No journey is greater than the one you’re on, and it is up to us to turn every day occurrence into the spectacular. It certainly doesn’t hurt when you’re lucky enough to have to travel to amazing places for business for some of these every day occurrences. I, like many I’m sure, struggle sometimes to truly appreciate that which life has blessed me with. There are days that I allow the challenge of being a parent, partner or financial custodian get in the way of the realization that I have two healthy, normally happy children and an amazing wife. There are those that say not to look back, but rather forward. For me, I find an amazing amount of solace in being able to relive and appreciate time that has already been, and photography has played a large part in that. It often allows me to reflect and remember why I should be happy and thankful.
We find ourselves in a new year, the promise of new beginnings being urged upon us. With that in mind, I’d like to reflect on a recent trip I was able to take to Portugal where the weather and humanity are warm and inviting. I am lucky enough to get to experience places like this, and for that, I am truly grateful. . .
I arrived and took a short journey to my hotel overlooking the coastal town of Espinho, just south along the coast from Porto. Greeted by a beautiful sunset, I hadn’t realized how badly I craved the salty sea air that has been largely absent since my youth, growing up along the coast. My current reality is much colder and far less salty, although I do encounter a near daily interaction with water, just not the warm, oceany kind.
For those who’ve not yet had to endure my rambling about the “day job”, I work in the marine industry. Sail battens specifically, and when the economy in the US went the way of George W Bush’s global approval rating, back in late 2008, we took the opportunity to streamline our business. Not only did we jump ahead of the train, we used the challenge to reinvent our approach to manufacturing, which isn’t exactly a bulletproof industry in the states. Now, some 5+ years later, we are growing and diversifying, and this diversification is what found me in Portugal.
Porto is an amazing, old city, famous for its Port wine and seafaring culture. Bisected by the Douro river, much of the city’s industry still pumps through this waterway. While not as populous as the Capital of Lisbon, it is still a large city by most any standard. Coming from a country younger than most of the buildings in the old center of Porto, I found myself absolutely lost in meandering thought, trying to fathom the history integrated into such a storied and established city. While we’re only able to live a single lifetime (assuming you aren’t sold on reincarnation in a literal sense), we can, and should look to benefit from those lifetimes that’ve come before us. Again, this looking backward theme rears its head, but I find it far more difficult to connect with history in my home country where so much of our history is new and ongoing. Wandering the streets of an old world, European city certainly puts my history in perspective, and I enjoy that perspective when I get the opportunity presented to me.
From food and wine, to architecture, nightlife and culture, Porto delivered in spades. Alas, I was here for work, and this work found me taking meetings at one of the largest rope manufacturing plants in the world. Specializing in agricultural and commercial applications, Cotesi has been manufacturing rope for generations. The yachting division is a mere babe by comparison, and that is where we come in. If you’re the type of person who is fascinated by industrial machinery, may I suggest taking a tour of a rope factory. I was amazed. The processes ranged from thin, sub-millimeter polypropylene bailing twine to sisal rope, fishing nets and high strength dyneema threading to remarkably thick braided dock line for mega cruise ships and commercial tankers. The techniques and machinery involved in making line thicker than both my legs combined is absolutely fascinating, and one machine has a footprint that is larger than the house I live in.
With machinery humming and rattling at a hummingbird’s pace, there was nowhere to look without finding something of interest. Enough about my ventures though, I’ll be sharing some of the spoils from this yacht line in a more photographic sense in the near future, so not to worry 🙂
Back to Porto. It would be an understatement to say that I enjoy seafood. I’m also a fairly adventurous eater as I’ll try just about anything at least once. Get me drunk and I’m sure to try even the most bizarre of foodstuffs again. Enter, barnacles, or percebes:
While they look like some type of dinosaur knuckle, they are surprisingly edible. Salty, chewy and quite possibly the perfect beer snack for those that enjoy salty, chewy, prehistoric looking ship bow parasites (these are actually harvested off the cliffs in northern Portugal and northwestern Spain, a harvesting job which is seen as near suicidal in the fishing community). So, I ate them, you know, out of respect.
I was in culinary heaven in Portugal. If ever you get the chance, when in Portugal (or Spain I’ve heard) try a salt baked fish. We had sea bass, and the preparation is basically an entire fish buried in coarse, rock sea salt and baked. One might think that the fish came out the other end tasting salty, but you’d be wrong. The rock salt is merely there to help distribute and hold heat. It’s also awesome when the chef shows up at your table to douse the entire pile with liquor and light it on fire. The ensuing crust then bonds to the skin of said fish which just pulls off of the meat below, and the result is the most amazing fish I’ve ever put in my mouth. Seriously, it is remarkable. Simple, delicious and remarkable.
When having the pleasure of traveling to a place where you know residents, it is always wonderful to gain local insight. Food is a big one, and while I’m sure there would be no shortage of amazing places we could have stumbled into, having the decisions made for us took that guess work out of it. If you find yourself in Porto, check out ‘O Caraças‘, a traditional Portuguese eatery run by a mother and her two daughters. The menu changes daily and everything is fresh. Amazing. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the wherewithal to shoot pics of that meal, but take my word for it, and if possible, eat on the back patio, the views are amazing and you can hang out with this guy and his family.
My relationship with Portugal began over a decade ago through pure happenstance. Back years ago in a bitter winter setting in Chicago, we found ourselves next to a rope company while showing at the strictly sail boat show. Four days of conversation, which led to dinners, which led to drinks which led to more drinks, all culminated in a friendship that at the time, was just that. Through the following years, many other trade shows were experienced, many more dinners and drinks were had, and when the time came, that relationship turned into a business relationship. I only mention this because it was this friendship that laid the foundation for my experience with and within Portugal. I can also now say that this genial precursor has proven to be the rule rather than the exception in regards to the Portuguese culture and people. I doubt that I’d have thought to make my way to Porto, or Portugal had it not been for the random placement of our booth at a tradeshow years and years ago, and in this, I have appreciated the ability to look back on this occasion with joy, understanding it has grown into not only a business opportunity, but wonderful friendships.
If ever you’re looking for a destination, Porto has become much easier to get to with many of the low cost airlines in Europe flying there now. This has also produced a thriving nightlife and tourism industry there. It is beautiful, it is a very reasonably priced city for much of its accommodations, attractions and eateries, it is normally warm and comfortable, the wine and food are amazing and the people are welcoming. Who knows what an experience there may lead to, but make sure to bring your camera as it will inevitably aid you when looking back to gain some memory or perspective.
Stay tuned for the next leg of the trip, Amsterdam.
(Aside from the obligatory instagramish food shots on the iPhone, all shots in this article were taken with some combination of the Panasonic Lumix GX7 or Olympus OMD EM5, the Lumix 14mm f/2.5, PanaLeica 25mm f/1.4, and the M.Zuiko 75mm f/1.8)
Thanks for the read all, and happy shooting!
Here are some other, past travel articles: