So far, Portugal has been everything and more that I anticipated. Traveling extensively in Italy, and many naysayers, had me beginning to doubt my decision to spend ten days in this poorer and much less vogue (according to others) country. Contrary to my experience thus far, the people, the understated sophistication, the work ethic, and the abundance of natural resources, has made this an alluring journey that I am excited to continue and more than happy that I listened to my heart, and stayed with the course.
On day four, arriving in Mata do Bussaco last evening, I am awakened by a knock on my door for morning service in bed. Realizing that I must answer, regretting to leave those ever so soft sheets on that ever so grandiose, devouring, and greedy bed, I rise.
The silver ornate tray was abundant with some unforeseen sites thus far during my three days in Lisbon (Lisboa). Papos de anjo (angel’s breasts); whipped eggs yolks baked, then boiled in sugar syrup,
Toucinabo do Ceu, a rich almond and cinnamon cake, and , a sponge cake roll with sweetened egg filling. The coffee easily compared to the Italian’s, and the blood orange juice was just squeezed.
I chose to stay engulfed in my luxurious robe compliments of the Bucaco Palace Hotel, (review another time) and dine in bed. The big windows, floor to ceiling in my palace pink bedroom, showed the gloom and rain that is to be expected for the dreary day. The bloated dark gray clouds looked as if they were being hung by invisible cords from the heavens; drooping and dreading the implosion that would soon follow. A deterrent? Impossible. I had a day planned that I was not going to miss. Starting with driving up the very steep and switch back roads to Bom Jesus do Monte, and, for the climb at the hillside, even though I would not do it on my knees as was the tradition of the pilgrims, I would need some stamina for the 577 very steep steps! Breakfast was magnificent. I’ve had enough sugar to last me a week!
The Portuguese service staff at the hotel were as all the other Portuguese people that I have encountered so far. Extremely helpful, professional, proud, yet very humble. They offered English, I offered Spanish, and we all laughed and progressed through a conversation that was difficult yet titillating, making me promise myself to work more on my foreign languages! I found my car, and off I go in the pouring rain. The higher the altitude, the harder the rain, and the more difficult to see. As the box car delivery trucks raced around the switchbacks, my knuckles became more and more tense around the leather of my itty bitty car’s steering wheel. Why don’t they drive big hunks of metal like we Americans do?
Arriving at Bom Jesus do Monte, I was feeling seriously sad that the rain was stealing the day. Thankful I did have a small umbrella with me, instead of using the huge one offered by the palace, I began a journey that will influence the rest of my life.
I’m standing at the foot of the staircase, known as the Sacred Way, made of dark granite and covered in a white plaster; the ascent looks overwhelming. The white and dark contrasts in the pouring rain and the gloom of the saturated greenery is almost depressing. Yet, there is a mysterious pull to move forward. This was a ‘meant to be’ moment. One of uncertainty yet absolute obedience.
On each side of the zigzagging staircase are small chapels, spaced apart, yet not so far that you forget your quest to see the insides because of the exhaustion of the climb. Inside each chapel is one representation, hand carved and as big as life, of the fourteen stations of the cross. These were enthralling; fascinating; and for me, numbing. They were so life like that I felt I was with Jesus on the ascent to the cross, and the culmination, on the altar, the Crucifixion. I’ve been fortunate enough to visit many churches throughout Italy and France where they are surreal in the richness, the detail and the commitment to vast expressions of love, joy, beauty, and forgiveness. But, the life-size, life-like, so real carvings here were so personal and authentic that I seemed to be living that time with Jesus.
It was a very moving experience.
The fountain on the terrace representing the wounds of Christ, the fountains representing the virtues, and the fountains representing the five senses all are so expressive of the realizations of the bible that one must pause and pay tribute. Along the Sacred Way and among the grounds are beautiful gardens, grottoes, and sculptures all to be enjoyed whether in a day of exploration, reconnecting, mourning, or celebrating. And, after the commemoration of the tranquil and very personal experience of the fourteen stations to the cross and the Crucifixion is the view; 400 feet above the ground, of the city of Braga, and the beaches of Viana do Castelo and Esposende. Another breathtaking experience here.
I am told that the week of Semana Santa (Holy Week) is when the Portuguese flock to the Sacred Way to give penance, many climbing the steps on their knees, and then again during Pentecost. I wonder, for those Portuguese that I have encountered so far, if this is the reason they seem so at ease, content, humble?
I’ve yet to see something that was appalling in this soil rich, seafood abundant, and textile prolific country; no rude behavior from any age group; no indecent attire, never giving less than 100%. Seemingly for them, life is actually doing what is right all the time even if no one is looking. It seems the culture here is to uphold the ethical values that must be respected by all, all the time.
Heading back to my car, rain still drizzling down the neck of my shirt, I will head on to find my anticipated spot for lunch to ponder more of the sentiment that overwhelmed my heart during the experiences of the Sacred Way.