Over one month, no blog posts. I have a good reason… kind of. I’ve been moving around Spain and Portugal. Living life, experiencing things and well, resting. I think without realizing it, I was on the verge of burning out after my Himalayan adventure.

While the motorcycle ride through the Indian Himalayas was nothing short of incredible, I guess it was pretty taxing, mentally and physically. Perhaps as a way of my body telling me that I was struck with some mysterious flue-like bug in Delhi, laid in bed with a fever, half-dead for two days and barely made it onto my flight to Madrid, Spain. Thankfully in Spain, Fermin, a kind friend of mine got me back to normal within just a couple of days.

And so, over the past month I’ve been traveling around Spain and Portugal, without Tanya (who went to visit family in Belarus) something of a rarity for us over the past few years, but a good way for me to see who I am and where my head is at. Why did I visit these places? Well, I’d always had a fascination with Spain. I learned Spanish in university and the teachers instilled a very romantic vision of Spain in my mind. Portugal entered into the plan after I started seriously considering the Spain trip. Fermin (the same one who cured my flue) told me that Portugal was like Spain 30-40 years ago. Sounded interesting – Spain of now and Spain of yesterday, though, I did find out that Portugal and the Portuguese were distinct enough from Spain and the Spanish.

In any case, I fell in love with both countries, the incredibly tasty food, the ridiculously beautiful and at times painfully romantic cities, the wonderfully hospitable, intelligent, warm and fun people who live there. I loved the region so much, that I want to move there. I don’t know when or whether I can actually live in any one place on earth, but if you were to ask me where I’d like to theoretically make a home, I’d say – Portugal or Spain. Don’t ask me which, it’s too tough to decide. :) I have probably mentioned at different times that I could see myself living in a few places, but I think this is really the closest area to idyllic for me.

About Spain and Portugal, I mentioned the food and the people. These people, well, they like to get the visitors to drink… a lot. Since the drinks are not of the atomic/poisonous kind as they are in my motherland Belarus or some other Eastern European countries, I had to oblige. I ate, drank, made friendships, had fun and had very little time or ambition to take photos. I guess in the back of my mind, I was already thinking “research” more than photo taking, because I really would love to be back and to dedicate some time to shoot certain subjects there.

The tapas and the Sangria made me almost useless as a photographer for most of the Spanish journey, but I did manage to shoot a bit here and there. The first group of images is from the Portuguese countryside. The rest of are a mixed bag, a bit of a diary record of what I saw and what I might like to photograph more in the future.

The person who “introduced” me to the Portuguese countryside is an awesome photographer and an even more awesome person by the name of Rui Pires (check out his images HERE). There are a lot of goats in Rui’s photos and before long, Rui took me to one of the villages where he shoots. I was surrounded by those goats, feeling déjà vu from my Himalayan journey, where I too was “chasing” goats (along with other animals). Same kinds of stone houses, same smells of dust and animals, same ringing of bells (on the goats). A little like India, but in Europe.

Before getting to the goats I took a little walk to get myself acquainted with the village and ended up in a corn field. Thankfully, I made a friend and she volunteered to assist me in my photographic pursuits. This was important, as the lovely elderly lady (in the images below) would have possibly been a little uneasy with the sight of a man (who is obviously foreign because he doesn’t understand what the heck she’s saying) with a camera so early in the morning.

In the first image, the lady is channeling a stream of water to different parts of her field. The villagers use ancient techniques of water sharing and watering of their fields. The water stream is “closed off” with a chunk of soil and is hence channeled in a specific direction or towards a specific field. In the old times, access to water was one of the main reason for serious conflicts between villagers. Seemed like in this village at least, that’s been left in the past.

The elderly folk work as long as they are capable. It never seizes to amaze me, whether in Belarus, Romania, India, Portugal or wherever else what people are still capable of in the latter stages of their lives. This lady (above) was carrying what appeared to be a damn heavy load up a pretty steep cobble stone path. We offered to help, but she just laughed it off.

And then came the goats… lots of them. Rui joked with me a couple of days before “Do you want to meet the goats?” knowing that I am familiar with his work and know that the traditional village where he photographs is full of them, at least judging by his photos. I think the images (above) are pretty self explanatory.

The way it works with the goat herding is – all the village folk get them out of the sheds and push them along the village’s main “street”, in the direction of the mountain path, then a designated herder takes them up the mountain to graze. The herder is different every few days.

Most of the more traditional Portuguese villages are inhabited predominantly by people in their 60s and above. Hence the rhythm of life is even more relaxed than elsewhere in the country. These two gentlemen sat on the bench, watched life go by and occasionally napped over the four days that I spent there. The dog, named Bolinhos seemed to be the only animal allowed on the bench with them.

Animals are of utmost importance in the Portuguese countryside. Above, the village head “Ze” is feeding his gigantic bull. I photographed Ze for about an hour and even helped him a little to gather hay for his cattle. After our little photo session the man invited me to his house for lunch. That’s what you see in the image below, the appetizer of one grand lunch. :)

One of the awesome things about Portugal is that somewhere deep in the mountains, down some shitty road you can come across something pretty fascinating, like this abandoned village (below) and a small waterfall near it (not pictured).

Branca, the friend I made in the first village was curious and kind enough to join me on my little exploration trip around the North of Portugal, we visited a few more villages, chatted to some of the elderly folk and I, of course took a few more shots.

Etelvina (above) is 92 years old. She obviously had seen a lot in her life, but when we asked her how things were in her time and what had changed, she mentioned a rather strange ritual. Etelvina worked in the morgue with her mother and said that back in the day, they used to grease up the cadavers and put a cork up their backside before burrying them. “I don’t know, perhaps that’s changed now” she told us. Very weird.

A pretty common sight (above) around the countryside villages – elderly folk sitting outside, watching life go by.

In some of the villages there are still communal laundry places (above) where the village folk wash their clothes. This lady was doing just that. She invited us for lunch, though unfortunately we had to decline because we were in a hurry.

While visiting one of the villages, Branca and I spotted an elderly man with three huge cows walking along the road. The sight was impressive enough for us to run after him. We started to chat and ended up following the man, who’s known as Senhor Orlinhos all the way to the grazing ground of his cows, about 2 km up the road. In the image above he’s turning towards the grazing ground off the road with one of his cows.

In a typical display Portuguese hospitality Senhor Orlinhos invited us to his house for lunch after our little journey. Here he is in the cow shed, showing a new calf that was born to one of his cows.

Ana (above) is Senhor Orlinhos’ wife. When we arrived at the house she was already cooking lunch, which consisted of potatoes and pig liver. In this image I caught her during the moment she said “É a vida” a phrase which I commonly heard around the Portuguese countryside. The phrase translates to something like “That’s life” and it’s used when someone might be resigned to the hard fate that life has dealt them or simply at the end of a factual statement about life in general. For example “We all get old. É a vida” or “You have to work to eat. É a vida”.

Senhor Orlinhos was a pretty photogenic fellow and he didn’t seem to mind a bit that I was photographing him quite a lot. As a result, I was able to get a few pretty relaxed shots in a casual setting.

And now to some of the shots I made in the cities/towns of Spain and Portugal. As I said, these are more of “diary” kinds of shots than anything else, but I thought I’d share them anyway.

One of the first places we visited was Granada (above), a beautiful city with amazing food. The latter was the culprit for my lack of photo-taking. Though here are two images I did manage to take between meals with the second having been taken, during tea. :)

On our way towards Portugal we visited Arcos de La Frontera, a charming, little, old town, which just happened to be holding a Flamenco festival. I hadn’t actually seen Flamenco live before and Fermin, my Spanish friend was “guarding” me from seeing shitty Flamenco without soul, the one he said was held for the tourists. He approved of the stuff we saw at Arcos. :)

The music and singing were quite something, but the slightly cheesy setting was not amazing for photo taking (not a big fan of colored lights on ancient buildings). Nevertheless, I couldn’t resist shooting at least some of this spectacle. I think the emotion and passion of the performers are pretty clear in the second of the three images.

Eventually we made it to Lisbon (images above), a city I instantly fell in love with. Ok, if I had to make a choice of a city where I wanted to live, Lisbon would be at the top of the list.

Porto appeared to me as a little depressing at first, but as I explored, it was became poetically melancholic and romantic, in a sad Portuguese kind of way. The photo above and the one at the top of the post were shot from the first bridge of the city.

Back to Lisbon. Above are a couple of shots of the famous Lisbon trams, outside and inside. I had to explain to the French couple in the frame that I was shooting a little piece on Lisbon trams so that they wouldn’t think I’m a psychopathic maniac, as I snapped them quite a lot during the trip. Thankfully they were lovely and understanding.

One great thing about Lisbon is that there’s so much to photograph and there’s probably just as much stuff indoors, in the churches and the restaurants or Tascas (local restaurants) as there is outside. The second shot above was taken in one such Tasca. The woman is the place’s owner. There isn’t a menu in her Tasca, rather every day there’s a set meal. I was told that whatever it is, it’s great and that proved to be true.

Sun setting over a residential neighborhood in Lisbon. I have no idea where the heck this is. Part of the fun in Lisbon is in simply getting lost.

This woman (above) might look like a regular kitchen worker, but she is in fact a pretty talented Fado singer. Google Fado if you haven’t heard of it. In short, Fado is Portugal’s traditional music/song, usually sad, always emotional. I heard this lady from some distance around the corner of the restaurant in which she was performing and nor she nor the guitarist were using microphones. Powerful stuff.

Alfama, the neighborhood where we stayed is believed to be the birthplace of Fado and as a result there are still a lot of places, usually restaurants where you can hear it performed. Perhaps the whole thing has become a little touristy and they charge you somewhat silly prices for meals in drinks in some places, but hey, it’s still a bargain, if you consider that you’re getting to listen to some talented folks for that money.

After Portugal I visited Santiago de Compostela, a charming town where I had a lot of fun eating awesome seafood (the region is known for it) and having atomic Sangria with three fun loving Spanish girls who just finished their “camino de Santiago” a pilgrimage walk which I doubt I will ever take. It was their idea to go to the church to see this flying ball of fumes called “Botafumeiro“.

The tired tourists/pilgrims are treated to nightly performances by folks wearing traditional old Galician attire. They also claim that they’re brewing a magic potion, that’s the fiery thing. I had to abstain this time. :)

I was afraid that this was the last shot with my Canon 5d mkII. The kiddies were standing at the edge of the wall, waiting for the wave to spray them. I was standing quite a distance away, with a 70-200mm lens, hoping that it doesn’t spray me. Wrong. I got wet from head to toe, as did the camera. Seems to still be functioning though.

Tapas or Pintxos as they are known in San Sebastian, a city often considered the culinary capital of Spain. My mouth waters when I think of the food in that place.

San Sebastian is beautiful. If I wasn’t so obsessed with eating and drinking I probably could have shown its beauty more effectively, but as I said, there’s likely to be a next time.

Well, that’s all for now. I’m hanging out with some of my family for the next few weeks, so things might again be a little quite here. Though I do have some posts in mind.

38 thoughts on “The Journey through Spain and Portugal

  1. Here it is, the much awaited blog post =)

    I’m really glad you enjoyed our little spot in this world, be sure to come back soon enough.

    Cheers my friend.

  2. Mitchell, I got really nostalgic after seeing your pictures. My father’s family is from one of those dying villages in the north and I still remember very vividly to see my grandmother working in the fields and carrying home the heavy loads on her back, always with a big smile in her face :)
    I haven’t been there in years… but I must go back soon.

    Anyway, I’m really happy you enjoyed Portugal and I believe that unlike your friend Fermin told you, Portugal and Spain are quite different (never tell a Portuguese that Portugal and Spain are the same, with Portugal being 30 or 40 years behind :) we don’t like this type of comparisons).

  3. I already enjoyed the photos posted at Facebook but in a blog post with a more context, and even more photos, is much more interesting. I love watching and reading other people’s stuff about my country :)

    Next time you come here you should the plains of Southern Portugal

    Cheers!

  4. @Ruben and @João – Thanks for checking in guys. Hope to see you again in the not too distant future.

    @Romana – Of course I know you guys don’t like those comparisons:), but hey, it sounded like an interesting reason to go. As I said, I reckon the countries and the people are different, though of course there are similarities too. I loved both places for various reasons.

  5. Mitchell, glad you enjoy Spain and Portugal.
    Feel free to mail me if you came back another time to Madrid I’ll glad to show you the city!

  6. San Sebastian is one of my favourite places ever. I went for a small holiday to help heal when I was going through a particularly bad time. I swore that I would live there one day. Still waiting to return though! :)

  7. Hi Mitchell… Really enjoyed seeing what you have been up to on your journey through these two countries. I’ve never been to neither Portugal nor Spain myself before, so this was an interesting read. Funny how such an adventure draws you into unpredictable places. I guess there is many more stories to be told when you get back there, and I will look forward to follow you. I’ve been doing that for some time actually, and I really enjoy your photographic style and the stories you encounter. Thank you for sharing.

    Cheers

  8. “The tapas and the Sangria made me almost useless as a photographer …”

    Goodness! Mitchell, I don’t want to even try to imagine what images you would have done without being ‘impaired’ by tapas and sangria…
    Glad you’re back in shape, and sharing.
    Best.

  9. I enjoyed your photos and writeup very much. I can’t wait to add Portugal to a future itinerary.

  10. There’s something inexplicably magnetic and seductive about Lisbon. It’s not as monumental as Paris or Rome, not as vibrantly cosmopolitan as London, not as energetic as Barcelona or Madrid, but it beats any of those cities in soulfulness. It’s the romantic combination of sights and particular details of the tiles and cobblestones, the authentic way of life, the hilltop views, the “vintage” appearance… It’s simply a captivating place. And your photos of the city capture it well, as do all the wonderful photos of the other cities on this post. Fantastic job!

  11. @Thomas – I’ve already seen Madrid, my friend lives there, but I’ll get in touch anyway, if I come back there. @Cathy – Yeh, not a bad place to do any kind of healing. :) @Martin – Thanks for coming by and hanging around. :) Thanks everyone else. :)

  12. i still think we should blaim rui’s for your ruin, but, as we say, “i don´t want you go tell your mom you starved in my country” now do we!?! :-)

  13. more chan

    you did a great job!your images moved me so much! Hope you are happy for me to share your images to more people!

  14. Ah, you’ve discovered Portugal too! I love the traditions, the people, their fado and even unique bullfighting with those brave forcardos!! I had planned another trip to Portugal this time to visit Douro Valley and the northern villages in autumn, but had to cancel unexpectantly. But I will return, because it truly is one of those intriguing places where it would be possible to simply move residence to live.

  15. DaveT

    Great write up and a wonderful set of images. I love the way you use light; your images have a great quality and sense of depth about them and its evident that they are not casual shots but considered.

    Did you use any sort of reflector or off camera flash for some of the interior shots?

  16. Alexandra

    Fotki i tvoi rasskazy obaldennye,my s papoi chitali i smotreli vse c ogromnym ydovolstviem.
    Solnyshko lubimoe.

  17. Suzanne dos Passos

    Very much enjoyed your photos of Portugal and Spain.. I so hope to go some day my self to discover my heritage in Medeira island.. I would love to photograph that area.. Many memories in this country of the wine from Medeira as a child we would get one glass at dinner on special occassions and it was heavenly…

  18. Jithin Bellarmen

    i love to visit spain and portugal….i wish i could atleast visit lisbon

    • Sid

      Blunder1248 lolWine is cheap and food is ace for tourist idtios as you who chose cheap restaurants The best restaurants of the world are in Italy and Spain,almost all Hollywood come to Rome to eat.If you are a closefisted it’s not Rome’s guilt.Then why don’t you stay in Usa?Beyond shitty skyscrapers and fast food you don’t offer much more.At least appreciate art and culture in Rome even if you are a skinflint.

  19. Kate

    Portugal and Spain have a distinct cultural vibrancy that you’ve really captured here. The photos show an authentic insight into everyday life. Luxury travel to Spain and Portugal sometimes conceals the true heart of these countries. It’s great to go exploring and discover the fascinating culture and hidden treasures – such as the abandon village you found in Portugal.

  20. Yves

    Amazing and outstanding pictures like usual, Mitchell! I’m a regular follower of your blog for years and I really would like to thank you so much for sharing your work and your enchanting pictures to us. I’ve been also to Portugal this summer and your pictures reminds me of so many wonderful memories…

    Once you’ve told, that you always have a translator along your journey, mostly coming along as a friend (like Branca from Porto) – a local, who possesses extensive knowledge of the local conditions. Where do you usually meet your travel companions? Directly in the country when you are already on tour or do you get in contact with your possible guides before your departure?

    I’m really looking forward to your coming blog posts of your next trips!
    You really create enchanting pictures – in style and atmosphere!

  21. Felix

    From a Portuguese, raised on a small Portuguese village of the “Nordeste Trasmontano”, that lived in Porto…. your pictures do really show the essence of the palces. Also, they are great pictures.

  22. Bruno Amorim

    Micthell, i love your article.
    I’m a Portuguese citizen and it feels good to know what people think outside of Portugal. Your story is perfect to tell that! Reaaaally inspiring!

    Thank you so much! Please, come back. ;)

  23. juan

    awesome pictures inspiring I want to go visit Spain after that

  24. Martin

    I see photos from Lisbon and Porto and some villages from Portugal…. And very good photos… But come a next time, to visit GUIMARÃES, ÉVORA, SINTRA, CASCAIS, ALGARVE, DOURO VALLEY, AZORES AND MADEIRA ISLANDS, AND DO A COAST TRIP IN THE 800 KM OF COAST ALL OVER ATLANTIC OCEAN COAST….. AND AFTER THAT, YOU DEFINETLY WANT TO LEAVE FOREVER IN PORTUGAL…..

    • Martin

      i wanted to say ”live forever in portugal” ;)..

  25. Just to add some background info to this post, Fado now is part of UNESCO Intangible Heritage of Humanity list.

  26. Your pictures made me wanting to go back to my native Galicia, in the northwest corner of Spain, a mix of Portugal and Spain, now that I live abroad. It is always interesting to see how others see your country as you tend to overlook certain things. It really made go back to my childhood where you could still see widows dressed all in black. Fantastic reportage as I made me dream!

  27. I actually don’t even know how I ended up here, but I thought this post was fantastic. I don’t know who you actually are but surely you’re going to a prominent blogger if you aren’t by now

  28. Bessa

    You are quite a a photographer. Congratulations.
    Yet I have to say that your friend Firmin sounded quite the spanish stereotype. Always lofty and arrogant when the matter is Portugal. Portugal is not Spain 40 years ago and for many reasons.
    First, Portugal is way older than Spain itself (something spaniards like to omit). Second, the developement of both countries is not that different (not as near as your friend said). Third Portugal’s culture is Atlantic with an heavy Celtic influence and traces from the former Colonial Empire, while the spanish one is Mediterranean and notoriously influenced by Moors and Gypsies (Sevillanas and Flamenco are perfect examples). An so on.

    Finally, your photos, as lovely as they are (again, congratulations), they promote your friends Firmin view. Look how you’ve picked the Rural Portugal and the Cosmopolitan Spain. You could have showed similar villages in Spain, yet you didn’t.

  29. Warren

    To bring an old blog back to life, your pictures are fantastic. Thank you very much for enlightening me and inspiring me to travel. I wondered if you might be able to remember where that empty village was, a GPS co-ord, name or rough guess would be great.

    Many thanks

    • Warren, if Mitchell doesn’t remember or know, I can help as I know it well and recognized the village easily by his picture. It’s named Drave, near São Pedro do Sul, centre north of Portugal. I’ll be back there again with friends by the 31st of May for a walk ;) . If you need any more info, just feel free to email me at amigueloliveira@hotmail.com. You can find the village here: http://en.wikiloc.com/wikiloc/view.do?id=4724921
      Best regards
      Miguel

  30. How could one not fall in love with Portugal? Such a special country and your pictures really captured its unique atmosphere. Just beautiful!

  31. Hi, Mitchell!
    It was a pleasure to find your pictures again after a short experience in dead dutch site woophy.com. And it was fantastic to read (and see the photos, of course) about your trip to Spain and Portugal and to know what you felt in this Iberia region. It was a good surprise to realize you even visited the “abandonned” village of Drave!!! I’m from Porto. I’d be happy if you take notice of my email and when you come back to my country you let me know. I do know every region in this country (one of my photographic projects was to photograph each of the 23 “natural parks and reserves” of Portugal) and it would be a really great pleasure to walk around with you and our cameras. I also own a house in the heart of portuguese nature, The National Park of Peneda-Gerês, a good start point to walk in its mountains and villages and to discover the beautiful cities of Braga, Guimarães and Chaves, for instance. At this very moment I’m taking pictures in the south, in the interior Alentejo which is also unique! Well, hope to meet you one day! Cheers (abraço)! Miguel

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