We leave Porto in the morning to begin walking the 250 km Portuguese route to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. This was our first visit to Porto (hopefully not our last!) but not our first connection to this beautiful place.
In 1991 Christine and I were in London, staying at a quaint brownstone B&B in the heart of the city on Gower Street. We had become friends with Teresa who was a staff person from Porto, and her visiting sister, Isabelle, also from Porto. Isabelle had brought her 10 year old son to London for continuing treatment of a life threatening condition, a growth in his throat that was restricting his esophagus. Doctors were investigating therapies before electing for a potentially dangerous surgery.
Guests were typically not allowed in the kitchen or garden of the B&B, but we became the exception. One evening we were treated to glasses of the excellent Port wine that Isabelle had brought from home, the four of us were exchanging stories and gratitude for the lives we had been given to date. It was one of those times that one comes to appreciate how much we are all alike across the globe. Teresa suggested that we all go to dinner the following evening at a local Greek restaurant, one of her favorites.
The next night we walked, arm-in-arm to dinner. The restaurant was alive with patrons speaking a number of foreign languages… our “America English” may well have been considered “foreign” by the Brits in attendance!
In the midst of the celebration Teresa let out a scream. A thief had grabbed her purse and was making a fast run to the street. Reflexively, I took pursuit and caught him just outside the restaurant. A physical confrontation ensued. I ducked a punch and succeeded in wrestling the purse away from him. He then ran off as other patrons were coming to lend assistance. Teresa and Isabelle were grateful, the restaurant owner thanked me and expressed his relief that I was unhurt. It was at that moment that I learned from the owner and other patrons that the fist that I ducked had held a knife.
Sadly, we lost touch with Isabelle and Teresa. I have wondered over the years about them and Isabelle’s son. Some stories are just destined to remain unfinished.
The weather set the tone for the day; sunny, warm, and not a cloud in the sky! We intended to occupy a part of the morning doing laundry, but Liz here on staff at Poets Hostal did it for us. Washed, dried, folded, and ready for us at the end of the day!
We are getting a bit burned out on the “tourist, do this museum, see this site thing”. Lisbon is beautiful and there is so much to see, but it might just be here for us another day.
That having been said, we returned to the waterfront and enjoyed tea, a coffee-con-leche, and a sandwich while watching people pass by. The square is dominated by a grand arch. 2.50 euros buys you a ticket to the top where you can examine the tower clockwork mechanism. The view from the top is stunning!
Returning to ground we caught a street tram to the Belem District, about 4 miles away, and the location of a number of very fine museums. We only had time to visit the monumental structures and grounds of the Monastery of St. Jerome. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is over 500 years old and was once the home of the monastic Order of St. Jerome. It was secularized in the 19th Century. A number of members of Portugal’s royal family members are entombed here, but the most notable crypt within the church is that of Vasco da Gama, the Portuguese navigator who in 1497 discovered a route to the wealth of the Indian Ocean via rounding the bottom of Africa. The resulting trade enshrined Portugal as a dominant world power for the next 200 years. A link at the end of this post will give you access to more pictures of the Monastery.
I received a message the prior day from Jerome (no relation to the Saint or Monastery!) and Morgane, the young couple we met on the night train from Madrid. Apparently they had not had their fill of our company and asked if we were available for dinner. We responded with an enthusiastic “Yes!”. We met in The Chiado District and found a venue to eat, drink, and make memories. Sharing a love of life has a way of erasing the decades that otherwise separate us in age.
Christine and I enjoy the sights of travel, but most of all we love the chance encounters that become endearing friendships. Our evening with Morgane and Jerome was special. We suspect that this will not be the last time that our life paths cross!
We have considered that this journey seems to unfold in “chapters“. We think that the overnight “Train Hotel” to Lisbon qualifies as it’s own chapter. We are not strangers to sleeper trains in Europe. I have traveled from London to Paris where the entire train was put into a ship and crossed the English Channel from Dover to Calais then on to Paris. This was pre-Chunnel. I have also ridden the Orient Express from Belgrade to Paris… Hercule Poiroit was not on board.
In 1991 we traveled with our children from Amsterdam to Munich in a non-private second class “Couchette” with 6 beds organized 3 high on each side. Our family occupied 5 of the bunks, and the 6th was held by a Yugoslav expat who lived in Amsterdam with his wife and young daughter where he was employed as an electrician. It was the start of the disintegration of Tito’s Yugoslavia. He was traveling to Munich and then on to the border where he hoped to enter his former homeland covertly to extract his parents. He and I spent the entire night awake, sharing beers and talking life and family. I was on a vacation and he was on a literal life and death mission. He explained that if he were caught the best case scenario was forced conscription, the worst, execution. To this day I wonder of the outcome…
Our train accommodations from Madrid to Lisbon were technically 1st Class, but not when compared to the glory days of rail travel in Europe that I had experienced decades ago. We had a simple private compartment with 2 beds and a sink. Clean and efficient, we were provided with toiletries and towels. The beds were comfortable and our coach adjoined the restaurant/bar car. The best “perk” was that we had access 2 hours before boarding to the Renfe (Spain’s National rail line) private lounge and complimentary snacks and beverages.
After the typical on-time departure, Christine and I took seats in the bar-car for some snacks and vino tinto (red wine). We made the acquaintances of a young couple from Austin Texas. She, Morgan, is a very talented artist exhibiting in Europe and Jerome owns and operates along with his mother a bakery, “Rolling in Thyme and Dough”. Morgan and Jerome have known each other for half their lives and about 18 months ago awoke to the realization that they loved each other. We talked life from both sides of the mirror, shared laughter seasoned with wine and olives. I will remember them.
Arrival in Lisbon was before 8am. We are guests of The Poets Hostel of Lisbon. They agreed to hold our packs as check-in was not until 2:30, but they graciously allowed us to take breakfast. Christine and I then left to walk 7 miles of this very hilly city, visiting the main Plaza, securing seat reservations for our Wednesday train to Porto, touring the 11th Century Castle that overlooks the city, and of course the Cathedral where we encountered other Pilgrims who were there,like us, to obtain sellos (stamps) on their Credentials.
Our Hostel facilities and room are top-notch at only 50 euros a night. We have a private balcony and an incredible view. A clean room, friendly staff… this was a good choice.
In 2017, while traveling and camping in Alaska, we met Ron and Lena. We were immediately attracted to them. As retirees they spent approximately half their time on the road in a very small RV, had incredibly positive dispositions, liked people, but most of all really liked each other. We made a fast friendship with them, and upon parting wondered if our paths would again cross.
The question was answered yesterday. While I was doing our much needed laundry, I received a Facebook message from Lena. They were in Madrid!..having completed the Camino Via de la Plata route to Santiago. Using a mixture of Facebook, Skype, and Messenger, we arranged to meet for dinner in the Barrio neighborhood. Ron described the restaurant as a “hole in the wall” with great atmosphere and food. It was, and it did!
In Spain, dinner doesn’t really get going until 9pm or later. We met at 7:30, sipped vino tinto and cervesa until 9pm, and then dined until nearly midnight. The time fairly flew as we caught each other up on the gifts and challenges of life. Will our threads in this tapestry of fate cross again?… only time will tell.
Madrid at night is a carnival, alive with the pulse of humanity. No museum or art gallery can compete with the energy that unfolded before us as we slowly walked back to our hostel.
Today we will breakfast at the hostel, join its residents for a walking tour of the city, enjoy a street-side cafe, and let the day present us with its menu del dia.
As Eddie said to us in Puerto Rico, “In life, there are no coincidences!”
When we walked the Camino in 2013 the last day in Santiago was littered with chance meetings with friends from that journey. That experience is again playing out in Barcelona with chance encounters from our Atlantic passage. We met a number of ship acquaintances, paramount being Mart and Jean (again!) and then Mary and Gary who had the cabin next to ours. We shared a very good Tapas lunch with them after we had toured the interior of the Sagrada Familia.
I have retained over 60 pictures from today. I will exhibit a few here, but I urge you to browse the rest through the link I have created at the end of this post. Rather than engage in a lengthy narrative, I will let the pictures speak more eloquently than I can. Besides, it is nearly midnight as I type this out.
This evening we met with one of our AFS exchange student “children”, Neus, her 8 year old daughter, and her brother James, who had also been an exchange student, but in Baltimore MD. Neus took us on a walk along the stunning beachfront area known as Barceloneta. Good fortune won out and the rains held off until we concluded a late dinner at one of James’ favorite restaurants. Sadly, Neus’ 10 year old daughter wasn’t feeling well so she and her father could not join us.
Tomorrow we will sleep in a bit, and then return to wandering the area of Las Ramblas, the old city, and Cathedral. Perhaps we will take in a museum or two, a Gaudi site, and certainly tapas, vino tinto, and an Estrella Damm or two in this world class destination.
Many of those who have walked the Camino understand “Camino Moments and Camino Angels”. They are the odd, near daily experiences that beg explanation. They are the chance encounter with a stranger that presents a solution to a difficulty.
The opulence of our current circumstances is the antithesis of a pilgrimage on the Camino, yet our host in Puerto Rico secured Pilgrim Credentials for us that declared our journey to have begun in San Juan. We were thwarted in our effort to obtain a “sello” (stamp) in the San Juan Cathedral until the intersession of a stranger there.
Today, we sought to obtain a sello at the Cathedral in Funchal. Again, we were turned away. However, a little older woman who spoke no English beckoned for us to follow her. We did for half a block to an obscure doorway outside at the far end of the Cathedral. This was not a public entry and there were no signs to indicate the business of that door. She motioned for us to remain just outside. We could tell that she climbed some stairs before returning to us. She knocked on an interior door, and eventually the door opened. A hand extended to her and she gave that person our Credentials. A few minutes later the unseen person returned our Credentials to her, and she handed them to us… now bearing the official stamp of the Cathedral of Funchal.
This was a very moving experience for both of us. What we sought was beyond our grasp, but not of a stranger’s reach who interceded on our behalf… a Camino Angel. In life there are no coincidences.
The island of Madeira is a paradise. It was unpopulated and undiscovered until 600 years ago. It is politically a part of Portugal, but consists of 4 islands that lay 600 miles southwest of the mainland. It has a total population of about 300,000. The major drivers of its economy are tourism, the production of miniature bananas (think banana chips, liquor, and niche foods), and of course the remarkable (and remarkably strong!) Madeira Wine. Over 40% of its energy is produced by wind, solar, and hydroelectric generators.
Our wanderings today took us to a glass walkway that hangs out atop the highest sea cliff in Europe, 1,800 feet above the shore. We enjoyed simple sandwiches made in the local fashion, a glass of Madeira wine, the local beer, and the fragrance of the flowers that abound everywhere. On the way back to our ship we encountered a replica of Columbus’s flagship the Santa Maria which sails (actually motors) tourists around the harbor 3 times a day.
I have included below a gallery of some of today’s images.
We are back to sea with Tangier Morocco our next destination, scheduled for landfall this coming Friday.
We have advanced ship time by one hour on 6 of the last 7 nights. I had imagined that one benefit of traveling to Europe by boat would be avoiding the disruptive “jet lag” that accompanies the sudden change of jumping 6 time zones. I have found, however, that losing an hour of sleep virtually every night for the last week is the Chinese Water Torture equivalent of jet lag. Happily, we are now on Continental Europe time and thus in sync for our first landfall that occurs tomorrow on the island of Madeira.
Over the last week we have made the acquaintance of a number of ship’s staff, performers, and of course passengers. A section of the staterooms on our deck are the assigned responsibility of Augistino and Noni, who are both from Indonesia. They are exceptionally friendly, polite, engaging, and yet professional. They surprised me on the morning of my birthday with a cake, bottle of champagne, and a chocolate Easter Bunny. We have found their dedication to our comfort to be an attribute shared by virtually every staff person aboard. The friendliness is genuine and not cloying. Most are willing to share their personal stories when asked, although I sense that our interest may not be typical among passengers.
One evening we engaged one of the dining servers in conversation at the end of dinner. We were among the last of the patrons to leave, so there was the opportunity for a relaxed conversation. She is from the Philippines, married, and the mother of a 3 year old. She is sailing on the first of 3 intended contacts (a “contract” is a 6 month commitment). Talking of her family we quickly sensed the pain of her separation from them. She explained that she was doing this to fund her daughter’s education and that it was better done now when her daughter would not remember her mother’s absence. Her forethought and sacrifice are remarkable.
One of the performers, a very talented singer from New York, spoke briefly with us the day we boarded. He has recalled our names ever since, and expressed a personal interest in our “story”. Perhaps it is because we came to the ship with backpacks, certainly not typical. We exchanged information and he has done us the honor of reading these “Thoughts”. Conversely, I am fascinated to learn vicariously about the experience of cruising through the eyes of a young entertainer. I hope that there is an opportunity for the 3 of us to talk about life from both sides of the mirror.
Among the passengers we have developed a few friendships that beckon deeper exploration. They are folks we would imagine bonding with at home or on the road. People who have engaged life under similar circumstances, have faced similar challenges, and intuitively understand one another.
This is a vessel populated by folk who are seasoned both by travel and years. We are on the younger side of the spectrum, and compared to most we are cruising “newbies”. Our usual style of travel is likely foreign to most. Conversations often begin with the question about how many cruises has one traveled, how many were Viking, and to what destinations. Where one is from, and what one did/does are much farther down the list. Christine has noted with a relaxed smile that it is not necessary to hold one’s stomach in at poolside!
Last night Christine and I enjoyed drinks and the music of the chamber trio in the Atrium. It was day two of my 66th year. I had posted a picture of my toddler self the day before on Facebook and my “Thoughts”. I mused to Chris the question of whether I would recognize myself if I encountered that child in real life. Would we understand each other… like each other. Would I as that child recognize my 66 year old self?… would I like me, understand me… This was a protracted conversation that brooked the occasional distraction of an eavesdropper that I caught out of the corner of my eye. He sat on the other side of narrowly separated twin pillars. My peripheral vision made him out to be an older white haired gentleman. I tried to ignore him as Christine and I embraced our reflections on life. Finally, the man’s continued intrusion overcame my reluctance and I turned to him face on. We shared an immediate expression of shock as it dawned upon both of us that the slender gap between the pillars was a mirror. The rude passenger who would not quit staring at me, was me. We then smiled at each other and agreed, we like each other. I confess that I don’t always understand him.
Peace Everyone. Pete
PS. The Viking Mead Horn is my birthday present from Christine.
We depart tomorrow for our Atlantic crossing. As I began organizing my thoughts for these “Thoughts” I was troubled that there was nothing new to share. Then I reconsidered. I could not have been more wrong! The lesson in this for me is that when one is not focused on living in the moment, the gifts of the moment may be lost.
My thoughts have been much focused on the experience that awaits us tomorrow. Like a distracted driver, I almost missed the importance of today. For starters, at breakfast we exchanged greetings with a couple and their 10 year old child. It turned out that Seth is an attorney in New Mexico who has traded in his big firm litigator stripes for a solo career. The luster of his profession has tarnished somewhat and he is exploring reawakening his passion for the law. I saw much of myself in my pre-Mediator days in Seth. It was a warm exchange that I think was rewarding for both of us. Don’t put off until tomorrow the things you may find you are then unable to do.
After breakfast, an exchange of personal histories with our host Eddie revealed that he walked the Camino Portuguese in 2016 and looks forward to walking the Primitevo Route to Santiago in the future. We spent time pouring over his maps and discussing route options for our upcoming journey out of Porto on the Portuguese Camino. Eddie is going to see if he can obtain two pilgrim credentials which will identify our Camino starting point as Puerto Rico! Whether or not he is successful is not as relevant as the bonding of 3 Perigrinos that occured.
Yesterday, Christine and I explored the eastern fortifications of Castillo San Cristobal. Today we visited the western battlements. First of all, the entire of the San Juan Old City is surrounded by the old fort. 90% of the surrounding wall is intact and can be traveled atop or alongside by foot. To give some perspective of the size of the Castillo, it takes over 2 hours at a brisk pace to walk the perimeter. This is truly a remarkable feat of engineering that stood virtually invulnerable for 400 years until modern artillery ended its reign in 1898.
As we waited in line to show our “geezer passes” to the National Park Ranger at the fort we overheard 3 couples standing behind us complaining that they had forgotten their passes. A pass entitles the holder and up to 3 guests to free admission. Christine and I turned to the folks and offered to make them our guests. Hurried introductions and the eight of us gained entry on our passes with the knowledge and approval of the ranger. It turned out that those 6 folk are departing tomorrow on our ship for Barcelona and have staterooms just down the hall from us!
How could I have ever thought that there was nothing to write about. As Eddie reminded me this morning, in life there are no coincidences.
Peace Everyone. Pete
PS. I am continuing to hone my skills on formatting these posts. This time I created a gallery of today’s images.
An overview of Old San Juan and the fortifications.
These walls were erected 500 years ago.
We are in a sidewalk cafe waiting the arrival of our order of Mofongo, a staple dish in Puerto Rico.
There are events in life, seemingly insignificant when they occur, that loom large when examined through the rear-view mirror of destiny. One such event in my life occurred in 1991 as our family prepared to travel by train from Paris to London.
It was our first trip to Europe that included our children. A whirlwind 2 weeks that took us to Italy, France, the Netherlands, and England. Our children ranged in age from 8 to 12 years old. As we waited for the train to depart Paris, a woman approximately our age with a young teenage girl in tow entered the train car. “Are there any English-speaking families aboard?” She had a perfect English accent and after a moment’s hesitation I caught Christine’s eye. Chris nodded her affirmation to my unspoken question. I raised my hand to the woman. “Oh, thank you! Would you mind terribly if my daughter accompanied you to London? Friends will be meeting her there at the station and I had hoped that she would not have to travel alone.” After brief introductions we made Bryony a temporary member of the family.
I recall her to have been 13 or 14, a year or two older than our son Peter. She and the children hit it off immediately. Our journey that day took us to the coast of France where we would board a ferry to cross the Channel. On the English side we were to board another train that would deposit us at Victoria Station in London. It was there that Bryony was to be met by family friends.
Over the course of the trip we learned that Bryony was fluent in 5 languages, a duel citizen of England and France, and had the ambition to be educated in law in both England and France. We were captured by her engaging personality and sense of humor. At the beginning of the journey a train attendant had identified her to be a native. Referencing our children, he had made a remark about the American habit of saying “Have a nice day!”. Later, as he passed through the car she addressed him with a perfectly imitated American accent saying, “Have a Nice Day!” to which our children joined in chorus.
When we arrived at Victoria Station Bryony’s friends were nowhere to be seen. It turned out that there had been a misunderstanding about the time of her arrival. We were not about to leave her there alone, so we enjoyed extending our visit until they came.
That chance encounter with Bryony set in motion a series of events that changed the course of life for our family. We marveled at the impact that even a brief intercultural exchange had on us and our children. Upon our return to the States we began exploring options for hosting an exchange student. That school year we hosted Andre’ from Germany and for each of the 5 years that followed we became “parents” of other children from Europe. Christine and I became representatives for AFS, the international student exchange program. Our children went on to each spend a year living abroad with families; Peter in Spain, Renee’ and Alexis each in France.
In 1993 we returned to Europe and were guests of Bryony’s family in Lille, France. Her parents and brother were every bit as warm and engaging as she was. We have maintained contact with Bryony now for nearly 30 years and we look forward to seeing her during our upcoming journey. It is a marvel how a one-day encounter with a child on a train in France has impacted our lives, the lives of our children, our exchange student children, and so many others, including you who are reading my “Thoughts”.
In the United States life expectancy around 1888 was less than 50 years, and infant mortality approached 200 deaths per 1000 births. That’s 1 in 5 children being buried by Mom and Dad before the age of 5. Death among children came primarily due to various infectious diseases such as diarrhea, diphtheria, scarlet fever and tuberculosis. (statistics from the Journal of Pediatric Research)
The impact of vaccinations and modern medicine has been significant. By 1990, life expectancy in the United States had increased 50% to 75 years. Infant mortality fell an astounding 97% to less than 7 children per 1000 births.
Some folks do not develop immunity as well as others when vaccinated. However, there is a “herd effect” that confers protection because those who are unvaccinated or who have less immunity from a vaccine are surrounded by those who have vaccine acquired immunity. As more members of the “herd” forego vaccines, the herd protection declines and threatens everyone. Infectious processes again have a fertile population to run rampant within.
The human tendency is to examine one’s current circumstances and surroundings and fail to understand that it has not always been the way it is now. Look at your children’s (or grandchildren’s) classrooms, soccer teams, gymnastics classes, playgrounds… and imagine that 1 in 5 of those bright precious faces were suddenly dead. It is modern medicine that has saved us from the face of a horror once common to our grandparents and great-grandparents. Paraphrasing an old TV show, let’s decline to follow the invitation of the anti-vaccine, anti-science folks to: “Return to those thrilling days of yesteryear…
Peace Everyone. Pete
PS: There is an outbreak of measles in the Kansas City area that has experts very concerned. This “childhood” disease killed over 2.5 million people worldwide in 1980. Vaccinations have reduced that number to less than 100,000 by 2014. It only takes an epidemic of blind ignorance to reverse that trend. The following obituary was found tucked within my wife’s family bible.