Mrs. Beorn and I had a wonderful trip to Portugal over the winter holidays, and I’ve finally had the chance to sit down and write a bit about it. Being adventurous sorts, we have a list of all the countries we want to visit in our travels. As a bear who loves to eat and drink, Portugal has always been near the top of this list. Among other things, Portugal is especially famous for Port Wine, which is a particular favorite of mine.
The photo above was taken at the end of a glorious day in the town of Porto, the eponymous city from which Port Wine takes its name. We walked all along the Douro river, sampling various wines, along with an amazing spread of cheeses and meats. My French is a bit rusty, but I believe “charcuterie” roughly translates to “all of the yummy things that you can fit on a piece of wood”. If there is an Ursine Heaven, I suspect it looks something like this.
At it’s heart, the city of Porto is built around a Roman Wall that was created in the 11th century. The sense of history is one of my favorite things about Tolkien’s writing, just as it is one of my favorite aspects of traveling to distant places. Once you have visited another land, tried (sometimes unsuccessfully) to speak the language, and shared bread and wine with the people, it is difficult to hold on to mistrust and apprehension. I suspect that many who blithely throw around negative generalizations about other countries have never actually visited the places they so casually disdain.
A highlight of our trip was visiting the capital city of Lisbon. It is a beautiful city in its own right, but in very different ways than Porto. After finding a group of friendly players in Versailles during our trip to France, I’ve made it a point to try to meet up with members of the community during my travels. We were truly humbled by the hospitality we found in Portugal, as one member of the community even invited us to dinner! Manuel (mtpereira from the forums) and his girlfriend Daniela graciously hosted us on multiple nights while we visited Lisbon.
One of many advantages to visiting a country with the help of locals is that they know where the more interesting and out of the way places are. Anyone can take a selfie in front of the most iconic example of architecture that a country has to offer, but this strikes me as a rather facile oversimplification of what it means to be in that country. I’m far more interested in the esoteric beauty, sights and experiences that a country hides a bit deeper beneath the surface.
Mrs. Beorn and I are quite fond a style of tile which the Portuguese adapted from North Africa, called Azulejo. Our visit to the Museu Nacional do Azulejos in Lisbon was a personal favorite. In an age of automation and disposable goods, seeing entire walls and buildings covered in painstakingly hand-painted tiles is awe inspiring. I am particularly fascinated by the intersections of cultures and Azulejos represent an intriguing hybrid between Arabic and Christian cultures and artistic styles.
We were able to make time on our trip for some geeky fun, and met up with another member of the community named Nuno for a night of board games and traditional Portuguese food. We learned to play a new, and devilishly challenging, cooperative game called Magic Maze. The premise of this game was quite amusing, as you are a band of fantasy adventurers trying to escape from a shopping mall. It’s interesting how even seemingly insignificant details can highlight the differences between two places and peoples.
Travel can’t help but make one a bit introspective about one’s own society. This game’s silly premise along with the general contrast of being in Portugal, caused me turn a critical eye to my native culture. In America, much of our society is deeply obsessed with physical possessions as an outward symbol of status and “happiness”. I’m a simple bear, looking to enjoy experiences, meet new people and broaden my perspective on life. My adventurous sense of freedom, and even stubborn assertion of individuality certainly fit with the culture that I was born into. However, I completely reject the notion that my success is defined by how many things I own.
The more that I travel, I realize that I am part of a community that is unique. So many genuinely warm and caring people are part of the online world which has built itself around this game, and I am deeply appreciative to find joy in a beautiful and fragile thing. The internet has changed many aspects of our world, for the better and the worse. It seems to me far easier to tear something down through destructive acts, or even let it deteriorate through neglect, than it is to build it up through toil and diligence. I am grateful to all of the people who I’ve met through this game, and all of those who I will never meet but whose work benefits me every day. Being fortunate enough to experience the breadth of good in this community inspires me to never take it for granted.
For those might prefer more of the game-related content, and less of an old Bear’s ramblings, I haven’t forgotten you. Here is a thematic Ranger deck which I designed, in my great fuzzy head, while I wandered the fog-covered streets of Porto. Safe travels everyone!