Beira Alta – my first time in Portugal

Personal, Travel

This month I have been enjoying hot and sunny weather in Berlin, but I travel in time and without moving to my very first time in Portugal. Since I started this blog over 4 years ago, many things have changed: the city I live in, the job, personal and interpersonal constellations too.

Moving back in time, my adventure with Portuguese language started with me being curious about the sound, structure and melody of it. Then, some cinematic and musical inspirations came up, and I started reading more about Portugal as a country itself. How distant it seemed to me, not to mention the other Portuguese-speaking countries that I wouldn’t dream to discover so soon in early 2000s.

In summer 2007 I saved some student pocket money for a 3-week-round train ticket around Europe: Interrail to reach the most far off country in Europe, Portugal. I didn’t really have much more money to spend on local transportation, accommodation or amusement, so I joined a voluntary service in the rural area of Beira Alta, dedicated to Roman-times archeology camp. In exchange for few hours of physical work in the early morning (the temperatures at noon could easily rise up to 40 degrees Celcius!), I stayed for 2 weeks in a picturesque village of Coriscada, located precisely in the middle of nowhere.

When after 2 days drive by >5 trains, I stepped out of the compartment in the town of Celorico da Beira, I did not really have any expectations. Everything was new to me, the language sounded very unfamiliar and exotic, and I had my first cultural shock already ticked (elderly ladies sniffing drugs in the compartment with some raving Portuguese and Spanish teens!).

I did not speak Portuguese at this point, and I didn’t really know how useful it will be to communicate with local volunteers and inhabitants. Fortunately, my French was very fluent at that time and since a lot of the local population either had families emigrating to France, Switzerland, Luxembourg, or have spent some time working there themselves, I had no problems in getting to know them.

I was extremely lucky that our team leader at a camp was an avid adventurer, polyglot and traveler himself, Luis, and he shared some good tips on how to discover the world at ease. During the stay in Beira Alta, I had a chance to discover the hidden and picturesque villages like Marialva, or Pocinho (where the scenic train to Porto is taking off) and bigger, historic cities like Guarda, bordering with Spain and welcoming the nearby Spanish neighbors by… horse’s tails. For some reasons all of the sculptures involving horses, were facing West and showing the Eastern border their back…

I was even luckier to have been invited to local festivities, cellars with delicious wine & cheese, probably some of the best on this planet (just think about Portuguese tinto and queijo da Serra da Estrela) and got first hand stories about aging donkeys, youth escaping to big cities or foreign countries, preserving the traditions and finding similarities between Portugal and Poland.

When I came back, I knew it’s just the start of my discovery series, and I hope to continue these for the years to come, through music, people, travel and literature.

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