Ola. That´s Portuguese for how the hell are ya. The eastward wander has begun again, this time with a rather large jump across a very large pond, the Atlantic ocean.
Before we get to that, though… I spent my last night in the US in Philly, reuniting with some good friends from college, some of whom I hadn´t seen in 7 years. Jim, Josh, Chris, Tom and I met on our first day at Lehigh sitting on the floor of our freshman hall, exchanging stories about our last Summer at home with friends and thinking about what lay ahead of us over the next 4 years. It was wild to see them after so much time, especially on the eve of the int´l leg of this journey. A friend from high school, Jen, even made it out to round out the reunion (thanks for makin´the drive – Phoenixville??). Next time you´re in Philly, check out Monk´s. All things Belgian under one roof. Mighty tasty.
Just as Jim dropped me off at the airport on Thursday afternoon, it hit me. Solo mio for a long time. Nine hours, one only sorta effective sleeping pill, and a stop in Frankfurt later, I was in Lisbon, Portugal. After staggering around the city for a day, cranky and tired but determined to shake the jetlag as soon as possible, I crashed at a hostel in the north of the city. The second day went much better..
By the way, Portugal and Spain, my first two destinations, are sorta like bonus travel. I wanted to go straight to Morocco but didn´t have enough air miles to get there, so settled on the next closest thing, Lisbon. I did zero prep work before getting on the plane, opening my recently purchased Spain-Portugal travel guide on the short flight from Frankfurt to Lisbon.
Portugal and Spain have the oldest border in Europe. Portugal is home to Magellan (first guy to circumnavigate the globe, in 1521, just a few years before my attempt..), Vasco de Gama, and a host of other explorers that made Portugal famous in the 14th-16th centuries. Portuguese is the 6th most spoken language in the world with 200,000,000 speakers. Whodathunk? It´s sorta close to Spanish but just different enough to make most of what I learned in college completely useless. Apparently, speaking Spanish to Portuguese people (and therefore acting like there´s no difference between the two countries) is not cool. Thankfully, I heard this before opening my mouth and making an ass out myself. I still made an ass out of myself, but at least tryin´the right words.
I set out on foot to explore Lisbon and two nearby towns, Belem and Sintra for 3 days. Lisbon is beautiful, but a bit hectic like most big cities. It´s known for it´s seafood and Fado, the style of sad singing (longing for the good old days when Portugal was a seat of power, imbued with new meaning now that the 21st century has caught up with the country, contributing to its Westernization and further eroding some of the rich traditions here) that´s become popular here over the last few hundred years. You can have dinner at a cafe and listen to the sad serenade by professionals just about any night of the week. Oh, and just about every city road or sidewalk in the area (and all of western Portugal apparently) is made out of beautiful white and black square cobble stones, with patterns created from the alternating colors. A nice remnant of the old days. Most of the smaller buildings are covered in white brushed cement and covered with red Spanish tiles, giving the place a light feel that reminded me of the Greek islands and, well, Spain. The photo at the top of this post was taken close to the hostel and looks down into the northern part of Lisbon, right at the Marques de Pompal, a traffic circle with an elaborate stone fountain in the middle. Signifying what? No idea.
The other two towns were much more my speed, though, smaller, quieter and full of little meandering alleys and coffee shops, pastelarias (pastry shops with some apparently world famous custard filled pastries – not bad with a wee bit o´espresso..), museums and imperial buildings, hills and seaside boardwalks. Sintra, my favorite of the three, happened to be one of the stops on a European motorcycle rally. Hundreds of couples on touring bikes rode in and out of the town as I walked around, exploring the castles and parks in the Serra mountainside that form the backdrop for the quaint little town of Sintra. Everywhere I looked, postcard kinda views. All I had to do was point and shoot.
On Sunday morning, I took a bus 4 hours down to the southwestern corner of the Iberian peninsula to Lagos (pronounced Lahgosh), a beautiful little seaside town of about 55,000 people. It used to be an active sea port, with fisheries and shipping making up the draw. Today, it´s tourism. Like a lot of places that make their way into guidebooks and travel magazines, it seems to have been a bit ravaged by the onslaught, trying to maintain the old feel while catering to the throngs of older European vacationers looking for dinner and wine at the sidewalk cafes (all looking about the same and all with the cheap looking menus posted in every conceivable language that seem to show up everywhere in Europe) and young backpackers looking for cheap beer at night and beaches to sleep on during the day. Those beaches, however, are still f%&$in´beautiful.
That kinda travel (the 22 year old backpacker Euro circuit party your ass off kind) is a bit behind me. But have had fun watching the young Aussies, Kiwis, Canadians and Americans do their thing. At 33, it turns out I´m one of the oldest people at the hostel – not the norm but seems the places labeled “party towns” always attract the youngest people. Surprise. Now, I´m a lot more interested in just walking around, exploring the less traveled parts of town and observing how it all works, not finding the cheapest dinner and all you can drink in an hour hole in the walls that seems to be creeping in here. But 10 years ago, this place woulda been right up my alley..
As embarrasing as it is to admit, I have to share a story of stupidity before I sign off. My own. To add a little spice to the mix, when I left Lisbon, I left a few rather important documents behind – under the pillow on the bed where I thought they´d be.. safest while I slept. I´m speaking, of course, of my passport, credit cards, drivers license and, oooh, some cash. That´s right. I didn´t realize it ´til I´d made it to Lagos. Don´t ask me howit happened. I attribute it to jet lag and general moronity (you can use that one if you like). I´ll cut to the chase. The hostel had it when I called (thereby shortening the longest panic attack I´ve ever had) and sent it to me via Portuguese version of FedEx. I got it today and can tell you things are looking a bit more rosy.. Lesson learned. Don´t be stupid. A good lesson to learn at the beginning of the trip- in a 1st world country with what seems to be a majority of people that are willing to help a stupid American. Not sure I would have had the same luck later in the trip. Thank you, Portugal.
And goodbye. Now that I´m diplomatically and financially able, I´m leaving Lagos. Heading for Spain tomorrow. Sevilla, home of flamenco, tapas and bullfighting. Morocco in a few days where my money should go far enough to sleep in my own room. Like a grown up.
Obrigado for reading. And adeus.