As I’ve mentioned about 32 times, I’m going to Portugal in January, another far-flung journey, a big bite of exoticism and edification, of soul nourishment and reckless indulgence in the name of peripatetic pleasure. I’m absolutely thrilled about it. It’s going to be terrible.
I’m riding the old seesaw of doubt and delight I always teeter on once I’ve bought my ticket and committed to swanning to someplace faraway, a jaunt that could be brilliant or a bust. I’m giddy. I’m aghast.
After a two-week flurry of excited planning for Portugal — I booked neat boutique hotels, cheap tours, acclaimed restaurants and compiled a list of things to do and see — here’s what I wrote in my journal the other day:
“I don’t think Portugal is going to be that great. The giant swell of energy I had for the trip has fizzled. And yet I’m still all about it and I kind of can’t wait.”
Three sentences oscillating with exquisite ambivalence.
The initial bloom of enthusiasm wilts into a kind of premature burnout. I’m two months away from the actual trip and already I’ve invested too much time, energy and money on a mirage. Waiting, I stew.
It’s not about this particular destination. It’s about all destinations, be it Japan, New Orleans or my recent trip to Paris. I get loopy, worried that all my anticipatory energies are for naught. What if it’s disappointing? What if I get in an accident? What if, god forbid, it rains? What am I doing? Refund!
This worry-wart-ism, this privileged angst mixed with delirium, has me up at all hours researching and reserving and sometimes, in fits of bleary-eyed buyer’s remorse, canceling flights only to rebook them the next morning when I’m a mite more sane.
Portugal ain’t Paris, and its comparatively modest offerings — a smattering of churches, a few museums, breath-stealing views, spicy sausage and smoky sardines — distress me. I’m going to the two largest cities, Lisbon and Porto, and both seem a little sleepy, more scenic than interactive, more walk-y than do-y.
Still, I look forward to a long tour of labyrinthine Alfama, Lisbon’s oldest, most atmospheric neighborhood, and hopping classic Tram 28, rattling up city slopes the color of Easter candies (see below).
In Porto I’m doing a fancy port tasting and taking a celebrated food tour. I’ll hear fado in a cavern-esque club. (How much fado singing I can take is a whole other matter.) And Portugal’s famed chocolate chain Chocolataria Equador — I’m there. (I’ll have the Dark Chocolate with Gin, por favor.)
Then there’s the people, always the people. I’m sure I’ll be saying obrigado (thank you) profusely.
The juices flow again just typing those words. I’ll always feel a churn of emotions about each journey — I’m a stubborn realist — so it’s about harnessing the positive and running with it. I have a good feeling about this. I think.
No matter. It’s happening. I’ve done my homework and charted the trip in almost granular detail. Everything’s in place. (I think.)
Now I stand back, sit down, and wait patiently, with or without a hearty supply of Xanax.
4 thoughts on “Tripping out over the next trip”
lol why are you coming?? cheers from Lisbon, PedroL
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I visited Lisbon, Sintra and Cascais in 2005 with my Mom. We were looking for an international trip and a co-worker had taken his mom there a couple years before and raved about it. He made it sound so fun and exotic. (Also, I might have been crushing on him a little bit.) We spent a week in Lisbon with the two side trips and I look back on it with tremendous fondness.
I support you in keeping your expectations low for fado. Much better were things like Belem Tower, the National Coach Museum (fascinating!) and the cloisters of the Monastery of St. Jerome, which had been recently cleaned with stunning results. The walls resembled butter cream icing and it’s embarrassing how many pictures I took. We found many sites to visit, when we weren’t strolling the Alfama. Belem Tower is small but completely without artifice; no attendants, few visitors. We sat in the wide, stone windows and looked out over the water, knowing others had done the same for centuries.
We briefly visited the Monument to the Discoveries (it’s just fun to get up close to it), and bought a trolley pass to take us to the many pracas or town plazas.
I decided Pena Palace in Sintra was like a play scape for adults, all these winding turrets and passageways, with no orange tape or cones to shoo you away from daring overlooks and dangerous balconies. In the States, we’re so busy protecting people from their own idiocy, that half the fun of everything is forbidden on the front end. NOT the case in Portugal. Should you wish to throw yourself off the edge of a castle and commit dramatic suicide … well, go ahead on. I found it refreshing to be treated like a responsible adult who could mind my step and avoid disaster.
We took the ferry to Cacilhas to see the big Jesus, which at 330 feet, was worth the trip. Great views from the top (where they actually DO have some fencing to prevent falls.)
On our day trip to ocean side Cascais, we came across a hippodrome and stopped for an hour to watch the equestrian competition taking place there. Gorgeous afternoon and a serendipitous glimpse of life in Portugal.
All in all, I would return in a minute. The language is tricky, and I was lucky to learn just a couple of phrases. But this is definitely a trip I feel no regrets over.
I’m keeping fingers crossed that you find as much to enjoy there as we did.
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I’ve travelled to many European countries and yet so far Portugal has eluded me. I’ll be most interested to read all about it during/after your trip. Go with an open mind….and wallet…and enjoy!
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Thank you! I do plan to keep an open mind as now I’m convinced it will be great.