The “other” San Francisco

“The saddest journey in the world is the one that follows a precise itinerary. Then you’re not a traveler. You’re a fucking tourist.” Guillermo del Toro

Monday, August 7, 2017
Lisbon, Portugal

I had a chunk of days break between visiting the far reaches of my beautiful Romania and decided to take a last minute, solo trip to Portugal.
I had been in a bit of a slump and was on the verge of wallowing in self-pity and loneliness.
I felt not quite like myself.
I missed last summer when I was on the go. Meeting new people everyday. No set plans for where to go or what to do the next day. Couchsurfing with beautiful strangers and making the most treasured of memories…
I wanted to prove to myself I still had it in me.
And by golly I did just that.
Portugal had always appealed to me… It seemed always so out of the way in my travels last summer. But I heard tales of it’s coastline… the people.. the culture.. the food.. the wine.. Porto… Lisbon.. Sintra.. the Algarve coast…
I decided to book the cheapest (Yet still considerably expensive considering how Malta was $100 round trip.. and Berlin was $80 round trip) city to fly into from Bucharest and go from there…
Lisbon it was.
I knew next to nothing about Portugal except that everyone who had been there had nothing but wonderful things to say about it.
Why not!?
And why not start in Lisbon…
The San Francisco of Portugal.. it has trams… it has hills… it has their version of the Bay Bridge… its on the West Coast of Europe… plenty of beaches… laid back attitudes…
And it lived up to its name. I was exhilarated coming out of the metro and finding many Palm Trees.. .ohhh how I had missed them living over in Eastern Europe…
And it was warm… but not overly uncomfortable… like Bucharest… When I left Bucharest, it was 39 degrees C and the humidity was sweltering.
Portugal had a lively breeze.. a nice dry heat…
The ground beneath my feet was cobblestone… but unique to other cobblestone walkways of other European countries… They were tiny blocks of stone cut out in a precise shape and size and placed together, more often than not, to create a mosaic-like effect… Rossio Square, my first real introduction to Lisbon had them lined out in a pattern that was reminiscent of waves… If I stared at it too long it had a bit of a trippy effect…  I learned later that each of the little stones were carved by hand and they first started hundreds of years ago.

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The wave effect in Rossio Square hold a deeper meaning too.. Back on November 1st, 1755 the city was ravaged by a series of massive earthquakes, the largest being 8.5. They destroyed the majority of the city. Everything was shattered… crumbled. November 1st was also the Catholic holy All Saints day.  As a result, all of the cathedrals were packed with civilians celebrating this feast. Needless to say, the crumbling of the cathedrals caused a great number of people to perish. In addition, since All Saints day was a holy day, people lit candles and flowers were put up in celebration. The earthquakes caused the buildings to tumble and the candles fell upon the flammable flowers and other religious decor. Fires soon sprung up all over the city. As if that weren’t bad enough, the earthquakes triggered a tsunami that reached 9 meters high by the time it reached the city. The higher parts of the city remained burning for nearly 5 days. It is said that a week after these three events, nearly 90% of the buildings were either crumbled, burned or flooded and nearly 600,000 people had perished.
This was all carefully retold by my tour guide and she ended the awful tale, saying that the wave pattern created by the stones on the ground were to look like a tsunami and to commemorate that fateful day back in 1755.

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I spent the majority of my time in the Alfama district. As soon as I stumbled upon its beautiful narrow streets I knew this was where I needed to be. Other areas of Lisbon are spread out with large streets. The Alfama district actually survived that day in 1755 and still portrays days of the old where everyone knew each other and old ladies would lean out their windows to chat with their friends across the alley (literally if they reached their hands out they would easily be able to hold onto one another). Laundry was often strung out below windows, along with flowers. I spent two days getting lost, wandering in and out of the streets. Going up and down soOoo many staircases. Working my calves on the steep slopes. It was much less touristy and much more quiet than the other areas of Lisbon… It gave you the feel of authenticity… real people went about their daily lives… no commercial shops.. only a small number of cafes… a few local grocery stores.. the smell of sardines flowing through the air (they do love their sardines there, I noticed)… I certainly did not get the feel that I was in a big city while wandering these quiet streets. You can find so many brightly colored buildings and the doors of their houses are quite close to each other, so it is easy to see how narrow the residences are. It hurt my calves to imagine the stairs they have to climb every day to get from the door to the top floor, not to mention walking about their normal day on the steep streets! If you keep an eye out, you can find little black and white portraits painted onto the walls of the local residents…

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It is here that I also found my San Fransisco tram! Tram 28! The most famous tram in all of Lisbon… I never got in the long queue (some people waited up to three hours to ride it).. but people who do get to ride it never regret the long line.. it winds up and down and round the hills and you can easily hop on (after the line of course) and it will take you all around the highlights of the city…

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Another thing I fell in love with was all of the ceramic tiles about the city. Many of the buildings were covered in them on the outside. Some had just a few remaining ones… They are called Azulejos tiles (usually they were a combination of beautiful blue and creamy white) and usually were laid out in some sort of geometric, lacey or flowery pattern. Sometimes they just adorned the facades of buildings, the same repeating tile over and over again. Other times, the tiles were put together to create a mural or a depiction of a historic scene.  Lazily sauntering about the city, as opposed to rushed sightseeing on your way to the next big sight to see, allows you to find all kinds of fun little hidden tiles. You are able to pick one up of your own in any tourist shop…

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My personal favorite was the street art. Discovering the street art is one of my favorite things about wandering through a new city. One particular area that caught my eye and had me going back to time and time again. On one of the steep paths down to the Alfama area from the Barrio do Castelo neighborhood, you pass through a little tunnel of sorts. It has the words “Don’t Be Mean” spelled out with stretched wire. Just beyond it, outside of the tunnel, just to the left is a flat open area. When I first walked back out into the sunshine, I was not expecting such a sight. Instead of more buildings and streetways, there was the wreckage of an abandoned building.  The remains of the Cerca Velha Wall…… and wow… a little outdoor art area looked after by a sweet old man… Take the time to explore and you’ll find some delightful things :))

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Fado music is another Lisbon favorite… I was stumbling around Alfama one night with some couchsurfers just after we witnessed the most beautiful sunset from the highest hill in Lisbon and heard the soulful sounds echoing through the alleyways… Fado… which means “fate” or “destiny” in Portuguese is a type of music that has been heard throughout the streets of Lisbon for centuries. Typically, it involves a lady singing a yearning, soulful, haunting song that comes to life and makes your heart ache to hear. Though they are quite sad songs, causing the people in the cafes nearby to hush to a silence as they are slowly transfixed by the mournful melody Definitely worth a listen… perhaps with a glass of sangria or their vinho verde OR (my personal favorite) Ginjinha (a Portuguese liqueur made of sour cherries (“ginja berries”) with a delightful hint of cinnamon.

PS> Just so you know.. the information about all of the things I have written about was straight from locals, whether it be the Free Tour guide or couchsurfers I met up with that were born and bred in the city or random strangers who happened to be as curious about life as I am

 

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Last day in sunny Sardinia :(


“When you’re traveling with someone else, you share each discovery, but when you are alone, you have to carry each experience with you like a secret, something you have to write on your heart, because there’s no other way to preserve it.” ~Shauna NiequistSunday August 27, 2016

Day 99

Chia, Sardinia, Italy 

The Chugging of the bus’s engine , the rolling of the road lulled me to sleep. I woke up occasionally. The landscapes reminded me of Mexico more than Italy. There were Adobe type houses and cacti and dust everywhere. 

Dropped me off at some dusty dirty intersection. People were milling about. All of them looking a little lost. There was a shop selling paninis and beer with a line out the door. I kept walking. Around the corner behind the shop there was a road that seemed to go in the direction of the ocean. Dried up blackberry bushes lined the road. Adobe style walls with beautiful purple flowers crawling over it, all covered in dust. In the distance I heard screams of laughter. That must be the beach. I sauntered down the road. 

I came to the realization I wasn’t even sure if I got off at the Chia stop. Was there supposed to be w city? Was there supposed to be shops? It was quite wild. I kinda liked it. Then I realized I better pay attention to where I went so I could figure my way back to catch the bus later or tomorrow. 

I happened upon. Cute little cove with pebbly sand and deep blue waters. On either side were cliffs. Climbable cliffs. Perfect. I grabbed a beer and headed up to see some gorgeous views. Off to the side there was a trail up to a tower. The tower was closed but on the other side there was a beach with crystal clear Emerald green waters. I wanted to go down there. 

I stopped to charge my phone and get some espresso and ended up finding on the map a string of beaches a few miles down the road. Perfect. I was sure I could find a cozy spot to sleep there. 

I walked down a two lane street with cars zooming by, in a hurry to get to or from the beach. Blackberry bushes and fig trees covered in dust lined the road. I occasionally stopped to munch on a few. My legs were covered in dust. 

Finally I made it to the signs for Spiaggia Su Giudea and a dusty first road. I passed a horse ranch and more fig trees and dried up blackberries. Hills rolled in the distance. It was quite wild. Beautiful. 


I came to the parking lot. It was quite pretty with strategically places cute little trees. I continued on and ended up stopping at a little table that was selling fruit and grabbed a peach for dinner. 

The beach was expansive. Crowded. I bought a spritz and walked the length of it both ways. Not too exciting. The water didn’t even look that great. The sun was setting. The booths selling beer and snacks were turning up their music, I could feel the vibrations from the bass below my feet. 


I remembered a little rocky outcropping by where I started. It jutted out into the sea. I was sure no one would venture that way after dark and it seemed to be far enough out there I could see the sunrise and sunset. 

I climbed along the rocks to the end and sat down. You could still hear faint echoes of the music over the gentle rolling of the baby waves. Coming from the west coast, I found it difficult to actually call them waves, but that’s what they called them. 

The sky put on its sunset show for me. The sky got dark. The music continued. The stars came out. 

My whole trip thus far replayed in my head. All the Couchsurfers I stayed with and beautiful people I met along the way. I wondered how they were. The places I’ve been. The experiences. The things I’ve learned. The hurtful things. The heartbreaking things. The beautiful things. The magical things. I’ve come a long way. It seemed like years ago I was back in Seattle boarding that plane to come here. No, my trip hasn’t gone as planned, but I liked it better this way. I wished I could personally thank all of them for everything they did. Good or bad. Because look where I’m at today. Sleeping under the some shimmering stars. Falling asleep to the water lapping at the rocks. Surrounded by pristine Caribbean type waters. 

I laid down, curled on the hard rock. It was a struggle to find a comforTable position. The lighthouse in the far distance made a gentle sweep of light on the rocks above me. I counted them. About 30 per minute. I found all the constellations I knew and counted shooting stars. They never cease to amaze me. And I fell asleep gazing at Orion’s Belt, his figure stretched out, close to the moon, looking as though he were about to knock it with his bow. 

I woke up with a start, shivering. The stars were even more intense. The music had stopped. All I heard were waves. It had grown cold. My mind went into panic mode. I tried to comfort myself. Talk myself down. No one gets hyperthermia and dies after just one night. I wondered if the fact I was in the warm sun all day and now exposed to all this cold and wind… Could that make it worse? I mentally scolded myself for not bringing leggings to slip on. I moved spots, trying to find a place protected from the wind. I curled up again, my back exposed to the wind, my knees to my chest. So alone. So cold. 

I must have drifted off because the next thing I remember was looking over and see the skyline over the water illuminated in all the colors. I smiled. I made it through the night! And would be gifted with a glorious sunrise followed by much needed warmth. 

Beaches in the morning are quite peaceful. There were leftovers, forgotten toys and towels scattered about. I had the beach to myself. I saw the beds that were outside one of the bars that you could rent and I got up on it. It was a cool feeling. Having the lonely beach all to myself. Just 12 hours earlier it was packed. 


I wandered to find a little tiny sandy beach hidden in the rocky but I slept on and laid down, soaking up the morning sun. 

People started arriving. I left my secret spot. I looked pout at the water. Last night it seemed just like a regular beach. Like any beach I could have seen in California. But this morning the water was crystal clear. Like in the pictures. Stunning. 

I had bought a bikini the day before. It has been years since I’ve worn one. But walking around on these beaches. In Barcelona. In Italy. There were people of all ages. All sizes. All body types. 

Yes I have a gigantic scar riding across my belly. I always feared taking off my shirt for guys that once they saw it they would turn away in disgust. That if i wore a bikini people would stare at me like I was sons horrific creature. I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it. I had put it on that morning. Behind the rocks. I giggled at the contrast between my belly and my arms. Super tan and dark vs white as a pearl it seemed. It was fine when no one was there. Now the beach was getting crowded. I knew I had to head back to Cagliari soon to get my bags and some food and head to the ferry 


I challenged myself to walk along the beach. In front of everyone. I was nervous, shaky at first. I looked around out of the corner of my eye. No one looked at me like I was a monster. No one turned up their nose in disgust. People went along with their day. I got a few looks of curiosity. But my white scarred belly did not seem to offend anyone. 

I have grown to accept my body. Even tho I’ve been hospitalized many times for losing weight to try to get rid of the bulges around my scar. My body is nearly immune to hangovers. I can eat spicy food without a problem. It takes a lot for me to get too hot or too cold. I can hike with no shoes or socks up mountains. I can walk miles and miles through foreign cities and swim in all the lakes. My body is just my vessel in this life. It’s my soul that’s most important. My spirit. And I think I’m doing pretty good.