I’d like to show you a random, crazy mix of pictures I’ve taken since I’ve been here in Portugal whilst I tell you a bit about my experience….
I should know better by now. I tell myself I do know better, but then find myself doing it again.
That is, having expectations. Many, many years ago I saw a photo I can still see in my mind’s eye. It was a picture of a beautiful old Portuguese woman sitting on a wooden chair in front of a sun-bleached stone wall, hands busily working away on a piece of lace she had perched on her lap. She wore a black dress dotted with a small flower pattern and her white hair was pulled back into a bun. The sun was shining on her softly lined face, a small pot of blooming flowers at her feet. I realize now I romanticized this photo and it became my ideal of Portugal.
Somewhere in the back of my mind I expected this is what I would see on every other street corner here in Lisbon. It has not been the case. Not remotely.
Lisbon is a busy city full of nice, friendly people but if it ever looked like that photo, it does no more. I’ve not seen one piece of hand-made lace (only machine-made) and, in fact, when I’ve asked numerous people where I might see it, they sort of screw up their face, cock their head and indicate they have no idea what I’m talking about.
It’s my own fault for being here at the high season of travel. My own fault for not doing better research. You learn lessons as you travel. Sometimes you have to re-learn the occasional lesson because you didn’t get it quite right the first time around. Well, that’s all of life though, isn’t it, really?
When I travel, I waver between researching a place I want to go in order to get the most out of the experience (and hopefully figuring out how to get around the place) and just ‘going with the flow / see what happens.’
I’m reminded of a story about the movie Magical Mystery Tour. In it, the Beatles hired a bus, loaded it up with all sorts of people and just took off to see what would happen. The problem was that nothing did. Or, whatever it was that did happen made little sense. It was considered a flop. I saw it at a theatre when it was first released and, though I was a rabid Beatles fan, even I found little to be excited about. Of course, that’s a matter of opinion, but maybe you get the idea – nothing was planned and very little happened.
I like to book my accommodations ahead of time. I don’t want to wait until I arrive in a city or town, then try to figure out where I’ll lay my head for the night. I want to have something already good to go. Just sort of a peace of mind thing, I guess. But then comes the question of how many nights to book the room? That’s hard to know before you’ve even laid eyes on the city.
Will there be a lot to do and see? Do I want to do and see a lot? Maybe I just want a quiet place for a while. Maybe the place will be awful and I’ll want to leave sooner, but I’ve still got, say, three more nights booked – do I forfeit the money I’ve paid for those nights and move on? I’m attempting to convey here the open-endedness of my travel schemes and the ‘problems’ that sometime arise.
I did some research, for example, before booking my stay in Sintra.
But, I assumed that since Sintra is to the north of Lisbon, it would be simple to catch a bus for day trips to towns I wanted to see that are even farther north. This was not the case.
Since Lisbon is the hub for almost all travel around southern Portugal, any destination for which I wanted to go north meant I had to take the train from Sintra back south to Lisbon, then take a bus to whatever northern city I wanted to see. If I’d done more research and found this out beforehand, I wouldn’t have booked my stay in Sintra for eight days.
Not that Sintra was such a terrible place to hang my hat for a while. Good god, no. It’s a lovely town. Just maybe not eight-days lovely.
Note to Sintra Chamber of Commerce: Play a different sound-track, for god’s sake! When I first arrived there I heard classical music playing from loud speakers around town. I thought it was wonderful. Nice background music for strolling around, you know? After a short while I realized it was the same 7 or 8 songs playing over and over and over and over and over again. How many times can one hear the Russian Dance Song from the Nutcracker Suite without going insane? I don’t have an answer to that question – I may already have gone over the edge. I have no idea how people who live there handle it.
So, it would seem there’s a fine and somewhat hazy line between planning (and over-planning) a trip and going with the flow.
I did make that extra effort to go up to Nazaré. I really wanted to see those waves! But there were a few more places up north I would’ve like to see. As it turned out, it was just more travel by train-bus-train than I was willing (or could afford) to do.
All in all, I’m glad of the time I’ve spent in Portugal.
I’m just beginning my European sojourn and, honestly, I feel I haven’t quite got my sea legs. You look forward to doing a thing for a long time then find yourself doing it and somehow your brain hasn’t caught up to the fact. I’m feeling a little lost in space.
But, it’s okay. It’s part of the journey.
P.S. I just discovered a problem with my computer (not again!). Not sure when my next post will be, but please stay tuned!