One of the joys of travel is meeting new people, often in unexpected ways.
In Portugal this summer, we found people in general to be kind and gracious. When planning a visit to the northern city of Porto, nestled on the banks of the Duoro River, we did so based on travel advice from a family member and with knowledge that we’d be exploring yet another UNESCO World Heritage site. Yes, we planned to visit at least one port cellar and yes, we knew we were in for some great architecture and scenery, given that this city has been evolving since the Romans established a foothold here in the first century BC.
What we didn’t realise was that we had unwittingly timed our visit to coincide perfectly with the city’s major festival of the year, Festa de São João, honouring Saint John the Baptist. Simply put, this festival tops any New Year’s party I’ve ever attended – and little wonder, since the festival has, in one form or another, been part of Porto life for centuries.
We embraced the festival, just as the people of Porto embraced and welcomed the trainloads (literally) of people travelling to their town to bop one another over the head with their choice of garlic flowers or the squeaky plastic hammers. The fun began in the afternoon, and kicked in in earnest with dusk. Of course, the festivities also included acquiring and giving loved ones potted basil plants and enjoying great food, with families selling all manner of baked goods street side, and beer and wine flowing freely without any of the accompanying challenges you might see in a North American city. You’ll see above a truck belonging to one of the basil vendors.
Then, as midnight approached, we joined the throngs rounding the corner of our hotel, the wonderful Palacio Das Cardosos, and passing the train station. Up the Praça da Ribeira we went toward the barracks. We knew not why, but it was clear something exciting was afoot – and it was. There was a major fireworks spectacle ahead of us but, in the midst of the crowd making its way up to the barracks, we lost sight of one another.
… and this is where Caterina and Fernando came in to the evening. On my own in the crowd of thousands, I settled in to enjoy the spectacle. While ooh-ing and aah-ing with the rest of the crowd, I bumped into a gentleman who was in attendance with his wife and at least three generations of their family. A charming, gregarious gentleman. As I spoke only the most rudimentary of Portuguese phrases, his granddaughter Caterina served as his fellow ambassador and as translator while we enjoyed the fun all ’round.
So, with the promise of more information about our Porto experience and our stay at the Palacio Das Cardosos coming soon, I’ll sign off today with a warm olá and muito obrigado (thank you very much) to Caterina, Fernando and all their family.