Shifting focus: A Week in Portugal

Cara used to thrive on travel and adventure, on discovering a new place for herself. She would wander for hours over cobblestones, climb steep hills, power up narrow stone staircases in old towers, meander across bridges. She would try the local delicacies—even things like tripe!—just for the experience, to be able to say that she had. If she stumbled upon a church, she wouldn’t be able to not go inside it. If she saw peeling paint or a narrow shadowy alleyway, her fingers would itch for the camera hanging from her neck. She would carry a notebook to jot down her thoughts and impressions—to remember it all and above all to remember how she felt experiencing it.

And when she got home, she would spend hours editing her photos and writing her blog posts, reliving and reflecting on everything she’d seen and done.

This year, on the short weekend trips I’ve taken to visit friends and while exploring Paris, I haven’t been like that. The things I used to do with pleasure and without hesitation often seem overwhelming, an expectation or an obligation.

should visit that monument or museum because I’m here and should take advantage of it. I should take my camera with me, in case I end up wanting to take photos todayshould edit all the photos I’ve been half-heartedly taking. I should post more on my blog; I’m in Europe and people are undoubtedly wondering what I’m up to. And they’re probably tired of the heavy, overly-personal identity crisis posts that I have been writing.

As spring break approached, I researched travel destinations and booked flights for Portugal. I made lists of all the things I wanted to see and do, bought a train ticket from Porto to Lisbon, tried really hard to find Couchsurfing hosts, booked hostels when my Couchsurfing efforts failed, figured out how to get to the Paris-Beauvais airport, and typed up my itinerary and emailed it to my mom. I went through all the trip planning motions, but in the end I was more anxious than excited. I was afraid that I’d go on this trip and not relish travel and adventure and discovery the way I used to. I was afraid that I’d find myself in Porto and in Lisbon feeling as empty and unmotivated as I’ve felt in Paris. I almost didn’t want to go.

But I packed my carry-on. And I charged up my camera. And I woke up early to take the metro across Paris to take the bus to the airport to take my flight to Portugal.

Where I wandered for hours over cobblestones, climbed steep hills, powered up narrow stone staircases in old towers, meandered across bridges.

Where I tried the local delicacies—fried sardines, cod a million ways, port wine, pastéis de nata.

Where when I stumbled upon a church, I couldn’t not go inside it.

Where when I saw peeling paint or a narrow shadowy alleyway, my fingers itched for the camera hanging from my neck.

Where I carried a notebook to jot down my thoughts and impressions—to remember it all and above all to remember how I felt experiencing it.

I still thrive on travel and adventure, but I do travel differently.

Tall towers, old churches, and panoramic views still thrill me, but different things from new angles have started to catch my eye: obscured details, weird juxtapositions, superimposed reflections. My focus has slightly shifted.

And because I’ve apparently become an octogenarian my hip started bothering me a couple weeks before my trip. It forced me to take my time. I slowed down. I paused or downright stopped when I needed to. I treated myself to a lazy day at the beach, a lazy rainy morning reading and drinking tea in Porto before catching the train to Lisbon, a lazy afternoon eating cheese and olives in a shady park, another one basking in the sun by the river Tejo.

And sometimes I put my camera away, in order to really look with my eyes—my lens—rather than through a mechanical one.

__________

Click here for more photos from Porto and Lisbon.

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8 comments

  1. Love this! Anne and I have been discussing the differences in how Europeans and Americans travel– I think being in Europe for so long has helped me want to slow down and take the lazy travel days- this time in Greece has absolutely helped me do that!

    1. Thanks, Dana! I definitely agree that after years (cumulatively) of living and traveling in Europe and often traveling with that non-stop, see and do everything mentality, it comes time for a change of pace. It looks like you’re having a great time in Greece—it’s almost hard not to be lazy there 😉

  2. Ashley · · Reply

    I think this is an important way to travel; to see things while to taking it easy and enjoying your time away. Travel isn’t only for ticking destinations or attractions off a list, but for relaxing and experiencing everything that place has to offer. Your relaxing days at the beach and in the park sound wonderful! The photos are gorgeous, as always.

    1. Thanks, Ashley! It’s true that there are just so many sides to traveling. Since I’m a planner, it can be hard to slow down and to choose not to race to another attraction. Sometimes we get in this mentality that we have to max out on everything to be getting the most out of a trip, but it’s true that slowing down and just experiencing a place is an equally important part of discovering it.

  3. Jamie · · Reply

    I am so glad that Cara has her “travel groove” back (albeit and slowed down and refocused a bit)! The pictures are fabulous and tantalizing, as usual. What body of water is that that your lovely toes are in?

    1. That’d be the Atlantic. If you hover over the photos with the mouse, a caption pops up. And if you click on one you get them bigger and also captioned.

  4. A wonderful reminder that too often, whether traveling or not, we are focused on the doing and seeing, rather than the immersive experience. May the rest of your travels be as wonderfully slow and deliberate as the one in Portugal.

    1. Thank you for your comment. I definitely plan to travel more “slowly and deliberately” from now on! 🙂

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