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.
I 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 today. I should 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.