Thursday, August 10, 2006

Porto

When I was young, I recall looking out of my bedroom window and wishing to see further than my eye already knew. I wanted to travel and my heart yearned to pack a bag and adventure out to places that I'd only heard of.
People often make the mistake of associating distance to traveling; it is wrongly thought that the further you go, the more you know.
The way I see it, it's not how far you go or what you see but what you experience that defines your journey and traveling expertise.
This time, my trip wasn't all that far. Three hours on the Alpha Pendulum; that’s how long it took me to arrive in Porto and visit the city known for wine and good disposition.
I was told that Dom Pedro fell in love with Porto's charms, I have no difficulty in understanding this; before arriving, I could tell from the architecture and the green surrounding it that the city was built on charm and enchantment.
Perhaps it was the air that was lighter, maybe it was the fact that the traffic was calmer but without a doubt the inhabitants had a light hearted attitude that allowed one to relax and feel welcome.
Closing my eyes, I felt myself being transported back a couple of centuries where ladies and gents hustled and bustled about in the city. Businesses were specified and were built up by reputation. Fishing was making a living instead of a sport and those looking for a coin, shined shoes and carried shopping bags rather than indicate parking spaces.
Change is the only guarantee the future gives you.
And yet, Porto seems to be one of those cities that developed maintaining its roots.
One has merely to look at architecture… The city boasts the Crystal Palace and the Music House: The one has stood the test of time; the other seems to exemplify the future.
Sitting on the margins of the river in Gaia, I considered the one thing that time hasn't touched… Love.
Couples sitting on the margins of the river exchanged looks of tenderness and whispered sweet nothings in each other's ears. No matter how far back I try to imagine, I can still see them playing the same games of love with one another.
Love is a universal language and the culture that stands the test of time.

But my reasons for visiting had little to do with tourism and more to do with an exchange program set up by my company in order to give me the opportunity to get to know another department's ins and outs and obtain a better know how of another piece of the engine that makes our company function.
And although the trip to Porto was the perk of the experience, the truth is that I got more the exchange than I'd expected.
Aside the professional points that are more specific and technically directed to my working interests, what most impressed me has more to do with the people and working environment.
After working in Lisbon for ten months, I'd grown used to the individualistic ambition that comes with living in a big city. At first one's spirits are dampened but after a while, you learn to accept the environment for what it is as one would when integrating in another culture. You adapt. You blend and eventually you forget what it's like to be a part of a different reality.
In our call centre in Porto, I was reminded of the positive side of human nature, achieved when ego is set aside to work for a common purpose.
Teamwork.
Respect.
Comradeship.
People with different perspectives and ideas, interacting with the intent of working as a unit with a common purpose and goal.
Work and play sit on an even scale.
They work hard, but they play with the same zest.
I finally felt what has been missing in the last ten months and I felt like somehow I'd arrived home.
At first we were a bit shy and awkward but after the first jokes were shared, it felt as if I'd known them for years.
There was the calm colleague that reminded me of my yoga teacher, the energetic one with all the cool ideas, there was the jester and joker, the fashion fanatic, the sweet one, the girl next door, the smiley one and the one that ate yoghurt with a Chinese chopstick.

I loved their good humour, their jokes, their accent and the way the men always let the ladies go first… now that’s the kind of good manners that missing in modern days!
I loved their river with it's seven bridges, their clean beaches with ample boardwalk on the side for bikers and joggers and children and people that just wanted to enjoy the scenery,
I enjoyed a francesinha and promised to try the tripas next time I came around.
I love Porto!

A strange wave of melancholy washed over me as I said my goodbyes and sat in the charming train station of Gaia where the floors were still made of wood and the lamp posts of steel and if you ignored modern robes and the vending machine, you could swear you were in another century.
I didn't buy a souvenir; I didn't feel like I had to.
Porto gave me enough of itself to take in my heart with me home.
On the way home we passed Coimbra and I decided that Coimbra is definitely another place on the Portuguese map I'd like to see before adventuring out.

Life is about the journey rather than the destination.

2 comments:

unresigned said...

I know them all and yes, some are great, some are just fake. But it is a great team overall and i knew you would like going up there.

I have a great friend that i can't wait to see again, i'm sure you loved him!!

Please note, i don't like or even understand why men should let women go first! But that's just me! ;)

Quicha said...

A person maybe wouldn't think that two big cities in a small country would be so different. Portugal has a rich culture and is a beautiful place, we just have to know where to look.