The Art of Getting Lost and Found in Portugal

In [Walter] Benjamin’s terms, to be lost is to be fully present, and to be fully present is to be capable of being in uncertainty and mystery. And one does not get lost but loses oneself, with the implication that it is a conscious choice, a chosen surrender, a psychic state achievable through geography. That thing the nature of which is totally unknown to you is usually what you need to find, and finding it is a matter of getting lost. The word ‘lost’ comes from the Old Norse ‘los, ‘ meaning the disbanding of an army and this origin suggests soldiers falling out of formation to go home, a truce with the wide world. I worry now that maniy people never disband their armies, never go beyond what they know. Advertising, alarmist news, technology, incessant busyness, and the design of public and private space conspire to make it so. Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost, pp. 6-7

We were headed downhill yet again on a narrow one way street. “We want to be going up, this will only take us back down.” Indeed it did. My friend Pedro, who I meant in Finland, when I took a summer school class about Finnish education with him and other international educators, was generously playing my tour guide on this afternoon in Lisbon. We had gone to eat Paseles de Belem with all the other tourists. Pedro mentions a time when the lines didn’t extend out the door and he could calmly enjoy his Portuguese treat in between his university classes. They were worth the trouble though, along with coffee the custard sweet was better than I expected.


Back to the hill: I was holding on for dear life as Pedro drove quickly on the narrow road trying to get us up to the Pena Palace in Sintra, a ways outside of Lisbon. We had driven in circles looking for the road that would lead us back up. The sun was beginning to set and we wondered if we would make it before closing. Finally, after circling the area and following a very slow truck for a bit we found the entrance. We had an hour in the park before they locked the gates. We had made it just in time. Heading through the garden as light left the sky, I imagine Lord Byron and other types walking the same garden so long ago. When we made it to the base of the palace, I realized it was actually the best time to visit. All the tourists had left or were leaving for the night. We wander briskly around by ourselves, taking photos without others walking into them. The security guard let us walk the guards tower as night made her appearance. The palace was everything beautiful I am sure most palaces are meant to be: full of tiles, bight colors, various statues, and towers reaching into the dark sky. The darkness encircled us as we walked cautiously down the road to find Pedro’s car. (As I write this I realize my story from Iceland was also a night story, I do wander around during the day while I travel too.) We thankfully made it to his car by the light of his cell phone. While backing out Pedro noticed two other people sitting in the dark. He rolled down the window and asked, “Do you need a ride?” Turns out Uber doesn’t work everywhere and two young tourists from Flordia replied, “Yes.” So we found ourselves chatting with the young couple all the way back to Lisbon, about a 30 to 40 minute drive.This was the typical experience for me in Portugal, getting lost, yet always somehow found. Lost in the sights of buildings covered in tiles.


Lost in the names of the streets and their twists and turns.


Lost watching the people of the city, as I seemed almost more drawn to the outskirts or everyday side streets than I was the tourist centers. I found the glimpses of a Portugal I had heard about from others, a simpler, everyday Portugal, in spite of the growing tourism beast.


I found art that filled the streets. I found myself lost in thought and okay with not always knowing which road I was on and why or even where it would take me next. My camera capturing the faces, places, and art that I saw along the meandering way.


I have separate stories for the cities of Lisbon, Nazaré, and Porto, but those will have to wait for another day. Internet is getting harder to come by, and I can only handle so many crash attempts to post this update.

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