tumbling down the hillsides into them. Even the lowliest patch of of flattish ground had three or four spindly vine trees on them, knobbly and knarled in their winter state of undress; nothing was left uncultivated. The little fields swooped down into small valleys and swung back up with the vines clinging onto the crumbly winter soil.
Why do we travel if we are not on holiday lying on a sunbed recovering from work? Is it about finding the inner landscape in the outer one? As we set off to Porto I wasn’t really sure what I was looking for. ‘Settling down’ has eluded me. I counted up recently how many times I had moved house and it was thirty-three. I am forty-nine next week, which means I have moved house every year and a half. And yet there I was, feeling excitement rising in my chest that I still may find a ‘forever disney home’. If I live to the age of my grandmother I am only half way through my life, so there is no pressure.
Doesn’t ‘porto’ mean ‘door’ in some languages…?
Was Porto the inner map? It was a little stressful finding somewhere to park the motorhome in the steep and winding streets of Via Nova de Gaia, the village to the south of the river where the port wine magic happens deep in caves. When we finally parked up overlooking the Douro on the way to the sea, I had a pink gin and Scott went off to get some air by the water’s edge.
I had a few questions milling around in my head on the journey to Sintra to collect the motorhome. What is the rest of Portugal like and do we want to live there? What are the people like and will they like us? What will we find in Porto – a port? some port? the point? But the biggest question was ‘will we lose the 1500 euro security deposit on our huge grown-up rental motorhome?’ Six days later, by the time we returned the van, I realised I had mostly been asking the wrong questions…
‘Blue Sky; winter; who’d a thought!’ Scott’s Mancunian twang woke me up. I looked out at a square of sunlight geometrically inching its way across a washing filled courtyard. Lisbon! Guidebooks are always going on about washing in Lisbon and here it was! We skipped into town, under-dressed in the chilly morning air. We had packed like the ultimate British holiday maker stereotype going to the ‘continent’, confusing sunshine for heat, and shivering valiantly on deserted beaches whilst local people are wearing gloves and waiting for spring. Sunglasses in winter is a joyous oxymoron that eclipses all else.
After the anarchic New Year’s Eve experience I slowly got better. A trip to Vabali Spa and some homeopathic doses of sparkling wine and I was right as rain. I decided to become a vegan. Well, I decided to think about becoming a vegan and to take some steps towards it. I also made Scott promise he would become a full vegetarian as opposed to a flexitarian. He said he would, as soon as he had eaten a huge steak and smoked a cigar with Zach. I think in Scott’s mind being a vegetarian has little to do with vegetables, and more to do with chip barms – Manchester food… it’s even in Wikipedia…
In parts of North West England and Yorkshire, a barm or barm cake is a common term for a soft, floury bread roll: menus in chip shops offer chip barms consisting of chips in a bread roll, these are also known as “chip butties” in some areas.
Due to a rather ill-judged decision to throw a New Year’s Eve Eve ‘get together’ I woke up sick on New Year’s Eve. It wasn’t so much a hangover as a violent case of poisoning. I think perhaps we were too liberal with the Angostura Bitters in our sloppily made Champagne Cocktails. Chuck in a bit of sugar, dowse it in bitters, mix it all with cooking brandy and fill it up to the top with cheap Sekt. Repeat dozens of times… A metaphor for Silvester, I now think. By the early evening I knew I would not be donning PVC and prancing at the Kitkat club that night. But I didn’t want to miss the party completely, as I have had a habit of having shitty New Year’s Eves all my life. I was in Berlin, where it’s so famous it’s got it’s own special name, and who knows where I would be next year?
We got up early to start the last of the hair-raising journeys through Armenia, this time towards Yerevan. A local guy called Hayk collected us from the eco-resort in his clapped out car to take us to Goris, from where we could get a mini-bus.
I peered around the little net curtain in our Goldilocks wooden cabin and looked down on clouds and into the distance far across a valley. We had woken up in the sky! There were other fairytale log cabins dotted around us and squat round cabins shaped like enormous beer barrels. Little paths tottered down the hillside between them, leading to the ‘resort,’ I assumed. We were going to have a few days resting in the stillness and visit Tatev Monastery.
My faith in resorts wavered pretty quickly trying to have a shower. It either burnt me or froze me. Scott said I was to relax and leave it to him and he disappeared into the little bathroom from which all sorts of water and pipe noises could be heard. He emerged twenty minutes later in a cloud of steam and said it was ready for me. ‘Don’t touch anything!’ he cautioned and I gingerly stepped into the bathroom where the toilet was open, the sink taps were full on and splashing everything, the shower was directed somewhere above my head and there was a loud squeaking noise of complaint from the whole plumbing system. Still, using what he likes to knowingly call ‘Manc Skills’, a shower was had and enjoyed. Now I was all set for breakfast – and a resort breakfast means a buffet and some good quality coffee – the last I remembered had been in Tbilisi.
Being new to blogging, I didn’t know what The Liebster Award was until a couple of weeks ago. It is such a great idea, as it is passed on by fellow travellers and bloggers, as a way to recognise and help give exposure to new blogs, and to share good content. Whoever thought of it (I couldn’t find out who) started a great chain!
My site is really a travelogue with pictures, and not necessarily as popular a form of blog as some, so I am very appreciative to Veggie Vagabonds. They promote vegan and sustainable living, which is very close to my heart as a vegetarian often travelling in the meatier places of the world. Their lively travel stories and recent article on how to go fully vegan have really inspired me. Read about their adventures, like how they nearly got caught in a wildfire in Portugal, and check out some great recipes!