A Travellerspoint blog

PORTO. "The Unvanquished City".

The first years (2001-2008)

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(picture taken from the internet)

The first time I moved do Porto was 12 years ago. In late September 2001, as an 18 year old Law School freshman I rented a small place near Lapa's church. It was an attic in an old house and I was sharing it with a fellow law student from my hometown. I remember it was so small that I called it a "dollhouse". I lived there for one semester, my first months ever away from my family. Then I moved to another incredibly tiny room with no windows where I lived for 1,5 years in Boavista. Only in my third year I managed to find a proper flat and live in decent conditions (actually on the same building). I still recall those first university years as very intense, full of new experiences, great new friendships and lots of parties and alcohol. Like me, Porto was a very different city back then. My own life was very different back then.

Then my Erasmus year came (2005/2006). As the first defining moment of my life, that year in Budapest changed me irreversibly and coming back to Porto was a big shock to me. Suddenly I realized how so many things were lacking in this city and I was feeling the need to fly away, that my future would be abroad. In between dreams of going to NYC for 6 months and work in a bar just to pay my bills or working in some oil platform just to earn good money and have some crazy experiences, I found myself graduating and starting to work in a law firm in Porto, on September 2007. Moving to NYC ate the age of 24 vs promising career as a lawyer in Porto. The latter sounded (and still sounds) terribly boring to me, but I went with the easy option, the one which would be seen as the "normal choice" by society (oh, society!!!). As most of you know, I couldn't stick to my choice and I quit my job (second defining moment in my life) only six months later. During the months that preceeded my liberation scream, I was deeply bored in Porto . The only thing that would amuse me was to hang out with my friends on the weekend and go to this rock bar "Tendinha" (oh, the good ol' early days in Tendinha!!!) and get wasted. To me, Tendinha was a sacred refuge, where I would heal my soul while listening to great music and was the place where dreams felt like they could become true. And of course, every time they would play "Killing in the name" from Rage Against the Machine, I would stick my middle finger in the air and express all my rage singing along the chorus (F*ck you, I won't do what you tell me!). Oh, and everytime they would play Smashing Pumpkins, pure bliss! As one of my friends once said, during their songs was easy find me as I would stand still with my arms wide open pointing at the sky (the ceiling, I mean), smilling and with my eyes closed while people would go insane around me. Those nights were certainly magical and represent a golden period in my early adulthood which will never happen again, sadly.

However, Porto was not filling my needs as a city. Not many things were going on here. The city wasn't cosmopolitan, you couldn't find affordable international food, culture was extremely elitist and the concert scene was barely existent. We were still far away from what I call the urban european lifestyle. Now I can see that in late 2007, early 2008, the first seeds of what Porto became today were being slowly planted. But in that time it was cleary not enough. We'll go back to that.

February 2008 ended with me quitting my job. I already wrote about that day. I did manage to leave Porto as well. Destination?? New York? No. London? No. Some caribbean island? No. I quit my job and my next city was Santarém!!! Yep, probably you never heard of it if you are not portuguese! Back then I didn't know I'd became a tennis coach so I applied for jobs all over the world and also used my tennis coach degree, cause I needed to find a job to pay my bills. And my first offer was in Santarém, a smallish city north of Lisbon, where I spent 3 months as a tennis coach. The only good thing about Santarém was the amazing meat they have there. Truly delicious. Oh, and nearby there's a beautiful castle on a tiny island (Castelo de Almourol, picture taken from the internet).

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When I left Santarém, I was jobless (meaning free) again. So where did I go? Berlin? No. Melbourne? No. Chicago? No. I went back to my old town, the infamous city of Santa Maria da Feira, where I started my own tennis project and where I still work today. I never thought I'd go back there actually. But make no mistake, although I don't have much connection with the city or the people there besides my family, my job there is being some of the best thing that could ever happened to me. I lived in my hometown for 4 years (with a 3 month break when I lived in Berlin). On the first 3 years, it made sense to live there. But one day, for many reasons, it stopped making sense to live in a small town. That's when I decided to move to Porto after returning from my roadtrip across the USA, which was another defining moment in my life.

You might ask why on earth someone was desperately trying to leave Porto in 2008 only to be eager to return to that same city 4 years later. That is, dear reader, one of the biggest ironies in my life. But that's also a sign of how much Porto changed in less than 5 years. What Porto was, what Porto is nowadays and what Porto might become are three different realities that I want to analyze independently. With this post, I briefly covered my past in this city.

Soon I'll write about this last year.

Posted by ZackFontang 14:07 Archived in Portugal Comments (0)

Going South by Southwest in Portugal

Roadtrip along the portuguese coast and a little bit of Andalusian magic!

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Summer 2013 was supposed to be a quiet one for me. After spending all the year following my impulses and traveling like a madman around Europe, my travel budget was practically non existent. I was happy to peacefully enjoy my summer in Porto and commit to my eternal love for Maceda beach and all its simple pleasures. However, being temperate it's clearly not in my nature. So I used my tiny 2014 south american trip savings, went "all-in" and followed my vision: grabbing a car, driving south along the portuguese coast, exploring new beaches, meeting old friends and discover a bit of Andalusia in Spain. I was joined in this adventure by a russian friend of mine.

For those who don't know, the coast of Portugal is incredibly beautiful and diverse. It has around 900km and the only common thing is the presence of the endless Atlantic Ocean. The more southwest we go, the more beautiful becomes the landscape. Peniche and its surroundings are just breathtaking. Alentejo's coastline (and the west coast of Algarve), a well kept secret from all the turists that flood Algarve yearly, is probably one of the most beautiful in the world. The cliffs in Lagos and its green quiet waters are like paradise, albeit the city has become some kind of british/german colony. More east, close to the border with Spain, lies Tavira, a peaceful haven where a long stretch of white sand stands in between a river (Ria Formosa) and the ocean.

Peniche
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The drive to Praia de Odeceixe
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Praia de Odeceixe at dusk
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Praia da Bordeira
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Sunset in Sagres
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Green waters in Lagos
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Tavira
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Going back to mainland in Tavira
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Now that I indulged the readers with some pictures, it's time to introspect about several moments of the trip. Pictures of Granada will follow, so stay tuned! :)

One of the best things that happened to me during the trip was that I ended up meeting 3 good old friends that I haven't seen in ages, one by one and in different moments. And it felt so good to revisit the past with them, to see them as they are today and more importantly, to feel like real friendships remain untouchable over time. The passage of time and growing up has this incredible side where we can sit, reminisce about distant memories and still feel some kind of proximity to them. And at least to me, that's such an amazing sensation. To look back and feel like I've lived already so much, makes me want to look forward and live even more, but keeping the important ties (people) that will connect my entire life through a chain of love, true friendship and honesty.

I love these guys!

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I also realized that the last time I was in southern Algarve was in 2003 with some friends and the first time I remember being there was in 1993, with my family. As I was driving along the N125, the two lane road that crosses the entire region, passing in familiar places and towns, a turmoil of images and memories was invading my mind. Suddenly I was transported to my childhood, to visions of my young parents and my syblings as kids. As if by magic, driving through that road made be closer to a reality that was somehow forgotten in some " mental drawer" and will never exist again, creating a bittersweet feeling in me. Going back to the 90's, to another era, to another life, all the lost innocence. For a while, 20 years of my life unfolded in front of my eyes as I was driving. 20 years is a f*cking long time indeed. But looking back, it seems like it passed in a blink of an eye.

These moments I have in my normal life or during travels make me think of "Aparição", the book from the portuguese existencialist author, Vergílio Ferreira. The book is about the notion of "aparição", which is that precise instant when we reveal us to ourselves and all seems clear and right. I really fascinate about this concept and these moments of epiphany. Like that day when I was riding a bike in the desert fields of Tavira, glowing with that end of the afternoon colour and feeling the breeze in my face. The peace and relaxation I felt in that moment was a true moment of "aparição".

Going back to the trip itself, next destination was Granada, in Spain. Everyone told me great things about the city and it clearly didn't disappoint me. The Alhambra is indeed fascinating, the andalusian lifestyle is vibrant, the narrow streets are a delight. It seemed like a perfect city for a romantic getaway. Or for random encounters of strangers. I surely want to go there again. However, as it's so famous and touristy, there's no need to talk much about my impressions of it. These are two pictures of things I found special: the view of the city from the Alhambra and the night atmosphere.

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Back to moments of epiphany and if you are still reading this, here comes the moment that I will never forget. Saturday, August 31, dusk. After a long drive back from Granada, we stopped in Estremoz, Alentejo. While looking at the map, that name echoed in my head and it went back almost 20 years to a time where i was reading those book collections for kids. And one of those books was passed in Évoramonte, a small village which belongs to Estremoz. I didn't know anything about it, besides some memory from the book and I knew I had to see it. So after finding a nice place to sleep in Estremoz, I drove alone to that village. I shiver just to remember the moments that anticipated my arrival. The typical Alentejo plain scenery around me, the end of another warm day and suddenly, the first visions of a castle on a hill. Évoramonte on the horizon, getting closer and closer. I was really getting excited as I drove up the hill. When I got up and left the car the first thing that hit me was the singularity of the castle and the absolute silence all around. From there, I had a 360º view of endless plains and tiny houses. Plus, I had the sun right in front of me, descending on the horizon and painting the castle with an orangy tone. I was running around like a little kid, wanting to explore every angle, every hidden spot. The castle was closed and there was no one around, it was all mine. Somewhere in this world, there I was once again, filled with joy and appreciation for my life. After many days with revolving thoughts in my head about many things, I truly found peace there. I found all the answers I was somehow seeking. I felt complete and thankful. There I didn't fear anything. Amongst all the uncertainty in my life, there I worried not. I lived and relived a thousand lives, a thousand dreams.

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As the sun vanished behind one distant hill in the horizon, I went to the only restaurant in town and had a feast of great food and talked with the few people that was there. it felt so special. That's what I like, simple and special. Real. Yes, real things that I can touch or understand. That's what I need.
When I finally left the restaurant, the night had invaded the landscape. Driving back with rolled down windows under a sky filled with millions of stars, feeling the smell of the trees and the fields on a warm summer night and listening to "Rembihnútur" from Sigur Ros and "Catastrophe and the Cure" from Explosions in the Sky (love when my ipod's shuffle mode guesses exactly what I need) was the perfect end for my trip.

Posted by ZackFontang 05:47 Archived in Portugal Comments (0)

August 29

Just because I have a thing with dates.

August 29 2005 - flew to Budapest to start my Erasmus year, which forever changed me!

August 29 2012 - returned from a life changing 7 week trip across the United States!

August 29 2013 - starting the day writing these words in Tavira, Portugal, few hours away from driving to Granada, Spain, after exploring the portuguese coast for some days! Feeling on the verge of something new in my life!

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Posted by ZackFontang 28.08.2013 17:16 Archived in Portugal Comments (0)

Turning 30 - alive in the superunknown!

August 5 2013

Waking up as a 30 year old

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I turned 30 today. Although I don't think it's such a big deal and I'm not having multiple epiphanies and moments of absolut enlightment about my humble existence on this Earth, I think I owe to the occasion some thoughts about how I got here and how I foresee my future.

So far, as much as my journey has been winding, I think it couldn't have been more coherent with who I am and what I've become as a man. Looking back, I consider to have made the right decisions at the right time. I have a few insignificant regrets but I feel lucky to have had the opportunity to make the right choices for me, leading to reach this landmark feeling peacefully happy and accomplished with the past 30 years.

I arrive to my 4th decade feeling healthy, in good shape and perhaps more importantly not feeling old at all. But I also don't feel young. I feel like I am precisely where I should be at in life. I never understood exactly what some people mean with being 50 and acting like 25. I think we can be 30 and act like 30, whatever that means. Over the years, I became progressively free from society, so I don't really know what society expects from 30 year olds. Or better, I couldn't care less about what the world around expects from me because of my age.

The process of growing as a person is being impressive to me. Especially over the past 10 years, I found answers to many questions in life. And I can guarantee it was not an easy road. I also discovered more and more questions, have more and more doubts. However, the course of life and experience gave me the wisdom to accept and live with those doubts, knowing that life has its own rhythm and answers unfold themselves along the way.

That brings me to the “expectations, hopes and dreams” issue. I learned to find a balance between having lots of dreams and expectations and at the same time not feel frustrated for not accomplishing some of those. I also never set unreachable goals or desired something that was objectively not accesible to me. We all have to know our limits, because they exist. The trick is to live as close as we can from those limits, thus making our lives awesome. That's what I do.

I turn 30 and my bank account is ridiculous. I don't have savings of any kind. I don't have any kind of safety net or some kind of financial stability, so valued in our “beloved” western society. But yet, I feel RICHEST than ever. I've seen more from the WORLD that I could have ever imagined some years ago. Oh, and the PEOPLE! I could spend countless days just talking about all the wonderful persons I've crossed roads with. Or all the special moments I've shared with them. They gave me so much. Only those who were able to leave their comfort zones can truly understand what I mean. My life is richer because of those persons. And all the strenght and confidence that derives from that is the steam that keeps me going.

I'm also proud of knowing that all I accomplished derives 100% from my own merit. It's a constant struggle, but it's a hell of a ride! Sometimes, even I have difficulties believing in what I've done or seen so far. I won't lie, sometimes I feel slightly scared of living constantly on the edge. But I couldn't exist in any other way.

TIME! I can't turn 30 without mentioning the notion of time. The older we get, the better we realize how time flies. And whilst I spent the better part of the past decade postponing many things in life, always thinking that I could do them another day, I realized that all is fleeting and the moment, the urgency of the moment should prevail above anything else. I know now how life changes drastically from one second to another and I keep that in mind. I'm not obsessed with it, but I think it's important to be aware that one day we are happy and next day the whole world might collapse in front of us.

I keep saying that life is awesome, even when it's not. I haven't been proven otherwise yet. Existence is such a gift, such a blessing from nature. We should live it intensively, feel all and everything, seek the unseekable and dare to dream endlessly. We must make our lives special and worth living, whatever that means. I don't know for how long I will be allowed to walk (or run or fly or swim) this earth or for how long I'll have the luck to dive in the ocean. I don't know when I'll stop being able to smell the spring anymore or to hug a beloved one. I don't know when I won't have the chance to taste a delicious meal or to wonder aimlessly in a foreign land. I don't know for how long I'll be entitled to spend an entire night listening to a beautiful woman talking and smiling at me. I don't know for how long I'll be able to enjoy to be taken away to distant universes during a rock concert. But as long as I live, I WANT it all! And I will have it all!

That's the only thing I know today, writing these words by the window of one of my favourite places in Porto, Candelabro, watching people and life happening in front of me, on this pleasant summer afternoon in this good year of 2013. Later on I will go to “my” beach and catch some waves. Afterwards, will be time to have dinner with my dear family (the foundation of all I have become). Maybe during weekend will be time to party like it's 2003!

Here's to the future!
Love,

Pedro.

PS – While I was writing, this Neutral Milk Hotel song played on my computer and it seems adequate to the occasion:

“And one day we will die
And our ashes will fly from the aeroplane over the sea
But for now we are young
Let us lay in the sun
And count every beautiful thing we can see
Love to be
In the arms of all I'm keeping here with me”

Posted by ZackFontang 08:44 Archived in Portugal Comments (6)

westbound. an american roadtrip.

One dream, 50 days and an entire lifetime to remember it!

One year ago I started my journey across USA. The one that motivated this blog and so many other things that happened in my life. If you followed my blog over the past 2 years, you could witness how important this trip and all around it was to me. I won't go through all that again.

During the trip, I recorded footage of many different things, without any special motivation behind it besides wanting to record a special moment or a special landscape. I also tried to have in film some kind of travel journal, where I was explaining what I was doing and where I was heading. Little did I know that some months later I would decide to depict my journey through edited clips of all that footage. Nothing of that was made/created or even staged with that purpose. It's all simple, original and real (like me, maybe? :) ).

Although I'm sharing this so called documentary, I made it for myself. I didn't have any special concerns in trying to make it really artistic, visually appealing or interesting to others. When I watch it and see the images, I remember the moments and I can establish a link between all of them. But of course, by sharing it, I hope to create some emotions on whoever watches it. Whether is the desire to travel, the feeling of pure freedom or how amazing life can be, I hope I can touch each and every person that will take 11 minutes of his/her life to watch my "westbound. an american roadtrip."

One year later, I can say that this trip really changed my life. I won't lie, the days before departing to Boston were filled with anxiety and fear. Not only I was going there alone, but I was also leaving my flat in my hometown with the hope to move to Porto after my return from the trip. Together with that, I was leaving my job for almost 2 months. The days before leaving, I kept thinking how stupid I was for always making my life harder, always searching for something to shake the comfort and stability of my life. "What if I go and don't like? What if something happens?" were recurrent thoughts in my head. "What if I run out of money or get really sick? were also present in my daily thoughts.

I guess that's one of the ironies of life. We keep fearing to leave the comfort zone, only to realize how amazing is the world outside of that "known area". I remember perfectly the moment I arrived to Logan Airport, caught a bus to the center and started seeing Boston skyline far away. I was alone, but I didn't feel fear or anything bad. I felt alive, filled with adrenaline and excitment. I was on my own. Every step was a step towards the unknown. And that feeling is mindblowing. It took probably a little bit more than one hour in a foreign continent to be welcomed by the sparkling eyes and an open smile of Joe, husband of Eliza, the person I had contacted via CouchSurfing and that accepted to host me for 3 nights in Cambridge, Boston. As soon as I entered their home and sat on the porch talking with him, I felt ready for everything ahead of me and felt larger than life.

That was the first of tousands of defining moments in this trip that I will keep for the rest of my life. Some people asked me over the past year if I was sad that it was over. Honestly, I could never feel sad about the fact the trip is over. Everytime I would remember my journey, I kept feeling lucky, knowing that I've done something extraordinary. No one can take that from me. And even if I won't have the chance to have another trip like this or meet again most of the amazing people I've met over there, I will always have the memories of this one. That alone is, in my humble opinion, a huge reason to feel happy even when life feels dull, not incredible and totally ordinary.

Back to the video, I'm happy I could commit to making it and finishing it. I wonder what I will feel while watching it, 10 years from now. After many doubts about which song to choose, I chose one from Explosions in the Sky, called "The Only Moment We Were Alone", because it was the song they played live in Primavera Sound here in Porto and made me jump, jump and jump in complete ecstasy. It was also part of my soundtrack during the trip. And I like its name. Although I was often surrounded by people, the fact is that I was all alone in my thoughts. But the good kind of loneliness! That loneliness that makes us feel unstoppable and unbeatable while driving through Monument Valley for example.

Hope you like it. Feel free to leave your impressions about it.

Posted by ZackFontang 23:48 Archived in USA Comments (4)

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