See the World, Free Your Mind

Traveling to the other side of the city or the world can be a transformational experience.

To Eric, my first editor

In third grade, a girl from my school died in a car accident.

I vividly remember hopping on the yellow bus with a few dozen other kids to go to her service without knowing what to expect. We probably were just vaguely excited about skipping class.

After seeing the face of a sleeping doll with pigtails in her open casket, the mood was decidedly different. On the way back, we were quiet and silent—profoundly changed by the funerary field trip.

Traveling to the other side of the city or the world on a sad or happy occasion can be a transformational experience: the physical commuting triggers an inner journey that continues unfolding for the rest of our lives.

In “The Philosophy of Travel, ” George Santayana wrote,” “Locomotion—the privilege of animals—is perhaps the key to intelligence.” Seeing the world with an open heart and mind, as kids usually do, is critical to transcend propaganda.

Visit the locations of our history books to learn what they don’t teach you in school. Being in “the room where it happened,” whether Charleston‘s Old Slave Mart Museum or Lisbon‘s Monument of the Discoveries, shatters stereotypes.

Like going to Mexico City and realizing its world-class museums and cosmopolitan rooftop bars have nothing to do with the dodgy picture delivered by American media, or traveling to Bourdeaux and finding the friendliest locals appreciative of your efforts to communicate in broken French.

“We travel to open our hearts and eyes and learn more about the world than our newspapers will accommodate,” wrote Pico Iyer in “Why We Travel.”

After visiting the Faroe Islands, online trolls scolded me. “Congratulations on supporting animal cruelty,” they said, referring to the ancient practice of whaling. But going beyond bloody YouTube videos and into the heart of the foggy Northern European archipelago was illuminating. It taught me their hunting is non-commercial, humane and environmentally sustainable. 

Touring Seville‘s Bullring Real Maestranza Museum was uneasy until we discovered the chapel where matadors pray before facing the magnificent beast with reverence. Learning more about the solemn ritual shifted my perception. And, though I probably still wouldn’t attend a bullfight, I found myself capable of respecting a different cultural practice. 

“The world never quits growing on us. It’s just as vast as ever, and it reinvents itself every day,” Bill Bryson aptly wrote in “The Best American Travel 2000.” And, though rewarding, the experience can be an unsettling one.

The images of the falling Wall from my teenage years colored my first visit to Berlin in 2007. I was delighted with a sense of optimism and possibility, different from my post-social media/COVID trip to the German city (photo featured), shaped by the historical and geographical proximity to the Russo-Ukrainian conflict.

The French election of a lifetime, between President Emmanuel Macron and rightwing hardliner Marine Le Pen, was also momentous. Fresh off the Trump years, an American in Paris was an ominous walking-and-talking warning. So much was a stake for France, the European Union and the world. We dodged a bullet, for now.

The most important lessons? Progress is not a straight line. And, as John Steinbeck wrote in “Travels with Charlie: In Search of America,” “we do not take a trip; a trip takes us.”

At a trying time for millions of Americans’ rights, including women and LGBTQ+ families, celebrating the old USA’s birthday in Provincetown, the birthplace of American freedom, still committed to liberty after more than four centuries, was reaffirming.

I wish cultural warriors had a peak at so much love between people from all walks of life. “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts,” wrote Mark Twain in “The Innocents Abroad.”

Perhaps, I’m overly optimistic and, as Maya Angelou said, “travel cannot prevent bigotry.” But even the legendary poet and civil-rights activist believed there could be hope. “[…] by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends,” she concluded.

Beautiful Portugal: Small but Mighty

Don’t get fooled by its quaintness. At its height, Lusitania’s imperial influence stretched across 50 countries in Africa, Asia and the Americas.

As soon as you land in Portugal, you’re welcomed by a country of melancholic red roof houses against the tranquil backdrop of the Atlantic Ocean.

Moreover, as you drive southward from its historical capital Lisbon into the charming Algarve region, you realize the entire country is probably not larger than the state of Indiana.

Lisbon, Portugal

That’s why it’s hard to reconcile the fact that the Portuguese Colonial Empire was one of the more extensive in the history of humankind: it stretched from the Americas through Africa, Asia and Oceania.

The legacy is immortalized by Padrão dos Descobrimentos (Monument of the Discoveries), located on Lisbon’s Tagus River (the point where ships departed from in the Age of Discovery).  

Map of Portuguese colonies at the Monument of the Discoveries

Aside from the structure itself, which depicts Henry the Navigator leading his crew on a sailing ship, the Praça do Império (Imperial Square) includes red limestone Mappa Mundi representing the global Portuguese colonies. 

Also, a symbol of the Age of Discovery, the nearby Belém Tower, stands at 98.4 feet since the 16th century, when used as a point of embarkation. It has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1983.

Belém Tower, Lisbon

Another major landmark, Praça do Comércio, stands on the site where Paço da Ribeira, Portugal’s most important palace, lived until 1755—when an earthquake and tsunami of biblical proportions destroyed it.

Here, captains and merchants planned voyages to Brazil, India, and other territories and would trade their goods upon returning.

In 1908, King Carlos I and his son were assassinated on the square, which ultimately led to the fall of the Portuguese monarchy.

Praça do Comércio, Lisbon

The Algarve

The Algarve is the southernmost region of continental Portugal, with its administrative center in the city of Faro.

It is a magnet for visitors and retirees because of its natural beauty, climate, safety, cuisine, and affordability.

It’s also popular amongst global golfers, kayakers, jet skiers and surfers.

Praia do Camilo, Algarve

With its stunning rock formations and cliff views, Praia do Camilo was delightful.

It’s accessible through a long wooden stair that offers the most Instagrammable views.

Make sure you arrive early, as the beach is not huge and decreases in size as the tide rises.

Praia Grande de Pêra, Algarve

If Praia do Camilo felt crowded, in Praia Grande de Pêra, you feel like you have the entire beach to yourself.

Its dune field extends for over a mile, and what it lacks in cliffs makes up for golden sands and clear waters.

As the sunset hits, it treats visitors with quite a beautiful spectacle.

Comporta, Algarve

But the Algarve is not only beach life. It also has beautiful countryside with lots of crops and fantastic farm-to-table restaurants that serve delicious meals.

Dubbed “The Portuguese Hamptons” by some (after the New York summer town), Comporta is ideal for taking a lovely stroll through, followed by a glass of wine by a rice field flanked by an infinity pool.

Lookout of Santo Antonio, Lisbon

We enjoyed our last couple of days in Lisbon, strolling about the hilly town. 

We hit its miraudores (lookouts), such as Santo Antonio, Largo Portas do Sol and Santa Maria Maior. 

These are charming places to enjoy a cold beer while watching the iconic cable cars pass.

Palace of the Marquises of Fronteira, Lisbon

We also checked out the Palácio dos Marqueses de Fronteira. Built in 1671, for Dom João de Mascarenhas, 1st Marquis of Fronteira. King Afonso VI bestowed the title for his loyalty to the House of Braganza in the Portuguese Restoration War.

Aside from exquisite interiors with plenty of art and antiques, the palace boasts a stunning terrace garden adorned with beautiful tiles and sculptures representing various mythological figures.

Lisbon’s iconic cobblestone pavements

We admired Lisbon’s traditional black and white cobblestone pavements on one of our last strolls. If they look familiar, they have inspired the ones in Ipanema and Copacabana in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Like many other cultural expressions from the Old World, they might be a dying art. Despite creating a paver’s school in 1986 and partnerships with job centers to preserve the tradition, it’s failing to attract young people who keep flocking to more modern and lucrative occupations.

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