I’ve found myself in many historical places throughout the U.S. and I’ve always been fascinated by the stories of old buildings and architecture. But I hadn’t seen old until I visited Portugal.
My wife’s parents were born and raised in Northern Portugal. They both moved to Connecticut independent of each other, where they met and married in the early 1980s. Ever since my wife and I were married in 2016, we had dreamed of visiting Portugal together to see where her parents are from. She has been many times, but this was my first visit.
We had the joy of bringing our 5-year-old daughter and my wife’s 20-year-old cousin. We met up with my wife’s parents halfway through the trip. They live in Florida today, but they planned a trip to coincide with the back half of ours so they could give us tours of their hometowns.
I was able to pack everything I needed from clothing to tech in the Venturing Observer Travel Series roller case and matching backpack. I utilized the Think Tank packing cubes and tech pouches as well, which made the logistics and flow of managing all my belonging extremely easy and fun.
I traveled light with as little camera gear as possible. This was the first big vacation we’ve taken with our daughter, and I’ll be the first to admit, I get completely consumed and obsessed by filmmaking and photography. I’ve been accused of shutting everything out beyond the periphery of my lens. I was very intentional about not doing that on this trip. With that said, I still clicked the shutter of my small DSLR just over 8,000 times and recorded about an hour of footage. Not to mention the countless clips and shots I took on my phone. But in my mind, I was shooting light.
Our journey started in Lisbon as many who visit this country do. But we opted to not head South to the popular beaches. Instead, we poked around Lisbon for a couple days, then headed west toward Sintra.
Sintra blew my mind, especially Castelo Dos Mouros, a castle built in the 10th Century. Stone walls straight out of a medieval novel, meandering up and down the hillside, looking out over the town and valley below.
I frequently found myself just standing still, slowly taking in my surroundings. I was overwhelmed imagining what life must have been like in the original days of this fortress.
From Sintra, we headed north up the coast to Apulia where we hunkered down in an AirBnB for several days. This is where we met up with my wife’s parent’s.
We first visited her father’s hometown, a little village called Vila Franca De Serra, (pop. 238). I instantly fell in love with the narrow, cobblestone streets and houses made from handset boulders.
It was everything I could do to not stop and compose photos of every nook and cranny of that tiny town. We visited the remains of my father-in-law’s childhood home which is now an abandoned stone relic in the middle of town, overtaken by roots and weeds. He regaled us with stories of a time when children were running around, playing everywhere. Today, it’s quiet, no kids playing, just older residents living out their remaining years in solitude.
We stopped in the local cafe/market/restaurant. My father-in-law was immediately greeted with familiar enthusiasm from the shop owner. It’s impossible to not be known by the entire town when you’re from Vila Franca De Serra!
We continued onto my wife’s mother’s town, Cunha Baixa, (pop. 800) This town was a bit more spread out so walking around was less practical. The most notable experience here was visiting Dolmen of Cunha Baixa, a dwelling construction between 3,000 and 2,500 B.C. Again, the history was bewildering and overwhelming.
After visiting my in-law’s hometowns, we continued our journey to several more northern cities: Porto, Braga, Arcozelo, Visuo, Alcafache. Braga stood out as one of my favorites, the architecture still has a strong Roman aesthetic, remnants from the Roman conquest from around 136 B.C.
Street musicians serenade on every corner with Fado and tasteful renditions of popular songs with a Portuguese twist. I love watching and photographing street performers. Many of my favorite moments were walking through the various cities in Portugal, taking in the history and listening to the local musicians.
In all, we spent 18 days exploring a large variety of places throughout Portugal. But there’s still so much more I’d love to see and learn about. I can’t wait to go back. Perhaps when my daughter is older, she’ll be shooting as well, and we can get lost in the history and sights of Portugal together.
Charley Voorhis is a filmmaker and photographer based in Cashmere, Washington. His most recent feature film, Project Pivot, explores what happens when a skateboarder, a mountain biker and a rock climber are dropped into each other's sport to discover what drives them, what scares them, and what they all have in common. Give Charley a follow on Instagram and check out his site to learn more.