The moment I touched down from India I had an itch to explore some more. Something deep within me was telling me that I needed to go on a solo adventure to prove to myself that I could stand on my own, be independent, and fall in love with myself once more. 2016 was both a trying and an important year for me as I said goodbye to my 3.5 year relationship, put up boundaries with my family that should have been in place for 36 years, reunited with my sister and went on a spiritual trip to India, and landed my dream job where I produced over 93,000 events worldwide having people talk about what makes them human and connected. It was a dichotomous year filled with a lot of heartache, challenges, new beginnings, lessons, and victories. I’m thankful for it’s obstacles now, for I would have never been able to move forward and be sitting here in Portugal writing this blog.
I deemed this trip ‘my own personal honeymoon.” At age 36 I found myself newly single, no children, and no strings to hold me down….besides my own mental and spiritual ones that I occasionally tie down for myself. I’m at a crossroads in life (there will be many more I’m sure of it), but if this year has taught me anything it’s to follow my heart, know what I need, and that I’m the only one that’s going to make my life happen so I better love myself and be my biggest champion. The answers will come if I just listen to my inner self….hence, bags were packed and off I went!
Arriving in Portugal after a 24 hour flight (yes 24 hours!….with two layovers and massive delays) I was absolutely exhausted. The cab driver weaved his way through the city, climbing steep alleyways that were paved in cobblestones holding beautiful apartments covered in vibrant colors of tile. I arrived at my airbnb and Jacob, my flatmate, greeted me at the door. The apartment that I’m staying at is smack dab in the middle of all the action and has such an authentic Portuguese aesthetic to its bones. It turns out Jacob is not only the successful owner of one of the most elite men’s stores in Lisbon, but also a famous soap star in Portugal! He just arrived back home after staying in a mansion taping the Portuguese spin off of Downtown Abbey. As my friend Lawrence says about my life….”this shit writes itself!”
It was time to get lost… and I mean that in every sense of the word. Pretending to have a clue, I walked up and down massive hills and neighborhoods, but felt as though I was missing the mark completely. I wanted to be a confident explorer who could read maps, take public transportation, and lead the way. However, I don’t even own up to that in my own native city, so why would I expect to do so here? My first lesson of this trip revealed itself to me as I was sweating bullets, my feet killing me, and aggravation settling in…this is supposed to be my honeymoon so be easy on myself! Even Magellan probably made a few wrong turns in his day and chose the easier route. Just as I was about to lose hope and throw in the towel, the 28 Tram appeared and swooped me up where I hopped on and hopped off for the remainder of the afternoon.
My favorite neighborhood was Alfama, which is perched high on a hill overlooking the .water and the city of Lisbon. It’s also the birthplace of Fado music, which is a hauntingly beautiful style of music with female vocals and a guitar (very famous in Lisbon). Arching over the water was a magnificent red bridge that looks just like the Golden Gate. It surprised me how this landmark made me feel more assured and not as lonely, bringing a little slice of comfort in this new city that was so foreign to me. I walked past the Basilica of St. Anthony, the Patron Saint of lost things. He was born in Lisbon and they resurrected a chapel in his honor. I stood in front of the archway and said a small prayer nudging him to help me find that damn lost ring from India that went mysteriously missing. Wouldn’t that be a kick if I found it upon my return?!
What kept popping up for me along my journey was how different this trip has been from the others. For the past couple of years I’ve been traveling mainly to third world countries, immersing myself in cultures that are incredibly foreign to my own. Having gone from India to Portugal in only two months, the massive contrast was astonishing. How fortunate and grateful I am to be able to travel the world to see these stark differences. By differences I mean architecture, traditions, language, food, wealth, and culture. However, under the skin of it all each civilization is still run by laws, religion/beliefs, a need to be loved, and a sheer will to survive. Each unique place has both it’s pleasures and its sins.
I returned home in the evening feeling proud of my independence and chalking my first day up to a success. It was a day filled with lots and lots of hills, some frustration, and tons of rewards. Sometimes you have to get really, really lost in order to be truly found. Thank you St. Anthony. xoxo
The following day I took a tour to Fatima, Batalha, Nazare, and Obidos which are all about an hour away from Lisbon. Fátima is a central Portuguese town that’s home to the Sanctuary of Fátima, a Catholic pilgrimage site (the 4th most important in all of Europe with over 5 million visitors a year). According to belief, the Virgin Mary appeared to three shepherd children five different times in 1917. In these visitations, Mary predicted future events that eventually came true. She told them that World War II was coming, urged them to make the Russians covert to Catholicism to save them from Communism, and warned that Pope John Paul II would have an attempted assassination on his life.
Next year will be the 100th year since she appeared and Portugal is already making arrangements for the floods of people that will come hoping for another appearance from the Virgin Mary.
Before we entered the gates of Fatima, our tour guide brought us to a shop to buy souveniers. I had never witnessed anything like it…I had officially stepped into a Catholic Super Walmart!
A gigantic warehouse filled to the brim with thousands of rosaries, statues of Mary, nativity scenes, bibles, crosses…you name it! To be honest, my first reaction was not a positive one. I was brought back to my experiences in India where beautifully dressed priests were sitting on the Ganges looking like they were deep in prayer, when quite often they were making a buck on prying tourists wanting photographs. The commoditization of religion is something that irks me and makes me feel uneasy. To make money off of people’s faith seems wrong to me…especially when so much wealth goes into religious institutions and so little to it’s patrons. I do understand why people buy into these relics, desiring to be closer to the divine and their faith. With all that being said, I even sheepishly purchased a rosary that would later be blessed during the mass at Fatima. When in Rome I guess 😉
The mass at Fatima actually really moved me. I remember when I was a little girl and had to attend mass weekly since I went to a private Catholic school. I would fidget in the pew, stare up at the clock in sheer boredom, and pass notes to my friends in the prayer books making fun of Father John’s sermon. I was expecting the same kind of reaction (maybe minus the note passing) even now. However, as I entered the humungous church the choir’s voices echoed off the walls and the music filled the room taking my breath away. Tears brimmed my eyes as I shirked quietly in one of the back pews. I was surprised at my reaction.
While the mass was in Portuguese and I could not understand one word, I recognized the procession and the traditions. People from all over the world put their hands up to their chests making the sign of the cross or speaking the words “and also with you.” A sense of comfort ran through me as I recognized the community I stood with at that moment. The moment of the procession came to offer peace to your neighbor, as we all looked around and offered our hand. “Peace be with you.” I thought to myself wouldn’t this be such a beautiful practice if this was actually administered outside these walls.
Upon leaving mass, I noticed several people on their knees scooting down the cement hill towards the Virgin Mary’s Sanctuary. I asked my guide why they were not walking and he said that this path was called the Saint Way and that people from all over the world came to thank the Virgin Mary for granting them their prayers. Depending on the severity of the prayer that has been answered, people vow that they’ll visit Fatima and walk on their knees miles to show their gratitude and devotion.
The woman that caught my eye first must have been in her late 60’s. Unlike the other believers who had family cheering them on, she was all alone. I wondered what her prayer had been and how she would be able to fulfill her promise to the Virgin Mary. She had so long to go and already looked so frail. I thought to offer my hand to her, but not knowing the customs and not wanting to impose on such an important personal devotion, I decided to steer clear and instead headed over to purchase some candles to offer Virgin Mary.
I bought four candles and waited in line for people to make their offerings. The smell of the air was of burnt wax. It was finally my turn and as I stepped up to the roaring fire I lit my first candle and thought of my mother. I wished for her to find happiness, to live her life to the fullest, and to be physically and emotionally healthy. I also offered her my forgiveness as I threw her candle into the flames. The second candle I prayed for my father…for his happiness, for his final years to be those of happy memories, and for his physical and emotional health. Again, I offered him my forgiveness and I placed the candle in the fire. The third candle was for Chio asking him to continue to watch over me. Finally I lit the last candle for myself…praying for more self compassion along this journey. I then offered myself my own forgiveness and watched the wax melt into the fire.
Afterwords I climbed the steps to the Virgin Mary’s sanctuary and visited the tombs of the three shepherds that she had visited in 1917. It must have been a good hour since I’d left mass and as I exited Fatima, I looked back around toward the Saint Way to see how my lady on her knees was doing. She had made quite some progress (more than I expected) but was hunched over and clearly in pain. She was now walking on her hands and knees. As I closed my eyes that evening, my only regret of the day was not lighting a candle for her and throwing it into the fire. I will always remember that women’s devotion and while I am not a religious person, it is moments like these that make me feel closest to God (whomever or whatever that may be).