The Best European Country? Really?
Portugal is a country of contrasts for me. Ranking no.1 this year on the Best European Country List, it is definitely full of beauty and opportunities for the tourist (I know-I’ve seen a fair bit of it!) but it always leaves me with a feeling of sadness and melancholy too. Only in the last 20 years has political change brought in hopes of better things for the young folk, it only became compulsory to learn how to read in 1987 and consequently many do gravitate and settle in the bigger cities once completing their education, staying where there are greater job opportunities. But, back in the countryside, up in the hills where my parents live, you see the years of poverty and oppression etched onto the brown leathered faces of the old folk. Actually, half of them aren’t even that old but when you spend all day on your sloped terraces, tilling the land and growing your livelihood, the sun takes its toll and adds 30 years!
The Low’s of Portugal
Equally, correct me if I’m wrong, but these folk don’t seem to have much to celebrate in life either. Only just not Third World they live in houses with dirt floors shared with livestock, and if you’ve ever seen any property programmes featuring Portugal you’d quickly notice their dark windowless houses – if I had to live in such dim accommodation it wouldn’t be long before you found me in the corner rocking in a ball, next to the chicken poop, chewing on my dusty slipper. It always strikes me too that the men and women live their lives independently, only valuing companionship with their same sex – from 2pm onwards men start their drinking in the local bars whilst the women sit alone on their front steps in their beige pinnies watching the world go by, or occasionally with a friend in an identical beige pinny, by the village tap, gossiping – probably about the chauvinistic menfolk.
The High’s of Portugal
I love Portugal, I really do, with its beautifully tiled town squares and ornate fountains, great food and wine, scenery which takes your breath away, smells of pine and eucalyptus that rival a Turkish Solarium, beautiful beaches, amazing historical sites and landmarks, the fact it’s always so quiet and peaceful, and, the little bar at the supermarket which serves you the perfect refreshing 30cl beer – post-shop. But it just leaves me feeling so sad… I want these Portuguese locals to wake up and smell the eucalyptus, appreciate what they have. Or maybe they do!? Maybe it’s an inner contentment that doesn’t manifest itself on the face. Perhaps they haven’t learned to smile yet – afterall, it wasn’t that long ago since Salazar ripped their hearts from them and stole their souls. I tell myself it takes time to forget.
OK – It Is Pretty Awesome
Like I said at the start though, Portugal is full of contrasts for me because as much as I notice the sad worn faces and get annoyed at the chauvinistic sexist values, Portugal means ‘family holidays’ and lots of fun, in breathtaking surroundings that calm your mind and refresh your inner psyche. My parents’ home is the most beautiful you’ve ever seen – a restored old farm house and separate barn conversion with all the mod cons you need and so many pool inflatables for the kids it hurts your lungs just thinking about it! And, this time we had the added bonus of having ‘Family-Gibson’ with us too – a rare special treat and amazing fun. If you’d been up early enough this morning it would have been our sad faces you saw as we said emotional goodbyes and set off for Porto airport. Remy was even reduced to real genuine tears at the thought of leaving it all behind, it broke my heart. After most holidays I’m usually ready to return home and get back to normality, but this last week seems to have been hit by some weird Doctor-Who-like time vortex, making a week feel more like a weekend.
Some of the weeks highlights include a trip to Tondella market, an opportunity for the kids to spend their pocket-money before it burnt holes in their breeches, followed by a lovely impromptu picnic in the park.
A whole day devoted to kids party games around the pool – the one where the dads got wet went down especially well, it was so lovely to hear the hearty belly laughter, albeit slightly drowned out by Richard and Glenn’s squeals!
The obligatory trip to Santa Comba Dau to share the delightful retail experience with The Gibsons which goes by the name Wan Kings – a shop which sells anything and everything from lilo’s to cheese-graters, Jesus cigarette lighters to fake plastic Palm trees for the discerning patio owner, always served to you by a Chinese man who never stops talking on his phone!
Have you been? Is it your favourite country? Leave me a comment…