The Linha do Douro… or where it all began

with 10 Comments

Our lives were just beginning, our favourite moment was right now, our favourite songs were unwritten.
– Rob Sheffield, Love is a Mix Tape

Young, wild and free: life was full of promises… At 18, Kerstin and I flew to Portugal. It was our first journey together. And the summer was long…

We were hosted by her family’s friends. They lived in a tiny village, which name I even can’t remember. There were about 15 houses and a little grocery selling everything the locals needed. We spent most of our time sunbathing, reading and talking on the balcony. Occasionally, we took a ride to the river, where we plunged in the water and rolled on the pebbled beach.

One day, we caught a train along the Douro River. For hours, we gazed at panoramas of vineyards, precipitous rocks and curvy mountain slopes. It was the time when you were still allowed to open the train windows wide enough to stuck your face outside and enjoy the wind’s embrace. We closed our eyes and listened to the train – its rumbling and rattling had become our breathing, our heartbeat. Behind us was sitting a group of old men. They spoke Portuguese, but it sounded like the train’s mumble too.

Douro River, Portugal

At a certain point, the train slowed down and came to a standstill. Was the journey already over? No station or platform could be seen. Nobody seemed to be puzzled. They all kept talking as if nothing had happened. The train had stopped, so what?

Back then, our king-size Nokia was only used for emergency calls. No Facebook, no Google Map, no Wi-Fi, no camera. We had not even thought about checking our cell phone, nor did we ask about the time or how long the trip was going to take. We were somewhere along the Douro River, in the middle of nowhere, and it was fine. The scenery was perfect, nothing else really mattered.

After a while, the doors opened, and some male passengers stepped outside to smoke. The women all stayed inside, chitchatting, and agitating their fan. About half an hour later, we all caught the smell of grilled fish. A few men outside the train were grilling bogas! They were fishermen who on their way back from the river had seen the halted train and recognized the opportunity to sell their catch of the day. We climbed out of the train, and for a few escudos devoured the delicious fishes within minutes.

Eventually the train inhaled, puffed, howled. Everyone applauded and we all hopped on board. Minutes later, we were on the road again.

At the end station, friends of our hosting family welcomed us. They didn’t ask about our delay, nor did they seem to be annoyed. We drove for an hour or two, further into the mountains. The curvy roads took us to a tavern, entirely isolated, surrounded by nothing but grassy and stony hills, and a dozen of hens strutting around the patio.

The hosting family put out a long table with a white linen cloth. And the ballet of food started. They brought out one dish after another. There was smoked pork, marinated chicken, goat cheese, grilled lamb, baked rice, black beans and bacalhau, potatoes out of the oven, vanilla pudding and so much more. They all chatted and laughed loudly, though we didn’t understand a single word.

Every now and then, Kerstin and I would leave the table to spend time kissing in a toilet with a sliding door that wouldn’t close properly. We were young, happy and in love. We didn’t care much about what others would think. We didn’t care about the future, nor the past.

Time back then was irrelevant. Time didn’t matter.
Only love mattered. And the journey.

It was our first time together abroad. We left as best friends, and returned home as a couple. Exploring the world together was our dream. And it was a dream coming true. Since then, we haven’t stopped roaming the world together…. because, as Pico Iyer puts it :

We travel, initially, to lose ourselves, and we travel, next, to find ourselves. We travel to open our hearts and eyes. And we travel, in essence, to become young fools again—to slow time down and get taken in, and fall in love once more.

Follow Mei:

Traveler - Storyteller

30-something Archaeologist, born and raised in Luxembourg. Besides traveling, Mei loves eating stinky cheese and raw food, as well as listening to Kerstin’s stories while driving on long road trips. She speaks 7 languages, and wishes she had time to pick up Ancient Greek. She’s afraid of heights, but adores panoramic views. Her favorite places are those she chose to live in: Paris, Greece, San Francisco.

10 Responses

  1. Archana Singh
    | Reply

    That’s such a beautiful story. Had happened to me as well when my train stopped midway. It’s so nice to read that you went as best friends and returned as couples. More happy travels to you both.

  2. Everything_Candid
    | Reply

    Mei, this is one of those rare candid post which do not exist any more. I loved every bit of it.
    Such turning points in life actually define what we are and what we can be.
    Super cool. May God bless both of you.

  3. Mia
    | Reply

    Haha, “king size Nokia phone”!! That’s hilarious and I’m pretty sure I remember that exact phone. You have a great story and sometimes I wish we could go back to the days before social media took over our lives. I think it forced us to interact and figure things out on our own.

  4. Sandy N Vyjay
    | Reply

    Was fascinated reading about how the train stopped in the middle of nowhere and people got down to smoke. Brought back memories of similar incidents when we used to travel a lot in trains. It used to be such a thrilling feeling when the train stopped in the wilderness. Getting of the train seemed to have an aura of romance and the entire experience used to be so exciting.

  5. Rishabh & Nirali
    | Reply

    Such a beautiful story, we can identify it a bit because we also connected with each through travel. We were also born at the cusp of the two ages, before tech and after tech. Though we can sing praises of technology day in day out, the fact remains that travelling in an age where we weren’t compelled to shoot everything that looked beautiful was much better than travelling with our cameras today!

  6. Ron Meker
    | Reply

    Those times! when the phone was a liability and not something we even want or need. This generation will never experience a real adventure because everything needs to be documented, all the time. You miss out on so much in the process 😐

    • Mei and Kerstin
      | Reply

      So true! Back then time went by slower since there was no time to be spent on social media or surfing on the web. Now everyone needs to be always and instantly reachable. :/ And it seems like this generation’s fun times has to be scheduled and planned in advance…

  7. Emma McKay
    | Reply

    This is such a special post! So nice to read about your history of traveling together, and how wonderful you are still going! What a special place to do it in too, I love Portugal

  8. BOYEATSWORLD
    | Reply

    What a beautiful back story. Love that you’re still travelling together

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