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A Family Found on a Tour throughout Portugal with Silveira Travel
By Tracy Furtado Lambert

"It is on a trip when you can be yourself, share yourself, learn something from one another, that is priceless. I have never felt so loved by a group of strangers."
–written in my journal last day of tour, June 30, 2007

Amongst the olive and almond trees, rows of sunflowers, azulejos and fado of Portugal, I found a family amongst a bunch of thirty strangers. In June of 2007, my mother and I began our 14-day journey on a bus tour being led by Silveira Travel. This trip was very important to my mother because she was going to be able to explore the birthplace of her father, my grandfather, for the first time and meet a brother she had never met. The thought of being on a strict tour for two weeks was not appealing to me, but I lamented because this was very important to my mother, and she was giving me this gift.

Being a person who likes to go at my own pace, who isn't very disciplined on vacations--preferring to go as the day calls me--I thought a 14-day tour with a regimented schedule was going to drive me crazy: waking up every morning for breakfast, putting suitcases outside of the door and being on the bus and ready to leave the hotel at a specific time. Instead I found myself looking forward to seeing the smiles and Bom Dias of the people who were slowly but surely becoming part of my family.

A drink at the lounge of the Hotel Mundial in the heart of Lisboa began our trip. The first night we went to see a Fado performance in the Baixa Alta. This is where I received my first beijinhos, a European kiss of two kisses on both sides of my cheek from esteemed fado singer Marco Rodrigues. Getting back on the bus was fun in sharing jokes and experiences of the night, and I thought to myself as I listened to the laughter of all, this could be fun.

On day two I wrote in my journal, "Today is going to be a beautiful day, full of wonderful surprises I am sure...a group of strangers on this Portugal tour, uma familia." This was the day we discovered our first conflict as a family when one member of the group didn't return to the bus on time, causing the rest of the group to wait. The ground rules were set by Sofia our tour guide and everyone learned how important it was to work together. Conflicts arose but were quickly distilled because each day was about exploration and discovery.

Each day began as we got in the bus, picked our seat—making sure to rotate two seats back—and waited to see where Victor, the bus driver was going to take us. Every day we explored the land of Portugal and each evening we met for dinner to recount the day, sit and relax, and some stayed behind in the evening for extra laughs and stories. Exporing Portugal was like taking a journey through history, traditions, art and lots of sweet pastries and great wine. Each day was full of reveling in the beauty of the colors of Portugal while exploring castles, churches, downtowns and more. The tour took us to the beaches, the mountains, the hillsides and the valleys of Lisboa, Oubidos, Nazare, Batalha, Fatima, Coimbra...

Victor led us to places a bus our size should never have been able to fit or climb, and, all along the way Sofia filled our minds with tidbits of history, contemporary facts and stories of kings, lost loves and constant discoveries. Listening to Sofia, Portugal became alive in ways I never imagined. As Sofia said one day, "You're already a big family, yes?...Daddy's here, " as she pointed to Mr. Silveira, and everyone laughed and agreed.

These are special memories I will always have about my trip to Portugal and my new family: the smile of Joe as he welcomed us to his niece's house on an unexpected detour of our trip, Helena sitting in the lounge with my mother in her nightgown because I was late getting back to the hotel, a moment of silence as everyone prayed for the loss of Mrs. Silveira's father, the hearty laugh of Double Trouble Al as he was late getting back to the bus almost every time, the sound of the Italian Carlo's voice as he gave me advice on how to live life fully, to love and to trust myself; the stories of love and marriage from several couples who had flourished with over 25 years of marriage, the strength and spunkiness of Maria who was traveling alone for the first time to another country.

Other wonderful memories include dancing at the casino with Victor, my mother holding my hand as we rode the longest ride ever at the festa, running into the family from Providence,RI every day at the end of lunch and the funny "How are you tomorrow?," La Sallette's sister giving me a bracelet of St. Anthony to help me find all the things I have lost, being called daughter by Valdomira, a man who looked so much like my father; Joe and Victor singing fado at the feast; practicing my Portuguese accent with Cecilia at the hotel in the Algarve; picking out a necklace with Helene; lighting a candle in Fatima with Angie and Roland.

I especially remember all the added surprises by Mr. and Mrs. Silveira, truly making me feel like part of their family: a toast of port wine on the bus, chocolate and gingias, a picnic of ham and cheese at the top of the mountain ...and the many other constant laughs and how are you's throughout the day...

In my journal after visiting Joe's niece's house (which was an unexpected but welcomed detour of the trip) and receiving the feast of wine and cheeses, mousala, pork and sweets at 10am, I wrote, "This is what life is all about, these unique moments that bring people together to bond, to share the human experience."

 



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Sunday, November 19, 2017

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