Tag Archives: Portugal

I Did It (And So Can You!) Thoughts From Lisbon.

If you’re bored with me being in Lisbon, it ends tonight. When I was with Erin, I learned of a new concept I’d never heard of before – counting down the “sleeps.”

I have six more sleeps until I’m home, and I’m about to go backpacking gangbusters through Spain. Nevermind the fact I just spent seven days in Lisbon, starting tomorrow night, one night each, the mission is to find out who wins the “Best Christmas Lights in Spain” award. Madrid, Seville, Cordoba and Grenada – last stop Barcelona.

I’ve been to Seville, Cordoba and Madrid before – this really is just a find the best holiday display mission. Whether any other real sightseeing gets done is irrelevant and bonus at this point.

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Today, I asked for one of each. Today, I got a box.

A few friends have asked for backpacking details and logistics of the trip, wondering if I’d share and yes – yes, I will, please go backpack yourself and report back. The biggest questions I get are “How?” and “What made you decide to do it- weren’t you scared?”

The two most common reasons, and very real, important, reasons people don’t do it are financial and fear, two I don’t mind addressing in the broad, blog forum.

Financial

It’s all about balance and finding what works for you, what is worth it to you and at the end of the day, what makes you happy. People absolutely could do their trip in a very different style than me, but by any real law of averages, give-and-takes, I think my cost is pretty low-to-normal.

I don’t cook spaghetti at the hostel every night for pennies, but then again, I never did a pub crawl.

No to most museum fees, yes to most castles, yes to every public park.

No to most public transportation, yes to walking, yes to coffee.

I’ve had my share of very good, little European coffees, but I embrace being the American jerk with the vat-sized coffee you can only get at McDonald’s or Starbucks over here. I’ve done my share of both versions – I like being awake. My grande latte + 7km walk home from Belem today cost me 2.80€.

The bus ticket would have been 2.85€.

Yes to top-rated hostels, yes to “Hello winter, hello secondhand clothes shopping.”

No to souvenirs, but I didn’t panic when I had to drop a day’s budget on a new iPad charger.

You get it.

I keep thinking I need to go back to school, pursue a Master’s degree, be writing papers in a coffee shop… Learn more, learn more, learn more. In the process, potentially sink myself into $50,000-$150,000 in debt depending on the years and programs.

I’ve learned more in four months than in four years of college…

Including roundtrip airfare from Southern California to Barcelona, a 3-month consecutive Eurail pass (used approximately 60 times through 16 of the 22 countries it is valid in), room, food and sightseeing, the grand total of this trip will come in at $10,500, and I have the stories, photos and experiences to own for life.

Worth it? Yes. Do it again? Well, I’d rather take out loans for this than school…

Fear

“Have you seen Taken?” I’m not sure if I or my parents heard that line more.

Most people are good. Like home, some aren’t, and like home, you have to be careful. Most people are good. The buildings and houses in Lisbon can be old and tattered looking from the exterior, but you can bet there aren’t cavemen living in them. You hear holiday music, televisions blasting and language barrier or not, if you had to yell “Help!” you can bet someone would probably be wise enough to come check outside.

The backpacking part – the “foreign” part – does not have to be scary. It’s as fun as you make it and only as fun as you are open-minded.

That said, it’s a lot of focus, awareness and pressure to be alert at all times, and not just from pick -pocketers and travel related dangers. It’s the awareness that you, alone, are very, very far away from anyone that knows you, and accidents happen.

Tonight, I was walking home after dark down an empty little Lisbon side street. I’d passed a slow-walking older woman on the sidewalk with what I thought was plenty of space, but I heard her tsk and grumble, angry at me. A few minutes later, I stopped to take a picture. My camera lens froze up and the process took me longer than I expected. The older woman got ahead of me again.

Rather than briskly pass her again, I figured I’d just cross over to the other side.

Absentmindedly, I stepped directly in front of a car coming quickly downhill. Headlights blasting, horn blaring… Closest call of my life. One of those “had the car been ten feet closer” moments. I jumped back on the sidewalk with a “IMSORRYIMSORRYIMSORRY” and there were a lot of people around to have been disturbed by the commotion and were looking.

Yeah, it shook me up. It was an airhead moment, and I was spooked and embarrassed.

You’re not going to be perfect. You can’t possibly maintain focus at every single second. You’re going to get distracted, you’re going to want to cross the street to not disturb the little old lady… And the same exact simple slip-up, 100% accident could have landed you in traction (or worse) at home.

Except you’re not home, you’re on a dark little side street in Lisbon, Portugal.

Scary? Yes. Does it make me relieved I’m going home in five days? It did at the time. But would I do this all, alone, again? Of course.

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I took the bus to Belem and walked the route back. I took a different turn up to get home, about a kilometer earlier than the route I knew to see more. I got really lost. It was a good time.

I ended up at a park that looked like this…

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Next to a building that looked like this…

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With a display that looked like this.

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I found this building…

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And right next to it, Occupy Lisbon.

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Flashback to Krakow, Poland, if you remember: I’d left the hostel just as the rest of the guests were going on a pub crawl. I thought I was being lame but ended up with a group watching a guy perform in the main square. He turned out to be from Michigan and the entire group went to a local bar afterward. The next day, Charles took me to the best crepe place in Krakow, we chatted about travels and life and ended the day with the best ice cream cones in town.

Turns out we have the same birthday! Even cooler, he just made a music video. Here’s my friend I bounced down the streets of Krakow, Poland with, sharing a pair of iPod headphones listening to traditional Polish music… and then Eminem… with – one of many surprises of this trip.

All for today. From Spain, tomorrow…

They just happened to walk by as I took this.

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Being Lazy in Lisbon

I’m listening to two Australian girls try to plan the rest of their itinerary.

Traveling alone was the best move… Ever.

“We should go to Sevilla after Madrid.”
“But why are you being so persistent about Sevilla?”
“Because it’s written up as one of the best places in Spain.”
“I didn’t read that.”
“Shhh you’re talking too loud, it’s going to annoy everyone.”
“No one is sleeping!”

My few weeks with Andrea was great. We pulled out a map and looked at “where planes go from Ankara.” That’s how we got to Sofia. From Sofia, we pulled out the map one more time. One more place. Belgrade, Serbia? Sure!

I couldn’t fathom spending three months on the road with anyone. These girls are stressing me out. Their decision will take them all night – they have the Internet and multiple travel books out. One girl keeps going on about “backtracking and logical routes” while the other says “we wake up early one day, what does it matter.”

This just heard: “You need to give me an alternative, rather than just saying no.”

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Every time I pass this poster, it freaks me out. Her eyes follow you.

When I woke up this morning, I thought maybe I’d been overzealous in booking another night. With a night train (not that I booked it yet) to Madrid tomorrow, I had another two full days here, and as far as backpacking goes, I’ve pretty much conquered it. Now I’m just living here.

It’s fine. Today was chilly and foggy. I spent the day in the House of Cool and wrote a draft of a children’s book – #5 of the trip, 4th in a series. If anyone knows anything or anyone about or in publishing… Do tell.

It all rhymes.

More of my love for this hostel. The two main people you see working here are house grandma and house guy – they’re probably related, but definitely not husband and wife. House guy learned English with a British accent. “Proper” English. House grandma learned “American English” and she is darn proud of it. It’s fantastic to hear her brag about it.

He says splendid and brilliant. She says awesome.

The hostel has separate bins for plastic, paper/cardboard, glass and organic waste. Tonight she was fretting because she had a cracked metallic Christmas ornament. “I don’t know! It’s not plastic! It’s not organic! It’s not paper! I know… I’ll put it in a bowl as decoration!”

Today, I really did pretty much nothing (except write a book – my days don’t feel productive unless I walk seven miles). It’s only a mile and a half roundtrip to/from town. I did it twice today. That was enough.

I went back to the cafe to get my French toast Christmas treat. The old man behind the counter recognized me, but the sugary bread wasn’t on display. I pointed at the other ball of fried sugary dough. I had a 1 euro coin handy, so I said I’d take one. He said they were 50cents each, so I said okay, two!

“Okay, and I’ll give you one.”

Aw.

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Tonight I grabbed dinner in town. I might have been overcharged, I dunno… 7.50€ for salmon, salad and potatoes, as listed, but the beer wasn’t on the menu. 4€ for one draft beer? Of Super Bock? Come on.

With six days to go, I’m not really fighting anything. All is okay. The restaurant was pretty empty and they were watching Rush Hour on television. It was in English, with subtitles, and it was fun to hear “damn!” and read “Carumba!”

On my way in, the young man who had gotten my attention with the menu and gotten my “okay! I’ll eat here” had asked me where I was from. This is a pretty standard line, but I’m always honest.

The other night a sketchy guy wanted a picture with me and when I declined, he said “American?” I said nope. “Canadian.” Yep.

I hadn’t gotten to use that one this trip.

On my way out, the guy who stands outside the entire night getting people to come into the restaurant asked me how my meal was. I said it was fine, and he said, “So you’re from California.” I prepared for some cheesy line or awkward conversation, but then he continued. He asked me if I’m a student and what I studied. I said public relations and he said “Oh. Different.” Just as I was about to say “huh?”…

“I want to go to school for computer design. I had to stop my studies seven years ago for money problems and came here from India. I am Indian. But a man here told me he studied computer design in America and it only took one year. In America, I can work and study. I can’t do both at home. But on the Internet yesterday, I looked and it said the study in America would take two years. That’s why I asked you, I’m sorry.”

Don’t be sorry! It was a surprisingly pleasant, refreshing, real conversation that ended with each of us wishing the other good luck.

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There are a lot of sights, sounds, feelings and people I’ve seen I’ll never be able to adequately describe.

Last night on the phone, Ryan showed his English major professor self when he schooled me on the definition of irony. I said see, that’s why you studied English and I really know nothing about writing, except maybe how to do it decently.

Tonight at the kitchen table here, I was editing my children’s book on the iPad and House Guy came over. I knew he probably thought I was anti-socially Facebooking or something and I told him what I was doing. I had a handwritten draft next to me and he said it looked like poetry of some sort.

He said it was really neat, especially to try to reach children, and he could never write in rhyme – that takes him much too long and is far too hard, putting his thoughts together in a structure so restricted.

“But, you know something, now I think I’ll finish my book. I’m halfway done with it, but I haven’t looked at it in six years. Life has a way of getting away from you…

I always had trouble with one thing, though. I never, never think of myself as a writer.

No, I’m not a “writer.” I’m a reasonable thinker… that writes.”

Choose Your Own (Fairytale) Adventure II

Lisbon has me in a very happy place. With seven travel days to go, I’m having the best time yet because a) I’m finishing the trip at or under budget, b) I didn’t lose my three-month Eurail pass with two unredeemed months to go, c) I’ve had two head colds and no other illness this entire trip, d) I haven’t gotten pick pocketed, e) I haven’t broken the camera or any bones, and f) if any of that happens now, it’s not going to ruin the trip.

How happy? My Lisbon hostel is the best yet. Apple pancakes in the morning, they handed me a shot of Portuguese liquor on the way in the door tonight, they apologized for moving my clothes off my bed – “We wanted to change your sheets since you’ve stayed with us so long!” (Tonight is only night five). And house mom (grandma, really) just poured me a bowl of soup for dinner then rolls and pate of sardines. She watched me eat the second part to see if I liked it.

How happy? I got to Skype – with webcam! – college girlfriends last night I haven’t seen since May. The squeals were insanely preteen girly and I loved every minute. I saw mom for the first time since September. I got to Skype boy for the first time in two months, second in three.

After four months away, Skype eye contact is simply the best.

After I got off the computer with the girls last night, I was writing my blog and a girl at the hostel giggled.

“You smile alone. You’re funny.”

Very happy place.

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That picture was taken just after getting to Sintra, Portugal, a forty-minute train ride from Lisbon. I took an older couple’s photo and they offered to take mine. After some camera issues (lens error, my dad’s camera has hated me since I took it in underground caves in Turkey), she still wasn’t taking the picture and after a few seconds of confusion (with a complete language barrier), we all got a good laugh. She’d been hitting the power button instead. On, off, on, off.

Ah, Sintra. Remember when you were a kid and king/queen of the playground? Found a castle. Paid to enter. Loved every minute of castle playtime.

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While looking out the tower of the castle, I saw… Another castle. Way higher. Way cooler.

And the first thought was that the climb is going to kill me.

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The walk up was rough. Steep, cobblestones the whole way… I was beat, but the walk had fun surprises along the way to keep it worth it.

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Sometimes I wonder why I made climbing my theme. I’ve probably added years to my life heart-wise, but I’ve used up years of my knees. That said, I made it!

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At the very top were three men who asked me to take their photo. One was clearly a photographer and he handed me a very nice piece of equipment, telling me the camera was already focused and informing me exactly how he wanted the photo framed. I assured him I kinda knew what I was doing and I’d take multiple shots.

It didn’t stop him from asking between every shot for me to check the exposure, check the focus, check the framing. It was pretty humorous. I asked them what they were doing. With their translator, one guy was a writer and the other a photographer for a magazine. I said oh that’s so neat, I love writing and photography. I’m kinda trying to be both of you.

“Well, it’s difficult to be both of us.”

Whatever, man. Your writer is wearing Ray Bans and you’re carrying what I estimate to be $10,000 in equipment. You’re right, I can’t be you guys.

But watch me try.

They asked me what I write and if I have a following. I told about the blog and my 75 WordPress + Facebook followers – “I mean, it’s 120 hits a day, not 10,000, but not bad for a girl writing home. Plus, I write for 65 people I don’t know. I feel like I’m throwing a party for a bunch of people I don’t know – I hope they’re having fun.”

The writer – “Hah yeah. It’s like you’re serving appetizers.”

I don’t know why that line made me laugh so hard. One, I thought it was terribly lame. And two, I mean, I was hoping this blog was the kind of party at least with a buffet and open bar.

I hope you all are enjoying your mini quiche.

I climbed back down the hill, took the train back to the hostel, and ended up with a bowl of soup in the kitchen of my new home with the owners and some new friends. The common language of the night’s group was Spanish, and it was great fun.

On my way down the hill from the castle, my senses were already on high-alert because the only people around were three young guys following the same path behind me. I figured I’d be fine but I’d slipped my memory card in my pocket in case I might momentarily lose my purse.

The guys were fine, but these dogs barked and scared the junk out of me.

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Seven travel days to go.

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Happiness Will Do That To You In Lisbon

Happiness breeds happiness.

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I’m making sure to not waste these last few days. I know, comfortable as it would be, not to slip into cruise control and coast the rest of the trip. There is plenty to see and plenty to be done. My cousin told me to keep approaching everything as fresh as I did the first few weeks of the trip four months ago. I am, I will, if I’m letting my days start later, bed come sooner and city stays last longer.

I booked another two nights of sleep in Lisbon. I’ll make some moves on the ninth.

I finally went to the castle today! I left my hostel and went in the general direction, meaning I knew the castle was somewhere up the giant hill in the general left direction. Lisbon has a ton of narrow streets, multiple-story buildings and hills, and you can easily lose your sense of where the end goal is fast.

I found these spots on the way, and way out of the way.

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At one point, I reached a dead-end. It was a neighborhood street that suddenly stopped, overlooking a main road below. A woman walking her dog told me what I’m sure was “this is a dead end, you have to turn around!” with a smile. I smiled and waved, turned around, and six houses down, just as I passed a series of steps to my left I hadn’t seen, a man popped his head out the window and pointed, with a smile. I took the steps down… Back on the main road.

I earned whatever food I ate today. I think I only clocked in at the four mile range, but today was Lisbon climbing day. Up and down, and then up and down some more. I found my lookout point.

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Picture-taking cracks me up. A man asked me to take a picture of him, with his wife, and motioned behind toward the castle and the bridge. I took four shots, all properly framed, full of Lisbon loveliness, well-lit… I did my best. He then reached for my camera to trade.

Could this picture have anymore of me in it? Any less of Lisbon?

Just in case you all forgot what I looked like in the past day.

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That one was posted for my parents. And Grandma. Hi Grandma!

And down the hill I went to get up the hill to the castle. I even paid the entrance fee to something today.

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The route home from the castle was far shorter. I could see the way down from the starting point. I had to seek out a new coffee joint today, so instead of Brown’s I ended up at House of Cool.

The wifi password at Brown’s was “verynice” – appropriate for the place you get hit on by the barista.

The password at House of Cool is “happyday”… Appropriate.

I like the random things learned on this trip that have nothing to do with travel. Like brushing your teeth while chewing gum isn’t efficient, it’s confusing. More importantly, thank you Lisbon for twice showing me a tuna sandwich can simply be egg, tomato and tuna – no mayonnaise. I’d been conditioned to assume all tuna needed two tablespoons of Hellmanns or Best Food’s mixed in to be edible.

Saw this in a window and had to have it. The man called it “typical of Christmas.” It’s what happens when a churro and French toast have a food baby.

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I want to keep doing this. I think I will – in shorter, more manageable methods that serve as a side dish to real life. I’m thinking the South America chapter comes next.

Bathroom stall quotes always fascinate me. Why there? Why then? What happened on that person’s day?

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That’s all from Lisbon, today. Nine more days of exploring. I fly home on the fifteenth.

It’s not a rush, it’s not a countdown… But I am excited. I prefer to call it “counting toward” some things at home.

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Love & Life & Lisbon… & Lattes.

For no one particular reason, I’m going to remember today.

Ten days to go. I had my last day of work (and it was a half-day) exactly four months ago, on the fifth of August. A lot has happened since then. I think today was special because it had a bit of everything best about these four months. A summary of sorts.

Bethany became my 75th official follower today – hey friend! Bethany was one of the first people to tell me to keep writing, and she was the one who got me my weekly column at the Daily Orange in 2009. I wrote a column once that rhymed. It was a joke – not my day of the week to write – just the last day of the semester. I didn’t think they’d actually use it. They did.

The poem is over, thanks for sticking with it to the end. In loving memory of Bea Arthur… Thank you for being a friend.

Oh, to have a circulation of 10,000 again, and use it so wisely. The line below my picture every week was “Part-time Rockstar.”

Today, nervous I’d been overzealous about my capability to walk a half marathon on January 7, I hopped onto walkjogrun.net to check out some of the routes of the last couple days. Maybe I just walk a lot of kilometers. Maybe I don’t even hit 4 miles.

That day I found the all-you-can-eat buffet in Barcelona? Yeah, I was famished because I’d walked 3.5 miles on a cup of coffee to get there. 9 mile day. Yesterday’s trip through random run-down streets? 7 roundtrip. In poorly fitting jeans and $17 superglued shoes.

Logically, if you hopped on a treadmill and walked for three hours, you’d hit 8 miles, too, I guess.

…But who ever does that. Give me spandex and sneakers – I can’t wait for half marathon day.

Today, I skipped the castle and monastery again. I’ll get to them. I love walking the areas I don’t think tourists go. I left my hostel and started at the park.

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As I have so many times this trip, I stalked love and life, in B&W.

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I’m one of the oddest educated travelers who knows nothing about anywhere she goes. I’m terrible with history. When Erin told me we were going to the East Side Gallery, I thought we were going to a museum.

Oh, the Berlin Wall?

The hostel did not recommend this wall in the middle of Lisbon. It was not circled on my map when I arrived… I like to think tourists don’t find it.

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I ended up at a mall and found the equivalent of Portugal’s Wegman’s. I wandered aisles in awe for twenty minutes. In so many places over the past few months, one-stop shopping was non-existent. You get food at the food store, and across the street there was the pharmacy for shampoo, soap, etc. All great until the one thing you need is scissors because you really, really just want to cut your hair, and scissors are neither food nor soap.

With a bottle of water and bag of M&Ms, because I swear they’re better here, I waited in line for twenty minutes and watched an old woman – old, not feeble – stoically refuse to bag her own groceries. All I could think was “Please don’t let me grow up to be that woman. Please don’t let me grow up to be that woman.”

I stopped back at the hostel for a bit then ventured out again. Holidays in Lisbon.

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Lisbon continues to thrill me, in a spooky, confusing sense. So much of it looks so old, some simply falling apart… But it’s beautiful. I walked in a direction I hadn’t been before. Up and down narrow streets, up and down hills… The beauty about avoiding public transportation to get from Major Point A to Major Point B is having to go through all the little side streets.

There were so many points I might have turned around. I’d go one street further, one alley further… And there’d be another great spot.

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Finally, miles later, dinner. What I don’t spend on pub crawls, museums and public transportation, I allow myself on dinner sometimes. Money here is a weird thing – sometimes, what costs $7 at home cost 5€ here – the equivalent. Other times, such as with ice cream and coffee, what costs $3 at home cost 3€ here… And it’s a really expensive ice cream or coffee.

My bill tonight came to 14.50€. The main course 8€. I don’t care, 8€, $10.70, 14€, $19…

I’ve dropped $20 at TGIFriday’s many times and it’s never felt this good.

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I ate, I read and I moved on to my Lisbon coffee shop of three days.

And this happened.

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What’s funny about having a blog and Twitter account – when you don’t think you have a chance in hell with the cute guy behind the counter, it becomes great comedy for your quirky little audience. This summer’s Twitter hashtags included #LatteLove, #BaristaBoy and my favorite pair #WhoNeedsCaffeine #IdRatherYouWakeMeUp.

My favorite mid-June day was “Aw, seems #BaristaBoy is dating someone.” Based purely on overhearing him say “I prefer monogamy.” Responses poured in.

Matt – “Summer is young! Don’t lose faith!” and Lu – “Aw. I was really rooting for you and #BaristaBoy.”

I really wish I’d screen-captured all of those. When first dates actually do happen, Tweets get deleted in case boy is computer savvy.

Poor Eduardo. Not a chance.

What a day. What a day, what a day, what a happy day.

Nine more days of travel and then I’m home for the holidays.

With that… Wishing you all the happiest holidays yet. Mine certainly are, as the picture with Papai Noel below captures well, because this is what happens when I go to the mall in December.

I’d love to bottle this feeling.

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Last Stop Lisbon

When I got off the train in Lisbon, I officially checked off every city I’d intended on getting to this trip, with more than a handful of unexpected others already visited. I made it with eleven days of travel left. I accomplished everything I wanted, and I ended up with a week to spare.

Maybe I could have hit one more big city. I could have spent one more day each in Berlin, Prague, Munich and Vienna. I couldn’t know that then. I’ve been in 39 cities (outside of the train station, wandering). I’ve stayed the night in 34. I’ve stayed more than one night in 25 of them. I’ve stayed long enough to call it a 4-10 day vacation in 17 of them.

And now I have a week to spare.

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Potentially the final trip map, not including Istanbul, Cappadocia and Ankara, but I’ll probably wander through Spain a bit more on my way back to my Barcelona flight home. The isolated stars in Spain, Italy and Greece are additional places I went in 2009 – and I keep forgetting to star Dubrovnik, Croatia.

As the days are shorter and it gets dark earlier, I am the lamest backpacker when it comes to nightlife. I just don’t go clubbing. I don’t feel like drinking all that much, I don’t have the clothes for it, I don’t want to rub up on foreign men… I’m probably missing out, but I’m having a grand time during the day.

When I researched Lisbon, one of the first things that I read said it is a charming old tourist destination that has never once been dressed up or cleaned up for tourists.

Today, I woke up late and got out later. I could have visited the monastery, or the castle, but for whatever reason wasn’t in the mood. Maybe because I could stay here ten more days if I wanted- they’ll be there. I took a walk.

Lisbon is beautiful, and it is charming. On a cloudy and dreary day like today, it also can look very, very rundown. I’d left the main drag of tourist shops and restaurants and walked through town toward the bridge. It was amazing. You had six lane roads, modern buses and metros… and the most rundown sketchy buildings right next to car dealerships. Scary in the gloomy weather’s light.

And every bench in Lisbon seems to have an old beady-eyed man that stares sitting on it.

I think if I’d come here, with this weather, as one of my first solo destinations, Lisbon might have scared me, silly as that may sound. As my last stop, I actually enjoy the thrill. Some of the cities I’ve been to (first thoughts being Salzburg and Munich) were almost too clean in spots to be real. Locals don’t go here and there. This is for tourists.

Not so in Lisbon.

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My hostel is fantastic but at about fifteen minutes from the main restaurant/cafe/tourist area, just too far out on a rainy night. The walk home to the hostel is entirely uphill and my jeans shrunk again. Things would be considerably uncomfortable if I had to jog that uphill walk home drenched from a storm.

Considering I have potentially nine more nights here (though probably not), I settled for the Chinese restaurant around the corner of my hostel. I could at least get Portuguese beer, and I did. It was called Super Bock and it was super okay. The restaurant had three families in it, loads of empty tables and a “special menu” price of 7.50€ for a spring roll + any chicken dish + rice. I made it just in time for the special menu offer to still be valid. Reading the rest of the menu, I considered a fried banana, but decided against it for both money and “being healthy or whatever” costs.

Because I had nowhere else to be and families were still being seated – not enough for me to worry about giving up my table – I stayed and read On the Road. I have never had so much free time, and it has never taken me this long to finish a book. I have forty pages to go.

And twenty minutes after my dinner plate had been cleared, half my beer still to go, the waitress brought me a fried banana, on the house.

I’m going to miss this.

“10% off because your smile,” in Lisbon.

Two years ago, in Egypt, I wrote a post titled “It’s going to suck to get back to the U.S. and be ugly again.” The same feeling is returning, if slightly in jest.

But to backtrack a bit, I spent yesterday wandering Barcelona. I ate croquettes and drank Barcelona-brewed beer in a back alley restaurant where you couldn’t find an English menu, and I caught the 4:30 train to Madrid. Arriving at Madrid’s main station at 7:05, I caught the local train to the smaller train station. I had a night train to Lisbon to catch.

In three hours. It was a slightly sketchy train station to have to wait three hours at and I should have hovered at the main one a little longer. Luckily, there was a sandwich shop that played awesome music videos (like James Blunt’s “You’re Beautiful,” the worst music video concept I’ve ever seen… And it took me five years to see it).

The night train to Lisbon was an uneventful series of power naps. Twenty minutes, wake. Listen to song. Sleep thirty minutes, wake. Another song. Maybe the same song as the last time. I have never splurged for the sleeper compartment – this was a seat.

I arrived in Lisbon at 7:45 local time (an hour earlier than Spain and anywhere else recent time). The receptionist checked me in, told me my room would be available at 3p.m. but “there’s a bathroom right here… If you need to shower or something…”

Yes, please. I realize what you’re saying. Over-night train hair was pretty gross.

My hostel was the #4 hostel worldwide last year, and it’s immediately clear why. Functioning computers with functioning mics and webcams! Who wants to Skype me?!?!?!?

But really, why. They make pancakes.

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I finally got myself out the door and explored. I wandered up and down streets for hours. I spent half an hour sitting and listening to a man play guitar and sing. I think that’s what I’m going to miss most- the variety and abundance of street performers. Today, he sang Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prison Blues. I think my favorite was in Budapest, a stunning rendition of Waiting in Vain by a young guy with dreads playing seated next to his bike in the main plaza. That one pleased me to no end.

I like having a soundtrack, random as it might be, chosen for me it might be, wherever I go. Yesterday, it was a man playing a jerky note-by-note Nat King Cole’s Mona Lisa. In Munich, it was a man in full tribal garb blowing Colors of the Wind into a wooden pipe instrument.

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I have eleven more days of exploring left. Night trains save you the cost of a night’s accommodation, but never a full day of sightseeing. I was exhausted today. It’s a poor decision I’m drinking coffee now – it’s 9:30p.m., after all, but the night is still young here. And I figured out what I’m writing next.

Again, a thanks for following, but more so, I have cracked up this week multiple times. “Can you just keep traveling Europe? I love the blog.” If I could, I would, and when I figure out how I’m going to get to meet people, write and story-tell for the rest of my life, you’ll be the first to know.

But is it journalism? Documentary film-making? Write one good book that gets me the chance to do this again?

What has been so fun is that I sit down here for my sake, my parents, my friends… Just to talk. To say hey, guess what, here’s what’s happening in good ol’ (insert place here). If it makes you laugh, that makes me smile, but I’m not Ellen DeGeneres. And I’m certainly not here because I think what I have to say is worth hearing because it holds any sort of truth or wisdom. So preachy of me. So Oprah of me.

I’m going to attempt to take everything I’ve written and put it to use. Adapt it. Expand on some stories, yet condense into themes. Try to embrace that in some sort of stumbled-upon fashion, I’m a writer and you’re not just here for the point-and-shoot photography. We shall see.

As I had this lightbulb moment today, I decided I needed a notepad to start writing on. I can’t birth a book on an iPad, it needs to be a J.K. Rowling-style napkin or something.

I spent the next two hours looking for a pad of paper. Legal paper. Any store with paper anywhere. And wouldn’t you know, they just don’t exist here. I found an entire street that seemed to be dedicated to wedding dresses, and I thought back to the days Julie and I would consider going to David’s Bridal for fun. That said, we were usually on our way to or from eating chicken tenders at Tully’s, embracing being regular customers of both Corey and Jenna. We never did get to try them on.

I finally found one. It’s Powerpuff Girl themed, which I love, because I once was one.

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I miss college. Even when I ruined the Powerpuff Girl hair lineup, they still took care of me.

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Dinner is always the hardest, or most intimidating, time of day for solo traveler me. It’s the worst in the places where the waiters are out begging for customers. I can’t help but respond to flattery, and it’s idiotic. You call me beautiful, I might not sit down at your restaurant, but now I feel like I’m cheating on you if I look at the next guy’s menu.

This little absurd loyalty ruled out restaurant after restaurant tonight. I’m sorry, that guy that called me beautiful? If I’m not eating with him, I’m not eating with his friends, enemies, neighbors or apparently anyone in a seven-block radius.

This process is especially hard because:

A) Come on, I’m in baggy jeans and a snow coat. The most I did today was brush my hair. Call me pretty. Gosh.

B) You’re all holding menus. I really want to read all the menus. Really. I really like reading.

C) You with the nice eyes, does your restaurant come with a 5€ bread cover? Because those are tricky sons of guns.

Sometimes I wonder if I do myself a disservice with the no makeup. Maybe I’m not a beautiful woman here. Maybe I just look like an especially vulnerable tween.

I saw a place tonight that offered beer + bread + soup + salad + plate of the day + dessert + coffee for 10.50€ and like a fool decided I could come back to it.

Retracing my steps to find it an hour later… I couldn’t. I was lapping Lisbon and the same flattering waiters. And still smiling like a jerk – “10% off because your smile.” I liked the one waiter who said, “I know why you are happy – no waiters have bothered you yet.”

I found myself in a group of four waiters with menus and considered pulling out a 10€ bill and saying, “Who’s going to give me the most food for my bill?” I actually sat at one place and as the waiter went inside to get my place setting, I realized I was sitting face to man-at-next-table-face with an old, scary-looking man who doesn’t blink.

I had to leave. I skipped away so fast, ditching my waiter. Pleasedontseemego pleasedontseemego.

Ended up at a place called El Carpachio. The waiter was begging, I was starving. “I’m not having Italian. He said they had Portuguese food, too, and somehow I ended up with a 17€ bill, but it was a most excellent grilled salmon, potatoes, salad, croquettes and beer.

And now I’m in a coffee shop, and now I’ll write my book.

But only if you’ll read it.

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This made me laugh.