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Existentialism in Portugal

Right before the beginning of lockdowns and considerable uncertainties, I was making my way through the coastal city of Porto, Portugal. Upon arrival, I was greeted with cobblestone streets and the faint sounds of a classic guitar. For this three-day excursion, I decided to rent a studio in the Casa do Pinheiro, an 18th-century building that was once owned by an abnormally large family but was now rehabilitated for travelers and short-term inhabitants. The perfect home base.

The town was undoubtedly beautiful. Buildings were adorned with ceramic tiles that were painted with eccentric designs, colors, and motifs. The sun had just begun to set, painting the alleyways and neighborhoods in gold. I took one deep breath and embraced my surroundings. I was alone. It was terrifying, but more importantly, it was exciting.

I had absolutely no idea what I was doing here, but I knew I needed a drink or two. With no sense of direction, I aimlessly crossed lively boulevards until I reached a quaint, little restaurant with the name of Droop. Inside I was greeted by a lively hostess and a delicious selection of tapas ranging from grilled octopus to delicate cheeseboards. Whether you’re an omnivore, pescatarian, or just curious, this gem of a spot has plenty of varieties to choose from.

Dining as a party of one is always empowering, at least to me. I love ordering more food than I should, and I also love people watching. Picking up on conversations and piecing together stories is a fun way to past the time, that’s for certain. And I hate to admit it, but I’m a helpless eavesdropper. My entertainment for the night was a bickering couple to my left and a first date to my right. I smiled with contentment as I indulged myself.

The following morning started early. My second day was dedicated to exploring the Douro Valley. I was picked up by a van along with a charming tour guide and several couples on vacation. If you're a lover of vineyards and romantic cruises, I absolutely recommend booking a rendezvous with Oporto Tours.

After introducing myself to my newly found acquaintances, we were off to explore wineries and harbors. I just really wanted to get wasted, but respectively of course. I endured endless wine, bread, and existential questions about the passions of life. I learned about the art of olive oil and the skill of winemaking. These talents have been passed on for several generations, and I couldn’t help but wonder, what do I have to offer? I shrugged and continued drinking.

Somehow during the day, I was invited to steer a ship we were traveling on. For five whole minutes I was in control of our journey, and it dawned on me. Perhaps I’m in Portugal to find control. Again, I shrugged and continued drinking.

As the days continued, I took baking classes on Pastel de Nata, Portugal’s signature custard tart pastries. I definitely would not call myself a pâtissier, but one class with Joana the baker and I almost felt like a professional. I’m not sure if it’s due to guilt or my poor memory, but I can’t tell you how many of those sweets I devoured in one sitting.

I ran through the town in pouring rain and read Shakespearian romances near the pier. For those who love a company of a book, you’ll fall in love with the Livraria Lello bookstore. Since 1906, it has been a safe haven for the modern reader. Its architectural surroundings carry a range of literature you can digest as you follow alongside Porto’s palaces and castles. When I wasn’t reading, I was writing letters to my loved ones and leaving voicemails to my lover. With my amount of luck, I even caught food poisoning – I don’t particularly recommend eating at an endless sushi buffet, no matter how affordable it may seem.

Like any city, everything changes during the evening. It’s a different kind of charm. Nobody whispers at night and every moment felt like a gift. Towards the end of my time in Porto, I realized that control comes naturally, yet the unexpected is what makes the travel worthwhile. Learning the history of unfamiliar places and appreciating beauty within the mundane is a joy anyone can find.

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