Friends and Wine. Is there a better combination?
To me, the best thing about traveling, isn’t the site seeing, exploring the architecture of a city or the beautiful countryside, nor is it experiencing the local culture and its culinary specialties. Please don’t misunderstand me, those are all fantastic and I cherish each one. When I reflect back on any adventure or journey, what I most fondly recall are the encounters with locals and other travelers that blossom quickly into friendships. God directed my journey, controlling the decisions I made of where to stop and how long to stay, so He could bring me to this exact spot at this exact time.
After four days in Porto, and having met Bens, Stefan, Alvaro, Torbin, Alice, Andres, Mia, Joana, Emily and Joan, it was difficult to leave these new friends that my soul yearned for after 40+ days on the road. Don’t get me wrong, I had met friends along this journey that I plan to stay in touch with in the future. The Dane’s I met at British Bar in Lisbon, Marcel, Jesse and Phil from Sunset Destination Hostel in Lisbon, Emily & James at Room in the City hostel in San Sebastian, Max & Lucas at Casa Azul hostel in Sintra, and Filip at Rainbow Hostel in Doolin, all put a stamp on my life’s passport. But the gang at Wine Hostel have found a secure and cherished place in my heart given the close bond we created over the 4 nights that I was lucky enough to have experienced in that beautiful city.
First of all, the staff (Alice, Mia and Andres) at Wine Hostel love their jobs and it shows in how they interact with the guests. The Portuguese women working there have a great way of making you feel like a long time friend and one of the gang. It seemed that Alvaro was a staffer there as he was so inviting, interacted with the staff as if he had been working there for months but he had only been crashing here (in the room I was in) for a week while looking for a job as a chef. He cooked for us each night and would go to the market with us to select the food. Alvaro should be hired quickly as he is a fantastic chef and made delicious meals for anyone who pitched in with purchasing the ingredients each night. Torbin was just passing through for the night, but his Irish personality was so even keeled and polite that everyone loved him. He was off to do a ‘workaway’ program helping a family farm about a 2 hour journey northeast near the border of Spain. Joana, Joan and Emily were there for a few nights and I enjoyed their conversation and sarcasm. The two I clicked with and hung out with most were Stefan and Bens. These young Belgian gentlemen are around 21 or 22 and have an amazingly wise world view yet embody the innocence of their future life’s journey. Alvaro and I immediately got along as he is from Costa Rica (Alajuela) and we had much to talk about on that topic. I had lived in Costa Rica for 3 months in 2008-2009 and had traveled there many times over a 3 – 4 year span.
Making fast friends with Bens (Wouter) and Stefan, as we shared interests in investments, stocks, and banking, as well as politics, we would spend pretty much the entire day and night together touring Porto, shopping with Alvaro and cooking food each evening at the hostel. One afternoon we rented bikes and headed out for about 4 hours to the south of Porto along the beach. The waves were huge and rough that day. Pounding the rocks that were the protective barrier between the released harnessed power of the ocean and the surrounding calm of the landscape lying just on the other side of the bike and walk path. We climbed atop the rocks, teased the breaking waves to get soak us (and they did) and then would hop back on our bikes and peddle a bit further down the coast. Both Stefan and I experienced a fall in which our back landed firmly on a rock, Stefan’s shoe and sock almost found their way into the oceans abyss as did my cell phone with my credit cards and cash. But thanks to Bens, both Stefan and my possessions were saved. Biking back to the hostel in the cooler temperatures and slight breeze did not make for a comfortable stroll. Back at the hostel, after a tough long uphill climb where I left Bens and Stefan in my wake (all those spin classes with Judi B. over the years definitely paid dividends), we got our shopping list together with Alvaro and headed to the market. The meal began with rice and sausage for starters with the entrée, Mussels on rice in sauce. Honestly, I have no idea what the dish was called but with Alvaro’s touches it was excellent. Topping it off with a 2 Euro bottle of wine made it even that much better.
The next afternoon, the weather had turned cooler and windy, but the gang (Alvaro, Stefan and Bens) and I hopped the bus to Matosinhos about 15 minutes away. Alvaro works on Costa Rican (similar to Indian) time where everything is just “5, 10 minutes” away. Bens, Stefan and I kept remarking, “I think we are walking all the way there”. Eventually we did catch the bus and enjoyed a nice stroll along the northern coastline of Porto. Wandering out to a lighthouse which was barricaded by very thick concrete walls, again we teased the sea to soak us. And soak us it did. Wet, cold and hungry, we hopped on a bus and headed back to the hostel. I needed to get a couple of things done so the gang went on to the market to get the food. On their walk back the rains came. . .hard! They were drenched when they arrived, but luckily I was now warm and dry.
Alvaro prepared our meal again, Stefan retired to the room to avoid having to help (we noticed Stefan, haha) while the rest of us pitched in to help. Tonight’s starter was a delicious broth with spinach and the main course was meat and veggies. Delicious! Oh, and brownie’s (home-made :). Again, everything goes down better with a 2 – 3 Euro bottle of wine.
The next morning Bens and Stefan departed for their flight around 7 AM. We said our goodbye’s and promised to stay in touch (and we have over a month later, as I write this). I remained in Porto for one more day and night. It was a rainy day so I nestled in and worked. Alvaro and I hung out that afternoon and he was headed out for a job interview as a chef that Mia had helped line up. In a way the day and night was depressing with 50% of your gang not there. I got a good nights sleep and would depart the next morning as Alvaro walked me to the train station.
It was tough to leave Porto as it is a lovely, welcoming and warm city. What made it harder to leave was knowing those memories forged in those 4 days would be carried in pictures but the details would fade. The laughs, the experiences along the water, the food eaten and the late nights would only be remembered in the future for its past. But those 4 days in Porto couldn’t have been a better blessing or come as such an incredible surprise. I have made great friends for life. Friends who were each just as welcoming, warm and loving as the city in which the intersection of our lives merged into one another for those four epic days in February!