Porto to Lisbon, Portugal

10 years ago, despite spending five weeks in Spain, I had so much going on with all of Silvia and √ďscar’s recommendations, and so many friends to visit elsewhere, that I never had a chance to get to Portugal. Six years ago, the original idea of my Silk Road trip was to go from one ocean to the other, from Hong Kong’s Pacific to Portugal’s Atlantic, by land. I had so much fun in the middle that I ran out of time by Austria. So there’s some motivation to address some unfinished business!

But let’s just cut to the chase here: this portion of the trip was completely overshadowed by the Azores. I had a fine enough time in mainland Portugal, but having experienced so many emotional reunions and seen everything I already wanted to, my head was already elsewhere. Unseasonably frequent rain also didn’t help. But there had to have been something more to explain the general sense of disconnect I felt despite being in an objectively compelling place.
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 São Miguel, Azores, Portugal

After all these years and after becoming conversational in Portuguese, somehow I’ve never been to Portugal, a pretty popular place in its own right. It’s right next to Spain, too. So… Let me just skip right over it (insert meme song here) and fly to the middle of the Atlantic Ocean instead. Sounds logical, right?

Well, the Azores are still Portugal. Maybe not the first thing that comes to mind though, since they’re an autonomous region. Even some of the mainland Portuguese visitors I encountered slipped up and called it “going abroad.”

I’ve been fascinated by these little dots on the map ever since I saw the largest city, Ponta Delgada, had relatively short direct flights from Boston, home to a large Azorean diaspora. Though I never took the opportunity to go while I lived in Boston, they’ve stuck in my mind ever since. Why are these little isolated islands so inhabited? How’d they become part of Portugal?
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 Empordà / Girona, Catalonia, Spain

It’s funny how fast and intense travel friendships can be. Usually it ends with people extending an open invitation to visit their homes: hey, I’ve been on both ends of that. As genuine as they are, more often than not, these invitations are aspirational, seldom followed up.

It’s thus all the more surprising which friendships endure. I spent barely a day and a half with Gemma and Ramon in Sri Lanka seven years ago! We pulled a memorably freezing all-nighter, hiking up those 5500 steps, before parting ways in opposite directions with each other’s recommendations. Occasional messages over the years gave way an increasingly serious desire on my part to act on their open invitation to visit. And so here I am!
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 Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain

It’s rare for me to visit a place twice. Even when it comes to visiting friends, it takes me ages. Without friends though, it practically never happens. There’s one big thing different this time that brings me here.

En route to visit my friends Gemma and Ramon deeper in Catalonia, timing led me to make an impromptu weeklong stay in Barcelona, just in time for the biggest cultural festival of the year. (Shoutout to Rob for telling me about it, and sorry the timing didn’t work out for Valencia!) They set me up with their friends in Barcelona, Mar and Ignasi, who could not be more welcoming and hosted me despite a week where were all too busy to actually hang out beyond a dinner or two. It’s still enough to form another fast friendship, and I hope we find an opportunity to pick things up again just as I’ve been doing with others on this trip.

While waiting for the main attraction on the weekend, before and after my weekday remote work hours, I spent a whole lot of time aimlessly walking around Barcelona. It’s nice for once to not have any pressure to see the sights or do touristy things, to relax at home whenever I felt like without feeling a loss of time, and to have a mix of old and new.
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Where do I even begin? 10 years is a long time. How do I even start a conversation? “Hey! It’s nice to see you! Long time no see! How is everything?”

10 years is enough for the world to visibly change. From the last time I’ve been here, we’ve gone from paper maps, big cameras, and day-ahead bus ticket purchases at the booths to the ubiquitous, always-connected smartphone. From the last time I’ve really talked to these friends, we’ve gone from Facebook to Instagram to an opaque, increasingly toxic algorithm pushing away any sort of personal content and whittling away already-tenuous connections literally separated by oceans. It’s made keeping up even on a circumstantial level more difficult, and time has worn the initiative it takes to keep in touch.

From the last time I saw these friends, many now have children. I’ve only ever known them while travelling, and now our lives have taken very different directions. And for the most part, I admit I haven’t really been great at keeping in touch either. So it’s with a bit of trepidation that I proposed this trip — am I imposing on them, am I being a burden? Am I merely a reminder of a past life? Aside from the good times we’ve shared, what drew us to become friends in the first place, and do we continue to share anything in common 10 years later? It’s with immense gratitude and a little bit of surprise that I’ve been so welcomed with open arms.
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