A few weeks back, I entered the World Nomads Travel Writing Scholarship contest.
Even though I wasn’t one of the three winners selected from 8,000+ entries, I’m still happy I entered the contest. Of course, I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to take a free trip to the Balkans (because DUH), but more importantly, I’ve never entered a writing contest like this before. It was a great challenge for me, as it required me to hone my travel story into 2,500 carefully selected words. Plus, I researched the Balkans region a lot before submitting my entry and this part of the world is now high on my list of places to visit someday.
Since I’ve not had the chance to blog in a while, I wanted to share my entry here. You can also find it on the World Nomads site (and read some other submissions, too). I hope you enjoy it! (Note: the photos were not part of the submission, but I like them.)
We’re standing on (what feels like) the hundredth hairpin curve, halfway to the Pena National Palace in Sintra, and my husband is ignoring me. Gasping for air, sweat soaking through our shirts, the tension between us is as palpable as the sweltering humidity. The shade from the tall trees does little to cool our overheated bodies and tempers. As we silently fume, another air-conditioned bus filled with happy tourists drones past us towards the apex.
“I hope you’re happy we saved 10 Euros by not taking a bus,” Sam snarls between wheezing breaths. Even if I had enough air to respond, I knew better than to argue.
Visiting Sintra was my idea, as was walking to the Palace. Sam wanted to explore Lisbon’s Azulejo-lined streets and clickity-clack street cars, but I convinced him that Sinta’s whimsical castles were the perfect backdrop to celebrate our 2-year wedding anniversary. Standing in silence on the edge of the road, I realized there’s nothing as romantic as denying when I’m wrong.
Defiantly, Sam pulls out his phone, hops the limestone barrier edging the road, and charges into the overgrown foliage.
“Shortcut,” he shouts over his shoulder. Conceding, I follow my intrepid partner into the Portuguese wilderness. His plan is to cut through the space between the road’s meandering switchbacks using our blue location dot on Google Maps as a guide. We stumble and grope our way up root-invested knolls and shimmy around snagging thorn bushes. At one point, Sam boosts me over a large stone wall—not easily managed in a skirt, I might add.
Thirty minutes later, the ground levels and we navigate back onto the road. Suddenly, there are swarms of people and way-finding signs. Certainly, we’ll pay an admission fee soon. By the time we’re perched on the Palace’s majestic outer wall, the truth hits: we trespassed into a national monument site.
From our colorful aerie on the mountaintop, the entire world spreads out below. Lolling ridges thick with trees break only for patches of terracotta-roofed villages as the land fades into a diaphanous mist. A rejuvenating breeze sweeps over the wall, carrying the smell of sweet pastries, wisps of the Atlantic 10 miles away, and just-washed linens hanging on clotheslines—or so I imagine in my delusional state.
It’s so crowded that no one notices the dehydrated couple laughing at the wall or the secret they share. I was right about one thing: it was the perfect celebration of marriage in all its wild glory.