A return trip twenty-five years in the making
By Emma Duke, Staff Writer
This past June 2022, my family traveled to Portugal for 16 days. Twenty-five years prior, my parents made Portugal a two-day-stop on their honeymoon, but my dad got sick with food poisoning and they missed seeing the whole country. Since they didn’t get to experience the true beauty of the country the first time they went, my dad wanted to surprise my mom with a trip to Portugal for their 25th wedding anniversary, and they brought me and my siblings! I wanted to share my experience traveling to Portugal by sharing some memorable moments and lessons I learned.
Late Nights, Wine
I cannot emphasize enough how many times we’d walk into a restaurant at six or seven o’clock and it would be completely empty, and then we’d walk home at 10 p.m. and pass bustling streets and restaurants. There was a wine bar near our Airbnb (which we made more than one trip to), and every single time we passed it, no matter the day of the week, people would be sitting outside drinking wine at eleven pm, midnight, and on.
This is so unlike the experience in Calgary and North American culture. I urge you to visit Stephen Ave on a Sunday night and experience the emptiness of it. It would come as a shock to both of us if you saw groups of friends on the El Furniture Warehouse patio at eleven o’clock on a weeknight. It was extremely enjoyable and a learning experience to be surrounded by this culture for a moment’s time. It’s a culture in which work and life are much more balanced, in which alcohol is to be savored instead of abused, and in which conversation and friendships are prioritized and cherished.
The Man With The Saxophone
One of my favorite memories of the trip happened in a little fishing town an hour outside of Lisbon called Cascais. My three sisters and mom went to explore the shops, and I stuck with my dad and brother who wanted to walk around the several beaches in the area. My dad wanted to see a particular area, and my brother and I followed. It was a hot day, around thirty-four degrees, and we had been walking for about forty minutes in direct sunlight. My brother and I were tired, and we couldn’t believe that this spot my dad had wanted to see would possibly be worth this much walking, to be honest.
When we arrived, we immediately realized that we were mistaken. This was worth all of it. We stood atop of a cliff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. A man also stood on the cliff, playing the saxophone. I had seen him before, in a popular shopping area in the heart of Lisbon, but I hadn’t listened to him play that day, I couldn’t hear him above the noise of people shuffling between shops. He was wearing a pair of sunglasses that day in Lisbon, and he wore the same pair in Cascais, along with a t-shirt and jeans.
We must have sat there for an hour and listened to him while looking out at the glistening water. When he finished his set, we clapped and sat through it again. He smiled at us and gave us a small nod of his head. He never opened his mouth to speak, only to blow through his mouthpiece on his saxophone, and it is odd to think that one of my favorite moments from the trip happened with a person whose voice I never heard.
We didn’t want to leave. There was something so serene about this moment. I remember purposefully looking around me to make sure I remembered this, telling myself, “When it’s finals season and I am incredibly stressed, this is where I’m going to want to be.” My brother and dad and I agreed that “the guy with the saxophone” is one of our core memories of the trip, and I don’t think I’ll ever forget it.
The first time we got on the bus in Lisbon, I looked out the window the entire time as we whizzed by Roman and Gothic architecture, cobblestone streets and monuments. The second time we got on the bus, I looked at the people around me. I took note of the fact that I could not see a single person, not one, on their phones.
Locals looked out the window themselves, or simply sat and did nothing. I thought this was a fluke – surely a bus filled with strange people in a strange place. But I did remember this. The next time we got on the subway, there were four people on their phones, which, on a packed subway, was a significantly low number.
I tapped my brother and I mentioned this to him, and every time we got on public transit, we’d note to each other that most locals either chatted with friends, or sat on the bus or metro in silence. It reminded me that not every moment needs to be filled with distraction, sometimes it is okay to simply sit, experience and be.
Cinnamon Sangria, Sleep
We spent two days at the beach. Both days, we left our Airbnb at around 10 in the morning, and didn’t return to the Airbnb until twelve hours later. At the beach, after a game of paddle ball and some swimming, my sister and I went to the restaurant that sat above the water. We ordered red sangrias that had cinnamon sticks inside and cinnamon powdered foam on top and sat for a long time, raving about the Sangria and the cute boys on the beach, and for some time, just sitting in silence.
When we returned to the beach, I closed my eyes and listened to the soft waves, and the chatter of people around me, which was louder. A girl was teaching her friend some tricks with a dance ribbon, and I fell asleep on our blanket. Not a deep sleep, but a light sleep that indicated just how peaceful the day was.
We played more games, went back to the restaurant bar and came back with lime beers, and I let my four siblings bury me in the sand. If you ever have the chance to speak to them, they might tell you that a memorable moment from that day was me standing in the ocean, forcing water into my bra to get the sand out of my clothes.
These snippets of my trip are just a few memorable moments; I have many more, like when my mom cried at an Indian restaurant because the garlic naan was so good, or when we visited the National Palace, the royal residence in the 1700s.
Visiting Portugal was unforgettable, and my experiences in the country reminded me to cherish conversation, to savor moments, to prioritize the ones I love and to look around. Traveling reminds me that the universe is bigger than myself, that the world is vast. It is not the universe who holds onto our past but ourselves. No one in Portugal, or France, or India knows about the embarrassing thing you did in class last week. The world is bigger than you and me, and we can rewrite our stories.
I am also reminded that we can travel to a place, where nothing is familiar to us, but in every new place, we are connected to others because of our shared humanity. We all cry. We all laugh. It is my belief that we should all, if and when we are able, take advantage of every opportunity to travel, to experience a world that is not our own, to meet people, learn social customs and try new food, to create memories in places that will stay, long after we have gone.