When I travel, my motto is to make “one less stranger in this world.”
After a successful Airbnb Experience in Barcelona, I figured I would give another Airbnb experience a try in Lisbon. Since Lisbon was such a last minute addition (I booked it while I was in Barcelona) to my itinerary I figured a locally guided walking tour would be efficient.
I found a unique cultural walk experience where a local takes you through Lisbon to explore art, hear stories about the city and get pictures of the sights. With only 48 hours in this city, this seemed like the best way to quickly get a feel for the soul of the city.
I met up with the group on Friday night. We were an amalgamation of humans from both the Old & New World. Three women were from Italy celebrating a bachelorette weekend. One man was a photojournalist from London was here on assignment covering a story on the fishing industry. And another woman was from my home state of California working in tech and taking a much needed vacation to Portugal. Together, we meandered together with our local guide Lillit. Lillit was a sweet and open hearted woman who moved to Lisbon from Russia after she was inspired by the magic of the city after attending a rock concert here. She works in Digital Marketing and when she’s not working, she practices photography and uses her love for Lisbon as a means to connect and inspire others who visit.
We meandered up a hill into an older neighborhood to the east of Avenue Liberdade. As our small and intimate group starts to chit chat and get to know each other, we marvel at old buildings, wrought iron and skip across cobblestone lined streets in search of beautiful tiles to photograph.
As we turned into a neighborhood corridor, we encounter an old man, suited, walking towards us.
He notices one of the travelers in our group has the bachelorette veil on and asks if he may have a dance. Entertained, we watch him dance in the street with the bride to be and cheer them on.
Then, he turns to me and looks at me.
I could tell he was puzzled and from the looks of what I noticed earlier in the city that day, there weren’t many other Asians that I had seen in town.
“chinês e americana.”
He asks me to dance and I willingly oblige. His demeanor was so jovial and sweet and he wasn’t shy about a performance in the streets.
After he tried to teach me a traditional Portugeuse dance, he then proceeded to tell us the story of how he met his wife.
He was a fisherman and she was smitten when she first saw him. The fact that he was a fisherman really made her heart swell. He joked, “because I was a fisherman, she thought, he must be strong and he will always be able to take care of me.” Their love was one at first sight and after a very short courtship, they married and were united on earth for over 40 years.
Fifteen years ago, he told us that she was called to join the heavens. We all couldn’t help but sigh and he could see a bit of our hearts sinking on our faces as our eyes grew wide with sorrow. With a smile, he pulls out is wallet and starts to show us three pictures.
The first picture, is a picture of him as a young man. I imagine he looks at this picture from time to time to remind him that his vitality remains regardless of age.
The second picture, a picture of him and his young bride. We all swoon in awe of how dashingly handsome and beautiful they look in black and white.
The third picture, The Lady of Fatima.
And then he starts to explain why every picture is with him.
The first picture is to remind him that he is in fact, a “gato” (good looking man).
The second picture is to remind him of the great love he has for his wife.
And the third, The Lady of Fatima is to remind him to pray. Always.
He says that until the day he joins her in their forever home, he visits and brings flowers to his wife every Sunday, prays to Lady Fatima at church and takes time to dance in the streets as she would have enjoyed.
At that moment, I’m smiling and sad at the same time and feel my eyes welling up. I look toward one of the other travelers and say “this is incredible. And I’m trying not to lose it.”
After about 15 minutes of storytelling and dancing, the old man asks our local guide for the pictures she took of him and pictures of him dancing. He gives her his address and in old-fashioned manner, asks that she deliver the pictures to him snail mail style. Like they did in the old days.
I step to the side and start to wipe tears. The Londoner looks at me and says, “that was just so beautiful.” And it was.
This will probably be one of the Top 10 travel memories I will ever have in my life. Who knew why we met him or why he felt compelled to tell his story to us. I love that everything and every encounter has the possibility of changing your life. Maybe this was just what I needed to hear and experience. In those 15 minutes, I had the privilege of being able to dance with this man and through his story, I am thankful for the gift he gave me…
…the reminder that true love DOES exist and that when you find true love, it will be forever enduring regardless of dimension, space or time.
Funny how love reveals itself to you.