April 5, 2012

Realizations in Portugal

I sing in the Wellesley College Choir and we go on tour every year.  Every three years we have an international tour and this year we went to Portugal.  Over the course of a week we stayed in Porto and Lisbon and visited some of the the surrounding cities such as Coimbra, Sintra, and Cascais.  We were able to sing in a lot of really cool places and meet some really wonderful people.

Before we left, I was actually really nervous.  I had never been to Europe, had never flown in or out of the country, spoke zero Portuguese, was concerned about the jet lag, and had been warned quite a bit about pick-pockets, so naturally was very cautious/anxious about a group of American tourists walking around for a week.  At one point I almost wanted the week to be over so I could come back to Wellesley where I spoke the language and was comfortable.  However, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I loved Portugal and how all of my fears quickly dissolved.  Portugal is beautiful and very real and very humble.  Nothing is overly big or ostentatious.  The only neon, LED or electronic signs were the small pharmacy signs.

Porto was my favorite place that we went.  It was right on the river and had the main squares with lots of shops but was surrounded by residential streets.  It just felt like real life as I walked down the streets.  Cars would be parked all along the cobblestone roads and on the curbs and laundry would be hanging from balconies and windows.  There was no pretentious facade.  Everybody just lived their life and did whatever that entailed.  One woman wore her bright pink fuzzy slippers to mass in the morning and sat on the front row.  She obviously was there for the service and didn't care what she looked like.  It was very refreshing.  with all the ceramic tiles that were everywhere.

My favorite part, however, was that almost every building had tiles all over it.  Sometimes the same painted pattern repeated itself on every tile.  However, some were all painted together to form one big mural.  They were gorgeous and everywhere! It was amazing to see the different patterns and pictures on each building.  It made the city so interesting and different from anything I had ever seen before.  From what I gathered, that is a feature unique to Porto.  No other place has as many tiles and on as many buildings as Porto.  It was so beautiful.  
We went on a river cruise which was really cool and took us under all the different bridges into Porto.  It was awesome to be on a boat and be singing songs just to sing them.  We sang at the Porto Cathedral in their Mass service, bought bread, fruit, and cookies (which all lasted us for days) at an open air market, and toured the Casa di Musica, the modern architecture symphony hall building that hosts a whole range of music performances, including baby concerts, rock bands, and community music events. 

By the end of the trip, I was done living out of a suitcase and performing every day, but I did not want to leave Portugal.  It was so awesome to be there and experience a different way of life.  Instead of the week going slowly, like I was afraid of, it went by really fast.  Nothing bad happened and everyone was able to get home successfully.  It was a great way to kick off the semester and the new year!      

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