Gambling on Guimaraes

I had it in my head that we were staying in a different kind of place. Our accommodation in Guimaraes – a half hour or so outside of Porto – was a farmhouse-turned-vacation-rental with a pool and (I thought) several different apartments. I figured that, given the pool and the advertised farm animals, we had a puncher’s chance of meeting some other vacationing family and calming down my feelings of isolation-induced loneliness.

My head was wrong. Our farmhouse (built in the 17th century and owned by the same family ever since!) was just that – a farmhouse, with a cleverly arranged living space and a pool all to ourselves. When we arrived and chatted with the owner, my heart sank. Alone, again. Ugh. How could I have missed that? How could I have planned this this badly? What was I doing wrong? The answer is “because sometimes you don’t know what you want, and you do your best.”

One of the most challenging things for me on this trip has been getting out of my own head and into the place we physically are. Between the planning and the cooking and the transport and the rest of it, it can seem like all I’m doing is an endless logistical exercise, and I feel (rightly or wrongly) like Fiona and Julie’s enjoyment is entirely my responsibility. I know it’s not, but that’s how I sometimes feel, and right then, in that quiet oasis of a place a little bit out of the main town, I hit a sadness wall. This trip has brought higher highs than normal, but also lower lows.

Eventually, of course, I got over it. The pool warmed up over our four days there, a well-timed video call from my brother and his wife gave me someone else to talk with for a bit, and Julie does a wonderful job of pointing out the great things, even when I’m wallowing in (mostly self-induced) self-flagellation. And I accepted where we were for what it was – quirky and beautiful.

It helps that Guimaraes and the surroundings are a lot of fun. Most tourists who visit show up on the train in the morning, hit a few sights, then head back to Porto for dinner. By staying around for a few days, we got to see a bit more. The town itself is gorgeous, with a true-blue castle and a real palace right below!

The old town is agreeably old, maze-like, and cool. We had a couple of lunches (including one absolutely amazing and delicious one) and one dinner there, and loved sitting out in the main square late in the day watching life unfold around us.

At night lights came on all over, the tourists were gone and the town was quiet and absolutely magical.

Us being us, we also took a day trip to a waterfall at Peneda-Geres National Park, which was

  1. Beautiful.
  2. A very cold place to swim. Fiona came in with me and after I dunked her she basically climbed on top of my head to get out of the water. Refreshing!

And on our last day – the hottest day we had in Portugal – we took a cable car to the top of Penha, a mellow mountain with a perfectly kitschy little tourist train that offers a tour of the sights (of which there were… only a few!). We walked all over. It wasn’t overly exciting or dramatic, but it was charming, much cooler than the heat of the town down below, and a fitting wrap-up to our time in Portugal.

We never got Portugal quite right, but we always, always ended up doing some pretty neat things. We’re headed back later in this trip – to Lisbon and the Azores – and we’re very happy to be doing so. Me? I’m still trying to balance out my planning with my enjoyment, and trying to be a little easier on myself. Not an easy task, but it’s also one I’m up against in my regular life. It’s a good reminder that travel doesn’t solve any of your issues. It can open your eyes to new things, but no matter where you go, you’re still who you are.

Thanks again for having us this time around, Portugal. See ya soon! Our next stop was Scotland, where things were about to get… complicated.

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