Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Write a Travelogue (11/06/14)
TITLE: Journey To Barcelos
By JK Stenger
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On the map, Barcelos was no more than a dot, north of Porto, not far from the coast.
“Come on, Dad,” my daughter coaxed me. “It’s supposed to be one of Portugal’s biggest attractions, and who knows, maybe we’ll even find a dog there.”
“A dog? From a market?”
Nevertheless, we could use a break from the daily grind, as life had been hectic since we moved to Portugal earlier in the year.
“Obrigado.1 We’ll go.” I smiled at the owner. “We hope your advice is as good as your sardines.”
“It will busy,” said the owner. “People from all over Portugal go there.”
He was right. We couldn’t get near the city center and had to park on a hill in the outskirts. We arrived at the medieval city where we were soon greeted by a maze of narrow streets. Although there were cars and a few decrepit shops, we couldn’t escape the feeling that we had stepped back into history. Old fortified buildings, made of rough stones that had weathered the ages, towered above us. As we trudged through the cobblestone streets, we were cheered on by the constant flapping of colorful laundry that hung from virtually every window above.
Since Barcelos is part of the pilgrimage people take to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, we could almost picture ourselves as pilgrims, seeking heavenly rest.
Trudge on weary pilgrim, trudge on.
The musty smell of cellars below the pavement, wafted up to the streets as we followed the throng of people streaming everywhere, like eager ants on urgent business.
We reached the rio Cávado, which flows through Barcelos, and crossed over a massive stone bridge resting on three pillars, that stood like giants in the foaming waters below. We were overwhelmed by the beauty before us. Below, the river, glistening in the morning sun, was dotted with fishermen standing knee-deep at the water’s edge. Above, two towers flying the flag of Portuguese were silhouetted against a cloudless sky.
But where was the market?
”Onde está o centro?” 2 I asked a toothless old fellow.
“Siga em frente.” Just straight.
And there it was before us. A jumble of sounds, smells and people. Stall owners shouted, customers argued and Fado, the melancholic Portuguese folk music, blared from speakers.
Odors of fried sardines, leather coats and unvarnished furniture, replaced the penetrating and soothing scent of Portugal’s eucalyptus trees that we had noticed on the hills.
Here old customs still flourished, as I learned when I spotted two barrels filled with live chicks, guarded by a grinning fat man wielding a butcher’s knife.
“What’s that for?” I asked.
“To cut off chicken heads. You buy five, I cut six. Tastes really good.”
No thank you.
Another booth sold Trican poveira, women’s clothing identifiable by the red and blue stitchwork. Although in fashion between the 1920s and the 1960’s, it is still in demand today.
I was spellbound by a collection of thousands of ceramic roosters. Legend has it that a dead rooster’s miraculous intervention proved the innocence of a man sentenced to death. Thus, the rooster of Barcelos became the national symbol of Portugal.
Just then my daughter pointed to the right.
“Dad, they have dogs too.”
Wedged in between furniture and kitchen supplies, were a dozen whimpering puppies, crowded together in cages.
“Is that one a Labrador?” I asked.
”Yeah, Dad. And cheap, like everything else here.”
A few hours later we strolled back to our car, munching on Portuguese pork sandwiches known as bifanas. My wife carried our new puppy.
The sun was just setting when we drove off. Satisfied, tired but in love with this country where the spirit of the past can still reach your heart and you can buy dogs at a market.
1.Translation: “Thank you.”
2.Translation: “Where is the center?”
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