The trip that Tina and I just returned from was the best one to date. We saw and did a lot. And by a lot, I mean a shit ton.
In France, We visited Paris, Bonnieux, Lourmarin, L’isle-sur-la-Sorgue, Gordes, and several other miscellaneous sights along the way. In Portugal, we hit Lisbon and Sintra. In Spain, we stayed in Barcelona, but knocked out a lot of sights in the city.
We ate and drank both the best and the worst of food and drinks. We toured like the best and worst tourists. I dented and scratched our rental car. Tina lost her phone in plain sight, searched frantically for it. We thought some Italian tourists in a camper van somehow swiped it while we were looking on. Eventually, after almost losing our minds, we found the damn phone in the bathroom beside the toilet.
Especially in crowded areas, we wore our wallets in front pockets, and I never kept my phone or cameras available for theft like that time in Rome when I was taking a photo in a touristy area with my phone in the big pockets of a rain coat.
We took risks in little shit restaurants. We pointed and grunted not knowing but a few words in Portuguese on several occasions. We paid one euro to use bathrooms in little restaurants only to get the money back by buying something, like a beer to walk down the street with.
We’ve used our cumulative experiences to navigate a variety of travel landscapes, its twists and turns, ebbs and flows, peaks and valleys, in ways that inform the best possible outcome given a myriad of possibilities.
For instance, Tina managed to slice open a finger the third night of our trip. It was the first night we were in our apartment in Bonnieux. She was opening a heavy sliding glass door. In an instant, our world went from happy, blissful travelers to screaming, crying, “I hate everything, why is this happening to me” pain.
She thought, at the time, that her finger was basically cut in two, and that stitches or worse would be result. No middle finger anyone?
But when she finally calmed down and it wasn’t as bad as we originally thought. And we picked ourselves back up and continued. Because a sliced finger on vacation is only a speed bump.
Two days later, while overlooking a beautiful town in Aix en Provence, she said, “Maybe the reason this happened to my finger wasn’t to hurt me, but to act as a reminder every time I look at the scar, for this awesome trip.”
I’ve noticed several things, at least specific to me, while traveling abroad. Within three days of arrival, the body is going through jet lag and dietary withdrawals and changes that directly affect mood. It is expected, now, that I’ll likely lose my shit within those three days. We expect it to happen and we kind of move on. Tina gets it too. It’s just a moodiness that is a manifestation of acclimating to life on the road.
I’m not talking a temper tantrum. I’m talking just a momentary loss of calm thinking.
We traveled with companions for the second half the trip. We met three friends in Lisbon to celebrate our friend Jay’s 50th birthday. In a group, there is indecision and mixed needs and wants. There is flexibility and compromise. All five of us are creatives and strong willed, so it was an interesting mix. But it all worked out.
On the third night in Lisbon, one of our travel companions decided on a restaurant for all of us to go to. It was described as a hole in the wall and that we could all dress casually for dinner and expect some local ingredients and dishes.
The first two dinners in Lisbon were already relatively pricey and I was really looking forward to a “hole-in-the-wall” experience with local food that was local fare, stuff the locals would eat. The first dinner was certainly appreciated. We went to this place called Mini-Bar, and the menu and experience was amazing.
Outside the restaurant on our way in, we met a little man, dressed to the nines, with no teeth, who greeted us in English, Portuguese and French. He cornered us after finding a pad of paper between stacked chairs and a pen. While talking a mile a minute, in French poetic language, he drew us five images on separate sheets of paper and practically demanded 60 euros from us in exchange. I tried to talk him down. But we ended up scrounging up the cash to buy his art. They are actually quite beautiful and I think we’ll treasure them forever.
In the restaurant, I had a Portuguese IPA that was on par with some of the best IPAs I’ve ever had. I ordered a “Ferrero Rocher” inspired foie gras appetizer that was all wow. All the tapas we ordered was incredible. And I am so glad for the experience. We ended up back at our apartment around 1:30. I was tired from a full day of travel.
The second night was at a touristy joint to experience Fado, a Portuguese — specific to Lisbon — musical experience. The menu prices reflected the price of tickets to enjoy the music, which was good and cultural. The food was alright. The investment of time was a little superfluous. I would have much rather had an appetizer at the Fado joint, then bar hopped and soaked up several different cultural experiences. But by the time dinner was over, 11:30 or later, I needed sleep.
The third night, as I already alluded, was supposed to be a hole in the wall. It ended up being a place called Leopold, a high-end gastronomic restaurant with only four tables. This hole in the wall was a restaurant you’d see on Netflix’s Chef’s Table. The dishes were exquisite. They were art. The price of the meal was 50 euros for the seven course meal and another 35 euros for a wine pairing.
When we first sat down, I was so shattered from it being a gastro resto that I pulled out my phone and wrote a note to Tina: “I can’t do this.”
My hopes were set on a “hole in the wall.” My hopes were not to invest my entire dinner experience on ONE place. Hopes were dashed, but honestly, it was one of the best meals and wine pairings I’ve ever had.
Traveling with others is: compromised wishes that become cherished memories that you would have otherwise not had.
In the moment, it’s so hard to see the light of reflection, of what will come to be. And when I got upset that the hole in the wall ended up deflating my expectations, I tried and tried, with every mental muscle, to remind myself that it would be an amazing experience. That my emotional response would eventually change based on experience, my brain would not let my emotional response go. And I stewed for a bit.
I eventually turned it around. Possibly at the expense of hurting my travel companion’s feelings. But we were resilient and flexible.
Experiences like that are like parental discipline and wisdom. They know what’s best for you. It just might not be clear at first.
Other observations on this trip:
- France is still my favorite European country.
- One of our favorite things to do is find a large store, the equivalent of a Super Target, with groceries, clothes, books, and souvenirs, and get lost. We spent 150 euros in a French Super U on our last day before going to Lisbon and mailed ourselves a package of stuff from there as well as some other souvenirs and personal items we weren’t using.
- Portugal was my second favorite area we visited. The Portuguese are lovely warm people. Welcoming and thoughtful. The architecture is cool. It’s a little dirty, like a third-world country, but it was still so much fun.
- Lisbon is a destination to prioritize. But it is not ready for the number of tourists. For example, finding a public toilet in Lisbon is near impossible. In Barcelona or Paris, easy. We stood in line after line in Portugal. In one experience, we stood in a line for train tickets to Sintra. Then stood in a line for a bus in Sintra. We stood in line for tickets for a palace. Stood in line for entry. Then inside the gates, we stood in line for bus tickets to get to the palace. That’s the definition of absolute madness.
- Barcelona is HUGE. It’s clean. Artistic. Inspiring. The people are gorgeous. There are beaches and museums. Restaurants and bars. It is a treasure. You should go.
- Barcelona is CROWDED. It rivaled Istanbul for me. And that place is wall to wall people.
- If you are in a touristy area in Barcelona or Lisbon, you can get burned. But it’s not always the case. We bought some cool art and souvenirs at reasonable prices. I also bought 18 euros worth of shitty mixed nuts because they looked good and the guy helping me wouldn’t push more off the scoop despite my protests.
- In squares in Lisbon, guys on the street will try to sell you pot, hash, coke, or whatever else. It’d be difficult to decipher whether it would land you in prison or not for buying some. I don’t smoke or do coke, so it wasn’t on my radar. But just the prospect of buying it on the street, in a foreign land, I say, “Just say NO” ever time.
- As always, internet and phone service is basically shit. I’ve noticed this since the first time we were in Paris in 2008. Forget it. Just enjoy the views. Sit in a cafe and check the sights. Double tap reality. Get off your phone. Your computer. If you click on Facebook, the first photo might come up, but nothing else. News sites, forget about it. Our travel companions complained about it. I feel like that’s just par for the course. We live fast-internet lives so we can read another tweet so stupid it burns. I use my phone data for street navigation, that’s about it.
- A reminder: fourteen days respite from the bullshit American “news” cycle centered on one giant ego-maniac with claws so deeply clamped on the collective balls and ovum of the American public is not only needed, but necessary. Whether you’re for him (what is wrong with you?) or against him, the president is a vampire soaking the American public of energy, creativity, honesty, beauty and integrity. We met not ONE Trump supporter abroad. Everyone had an opinion of him. And it was negative, rightly so, every time.
While I was in Portland early last month, we were hanging out with this guy my buddy Bill knows and he made the following excellent observation:
“Every day is like a new day.”
I immediately pulled out my phone, started a new note and jotted it down.
Every day is like a new day.
I couldn’t agree with that statement more. It’s like it needs its own t-shirt or bumper sticker. In your new day, do you make it a ground hog day? Do you get up and relive the previous day? Do you travel? Do you compromise your expectations? Do you realize the things you protest or are even against on a deep level are actually very good for you? Do you realize that the views of others are valid? They are appropriate? They are good for your soul?
Or are you so stuck in your path, your religion, your thoughts of life, afterlife, superhuman invisible guidance that you forget the importance of embracing the moment, eschewing personal beliefs for the greater good?
I know I don’t mix it up enough. But when I do, it’s invaluable. I wish more would do it too. But that’s just me.
Below is a quick sampling of street photography from our trip. I pushed my limits on this experience. I used a point and shoot LX100 and resorted to wider focal lengths to get closer to my subjects. Fun!