During our two weeks in Portugal as we emerged from Covid seclusion, so many times and in so many ways my perceptions were run through by the thought ‘it’s not either/or’. Writing about my experience of WordCamp EU 2022 for our business blog, I ended on just this note:
Yes, remaining a recluse certainly has its attractions. But WCEU 2022 , Porto, was a welcome reminder of the joy and energy that can be generated when like-minded individuals are able to spend time together. Perhaps Covid may have given us an opportunity to understand that, in the best of times, both have value. It doesn’t have to be either/or.
City – sociable AND solitary (not either/or)
Haven in the heart of the city
Porto is a vibrant, bustling city, currently on the travel hot list so teeming with tourists. It is so very different to life on the lake. Our Airbnb, Mouzinho 134, was right at the heart of the city on Rua Mouzinho da Silveira, yet it provided a surprisingly peaceful and very comfortable haven.
[For all photo galleries, click onto the first photo to scroll through the photos at full size and with titles – in the preview they are often cropped.]
An explorer’s bubble
I love retreating into a quiet bubble within the crowds to photograph a city. So this was how I spent most of my ‘alone time’ while Paul was occupied with pre-conference activities. On Wednesday I wandered north of our apartment, taking in many of the best-known sights, the beautiful tiles and vistas, alongside quirky back streets, and personal discoveries.
On the river
Just as I reached ‘home’, Paul ‘phoned – from just across the street. Synchronicity or what! I ended up meeting his XWP crowd for lunch. As they had a couple of spaces, I was invited to join their boat trip down the Douro. It was a genuine pleasure to get to know some of the people Paul works with. It was an opportunity to interact in a way that has not been the norm for too long now.
Party in a Palace
Arriving back at around 6pm, a quick change and drive through the suburbs saw us at Palácio do Freixo. Classified in 1910 as a National Monument and a unique example of Baroque architecture, this was the venue for the first of the ‘parties’, hosted by Codeable.
Though the appetizers were delicious and the band excellent (if a bit loud) we gravitated to the courtyard, not wholly comfortable with being indoors with so many people unmasked. Dinner was at least rather more spaced out.
One of the best pieces of advice I had heard about Porto was to ‘get lost’ in the Ribeira. So the next day I mostly focused on the wonderful back streets (and steep climbs) of the oldest parts of the city. This included two mediaeval buildings likely dating from the C13th and C14th. The contrast between the throngs on the waterfront and the solitude of these atmospheric, narrow, cobbled alleys was astonishing.
Another palace and a cathedral
I finished my day at the Cathedral and Bishop’s Palace. It reminded me that austerity rather than opulence is what soothes my soul. It was the stone passages of the Palace and the Cathedral cloisters that resonated for me.
The following two days were all about the conference. No more time for sightseeing! That said, the Jardins do Palácio de Cristal that surround the Super Bock Arena are delightful, with beautiful views of the city.
We did manage to make Friday night, before Paul’s talk first thing on Saturday, a quiet meal just for the two of us in a restaurant noted for its homestyle Portuguese specialties, Adega Sao Nicolau.
The crowds, the socializing, just being in a city felt a bit bizarre after the seclusions of Covid. It was fun but a little scary and also somewhat overwhelming at times. I’m not used to that many people! It’s interesting to observe the way I oscillated between solitary and sociable, tapping into both my introvert and extrovert tendencies and taking pleasure in both (not either/or!).
The Aveiro Lagoon – bustling city and empty shores (not either/or!)
Sixties classic on a sandbar . . .
I consciously chose the Pousada da Ria as somewhere we could catch our breath after what I knew would be a very hectic time in Porto. It met the need perfectly. Located on a sandbar peninsular a short ferry ride from Aveiro, it is just slightly off the beaten track. Something of a sixties classic, the building sits on pillars above the gentle lapping of the Aveiro Lagoon. In contrast, a short distance away the Atlantic throws all its force at the sandbar’s western shores.
Beaches that go on for ever . . .
The beaches here are definitely my kind of beaches. There were no concerns about social distancing. Just miles and miles of golden sand and just the odd figure on the horizon.
At the beginning of June when we were there, much work was going into redistributing the sand that had formed drifts during winter storms. It was very strange to see beach bars still partially buried and to watch the dumper trucks changing the profile of the beach in preparation for summer visitors.
We got the impression that this is an area in which Portuguese city dwellers have their holiday homes rather than one which focuses on attracting foreign visitors. I’m guessing that July and August would be much busier.
Sao Jacinto’s dunes
A glorious 8km hike through the dunes at the Sao Jacinto Dunes Nature Reserve offered more insights. It was fascinating to discover that the peninsula on which we were staying did not exist 600 years ago. It is a sandbar created by those pounding Atlantic waves and winter storms that is part of an ongoing process of transformation. Here, in the reserve, this process is supported and protected by human intervention. It was interesting to think back to the ‘reshaping’ of the beaches and realise that this is more about humans holding back nature to preserve something they value, in this case long sandy beaches attractive to tourists!
There was a diversity of habitats in the Reserve, with real variety of plants. Again, it was so interesting to see how the trees and other plant life gradually transform dune sand into something more like ‘soil’ and how this then supports new and different life.
Stalking lizards is a habit from my earliest Mediterranean holidays. I didn’t notice, though, till I went through my photos that the one pictured is missing part of its tail!
Our hike was was so solitary that, when we did encounter one other couple, Paul quipped to me, ‘Did you give them permission to come on our walk?’
Art Nouveau and canals – Aveiro
A short ferry ride across the mouth of the lagoon made for a pleasant trip into Aveiro itself. A small but growing city, Aveiro is famous for its canals navigated by colorful boats (barcos moliceiros), traditionally used to harvest seaweed. I had read that many of these barges had somewhat risqué artwork on their prows. I get the feeling, though, that contemporary sensibilities are seeing this tradition fade.
Aveiro is also noted for its many Art Nouveau frontages. We found interesting juxtapositions of old and new, especially in tiles. It was delightful both to see the city from the canals and just to wander, only somewhat guided by a map of the Art Nouveau buildings.
From fort perched above pounding Atlantic waves to Royal summer playground
Our three nights at the Fortaleza do Guincho were a gift to ourselves courtesy of all the Avion points we’d managed to collect during Covid. As well as the romance of staying at a fort looking out over one of the best beaches in Portugal, there was the promise of a meal at the Michelin starred restaurant – it was wonderful! My post on gastronomy(coming soon) will detail that adventure.
The fort is largely ‘re-constituted’ but very atmospheric. I’ve never before stayed in a room with a loggia. And, of course, its position is stunning, if wind-blown.
Again, during our stay, we rejected either/or and revelled in the contrasting experiences of bustling seaside town and relaxing beach.
We chose on our first full day to a meander along the coast road into Cascais, an attractive coastal town that was originally the summer destination for Lisbon’s royalty and nobility. It was very busy, especially as we were there on Portugal Day, but we were glad to see it.
Paul particularly enjoys strolling marinas and ogling the boats these days. He also rather liked The Queen’s Beach (Praia da Rainha), where we almost swam in the sea (I got above waist level, Paul just to his knees).
Although much simpler than the extravaganza of the previous night, we had a particularly delicious meal at the back street Taberna Clandestina.
Our final day was the perfect do-nothing-day’s end to our time away. We spent all day on Guincho Beach below the Fortaleza where we were staying. Paul even got to play volleyball, always a favourite beach activity for him.
The water is too cold and the waves too wild for swimming here, but sea and sun worked their relaxing magic.
See our Aveiro and Cascais Google Album for more photos!
Reflecting on our time away, I have a heightened awareness of the abundance of experience available when one chooses to interact with the world from a variety of perspectives and in a variety of ways.
I loved my city time, both from within my ‘photographer bubble’ and when soaking up the hustle and bustle, the colour, and the social interactions. I also savoured the solitude of our hike and the empty beaches.
Similarly, I enjoyed embracing both the extrovert and the introvert in myself and the sense that I don’t have to be one or the other. One of the joys of getting older seems to me to be the ability to own and relish the apparently contradictory in ourselves and to be increasingly open to all life’s riches.
It really doesn’t need to be either/or!