While we were in Lisbon I realised that in certain areas there were so many tourists that it took all the charm away from the view and I felt an urgent need to get away. Street art showing annoying hipsters taking selfies being put in their place by a granny with spraypaint, and posters around the city explaining ‘How not to be a horrible tourist’ are telling of a situation that is spiralling out of hand.
Unfortunately I can’t close my eyes and pretend I am not part of the problem. I am torn because on the one hand I love to travel to new places and enjoy how easy it is to get from Amsterdam to most cities around Europe for short trips. On the other hand I see the effect that mass tourism is having on Amsterdam and the places I travel to, making me feel both guilty and frustrated.
There is no straightforward answer, so I’ve been wondering what small steps I could take to be more intentional in the way I travel in order to make my explorations more sustainable. I realise that these points won’t solve the issue, however I’m hoping that keeping these points in mind are a step in the right direction:
- Slow down: I can get a superficial idea of a place in a couple of days, but spending more time there allows me to see more than the main sights. Planning a longer trip means I can really soak in the atmosphere, return to the places I enjoyed and get to know them better
- Stay slightly out of the center: those neighbourhoods have more local life in them, I’ll explore streets that I would otherwise never come across, it also allows me to experience the public transport
- Explore without a plan: life is not about ticking things off a must-see list. When traveling my favorite moments are always when I wander the streets, without direction following an alleyway to see where it will lead, stopping for a coffee and people-watching…
- Ask locals for tips: Paolo is my master in this. He easily asks shopkeepers and passers-by for directions and recommendations, they usually guide us to places we most probably wouldn’t have discovered by ourselves
- Buy souvenirs from local crafts markets: as much as I can I want to avoid buying from the mass-produced tourist shops. Craft markets and independent shops are a nice way to both get unique gifts and support artists that are putting their independent and original work out into the world
This list is far from exhaustive and I plan to keep adding to it. Any other tips to add to the list?
JOYFUL GRATITUDE #85
Time for a holiday:) Last time we were in Lisbon was in 2014 for a few days only, so this time I’m glad we have 9 full days to get to know the city better and explore the surrounding area. I’m looking forward to soaking up the atmosphere during long walks in the narrow streets that bring you to breathtaking views and I can’t wait for the delicious portuguese breakfasts and amazing pasteis de nata!
This weekend with a friend we planned a photo-walk in the neighbourhood of Oud-West. It was like a scavenger hunt with loose rules, we chose some topics to search for and decided to see what we would come across. It was really fun and a great way to get out of my comfort zone, photographing different things than usual, whilst we were chatting and exploring the neighbourhood. Here are some of the highlights:
- While strolling along throughout the afternoon, several locals started talking to us. Like the lady who told us about the beautiful mosaic hopscotch below and how she had made it with her daughter. She told us that kids often play on it, as well as adults and that it brings a lovely vibe to the sidewalk in front of her house. (In passing, I learnt the Dutch word for hopscotch: hinkelen!)
- It made me regain some faith in humankind. This is linked to the point above, people are friendly, eager to connect and busy with nice itiatives. For example, this little table with cherries and cool water was set up in the context of an ‘open gardens day’ by a lady who told us all about how she planted many flowers to beautify this little square which she takes care of herself.
- I was amazed by how many things I noticed. Even though I had cycled down many of the streets before, walking allowed me to see the neighbourhood in a whole new light. Also being on the lookout for interesting things to photograph made us more alert. We spotted new cafes and restaurants, shops and even this hairy caterpillar with its amazing yellow crests that was methodically chomping away at this leaf.
- My curiosity was sparked by things we came across and I even learnt some new things. On seeing this mural, we pondered whether this gentleman was a mathematician… as one of the topics we were hunting for was ‘mathematical object’. When I got home, I googled it and found out it is Huygens, who was indeed a mathematician, physicist and astronomer.
I also looked up what type of butterfly would emerge from such a peculiar caterpillar and actually it is a moth – the Tussock moth. It turns out there are lots of different Tussock moth caterpillars, all rather hairy and in different colour palettes.
For ages I’ve been meaning to get up early to enjoy watching the sun rise. Though sometimes I witness gorgeous sunrises as I cycle to work in the winter, it’s not like I really take the time to enjoy them to their full extent. When we’re on holidays, Paolo and I do our best to see the sunrise, somehow it’s easier to get up at an ungodly hour when you know you can indulge in a leisurely nap in the afternoon. However lately I’ve been feeling I want to experiment with weaving more of the fun things we give ourselves space to do in the holidays into daily life.
So I decided to simply set the alarm at 5:30am on my free Friday, and after some inevitable snoozing, I got up and headed outside to enjoy the morning light as it appeared. When I told a friend about it afterwards, she immediately asked ‘Where did you go?’. Actually this time I kept the bar low and just went out the front door and into the neighbourhood, nothing fancy but it was perfect!
I love being up and about before other people wake up, and it felt like I had the streets to myself. It was very quiet, with barely any cars or people, just lots of birds singing loudly to each other. As I explored, I decided to be mindful and focus specifically on the light as its slanted rays started to shine on the peaceful world around me. I took my time and noticed what my eyes were drawn to.
The most magical detail was the dew, one perfectly round drop hanging onto the tip of every single strand of grass, glistening in the sun. I’d never noticed that was what dew looked like up close, it was mezmerising! It is such a pleasurable way to start the day, I definitely want to do this again soon.
Whilst wandering the streets of Rome and other cities in Italy, I love to look at the details of the shopfronts which look so different to the ones in Amsterdam. Some of them have clearly remained unchanged for decades, with their amazing old-school fonts, diluted colours and paint slowly chipping off.
To me it actually gives these shops a certain charm and I wonder whether inside they are still working according to the more humane rhythm of those long-gone eras… Here are a few of my favorites from my last trip.