A Day Away
“What we want out of a vacation changes as we age. It changes from vacation to vacation. There was a time when it was all about culture for me. My idea of a real break was to stay in museums until my legs ached and then go stand in line to get tickets for an opera or a play. Later I became a disciple of relaxation and looked for words like beach and massage when making my plans. I found those little paper umbrellas that balanced on the side of rum drinks to be deeply charming then. Now I strive for transcendent invisibility and the chance to accomplish the things I can’t get done at home. But as I pack up my room at the Hotel Bel-Air, I think the best vacation is the one that relieves me of my own life for a while and then makes me long for it again.”
— Ann Patchett, “Do Not Disturb,” in This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage
When I read this quote by Ann Patchett I could totally relate, although I could have years of changes in preferences ahead of me. When I was in my early twenties studying abroad or teaching English in Spain, I could push through travel fatigue to wait in crazy long lines for museums and tourist sites, could eat at whatever dives we found just to eat “local” but cheap, stay in eight-dollar-a-night hostels, reveled in whatever I could find that was a cultural site, historically important place, something reflective of local life. While I still love culture, history and travel, living abroad does mean that those things become a part of daily life and what you wish for in a vacation takes on a whole new meaning. But maybe even more than that, having kids changes what you need in a vacation.
Since our families live so far away our vacation time is spent visiting them. So in terms of our actual “vacations” it looks more like weekends away. Sometimes with our kiddo, sometimes just the two of us. This past month we escaped for one night to rural northern Portugal, just an hour’s drive away but it felt like the total disconnection we needed. Sometimes you just need to hit the reset button. We adore our little one and so deeply thankful for family life, but time alone as a couple and time to relax a moment away from dishes and laundry, the computer and errands, even if just a day/night, can do wonders for a taxed mommy/daddy-brain (and body!). The handful of times we’ve been near grandparents and able to escape usually means walking into the hotel room and collapsing on the bed cherishing silence and lack of responsibility, and my whole body literally unwinding in a moment of relaxation. Getting to read a book, write, or just sleep feels like heaven. And pool time is always a plus.
For this weekend away we went to Paço de Vitorino at the recommendation of a friend. Portugal is full of paços and pousadas that you wonder how on earth there are so many treasures tucked away in every little corner. Portugal is also still fairly economical so it’s quite do-able to plan a nice trip without spending a fortune. This one was an old monastery that was renovated a year ago into a quaint 14-room bed and breakfast, totally secluded from anything near it, next to a river, hardly even marked by signage. The peace and tranquility is incredible. It has maintained its rustic feel but been restored to stately elegance. The pool looks out over a rugged valley and cozy living rooms look just right for curling up with a book in colder months. Breakfast was a dainty affair, all the details just right. It is a short drive to Ponte de Lima for a dinner in an idyllic old village. We strolled along the river bank with the locals out for the Saturday night promenade with families and friends. The main plazas had their facades all lit up with non-corny strands of lights. We stumbled upon a 9:30 p.m. Mass in a church in the city center from the 1200s. Sunday morning we stopped for a second coffee on the river (that I spilled all over myself and the cafe owner helped wipe me down with a wet cloth). And then back home, refreshed and with a renewed thankfulness for all the blessings we can take for granted in daily life.