Too many people approach travel like a to-do list. Read the guidebooks and brochures. Then go, go, go. Tick them off to say you did, and … what of it?
Yes, seeing the new and historic can stretch the mind a bit, but not if you have to fight your way through a throng armed to the teeth with cell phones and silliness.
To illustrate, from our current visit to Portugal, Today, we rose early and scurried off by Metro to the Entre de Campos train station for a visit to the historic town of Evora.
Nice place. Lots of old buildings.
Lots of Europeans from all countries sitting around the square, sipping espesso and sucking on Galouises and leaving me to wonder, couldn’t they do this on their back deck? Why fly and ride or drive to Evora, to sit and watch the world go by? Didn’t they know there were old buildings to stand in front of and document for the bored grandkids with their cell phones?
Same question for me. Not that I’m jaded, but old buildings and relics and such are much less interesting than the people, when you can figure out a way to engage. Without Portuguese language skills, I rely on the English speakers to save me from feigned shopping.
So I was oh-so grateful, on our long trudge uphill to the Castelo de Sao Jorge, in Lisbon, to dip into a little shop opposite the shop that had seduced my spouse. Inside, checking out the souvenir T-shirts (yes, I admit it; so sue me), I heard the voice of Pedro Chaves explaining that the images on the front of the shirts represented past and present brands of canned sardines. The shirt smelled better.
Sardines are everywhere here, on the menus, and canned and decorated in cute collectible (or giftable) labels and stacked in shops where visitors pass.
Pedro has a love-hate relationship to the city’s economic engine, no doubt familiar to folks who remember Carmel when it was sleepy.
“Lisbon is now like Disneyland,” he said. “Everybody is coming here because we have wine for 4 Euro a bottle.”
Despite the flood of visitors, and its impacts, Pedro doesn’t want it to go away. “I need it for my business,” he said.
So he put on his Chamber of Commerce hat, and gave me a handful of slips of receipt paper with notes about what to see and do and how to shop for Port.
One recommendation was the wine bar near the Berardo Museum (see previous post). The owners of that fine little place had previously run it near Pedro’s shop. During their tenure there, they routinely hosted traveling groups of chefs to orient them on Portuguese wines. Small world, right?
So nice of Pedro to guide our explorations. I wasn’t sure if I was buying the T-shirt because I liked it or just to thank him for his time and wit. Both, likely.
As is commonly the case here, he spoke far better English than I did Portuguese (I’m making liberal use of “obrigado,” local lingo for “thank you.”)
Pedro knows people in Wisconsin and Florida, and inferrred that I belonged to the subspecies of American traveler known as “Trumpus ejectus,” so he dialed up a funny video of Trump telling the Christmas story. We shared a guffaw.
Credit card receipt in hand, my wife and I resumed our climb to the castle. My wife has never been to a castle, nor, obviously, used a restroom in one.
After getting in the requisite ticketing line and amusing ourselves chatting with the sweet lesbian couple from Argentina (one of whom is a pathological map collector, like me) we got inside, found the restroom (open and functional, yahoo!), the climbed all over the castle and took in the views of Lisboa.
Then we left and walked back downhill.
Anyway, lovely time. Great food. Lots of old buildings. Better new T-shirt. 🙂 And a really nice restroom back at our rental unit.
(To meet Pedro Chavez yourself, go to Nobre Povo … Portuguese Contemporary Handicraft, Rue Bartolomeu de Gusmao n 23 e 25, 1100-078, Lisboa, 351-218-888-023, firstname.lastname@example.org)