I visited Portugal for the first time this past week for a little New Year’s getaway with Elin. We started in Porto for two nights, which is in the north, and then spent another two nights in Lisbon, which is in the south. We both were so charmed and in love with Porto. It’s a smaller city than Lisbon, but Porto has a lovely balance of city life and small town warmth, with a mix of old and new. The cobblestone streets are narrow and quite hilly, the buildings are eclectic colors with beautiful designs of tile called Azulejo that Porto is known for, the people are friendly and smiling, and the pastries are some of the best I’ve had. For breakfast, we went to this bakery across the street from our hotel every morning for pastries and a cappuccino. So good! The buildings and the hilly streets reminded me a little of San Francisco, but a more quaint and European version. Honestly this was one of the first year’s that I actually stayed up until midnight, but it was worth it. There was a street party downtown with live music and lots of local people and some visitors too. People were dancing and singing and just enjoying themselves-their happiness was infectious.
On New Year’s Day we stumbled across this insanely gorgeous cemetery with angelic statues and memorials. It was cool to see families buried together in their unique mausoleums. One of my favorite parts of Porto was walking on the Ponte Luís I Bridge and getting an incredible view of the city and the sparkling Douro River. Walking and sitting along the Ribiera/river area was another highlight. So peaceful and relaxing to just sit, stare, and have a chat with a friend. We also tried Portugal’s famous Francesinha sandwich. Look it up. Its crazy. And their Port wine, very sweet and delicious. The Tawny was my personal favorite. Something cool that I learned is that J.K. Rowling taught English in Portugal and there is this bookstore called Livraria Lello in downtown Porto that is rumored to be the place where she was inspired to create the Harry Potter series. Unfortunately that bookstore is a huge tourist trap and the line was super long so we didn’t get to go in. But even just looking from the outside, you can see the resemblance to Harry Potter: the winding wood staircases and architecture had a magical quality to it.
After Porto, we took the 2 1/2 hour train journey to Lisbon. Seeing the landscape and countryside of Portugal was incredible! We went to the Time Out Food market, which has a variety of world class food, desserts, and drinks. Elin and I tried the famous pastel de nata dessert and the cod fish was delicious too. We also took a trolley ride downtown, saw the Belém Tower, and walked along the ocean. I didn’t like Lisbon nearly as much as Porto; it has a grungier feel and is more metropolitan-like compared to Porto. Even though we got to do a lot of things in Portugal, my favorite moments are the little things: relaxing in the hotel room with Elin, buying souvenirs, good conversation, and admiring the beauty of a new place.
Another cultural difference I’ve noticed since being in Spain vs. USA is this idea that I refer to as “Spilled milk- a Spanish approach to living and making mistakes”
I’m not sure if it’s because I grew up as a student-athlete in Orange County, but I felt a strong pressure to be perfect all the time and because of this I developed a fear of making mistakes and trying new things. The perfectionistic culture prevalent in the U.S. is cut-throat and as an impressionable young person I found it difficult to live freely and fully. Its no wonder that anxiety and depression is at an all time high. Its because of this that I am nervous to go back home, but ultimately how we live our lives is our own choice. I’d like to think that this perfectionistic culture is changing, in some places more than others, but being in Spain has given me a taste of how life can be different. Our goal shouldn’t be perfection- maximum effort, showing up fully, giving our best, that’s what counts. Striving for excellence is different than striving for perfection. When you’re chasing perfection, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment and it becomes an endless goose chase. Take the shame out of “mistakes” and laugh instead and take it easy on yourself. Its really not that big of a deal. We live and we learn. Change your perspective on “mistakes” or “failures” and embrace whatever arises throughout your day as an opportunity for growth, for learning. Our mental health and wellbeing matters too. A friendly reminder to take care of yourself!
Hope your 2019 is off to a lovely start! Wishing you peace, joy, good health, and prosperity.