Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Back to the Pleasures of Individual Travel: The Portugal Diaries, Part One

Church in Alfama District Lisbon

My husband and I just returned from Portugal—one of our best trips ever. When I was younger, back in the halcyon pre-9/11 days, I was so eager to jump on a plane. Unfortunately, I’ve found gearing up for a trip gets harder each year.

Now, I usually have that "I think I would rather just stay home" feeling before a trip. It's a good thing there are such things as non-refundable tickets or I would probably have tried to convince my husband to cancel the trip—those long lines at security, delayed flights, always some snafu. This time it was getting home from Newark airport: the trip from Philly to Newark took almost as long as getting from Lisbon to Philly, thanks to the limousine company from hell.

When we actually got to Lisbon, I was so happy to be there. Our enjoyment was largely due to once again traveling as individual travelers. Our one experience of group travel-- last year's trip to Peru-- convinced us that tour groups are not for us. After the regimentation of group travel, we reveled in the freedom of doing what we wanted, when we wanted, rather than rushing through museums at break neck speed desperately trying to pack in the maximum number of attractions per day.

Our first half day in Lisbon we spent the entire afternoon at one place, the Monastery of San Jeronimo. We could really look at the amazing architectural detail, savor the serenity and beauty of the cloisters. No group tour would ever allot that much time to one site. And we decided when and where we would stop for a drink and how much time to linger at a cafe.

The pleasures of individual travel were especially sweet, not only because were we doing it at our own slow pace, but because we were so happy to be back in Europe. For many years, we went to Europe twice a year. The dollar was strong and we were very good at finding small charming inexpensive hotels and restaurants. For some reason, we never got around to Portugal.

Thanks to the rise of the Euro, we started traveling to Latin America. Our last trip to Europe was to St. Petersburg in 2003. The plunging dollar had its upside--an opportunity to discover Mexico and South America. (After all those trips to Latin America, my Spanish should be a whole lot better.)

It was especially sweet to be back in Southern Europe. I love the churches, the medieval old towns of European cities, especially of Latin Europe with its piazzas, cafĂ© culture, wonderful food and wine. It’s no accident that our phrases for enjoying life—joie de vivre, dolce far niente—come from Latin Europe.

Our last trip to Southern Europe was to Seville over the Christmas holidays in 2001. There were so many travel bargains then thanks to 9/11. My husband convinced me the chances were small that we would die in a terrorist attack. As a former Math professor, he really does understand the laws of probability. We continued going to Europe in the early 2000’s. The terrorists didn’t stop us, but the strong Euro did.

We’ve decided we’re too old to forego travel to the places we really want to see. There are places I feel we should see and wish I had traveled to when I was younger, but at this stage I’m really getting beyond those “should do’s". (Rick never had this problem.)

More later on the delights of Portugal.


  1. Welcome back, Karen! Your photo is a teaser for all the word pictures you'll unspool for those of us longing for cloisters and cafes and leisure-drenched days. It's wonderful to hear you had such a lovely time and now you'll have the joy of sharing your trip with your friends!

  2. Hope to see you this week-end or next!