Perplexed by Portugal

Portugal was a tough nut to crack. After (largely) confidently and extremely successfully scheduling travel and accommodations for our first two months, master planner Dan was kinda stumped. Here were the challenges posed by this leg of the journey:

  1. Timing: We had about 10 days to play with between wrapping up our Spanish adventures and flying to Scotland—a decent chunk of time, but not enough to do all the things. Or even, like, most of the things.
  2. Geography: Traveling overland from northern Spain put us in northern Portugal, as did our plan of meeting up with Dan’s aunt and uncle while they were in Porto. We knew we’d be back to Portugal in in July to visit Lisbon and the Azores, so staying in the north made sense… except that what there is to do in northern Portugal is pretty similar to what we’d just spent two weeks doing in northern Spain. We considered hopping a plane south to the Algarve for some beach-resort-y fun, but there was no guarantee that May, even in the south, would deliver any true beach weather and we’d just come from a cloudy beach vacation. Perhaps most importantly, though, we were up against some pretty real…
  3. Exhaustion: We arrived in Spain utterly worn out from our Asia-to-Europe expedition and jet lagged all to heck. After landing, we also came face-to-face with the reality that, while our Spain leg was pretty well planned, we had nothing on the books for Portugal, which was only a couple of weeks away. So there we were in San Sebastian, bleary-eyed and vaguely panicked, thinking if we never saw another airport or an even remotely crowded city, it would be too soon.

Not ideal circumstances for thoughtful planning, to be sure. In retrospect, we should have probably just booked a flight down to the Algarve and stayed at some kind of resort with a kids’ club. Because what we didn’t fully appreciate was that, by the end of traveling in Spain, we’d have spent a lot of time in small towns and remote locations with just the three of us for company. We vaguely thought there might be some other families staying in/nearby some of our Spanish accommodations, but our pre-school-holiday, shoulder-season timing—while ideal in some ways—was a little lonely in reality.

We managed that isolation fairly well in Spain (buoyed by the seemingly nonstop spectacular sights), but by the time Portugal rolled around, we needed a social shakeup that, unfortunately, we didn’t have planned. On the books were two long-ish stretches at rather remote destinations, broken up by a mere 48 hours in Porto. A last-minute schedule change and the sheer charm and welcome bustle of a couple of mid-sized Portuguese towns ultimately delivered a pretty good time. But honestly, we weren’t at our best. Fi was moody and acting out and Dan and my reserves of patience were running extremely low. Arguments and tears, which we’d managed to keep to a minimum so far, were near-daily occurrences.

And still, now, a mere month down the line, the memory does what it does, taking the sting out of the harder moments and polishing up the lovely ones for us to hold up and remember. But it is worth remembering the challenges, some of which we’ve weathered better than others, all of which have had something to teach us.

In Portugal, the first of those challenges awaited us at stop number one, a charming little hoarder house on the Douro River…

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