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  • Writer's pictureBethany Wish

Chasing Hashtags, Finding Fado

I hugged my jacket tighter as the spring wind from the sea hit me- fresh, cool. It foretold of something new, something unexpected.

I didn't know much about Portugal. It was a last minute decision spurred by my husband's sudden job change- one which left him with invaluable calendar space and a passport that had collected far too much dust.

"How about Portugal?" I asked.

Secretly, it was a single Instagram photo that sparked my interest: an image of a woman laughing in front of a tiled Lisbon storefront. The caption: #Wanderlust.

I wanted that photo, too. I wanted to laugh in beautiful, exotic places. I wanted another checkmark on my world travel bucket list, a destination (with photographic evidence, of course) to add to my collection.

He offered a 'why not' shrug, and it was decided: Portugal was the place.

A series of sharp turns and steep ascents up narrow streets brought us to our Lisbon apartment.

Dropping our bags, we rushed to the rooftop to catch the sunset. The sea sparkled and the 'Christ the King' statue stood sunlit, arms spread like a welcome to us: a benediction. Below us, the city sprawled in pastel pinks and vibrant yellows, buzzing with life. Faint music and the smell of seafood drifted from a restaurant down the street. There was an intangible quality to the city, one I couldn't quite put a finger on. All I knew was I wanted to be a part of it.

We spent a day just outside Lisbon, exploring the whimsical architecture of the Palácio da Pena and the Quinta da Regaleira, whose twisting corridors and secret passages left me feeling like I just stepped out of a fairytale.

In the evening, we gorged ourselves on Pastel de Nata- the decadent custard tart dusted in cinnamon- and dreamed of possibilities...

what if we just stayed?

Our last day in Lisbon, we hopped a ride on one of the city's cable cars. We spotted a small cafe along the tracks, where we later sat sipping espresso until a rain cloud drove us indoors. The bar was cozy, and the bartender with a booming laugh insisted I try the Licor Beirão while we waited out the rain. He poured me the sweet-tasting topaz liqueur over ice, then promptly another when I finished.

We chatted about the Portuguese graffiti artist, Vihls, and the complicated history of cod fishing in their rich coastal waters.

The Sun beckoned, and as we said our farewells, the bartender invited us to join him for live Fado music later that evening. My husband and I again looked at each other with the 'why not' shrug and agreed to meet him at sunset.

We sat in the dimly lit room with our new friend and waited. A musician strummed a Portuguese guitar, and a lone vocalist stepped into the spotlight. She began to sing.

Feeling poured from every note. The words were Portuguese, but somehow I understood. Emotions I felt when I saw the laughing Instagram woman flooded to my mind:

Longing. Desire. Freedom. Joy.  

As she sang, I realized it was this expression of emotion that was the intangible quality I couldn't describe. Emotion was hidden in the details of Portugal; in the tiles arranged by hand and the cobblestones underfoot; in the richness and pride of the cuisine; in the childlike optimism of the architecture; in the freedom of the art; in the warmth of the smiles; and now in the raw expression of the music- the very soul of Portugal bared for all to see.

Our friend told us that in Portuguese, they have a word for Fado music: Saudade.

In English, it roughly means 'intense longing'. I feel this Saudade now for Portugal. The people shared a piece of their heart with me, and in return, I left a piece of my heart there with them, too.

In the end, I got my tile storefront #Wanderlust photo, but so much more than that. I never expected that I would find a place where my soul felt home, a place I didn't know I had been missing...and that's not something you can capture in a photograph.

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