My dear readers. Today, I want to share a very special story with you. Special indeed. A story written by life itself … A bit like in a fairy-tale. But one that actually happened. It is a story about a country. A story about a journey. A story about people and their unique way of making you feel home. A love story, of course. What else, you might be thinking. And naturally, it is one. 😀
The story I am going to tell you today is about Portugal. I came as a tourist and left as a local. How did this happen? Like many other stories, it all started with a moment of love.
Back in the summer of 2014, my brother, his girlfriend, another dear friend of ours and I had planned a “typical holiday” trip to Portugal. Even or especially for me as a professional travel blogger. Simply travelling to relax, without feeling the need to publish anything, literally “staying in the backseat” of the rental car, just chillaxing. Marvellous. A year earlier, my dear brother Julian had given me festival tickets for the “Optimus Primavera Sound” music festival in the city of Porto on the occasion of my 30th birthday. This then sparked the idea of a one-week trip to Portugal among us. Before actually heading to Porto, we made for a day trip to Lisbon as well as a surf-camp experience near Ericeira. You see from the links, that I could not really stay away from expressing myself on my travel blog for too long!
And then, something happened. Something that changed everything. It was when I met (quote) “the most passionate food ambassador” of Portugal, or indeed, of his beloved city Porto: André Apolinário. This charming Portuguese had only swapped his career as a civil engineer for “Taste Porto Food Tours” a year earlier, thriving on realising his very own life dream with all the enthusiasm possible. I remember the company having even reached out to me on Twitter back in 2013, inviting me on a culinary trip so as to “Taste Porto”. During the subsequent food tour we then took in Porto, André’s enthusiasm would leave all of us spellbound & speechless – only to turn us into storytellers, now supported by hundreds more enthusiastic reviews on Tripadvisor! Back then, it was André who introduced me to his friends & colleagues in Porto, leaving me with this immense desire to come up with something in reply to all the enthusiasm, love & energy I received by the sweet Portuguese people I had met.
Later that summer, I had my reply. I simply woke up one day and decided that I was going to learn Portuguese. Without telling Portugal about it. Without telling them yet, that is.
“Dear Rita … My name is Elena, I am from Austria and I have been following your beautiful and truly inspiring blog, ‘O Porto Encanta‘, for quite a while now. I really enjoy it for improving my Portuguese and would like to seize this opportunity for extending a word of immense gratitude to you: Your warm-hearted, willingly beautiful way of writing is truly ‘enchanting’! Could you do me a favour, please? Please do not tell our friends & colleagues in Porto about this message that I am addressing to you here in Portuguese so as to practice the language … I would much rather like to surprise them upon my next visit.”
24 hours later. “Dear Elena … Incredible how well you already write in Portuguese. Of course, you can trust that your secret is absolutely safe with me … and that I long for the day of your return so as to get to know you finally, properly.” Because at this stage, my dear readers, I had not even met dear Rita Branco yet, Rita, who is an utmost charming Brazilian lady and who has been living in the city of Porto for the past ten years. The light-hearted, generous way of expressing herself, her feelings and her stories on her blog, however, told me all I needed to know. I just knew I could trust her. Everything was already there.
During the subsequent weeks of that summer, I furthered my correspondence with Rita and thereby intensified our virtual friendship and my love for Portuguese as the language of our connection. Until something happened, again. About eight weeks into my self-study learning of Portuguese back home in Austria, I so happened to wake up with a poem in Portuguese – written & dedicated to my friends in Porto.
“I have never woken up with a poem, despite having written many poems & prose before …” … “Elena, who are you ?!?” … “This is incredible … You have an exceptional talent. And a Portuguese soul, at that.” … “Simply unbelievable.” … “You are one of us.”
Many are the statements & moving are the reactions I have caused upon telling this heartfelt story around the globe. One beautiful morning, from 6.00 to 7.00 a.m. precisely, I wake up writing down a long poem in Portuguese – and to make matters even more fascinating, I was actually hosting two of my beloved English travel writer friends on a foodie trip in Southern Styria at the time. Yes! Speaking English, German & food love, that is. The poem, in any case, talks about my happiness of learning Portuguese, my sense of gratitude towards and inspiration from my dear friends in Portugal. Head over to Rita Branco’s blog for a whole reflection of the story, as well as the poem: “O Encanto Pelo Porto … Explica-Se Assim“! Up until this day, I cannot fully explain what has happened. What I know for sure, though, is that learning Portuguese always felt natural to me. Like “waking up” a language I already knew. As if it had always been there. Portuguese always appeared natural to me. And incredibly beautiful, at that.
On the occasion of my 31st birthday, I travel to Porto once more. Making my speech … and switching the languages. From English into Portuguese, with the poem I had written & dedicated to my dear friends.
“So what, do you think, is the surprise that I have brought you today?” I beam at everyone sitting around the table. It is a Friday night, and we are celebrating the beginning of the weekend with a small birthday party for me in Porto. Most of the people I had met only a few months earlier are here, as well as my dear friend Bianca from Austria who had joined me on this trip. “Elena, to be honest … We think you are here to tell us that you are moving to Porto. Yes. You are moving to Porto because you like it so much!” – “Really? Is that what you are thinking? That I simply decide, within a matter of four months, to move to Porto – just like that?!” I am smiling, taken aback by this reply that I had not expected. The moment has come to finally unveil the secret. My heart beats fast – really fast! I remember getting up and … speaking English no more.
This moment, seconds after ending my poem in Portuguese, the expression on the faces of my friends – I will never ever forget it for the whole of my entire life. It was, and still is, one of the most touching moments of my whole life. Many more times, I have shared my emotions about this situation, about this inspiration, about this love for a country, for a language, for its people, reaching out to many more people the world over – and Portugal & Brazil especially. It really is a bit unbelievable. And yet so simple. Natural. And beautiful. Many people have already felt inspired after hearing this story. Some have been left with tears in their eyes. Some even thought of a conspiracy theory … Others, in turn, told me of their very own experiences of moments like these. Moments of love, and inspiration, for the people and the languages we have come to use in order to communicate in this world.
And after all … It just is what it is: A door leading to a world full of riches, of friendship & understanding. I love Portugal. My soul has found a home here.
Since this one particular moment last year, a lot of time has passed. I have been travelling around the world, with the actual purpose of undertaking a “creative travel research trip” around the globe for my upcoming book project, “The Creative Traveler’s Handbook“. Thanks to all the inspiration I received, I have encouraged a much deeper sense of involvement with the land as well as the people of Brazil. I now have returned to Portugal in the spring of 2015 – more creative research trips, World Food Tourism Summit & friendship invitations included. It really is what it is: One of the most beautiful, most intense love stories of my whole life.
And meanwhile … I can say that I am fluent in Portuguese. That I do feel like a local here in Portugal. Everything is clear, obvious and forever fascinating, deep & intense. I have received opportunities that have marked my life for years to come, continuing to leave me speechless still. Such as the generosity, love & friendship of another now dear friend of mine, André Ribeirinho, inviting me to taste a 150 year old Port wine during an international #winelover conference. Even my parents fell silent on the phone after this announcement. Impossible, they said: “You go to a conference for 24 hours and then this is what happens!” Everything is possible, I have come to smile in return. While still finding it quite unbelievable myself.
Just one year ago, I did not even know how to say “Thank you” in the local language of Portuguese. I had virtually no emotional connection to this country and its people whatsoever. And today … My dear friend Filipa Pequito Valente, of “Taste of Lisboa Food Tours“, tells me that “I have a Portuguese soul“. My dear friend Rita Branco, of ‘O Porto Encanta‘, has already confirmed me as a prominent speaker in her international congress of Brazilian bloggers in the city of Porto later this year – in Portuguese, naturally.
OBRIGADA, André Apolinário, Joana Conde, Sofía Príncipe, Flávia Santiago, Tiago Ferreira, Liliana Patricia Pinto Silva, Melanie Rocha, Xana Maciel, Rui Chantre, Marco Duarte, Tilda Lindberg Fontes, Bernardete Lopes, Rita Branco, Filipa Pequito Valente, Susana Spitzer Santos, Sérgio Guerreiro, João Ministro, Sara Fernandes, Gabriella Ryan Opaz, Sonia Nolasco, Susana Santos, Sara Dias, Marco Pinto, André Ribeirinho, Luiz Alberto, Ana Sofia de Oliveira, Ricardo Bernardo, Sara Ramos, Carly Petracco, Miguel David, Francisco Rosa, Sonia Elias, Igor Oliveira, Maria Luiza Lisboa, Cinthia Verbist, Rox Lemanski, Claudia Horn Ilha, Fabrizio Ranzolin, Clarice Fiuza, Roze Komora, Syomara Besen Barbosa, Sonia Meireles, Karin Luize de Carvalho, Beatriz Silva, Ruben Obadia, José Borralho, Teresa Santos, Linda Pereira, Nelson Carvalheiro, Catarina Serra, Ricardo Brochado, Roger Prieto and many more.
I love you so much! Viva Portugal <3