It amazes me how many moments in my travels have no corresponding English word to describe them. As a result of my research, I came across a useful list of words of foreign origin that would allow me to express my insights with greater precision. My newest feature of “Snippets for the Traveling Mind”, then, will attempt to make practical use of selected words from this list that clearly have relevance to a particular time and place in my wandering life.
My topic for March is “Vacilando”- a Spanish term for the act of wandering when the experience of travel is more important than reaching the specific destination. The closest English word meaning is the verb vacillate, which means to waver in one’s decision -making. In 1962, John Steinbeck used this word in his novel “Travels With Charley” to describe a long journey made from Siberia to Mongolia. More recently,Vacilando Films, based in Rhode Island, has created a website of eclectic film offerings and streamed music for wedding celebrations.
In early Fall of 2015, my wife and I took the opportunity to book a one bedroom studio in Lisbon, Portugal. Our centrally located flat in the historic Baixa District offered access to the nearby Tagus River shoreline and proximity to the seven hills that this city is famous for. Traveling by foot or tram, our days were filled with random sight encounters and unexpected human interactions. Clearly, Lisbon was an ideal choice for us, in our efforts to enjoy this spirit of vacilando. Here then are five snippet experiences to consider in Lisbon for the wanderlust traveler.
Watch the sunset as you sit quietly along to the gentle flowing waters of the Tagus River. Observe your spiritual connection to the Cristo Rei, (The Christ Statue) in the distance. As night settles in, take a relaxing walk along the Tagus Boardwalk and realize the peaceful coexistence of so many cultures that congregate there in these shared moments.
Immerse yourself in the Portuguese love of food by browsing the assortment of cuisines and wine offerings at the Mercado da Ribeira (Central Market) for lunch or dinner. Find a spot to eat along a bench to find non-threatening opportunities to practice your Portuguese speaking abilities with the local crowd. In your morning visits to the market, make time to chat with local food vendors about life in Lisbon as you fill your own grocery bag with fresh fruits and vegetables.
Amble up the cobblestone maze of streets in the Alfama district to explore the diversity of cultures who settled in Lisbon’s past. As you proceed toward the highest point, among brightly colored, tiled houses with wrought iron balconies, you realize you are witnessing the strong sense of peaceful community that has survived there amidst the area’s Roman, Moorish, and Visigoth past. At the top of the hill the fortifications of the São Jorge Castle surrounds you. Skip the crowded, castle tour and head for the courtyard as you find a cool spot under a shaded tree for a well- deserved rest. On your descent from the Alfama heights, visit a medieval tavern for a glass of wine and feel the Portuguese nostalgia for Fado Music. Listening to the mandolins and guitars now might inspire you to comfort someone who feels sad from the black and beautiful sorrow that this music stands for. Stand and up and dance to these soulful rhythms if you desire.
The Portuguese have known their share of political tragedy. As memories of the dictatorial abuses of the Antonio Salazar regime slowly fade, vacilando thrives in the spirit of protest. Challenge your mind. Strike up a conversation with a stranger in Rossio Square about women’s rights, gay liberation, or the ecology crisis. Stroll through the Rua Garrett and you might find the perfect coffeehouse to talk with strangers as you dare to try a strong cup of Portuguese “Bica” Coffee.
Hop aboard Tram 28for a roller coaster “fly” up a steep hilltop overlooking Lisbon. Play the “musical chairs game” to obtain a treasured window seat for maximum photography options. Feel the exhilaration at each screeching turn as you grab on to the nearest rail. Let your intuition guide you as you get off and on at will in order to obtain best views downriver to the Tagus.