This morning I headed over to Sao Bento Station located in the heart of Porto. I've noticed regardless of what terminal you board from, whether Grand Central or Budapest-Keleti, a few things rarely, if ever, alter. By this I mean the colorful characters that hang in and around the often striking vestibules with elaborate murals often dating to the turn of the century.
Then of course, there's that fleeting romanticism about train stations that make you feel as though you're bidding farewell to the half of you that makes you feel whole in the midst of a world war. Braga Station was no exception. I know because I spent the afternoon there.
The ride itself took an hour or so as we were whisked past sleepy towns with backyards filled with lines of linen and the weekend laundry. For half a second I felt as though I could put together the backstories of their lives as I quite literally sped past them.
Once in Braga I wandered the streets slowly as my mind raced ahead with thoughts neither productive, nor present. I decided to finally put an end to the feisty ruminations by stopping in my tracks and repeating the mantra, "This is the only moment that matters." For a second I felt grounded which gave way to gratitude for the privilege of being in such a place to begin with.
Though the reliable staples of churches, cafes, and gelato on every corner remind you what continent you're on, the trick is to not be passive about the familiarity. You still must fight the notion that getting to explore the world is casual. One must, no matter how fleeting, take a moment to recognize what a gift it is to live among people who may see the world a bit differently.
Saturday in Braga brings with it a festive atmosphere as families and young couples walked hand-in-hand through markets, cobble-stoned streets, and buildings dating back to the 16th century casually hovering above modern day department stores. That's something we don't have back home, I often think to myself.
By 5:00 pm I was ready to make my way back to Porto. I'd seen what I came for, whatever that was. I decided to grab a cup of tea as I waited for my 5:34 train to arrive. In my periphery, I saw the young man behind the counter studying my face, a drill I'm all too well versed in at this point. The examination invariably precedes the question, "Where are you from?" which of course it did.
"My mom is from Korea and my father is Italian-American," I told him as he tried to wrap his head around something so bizarre. "I love Asian culture," he tells me making me marvel even more at how I often morph into a makeshift ambassador for an entire continent and race of people.
Still, we talk. I realize it's actually been a while since I've done that with anyone, which is one of the delights and perils of traveling alone. And for whatever reason, in that moment, I needed to connect, to hear, to speak, which is to say, to feel. He could have read the phone book for all I cared.
I just needed, however briefly, to be reminded I wasn't invisible.