At the albergue in Porto

I got here! There was a train strike so I took a taxi to some unknown bus station. I had managed to buy a ticket online and all went well boarding and travelling up to Porto. I decided to take the metro and figure out how to get to the albergue spite of a very confusing bus station somehow I did it. When an elevator indicates the Metro is on the top floor, you know you need to double check everything!

Grey skies but Spring beauty

I walked into the albergue and was immediately set down to a hot lunch cooked by one of the volunteers. My joy at this development was tempered by panic at the announcement that it will soon be my turn to cook for the group!
The garden turtle
One of the cats

There are pets at this hostel and a lovely garden. One of the other hospitaleros is from St Hilaire. Two are Ukrainians and one Italian. I was shown the ropes but don’t have to really “ work “ until tomorrow. I am looking forward to it. But today it is not so bad to rest after a rather stressful day. More tomorrow!

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Sintra today

Sintra is about 45 minutes from downtown Lisbon. It had been my intention to go there today so imagine my delight when a young lady sitting across from me at the breakfast table confided that she was going there. She seemed a very organized person who actually had a plan of how to get there. I had no plan at all and timidly asked if we might at least go to the train station together. “In 15 minutes” . I was ready! We still managed to be too late for the train but, wonder of wonders, my new friend understood all about Uber too and in a few minutes we were speeding to Sintra.

The summer palace of kingS

Sintra has its own micro climate that involves humidity and fog. We had a few doubts that rain might set in, but no, the day turned out to be fair and even a little hot. Sintra is set in a large natural park full of historical buildings. We decided to visit the palace and the Moorish Castle. The palace was over the top. It was remodelled by a king Ferdinand (?) a 19th century romantic pseudo gothic monarch. He had a vivid imagination obviously and the means to indulge his taste.

Multi-creature over the door

Finny feet and branches for arms? OK your majesty, whatever you say! The carving and ornamentation was overwhelming. A minimalist he was not!

Who did the dusting?

After indulging in the palace decor my companion , Johanna, and I retired to the woods to treck up to the Moorish Castle. It was quite the climb but we managed it.

Spring is sprung in Sintra

The Moors were not averse to steps it seems but once you’re half way there, what is the use of giving up? The battlements were impressive and lots of archaeological work had been done, even revealing a Neolithic settlement.

The battlements

Seen from the distance, it looks doable. Hmmm…glad I was wearing good shoes and had a kind young person to encourage me.

Showing the Moorish flag!

We emerged victorious and faced the descent. Luckily Johanna found a path down which we took rather braving the uneven steps. No handrail, and I didn’t think to bring the famous poles.

We indulged in another Uber ride home and begged our knees for forgiveness. I am so glad we went. So glad Johanna agreed to allow me to accompany her, so glad to have had the privilege of seeing this amazing place. Tomorrow Porto!


The plane set off late since out of a clear sky a squall arose snd the wings had to be deiced. Air Canada seems to have decided that their seats should be designed for hobbits with the result that the passengers squirm around all night unable to sleep.

We arrived late in Lisbon and having wandered around the airport I finally found my backpack which had been consigned to bulky items because I took the chance of collapsing my hiking poles and taping them on. “Bulky items” are mainly baby strollers or mysterious metal boxes or huge bags containing surf boards. I waited an hour and then trotted off to lost and found . There was my bag sitting on a trolley. By this time I felt I deserved a taxi to my “ hostel”

Three flights carrying my backpack

And although the view from the top floor is worthy of Hitchcock it is absolutely charming inside.

The staff are very friendly and the bed blessedly comfortable. Apparently there is a nice family style dinner tonight.

I got lost several times in the twisty streets full of stunning architecture but since I can now wear sandals it was a lovely walk.

Around the corner from hostel

I hope I don’t fall asleep over the soup. Sintra tomorrow it I don’t get lost.

At the Airport

Musing over my day. At around noon I could no longer stay in my house… jitters.,, so I went for a walk in the park. What a fun job, I thought as two young ladies wrangled dogs and took them for their walk.

The soon-to- be great escape

It is less fun I am sure when one doggie gives them the slip. As I sat on a bench having a little rest a cross between a border collie and a Bernese came galloping by dragging his lead and plastic handle behind him. He resisted my calls and coaxing but up ahead was the pack. They seemed very glad to see him, barking and wagging their tails. He turned out to be a tease, standing off in a snowbank while one lady held all the other leads and one offered treats. Like most of us, he surrendered his freedom for a measly reward. A little adventure for doggie today.


This cat, also on a leash, would not even deign to look at me so I went home to debate ( again!) the merits of a fleece jacket. It was 20 degrees in Lisbon today and I don’t think it will get much cooler so I ditched it.

Hours early as usual

Waiting to board and then sleep, I hope. Next stop Lisbon!


Organize this!

This is some of what I need for tomorrow. My task today will be to organize this -and a lot more like travel insurance documents, plane and train tickets ( yes, I know, on my phone right?) and be able to walk through the next week without totally losing it! Those torn out pages from two different guidebooks will be left behind . Turns out the Camino Portuguese after Porto is split into three routes. Unlike the Camino Frances-just follow those arrows for several hundred kilometres – this one offers you choices. And we all know choices mean complications. Weight is important when you travel alone and have to use a back pack. Baggage transport systems on Caminos do not take kindly to wheeled suitcases and I will have to carry my stuff in some places. So, superfluous pages for routes I won’t be taking got ditched. For a book lover, tearing out pages is a special kind of pain.

I will start this Camino as a hospitalera in Porto. What will I do there for two weeks? Not really sure. Will I transition smoothly from two days in Lisbon to train travel up to Porto? Not really sure. Will the weather be good enough for me to walk part way along the coast? Not really sure. There are a lot of “ not really sure”s.

The thing about doing this sort of thing alone is that there is no one else to commiserate, scold, hug, find a solution with you. There is a wonderful freedom, of course in not having to worry about the other’s passport, tickets, stomach bug, sleeping problems, blisters… Freedom is a shiny coin with a dark flip side. That’s loneliness.

What is it that drives some of us to set off on these adventures, treks, dives into the unknown? For me what is more scary than any unknown would be a certainty that I would never set off again.

It’s mid-morning. Time for a quick walk around the lake and then putting all these useful bits of paper in order.

Something got sorted!

Eight days, but who’s counting?

I found my precious tiny sleeping bag by searching in three messy closets. I found my precious hospitalera scarf by poking around in my poetry notes ( what was it doing there?) My task for today is to book a train ticket from Lisbon to Porto and to figure out how to get from the Lisbon airport to my first night’s loging. It seems that Portuguese sites don’t like Canadian postal codes.

Important items!

So, it’s really happening. The last couple of weeks have been so charged, so full of errands, of important things that really had to be done like filing my taxes, a dental procedure, other medical appointments, researching and buying travel insurance, oh, I know how boring it all sounds but it would be a hell of a lot more boring if I didn’t do these things. To top it off the condo association scheduled the yearly meeting for the evening before I leave!

More important, and more heartwarming has been the many visits and invitations of my friends, my brother, my grandkids. Now if I could just figure out which of the three Portuguese routes would be best.

I still haven’t got the train ticket…. but I will get it!

Timing -it really is important

Red sky in the morning

The building is a banal condo block. The bare trees are part of the boundary of the big park a few steps from my own condo block. And the sky? A minor miracle that, given the right combination of mysterious atmospheric conditions, reminds me of the beauty and joy in this world. If I want to capture it I have to be conscious and present. I have to take the picture because, in a few seconds it will be different. It will still be beautiful, but not quite this glorious. Timing, the right moment to take a picture, to speak that word, to open the door.

A Good Memory

A Surprise

This is a famous Polish beer. Some know that I taught in Poland in the mid 90’s. That’s the mid 1990’s and that’s when Poland was emerging from? Into what? That’s for another day.

I taught college students who wanted to be English teachers in the mountain town of Zakopane. Some of the students at that college wanted to be German teachers, something that initially surprised me. As a Canadian with a big powerful neighbour I should have had more insight. My students needed to improve their English vocabulary. I remember plaintive cries of, “ But Isobel, I don’t even know the name of that tree…flower…animal in Polish!”

“We’ll, learn it in both languages then!” I was not really such a dragon as evidenced by the many kind invitations I received from my students in my second year of teaching. In the first year a perfect and distant politeness was maintained. After all, this was post-Communist Poland and they had to figure out if I was fair, a snitch, crazy…. Well two out of three.

Even in the third year I refused invitations in spite of a pretty severe level of loneliness. I wanted to avoid any appearance of favouritism.

Besides teaching core language skills I had to teach methodology. Since I had very little actual teaching experience but a fresh Bachelor of Education degree I approached this task with the boundless enthusiasm of the ignorant. Conducting a whole lesson in French or Greek seemed a practical way of letting my students feel the panic of a novice language learner. Sticking gold stars on random exercise books reinforced the idea of intrinsic vs outward rewards. “How much,oh,how much I did hate Agniezka because of one Mickey Mouze sticker, Isobel” was the impassioned cry of a stickerless student. Point taken!

One of the most enthusiastic and joyful of my students was Anya. The day I arrived in the little mountain town where I taught for two years she was pressed into service. The elegant and autocratic principal of the college ordered her to carry a heavy metal electric radiator across the courtyard to the room in the dorm building where I was to stay. With her boundless energy and infectious smile she brushed off any protest or attempt to help.

“Get to the beer” you say? Anya was from the town of Zywiec and she was among the first of my students to invite me to stay for a weekend at her home. She told me that the local river supplied the high quality water that was the secret of the wonderful beer. True to my word, I did not visit any of my students until my contract was up. Anya was the first to whom I payed a visit. Since I am not a beer drinker, the main delight of the town for me was floating down its swift stream in an inner tube. On an early hot June day a good number of the townsfolk enjoyed this innocent pass time, hauling the inner tubes up to the setting off point and drifting down stream again and again. It was typical of Anya’s playful spirit that she thought it a perfect occupation to share with her prof…. I could only heartily agree

Mind my Place

On the bulletin board at a Montreal library

I was amused and intrigued to see a whole bulletin board of items readers had left in books returned to the library. As a teen I had the habit of using dollar bills ( I know, it was a long time ago) to mark my place in a book. Sometimes in a moment of broke desperation I would sit on my bedroom floor thumbing through my books in hopes of finding a stray dollar or two. Even now I notice that one of my fellow citizens resorted to a stray bill. I see a red Barbadian dollar down at the bottom of the display. Leaves, business cards, holy pictures and a bus ticket are among the oddities people left in their library books. What I found endearing was that some library employee kept these bookmarks. They took the time to pay homage to the humble bookmark. This display from the Cote des Neiges public library here in Montreal.

A Shy Spring Moon

A Long Time Coming

Clouds, rain, an obscure sky for so many, how many days. It is always wonderful to see the beautiful moon rise in early evening. Does it mean Spring is coming? It is coming, moon or not but after a dark and cloudy winter the whole town searches for every hopeful sign. This moon, like a shy young girl creeps up the sky. In a few moments she shines, shines like the wonder she is.