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