Thursday, January 12, 2017

A Portuguese Christmas

I spent my Christmas in Portugal...

 gosh, I don't even know where to begin!

(Forgive me for playing catch up with these blog posts about the holidays. I wrote a good portion of this post December 27-28th, so, as a warning, some of it will seem outdated.)

I’m so thankful this holiday season.

I’m thankful for Francisca’s family who took me in for the holidays, and let me steal so much of her attention in English conversation even after Francisca was gone for the whole semester with me. I’m thankful for their amazing food (and wine), their hospitality, and their thoughtful gifts.

I’m thankful for my family. I’m thankful they supported and even encouraged me to stay in Europe travelling for the holidays instead of coming home. I’m thankful for a short phone call with spotty reception, so I could say "Hi" and "Merry Christmas" to a lot of family members at the lake. It’s so nice to hear familiar voices to have small reminders of how loved and supported I am, especially as I feel like in many ways I’m about to start over in Strasbourg next semester.

I’m thankful for the Porto Girls and the Brandão family. Thanks for showing us Porto, and thanks for inviting us into your home the day after Christmas. A semester of your friendship was such a sweet gift already, and seeing where you come from is just the cherry on top.

I’m thankful for Francisca wanting to spend her birthday (which is also Christmas Day) with me. Thank you for showing me your hometown of Setúbal, your university’s city Lisbon both by day and night, your family’s university in Coimbra, and your family’s home of Arganil and many of the special places nearby.  I’m thankful for a semester worth of memories that I will undoubtably hold dear to me. Forever. I’m thankful to know most of Kika's dearest family and friends now, and I really hope someday soon I can share those people in my life with her. I have been so loved this semester, but no one loved me as constantly as this roommate turned sister. A little piece of my heart will forever live with you in Portugal, Kika. Thank you for everything. This goodbye is my most miserable, but your grandma seems optimistic that I’ll be back soon *honeymooning in Portugal*. 
(Still super single, but who knows.)

I’ve seen so much of Portugal now.

Kika made me the exhaustive list of all of the places we explored, and I was surprised all over again by how much we managed to see in such a short period of time. It helps that Portugal is about the same size as Ohio and we have a car, but gosh Kika took me everywhere.

I flew from Baden Airpark to Porto, and then I took a bus to Lisbon. When Kika picked me up from the bus station in Lisbon, we headed straight to her home in Setúbal. From there we went to the beach, and then enjoyed the sunset from the mountain. I really speak honestly when I say this place is maybe the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen. I feel like a traitor saying that because I love Michigan’s natural beauty so much, but the way the beach and mountain blend together all along the coast in Setúbal is truly awesome. I don't know how she even left for four months... Really, my breath escaped me, and I don't think it ever really returned until I landed back in Baden Airpark a week later. 

My descriptions of the places Francisca took me are nothing in comparison to their beauty. "Indescribable" is the best adjective I can come up with, so I'll show pictures instead of trying to describe it.

First stop: Setúbal, Francisca's hometown and probably my favorite place we visited while I was in Portugal

Kika and I at Praia da Creiro
Praia do Creiro again, but Kika also showed me Praia da Figuerinha
from a different spot viewing Praia do Creiro; this is her father's favorite place to visit the beach
Serra da Arrábida at sunset
After seeing the beaches and the sunset from the mountain, Francisca and I went to dinner with her family at a great restaurant downtown. Francisca had just returned from the semester away, so her dad's parents and sister came out too. I ate dourada with Francisca and her dad (It translates to English as goldfish, but it wasn't goldfish so I don't know how to describe it. Anyway, it was AMAZING.). Her dad also insisted on spoiling me with all sorts of appetizers, so I could try all of their local specialties. Setúbal is known for its fish market, so you can assume how wonderful my meal was. Alongside the fish, I also tried choco frito (fried cuttlefish in English?), clams, and octopus salad. 

The dinner was amazing. I really think that Americans (maybe I should be less general and say Ohioans) don't eat very much fish simply because fresh fish isn't available. If I lived in Portugal like Kika I think it would make up almost all of my diet. It's so tasty. Now I finally understand why she was always missing fish in Strasbourg.

Anyway, after dinner we met some of Francisca's friends for a coffee. We caught up with one of her childhood best friends, Rita, and a number of their guy friends before calling it a night because we had a big day ahead of us in Lisbon.

Next stop: Lisbon, Francisca's university city with an unbelievably rich history on beautiful hilly streets

these yellow Remodelado trams are a popular symbol of Lisbon 
Kika insisted 😉
Rossio Square
a Kika in her natural habitat (Castelo de São Jorge because she's a princess)
Miradouro da Nossa Senhora do Monte
sunset at Parque das Nações
just maybeee her college town is a little bit prettier than mine (sorry falcons)
My time in Lisbon was so amazing. From the exquisite tile work on the buildings to the amazing meals and beautiful sunsets, I have so much appreciation for this city. I also have so much appreciation for this amazing girl, Francisca, who ran us both ragged to make sure I saw all that Lisbon has to offer during my time there. 

She even made me a list of the places we saw both days... 

Day 1; We started with Parque Eduardo VII, Marquês de Pombal, Avenida de Liberdade, Rossio, Rua Augusta, Arco da Rua Augusta, Terreiro do Paço, Chiado, Praça Luís de Camões, and Miradouro do Adamastor. We ate lunch at Cervejaria da Trindade (AMAZING) before seeing Príncipe Real, Bairro Alto, Cais do Sodré, Belém, Torre de Belém, Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, Padrão dos Descobrimentos, and MAAT (Museum of Art, Arquitecture and Technology). Then we ate a great dinner at Capriciosa in Parque das Nações with Inês Glória and her family, and finally to the airport to welcome Duarte and Pedro! Whoa. 

Day 2; We started by revisiting Chiado before seeing Castelo de S.Jorge, Graça Neighborhood, Miradouro da Graça, Miradouro da Nossa Senhora do Monte, Martim Moniz, and catching the sunset at Oriente: Parque das Nações. Then we ate dinner at home before hitting up a "pre-drink" in Santos and going out to Lust Club, which was quite an experience. It was this night at Lust that I went through the fun realization that M on a bathroom door in Portugal means "mujer", which is the word for woman. No worries though; potential crisis was averted. Both days were so packed, and so fun. 
Thanks to my iPhone's ridiculous technology that I don't understand, I can tell you that Francisca and I walked over 15 kilometers (over 9 miles) both days. Lisbon is also known as "the city of seven hills", which explains why when we checked the Health app one day, it said we walked more than 45 flights of stairs. All of this walking probably didn't compensate for the amount of food her family fed me over the holidays, but it couldn't hurt to offset the high caloric intake just a bit. 

Third stop: Quick evening stop in Coimbra to see Francisca's family's university, established in 1290 

Universidade de Coimbra, Paço das Escolas 
Since we went out pretty late on our last day in Lisbon, we got a pretty late start heading to Coimbra the next day. Francisca's mom was still able to show me a lot of the historical buildings before it got too dark, although this picture makes it seem like that may not have been the case. She showed me Sé Velha de Coimbra (Old Cathedral of Coimbra) and Sé Nova de Coimbra (New Cathedral of Coimbra), as well as the academic buildings where she studied to become an English teacher. We walked down countless stairs to see more of the town, and she talked to me about a number of the traditions that really reminded me how old the university is. As an American, it's hard to imagine the year 1290. My knowledge of history lacks, I'll admit, but 1290 seems much closer chronologically to Julius Caesar's years (100 - 44 B.C.) than it does George Washington's (1732-1799 A.D.).

Fourth stop: Arganil, Francisca's grandparents' home where her mother was raised 

this picture is from Retortas, Kika's grandparents house outside of town
and, by the way, dogs are better than cats (looking at you, Floris & Rodri)
the view from Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Mont’alto, the church on the mountain where Francisca's parents were married
on Francisca's birthday, Christmas Day, she brought me here to the river... it was so beautiful and peaceful
HAPPY BIRTHDAY FRANCISCA! Kika looks so nice in this picture, but please note she's 10/10 holding a potato chip
Everyone I've talked to about spending my Christmas in Portugal with Francisca's family has heard in my voice what an amazing time I had. It was such an unbelievable opportunity to get to know Francisca's life even more intimately, and I think it was the most perfect way to end our time together. I wish (more than almost anything) Francisca could stay in Strasbourg one more semester with me, but I guess all my good luck ran out when it comes to this one. Who knew the random Portuguese girl from a Facebook group who also needed housing would end up being this dear to me?  

Anyway, it's hard not to get sidetracked... Christmas in Portugal was amazing. On Christmas Eve and Christmas day, we ate extremely well. I got to try Porto wine, baby goat and baby pig meat, and some of the freshest cheese I've ever tasted.  We also ate amazing bacalhau (cod), and we actually ate two different servings of the bacalhau in the same meal. Since Kika's grandfather is the very highly regarded village doctor in Arganil, often his patients offer gifts around Christmastime, and one of those offerings was an amazing dish of bacalhau. I really enjoyed that meal in particular because I remember Kika searching grocery after grocery looking for cod to prepare bacalhau for me one day, and when she couldn't find it anywhere she was so sad... It was fun to share this meal with her, and confirm that, yes, bacalhau is delicious!

On Christmas day, Kika's grandparents' home was full of the whole family. It was so sweet to see how much of the extended family comes together at their home in Arganil. It's a rough guess, but I would imagine there were something like forty people at the house throughout the day. Closest family friends join in the evening also, which is a sweet tradition that reminds me just how blurry the lines between friendship and family can become once you grow so close to people.

Maybe the most amazing part of Christmas in Portugal was the way I forgot I was in Portugal... It just felt like I was home. I was with family that loved me. Sure, they aren't technically my family, but they treated me like family... Each one of Kika's family members went out of their way to care about me. I was particularly touched by the way her father looked out for me the same exact way mine would have for her. He speaks very little English, but with the way he communicated with me through other family members and through gestures I never noticed the language barrier which could have been difficult or just naturally uncomfortable to overcome. There was just so much kindness... It was so special. 

I was able to make a short call home to my family in Michigan. My parents passed the phone to my grandparents and my aunt, but before long our connection went bad. It was too bad that I couldn't spend more time talking with the family, but I got confirmation that everything was per usual... 

all of the cousins made it home for Christmas, there were lots of dogs running through the house, Uncle Buck made stirrum for breakfast, someone probably received a Michigan jacket, everyone drank coffee and hung out throughout the day... these casual but sweet traditions seems sweeter when you're not home for them, but I know this year in Portugal was a once in a lifetime experience.

Day trip to Benfeita, Fraga da Pena, Piódão, and Côja

On the 24th, Francisca and her brother took me outside of Arganil, so I could see all of the amazing places nearby

this waterfall was amazing, and it was really nice to be out enjoying nature...
that's something I really miss this year living in a city
this white church stands out in stark contrast to the town built from the rock "schist", which  you can see below
another view of Piódão from the road into town
This was a fun day of exploring the areas that Francisca and her family enjoy outside of Arganil. A special shoutout to Francisca's brother who drove us through a village where he had approximately 3cm clearance on each side of the car at one point because the houses were there before the road. We drove back home with the sunset over the mountains, and I was little kid happy the whole time. 

It's funny because the more I recall how beautiful and unique each place in Portugal was, the more I realize I should stop missing it so much because I'm definitely going back. On the phone with my mom this week, she joked that maybe Portugal is somewhere I'll make a point to go every five years or so when I'm an adult. When she said it, I was surprised because I was thinking about how much flights to Europe cost, but if I think about how happy I was when I was there it seems like a perfectly reasonable goal.

Last stop: Porto, where Ana and Joana played tour guide of their beautiful college city

they are my familia
probably Ana Brandão's only candid photo that's actually candid

Joana Soares, I swear I love you (almost) as much as you love your dog.
It's not fair to Porto, but I'm going to keep this part short because I NEED to post this blog (and my friends probably NEED to be doing something else with their time if they've made it this far in the post). 

Porto was beautiful. Ana took us everywhere, and she was an amazing tour guide. Special thanks to her father for making us a great itinerary to catch as much as possible in one day. For dinner I had a francesinha, that's a special sandwich that was bigger than my face. Like a lot bigger than my face. I ate it all and never looked back, and it was wonderful. 

The most memorable moment of my time in Porto will always be sitting on the rocks watching the sunset. We were reminiscing on all of our amazing times... Talking about everything and nothing simultaneously. I felt so comfortable with the girls in those moments. At one point I started to tear up just thinking of how fleeting our time is, but every time I'm overcome with the sadness that is leaving these girls, I just remember the alternative which would have been closing myself to the opportunity to make friends who are this dear to me. 

Thank you girls for everything, and a special thanks for holding me when I woke you up crying because I couldn't sleep that last night. It's honestly such a relief to be done with goodbyes... I hate emotions, and I was experiencing all of them for about three weeks straight there. I'll see you soon when we have our reunion, and after that I'll see you soon still. The Atlantic Ocean is big, but it's got nothing on us. 

Love, Julie
"Wander with wonder and [Portugal became] home." -Tyler Knott Gregson
This picture so accurately portrays the way I felt about leaving this girl.
See you soon, Kika. I can't wait to show you the people & places I call home.

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