Portugal had never been on my list. You know the list. Everyone has one. It’s where you need to go. Not just want to, or have a vague interest in, but places that if you don’t see before you die you will have serious regrets. When I backpacked Europe at 18 I didn’t give Portugal a second thought. Spain, I considered, but decided against, but Portugal? Nope. Here’s why; I had no idea how awesome Portugal is. No friggin clue. Guys, this is a serious issue; Why didn’t I know how awesome Portugal is??
I really just didn’t know anything about it, to be honest, and that not knowing led to a travel experience that I have never had before. I didn’t know what to expect, and it was thrilling. I did my research, of course, being that the trip was for a class I had to know something about the country I was headed to; not to have would be a disservice to my amazing teacher. But it was less about knowing that Sintra had the best palaces, Belem had the best pastries, and Bairro Alto had the best bars; it was about the culture. I had no idea what Portugal would feel like. My previous experiences had all been influenced by something; books, movies, stories from friends, but I had literally no experience with Portugal. I knew one Portuguese person in my lifetime, and had read absolutely nothing about the country. I was flying blind.
When we got to Portugal I was thrown into it; I did not know one word in Portuguese (did I study the common phrases sheet my teacher gave me? Yes. Did I remember it is an entirely different story). I had to adapt, quickly, and it was so fun. In one week, I gained four Portuguese words (obrigato, quanto es, and ola) and stumbled along with them as much as I could, and trying my best to us sh when pronouncing s’s (probably incorrectly, but I tried my best). I soaked in the Portuguese love of the sea, I began to appreciate tile (something I never thought I could care about), and I learned so much about the history of Portugal.
I will probably revert back to my previous research methods for my next trip (I plan on watching The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo for my trip to Sweden), but not being influenced to expect certain things was an experience that I would love to try again. Maybe next time I will know zero words in Russian.