28 April 2015

A Journey We Will Have

This past month took me from Winnipeg in the middle of the country, to Salt Spring Island on the West Coast, and then off to Portugal.  There were planes, trains, and automobiles, awesome weather, new sites to see, and amazing people to get to know.

At the end of March, I hosted my first yoga and meditation retreat under my company name, Journeys on the Mat!  The retreat took us to Stowel Lake Farm on Salt Spring Island where we practiced yoga, meditated, and ate our fair share of delicious and amazing food!  The people who gathered for this retreat were incredible and I feel so fortunate to have had this experience.  I'll be posting more pictures from that experience on the JOTM website soon!

When I returned from the retreat, I had less than 24 hours to get ready for our next adventure!  Dave and I were heading to Portugal to have an early celebration of our fifth anniversary.

Some people have asked us, "Why Portugal?"  We chose it after scouting out Airbnb spaces in Japan.  A little cottage popped up on the site randomly and we saw it was in Portugal.  A little more digging and a few more quaint cottages later and we were sold!  Three solid weeks of being in the country allowed us to savour the culture and our time together.

We started our journey in the Esperança region of the country, staying in an idyllic little cottage surrounded by farmland, goats, and chickens.  Getting there was a journey unto itself.  We traveled from Winnipeg to Edmonton to London to Lisbon.  All good (even with slight delays).  We had landed in the afternoon and picked up our rental car.  All good.  We jump in the car and begin driving as Dave re-familiarized himself with a standard.  All good.  Next thing we know, as we are making our way around a roundabout, the car starts acting weird and the left front wheel begin smoking something awful!  All not so good!  We quickly made our way back to the airport and had to get another car issued to us.  As a result, we got on the road much later than expected and ended up trying to find our space in the dark with no cell phone reception or GPS navigation!  We eventually pulled up in the pitch black of night, shutting off the engine, and suddenly becoming enraptured by the blanket of stars that greeted us overhead.  We tumbled into bed that night...

In the Esperança region, we were only 12km away from the border with Spain. We took time to decompress, take in the surroundings, and enjoy being in a remote location to kick off our adventure. We visited Arronches, Portalegre, Elvas, and other small villages and even took on a 16km 20km hike that took us through pasture, forest, and highway, over the the Spanish border and then back again.  We loved going to the local supermarket and discovering the plethora of amazing breads, cheeses, and wines the country has to offer.  Our five days there were magical and I would recommend our space and that region to anyone traveling to the country.

Orange and lemon trees were in abundance, along with cork trees!

The border with Spain

Our next stop was Óbidos, a very old walled city located near the coast of Portugal in the West.  The town and area are absolutely gorgeous and there was so much to do and see!  We walked the wall around the city, took time to peek into shops offering a variety of wares, and then made time each day to go visit a different place.  We visited Fatima (location of the apparitions of Mary to three young shepherd children), Batalha (the site of one of three gorgeous UNESCO World Heritage sites - a large monastery), Nazaré (the site of some of the world's largest waves and where Steve McNamara holds the record for the largest wave ever surfed), Tomar (the site of another of the UNESCO WH site monasteries), Peniche and Buddha Eden (a wild and crazy space where a huge number of Buddhas and other sculptures are being kept), Alcobaça (the site of the THIRD UNESCO WH site monastery, and my favourite for the stories it told of love, loss, and jealousy).  We also took time to hike around the Lagoa de Óbidos.  A gorgeous bay that has tons of walking, hiking, and biking trails around it that all lead to the sea where you can catch fisherman casting their lines, hoping for something to bite.  We had incredible weather the entire time we were there and our little cottage just outside the walled city provided just the space we needed to recharge after each day.

Along the coast
Just one of the many Buddhas at Buddha Eden
The view from the wall
Monastery views

Cobblestone that can turn any ankle
Hoping for a bite

Our third stop was in Porto, supposedly one of the most romantic cities in Portugal.  We did a lot of walking around town along the waterfront.  The space we stayed in was absolutely incredible with views of the bridge and of Gaia just across.  One evening, we walked across the (very!) tall bridge and into Gaia where old Port houses still remain standing.  In Porto, we enjoyed exploring the pedestrian mall, popping into shops selling local goods, and having dinner along the water.  Unfortunately, the weather took a turn for the worse during our time in Porto and our last day was filled with rain.  The skies mirrored the emotions of fans of the Bayern Munich football club who had just lost to the local team.

View from our space in Porto.  That is Gaia across the river.
Cable car

Portugal is known for the tile work.  This building was no exception.

Finally, we made our final stop in Lisbon.  We drove back to the airport, dropped off the car, and then made our way by train into the city.  More specifically, we were staying in the Alfama district (the oldest) of Lisbon.  We were greeted at our little apartment by the owner and then set off to see what we could find.  We popped into shops, did our laundry (which we had to hang just outside the apartment windows to dry! I loved it!), and toured the cobblestone streets that made up the district.  At night, you could hear Fado music pouring from the restaurants and one evening we dined outside. On our last day, we took time to wander some more, enjoying our last day in country and packing up for our long journey home.